Saturday, May 02, 2009

A hodgepodge of religious stuff, carelessly slapped together while web-surfing

How could you resist such a post title? :)

I just read this about discerning God's will...

It can happen more often than we may like to admit that our discernment ends up being about trying to bring God around to our way of thinking. We want to do the Lord's work but we want to do it our way, and don't necessarily want Him to be in control. True openness is more than just accepting intellectually that God could be calling us. Basically it means that, in spite of our fears and anxieties, we offer ourselves from our heart, "I will do whatever you ask me to do."

...and it inspired three thoughts.

1) Whenever I've been in that "bring God around to my way of thinking" stage, it created a certain anxiety or dissatisfaction in the background (or the forefront) of my mind.

2) Jesus told His followers (here, for instance) to trust God, let Him provide, and not worry. But a necessary precondition of that peace in God must be to accept His will and give up our own. He promises to care for us but doesn't promise all the things we want, unless He's what we want: "Delight yourself in Him and He will give you the desires of your heart."

3) Sometimes I hear people say, speaking of some sacrifice or work for God, "I could never do that!" I'm afraid the person really means, "I will never do that. I'm not even remotely willing, so I'm putting you on notice, God-- don't even think of asking me." But maybe the person's just humbly downplaying her inability to accomplish anything without God's help, or expressing a spontaneous feeling rather than some deep-rooted rebellion.

Okay, more Liturgy of the Hours stuff! The Mass readings all week have been taken from John 6, the chapter where Jesus says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." So the readings in the Office this week are focusing on the necessity of His incarnation to His victory over death. This was a reading for yesterday (at the bottom of the page). It's by St. Ephrem, a deacon in Turkey who died in AD 373. I especially loved this image:

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.

And the reading for today was by St. Cyril of Alexandria who died in AD 444. He offers a slightly more abstract but also wonderful image; think of this next time you're going to receive Holy Communion:

When the life-giving Word of God dwelt in human flesh, he changed it into that good thing which is distinctively his, namely, life; and by being wholly united to the flesh in a way beyond our comprehension, he gave it the life-giving power which he has by his very nature. Therefore, the body of Christ gives life to those who receive it. Its presence in mortal men expels death and drives away corruption because it contains within itself in his entirety the Word who totally abolishes corruption.

And if you were celebrating the feast of St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria who also died in AD 373, the reading was taken from his own sermons and dwells on the same theme:

He took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen. If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality.

Within the Virgin he built himself a temple, that is, a body; he made it his own instrument in which to dwell and to reveal himself.... He utterly destroyed the power death had against mankind – as fire consumes chaff – by means of the body he had taken and the grace of the resurrection.

Just some examples of why I love the Liturgy of the Hours. :)

Hey, I just found a blog full of lovely videos about religious life. This very blurry video in particular caught my eye. It's a report by ABC news that largely focuses on the Poor Clares in Roswell.

I enjoyed watching the video, but I'm not sure it really gets the cloistered life. It makes it sound like being a nun is mostly about painful sacrifice. "Who are these women, and why would they choose to give up careers and romance? As Diane got to know them, the mystery only deepened."

Then we see an old clip of a reporter interviewing Mother Mary Francis:

"And how often do you come out?"
"Well, ordinarily we never do."
"Never? There's a whole world out there! Why do you do this?"
"So that we can save the whole world!"

"Once inside," the reporter continues in voice-over, "we were stunned by the ferocity of self-denial."

And so on.

But that's not what I hear nuns themselves emphasize. I'm sure they find it hard to fast, and get up in the middle of the night, and be separated from loved ones, but when I hear them talk they say things like, "I realized how much God loved me, and that no worldly life would ever fulfill me because I wanted to be entirely God's, so I came here and I'm so happy!" As for "the whole world out there", we're closer to it when we're praying for people than when we're attending to our own concerns. I don't think the news clip captured the motivation of the cloistered life. But don't get me wrong; I liked it and I'm glad the reporters decided to do the story.

Change of subject-- last night I stayed up very late at my parents' house, so I spent the night, got up this morning, and dragged myself to the local church for 8:30 am Mass. It's only a few blocks away, but this was only the second time I'd visited it. And I discovered that it has a lovely little adoration chapel I never knew about! So I prayed in there for a while-- that's where I found all those readings I excerpted above.

One rather remarkable thing about this chapel was the thermostat, or rather the sign above the thermostat, which read, "Please adjust to your own comfort level." Can you believe it? Have you ever seen a thermostat say that? Don't thermostats normally threaten death and dismemberment to anyone who dares to touch their sacred controls? I was impressed.

Update: Someone posted a letter from a cloistered nun in the comments-- check it out!


JimAroo said...

St. Ignatius, in the Exercises, talks about the second class of men...they have a willingness to do God's will but on their terms.
Oh yes Lord I will follow you BUT I have a new field to tend 1st. Yes Lord BUT I have a new wife and cant leave now. Yes Lord BUT 1st I must bury my father. "Let the dead bury the dead."

The question is not what you are detached from but WHO you are attached to. Once you have the right attachment, the detachments are of little consequence.

It is similar in marriage:
Though I know I'll never lose affection for people and things that went before. I know I'll often stop and think about them, In my life I love you more.

See you didn't know the Beatles were Ignatian did you?

Rachel Gray said...

With Fr. Ed involved in the thing, I don't think I'm surprised. :)

Anonymous said...

Rachel- Here, to put the ascetical aspect of cloistered life in perspective a bit, is a letter my daughter sent home from her cloistered convent last Christmas. +
"Pax Christi! JMJT December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you had a lovely day yesterday and that you were able to spend it with each other. St. Perpetua told me that Portland did in fact have the twelve inch snowfall the weathermen predicted (she has a sister who lives in Portland and who occasionally goes to Holy Rosary Parish, too). I wonder what Portland did in that situation.

May God reward you for the cheeses and the chocolates and candies, too! It was very sweet of you to send them. Rev. Mother said to tell you that we’re saving the chocolates for “Dulce Nombre”- the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on January 2nd. That’s our novitiate feast day, when we put on a play for the professed sisters and give them little gifts during our recreations, and you would laugh to see our novitiate recreation room these days. It isn’t a huge room- about twelve feet by twenty- some of which space is taken up by a cupboard on one end, a couple of narrow work tables on two sides, and the wood stove. We also take up a lot of space: there are sixteen novices now ( I think). And we each have a little bench to sit on. Lately we put a big folding table in the middle of the room to work on the gifts…and it is very difficult to move from one end of the room to the other: it reminds me of those little plastic puzzles that have one piece missing and you are supposed to move the other pieces around one at a time into that empty spot to get them in the right order. We usually have to do that with each other. It’s complicated as well by Stock and Redi, our dogs, choosing the most inconvenient places to lie down. And someone usually needs to iron a habit or something else….!

But I want to tell you about our Christmas! It has been beautiful so far, and it is just beginning. We keep Advent very quiet, so the Christmas decorations only appear a few days before Christmas, and we decorate frantically. This year I helped with the choir, arranging the pine branches that Sr. Pauline cut from our trees in the South, tying ornaments to them, and arranging dozens of silk poinsettias along the tops of our choir stalls. The change is striking: the choir is bare for weeks, and then one day when we walk into the choir, it is ablaze with color!

Christmas Eve to Christmas morning was a beautiful blur , because of our sleeping schedule. Christmas Eve evening was the last day of the Posadas. Have I told you about that custom? It’s Mexican, and it is a custom here because this convent came from Cristo Rey in San Francisco, which in turn came from Guadalajara in Mexico in the 1920’s during the persecution of the Catholic Church there. It re-enacts the journey of the Holy Family through Bethlehem looking for shelter. One side of the choir stays in the choir to be “the bad guys” who won’t let (Jesus,) Mary and Joseph in, and on the other side of the choir stands just outside the choir, and are (Jesus), Mary and Joseph. We sing back and forth, and eventually the Holy Family is allowed in, amid much bell-ringing: the choir that represents them carries in a little sort of bier (?) with Joseph and Mary on it and we process up to the tabernacle and place it there on a little table. Then we sing and pray some more. Christmas Eve night we end the posadas by welcoming the little infant Jesus which Rev. Mother brings into the choir, and venerating the infant. Then it’s off to bed for an hour or so, then up again at 10:30 for Matins, then Christmas carols, then Midnight Mass; and the choir and the chapel are lit by candles alone for that Mass. It’s so pretty! This year Sr. Mary Magdalen played her cello, and Srs Juanita and Maravillas their violins, and Sr Perpetua her flute to accompany us on a lot of the songs. I think they did that because a few of our best singers are without voices these days (a cold went around the community back in November, and a few sisters lost their voices and never got them back! (Yes, Mom, I did get the cold, but I got well again very quickly. You can’t imagine how much care the sisters take of you when you are sick! (they take very good care other times, too, it’s just particularly noteworthy when you’re sick ) As soon as you say your throat is tickling- not even sore- Mother makes you go to bed and get up late…for days…until you think you can’t possibly sleep any more, you are given extra special food, the sister provisor gives you hot drinks at unusual hours….etc., etc, etc,) But I was trying to say that because some of the sisters can’t sing, the community can’t sing the more difficult pieces we would normally have sung. After Mass we had a quick speakroom visit with Monsignor and some other people, and then a little Christmas party on our own, with hot chocolate and goodies. (Monsignor says our rule of life is “ora et festa” ) We got to bed around three o’clock, then the next morning were up for 8:00 Mass. So you can see why it was a bit of a blur!

I strain the milk Thursdays, so I did on Christmas Eve, too: you can’t take a holiday from milking cows. When I went out there, I found that someone had decorated the pouring room with pretty Christmas cards and ornaments and other decorations, so that it looked quite festive. And then I thought, do I hear music? Did someone bring a tape player out to the barn? I opened the door to the stanchion, which opens out to the rest of the barn and saw, in the corner of the barn not a tape player, but Sr. Juana Teresa, all bundled up in coat and hat and scarf, playing Christmas carols on a recorder: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “Silent Night”…the carols that remind you of shepherds and sheep and cows and barns. And seeing her play, I thought she looked just like a shepherd playing to our Lord. I could have sworn, too, that the cows were giving more milk than usual. St. Pauline who was one of the milkers yesterday said she thought so, too: “They were mooing along to the music, and occasionally they were right on key!”

And then some of the sisters surprised the sister who was cooking the evening meal by singing Christmas carols to her as she worked….

{ Then she wrote about things of interest the family only, and then closed…}

I love you all very much! May God bless you!

Love," ....

But they do, of course, have an intense ascetic life also, of which we hear practically nothing.

Rachel Gray said...

Thank you so much for sharing that letter! Very interesting.