Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Saints

Because the Saints Said So: If a Little Flower Could Speak (St. Therese)

Tonight I burnt my thumb. It hurts like the dickens. Every time I take it out of the cup of ice water it makes me want to cry. So, we’re going to keep this brief.

Saturday was the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, nicknamed the Little Flower. She’s one of my favorite ladies. Therese is an incredible combination of strength and sweetness, of wisdom and youthfulness, and of humility and beauty. If there is one single spiritual work I could recommend due to how it affected me it is Fr. Jean d’Elbee’s “I Believe in Love,” which is a retreat in book form based on the spirituality of St. Therese.

As we do in this series on the blog, we will focus on a single quote from today’s saint of choice:

“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”

We are the little flowers, dear reader. Creations of beauty. That’s us. Crafted by God and adorned by His gifts. Stop pretending you’re not. Don’t shake your head or scoff at my words. We are the little flowers and we can speak! Acting as if we are less than what God created us to be, thinking less of ourselves, leading others to think less of us: none of this gives God glory.

Recognize the good, realize its divine source, and proclaim it by your life. We are always proclaiming something, by our words, obviously, but also by basically every other aspect of daily living. Be a conscious, deliberate proclaimer.

Speak well, little flower.

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

Because the Saints Said So: Be You (St. Francis de Sales)

I was introduced to St. Francis de Sales while I was in my sophomore year of college. In the context of a community of incredible, fun, faithful, hilarious, supportive women, I read his classic, Introduction to the Devout Life. If I name the top five books that have affected my life, that is likely to always hold steady among them for the rest of my years.

One of the hallmarks of de Sales’ spiritual advice is high, challenging standards. Another hallmark is gentleness. He did not divorce the two notions. I had trouble narrowing my focus down to just one quote from this most excellent spiritual writer so here are a few to consider:

Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.

Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.

These snippets are written alongside mandates for the men and women who call themselves Christians to be exemplary in their moral choices, in the use of their time and talents, and in the practice of virtue. Reading St. Francis de Sales’ spiritual advice is like reading a dissertation on Jesus’ command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Never does it become too much though, never more than a person can handle. For de Sales makes clear that to seek to be this living image of God also requires a kind realism. Realistically, know yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. Your passions. Your hopes. Your temptations. And lovingly, patiently cultivate your unique self.

You know when I have failed the most in living a life that glorifies Christ? When I have tried to ignore who I really am in order to be what I thought I needed to be. Inevitably, in such misguided efforts, I become exhausted and overwhelmed. I give up. I resent the real me for showing up yet again. What a pitiful way to live.

St. Francis de Sales knew better. He took the Lord’s words to heart: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). As yourself. Loving yourself is not a hippie or new age notion. No, it is rooted in the supreme reality of Christianity, that God loves you unconditionally and thus sacrificed Himself to save you. How logical then that I am deserving of love from myself and all others are deserving of love from me.

The standards, the virtues, and all that is encompassed by a God-glorifying life comes about in the day to day manifestation of that love. Love seeks the beloved’s greatest good. This is no less true when we are considering ourselves than when we are considering another person. So, “have patience with all things. But, first of all with yourself.”

Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Love

We Are Afraid of Ourselves

Why are we terrified to admit to who we are? I do not mean your flaws or sins. I mean WHO YOU ARE. Why do we as human beings recoil at any claim of our inherent worth? We hear someone declare that human life is sacred, or that we are made in the image of God, or that the human person possesses an inalienable dignity that only a human can possess, and we balk. Downplay it. Avoid the topic. Point out all that is darkness so that we do not have to face the light that exists in us. Why are we afraid of who we are?

Events of recent weeks, headlines and online chatter, have me contemplating a long loved quote of the great St. Augustine:

“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

I have a few ideas of why we are afraid to look with rightful wonder upon ourselves and our neighbor:
1. Acceptance of who we truly are would require us to raise our standards by about a mile. My chosen behaviors, the actions of others, the circumstances we settle for, the lies we tell ourselves to be more comfortable in this world: they would all be knocked down by the standard to which the human person, in all his greatness, deserves to be held.

2. We could not look upon the evil humans can and do commit with either indifference or tolerance.

3. Acknowledging the truth about ourselves leads to acknowledging the truth about every single other human person. The couple in the house next door; the terrorist; the kid who comes to your door; the murderer in prison; the handicapped man bagging your groceries; the elderly woman no longer productive in society; the jerk behind you at the ball game; the unborn child; your spouse; your best friend; your worst enemy. The truth of who we are as human beings demands a radical change in our treatment of each other, no exceptions.

4. Belief in this truth opens the door to all the answers to life’s great questions. This seems like a welcome treasure to gain, but I believe that actually having those answers is a frightening prospect for must of us because having them would require us to do something about them.

This quote from Marianne Williamson is one I’ve come back to again and again for personal inspiration. You have probably encountered it before. Read it slowly and maybe twice.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Even well-meaning Christians hesitate over the truth of the inherent worth of every human person. They settle into the idea (the more comfortable idea) that any worth and dignity they possess is only because they have Christ living in them. They decide to believe the theologically unsound notion that if Christ did not live in them, they would be worthless. This is not true. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. Let me repeat that. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. That is why Jesus came! If it were not true, you would not mean enough to God for Him to send Jesus to die for you!

You are not worth everything because Jesus died for you. Jesus died for you because you are worth everything! If Christians want a leg to stand on in evangelization, we cannot treat anyone as less than what they are.

This belief in the dignity of every unique person does not give rise to the lie that is modern tolerance. “I’m ok, you’re ok” is not the message here. Nor does it mean that everything else is meaningless. Who you are as a human being infuses meaning into all of your time, all of your encounters, and all of your endeavors. And like I mentioned already, it raises the standard for what is ‘ok’ tremendously higher than where we tend to place it on a daily basis.

The true nature of your personhood and that of the person you encounter next today means that you and the other are worthy of love and nothing less. Authentic love is desiring the good of the person (yourself and others) and then doing something about it. If we hold each of our behaviors, attitudes, and words under the spotlight of that definition, how much authentic love would we find?

I beg you as I beg myself, stop being afraid of your own worth.

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.

Catholicism, Faith, Personal Reflection

In the Shadow of the Cross


Last night I began a post on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It was left unfinished and I expected to wrap it up today. The words were full of hopeful things… the mystery of God’s masterful ways, the beauty of Christ’s humility, the wonder of what God can do when we are faithful even in suffering, the rich abundance of living as victors in Christ. I meant to finish it for you, whomever you are, but I find that I can’t. Not today. Today has morphed into a Jonah day. The morning brought stress and tiredness and a wish to hide away. Then the afternoon arrived with news of a family friend’s very unexpected and difficult to fathom death. I’ve kept my head bowed low over my workspace to hide the tears that keep falling each time it creeps across my thoughts. And so I find I can’t wrap up last night’s thoughts on the Triumph of the Cross. And yet the Triumph of the Cross is the only thing that matters on a day like this one. The only thing.

 

Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Love

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Pray For Us!

Today marks the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa, known now as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as she has been beatified on her way to sainthood in the Church. I probably don’t need to say much on why she matters, why it is good to reflect on her life, or how she has influenced the Church, the missionary world, and countless individuals lives, whether directly or indirectly. I will say that there has grown in me a deep appreciation of and desire to emulate Mother Teresa’s one on one approach to the suffering, injustice and needs of this world. I’m not good with politics, with worldwide issues or global plans. They overwhelm me and I am left feeling helpless and ignorant. This often makes me think I am doing far too little for the good of my fellow human beings (and this is true enough) and that I am not capable of doing much at all (and this is not true at all). It is Mother Teresa’s approach that teaches me there will always be ways I can build up the good of this world. Each individual person I encounter presents me with an opportunity to love and serve, to edify and encourage. None should be skipped over; none should be dismissed. The range of actions that can be taken is truly expansive, from the simplest and momentary to the sacrificial and lasting.

May I always remember to love the person, every person, God allows me to encounter. May I not be too preoccupied to recognize a need in another. May I hold a joy in my heart so permament and abundant that it will consistently reach whomever I meet. May I acknowledge that all I have has been given by God and if He asks me to give of it to others, may I willingly and cheerfully do so.

A few words from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta…

Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.

Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.

Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.

A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.

Like Jesus we belong to the world living not for ourselves but for others. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.