Archive for March, 2011

Why does love chase away fear?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary this morning, a thought struck me while praying the first mystery: The Agony in the Garden: why was Jesus afraid and what did it mean?

Jesus was the Christ, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit – how could he know fear? But Jesus was also man and we all know fear. As a man, Jesus knew fear and anxiety in that garden that was so intense that He sweated blood and begged the Father to allow what was coming to pass.

It made me wonder: did Jesus as a man know the separation from the Father that all humanity knows, brought on by the fall of Adam and Eve? And because of that separation, did He then turn into Himself, thus coming face to face with the terrors that awaited Him? And by turning everything over to God (“not my will but Yours”) and thus turning away from Himself, is that what opened Jesus to the grace needed to face His most terrible hours with such courage?

Is fear then, self-centered, while love and trust is other-centered?

In remembering the many times I used to wake up at 4 in the morning, worrying endlessly about so many things, it certainly was all about me! I felt trapped inside of myself when that type of anxiety would grip me. Only when the sun came up and I got out of bed was I able to put a little distance between myself and my fear. When that happened, the fear would shrink and fade. The monster in the closet would disappear when a little perspective came into view.

I remember many years ago I read a book about a fire in a Boston nightclub that scared me so much I didn’t close my eyes the entire night. I broke out in a sweat and my stomach hurt. This fear was so deep that I refused to go out to restaurants. I wouldn’t go to our town library or work there for fear I would see that book. Sometimes I would see local news coverage of the event, citing some anniversary, and it would ruin my whole day. The fear was palpable, and it kept growing.

Finally I confessed my fear to my then-boyfriend-now husband. I had to pray on it for a long time, rocking back and forth in the bathroom crying until I got up the nerve to name it to someone else. After I confessed it, the fear went away – the monster in the closet was gone. I stepped away from myself, trusted God, and let it go.

I knew years later I had been successful because another terrible nightclub fire occurred in 2003 in Warwick, RI. This time, instead of running away from it, I faced it head on. It was hard, but it prevented the monster from rising up again.

Jesus faced His fear and turned it over to His loving Father. He turned away from himself and towards the Father. He could only do that because of his love and trust for the Father. And he was able to face his own monster, a real monster, and do it with grace.

Love chases away fear because love focuses on the other, not on the self. That turning away from self allows trust to happen.

Jesus tells us that fear is useless and to replace it with trust. Trust becomes easier as I come to know Jesus more intimately and fall more deeply in love with Him. Love is perfected over a lifetime and perfect love drives out all fear.

Here’s one way to learn how to see Christ in others

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

I’ve been pondering a lot lately about how Mother Teresa could so readily find Jesus inside of every person she met. I read in a wonderful book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Great Lent: Journey to Pascha) about how she may have done it (and he wasn’t even writing directly about her):

“Christian love is the ‘possible impossibility’ to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a ‘good deed’ or an exercise in philanthropy but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the ‘other’ – his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity – and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal ‘root’ of a human being, truly the part of God in him?”
(Chapter 1 Preparation for Lent pg. 25, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

And when we can look into another person’s soul, what do we find? St. Theresa of Avila says:

“…the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says he finds his delight. So then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes his delight? I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity. Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but he himself says that he created us in his own image and likeness… His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in his own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.” (from the Catholic Spiritual Direction blog)

I knew I needed something, a God-inspired technique, to help me see into the souls of others, and the Lord inspired me with this during prayer one day:

Greet Jesus in everyone you meet.

I knew that the Lord meant that I should look into the face of anyone I meet on the street, smile, and say “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or just “Hi.” I would greet each person as if I were greeting Jesus in person. Didn’t St. Thérèse of Lisieux always talk about the power of a simple smile?

Sounds easy, right? Not! I’m shy and have always avoided direct eye contact with others, thus avoiding intimacy. I tend to look down at the sidewalk when I encounter strangers while walking to work. In obedience though, I am trying to do what the Lord has asked and it’s incredibly hard to do! BUT, each time I do it, it reminds me that Jesus is in that person and I am greeting Jesus. And the more I emulate Mother Teresa, seeing Jesus in others, the more I will truly love as Christ loves, and I will do what He would want me to do.

Hey, maybe I’ll even get over my shyness! What a miracle that would be. :-)

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Recently I gave a talk for a half day retreat in Henniker, NH. The topic was “What does it take to become a beautiful Godly woman?” I researched the topic by reading 2 books at once: The Authentic Catholic Woman by Genevieve Kineke and The Prayer of Mary by Deacon Keith Fournier.  Fournier’s book in particular has had a transforming affect on my life as his book gently but firmly led me to the beginning of living a life of surrender to God. I am just starting to do this but already I can feel the difference. Fournier used Mary as the model and my love for her has grown exponentially as a result. Mary was the most beautiful woman this world has ever known and I hope can hope to achieve even a glimmer of her beauty as I learn to follow her path to Jesus.

It seems obvious to me that Mary should be the first focus as an example of a beautiful Godly woman and I’m seeing a lot of parallels in Kineke’s thesis that the Church as the Bride of Christ is the ultimate example that universally applies to all women: past, present and future, and the fact that Mary is the perfect example of the Church as the Bride.

Christopher West, known for his work the Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body wrote a wonderful preface to this book that contends two things:

  • To be human is to receive God’s love, conceive God’s love, and carry it forth to others – this is the Bride of Christ, the Church, and why woman is the model of the human race (see how Mary is the perfect example?)
  • Because of original sin and sin in the world, the view of God has been grossly distorted from that of loving and merciful Father to jealous and dominating tyrant.

Mary, to me, is the perfect example of how the creature and the Creator were meant to live together.

However, because of this distorted view of God (and of masculinity) as that of power and dominance over others, woman’s greatest blessing of receptivity to love and life is seen as a curse (Preface, The Authentic Catholic Woman, pg. IX). Her blessing places her under the domination of others in the eyes of the world.

I found as I read that I was flooded with thoughts of all the reading I’ve done lately about 19th century women in New England and how they were the property of their husbands, with no rights of their own. A woman in the 19th century (and obviously throughout history) lost all autonomy when she married. In society she had no right to vote or own property, and in her own personal life, had no voice regarding her own self and her body. This in a supposedly religious society. Even in the inner circle of the religious, the image of God and how He relates to human beings was so distorted. How else could men believe they could own their wives as property? And is it any wonder that women fought back?

I have felt contempt for current day feminists for a long while but now I feel compassion. While I see the error of their methods and the tragic outcome of their actions (most especially contraception and abortion, equaling a rejection of receptivity to new life), I do understand why they feel so passionately about their cause. Kineke and West both point out that feminists today, rather than embracing the Godly image of woman, toss it all in favor of obtaining power by becoming more masculine (Ibid). In other words, if one has no understanding of God as loving Father, one will not understand the unique role of women in His plan. Men will continue to dominate and women will continue to fight back. Mary will never be understood as the perfect role model.

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Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning

Letting Go of Fear

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

(The Red Room website was calling for articles about letting go in honor of Lent so I submitted this post. This isn’t really about Lent, but it is about letting go, and it shows that it doesn’t have to be swift and painful for it to work. God is gracious and merciful).

I profess to have faith in God and as such, am supposed to trust in God. But when it came to the family finances, I never seemed to be able to find that pool of trust.

My husband and I are talented at many things, but managing money is not one of them. Even though my husband works as a financial analyst, he has no interest in using those talents to balance our checkbook. I am quite motivated, but often have to add up the numbers more than once on the calculator to get the right answer.

As a result, we always seemed to be in financial trouble, and this caused me a lot of stress. It would usually play out in the wee hours of the morning, the dreaded 4 o’clock hour: waking up, stomach hurting and palms sweaty over the big monster in the closet. Somehow that monster always shrank when the sun would rise and I’d get up for the day. The monster may not have been physically present, but the fear was very real.

I prayed to God about our finances. First it was, “Please send us extra money get through the month.” Then it was, “Please teach us how to handle our money.” I wanted a miracle, I wanted to win the lottery. But that’s not how God works.

Finally, a few years ago, something broke and it came about because of a purchase: the purchase of a tandem kayak.

We had moved into an area full of lakes, streams and ponds, and my husband kept bugging me to use the credit card and purchase a kayak. I have abhorrence for credit cards and kept saying no, but finally to keep the peace, I gave in. It turned out to be a momentous decision.

Some husbands and wives should never work together and that was us – just too competitive, each of us always wanting to come out on top. Yet, when the kayak came, that all changed. Very naturally we took our places – he handled the physical end of the boat (how to put it up on the car, how to carry it, etc.) and he graciously allowed me to sit up in the front to determine where we would paddle to. The smooth silence of the water complemented by the beautiful hot summer days made for blissfully peaceful trips down lazy rivers and streams. We’d drift and look at birds, run our hands through the warm water, stop to go fishing, all the while talking to each other in soft voices. In the kayak, I could let go of everything that was bothering me.

Winter came and the kayak was put away but I longed for that peace and harmony to continue, especially when I’d wake up at 4am worrying about money. That’s when God went to work, slowly changing me, pouring His grace upon me like a light mist falling on fallow ground, until that ground became soft and bore fruit. He used the imagery of the kayak trip to teach me about floating down His river of grace, all the while letting go and letting Him steer. Slowly I shed the worries that burdened me and turned them over to Him, letting them flow downstream. I began to sleep through the night and let the sun wake me up in the morning rather than the monster in the closet.

I learned how to let go of my fear. I learned how to trust. The good and gentle God took me by the hand, used something that was so sweet and delicious to me and taught me how to trust. And I haven’t turned back since.

“Loving God . . . Loving Neighbor: A Lenten Transformation” Retreat Wrap-up

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

This past weekend (March 11-13), my partner Ann Wagstaff and I had the privilege of presenting to a group of extraordinary women at the Vita Nova Women’s retreat at the Barbara C. Harris Center in Greenfield, NH. The weekend exceeded our wildest expectations! The spirit of fraternity, affection and fellowship coupled with a real move of the Holy Spirit made it a weekend we all will remember for a long time to come.

Here are pictures from the weekend, and below the pictures, a description of what went on (including one of the talks that you can download).

Prayers for Detachment; time for reconciliation

After settling in on Friday, Ann and I led a prayer to help the women detach from their cares and focus solely on God. Music, prayers, candles and sweet scents lifted hearts to Heaven. Each woman wrote down their cares on a piece of paper – all the papers were put in a bag that was attached to mylar balloons that would lift the bag up to the ceiling!

After the prayer, everyone went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with 3 wonderful priests, setting the tone for a Spirit-filled weekend.

Prayer

Prayer was a central part of the retreat – the Sung Rosary was done throughout the day using a Power Point presentation with images, scripture and the music of the Sung Rosary. Here’s a sample:

Loving God . . .

On Saturday morning, the presentations began. The theme of the retreat was the Two Great Commandments, based on Mark 12:28-34 – loving God, and loving neighbor.  A strong emphasis was placed upon priorities – how important it is to love God first and allowing that growing relationship to spill over into loving your neighbor. I shared teaching  on why loving God first was so important in my talk on Martha and Mary (read the text of the talk here), and Ann proceeded to share from her life about her struggles to balance between being a Martha and a Mary, and how she is becoming a “contemplative in action.”

I then spoke about how service happens through an outpouring of grace resulting from loving God, and how that grace can equip us for difficult service (in my case, helping to care for my dying mother).

The morning session concluded with an Emmaus walk, where the women, after hearing the scripture about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus at Emmaus, were instructed to take their own individual walk around the grounds as the disciples did, conversing and listening to Jesus.

Time of  Fellowship

Mealtimes at the dining hall were a highpoint as the food was so well prepared, and everyone was so warm and friendly. There was an extraordinary move of the Spirit through all the women which created a wonderful atmosphere of fellowship. It was a taste of Heaven.

Loving Neighbor . . .

The afternoon session focused on loving our neighbor by discovering and developing our natural talents and gifts, and then becoming aware of and praying for the spiritual gifts (based on scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) . Ann and I gave a talk tracing our time lines to see what talents and gifts kept appearing throughout our lifetimes as a way of identifying what we do well (I also traced my husband’s interesting time line which led to his vocation as a deacon). I also spoke on what I termed “hidden gifts”  – those things such as being hospitable, being a good listener, or being a good caregiver – talents our society does not value but God does.  Each woman took a written survey to dig deeper into their own gifts and talents, and small group discussion followed sharing what they found out.

The scripture on the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 set the stage for a talk on the responsibilities we have to use our gifts to serve others. Blessed Mother Teresa was held up as the best modern example of a woman who used her immense gifts to help the poorest of the poor and that her ‘secret’ to her success what that it was all for Jesus. She had a unique talent for seeing Christ in every person she saw. I shared my song about Mother Teresa, “Teach Me to Love” (click here to listen).

Afterwards, the women gathered in small groups where they read sayings from Mother Teresa about service and applied them to their lives. The work they did produced some wonderful ideas – I took pictures of all the work they did so you can see for yourself and perhaps apply them to your life:

A beautiful meditation of the Stations of the Cross (a Power Point presentation with narration) was presented in the evening.

Blessing of the Hands

Sunday morning we were treated to a beautiful mass by Father Benedict of the Franciscans of the Primitive Order out of Lawrence, MA. Afterwards, we gathered back in the gym for our sending forth ceremony known as the Blessing of the Hands. Father blessed the water and the bowl was passed around from woman to woman; each woman dipped a finger in the water and did a sign of the cross in the hand of the woman next to her as a litany was read.  Eventually the litany was opened up and women shared their own blessings. It was a very moving ceremony with many tears shed. The ceremony strongly demonstrated the spirit of love and fellowship that bound together these new friends.

More information on Vita Nova

Ann and I were delighted and honored to have been a part of this event. The Vita Nova team (all volunteer), led by Rose Marie Cussom and Shannon Best were extraordinary in their efforts; their support made it possible for Ann and I to focus solely on the content and presentation of the material. I can’t rave about the team enough! Vita Nova is holding other events – be sure and check out their website for more information.