Because the Saints Said So, Faith, Saints

Because the Saints Said So: He Is a Beautiful God, Is He Not? (St. Paul of the Cross)

When you are walking alone, listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, the sun and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to proclaim the greatness of the one who has given them being.
St. Paul of the Cross

The other night I had an argument with my husband. By the end of it, I lashed out in anger and frustration over something – something that had nothing to do with what had started the argument. Basically, I’d given him my worst version of myself in the heat of that moment. Afterward, I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want to look myself in the eye or try to repair the damage with an apology. When I finished putting the kids to bed, I told my beloved I was going out, that I needed to get away for a little while.

I didn’t know where I was headed or what I thought I’d accomplish in this. All I was doing was running away from some ugliness. Human ugliness. I’m not sure why I did it, but as I grabbed my purse and keys, I also grabbed my camera.

As I drove away from our home, my attention was grabbed by the sky. After-the-storm, weighty clouds were hanging low against the streaks of pink, orange, and blue of the sunset. As that expanse of beauty hit my eyes, tears came. Only a few; a physical reaction to the tension between what was on display in the sky above me and what was on display in my heart that evening.  I sped down the county roads to an area full of farm fields where I knew there would be horses grazing in the twilight. I climbed out of my car and snapped picture after picture, swallowing the lump in my throat with each click of the camera. I knew I couldn’t really capture it all but I had the compelling need to try.

This is what happens when something ugly collides with something beautiful. This is what happens when the fallen soul meets God. For God is beautiful and we were designed to need, to ache for, that beauty.

Every single piece of beauty in this otherwise ugly world comes from Him. “Every good and perfect gift,” as St. James puts it (James 1:17). Because the beauty has God as its source, it is always more powerful than the ugliness.

Is there anything more beautiful than the moments when we let it in? When we look upon the 27th sunset of the month and suddenly halt in awe at the sight; when the field full of dandelions transforms before our eyes from an acre of weeds to an acre of golden flowers; when the sound of the rain ceases to be a reminder of the mud that will follow and becomes a symphony of divine sustenance played for our planet. Those are the moments that get me through. Those are the moments when I know, I know, there is beauty in me. For I am made in the image of this beautiful God, and so are you, my friend.

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Jesus, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:

“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”

When I hear “manifest,” I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear “the truth,” my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God’s revelation though – from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes – the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I’d wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, “The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).” If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly “owe” our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, “saying” can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).”

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!” And my prayer goes on, “Make me a beam of that light of your truth.”

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: On Sadness and the Spirit (St. Pio)

In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.

Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: “Don’t allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely.”

My first response was, “Well, that’s just too much to ask!” But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn’t hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That’s the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?

Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don’t allow sadness to dwell.

Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state

Don’t let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.

St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn’t already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.

So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18). 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).

They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.

What should you allow to “dwell in your soul?” Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?

Gifts;
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).

Fruits:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).

When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor’s pass, you will not lose your joy.

Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.

It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.