Our Lady of Conquering Love

The following poem yields some simple clues about the real nature of Mary.

Into cobwebbed haunts
And festering darkness
Slips a Lady of Light
In search of her children.

In many respects Mary is not known as she should be, often because popular devotion tends to trap her within the confines of pietistic practices and images that don’t always lead to a real relationship.  Praying the rosary, asking Mary’s intercession, and honoring her in different ways has so much more efficacy and meaning when we know and understand her as she really is.

In speaking to groups of women from different countries and different backgrounds, there is always a weak response to the question:  “How many of you would say you have a close relationship with our Blessed Mother?”  In response to the follow-up question:  “How many of you find it hard to relate to Our Lady?” the majority of hands go up.  She lived 2000 years ago, is portrayed as basically silent with a few notable exceptions, and of course was always praying, but in such a way that it seems like a private affair.  Not much for the modern person to connect to.

And yet, this is a shame, a great loss to many of us because Mary is more favored, has a richer personality, more gifts, deeper emotions, greater wisdom, profounder graces, more sensitive, loving virtue, and a more heavenly human beauty than anyone who ever was or ever will be born, aside from Jesus himself.  No one sways the heart of God nor reaches it as quickly as She does.  And no one aside from God Himself loves us as much as she does!

She is ours!  This is who God has given us to be our Mother, the very one He singled out and prepared for Himself.  This is the woman of unshakable faith in the midst of suffering and sorrows we will never even remotely comprehend or appreciate.  This is a woman of invincible faith, hope and courage, who comes up from the desert like an army in battle array and crushes the head of the ancient enemy with her heel.  Her humility, simplicity and modesty are more feared by the powers of darkness than the greatest preaching on earth!  This is the soul so full of grace and light, and adorned with such great fruits that it alone ravishes the heart of God and causes Him to send floods of grace upon the whole world, beginning with the greatest gift of all, the sending of His own Son, Jesus, to be our Savior.

This is not a passive woman, nor a pushy, aggressive one either. This is the valiant woman par excellence, who is as active a mother in the world today as she was when she mothered all those Jesus gave to her care during His hidden life, His public ministry, and in the early Church as it struggled through persecution to establish itself and evangelize the whole world.

How is Mary at work today, aside from her many apparitions?  There are some extraordinary stories which are not as well-known as they should be.

One of the great stories from our recent history comes to us from the Philippines.  The Philippines is a poor country, and the trials and sufferings of its people are immense.  At the same time the people have a vibrant, living faith that freely expresses itself in their culture.

During the 1980s, after having suffered for 20 years under the corrupt, oppressive, authoritarian Marcos regime, their spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, called for a Marian year.  People attended Rosary rallies, processions and special Masses by the millions, imploring Our Blessed Mother’s help.

At end of the year (1986), the people, including Priests and Religious, took to the streets, again by the millions, praying, carrying banners, and demanding that Marcos step down.  Marcos responded by sending tanks into the streets and ordering his soldiers to fire upon the crowds.  The soldiers looked into their gun sights to take aim but saw images of Our Lady everywhere.  They could not, would not fire.  In the end Marcos was airlifted out of the country and democracy was restored.

This was an unheard of thing, a completely bloodless, nonviolent revolution.  Secular media called it the People Power Revolution.  The Spanish of another era would’ve called it the work of La Conquistadora, Our Lady of Conquering Love!  And the Filippinos themselves know where the real victory came from.

Blessed Pope John Paul II took his cue from the events in the Philippines and called for a Marian year for the whole world from June 7 (Pentecost), 1987 to  August 15 (the Assumption), 1988.  Following the close of the world-wide Marian year, the Iron Curtain fell, and shortly thereafter the Soviet bloc disintegrated, all to the utter astonishment of the secular press.

Coincidence?  Don’t believe it!  They say the most common word heard on the battlefield is “mother”.  But this is the Mother we need in the battles we fight today.  We are all her children and she is ready to help any who approach her.

To those who might object to all this attention, remember, Mary is Jesus’ gift to us!  The Church does not ask us to worship Mary.  Jesus does not ask us to worship Mary.  He is simply asking us to love our Mother as He does.  It is a love upon which Jesus bestows boundless blessing.  Love your Mother!  There is none better!

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother, Sr. Anne Marie srannemarie@gmail.com

Finding Intimacy in the Desert

In the depths of our being, we all crave intimacy, connection.  We enter the world connected and remarkably well-equipped, even as babies, to draw others into relationship with us.  The very first moments of a baby’s life have to do with bonding, with cementing fundamental relationships with mother, father, siblings, grandparents, extended family.  It happens in a rather mysterious way, before a baby has developed verbal language or conscious powers of reasoning.  Nonetheless, by his very existence he draws people to himself by something that goes beyond a mere sense of obligation or duty on the part of the adults around him.

Agape, or the unconditional love of God for humankind, is sometimes described as being like the innocent love of an adult for a baby.  This is how God loves us!

From the beginning, this being in relationships is so much a part of us, so deep a need, that, by our nature, we are always seeking real relationships, and suffer deeply when we are deprived of them.  This is very much in keeping with our being made in the image and likeness of God Who lives in a communion of Persons and Who desires to share this happiness of a relational life with us.

It is equally true that almost from the beginning, the evil one sets out to disrupt and destroy not just particular relationships but all relationships.  He knows that if he succeeds in dividing us from God, we will become divided from others, and divided within ourselves as well.  Once God is removed, everything fragments.  Relationships fall apart.  This was the strategy of the evil one in the Garden of Eden.  This is still his objective in every temptation he sends our way.  When one considers the incredible breakdown of marriages and family relationships, it is obvious he excels at this.  Yet, it is interesting to note that among couples who regularly pray together, the divorce rate is 1%, a striking contrast to the 50% rate found in society at large.  God keeps us together.  The evil one tears us apart.

True relationships are always a threat to the evil one.  They have a power in them that defeats him.   It is no surprise that they are his central target.   He severed himself from his relationship with God and all that is good.  He now seeks to pull everyone else out of that same relationship.  And so, there is always hidden, within any temptation, a challenge to our relationship with God and the way we live it, which invariably affects the relationship we have with ourselves and with others.  What is presented to us is presented in the guise of a good, but the thrust of it always seeks to disturb or break our relationship with God.

Today, a successful strategy used by the evil one is the lure of “alternative” relationships, perhaps with other people, with nature, with technology, or even with himself, (though it is misleading to speak of the possibility of having a real relationship with the devil since he seeks ultimately, not our good but rather our destruction, and has lies and deceptions without number to accomplish it.)  He draws us in countless ways, sometimes through vain curiosities that waste time, through pursuit of base appetites, through legitimate goods such as digital gadgets that end up replacing personal relationships in many people’s lives.  He falsely suggests that the intimacy and inspiration we crave is more effectively met in these ways, than in fidelity to God and our loved ones.

Jesus went into the desert to show us the necessity of immersing ourselves in  our relationship with our Father.  When we are in deep communion with Him we easily recognize temptation and its core object.

It is intriguing to watch what Jesus does as He is tempted by the devil.  He does not debate the truth or lie of Satan’s statements for there is always some truth in temptation.  He knows clearly Satan’s aim.   Jesus hears the suggestion to abuse grace by turning stones into bread, to presume on or test God’s love by throwing Himself down from a height (and every fall from grace is exactly that) and to replace worship of God with the worship of Satan in the interests of exalting Himself as ruler of the kingdoms of the world.  Jesus responds by defending the Father’s  ways and holding fast to Him.  Real love always recognizes a threat to it’s treasure and is not moved by self-interest but rather willing to sacrifice self to preserve that treasure.

Jesus shows us that in the desert, in a poverty where we strip ourselves of excess and superfluous things, we much more easily attend to and are able to enter into this living relationship with God.   This is what our life is truly about.  In the desert, less is more.  In the desert we are actually strengthened, not weakened.  In the desert, God can speak to our hearts, as the prophet says (Hosea:  2:14).  In the desert, we conquer, with Christ, the evil one who is always looking for ways to take us out.

The traditional practices of Lent:  prayer, fasting and alms-giving have this aim.  They are not mere disciplines or exercises of will, (which we often quickly abandon when the 40 days are over.)  They are instruments of healing, meant to strengthen our relationships, especially in areas where we have either been negligent or where the evil one has caused damage.  Prayer helps heal and strengthen our relationship with God.  Fasting heals the brokenness we have within ourselves, addressing especially our tendencies to selfishness.  Giving alms helps to heal the brokenness we have in relationship to others.

Holiness is really nothing more than this: being in right relationship with God, with each other, and with ourselves.  Lent is a time in which particular grace is given to correct our relationships and bring us to the intimacy with God we  are created for.  When we come to this kind of holiness then we will have power and protection against evil, joy even in the midst of suffering, and grace-filled effectiveness in whatever God asks us to do in mission and ministry.  May this Lent bring us, through the Holy Spirit, to become one with Jesus in His love for the Father, His love for us, and His love for all our brothers and sisters.  May Our Lady enflame our desire for this life of love, and especially accompany us and protect us in our efforts.

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother, Sr. Anne Marie

Discernment in the Modern Age

One of the banes of modern life is the plethora of bad books, bad both in the sense of poorly written and bad in the sense of poisonous content.  It’s an observation that can be applied to movies, music, TV, and other forms of human expression as well.  This is not meant to be a moral judgment so much as a reflection on what constitutes healthy food for the soul.  We have great concern for the health of our bodies and our environment.  And we feed them and protect them accordingly.  At the same time, we seem to have much less conscious concern for what goes into our minds, our souls, our spirits.  We simply consume whatever is offered, no longer recognizing the difference between junk food and delicacy, nutrients and toxins.

Entertainment of a rather mindless variety seems to be the common fare these days.  It is big business to translate  the written form into visual form thus making things more sensual, gripping and exciting.  Books are made into movies, and articles are covered with images that engage the senses and the emotions in ways that are particularly potent.  We are attracted to manipulated, computer-generated scenes, enchanted by special effects, and seduced by music that diverts us away from a close examination of content.  We find ourselves being moved in certain directions without the benefit of an engaged intellect.  In fact, our intelligence is often purposely bypassed.

This can be very dangerous.  It’s a lot like seeing a glass of cold, refreshing water, after coming in on a hot, dusty day.  The reaction is almost overwhelming, immediate, physiological and emotional.  We would, without thinking, take the water and drink it.   But if someone told us that despite it’s inviting appearance, the water actually had e-coli in it, we would not approach it, much less drink it, no matter how thirsty we were, knowing it would be hazardous to our health.

This is very much like what happens when we indiscriminately read or watch whatever is the latest rage, whether it be fictional stories, movies, TV shows, that mock God, believers, our faith, or current book marketings of pornography (now particularly targeting women’s readership).  So many times people say:  “it’s not so bad.  It’s just a little sex, or just a little violence, or just a little language.”

It doesn’t matter whether the poison is hidden in small amounts.  A little poison will kill you just as dead over time.  When our emotions, our passions, our senses, apart from our intellects, make our decisions for us, we are capable of drinking to the dregs whatever contaminant is presented to us.  And today, very deadly poisons abound.  Our culture prizes acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness. It has been noted though that the danger comes when people become so open-minded their brains fall out.  Curiosity can be a grave temptation.  Being “well-informed” another hook.  Pope Benedict mentioned that knowledge for it’s own sake only leads to sadness, and sometimes to much worse things.

This is not a new problem.  The young St. Teresa of Avila had an attraction to the romance/adventure novels of her time, until she realized that the illusions, vanity and worldliness they sowed in her were a great obstacle to her life in general and to her relationship with God in particular.  They did not help her live in reality and especially in the reality of her dignity as a woman, a beloved daughter of God with a great destiny, a great part to play in the life of the Church and the world.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Jesuits, also had this problem before his conversion.  He is famous for realizing how the books he read affected the movements of his soul, for better or worse.  While recovering from a serious battle injury, he began to recognize that the worldly books he was fond of, and which also fed his vanity, gave him a feeling of excitement which quickly passed and left him feeling discontented and restless.  On the other hand, when he read books on the lives of the saints and their great deeds, he found himself inspired and filled with a desire to follow their example.  These feelings did not change.  From this simple observation St. Ignatius developed his principles for discernment, which are now indispensable teachings for anyone serious about the spiritual life.

We of course need discernment in many areas of our lives.  And because we live in a complicated age, it is good to look for some general direction.  One place to find this is back at the very beginning.  God gave some very simple directions for life in the Garden, and repeated them again after the fall, through Moses.  He told Adam and Eve that they could eat from the Tree of Life and the other trees in the Garden, but not of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Later, He reiterated this directive again to the Israelites in Exodus.  “Choose life that you may live.”

In all honesty, when our question becomes: “Is what I am about to say or see or do, life-giving to me and those around me” we are able to frame issues in a new light.  This is not the only question we sometimes need to ask.  But it is a very good place to start and finish.   Is this life-giving or is this poison to me, to my relationships, to my own dignity or someone else’s dignity?  It is a question that can be used with many of the choices we should make today with more deliberation than we do.  And it is a question that avoids the dissembling of moral relativism.  Something is either life-giving to all involved, or it is not.  If it brings death of any kind in it’s wake, it is to be avoided.

God’s commandments and the Church’s counsels are not meant to cramp our style or dampen our fun.  They are simply meant to protect us.  God knows what is good, what is healthy for us.  And He also knows what will make us sick.  Technology and the creative powers of mankind in many different fields have the potential to serve life or to bring death, both physical and spiritual death, depending on how they are used.  If we truly want to live and live well, live the abundant life Jesus promises us, then we have to stop starving our own souls and eat more plentifully from the Tree of Life.

Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

Coming Out of Hiding

Making New Year’s resolutions can be a tricky business.  We may think our best interests will be served by addressing our diet and exercising  more regularly.  Our family and friends might prefer that our resolve center instead around curbing our negativity, our moodiness, our critical spirit, or our rash judgments.  We might decide we need to give extra time to charitable projects when our family or community would be happy to see us enjoy more time in their company.  We may even realize we need more prayer in our lives and determine to make space for it when God would prefer we look for Him outside the concept of an exercise to perform.

There is actually one answer to all the needs for change we contemplate at the beginning of a new year:  Jesus Christ and the Trinitarian life He came to bring us.  Many of us know about Jesus.  Fewer of us really feel comfortable saying we know Him.  And out of those of us who know Him, we don’t always relate to Him, or allow Him to relate to us in any kind of way that really affects our lives.  There is a kind of split in us between our faith and the rest of our lives.

Vatican Council II sought particularly to address this difficulty of believers today, the problem of a duplicity that manifests itself in those of us who intellectually assent to the existence of God yet fail to live as though we really believe He exists.  Instead, we live, practically speaking, as atheists.  We do not live as though God is our Father, providing for us in all that is most necessary.  If we did, we would not be filled with anxieties and stress over how to take care of ourselves.

We also profess a belief in Jesus as our Savior, and yet we are constantly trying to save ourselves.  Witness the incredible number of self-help books and social programs that promise fulfillment and ultimate happiness.  The promotional tag line is often the only really successful part of the whole offering which inevitably engenders its own problems.  In the meantime, participation in the life-giving, healing sacraments wanes, and attendance at Mass is no longer seen as essential.

We say we believe the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Guide.  And yet we fight our own fights without seeking His help while the course we try to steer in our lives isn’t on His map.  It’s of our own making and doesn’t lead us to happy or peaceful outcomes.

All of this comes because we fail to realize that our Trinitarian God is a personal God.  He wants to be up “close and personal” with us.  And He wants us to be personal with Him.  The Father is a Person who wants us to relate to Him that way.  Jesus is a Person and He wants us to relate to Him that way.   The Holy Spirit is a Person, Who also wants us to relate to Him that way.

It is worth noting that no two relationships with God are alike.  Just as a group of siblings who have the same mother and father have unique relationships with them, so too is our relationship with God unique to each of us.  Trying to be someone else, even a saint, will drive us away from an authentic communion with God.  If He had wanted hundreds of St. Francis of Assisi’s or St. Therese of Lisieux’s, God would have created them.  But marvel of marvels, He’s created each of us to be our own exceptional expression of His love.

This means, in order to find ourselves, we have to stop hiding from God, and in a way, from ourselves too.  We often hide from Him without even being aware of it.  Sometimes we hide out in our illusions.  Sometimes we hide behind our wounds, our excuses, our busyness, our technology, science, our own pride or distrust of God.  We often hide behind our self-sufficiency until God either takes it away, or shows us the limits of our own power.  Sometimes we hide behind our sins either out of shame or because we don’t want to give them up.

Hiding from the Lord is as old as Adam and Eve.  We become afraid of what He might say to us, what He might ask of us.  We become infected with doubts about Him.  And so we hide.  But as soon as we hide, He comes looking for us.  We are like children in the game of Hide and Seek.  The adult always knows where the child is.  But the child still needs to be found.  And in the spiritual life, even though we choose many things to hide behind, deep down, we all want to be found.  We all want to know we are beloved and sought after because this tells us something essential about ourselves.  And this is precisely what God wants for us.  He wants us to come out of hiding so He can not only reveal Himself to us, but so that He can reveal us to ourselves as well.  It is only in friendship with Him, in a living relationship with Jesus Christ, as confident children of Our Father, and in trusting openness to the Holy Spirit that this happens.  These are exciting revelations because infinite Love is behind all of them.

Perhaps we can glean help for the New Year from some of the recent writings and homilies of  Pope Francis.  But we will have to come out of hiding.  The whole of us.  No holding anything back, because every area of our life must be touched by God’s transforming presence.   A good resolution then would be one that seeks to “encounter the Lord and most of all, allows us to be encountered by Him.”  Then we must keep our eyes open for the many different ways He encounters us, finds us, in our life experiences, in our prayer, in creation, in the words of another spoken to us, in the Scriptures and Sacraments and Mass and in thoughts that come to us within, from the light of our Baptism.

As Pope Francis so beautifully says:  “God does not hide Himself from those who seek Him with a sincere heart even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner.”  Why?  Because  “His delight is to be among the sons of men” as the Christmas season has just gloriously proven to us once again.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
December 30, 2013

Come, Lord Jesus!

At this time when Mary and Joseph are following an inner vision, the three Kings are following an extraordinary star, and angels are appearing to shepherds near Bethlehem, we take time to see with the eyes of our souls the great Gift that comes to us in the Person of Jesus, our Savior.

We may think this is old news:  that Jesus comes to save us.  But it seems that in the world today, the same world that lay in darkness at the Advent of Christ’s birth, we have even less appreciation of our need to be saved.  And this primarily because we do not see things as they really are.

Man has tried over the ages to save himself.  And though often well-intentioned, he continues today in this fruitless endeavor.  It is easy for us to see this in great realities, examples from history that show us the simple truth:  that “if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”

There are striking examples in recent history.  Prohibition came about because of the recognition of the great evils that come from the abuse of alcohol.  It was a human campaign against the destructive forces of alcohol.  It was motivated by a noble concern for the dignity of person.  And yet, it also spawned great evils, not the least of which was the entrance of organized crime into the procurement of liquor, probably resulting in more graft, corruption and death, than ever before.

“Women’s Liberation” is another obvious example.  It was a necessary challenge to the injustice present, and still present in the world in relationship to women.  And yet, at the same time, without Christ at it’s center, it too has spawned the great evils of abortion, promiscuity, rising rates of unmarried pregnancies, venereal disease and sexual abuse, to name only a few.   Ironically, perhaps the greatest evil to come from godless feminism, is the depersonalization of woman into an object, a commodity.

Today we also see man trying to break the ordered boundaries of creation and the barriers of physical health. And we see him as well trying to conquer death.  We are well aware of the ways in which this kind of activity opens doors to unprecedented kinds of evil, threatening the very existence of mankind.  Yet these victories over the flesh and death, are victories Christ has already won for us.  And they can only be had in Him.

The last century witnessed the rise and fall of more social, political and cultural ideologies than almost any other era in time.  Though some of these visions of man contain noble goals, the 20th century, overall, was marked by what one author called “mega death.”  Millions upon millions killed in war, genocides, persecutions, ethnic cleansing, etc.

We know there is no philosophy or ideology that can make sense of the world, nor explain man’s innate desire to know goodness and exist forever, unless it sees everything as coming from God and going back to Him.   Even when our natures, oriented as they are to goodness, try to move to fulfillment, there is no hope outside of Christ.  Our world has too often been a tragic witness to this.

At a personal level we often also live our lives in this way.  We do not see things as they really are.  We do not see ourselves or others as they really are, because we do not live in Christ the way we should. And therefore we do not even really seek the saving power of Christ in our lives. Instead we try to save ourselves and others, in so many ways.

We use our words to try and save ourselves, instead of going to the Word to be saved by it.

We try to save ourselves and others by our work, our apostolates.  But we often forget that the work belongs to God, and will only be made fruitful in Him.

We use relationships to try and save ourselves from one difficulty or another, instead of striving to live in communion with the Triune God who gives us every real relationship.

We form human alliances that pit us against others, in order to save ourselves (and who can count the number of evils this  breeds), instead of living the Covenant God has given to us.

We seek to save ourselves by standing in judgment over others rather than loving them and escaping our own judgment by living God’s charity which He promises covers a multitude of sins.

We try to save ourselves from our addictions and only end up replacing one with another.  We do the same with our weaknesses.  We spiritualize them in an attempt to still our consciences rather than  seeking and depending upon God’s merciful grace.    Our real self, which we hide from ourselves, nevertheless dogs us into our life of prayer and charity toward our neighbor, especially those we live with.  So we try to heal our brokenness with all sorts of self-help programs instead of letting God help us.

Our blindness runs very deep.  We are not even aware of the many ways we stay outside of the whole salvation Jesus comes to bring us.  He not only wants to free us from sin, but from worry, from resentment, from wounds and hurts that keep us bound to the past, from loneliness, from narrowness, from boredom, from indifference, from blindness, from selfishness, from our suspicions, our doubts, our negativity and fears, from self-sufficiency, from everything that leads us to spiritual starvation.  He comes to give us life, and the more abundant life!

Jesus knows how hard it is for us to truly acknowledge our need to be saved.  He knows how our pride blinds us.  He knows how difficult it is for us to approach Him unguardedly.  So He comes to us as a tiny baby, and as babies are able to do, draws us to Himself and commands our attention and affection by His beauty and littleness.  There is no other human being we take as easily to ourselves as a little baby.  There is no other that disarms us and wins our heart and our affections so quickly.   There is no other creature that draws the good from within us, all that is human, the way a baby does, and most importantly, the way the Baby Jesus does.

May each of us this Christmas be given, and receive in all humility, the eyes of the Shepherds, the determination of the Wise Men to follow the vision of the Star, and the heart and soul of Mary and Joseph who so eagerly saw and so completely received the magnificent love come to us Incarnate in Christ Jesus our little Lord and mighty Savior.

Come Lord Jesus.   Come to save us!  Do not delay!

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Christmas Reflections

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the whole world is in movement.  Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, reminding us that the world today is also traveling toward its definitive encounter with God.  The journey of the Holy Family toward the moment in which God enters the world from the womb of Mary, in the Person of Jesus Christ, for all human eyes to see, reminds us that we too are moving on our own journey through this life, in company with millions of others, to our own definitive encounter with God.

Mary and Joseph found no comfort, no welcome, no shelter, no understanding from the world on this journey.  They followed and were supported by heavenly inspirations and light, the presence of angels, and their own profound faith in God’s never-changing goodness and His ever-present Providence.   This was their strength and consolation.

We also should not expect too much help from the world on this journey.  The world has no space for God.  No time.  No real interest.  It offers only distraction and a kind of movement which keeps the human heart in confusion, apprehension and vague unhappiness.  The world is full of activity which often has no ultimate meaning.  This activity spends the precious moments allotted to us to find our way home to Our Heavenly Father.

God enters our world in the fullness of time because He can no longer wait to be with us in Person.  But Christmas also comes because mankind, in the persons of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, seek God as well; because the intense, hidden longing of their souls has not been misinterpreted to them by the false prophets of the world.  Their interior has not been cluttered with distraction.  It is unfettered by illusion.  God is their inner life and moves them in a mutual, eager longing, in silence, in poverty, in simplicity, in penetrating light and redeeming love.

Mary and Joseph “walk the way of perfection” to Bethlehem because they know God and are the friends of God.  They call us to follow this way with them, a way which holds difficulty, discomfort, the contempt of the world, but which brings us to be the friends of God, as the psalmist says:  “He who walks the way of perfection shall be my friend.”  -Ps 101   Jesus silently stirs our hearts and beckons us to the embrace of true friendship with Himself, promising to make known to us all that He has heard from the Father. –Jn 15:15  This happens in God’s way, in His time and by His choosing.  And it brings us the most precious gift of all, God Himself as a tiny baby depending on us to love Him, to care for Him and nurture His life in ourselves and in others.

In Bethlehem, two longings meet:  the longing of God and the longing of man.  Two longings answer each other and fulfill each other.  May our poor and lowly souls this Christmas be still as the stable in Bethlehem at midnight, ever ready to receive our Lord in humble awe, in mutual longing.  May we be the ones to be wrapped tightly with the gifts of Christmas peace, light, love and joy.  And may that Divine love which becomes incarnate in Bethlehem, radiate outward to all mankind through our oneness with the Holy Family in this sublime mystery.  May this Christmas find us and those we love and hold dear, numbered in the heavenly census, as citizens traveling joyfully forward to our celestial Fatherland.

United with all of you in the joy and light of the greatest gift of the Most Holy Trinity this Christmas:  our Savior and Beloved.

Sr. Anne Marie, SOLT

Women and the Priesthood

There is a question that still seems to be unsettled in the minds of many ordinary Catholics.  It is a question that comes up when people positively assess our new Holy Father but think he still does not go far enough.  The question:  Why can’t women be Priests?

Many of the responses given to this question seem, in the end, to fall back solely upon authority.  Pope Paul VI said that respect for the modern mind requires more than this.

In order to shed light on the questions of the present, Blessed John Paul II often led us back to the beginnings, to reflect on God’s creation of man and woman before the fall.  It is incontestable that both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God.  Both are equal in dignity because of this.  But this does not make them the same in every other respect.  They are two different expressions of the human person, created to live in unity with one another, via a complementarity that assists them to reflect in some respect, the inner life of the Persons of the Trinity.

Further, Blessed Pope John Paul the Great said, in one of his  many engaging teachings on man and woman, that the closer a person comes to God the more they become either mother or father.  This is because God is Father.  And both human motherhood and human fatherhood are reflections of God’s Fatherhood which is divine.

So women are meant to be mothers and men fathers.  But there is a deep understanding required here.  All men and all women are meant to be mothers and fathers, regardless of whether they are married, single, religious or ordained.

This means that a woman is not a mother simply because she has born a child or has a body capable of bearing children.  She is called to be a mother because in her spirit she is maternal, and the physical realities of her body simply correspond to the deeper spiritual principle of her being.  Likewise, men are not called to be fathers simply because they have bodies capable of begetting children. They are called to be fathers because in their spirits they are paternal.  Their bodies too simply manifest the deeper spiritual principles of their being.

We know that the Church is a family, God’s family.  Mothers and fathers are the essential elements for any family regardless of what the world says in its attempts to redefine family.  Unless the paternal meets the maternal, life cannot be conceived, born, nor can it be nurtured to maturity.  This is true in both the natural order and in the spiritual order as well.

In the Church, this distinction is sometimes referred to as the Petrine and Marian dimensions.  St. Peter, the Pope, Bishops, Priests are called to be spiritual fathers to the whole people of God, and therefore need to be men.  But mothers are also essential to this order and Mary, religious and all women, fill this role.  In fact, the Church herself is called mother.  It is why the Church has been stressing the importance of women so much, speaking about the feminine genius and the need for a greater presence of women and their gifts in the Church and in the world.  It is the dimension that has not been understood or appreciated as well as it needs to be.

Paul Evdokimov, a famous Russian Orthodox theologian who was an official observer at Vatican II, said that without woman God cannot be born into the world.  In the Incarnation, Jesus takes His flesh from the body of a woman.  God establishes His link with humanity through maternity.  This is a divine order that has not changed.  JPII pointed out that because of the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus links Himself with every human being who comes into the world.  And in the order intended by God, that is through the body of a woman.

We know that the Priest brings Jesus to us in the Eucharist and in the sacraments.  Yet if God calls us even before we are born (see Jeremiah) then there would be no Priests without women who give birth to them in the first place, and nurture the life of God within them.

The life of grace received from Priests in the sacraments also often needs this maternal care. A close friend confessed that before her conversion she was caught in an adulterous relationship she could not break.  She knew it was wrong and took it to Confession a number of times.  But within a week she was always back in the relationship.  She finally got a Priest in Confession who told her she needed to find someone to walk her through it, someone she could call and talk to everytime she was tempted to go back.  She befriended a religious woman, opened up to her, and after some time, was able to completely break things off.  What was going on?  She received grace in the sacrament but it was like a seed that needed nurturing and strengthening in her soul.  Once it was rooted and grew, through contact with her friend, she became strong enough to withstand the temptations. That is the maternal charism in action.  Hidden perhaps, but essential to both our natural and spiritual lives.

On one occasion I was challenged by a group of seventh grade girls on this issue of women in the priesthood.  When the reality of the Church as the family of God was explained, and when the need for mothers and fathers was spoken about, there was no further argument.  Too many of them came from single-parent families where they would’ve given anything to have had a mother and a father.  They didn’t want their mother to be their father or their father to be their mother even though a mother can do many things a father can, and vica versa.  They wanted a family with both.  And they knew experientially and sadly that without both, something fundamental in their lives was missing.

In a beautiful passage, Blessed John Paul II says, “Mary was not called to the ministerial priesthood, but the mission she received had no less value than a pastoral ministry. Indeed it was quite superior. She received a maternal mission at the highest level, to be the mother of Jesus Christ and thus Theotokos the mother of God.  This mission would broaden into motherhood for all men and women in the order of grace, and the same can be said of the mission of motherhood that women accept in the Church.  They are placed by Christ in the wondrous light of Mary which shines at the summits of the Church and creation.”

We must have ultimate respect for the dignity of the ministerial Priesthood.  But if women truly understood the magnificence and greatness of their own calling, and the urgent need which the world has for their gifts, they would not be interested in trading it for a false equality.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

srannemarie@gmail.com

10/7/2013

Inside the “Me” Vortex

Sometime ago, a woman named Nadine Schweigert (ND) married herself in a commitment ceremony where she exchanged rings with her “inner groom.”  There was an actual gathering of family and friends who were encouraged to “blow kisses to the world.”  One can imagine the theme song of her wedding with a slight variation:  “Nobody Loves Me Like I Do.”

Schweigert had been through a painful divorce in which her two children opted to live with her ex-husband.  She drank, smoked and was 50 pounds overweight, according to her own testimony.  At the suggestion of a friend, she married herself, and now feels “happy, joyous, empowered.”   She says she has come a long way from where she was.   She now takes herself on dates, in order “to invest in this relationship.”

We might ask what is going on here.  Is it pure narcissism?  Or is something else at work?   The surprising thing is that with a bit of honest examination, we might have to admit that the only difference between Nadine and ourselves is that we haven’t thrown ourselves a wedding party.  How many of us are married to our own opinions, our own thoughts, our own routines, our own preferences, likes, dislikes, ways of doing things?  She simply made visible what many of us live.

At the same time that Nadine arrived at this solution to her unhappiness, more and more young people come to a different kind of resolution:  suicide.   Almost nothing is more distressing than hearing that another young person has taken their life.   It always elicits shock and dismay.  How many times do family and friends say they never saw it coming?  The son or daughter, sister, brother, friend, had such a promising life ahead of them, and so many people who loved them.

Why is the incidence of young suicides increasing?   Why do so few young people really seem to have the joy of their youth anymore?  These are questions we must answer.  Back in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas stated categorically that man cannot live without joy.  He cannot live without joy!  When he is deprived of true spiritual joys he will necessarily become addicted to carnal pleasures.     We are not living in a society or culture that knows what true joy is.  And we are dying in myriad ways because of it.  Addictions of one kind or another have to be the most prevalent affliction of the modern age.  And it is a spiritual problem.  Addictions lead to obsession, compulsion, depression, sadness, enslavement.  These temporary joys not only don’t touch the soul, but actually harm it, bind it, strangle it.

Perhaps the false bravado of many youth today is an armor against some of the most profound insecurity the young  have ever had to experience.  Maybe it’s  harder than we think for a young person to believe that he is unconditionally wanted and loved; that he is a source of deep, spiritual joy to God and his own family when contraception and abortion are so freely used, so prevalent even in their own families; when an addiction of one kind or another takes precedence over his own needs or welfare; when the self- interest of parents and the adults around him eclipse all else.  Perhaps he cannot see how his life has unique meaning when it could be as much a matter of chance as a roll of the dice.  Perhaps he cannot understand how he can be genuinely connected to anything when there seem to be no absolute relationships in his life, nothing he can depend on to be there, no sacrificial love that will reveal him to himself from the outside.   One wonders what the psychological effect must be as he watches “adults” not only sterilize themselves but all creation for their own selfish reasons.

Relationally we no longer have set constellations in our lives.   There is less and less order in the universe of our interpersonal lives, fewer predictable rotations or orbits.  The universe of relationships in many lives changes before one can even map the constellations.  That is the experience of young people today.  No center of gravity.  No orderly solar system.    Just free- flying, unpredictable bits of mass crashing into other bits of mass, knocking orbits and axes off..

Perhaps youth experience more quickly that the direction of our culture leads nowhere.   It’s movement does not solidify into anything stable.   It spins into self- destruction…

It took mankind centuries to understand the earth was not the center of the universe and that the sun did not revolve around us but rather we around the sun.  Scientists tell us that life on earth flourishes because of how we orbit the sun.     If the orbit were a fraction off, the planet would easily become incapable of sustaining life.  Likewise, if our personal orbit is around ourselves, or in our self- centeredness we think everything else revolves around us, we become like an earth spinning on it’s axis in nothingness, with no warmth or light or atmosphere to sustain us, only cold blackness surrounding us.

We have to come to an understanding in our individual lives.  Just as the natural world has a center of gravity, so too do our lives have forces at work that move us toward or away from life, true life.  We need a center of gravity to hold the movements in balance.

If Jesus is our center of gravity and we understand Him as the center around whom we both spin and revolve, we begin to coalesce, to be defined; we become integrated.  We come to understand  who we are and how we are related to everyone and everything else.   Our world makes sense and is guided by very real rules of existence.   If we are knocked out of that orbit,  if our center is off, or non- existent, we have grave trouble.  We spin off by ourselves, into fragments of what we should be and out of relationship to all the other bodies orbiting the true center.

There is in this, also, an answer to our existential need for joy.  Pope Benedict says that real joy comes from friendship with God. Is this really possible?  Jesus draws us to Himself and calls us friends.  How many saints attest to the fact that friendship with God is not only possible, it’s a deep need.  It’s absolutely real, and in fact, the thing that centers us and holds us together.   Jesus is a real Person, and He wants us to relate to Him that way.  The Father is a real Person and He too wants us to relate to Him that way.  The Holy Spirit is a real Person Who also wants us to relate to Him.   The Heavens are filled with these relationships, from Mary to the communion of saints to the angelic hosts.  They all have a living relationship with us and long for it to be mutual.

We live in age where the whole world has been knocked out of its true orbit.  We are disintegrating, breaking apart, turning into lots of individual vortexes swirling about with greater or lesser force and causing unprecedented damage to everyone around us because self-centeredness creates of us this vortex which makes us  small, narrow, unable to embrace people or things around us without harming or destroying them.

Nadine said she was waiting for someone to come along and make her happy.  (Perhaps her husband was too busy swirling inside his own vortex.)   She must have decided that no one was coming and that she had to do that for herself.  One wishes they could warn her that ultimately this will not work either.  We just aren’t fashioned that way. An exclusive relationship with oneself has no place to go.  At the center of it is a great, gnawing loneliness, like a black hole.  “It is not good for man to be alone.” If you try to save yourself … you implode, you self-destruct,   you lose yourself.  It seems with the rise of superstorms, multiple tornadoes, microblasts, etc., even nature herself is reflecting back to us our own state.

When I hear of another suicidal youth I want to reach into the vortex within them and reset them into the orbit of Christ’s love.  I want to pull them out of themselves and throw them quickly into His embrace so that they can become more than formless matter drifting about, so that they can coalesce into the magnificent being they are created to be, so that they can know true joy!  Alot of strength is required to come up against the momentum of these energies, but we know in the end, faith, hope and love are forces that can move mountains and will re-create the world, forming it into a Kingdom of love, joy, peace and justice.

There is a struggle for the spirit of man today.   He has been knocked out of orbit and now has to decide what His orbit will be?  Sports?  Food?  Wealth?  Prestige?  Fame?  Sex?  Alcohol?  Drugs? Gambling? Modernism? Materialism? Ecology? Politics? Science?  Other manifestations of self?

The drama of our age is to see whether man will realign himself.    Will  he return to his true center, and come back to an ordered rotation around the true Sun,  the Son of God Who is Light, Love and the pure Joy that is Life-giving?  Or, will he continue to blindly spin off into massive self-destruction?

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
September 5, 2013

The Healing Power of Silence

We live in a wilderness, a wilderness of noise.  Noise is not just about sound.  It has to do with the constant barrage of stimulation to our senses, emotions and even our intellect, (read information overload.)  The problem with all this noise, pure and simple, is that it is an obstacle to our own inner order and peace, and more importantly, to a living communion with God and with others.

For some reason, many of us either seem afraid of silence, or, more likely, we have lost familiarity with the wonders of silence.  Yet it is essential to our physical and spiritual well-being.

Authentic silence is not emptiness.  Things come to us in the silence.  We hear new languages. We are visited by penetrating peace, insight, God Himself, His wisdom, light, His perception and understanding.  In authentic silence we hear new sounds and enter new worlds.  In silence we come to know our own hearts.

It is interesting to note how often people observe that the sounds God has put in creation:  wind rustling in the trees, birds chirping, the lapping of waves at the ocean, are a balm to the soul.  This stands in stark contrast to the agitation and disturbance created by the sounds of the modern world driven by mechanical energy and a volume, a pitch that does violence to one’s nerves, stressing them beyond what they are meant to endure.  Silence is almost completely exiled from our modern culture. Yet it is exceedingly important for us.

Silence in fact is so important to us that it may be one of the main reasons God has structured us to sleep a third of our days.   We know that when we can’t sleep, when our bodies and  minds are deprived of  the stillness good sleep brings, we become sick.  Anyone who struggles with insomnia knows the anxiety and frustration lack of sleep brings.  “If I could just sleep, I would feel better,” is the all too common cry.  For those saints who were able to pray the night away and not be ill-affected, it was because they entered a deep contemplative silence that so rejuvenated soul and spirit, the body was refreshed and strengthened by it…

In the Liturgy, given to us by God through Moses on Mt Sinai, and Jesus at the Last Supper, there are spaces for silence.  That tells us that silence is part of a Divine Rhythm, part of the rhythm of life in Heaven…it tells us silence is a good thing, a medium for God’s communication of Himself to us.  The lives of Jesus, Mary and St. Joseph, in particular, bear striking witness to the inseparability of silence from great holiness.

In those who are progressing in prayer, in the inner experience of the presence of God, silence becomes a medium for God’s deeper and deeper communication of Himself to the soul.  St. Teresa calls one of the early stages of contemplative prayer, the Prayer of Quiet.  God begins to suspend, or silence or still the human activity of the mind, the will, the memory, the imagination, the passions, so that He can communicate Himself more deeply.  And in that, the soul itself begins to be healed of its defects and weaknesses and disorder.  St. John of the Cross poetically describes this as:  “My house being now all stilled…”  He goes on to say that once there is this stillness (which comes through real purifications) the soul is now able to go out to find God without hindrance or distraction.  This, by the way, is often something one sees in those who are going through the process of dying.  They become strangely quiet in the months and weeks preceding their deaths.  It is as if they no longer have words. In the activity of God in their souls, as they are being readied to enter eternity, they often go through, all at once, the purifications as well as the sweet visitations of the Lord, that the person who prays regularly, goes through over a period of time.

We are all interested in healing these days.  This is the true healing we seek, that which comes to us from God Himself, the Divine Physician, and which heals us from the inside out and orders our inner being to bring it into communion with He Who is our ultimate bliss and fulfillment.

If we want to be healthy, we must cultivate spaces of silence in our lives.  Not the isolating silence so many live in, but a silence that nurtures peace within and communion without.  One place to begin is to keep our Churches as sanctuaries of silence, not places for chit chat.

Another concrete step is to actually set aside real time for silence.  Silent prayer.  Not vocal prayer but a prayer of presence, of being, in silence, in the presence of the Lord, even for 5 minutes a day, preferably in a place where there is no outside noise. (That may be early in the morning before the rest of the family rises.)  Simply ask the Lord to take you into Himself for 5 minutes, to be still and know that He is God.

Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori noted that children have an innate need for intervals of stillness and silence, silence for her, meaning the cessation of every movement:

“One day I came into class holding in my arms a baby four months old, which I had taken from the arms of its mother in the courtyard.  … The silence of the little creature struck me, and I wanted the children to share my feeling.  … To my amazement I saw an extraordinary tension in the children who watched me. It seemed as though they were hanging on my lips, and felt deeply all I was saying.  “Then its breathing,” I went on, “how soft it is. None of you could breathe as it does, without making a sound…” The children, surprised and motionless, held their breath. In that moment there was an extraordinary silence; the tick of the clock, which generally could not be heard, became perceptible. It seemed as if the baby had brought with it an atmosphere of silence such as does not exist in ordinary life. This was because no one was making the smallest movement. And from this came the wish to listen to the silence, and hence to reproduce it.” Maria Montessori  (The Secret of Childhood)

She created the “Silence Game” in which children begin practicing this kind of silence for small intervals at first (even 30 seconds), and then for longer periods. There is a joy the children, (and the teacher) experience, when they are able to do this.  They later come to ask for the Silence Game when things become chaotic or noisy, recognizing that this silence has the power to restore their inner peace and equilibrium.  Then, as a year progresses, the silence begins to happen spontaneously, within the whole group.  The children will look up when this happens, smile, and go back to their work.  The natural, contemplative spirit of the child, over time, is released.

It may seem like passivity to focus on silence when the world is screaming for answers and actions to address it’s many grave problems.  Yet, “if The Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.”  Likewise, the walls of Jericho would never have come tumbling down, nor would the people have persisted in the right action, if they had not consulted and stayed faithful to the Lord’s rather odd directions.

It  has become an almost urgent necessity today, to ask Our Lord and Our Lady to lead each of us to the kind of silence we speak of.  The release of a true contemplative spirit among us, one in which the Lord lives and moves us, will, in the end, be the key to the salvation of our modern world.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

August 23, 2013

Giving Up Secrets

Giving Up Secrets

People seem to have a lot of secrets these days. We could almost say we live in an age of secrets. Governments have become skilled at keeping secrets; businesses are adept at the same thing. Institutions, whether they be educational, medical or religious, all keep secrets for both good reasons and not so good reasons. But this reflects people in general. People tend to keep a lot of secrets.

There is a pressing need to recognize that secrets make a difference. They can determine the direction of our lives, and the manner in which we pass from this world into the next. For whatever reason, people today seem to have more secrets than ever. They have secret activities, secret wounds, secret weaknesses, secret sins, secret fantasies, secret lives. People have secret thoughts, secret addictions, secret jealousies, secret plans, secret ambitions, family secrets, secret judgments, secret desires…secrets without number, secrets we keep even from ourselves.

Few of us can admit to being ready for heaven when we consider that in heaven, our insides will show on the outside. Nothing will be hidden. Everything will be transparent. Transparency here would completely change our image. And because we are often not willing to change, we keep secrets.

At the same time, even though we hide things about ourselves, we have a certain affinity for, or attraction to the secrets of others. There is almost nothing people like better than hearing a good secret. Why? There are several reasons. One, it diverts attention away from our own secrets. But we also love secrets because we love hidden knowledge. We live in a state of being that is still looking for something that hasn’t been completely revealed to us yet. We’re searching, whether we know it or not, for the one Word, so to speak, that will answer all of our questions and give sight to the vision, the understanding we seek.

The devil knows this about us. Would that people understood that the devil has to penetrate the world of knowledge by study and observation too (albeit with a superior intelligence,) and that he perverts what he knows to his own ends. Those ends are not full of happy consequences for human souls.

He is interested in luring people away from the real light. He does it with promises of hidden knowledge, just as he did in the Garden of Eden. (This is also one of the most lucrative marketing techniques around. Money rolls in when you claim to have the secret to long life, to health, to beauty, to happiness, to success. This is also one of the reasons professional gossips, psychics and clairvoyants prosper in our culture today. People want to know those secrets.)

We on the other hand, have the source of all knowledge, the fount of pure Wisdom and Light in God Himself. And we have been given, in Jesus Christ, and through His Church, a direct line to that source, Who is for us, our true Father (the Father of all lights). The temptations of some dark meddler should never cause us to turn our glance away from our Good Father, as our first parents did in the Garden, and as we so often do in our own lives.

Interestingly enough, Jesus mentions that the Father Himself keeps secrets from the “wise and learned” and reveals things to the “little ones.” Why is that? (This might have been a good question for Adam and Eve to have asked as they were being tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.) We know most certainly that God never does anything without good reason, and a reason that redounds, often in mysterious ways, to our greatest benefit.

Might it be that God protects the sacred and hides divine treasures for our sake? Anyone who has studied covenant knows that profaning the sacred is dangerous. We can be destroyed by our profanation. A simple look at the human wreckage surrounding the modern desecration of the gift and mystery of sexuality confirms this.

In other words, could it be that just as Jesus told us not to cast pearls before swine, He follows His own counsel with us? He puts His treasure in safe places…He is careful with what is precious beyond measure. And at the same time He is merciful to those of us who would have a terrible accounting to give for squandering a poorly understood gift, if we received it and did not really appreciate or care for it.

Secrets like this can be a good thing; in fact they can be a very good thing if their purpose is to protect a treasure (whether that be jewels or a reputation) from vandalism or theft, misuse or destruction.

But some secrets should never be kept. And unfortunately, people usually have more of these kinds of secrets.

We pay a price for many of the secrets we keep. We can safely say, I think, that many of the sicknesses of our age are determined by the secrets we keep. This is well known in the world of addiction and co-dependency: “We are only as sick as our secrets.” This is actually a psychology that was first explicated in the Sacred Scriptures. Psalm 32 says: “I kept it secret and my frame was wasted…” The distress, the groaning, the anxiety, the depression, the disturbance of so many today more often than not comes from holding secrets that should not be kept.

St. Paul mentions this relationship between spiritual realities and physical consequences. He says, in 1Corinthians, 11:29: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” With the rising tide of illnesses in our age, we await a physician who will make this connection and diagnose the real cause of so many of the physical and psychological disorders of our day.

I know a woman who struggled with terrible depression much of her adult life, watched Mother Angelica faithfully, but would not take the secret of her abortion to the Confessional. She died recently and my prayer is that before she died she finally released her secret into the loving mercy of God so she could enter her heavenly home with “joy and an upright heart.” Her secret certainly didn’t keep her in peace or bring happiness into her life. In fact, it brought her to the verge of a mental breakdown.

So why do we keep the secrets we do? This is a mystery really, since we only fool ourselves in keeping these kinds of secrets. God is certainly not fooled. There is nothing He doesn’t know about us. The story of Ananias and Sapphira, found in the fifth chapter of Acts, tells us exactly what can happen when we dissemble before God. They pretended (to the Lord, as St. Peter points out) that they were giving everything to the community of believers, when in fact they retained a portion for themselves which they could have rightfully retained if they had chosen to. After St. Peter had spoken, Ananias, and later his wife Sapphira (who arrived late and was questioned separately) both died on the spot, apparently for attempting to deceive God.

Keeping secrets from God is impossible, and it can be deadly! If not immediately, then at our own judgments, when in our encounter with God Who is pure Love and Light and Goodness, all that is hidden will be revealed. To our own overwhelming confusion we will find ourselves suddenly naked before the Lord, rather than clothed in the garments of grace He so freely and continually offers us, all because fear, or attachment or pride kept us from giving up our secrets.

Does this mean we should blurt out everything to everyone all the time, like they do on the tacky talk shows that seem to pollute the air waves? No. There is something inherently debasing about psychologically disrobing in front of millions of people. There is something degrading about vomiting up things in public that properly belong in a counselor’s office and more often in a Confessional where the justification, relief and redemption that people are really seeking can be given.

This is really how Saints actually begin to become Saints. They get rid of their secrets. And they don’t lie to themselves about who they really are. That is why they are such shining examples of humility. They know themselves in Truth, and it sets them free to soar to the heights! They give their secrets, both their sins and their treasures, over to God. He takes the sins, and in Confession completely annihilates them, wills to remember them no more. They are gone, gone, gone, with no more power to determine their life, and will never again reappear in accusation against them, even at the end of time. Never!

And then our Father does an even more astounding thing. He begins giving them “treasures out of the darkness and riches that have been hidden away.” Isaiah 45:3 He takes miserable secrets and begins to replace them with the secrets He holds. What an exchange! The saints are no fools! They know this bargain is unmatched anywhere in the whole universe. In the heart of our Redeemer, we are given, by way of His own sacrificial love, infinite riches in exchange for giving to Him our sinfulness, our pride, our imperfections, our self-importance.

Great Confessors, like St. John Vianney and St. Padre Pio spent themselves in this work of getting people to give up their secrets so that they could begin to know the deep things of God in their lives. There is a reason the sacrament of Peace and Reconciliation is an Easter Sacrament. There is a reason that the Holy Spirit, Who comes in Pentecost like a mighty wind to sweep out the secret and dark recesses of our souls and fill them with fire and light, is the culminating gift of the Easter season.

Our Blessed Mother, the most pure creature who ever lived, was without secrets of her own. She kept only those God gave her. And because of that, there is no one more beautiful, more radiantly transparent in the living of the Mysteries of the Most Holy Trinity. In Her many apparitions in the last centuries, we can hear the cry of our good Mother when she bids us return to the Sacraments and live the Gospel way of life. One of the things She is saying with great affection and urgency, as if speaking to a little child, is: “Run! Run and whisper your secrets to your Father. All of them! And be assured that He will give treasures out of the darkness and riches that have been hidden away especially for you!”

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
General Sister Servant
5/6/2013

 

Easter Reflections

Of Billboards, Prophecy and Resurrection.

Driving into Corpus Christi on Interstate 37 one now notices a rather curious sign. It reads: “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

It’s obviously a very public posting with a specific intent. But there is room to wonder whether it actually conveys more than was intended. As a believer, reading between the lines, I read it another way. I read: “Don’t believe in God? The truth is you’re not alone. He is with us!”

It reminds me of two stories, one from Scripture and one from the life of a canonized Saint. The passage from Scripture has to do with Caiaphas, the high priest involved in the orchestration of Jesus’ execution. He unwittingly prophesied the real significance of Jesus’ death.

As the Sanhedrin met, the argument went like this: “What are we going to do? If we leave him (Jesus) alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” (In other words, bad things will happen if too many people come to believe in Jesus!)

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on, they planned to kill him.” John 11: 47-53

There is no doubt that western society has adopted a militant spirit against believers. But not all believers. God forgive us but we are not bothered by believers in abortion, believers in freedom to pursue every type of perversity, believers in satanism (a creed that has definite destructive and malicious intent), believers in almost any kind of religion, even violent ones. We are not bothered by believers in systems or ideologies that consistently degrade or offend against human dignity. But we are “bothered” by believers in Jesus Christ! We are bothered by His effect on people, His power to persuade people, to influence them, to change their lives.

The argument is that bad things happen when too many people believe in God. Our civilization is held back and the glory of man in all his capacity for achievement is retarded. Isn’t that the common position of those who oppose organized religion? Ignorance and religion are equated and held to be responsible for man’s lack of development.

We somehow conveniently forget that our rebellion in the garden changed everything. We are the ones who changed paradise and opened the door to death and suffering and corruption. Jesus comes to rescue us and instead we blame Him and the Church He established, for our woes.

It can easily be argued that we live in a world that is still trying to kill God, and which justifies this by assigning the prevalence of tragedy to believers. From the beginning of time, this dynamic has been so pervasive we should really recognize it more quickly than we do. Religion, but especially the Judeo-Christian tradition, must be done away with because it is the cause of all the wars, evil, ignorance and injustice found in the world today. The cause is not the corruption in the heart of man, but belief in God! And not the Greek kind of God who sits on top of Mt. Olympus randomly throwing bolts of lightning at his unsuspecting subjects. But a God Who is Father to us, Who is full of mercy, goodness, kindness, Who has made everything for our delight and betterment, and Who loves us with such a crazy love that He has even been willing to die for us. This is the kind of God that we work with might and main to stay away from.

What’s even crazier is that we tried to definitively destroy Him once. But then He rose, conquering death and all evil in the process and claiming for us an inheritance that utterly transcends anything the Romans can ever take away from us. And what is our reaction? The same as the reaction of the Pharisees to Lazarus. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and because so many people came to believe as a result, the furious response of the Pharisees was: “Let’s kill him again!”

Somehow we become bent on destroying the eternal. Because the eternal intrudes upon our immediate plans. Why we are so interested in preserving our “mess of pottage” over the infinite treasures promised us is one of the strange ironies of our fallen nature. And yet in our attempts to deny and destroy the existence of God’s real presence among us, we testify to it at the same time.

The Billboard also reminded me of a story that comes from the life of Padre Pio. St. Pio was a stigmatist who lived in the last century and was renowned for his life of holiness and for the countless souls he touched in the confessional, as well as through other miraculous interventions. He had numerous mystical gifts which are all well documented in an age where there was plenty of science to test them.

One day he was approached by a penitent who questioned the very existence of hell. Padre Pio’s matter–of–fact answer: “You’ll believe it when you get there.” The lesson? Our opinions don’t change the truth. Even if millions of others hold the same opinion. We can dance around the truth. We can deny it. But we can’t change it or destroy it. Because the Truth is unchangeable and indestructible. Just as Jesus, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life is indestructible, and is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). We tried to destroy Him once. But He simply rose. We keep trying. But it is futile. We cannot destroy the eternal.

From the beginning of time we have had a basic choice: submission to the Truth, or rebellion. Submission leads to life, to allowing God to love us… which is all He really wants to do. Rebellion eventually culminates in our trying to kill God once again but leads only to our own eternal death.

Do atheists have legitimate questions? Of course. Do believers have legitimate questions? Certainly. But as Pope Benedict said: “Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief, will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief…”

It is good to remember that for believers, the path to Resurrection goes through persecution and death. In the divine economy, Jesus makes persecution one of the beatitudes. As Fr. John Hardon, S.J. writes, the beatitudes are “promises of happiness made by Christ to those who faithfully accept His teaching and follow His divine example.” The pattern of Jesus’s redemptive work passes by the Way of the Cross. So too will our age be redeemed in the same way.

As we celebrate with special fervor during this year of Faith, amidst the disbelieving “signs” of our times, and solicitous for the salvation of all our brothers and sisters, our hearts catch the new fire of the Easter light that pierces the darkness of doubt hanging over the world in which we live. Jesus has triumphed in Resurrection, in glory and majesty; and within the embrace of Our Blessed Mother, whose singular faith during the Paschal Mystery emboldens us, we hold His light for the world to see until He comes again in glory! Alleluia! He lives no more to die, but lives that all may have eternal life!

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother,
Sr. Anne Marie

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Letter to Women

A Word Regarding the Real War on Women

By Sister Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
November 7, 2012

PBS recently aired a documentary on women in 6 different countries called, “Half the Sky,” based on the book of the same name, by Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

Countries featured in the documentary were: Sierra Leone, where rape as a weapon of choice during the civil war there has now become mainstream; Cambodia, where sex-trafficking brothels are filled with younger and younger girls who are locked up and even caged, made to take “clients” non-stop; Vietnam, where girls, especially from the countryside, are discriminated out of educations and left with little hope for much of a future; Somaliland, where genital mutilation still goes on, causing chronic pain and complications, and where a huge percentage of women die in child birth because of these complications and the lack of medical care; India, where the caste system and dire poverty still creates a conducive environment for parents to sell their young girls into brothels, traumatizing them for life, and where generational prostitution is an entrenched way of life for many women; Kenya, where violence against women is so prevalent that women have begun initiatives of education and microfinance to begin to bring change to their situations.

And then there’s China, which wasn’t mentioned, with its one-child policy that has resulted in forced abortions, sterilizations, infanticide (of girls) and a huge gender imbalance which creates fertile ground for human trafficking.

There’s another country where women have been victimized by a powerful propaganda that has brought them to be ashamed of their bodies and the meaning of their bodies. Because of this propaganda, they have sterilized themselves in great numbers and had 50 million of their babies killed in the last 40 years.

All this has been done under a euphemism called “women’s reproductive health.” How it is exactly that women’s healthcare becomes synonymous with ending newly conceived life and disabling reproductive capacity, is the unasked question. But the underlying falsehood is that women can’t be equal to men unless they are able to abort their offspring and contracept themselves.

This country of course is the United States of America; and many countries in the West now promote this propaganda. The hidden lie is that women cannot have control of their destiny unless they can get rid of actually what makes them women. So they must have free access to abortion, contraception and sterilization.

People say this is a non-issue in our society and culture, that there is no real war against women in this country. Yet, if we don’t get this fundamental question right, everything else is skewed. The question of how we understand woman is a question of primary importance because it affects one half of our population and how that population participates in bringing this country to true greatness.

Make no mistake about this. The current propaganda has been just as lethal to women and children in the US as anything that goes on in any country in Asia or Africa or Latin America. Any man (or woman) who encourages a woman to think that access to contraception, sterilization and abortion will make her equal to men, has rejected her womanhood, and therefore has rejected herself as a real person. Are there injustices against women? Of course. Are their things that need to change? Of course. Do women need support in times of crisis and difficulty? Without question. But is this the best answer we are able to come up with?

In the countries mentioned above, incredible, selfless people, many of them victims themselves, are doing tremendous outreach and helping to change things. They are women (and men) of real courage. They are fighting to bring about real change, raising the standard of women’s lives to what they should be. Some of the answers will need to be rethought. But the positive movement is there. As the documentary says: “Women and girls are part of the solution, not the problem.”

In this country, let us shake off the propaganda daze and stand up. Let us say, “No more” to the lies that drive so much of our culture of death! We are a gift precisely as women. Let’s take back control over our own destinies and rid ourselves of these deceptions so we can stand in the light of the Truth about our dignity and the greatness of our calling, precisely as women, to the whole of humanity. And let’s embrace the men who understand this and respect it and move with us, not against us, in the great crisis of this hour!

For women who have been used and deceived by this present culture, take heart! The good news is that the truth, even when painful, really does set us free. Real change begins in the heart. And women are creatures of the heart. Once we realize the deception that has been foisted upon us, the lies that have been used for our own destruction can be stripped of their power, and the feminine genius can then be unleashed for the building up of a true civilization of life and love.

-Sr. Anne Marie Walsh

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Wine That Dazes…

The Wine That Dazes Us

Wine GlassRecently, while speaking with a dear friend, I found myself sharing some of my personal experiences of growing up during the 60’s and 70’s. I lived my grade school, high school and college, during the great movements and turmoil of that time: the civil rights movement with its urban riots, massive and active anti-war, anti-establishment activity especially on the campuses, women’s liberation, changes in the Church with Vatican II and shortly thereafter, the exodus of thousands of Priests and Sisters from their vocations. I vividly recall the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, from the impressionable and uncomprehending perspective of youth. My friend asked me what I thought, out of all that, had had the greatest impact on our culture, our society today. While there is a case to be made for the progress we’ve made in civil rights, and while I believe the Church has been tremendously blessed by Vatican II yet is also still reeling from the effect of the thousands who left their vocations, I responded without hesitation that the sexual revolution, to my mind, has had the greatest impact on where we are today.

Shortly after this conversation, I was praying the Divine Office and was particularly struck by Psalm 60. Psalm 60 speaks about what happens when God’s people are unfaithful. In Vs. 5, it says:

      “You have inflicted hardships on your people
       and made us drink a wine that dazed us.”

But then it says:

      “You have given those who fear you a sign
       to flee from the enemy’s bow.”

I was moved to ask what is the wine that dazes us? In my prayer, it clearly seemed to me that the wine we tasted in the sexual revolution was the wine of sexual permissiveness. And now we crave this wine. We, as a people, have become addicted to this wine and over these last decades have brewed some very potent varieties of it. Some are so potent that they say one taste (pornography comes to mind), immediately hooks you.

CellIn the space of a relatively short time, we have become like the chronic alcoholic who rationalizes his use and denies the devastation and destruction all around him, because he wants free and unfettered access. Never mind that marriages and families are destroyed, babies aborted, children traumatized and stripped of their innocence. Never mind that violence against women increases, along with every other imaginable form of degradation and perversion. Never mind that disease, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, can be directly traced to the devastating effects of this addiction. We just have to have it. We tell ourselves this makes us free, adult, normal, uninhibited. Exactly what the alcoholic says.

Our denial with regard to what we are drinking, is so strong now, that we are blind to our own enslavement, except when the despair this creates in us sometimes seeps through to the surface. We can no longer help ourselves. And because we do not want to be judged, we try to convince everyone else this is a good thing. “Try it, you’ll like it.” Thus have we exported the wine of our own lewdness to the nations, or as the book of Revelation puts it: the “maddening wine of her adulteries.” (Aren’t we the biggest exporter of pornography in the world?)

This is one addiction that also helps paralyze this country, that makes it passive, indifferent in the face of the grave moral challenges we face. It’s as though people are collectively saying: “As long as you leave me free to do what I want, go ahead and do whatever you want.” That seems to be the thinking of so many. It accounts for the apathy that exists in place of a vigorous defense of justice and right and all that is good, truly good. How can there be moral indignation in a people who are not living moral lives? Could this be why so many people are silent in the face of the gross attacks on human life and dignity that exist in our world today?
Wedding Feast at CanaPsalm 60 says that God gives those who fear Him a sign to flee from the enemy’s bow. Perhaps one sign can be found in the Wedding Feast of Cana.

Jesus wants to give us a different kind of wine, the wine from this wedding feast. This wine is given to those who are rightly ordered in the gift of their sexuality and who celebrate it in the context in which it was given to us by Our Heavenly Father. This wine, the best wine, fills us with love for life, excitement at the promise it holds, joy in the divine love it expresses. It is a wine which is available to all, and which can be had by following Our Lady’s counsel: “Do whatever He tells you.”

This is the wine the world truly craves, the wine we were created to drink freely. This is the wine that will not enslave but will bring all of us into the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God. May the Most Holy Trinity and Our Lady heal us and bring us to be worthy to receive this wine.

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

December 14, 2012

The Spirit of Herod & the Innocence of the Lamb

This December 14, 2012, the spirit of Herod brutally intruded upon our world, upon a people in festive excitement and preparation for Christmas, many anticipating the birth of Our Savior and King. In a little town in Connecticut, at a gradeschool where the approach of Christmas gave the children there special light and anticipation, 20 children and 6 adults trying to protect them, were suddenly and mercilessly mowed down for no discernible reason. Just as the death of the Holy Innocents in Jesus’ time must surely have involved the death of adults as well, mothers and fathers desperate to save the lives of their children, so in Newtown, 6 adults gave their lives to do the same.

Jesus comes into our darkness this Christmas, into a world shocked by its own violence and yet blinded to some of the deepest violences embedded now in its own way of life. A question perennially present once again breaks through the surface into our anguish to demand an answer: Where does this violence come from? Is it situational? Is it cultural? Is there a hereditary predisposition to it? Why does this keep happening?

This problem reveals itself at the beginning of time when Cain first raised his hand and spilled the blood of his own brother. It comes down to a simple premise. What rules our lives! There are only 2 answers here. We choose self-rule or we allow God to order our lives according to His wisdom.

Our first parents chose self-rule and left us the inheritance of that choice: shattered relationships, disharmony, weakness, toil, excessive self-love, the loss of divine gifts, a tendency to be enslaved by sin, the flesh, evil, violence and finally, death.

This is a choice we all make. We choose either self-rule or God’s wisdom, God’s way. This is a choice we must make as a people as well. And our choice will determine our future.

History shows that self-rule is a seed bed for many tragedies. The first to suffer under the tyranny of self-rule? The weakest, most vulnerable and innocent: the unborn, children, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. All those who cannot defend themselves against the lust for self-seeking power that self-rule generates in man’s soul are at risk. (Note: the use of the term self-rule here signifies something different than self-control or self-mastery.)

At the same time, those we marginalize are a reflection of the greatest marginalization of all-God. God is the most marginalized in our world today. We push Him out of public life, our government, our schools, out of our personal lives, and now there is even an attempt to regulate God in the confines of His own House, telling Him He must be subject to the government in His dictates to us. (see HHS mandate)

This is a marginalization that began with the Fall and is perpetuated everytime we choose ourselves over Love. We live in a society that has chosen again and again to proclaim self-rule over God’s wisdom. And this is deadly. Self-rule as a principle for a people, will always degenerate into barbarism, for self-rule, infected as it is by selfishness, rarely is able to exert itself in the discipline of Christian virtue. It is unable because the practice of virtue requires denying oneself for a greater good, a good beyond self.

Jesus shows us how to choose Love as the rule for ourselves this Christmas, even in our deepest darknesses. He shows us how to choose Him by His own example of continually choosing us, no matter the level of depravity we sink to. The witness of the children and teachers slain in Sandy Hook is a witness of this kind of love: innocent love in the children and it’s mature counterpart, self-giving love in the adults. If we want more adults who are self-giving, one thing is for sure, we have to stop destroying the innocence of our children.

This kind of love is the only thing capable of conquering the separation, isolation, selfishness and violence that is born of our narcissistic self-rule. Our hope and our faith reside in the Gift that comes to us this Christmas, that precisely in our deepest darknesses and even though we marginalize Him to the stable, God comes, He still comes to us…in the pure, selfless, innocent love of a Baby Who hides within Himself the glory of the Divinity’s desire to save us, to heal us, to take away our tears, to restore our hearts and to gladden us with His presence.

Mary knows what Her child is destined for; she receives the prophecy of the sword that hangs over her own heart. But She also knows the victory that Her Son, Love Incarnate is destined to win. Her faith holds us fast while in the dangers and evils and violence of the present age, the darkness is surely and definitively being banished away.

We mourn with the families of Newtown, like Rachel mourning her children because they are no more, though we know they are safe now with the Lord. But we know too with firm conviction, and without passing judgment, that the spirit of Herod, Herod whose self-indulgence led him to madness and a worm-eaten end, is vanquished by the love of the innocent Child whose promise of a restored inheritance is ours if we have the wisdom to choose it, an inheritance where: “…the lowly will ever find joy in the Lord…for the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone; and all who are alert to do evil will be cut off.” Isaiah 29: 19-20

In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother,
Sr. Anne

A Lenten Reflection

Understanding the Story of Our Lives – A Lenten Reflection

It is a positive fact that one day all of us will leave the bounds of time and enter into the limitless realms of eternity. The light of heaven will reveal to us things that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and the mind of man has not conceived.
SkyBut while we live in time our lives are probably best characterized by the kind of story they tell, or at least have begun to tell. They can be small stories or great stories, subplots that weave in and out of greater narratives. The beauty of a story is that it develops over time. And while it is yet being written, the plot evolves, characters change, conflicts surface, challenges are faced, good and evil wrestle, heroes are born, villains are conquered and new adventures are begun. Heroes may fall. But even if they fall many times yet rise again to greatness, our hearts thrill just as they do when villains are converted. Until the last chapter is written suspense works in us and hope keeps vigil, while we strain to the greatness we are created to live.

Every person’s life is really a unique story, one which can be read in different ways. A life can be understood in the context of family, or of an even greater history, whether that be a history of the Church or the world, or God’s ongoing relationship with man in creation, salvation and glory.

Jesus’ life has been called: “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” and our life story becomes especially exciting when we begin to see and understand it in the light of Jesus’ own life. Our life then becomes another story of God’s infinite and unwearied love for us. At the same time, God’s love gives to the story of our lives a participation in His own Life, and a special work, a mission we alone can fully accomplish. Part of the adventure of living is discovering our unique mission and playing out our beautiful, and irreplaceable part in the much greater drama of God’s undying love for mankind.

This drama is the Lord’s but it is ours too. It is divine but human too, a mingling of splendid creatures made from ash and mud, living in communion with angels and saints whose respective worlds, heaven and earth, the flesh and the spirit, interpenetrate each other even now.

We are all meant to be unique heroes in this great epic. The saints are true heroes and we are called to this same heroism, a heroism that has as many possible expressions as there are people born into the world, because it can only be lived and expressed in a personal way, in our particular relationship with God.
Resurrection Icon
There is no real narrative thread outside God, nothing with the power to give meaning, to unify and integrate the complexities of the human heart or explain the struggles and yearnings that inhabit the depths of a soul and that steer the course of our history, our story as a people. Man tends toward God by His very nature. And this will always lead him outside himself in a quest to be a part of something greater, something transformative and transcendent. The awakening of a living Faith in our lives draws us into a real adventure with the Triune God, with our loving and provident Father, with Jesus our Savior and Brother, and with the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and Guide. They fill our lives, our stories, with the best of all characters, a Mother like no other, and brothers and sisters who surround us with unending help.

When time shall be no more, this drama of Faith, written in the great voluminous Book of Life, will be read in heaven over and over again to the delight of its citizens. All will have played an important role, whether obvious or hidden, in the grand story that ends in the triumphant victories of Christ and the communion of God with man for all eternity.

Charles Dickens famous story, “David Copperfield” opens with this line: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Lent is a time to sharpen the focus of our own life narrative. It is a time to take the editor’s pen to the bad ideas, the bad habits, the bad attitudes, the bad writing, that makes us mediocre or worse. It is a time to strengthen the character of the hero that lives in us, and to come into conformity with the life of the greatest Hero ever (Christ), by aligning our lives more closely to His and adopting His Spirit in the vicissitudes of life, whether they be joyful, sorrowful, luminous or glorious. We must always be aware that the course of our story, our life, will in turn affect the course of countless other stories, lives that interface with ours, for better or for worse.

The Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of the end of time:
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him Who sat upon it; from His presence earth and sky fled away and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.” Rev. 20: 11:15

May our Lenten exercises during this Year of Faith, become a source of grace for some of the greatest chapters of our lives, masterpieces in their witness to the great mystery of God’s love for mankind.

Inspired by William Kilpatrick’s “Life is a Story”,  chapter from “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong.”

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
General Sister Servant
1/22/2013
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++