Our Lady and St. Juan Diego

Our Lady and St. Juan Diego

Friday, April 11, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Seeing God's Mercy on the Ruined Kitchen Table

Lately it seems that everywhere I look, I see the carelessness of my children:  broken closet door, ruined ipad cover, ripped books.  The croquet set has been abandoned and left out in the rain, and my children yank out towel racks from the wall as they practice their monkey bar skills. 

“What were you thinking?”  I criticize.  “Why don’t you respect our stuff?!”  I grumble.  Not only does it take money that we don’t really have to fix, to replace, to restore, but also, I am not a handy person.  My husband surely is, but his time with our family is worth its weight in gold.  I hate to see it “wasted” on repairs.

As I sit back and reflect, I see that my Father surely loves me.  For just recently, I decided to remove my first and only shellac manicure at home with acetone purchased from the drugstore.  I had never done this before, but figured it would be quite simple.  I laid out some paper towels, soaked my fingertips for ten minutes, and gently dried them on the paper towels.  Piece of cake!  As I went about cleaning up, I had to tug on the paper towels. No!  But, yes.  The paper towels were stuck on the black laminate of our new-to-us kitchen table. In at least 3 separate spots, the wood is damaged and the paint worn off.  I couldn’t believe it, and quickly started calling myself an idiot and apologized profusely to my husband.  My husband is a gem, and told me to stop calling his wife an idiot.  He laughed as he explained that now he’d need to sand it down and paint it.  He pointed out that it was only “stuff”.  Who cares?  Stuff doesn’t last forever. 

I went upstairs so disappointed in myself, just as I am so often disappointed in my children.  But how blessed was I to see God’s mercy through my husband? 

In the arms of Blessed Mama, I see this humiliation as a gift.  I fell into the same weakness that I was previously judging someone else.  In the Our Father, I pray that I be forgiven my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me.  In my situation, God was so merciful to me, gracing me with an outpouring of mercy despite my failure to be merciful to my children.  This humiliation encourages me to be less judgmental of my loved ones, and to be grateful for my undeserved gift of God’s mercy. 

I now see the “distressed” kitchen table as a reminder to be gentle with my children, who are really God’s children entrusted to me.  This incident has helped me see the value in being an instrument of God’s mercy.  The kitchen table is the focal point of our family life.  Our days come and go around this table all day long.  This humiliation is in plain sight, and lucky for me, I am reminded rather regularly of God’s merciful love for me.

This Lent has been successful in that I see my need for my Redeemer.  I have struggled with my own perfectionism and my high expectations of my loved ones. I was not strong and faithful in my attempts to pray more, give more, fast more.  But I have seen time and time again my helplessness and weakness and my true, desperate need for my Savior. 
Some think that to be holy means to feel like you are perfect.  In reality, however, it is entirely different;  a saint see that he is pure ash, pure sin.  Saints most fully recognize their own misery, and they have the most complete image of Jesus tormented by their sins.  A saint see Christ suffering and considers himself the greatest sinner, the only perpetrator of all of His wounds.  He knows that even if he were the only person to ever have lived on the earth, Jesus would still have had to suffer as much as He did. 

On your way to holiness you too will see more and more clearly Who loves you and whom He loves.  On this path, there are no prospects that you will be able to consider yourself perfect one day.  On the contrary, you will be convinced that, if God did not hide the truth about you from others, then everyone would turn away from you, from such misery and lack of faith.  Only when part of this reality begins to get through to you, will you begin to see better how unusual this Love, who pursues you, is.  This Love is really the Only Love on whom you can rely.  He is your only support. 
(S.C. Biela, The Two Pillars, [Ft. Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2006], 96-97)

I pray we all have a very blessed Holy Week, full of great anticipation for the Joy of the Resurrection!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Seeing Lies as LIES!

In my last blog I wrote about some lessons I learned at a Lent retreat. That retreat was full of jewels and I want to share some more of what led me into Lent this year.

Lent is usually comprised of three things – praying, fasting and almsgiving. In looking at fasting, the priest gave it a twist I had never thought of. When we think of denying ourselves the priest suggested we deny Satan’s access to our souls – especially when he wants to feed me with the lies that I am not lovable, I am not loved, and I cannot love. This brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the past in which I believed all of these lies. I was a senior in college when the “I am not lovable” tortured me so much I went to the school counselor. I thought I wasn’t lovable because I was immersed in my sins. The counselor tried to convince me that my sins were nothing – that they weren’t even sins. This only compounded my unrest and anxiety. I married right out of college and a few years into my marriage, I remember being convinced “I am not loved.” Once again I ended up in a counselor’s office. I was focused on everything that was “wrong” with my husband. Another counselor, but the same message – my sins were not sins and I just needed to loosen up. Then, when children came along, I was convinced “I cannot love.” The first time my pride was challenged through my eldest, after the first “no” to mama, I saw clearly that parenting was going to be an uphill battle and after reading all the psychology books, I was left with more anxiety, clinical depression, and an unhealthy detachment from my children.

It wasn’t until I started back to the Sacrament of Confession that I learned that, yes, I was immersed in sin, but I was loved no matter what. I had a Savior who already died for these sins, and with and by His grace, I could leave these sins behind. It was through my confessor that I came to know that the Blessed Mother was a real help for me and that Jesus’ dying wish was that I behold Her and that She behold me!

What a turnaround for my life. One by one, my spiritual director is picking apart the lies that have been binding me to my sins for years. The worst of all the lies I've come to recognize I bought into so far is that I believed I would only be loved if I was perfect. I was blind to the amazing presence of my Lord, and Savior. Now,  believing in faith and through faith that I am entrusted to Mary, the lies are losing their power! The focus of my life has been changing from focusing on myself and feeling a victim of my dear ones, to seeing God’s action in every moment.

Entrustment to Mary helps me see lies for what they are – LIES!

Instead of thinking I’m not lovable, I make a conscious effort to remember I am in Mary’s arms.

Instead of thinking my dear one doesn’t love me, I ask myself – what did God want to show me in this event? Remembering that God alone suffices, that He loves me no matter what, that His love is eternal, helps me accept when others don’t love me as I wish they would.

Instead of thinking I cannot love, I beg my Blessed Mother to obtain the graces for me to love as I should. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

In Mary’s arms, I am glad it is the season of Lent. WE await what God wants to do with my soul by Easter!

Contrition – the first pillar of interior life – is born on the foundation of truth. Only in the light of the truth that you discover about Love, who embraces you, do you see sin as it really is: sin. This happens because you sin “in front of Him,” in the face of Love. You must stand completely naked before God and realize that your sin – your unfaithfulness – is always before Him. You must realize that you sin against God; you sin in the face of the One before whom you are standing at the moment of your unfaithfulness. Yet, God gives you grace, the action of which is itself the desire to be sorrowful. God gives you the light of truth, which allows you to see the distance that separates you from Him. Additionally, He gives you the light to see that, due to this same grace, this distance is overcome. You perceive that the smallest response, a crumb of contrition, suffices to close the gap, such that this distance between God and you no longer exists. (S.C. Biela, TheTwo Pillars, [Ft.Collins, CO: IAMF, 2006], 3-4.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Accepting Injustices

First of all, we are almost to the middle of Lent – how are we all doing? I have had to chuckle how the Lord has given me subtle and not so subtle humiliations in order to help keep me “off” my pedestal. I have made mistakes at work and at home that have me relying on Blessed Mom’s arms and her acceptance of all things - as my gut reaction to such humiliations is to rationalize, make excuses, and look for a scapegoat. So I guess I could say I am having a “good” Lent seeing my weaknesses and then calling upon the Lord’s most merciful love! J
Next, I have been meditating on Christ’s Passion and how unjust it was in human terms. An innocent man convicted and killed due to the pride and arrogance of other men. I have been battling with an injustice, although small in nature compared to Christ's passion. Part of the reason for me leaving my job was due to the disagreements I was having with my boss over the weekly bulletin. I figured I had 15 years of experience with this production and could not understand why all of a sudden my work in this area was being scrutinized. Now when I read the current bulletin being created by my replacement, I am surprised and a bit offended by the lack of editing as it is produced with misspellings, odd formatting, and lack of pertinent information. Why is her work not being examined like mine had been? It just seems so unfair!
Then I happened to read the following in the book In the Arms of Mary:
By praying before the Crucified Christ, you will receive the answer to the question: Why do I suffer injustices in my life? You will understand that God can permit something unjust, from a human point of view, to happen to you – because God sees things differently than men. The human injustice that you confront may be something just in God’s eyes. When you do not experience any injustice, you cannot understand with depth what Christ went through, whose death also had something to do with the injustice He experienced. [1]
So I was comforted in knowing that the injustice is another way God is feeding my soul the nourishment it needs to be united with Him. My pride and arrogance is similar to Christ’s adversaries, and is hard to keep in check. But looking at the injustice as a loving act from my merciful Savior, helps me to again step off my pedestal.
I also, shared this passage with a person who had lost her loved one in a car crash caused by someone who was texting while driving. I hope and pray that she too, can feel a loving answer for the tragedy she is experiencing, an injustice way beyond the scope of mine.
Someone who is condemned justly – like the good thief – can find a rational motive to accept suffering. However, someone who is unjustly accused and suffers despite his innocence, can only turn to the Cross of Christ for his motivation. Only when you resort to the Cross of Christ can you be grateful for the injustice that you suffer:  I give thanks to You, my God, for sharing with me Your most precious treasure. Thank You for permitting me to understand better the mystery of Your Cross.
On your way to sanctity you may not expect that God will preserve you from injustice, and that nothing will happen to you, from a human point of view, that you do not deserve. [2]

[1] S.C. Biela, In The Arms of Mary, 2nd. ed, rev. (Ft.Collins, CO: IAMF, 2005), 32-33.
[2] Ibid, 33.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Being Loved When Acting Like a Two-Year-Old

My two and ½ year old son is driving me crazy these days.  Lots of screaming for this or that.  Lots of “no” coming out of his mouth.  Lots of “You’re mean, Mommy” when he doesn’t get his way.  My days seem long!  My husband and I were recently on a vacation while my parents watched our children.  My mother reported that he was an angel!  Calm and playful and joyful!  He took his naps peacefully and ate his meals quietly in his highchair.  I was so excited to learn about the changes in his temperament and hoped for a continuation of his pleasantness after their departure. 

Not so, although my husband reports that our son is just fine when I am not around.  For some reason, he has quite a lot to protest while I am with him.  I know, having been around toddlers for many years, this will pass. And I know that some of his behavior might be the consequence of interrupted naps and boredom from time to time. But I started reflecting upon what his behavior might tell me about my own behavior and attitude. 

While on vacation, my husband and I enjoyed time to play, to pray, to rest, to eat.  I was so very grateful for simple pleasures, like only getting myself ready for the day, or relaxing by the pool without worrying about little ones.  I noticed that it was so much easier to only deal with one other personality on the trip, rather than six on a daily basis.  As an introvert, I enjoyed my time to myself while my husband went golfing.  It was easy to be grateful and joyful and prayerful and at peace.  After a few days back at home, I noticed how cranky I am and easily irritated at everyone else’s demands, emotions, needs.  It is like I am my own two-year-old son:  happy as a clam when I receive ‘easy’ graces, but unappreciative and ill-tempered when the graces are ‘difficult’. It seems that I tell my Father “no”, or “You’re mean” when my will is not done, or life gets more uncomfortable than I would like.

It’s funny, though, that while on vacation, my husband and I seemed to notice all the times kids were around, watching them enjoy a late dinner at a taqueria after a Little League game, or observing them while at Mass.  I knew in my heart that as much as I enjoy my quiet time, God’s will is for me to be with my little ones.  My prayer is that I remain joyful when I do not get my way, or when my plans are interrupted.  Hopefully I, too, will grow out of this cranky phase in the arms of my Blessed Mama, or at least trust that I am loved as such.  In the book In the Arms of Mary by S.C. Biela, I am grateful for this reminder:

“The Lord does not have to explain to His subject why He gives him ‘candies’ or nourishes him with ‘bitterness’. 

A servant of Him
who is Love,
will never ask why?
Mary did not ask this question,
neither during the Annunciation,
nor at the foot of the Cross of her Son….

If you believe
that in everything that God does
there is an expression of His love,
you may not expect special explanations.
You may not analyze
why sometimes you were particularly honored
and at other times – divested of everything.”
(S.C. Biela, In the Arms of Mary, (Fort Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2005), 148, 149.) 

I see that I so often want what I want, and that there is unhappiness when I don’t get it, just as with my son.  But I am looking out for my little one (ie. avoiding too much sugar, getting enough rest, learning to share), just as my Father is looking out for me:

Perhaps, when you hear God calling, you do not realize how much He wants to bestow on you.  By proposing to you His own will, He desires to free you from all of your wounds, disappointments, and difficulties, which are the result of seeking your own will.  When you agree to let go of the steering wheel of your life and hand it over to a Father who loves you, then you will be freed from many fears and stress, as well as from the torment of responsibility, which flows from the faith you have in yourself. (S.C. Biela, Open Wide the Door to Christ, (Fort Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2005), 150.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Seeing God in Passive Mortification

I went on a Lent retreat last weekend and would love to share a couple of the jewels I received. Like the advice given to Scaredy Cat, focusing on humble means was the theme of the retreat.  What are these humble means?

At the retreat we learned about active mortification verses passive mortification. In Lent, we usually lean toward active mortification. The “what should I do or not do?” mortification. Should I give up coffee or TV or Facebook? Should I say a rosary every day or some other pious activity? Usually, the goal in what I choose is to pick something I can be successful in doing. But, does this keep my focus on what Jesus Christ did for me on Calvary? If I am successful in my Lenten practices, do I come to know I need a Savior? Do I experience the desire to follow Christ to the end because I have been amazed by His tremendous love for me? We were encouraged to think about this. I was motivated to choose something that I know there is no way for me to accomplish, so that when I fail, I can remember I need a Savior. On the other hand, if I succeed in this impossible Lenten sacrifice, I will be convinced that it was only by Grace that I did!

When seeking the humble means, though, I find passive mortification is more valuable. The priest shared how the road to Calvary for Christ was a road of passive mortification. He did not choose what was to happen to Him, it was chosen for Him. He was condemned to death. He was scourged. He was made to carry the Cross. He was put to death. Jesus’ response to passive mortification was to say “yes”. He said to the Father: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 42:22). I was encouraged at our retreat to see what God would choose for me this Lent and to try to accept this. In doing so, I might begin to die to myself, to my own will. It was explained to me that my cross was to become more aware about the truth of my being torn. Like the image of Jesus on the Cross – arms outstretched, torn apart – I am torn between what I want to do and what I do. I want to be patient, but I see my impatience. I want to measure up, but I constantly fall short. Then, my entrustment to Mary can be described as dying in Her Arms. She will carry me through the death of the old man in me. It is not always easy to accept what comes my way from God. Like today’s exhaustion when I have so many things to do to get ready for a trip; or yesterday’s experience when the Little One kept asking me to play and I could barely muster a smile; or having to make dinner for the family on a night I am not hungry or could survive on a bowl of cereal.  WE (Blessed Mother with me) try to see in these events God knocking on the door of my heart. WE try to see how He desires to help me through these events. I need the comfort of Mary’s Arms – remembering She loves me as I am. Passive mortification helps me to see God’s action in my life - in every moment.

I want to tell you, Mary, my Mommy, that I am grateful for everything, even though this gratitude is so meager and pathetic that it seems to barely exist within me. …
I am grateful for this ongoing interior war, for the never-ending battle in me between the old man and the new, because it constantly weakens me so that You may be my strength.
I am grateful for the unceasing tension. Because of it, when I feel like God, I immediately fall apart, and You can piece me back together the right way. But this does not last for too long because this story of my departures and returns never ends. (S.C. Biela, The Two Pillars, [Ft.Collins, CO: IAMF, 2006], 122.)
Every moment of our lives is permeated with the Presence that loves and bestows. To live in faith means to be able to see this loving and constantly bestowing Presence. Because of faith, Christ gradually becomes a light that shines through a person’s whole life and that shines through the world. He becomes a living, active presence in the life of his disciples. Every moment of our lives brings us His presence. Time is the Presence written with a capital “P.” It is the presence of Christ in our lives. It is the personal presence of God, revealing Himself as the One who expects something from us. God reveals Himself to us through His will. But what is His will? It is always that which is best for us because God is Love. Every moment of your life is a moment of meeting with the Presence that is loving you. (Tadeusz Dajczer, TheGift of Faith3rd. ed. [Ft. Collins, CO: IAMF, 2012], 5-6.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Choosing the Humble Means

After I shared with my spiritual director my ideas of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving for the next 40 days, he suggested I reread the chapter in The Gift of Faith on humble means. He proposed that I “fast” from my pedestal – meaning my desire to be acknowledged, admired, and esteemed. {And I thought candy, cookies, and chips would be hard to give up!} He recommended I go to my adoration time in the arms of the Blessed Mother, and keep the posture of the tax collector not the Pharisee during the 10 minutes I had decided I could try to allot each day. He didn’t specifically address my idea of thoroughly cleaning my house during Lent, but I am guessing that would go under fasting from my pedestal; for knowing my personality, if I end Lent with a clean sparkling home, I am sure I will take all the credit and bask in the glory of a job well done.

What I appreciate about the spirituality of communion with Christ through the Blessed Mother is how it has helped me see how selfish I have been when deciding on what to do for Lent. For example, I like giving up sweets so I can lose a few pounds. The spirituality has also helped me release my narrow perception that fasting is only from food, praying means only rosaries, and almsgiving is only donating to an organization in need. I now realize charitable giving can mean more than dollars donated. It can mean giving a "smile" to a coworker who is having a bad day. Or offering my “time” to listen to a patient explain their ailments. Praying can be continuous, all-day-long, short ejaculations of praise or petitions for souls in need or just a grateful look to heaven for God’s generous bestowals. These are the humble means that cannot be measured and most times not seen so as to gain recognition from others.

I have also learned that before starting any Lenten sacrifices I must first stand in the truth and admit I cannot do them on my own, but only with God’s grace and through my entrustment to the Blessed Mother may I try. And most importantly, God loves me even if I fail.
                                               Rich Means vs. Humble Means
Jacques Maritain divides temporal means that may be used for spiritual ends into two categories: rich temporal means and humble temporal means. Those means which are visible and can be statistically analyzed Maritain calls rich means. They are tangible things like organizations, meetings, marches, church architecture and decoration, audio-visual and mass media. A characteristic trait of rich means is their influence on one’s self-love because their effects and results are apparent. This has the danger of our claiming these results and our own and, as a result, adopting an attitude of triumph.

Humble means are marked with the stigma of the Cross and express one of the most profound truths in the Gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In humble means, a true paradox of the dynamism of faith can be observed: the poorer they are – that is, the more destitute, the more insignificant in themselves, and the less visible – the more efficacious they are. As opposed to rich means, these humble means are not dependent on tangible success, and they do not have any internal need for temporal success. Humble means is the acceptance of suffering out of love for God. You encounter such means when your knees hurt during prayer, when you deny yourself something, when you question who you are and, at times, live in great calmness, silence, and contemplation. Nothing much is known about these things; they are invisible means. They cannot be measured by any sociological statistics. However, these are the humble means that, in the light of faith, prove to be the deciding factor in the fate of the world.
Tadeusz Dajczer, The Gift of Faith, 3rd. ed. (Ft. Collins, CO: IAMF, 2012), 147-148,150.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Entrustment to Mary = Encouragement for the Discouraged

The blog post written by High Hopes last week has had me thinking.  It was an extremely timely post for me personally, and I kept reflecting on the fact that I, too, was entrusted to our Blessed Mama “in advance”. 

When that post came out, I was a very discouraged soul, wondering why I couldn’t keep my misery, my weakness in check and under control.  I had allowed my discouragement to keep me from praying, from turning back to God, to reaching out to my spiritual director.  Instead, I found myself turning to sweets, TV, Facebook, and naps.  I had forgotten about what growing in holiness truly is:  growing in awareness of how much I need God. 

So, when I read that post, I was actually very much ENcouraged!  Yes, there is a reason why I was entrusted so many years ago.  I so very often trick myself into thinking how strong of a person I am and/or need to be.  No.  The truth is, I am not strong.  I am weak.  I am in need of my Redeemer.  There is no shame in recognizing this truth.  The tragedy is in rejecting my Savior’s loving mercy. 

I had been meaning to reach out to my spiritual director, but my thoughts were a jumbled mess and even I didn’t know what I was going through.  So, I avoided emailing him and avoided praying about it.  I am SO amazed at how God wouldn’t have any of that, not for long, anyway.  This past week, I got a very unexpected phone call – from my spiritual director.  It turned out that he would be in town and would be able to meet with me in person.  No phone call.  No emails.  In person.  Tomorrow.  God loves me so much He arrived via my spiritual director at my front door.  Because He loves me as I am – weak and confused.  “Remember that the Father does not stop waiting for you, not even for a moment.” ((S.C. Biela, Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock, [Ft. Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2005], 20).

I thank God for my entrustment, because my initial reaction to the phone call was to make excuses as to why he shouldn’t come (Control Freak likes to have time in advance to clean, plan meals, figure out what to say…etc).  But, because of His grace, I said yes in the arms of my Mama, and allowed Her to make the arrangements.  Because our meeting was in person, I was able to go to Confession to a priest who knows my soul.  What a blessing!  And what a blessing my gentle penance was:  before you go to sleep, spend 3 minutes in silence to take in God’s love for you. I share this with you, because of how it relates to this very blog.  I was encouraged to just allow God to love me as I am. What joy!  I was reminded that God sees my heart, sees my efforts, sees the state of my soul over my whole lifetime, not just in a few weeks’ worth of apathy.  I was encouraged to return to My Father via the arms of my Mother and say, “I am Yours, my Jesus.”  And I thank you, God, for allowing me to see the truth about my weaknesses, and how it calls upon the abyss of Your merciful Love.

The important thing is not to become discouraged.  If you get discouraged then you will resemble a child who tries to destroy a mountain with a pick ax.  But, seeing how little progress he makes after a few attempts, he despondently looks at his father and sadly puts away the tool.  When it becomes difficult for you, try to remember that those efforts, although not very externally effective, are very pleasing to God.  Perhaps the Lord will receive them as an invitation to enter through the door upon which He knocks.  In this way, your meager efforts will allow God to enter into your life with His grace because, after all, only the power of that grace can grind to dust the massive rock formation of your pride. (S.C. Biela, Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock, [Ft. Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2005], 42-43).

If you see your spiritual misery with faith in God’s love, then this truth will not threaten you.  If, however, you start to doubt God’s mercy, then newly discovered misery could lead you even to despair.  Doubting God’s mercy could provoke you to close the door of your heart before Him, thus directing you to commit even worse sins.  But if you try to remember that you are being carried in the arms of Mary, the Mother of Christ, you will be fully open to God’s love.  In Her arms, you may be shielded from your faults and unfaithfulness;  you may experience peacefulness and even happiness when God reveals the contents of your whitewashed tomb to you in a fuller light. (S.C. Biela, Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock, [Ft. Collins, CO:  IAMF, 2005], 28-29).