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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Reading: Well, I finished The Woman in White. It was..quite the read. Now, you know that if you don’t have a taste for dense Victorian melodrama, you wouldn’t even consider Mondaypicking this up. But if you do have an interest in such things – you might like this. Or you might tire of it, as I did. I liked Collins’ No Name much better. As absurd as it was at times, it was still more grounded in reality than The Woman in White – it explored a more varied landscape of English society and it expressed a more focused outrage – at the helplessness of women within the British legal system.

The Woman in White is fascinating, however, from the perspective of history and literature. For Collins is quite creative in constructing the tale and in the narrative. He uses many different points of view and is meticulous in building a very complex structure of events.

One of the key differences between the two books has to do with perspective. No Name is essentially told from the narrative perspective (in the third person) of the wronged woman, the woman who has been deprived of any rights – and it is told as she is amy-welbornrecouping what morality, if not the legal and social system owe her. The Woman in White‘s events are described in two stages: 1) what happened  and 2) one character’s attempts to discover what happened and bring the perpetrators to some sort of justice. I found the narrative stage of the No Name more compelling.

Both books are interesting for anyone – like me – who thinks about women’s issues as well as the nature of human freedom and action. When you read Victorian-era fiction – from Collins to Dickens to Trollope and the scores of others – you are struck at every turn by this question: human beings are born into structured environments. Of some sort. How do these legal and social structures restrict human freedom, how do they shape choices? Are they just or unjust? Would these characters be better off without them or do these structures reflect anything real about human nature – do they shape human activity in ways directed toward the good?

When you read fiction of this era, you might be tempted to take a condescending view: Oh, those Victorians, bound by complex legalities and oppressive social mores. We’re so much better off today!

Really?

Also read chunks of The Comedy of Errors  – alone and with boys. We’ll be seeing a production of it soon. Must prepare!

Also reading up on Spain. We’ll be heading there, not really soon – but before the end of the year.

Watching: I’ve been rewatching chunks of Mad Men this past week. I don’t really know why. I first rewatched much of the pilot and was struck – as I had been the first time around – how weak it was. Gorgeous to look at, of course, but the cultural stage-setting was so awkwardly obvious and condescending: Look at all the people smoking! The doctor is smoking! Much misogyny! 

I didn’t rewatch a lot more of that first season, which, as I recall, took time to get over that condescension toward the past (some critics claim it never did – I disagree). But I have been skipping through subsequent episodes – I fast forward through most of the domestic drama, and focus on the office material, which I always really enjoyed. I had problems with Mad Men – I always felt that the core of it was Matthew Weiner working out his negative feelings about his mother (Betty) – and there were a few weak casting choices (aka Weiner’s deeply untalented son) and, as I said, most of the domestic angst bored me, but there were so many great characters, it was a world I always enjoy settling into, the trajectory of the Peggy character was one of the most well-done I’ve ever seen on television, and there was that one episode where Roger made witty remarks – you remember that one?

Listening: Just found out that a drummer who played in my son’s jazz recital ensemble was part of a recording that won a Grammy last night! So I’ll be searching for that to listen to today.

Writing: Not enough. Never enough. Aargh.  Maybe look for another blog post coming up later.

Blog post on Lourdes – it’s Our Lady of Lourdes today. 

Well, I’ll be in Living Faith later this week. Wednesday, I think.

My son posted a review of Glass. 

One element of the film that’s received some derision is the buildup of the idea of the Osaka Tower and the great fight that will come. However, I think that buying into that premise is the audience missing the point of Glass’s philosophy. It’s not that comic books are real, but that they are born from events that then get blown up into something else. Superman couldn’t fly in the beginning Casey reminds Dr. Staple at one point. So, what we end up getting is the beginning of belief, the extraordinary feats of extraordinary people, far removed from the spotlight of a huge crowd. The final fight takes place in a parking lot in much the same way that, if Glass’s philosophy is correct, the inspiration for Superman lifting the car on the front of Action Comics #1 must have. It wouldn’t have been with millions of eyes on him, but with a small crowd.

And that’s the origins of belief. To take this in an explicitly religious direction for a quick moment, it wasn’t a multitude that witness Jesus’ transfiguration or resurrection, but a handful of believers who went on to spread the word from there. It’s an interesting idea, explored in an interesting fashion, and told well.

 

And then…preparing…I guess?

Next Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday, the first of the pre-Lent Sundays – the loss of pre-Lent is one of the most ridiculous changes that occurred in the wake of Vatican II.  When you read about it – say in this blog post I wrote – you see why. I always highlight this page from a 7th grade catechism – read the part to which the arrow leads. I love the lack of condescension towards young people. The assumption that they are simply part of the Body of Christ, with a mission. No catchy banners or t-shirts needed. Just the assumption, because they are baptized, that they are a part of this great journey.

 

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Wish not to do all, but only something, and without doubt, you will do much. 

-St. Francis de Sales, letter, 7/20/1607.

Today’s the feastday of St. Francis de Sales. Which of course you know because all the bloggers and writers are posting: Francis de Sales…my patron saint! 

And really, yes. You should read St. Francis de Sales. But as you do,  try to catch, not simply the ways that he confirms your expectations, but perhaps the way he challenges them.

Over the years – decades– I have been interested in the ways that we modern, post-Conciliar Catholics approach, use and well, perhaps appropriate great spiritual figures of the past. Well, you ask – how can we appropriate them if they are ours? If we share the same faith?

Well, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?

For we can pick bits and pieces of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, and we can collect their sayings that comfort us, we can tack attractively calligraphied sayings of theirs on our walls and make pillows and mugs out of them, but really –

-do we believe everything they believe?

Do we buy it?

So take St. Francis de Sales. We like him, we celebrate him because he’s the patron saint of writers and journalists – yay us – and because he wrote specifically for the laity – YAY us – but what happens when you actually read him? What happens when you try to reach beyond what comforts you?

For the truth is, most of us reading St. Francis de Sales today have been formed to believe that belief and conversion is essentially coming to believe that I am important, and I am loved by God, that I have a place in the universe. God loves me, God accepts me as I am. 

The essence of the spiritual life seems to be: Rest in God’s love. You’re doing your best. Don’t worry.  Be assured. Come as you are. 

Well, when you read Francis de Sales – and, of course, other spiritual teachers of the past – you might pick up on some differences. Yes (as we’ll see) Francis de Sales advises against scrupulosity all the time, and both he and Jane de Chantal warn against excessive interiority and obsession with one’s spiritual state.

But this moderation is advised, not because they’re communicating that where ever you are, you’re fine and embrace your imperfections and mess. It’s a little different than that. It’s more: You’re a person, so yes you’re an imperfect mess. But God calls you to shed that mess and move towards perfection, and he gives you the tools and the grace to do so. 

And further, if you recognize this, you have an obligation to do so. A duty.

So, although I am spiritually slothful myself, I have mused about this distinction for a long time and critiqued it in various ways, but last night, I was re-reading some Francis de Sales, a bit of clarity came to me, clarity about the world we’ve lived in since the Enlightenment. And with that clarity, came, I think, some understanding, and yes, acceptance.

Modern people – that means you and me – live in a world without God. Even if we are churchgoers and say we believe in God, we actually live in a world without God, because, we admit, everyone believes what they like and who are we to judge?

That’s a world without God.

Just admit it.

And living in a world without God means living in a world of anxiety. It means living on this world that exits – why? – not knowing why or how you came to be, not having any firm, objective sense of your own value or purpose, and certainly  not knowing if your life is any more meaningful than the weed you just pulled from your garden.

So in that radically non-transcendent universe, what is “salvation?”

It is, simply, the revelation that yes, you matter. Yes, you are here, not accidentally, but because Someone wants you to be, which means that you are loved.

And so that is the core of the meaning of conversion in 2019: Accepting your own value.

I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over that persistent theme and critiquing it, but this evening, after reading St. Francis de Sales for a while, and trying to figure out the distinctions between his message and most of what I hear today – I think that’s it, and I get it.

In an empty, meaningless universe, if we can start there – you matter – well, that’s where we have to start. It may strike me as solipsistic and goopy, but if you have been formed to believe that your life means whatever you want  which means, in essence your life means nothing –  to learn that: your life has happened because the Creator of the Universe wants  it to…

….is, indeed, transformative.

But here we are, back with St. Francis de Sales. And he won’t let you rest there. He won’t let you rest with I’m okay, I’m loved, I’m here for a reason, I have amazing gifts and talents. 

Nope.

Traditional Catholic spirituality – as expressed by today’s saint – is not about resting on our laurels and delighting in our unique gifts and talents. It’s about honestly looking at ourselves, seeing what trash we’ve allowed in, and sucking it up, embracing hard discipline, and moving forward.

We post-Vatican II babies were raised to look back at this type of spirituality and shudder: Scrupulosity! God loves you just as you are!

The basic difference has been:

Salvation = understanding and accepting that God made you and loves you as you are

Salvation = cooperating with the grace of God to restore the you he made. 

And this is why St. Francis de Sales is so wonderful. He bridges this gap, he is realistic on every score, reminding us that we are not perfect and that we should be striving for perfection, but warning us against unrealistic expectations as well:

 My God ! dear daughter, do not examine whether
what you do is little or much, good or ill, provided it is
not sin, and that in good faith you will to do it for God.
As much as you can, do perfectly what you do, but when
it is done, think of it no more ; rather think of what
is to be done quite simply in the way of God, and do
not torment your spirit. We must hate our faults,
but with a tranquil and quiet hate, not with an angry
and restless hate ; and so we must have patience when
we see them, and draw from them a profit of a holy-
abasement of ourselves. Without this, my child,
your imperfections which you see subtly, trouble you
by getting still more subtle, and by this means sustain
themselves, as there is nothing which more preserves
our weeds than disquietude and eagerness in removing
them.

To be dissatisfied and fret about the world, when we
must of necessity be in it, is a great temptation. The
Providence of God is wiser than we. We fancy that
by changing our ships, we shall get on better; yes, if
we change ourselves. My God, I am sworn enemy of
these useless, dangerous, and bad desires : for though
what we desire is good, the desire is bad, because God
does not will us this sort of good, but another, in
which he wants us to exercise ourselves. God wishes
to speak to us in the thorns and the bush, as he did to
Moses; and we want him to speak in the small wind,
gentle and fresh, as he did to Elias. May his good-
ness preserve you, my daughter ; but be constant
courageous, and rejoice that he gives you the will to
be all his. I am, in this goodness, very completely
your, &c.

That’s from his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).

It is well worth downloading and keeping on hand. So much pertinent, valuable, wise advice and insight. Perhaps begin with his 10/14/1604 letter to Jane de Chantal. It’s long and rich and contains, among other bits, tremendous insight on true liberty in Christ.

The effects of this liberty are a great suavity of
soul, a great gentleness and condescension in all that
is not sin or danger of sin ; a temper sweetly pliable to
the acts of every virtue and charity.

For example : interrupt a soul which is attached to
the exercise of meditation ; you will see it leave with
annoyance, worried and surprised. A soul which has
true liberty will leave its exercise with an equal coun-
tenance, and a heart gracious towards the importunate
person who has inconvenienced her. For it is all one
to her whether she serve God by meditating, or serve
him by bearing with her neighbour : both are the will
of God, but the bearing with her neighbour is necessary
at that time.

The occasions of this liberty are all the things which
happen against our inclination ; for whoever is not
attached to his inclinations, is not impatient when they
are contradicted.

This liberty has two opposite vices, instability and
constraint, or dissolution and slavery. Instability, or
dissolution of spirit, is a certain excess of liberty, by
which we change our exercises, our state of life, with-
out proof or knowledge that such change is God’s
will. On the smallest occasion practices, plan, rule
are changed; for every little occurrence we leave our
rule and laudable custom : and thus the heart is dissi-
pated and ruined, and is like an orchard open on all
sides, whose fruits are not for its owners, but for all
passers by.

Constraint or slavery is a certain want of liberty by
which the soul is overwhelmed with either disgust or
anger, when it cannot do what it has planned, though
still able to do better.

For example : I design to make my meditation every
day in the morning. If I have the spirit of insta-
bility, or dissolution, on the least occasion in the
world I shall put it off till the evening for a dog
which kept me from sleeping, for a letter I have to
write, of no urgency whatever. On the other hand,
if I have the spirit of constraint or servitude, I
shall not leave my meditation at that hour, even
if a sick person have great need of my help at the
time, even if I have a dispatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and
so on.

And go ahead – get a head start on Lent with What St. Francis de Sales wants you to know about fasting. 

Oh, and check out Bearing Blog’s many posts on Introduction to the Devout Life. 

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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

 

For more on that book go here. 

They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

I have copies here – if you’d like a signed one! 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

amy-welbornamy-welborn2

 

 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

 

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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Some months back, I read a blog post from someone I know a bit. Exploring the possibility of revisiting the Catholic faith of her childhood, she had gone to Mass. But she had left with her needs not met, she felt, because the priest’s homily had utilized battle themes. This disappointed her.

What struck me though, was that in reading this person’s writing for a few years, it was clear she had been fighting deep, painful battles, mostly related to her children. She was not fighting against them as much as fighting for them in their struggles with addiction and self-worth and calling. Yes, she had been fighting and she was exhausted by it, but she would not give up on her children.

It was too bad that she couldn’t see the connection. It was too bad that a combination of perhaps the priest’s failure to connect the battle imagery with personal battles or the walls she had put up to understanding had worked so that she could not see that yes, she and her children were fighting battles and that here in that place, God’s strength was available to her, light ready to be taken up against the darkness.

I have always thought of it this way. God created us in His image and our destiny is eternal life with Him. Darkness is fighting against that, is fighting to win us. It is Temptation 101, yes? But when we leave the battlefield image out of this dynamic because we are uncomfortable with it or think we have progressed beyond it, and we much prefer to talk of “journeys” and “seeking,”  we profoundly misunderstand the nature of the journey to Peace. Darkness doesn’t want you to live in the light of God’s accepting, constant, trustworthy love, and throw everything in its power to keep you out.

Yes, it is a battle.

img_20160929_081758.jpg

In my son’s prayer corner. I wrote about this piece a few years ago. Daniel Mitsui, the artist, seems to no longer have the cited explanation up on his website, but here it is nonetheless from another website:

This ink drawing (with gold leaf details) of St. Michael fighting the devil was commissioned by a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries, an order with a long history of missionary activity in Japan. He asked whether I thought it possible to create an image of the archangel in the style of traditional Japanese art without the result being kitsch.

I was certainly willing to make an attempt. While inculturation is not something that I have consciously attempted in the past, I was eager to explore some of the illustrative ideas in Japanese woodblock printing. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of my favorite artists, provided most of the inspiration here.

I was also curious to see how successfully I could maintain the western iconographic traditions in the content and arrangement of religious pictures while using an eastern style of illustration.

 

From another part of the world, in 2010 on our parish mission trip, in Saltillo, Mexico:

"amy welborn"

Here’s a bit about the prayer of St. Michael from my book, The Words We Pray:

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow is St. Jerome! Get ready!

 

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Today’s her feastday. A post that’s a compilation from previous years:
St. Teresa is in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. You can read most of the entry here, at the Loyola site – they have a great section on saints’ stories arranged according to the calendar year. Some of the stories they have posted are from my books, some from other Loyola Press saints’ books.

When we think about the difference that love can make, many people very often think of one amy-welborn-booksperson: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A tiny woman, just under five feet tall, with no tools except prayer, love, and the unique qualities God had given her, Mother Teresa is probably the most powerful symbol of the virtue of charity for people today.

Mother Teresa wasn’t, of course, born with that name. Her parents named her Agnes—or Gonxha in her own language—when she was born to them in Albania, a country north of Greece.

Agnes was one of four children. Her childhood was a busy, ordinary one. Although Agnes was very interested in missionary work around the world, as a child she didn’t really think about becoming a nun; but when she turned 18, she felt that God was beginning to tug at her heart, to call her, asking her to follow him.

Now Agnes, like all of us, had a choice. She could have ignored the tug on her heart. She could have filled her life up with other things so maybe she wouldn’t hear God’s call. But of course, she didn’t do that. She listened and followed, joining a religious order called the Sisters of Loreto, who were based in Dublin, Ireland.

Years ago,  when the excerpts from Mother Teresa’s journal detailing her “dark night” were published, I wrote several posts. All have links to other commentary.

The first is here.  One of the articles I linked there was this 2003 First Things piece.

A second post, in which I wrote:

My first post on the story of Mother Teresa’s decades-long struggle with spiritual darkness struck some as “dismissive,” and for that I apologize. That particular reaction was against the press coverage – not the Time article, but the subsequent filtering that I just knew would be picked up as a shocking new revelation and used by two groups to promote their own agendas: professional atheists (per the Hitchens reaction in the Time piece itself) and fundamentalist Protestants, who would take her lack of “blessed assurance” emotions as a sure sign that Catholicism was, indeed, far from being Christian.  Michael Spencer at Internet Monk had to issue a warning to his commentors on his Mother Teresa post, for example, that he wouldn’t be posting comments declaring that Roman Catholics weren’t Christian.

So that was my point in the “not news” remark. Because the simple fact of the dark night isn’t – not in terms of Mother Teresa herself or in terms of Catholic understanding and experience of spirituality.  It is very good that this book and the coverage has made this more widely known to people who were previously unaware of either the specifics or the general, and it is one more gift of Mother Teresa to the world, a gift she gave out of her own tremendous suffering. What strikes me is once again, at its best, taken as a whole, how honest Catholicism is about life, and our life with God. There is all of this room within Catholicism for every human experience of God, with no attempt to gloss over it or try to force every individual’s experience into a single mold of emotion or reaction.

In that post, I linked to Anthony Esolen at Touchstone:

Dubiety is inseparable from the human condition.  We must waver, because our knowledge comes to us piecemeal, sequentially, in time, mixed up with the static of sense impressions that lead us both toward and away from the truth we try to behold steadily.  The truths of faith are more certain than the truths arrived by rational deduction, says Aquinas, because the revealer of those truths speaks with ultimate authority, but they are less certain subjectively, from the point of view of the finite human being who receives them yet who does not, on earth, see them with the same clarity as one sees a tree or a stone or a brook.  It should give us Christians pause to consider that when Christ took upon himself our mortal flesh, he subjected himself to that same condition.  He did not doubt; His faith was steadfast; yet He did feel, at that most painful of moments upon the Cross, what it was like to be abandoned by God.  He was one with us even in that desert, a desert of suffering and love.  Nor did the Gospel writers — those same whom the world accuses on Monday of perpetrating the most ingenious literary and theological hoax in history, and on Tuesday of being dimwitted and ignorant fishermen, easily suggestible — refuse to tell us of that moment.

     In her love of Christ — and the world does not understand Christ, and is not too bright about love, either — Mother Teresa did not merely take up His cross and follow him.  She was nailed to that Cross with him. 

Another post with more links to commentary.

And one more.

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For St. Augustine’s feastday, from Notre Dame’s John Cavadini:

(In this lecture – offered as part of Notre Dame’s pre-home game “Saturday with the Saints” series – Cavadini begins by explaining what the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion” means – and then explores Augustine’s understanding of pride and humility: Augustine, he says, reminds us to embrace a “hermeneutic of suspicion” towards ourselves, first, our motivations and then the culture at large, by judging whether they are rooted in pride or humble gratitude – which is the foundation of praise – to God. )

Augustine drily comments in a sermon that the Cross is the Incarnate Word’s chaired professorship, the place from which he teaches as magister, and yet there are not many would-be educational leaders vying for that particular Chair, which, I suppose, could be called the Word-Made-Flesh Professorship of Suffering Love and Compassionate Self-Gift, endowed not with cash but with blood. Can we listen, Augustine asks us, to Professor Jesus? Can we afford to let that love seep into our own closed hearts? And suddenly, out of gratitude for the sacrifice of love, for something so beautiful, we, in love with something completely non-prestigious, non-excellent as we have come to construe and constrain it, blurt out “Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” “You burst my bonds asunder, and to you will I offer a sacrifice of praise”—a sacrifice that extends not only to my lips and my heart but becomes a “Thank you” that even enters “all my bones” so that even they cry out the question, “Who is like you, O Lord?” And then he answers, “I am your salvation.” And then, maybe even we reply:

Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new, Late have I loved you! . . . You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace (Confessions, 10.xx).

 

In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

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This is a reprint from previous years. Haven’t changed my mind on any of it, so here you go.

I spent some time today reading about and trying to sort out St. Rose of Lima.  I knew the basics that most of us know, and not much more: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

So today, I decided to dig deeper. I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Four in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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