Hindered in Prayer, Tuesday’s Prayer for Sisters and Nuns

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Holy and Beloved Father whose love is without limit and whose gifts are given with full compassion hear our prayers for Sisters and Nuns.

Look upon them with mercy when their prayers are hindered by a false sense of unworthiness.

Inspire all Sisters and Nuns who are creative artists whose gifts are to reveal your beauty in our world.

Help them to continuously embrace your goodness and lead them to seek goodness rather than faults in their communities, in those they care for, and in all of us that they encounter.

We ask this all with confidence in the name of Jesus.

Amen

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Humility’s Resistance to Germination

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The audience had applauded with enthusiasm after the presenter’s slide show. The gardening program left the attendees buzzing and eager to put into practice what they had learned. With skill the presenter pulled questions from the boisterous crowd and interjected humor in her answers.

She was a renowned horticulturalist and landscape designer, and everyone knew it. She wrote for several magazines, web sites, presented at local universities, and at nearly every major garden event in five states.  People clamored over everything that came forth from her mouth… garden related or otherwise. No denying, she knew her stuff and shared it.

A good thing that is, too. We who’ve attended her workshops learned about tools and techniques—and silly ways to fool the passerby’s—for our gardens. Afterglow conversations were full of her insights on growing, grooming, and progression of the landscape into a thing of beauty. 

With gardens and farming—and in industries—we follow what’s called “best practice”. Farmers rotate crops or harvest before rains. Gardeners practice “right plant right place” and avoid planting sun-loving plants in shaded woodlands. There are established ways of doing things that have proven beneficial to proper and productive growth. Ms. Horticulturalist knows these rules well, and shares them eagerly from personal experience.

Moving forward in proper and productive ways is to look at the application of “best practices” to a situation. 

In the Rule of St. Benedict one practice is humility, and progression at this can be painfully slow. Like seeds sluggish to germinate—some taking six weeks as Bell’s of Ireland do—there’s a chance that they’ll not come up at all if  growing practices were not properly addressed.

Reading about the practice of humility, or rather lack thereof, reminded me of a list by St. Josemaria—whose feast day is June 26. The interdependence of each shortcoming is apparent, and uncomfortably convicting.

  1. Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say
  2. Always wanting to get your own way
  3. Arguing when you are not right or — when you are — insisting stubbornly or with bad manners
  4. Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so
  5. Despising the point of view of others
  6. Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan
  7. Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own
  8. Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation
  9. Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you
  10. Making excuses when rebuked
  11. Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you
  12. Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you
  13. Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you
  14. Refusing to carry out menial tasks
  15. Seeking or wanting to be singled out
  16. Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige
  17. Being ashamed of not having certain possessions

This is another of those lists, like the Fasting From used at Lent, which needs to be printed and taped to the mirror. 

St. Josemaria, pray for us!

1/14Image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.

Poverty of the Not-So-Obvious Poor

file0001606570188Christmas shopping and the Red Kettles bell ringers of the Salvation Army are calling us with a tinny jangle to help the poor. I nod my head and smile, walking by, not depositing even a penny. I have already given—to another group, at church or the office—earlier. I am annoyed by the once-a-year, in-your-face, give-to-ME-or-look-selfish-in-the-eyes-of-the-anonymous-crowd supplicants. The annoyance exists for more than whom they claim needs our help.

All year the obvious poor are easy to spot—financially destitute, mentally impaired, in need of food, shelter, clothing, or medical care. There are the poor souls in purgatory hungering for God with no one but us to ease their suffering. It is easing the discomfort of the poor that we are called to do as Christians, in whatever way appropriate to the station of our life.

Then there is a whole other level of poor that begs for Christ. It is often composed of those who live above physical poverty with few unmet earthly needs. They are the antithesis of the poor in spirit mentioned in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3). Their spirits are often deeply attached to this world and find security in it, not realizing their need for God’s grace. The affluent that help build six-billion dollar sports arenas and place but $100 in a monthly offertory—if they attend church at all.

There are the poor in spirit who often lack understanding the teachings of Jesus and urgings of the Holy Spirit; the emotionally unstable but not fully deranged, the broken that are bullies, predacious sexual offenders.

These other levels of the poor are the ones who demand the greatest of us—of me—as Christians. To see opulence at its worst, bullies at their best, to hear sexual innuendos feigned as innocent of intent—blamed to my depravity—pushes me to my limit of being kind, compassionate, and loving. I just want to throttle them! It is in the effort to understand that they possess brokenness—a mental and spiritual instability nearly hidden in the normalcy of a broken society—which reins in my anger.

It is often easier for me to be compassionate towards the poorest needing a bath, a toothbrush, and clean clothes than it is to tolerate the presence of a person of entitlement, and delusional about their even being so!

Compassion is never meant to be at arms length. How desperately I fail at this when confronted by the fear-filled arrogant. I pity them, and another failing, this! For if I pity someone, I have adopted a stance of being superior to them, to be sorry that they are not like me—egad, but the charitable slope is slippery.

The poor, we are told will always be with us, for without them who would there be to call forth Christ?

I need to go read the Psalms and learn a deeper way to pray for the pompous few. And, while at it, ask the Lord to judge me less harshly for my sins of self-importance.

Litany of Humility

Written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase

and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I set aside,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I,

provided that I may become as holy as I should,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

 

Image courtesy morguefile.com.

 

Wilting in the Bright Light of Annie’s Need

wilted sunflower

Image morguefile.com

Exiting my car at the women’s care facility, I saw there were plastic grocery bags sitting atop a picnic table, in the shady end of the lot. Within them were dozens of perennials that had been dug from someone’s garden. The bags were crumpled, the cardboard boxes were warped, and the plants they contained were wilted; the soil dried. I looked around the grounds for evidence of a new garden, but nowhere was there fresh turned soil, waiting to be planted.

It was a kind and thoughtful gesture of someone, to bring flowers to the facility and so enhance the lives of women who resided there.  But it appeared to be an incomplete act and not thought through. Many of these women were not physically or mentally capable of planting a garden on their own. The facility was too poor for an activities director, let alone a horticultural therapist.

The blooms on a few clumps of bright yellow daisies had wilted and flopped over the edge of the table. In a way their sad droops reflected my feelings at the moment: an external, bright and cheery demeanor, withering from an incomplete transplant after an uprooting.

I am very much out of my element when interacting one on one with the poor, preferring to be anonymous and hidden. Taking telephone calls as a St. Vincent DePaul Angel is more to my liking.

And yet, here I was.

I had answered a calling — sensed on my way home from Adoration — to stop here and offer myself as a pray-er with these women. I have since been asked to companion a Catholic woman my age (let’s call her Annie), who struggles with schizophrenia. As I crossed the parking lot to the brown brick building, I mentally prepared for the hour ahead.

Annie is a large and petulant woman who has lived in group homes most of her life. She is well aware of her mental disabilities and limitations, and I am made aware of them as well. She is filled with fears – multiple — always anxious, and obsessed with all things Jesus. When I visit her she rocks resolutely in her chair, and prattles loudly and non-stop for the duration.

One day, I knocked on the side of her open door, stepped in, and found her sitting naked on the bed. She yelled and slapped a t-shirt against her thigh; she was having trouble getting the shirt over her head, and it made her angry. She was frightened that men would come in, and force her to have intercourse. I turned my back and leaned against the door frame, assuring her repeatedly, and in a low voice, that I would keep “the men” from entering while she dressed.

Eventually, her yelling lessened. When she had dressed, she asked if I would please come into her room and see how she had “made it nice” by putting up pictures

She had. Scotch taped to the tan walls were prayer cards, magazine pages, and old creased and worn prints. On the window sill were two identical six-day glass religious candles, four miniature statues, and several small kitschy objects. All of them, every single item, depicted the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

If one was to have an obsession, I thought, this was a good one!

Sitting across from her as she rocked and prattled on, I realized how ill equipped I was to be anything to this woman. In the presence of over thirty sets of Jesus’ eyes, I felt ridiculous and useless. I didn’t have what it takes to feed a soul like hers.

I felt small in the enormity of her challenging life: schizophrenic, developmentally halted, adopted and sexually abused, and finally abandoned to government assisted living.

Against that broad misery, how narrow my life felt! The charity of my heart, the sacrificial offerings, and the prayers for those in need – these actions had, for the most part, taken place in seclusion. This episode with Annie made me realize how limited my heart has been, and why God may have called me here.

What I am learning is the practice of a Ministry of Presence, and I expect to be stretched to my limit. Like the fading flowers I had seen in the parking lot, I have been uprooted from the shady, safe soil. I am in mid-transplant – slightly shocked and longing for what is familiar, but willing to wait for the Master’s planting schedule. Please pray for me.

 

An Abrasive Solitude

marsh

Image morguefile.com

One cannot live the life of an anchorite with an expectation of companionship. The journey to draw closer to God often means a journey away from people. To bring Christ into our world is to serve others; to draw closer to God is to leave all behind. It is a paradox. The challenges I face as I learn what it is to be a Benedictine Oblate seem to strike at the core of who I thought I was. I must now be more of the Body of Christ.

In less than a year, and more so within the past few months, I was expelled from groups in which I had been active for several years, in which I had sought friendships, and forced to face an estranged family come to haunt. I feel I must step outside myself to address these relationship issues, and yet, to discern if it is a calling beyond my comfort zone. My spiritual director hit a nail on the head when he said, “A calling by the Holy Spirit is not just a feeling.”

This conflicted desire to go out—for I would rather remain in my rooms—and be a model of Christ in the world has only brought me the disdain of some, and caused others to hate me. Can the desire be, therefore, just a feeling and not a calling?

From my own heartaches I’ve learned to be gentle with others. When someone is mean I don’t assume they’re evil but that there is brokenness in them. Yet when I’m being pushed away and treated coarsely, I still assume it is something I’ve done to initiate their brokenness.

It is hard to silence the devil’s self-deprecating lies that crowd out the Essence of God. When the parasitic Legion comes, I hear in my head the worn tapes of self-loathing…for being unlovable, for again being rejected, for again not being worthy or worth affection. It is (it seems always) the precarious balance between solitude and isolation. Rejection enforces the latter.

There is also a careful balance between wanting, for the love of God, to go home to Him, and the when-will-this-all-end despair of exposure to the earthly sufferings of others.

I struggle to follow God’s will and am often uncertain if it is his will. Is this sensitiveness my cross to bear well? Is the brokenness of the world something sent to rest hard upon my heart, or a grotesque intrusiveness to contaminate my peace? Am I despised because I believe in the teachings of Catholicism or do I bring these teachings offensively into my world? Am I honest in my faith or delusional?

I do not doubt God’s Love and Mercy. I doubt and question the genuineness of my actions.  What is it in the silence of my heart that chafes against the world in which I walk?