The Saints and the Cross Episode 3: Our Lady of Sorrows

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Pieta (1876)

A blessed Holy Week to you all! Today I cover Our Lady of Sorrows in the next episode of The Saints and the Cross. Let us turn to Our Lady of Sorrows to help us unite our will fully to Christ’s and to allow ourselves to be pierced with the agony, mystery, and love of the Cross.

Are We Building One Another Up in Social Media?

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently and realized that I know very little about the people I’m friends with in social media. I don’t seek out Facebook friends I haven’t known personally, but since I’m a writer and connected to other writers, I will get a few new friend requests a week from fellow Catholics. I don’t mind and I’ve added quite a few of these people, but I’m also selective since I actually share posts about my life, my family, and my daughter.

The original idea behind websites like Facebook or the now defunct MySpace, was the opportunity to connect with other people. To catch up with long lost friends from decades prior. Since I served in the military, I literally know people who live across the globe, so it has been nice to see what people are up to these days decades later.

The problem I now see is that rather than social media being a place to connect with others, it’s devolved into a constant stream of political posts. Our identity and our lives are not predominately political, regardless of what our culture tells us. Politics play an essential role in promoting the common good and we should stay informed and work to overcome injustice, but it in no way makes up the vast majority of our lives unless we actually work in politics.

My Facebook newsfeed is a war of constant opposing political posts. I myself have joined the American Solidarity Party and I rarely post anything political anymore. I use to, all of the time, and I lost friends for it. I understand why now. It’s not so much that we had differing views. It’s the fact that 10 years ago when I worked in politics, it was all I posted. All I would share is my political ideology, and I was an ideologue.

A lot of people who send me friend requests–like me years ago–largely only posts political posts. I must admit I groan a little bit. When a new outrage wagon comes rolling into town, my newsfeed explodes and I usually have to walk away until it’s gone. It makes social media miserable to only see my friends and family posting their competing narratives while those of us who tend to take a more middle-of-the-road approach are attacked from both sides. Regardless of what folks claim, there is no political party in the U.S. that conforms fully to Catholic Social Teaching. That means there’s no Catholic party. People are free to argue conscience and their views, but no one can claim their party is Catholic, even if abortion is the supreme human rights issue of our day.

I enjoy discussing current events and many of my posts are related to what is going on in the Church, but I also post a lot of satire because we need more levity in a polarized digital age. More than anything, I try to share what is going on in my life both in the day-to-day and spiritually. I’m a Catholic writer, so the spiritual life is the most important thing to me other than my family. I share the good and the bad.

Since most of my Facebook friends focus solely on politics or current events, I know absolutely nothing about their lives. All I know is what political party they are affiliated with. It seems to me that this flies in the face of the whole point of connecting with other people. Shared interests are one thing, but complete tunnel vision and focus on one topic makes it very difficult to connect with other people on anything other than a superficial level. Often we use social media to be a reflection of our own political beliefs, rather than using it to learn more about other people or to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I always find it interesting when someone finally posts a personal post, usually a prayer request, and they put in “I rarely do this, but I need prayers.” Since when is requesting prayers from the Mystical Body supposed to be rare? Why do we view prayer as a burden? It’s the most real thing that a person may post. It’s a reminder that there is a living, breathing person made imago Dei behind the posts. Why should relying on one another be rare? Why does social media need to be a constant stream of current affairs and political fights? It’s a tool that can be used for so much good.

When I started sharing my family’s struggles with others and requesting prayers things changed for us. I’m convinced the prayers of my friends in social media, my parish, and elsewhere were the reason my husband was diagnosed quickly and he’s still here. We are the Mystical Body. We are meant to lift one another up.

Why is asking for prayers considered shameful? In our weakness we are made strong according to St. Paul. Showing that we are human and struggling with the afflictions of this life is a witness to the need for Christ and one another. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or seen as a burden to others. We can’t go it alone. That’s one of the major lessons of the spiritual life. I’d rather know more about what is going on in someone’s life than read 15 political posts from them.

Part of the reason we are becoming more divided and polarized is because we no longer view social media as a place to connect with others. Instead, it’s becoming our own individual sounding board where we can throw out our political beliefs at high speed. Have any of us changed someone’s mind through all of these posts? I never have. I never did back in the days when that was what I mainly posted.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing them and engaging in debate. My concern is simply that all I see are political posts. I know nothing about most of the people who have requested my friendship on social media. So I guess the question would be: why do you want to be friends with me on social media or anyone else for that matter? I ignore the vast majority of political posts in my newsfeed and I head straight for theology, Church news, the outdoors, or satire. Are we building community or are we simply adding to a list? It’s worth considering. And for the record, I’m happy to pray for you anytime.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

God Is In The Details: My Secondary Vocation to Spiritual Motherhood

It’s amazing how the smallest of details are a part of God’s plan for our lives. We often ignore the minutiae in the busyness of our lives, but God is there working on our salvation in what appears to simply be a day on the calendar. We can see it in the lives of the saints who die on significant feast days or many died at the age of 33. I have come to see in my own spiritual life that certain feast days are filled with greater graces and often I will be asked to do something on one of those days that I wouldn’t do on any other day. Marian feast days and Holy Week are the greatest of these in my own life.

I’m starting to see these small details and how they weave into the very fabric of how Christ is leading me towards Him. I never paid attention before, largely because of my own self-absorption and partly because I didn’t consider how God is always working even when I don’t see it. I was born in Helena, MT and handed guardianship of three holy relics of the True Cross at 33 years of age. The holy relic that was the instrument of Our Lord’s death and our salvation found by *St. Helena* in the 4th century. I only drew the connection nearly 5 years later and it was like being struck by lightning.

On March 23, 2012, a Friday, I had my second miscarriage. A child I firmly believe to have been a son: Caleb Augustine. I have had the deepest longing in my heart to have a son to give to Our Lord in the priesthood. Since I can’t have anymore children, I was confused as to why this longing was so deeply imbedded within me. On March 23, 2018, a Friday, after a significant experience that happened to me during the Mass that dramatically changed my spiritual life, I was handed my secondary vocation of spiritual motherhood to priests. God only revealed the connection between these two dates to me this past weekend as we approach that anniversary this weekend. The realization has been nothing short of mind-blowing for me. God doesn’t miss any details. The same priest was even with me on both days at two different parishes six years apart.

On the painful anniversary of losing my first son–I believe I lost my second son on August 8, 2016 on the feast of St. Dominic when we had already named him for a Dominican as Andrew Thomas (see those small details are actually big ones!)–six years to the day, God handed me the secondary vocation of being a spiritual mother to His priests in a time of crisis, scandal, pain, and confusion. To pray and sacrifice for them in love, as so many others have done before me, including one of my closest friends in the Communion of Saints: St. Therese of Lisieux. God is working in every area of our lives every single day.

I miss my babies, but God has already blessed me a great deal through this secondary vocation. As I told the ladies last weekend at the retreat when I discussed Mary and Spiritual Motherhood, being a spiritual mother comes with great joys and sorrows, just like being a biological/adoptive mother. It requires sacrifice and since it’s a vocation it is also a path to learning how to die to self in love. Spiritual motherhood comes from Our Lady who teaches us how to open our hearts up more expansively, even in the midst of grief. 

When I realized that I would not be able to have more children, I wondered in prayer if I’d ever experience that level of joy again as the day when I first held my daughter. So many of my friends are still being blessed with children and I am not. In my grief, I wasn’t sure. The answer is yes. Spiritual motherhood is yet another path to charity and it comes with incredible joy. In order to be able to open myself up to that joy God had to teach me how to let go of what I wanted, including my desire for more children. When I let go and gave everything back to God, just as Our Heavenly Mother did at the foot of the Cross, Christ was able to break open deeper wellsprings of charity within me that I didn’t even know existed. It’s hard to let go of what we want, but God’s ways are not our own and He is not to be outdone in generosity.

Teaching My Daughter Why Charity is Worth the Fight

My daughter looks almost entirely like my husband, except for the shape of her eyes and the freckles that dot across her cheeks and nose. She isn’t a fan of the freckles because no one else in her class has them, but I told her she got them from me and that God made her the way she is, so that makes them beautiful. She’s battling the innate Fallen need to conform to the world. It’s a new battle for her since she was homeschooled until the beginning of this year when she entered Second Grade. Now she simply wants to fit in and be like everyone else.

None of us are made to fit in and be like everyone else. We are made for communion with one another, but conformity to a worldly ideal is not the same thing. Often this desire for conformity is based on materialism, jealousy, fear, comfort, and more than anything, the desire to be loved by others. The problem is, worldly conformity isn’t love. It is a slow killing of love because it requires us to sacrifice even good aspects of ourselves for the sake of being like everyone else. Even heaven is hierarchical. The more we love in this life, the more we share in the glorious vision of the Most Holy Trinity. Being conformed to the world is a cheap counterfeit compared to our true call of conformation to Christ.

My daughter looks exactly like my husband, but her personality is alarmingly similar to my own. She’s intellectually a good balance of the two of us, which will help her later on, but she is stubborn, willful, passionate, has a strong sense of justice, and a deep capacity to love. I say this with some trepidation because I know what she’s in for in this Fallen world. I also know that she is going to have to wage some tough battles to temper the rough edges of her stubborn and willful personality. If she can harness it for good, it will serve her well on the path to holiness. She will be less likely to stay down when she falls. She will turn to Christ and begin again with each new fall, no matter how hard of a fall.

Her sense of justice will help to guide her through the great injustices of this life, but it will also be a struggle for her because there are so many injustices in this world that are not made right until the end of time. She will still have to fight for what is good and right,  but know that the victory is Christ’s, even if she suffers losses on this side of eternity. It is why names have power and my husband and I knew very clearly that she was to be named after St. Michael the Archangel. He will fight by her side whenever she seeks his aid.

The place where she will struggle the most is with charity. This world constantly seeks to destroy that which comes from authentic charity.  She will find out–and already has–that her great love for her friends will often not be returned, be at the same level as hers, or outright rejected. The greater the capacity for love that God gives to us, the more we will come to see why He constantly tells us not to be afraid. In our Fallen state, we are terrified of true charity. All of us.

We want things to be comfortable and easy, but we don’t grow in charity through comfort and ease. We grow by willing the good of the other and a lot of the time that means some kind of pain on our part or imposition of pain on someone else. Love is not a warm feeling. It is deeply challenging. It shows us where we are weakest, our failures, and the darkness within that needs to be purged. In this life, charity also means there will be times of utter, sometimes astonishing betrayals at the hands of others. For the Christian, we should expect this since the ultimate act of Divine Love was met with the greatest betrayal of all time. But we don’t understand, which is why we want to flee when it happens to us. It’s why the pain of the scandals has led some to leave the Church. That betrayal cuts through us like a knife and it is difficult to heal from such deep wounds.

My daughter with her great God-given capacity for charity will taste the bitterness of betrayal, but my hope is that I will be able to show her that no matter the pain, it is worth it in the end. The measure of this life is our charity. It is not her fault if others fail to love her as long as she has done what God has asked her to do. I’ve had to learn the hard way not to blame myself for the failings of others.

My hope is that God will show her that the more she opens up to Him in charity, the more He will fill her up, even in times of bitter defeat. He will require much of her, but it is much greater to live in the depths than to live in shallows. We don’t think so in this life, but in the next life all will be set to right and we will see what we fought for in our daily lives. We will see clearly why we fought to love as Christ loves, regardless of the consequences. The pain we endure in this life is temporary and the Divine Physician will bind those wounds and send us once more into the depths to where He calls us to open ourselves fully to His love and love of others. The greatest test in this life is learning to love those who do not love us or those who betray us.

When we think of loving others, we think primarily of a romantic form of love. It is what our culture is obsessed with, and the married state is a beautiful gift and vocation, but the greatest love we have is love of God and His love for us. We cannot fully live our vocations without Him at the very center. We want love to feel good all of the time. That’s one of the reasons divorce is so common. Love fades is what people say. No, emotions ebb and flow and then the work really begins. The actual love and self-emptying begins.

In reality, when we ask God to teach us to love as He loves, to love as the saints love, we are asking Him to teach us to love our enemies. It’s easy to wage battles for the people we have great affection for, but it seems almost unbearable to love someone who turns from a friend into an enemy. In this case, enemy can mean a wide variety of things, it can even mean simply someone we have a falling out with for some reason. That love is excruciating. It has to be because it is purifying. It is a true emptying of self, ego, pride, and the desire for vengeance. It is to simply bear the deep pain inflicted and still meet that person in love, regardless of if they return that love or not.

What did Christ do when He returned after the Resurrection? He appeared to the Apostles who abandoned Him in His darkest hour. He did not yell, rant, rave, or seek vengeance. He appeared in their midst and said simply: Shalom. Peace. What is done is done. He simply endured all of the agony, betrayal, and complete abandonment on the Cross and came back in forgiving love. It’s nearly impossible for us in our Fallen state, but possible with Christ. He shows us the way to love.

God has for months been building up to teaching me this lesson through a situation in my own life. In prayer He has constantly told me to “love as He loves.” Things would get harder and He would always tell me the same thing. He constantly told me that I have a choice, but what is required of me is charity, true charity. He was leading me to the Cross and telling me that I am to love as He loves. The Cross where every ounce of His blood is poured out, while knowing many will turn away from Him. Knowing that He was offering the Divine Love to those who cast lots for his clothes, and those who scourged Him, and those who mocked Him and placed a Crown of Thorns upon His head, and those who drove nails into His body. That is Love. In order to love like Christ, we must allow Him to teach us what love means and what it costs. The Cross is what love requires and it is what love costs.

My daughter will struggle to embrace the capacity for charity that God has given to her, just as I have struggled. That deep desire is God-given, but in reality it will not be fully satiated until the next life in the sense that our desire for abiding communion with others is difficult in this Fallen world. It’s rare. Spiritual friendships are rare in this life. We can be completely filled up by God and the more we grow in love of Him the more we see how that is truly what we seek. In fact, we must turn away from our desire to primarily be filled up by people and turn to God for our fulfillment. Only then can we turn back to others in authentic love. My daughter’s desire to fit in stems from her desire to be loved totally and completely. It’s a desire we all struggle with in this life. That longing can only be fulfilled by God.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” St. Augustine

The saints came to see that self-emptying love is given regardless of how it is received by the other. St. Teresa of Calcutta did not ask herself whether or not the man dying in the street loved her in return. He may have even attempted to reject her help and screamed at her. She loved and served him anyway. It is that kind of love that we are all supposed to learn and the only way to learn it is through being hurt by others and accepting that pain, but still loving. I pray that God teaches her that lesson much sooner than I have learned it. I’m the type of person who will drop everything for someone in need, but I still struggle mightily in betrayal. May God continue to teach us to love as He loves.

In a Time of Great Scandal, Remember God Works in the Quiet Places

For the past month, I’ve been struggling mightily with the failures of priests in the Church, not just the abusers and our leaders, but the fact that times like these often lead to more collateral damage because the Enemy seeks to divide and wound even more in the aftermath of such revelations. He likes to kick us while we are down and we let him. Those we thought were strong, fail us. More victims pile up until men of courage and true charity step up. It’s how Church history has gone since the Cross.

I was struggling yesterday when I looked up and in my rearview mirror I saw the two school chaplains vested–both younger priests–praying with one another and blessing one another before Mass. It gave me hope. Yes, in times like these we come to see that “the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity”, but quietly in the still places of the world, holy men are praying together, striving towards holiness, preparing and offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and seeking to be the saints God desires them to be. God blessed me so much by allowing me to witness such a quiet and beautiful moment in a time of agony for me. I’ve always had such high regard for the priesthood, which is why I’ve been deeply saddened as of late for a variety of reasons.

The Cross: The Answer We Don’t Really Want

The entire litmus test for this life is the very one we don’t want. It’s love or charity (caritas). It is the very meaning of our lives. It is what grounds every moment of every day, but even as we say it’s what we want, we are also repelled by it. Why? Love always costs us everything. Love is the Cross.

As Christians, we believe that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took on human flesh in the Incarnation in order to bring about our salvation by dying on the wood of a Cross and rising again from the dead three days later. This is the absolute center of our faith. We proclaim it in the Nicene Creed (or Apostle’s Creed) at every Mass. We give our Amen when the priest extends to us the body and blood of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, declaring our belief in this reality. It surrounds us completely, but the Cross itself is largely held at arms length in our lives.

We don’t really want it and by extension we don’t really want the demands of love. Our culture is obsessed with love. Free love, everyone should be able to love, etc, but we don’t want actual love. The love that underpins all of existence is not based on feelings, sentiment, or warm fuzzy emotions, it is based on self-emptying. It is based on suffering. It is to forget one’s self for another’s good.

Of course we don’t want that love. It hurts. It requires everything we have and more. Love is to sit by your husband’s hospital bed wondering if you will be planning his funeral soon, but to enter into the pain of that moment anyway. Love is pouring out everything for the stranger who wants to abort her baby, but who God has called you to walk beside as you grieve the loss of the child you desperately wanted even to the point of giving this stranger all of your own baby items because God required it of you. It is the searing pain that cuts so deep we don’t think we will survive. It is pouring out everything we have and our entire being to God and others.

It is to willingly wage an intense battle against powers and principalities for someone who can’t understand that depth of charity because love in essence is to desire that those around us become saints. Worldly, even sinful inversions of love, are easier to understand than hard fought holy love in this Fallen world. That kind of love we flee from because that’s the love that comes from God. Love truly is to will the good of the other, even when that good is rejected and we are left alone. I know this not only as a theologian. More than anything, I know it as a Christian disciple who has seen this play out time-and-time-again in my own life. It is the Cross God has called me to. It is the Cross He handed to me when I quite literally held His True Cross in my hands, not once, but twice. Both times producing the same result.

We want our safety. We want comfortable Christianity where we don’t have to risk much, especially in a time when we are all trying to stay above water. All of us in the Church are treading water. The real answers are hard ones and they require us to move from our complacency to the path we were always supposed to be walking: the path to sainthood. It is personal holiness and deeper communion that will bring about the much needed purgation and renewal in the Church, but these are the two things we don’t want to have to do.

All of us want easier answers. We want to be able to point a finger at someone else and blame them for the mess we are in, when in truth, we are in this mess because all of us have failed to live up to the call Christ gave to us in our Baptism; when we died to self and became a new creation in Christ. The call to holiness means confronting the darkness within us and allowing Christ to transform us. It means enduring the pain and agony of the Cross so that our brokenness can be purified and refined so that it is holy and pleasing to God.

The Enemy wants all of these dark places to hold us back, to keep us trapped, and afraid. Shame and fear are how the Enemy keeps us from moving forward into deeper love of God and of others. What the leaders in the Church–and all of us–fail to see is that if we allow the light of God to penetrate all of our weaknesses, darkness, and failings then He will give us the strength to get back up and begin again. We are not held back by God for our failings. We are strengthened through them and our love is purified, so that we can love as He loves.

It is through trials and the struggles that love deepens. This is what the saints understood better than us. They knew that the only way to grow in love of God and others is to be willing to fight the good fight, knowing they’d fail at times. Through this fight, through embracing the Cross, they came to see that they became entirely dependent on God, entered fully into His love, and by extension came to love others with the love of Christ. To do so, they chose to enter the fight that is the path to holiness. The same fight you and I are called to today.

In order to grow in holiness and in order for us to love one another as Christ loves we must embrace the very thing we are all desperately fleeing from the same way the vast majority of the Apostles did: the Cross. We must be willing to suffer together, confront our failings together, battle the world, the Enemy, and ourselves together, and be willing to fight the most intense fight of our lives. We must be willing to allow our love to be intense–even though it’s terrifying–and we must be willing to endure and persevere in our love for God and others.

There is a reason battle imagery is used so often in spiritual warfare throughout the Church’s history. We are in a war and most of us–including our leaders–are blind to it. We have come to believe that most of what goes on in our lives is material, when in truth, most of what goes on in our lives is supernatural. That temptation you or I battle often is the lie of the Enemy. He will attempt to seduce us, lie to us, accuse us, and shame us. And the more we become aware of it, the more intense the battle becomes because the last thing he wants is for us to be able to see him or his minions in the open. We underestimate how much he hates us. More than anything we underestimate the power of Christ to transform us through such hardships and fights.

Every aspect of our spiritual lives is tied to the Cross in this life. We enter into those Crosses in confident hope because we know that all will be made right in the end. We know that the battles we wage now, the victories and the losses, will be used by God for His plan and as a reflection of His glory. This is why we can praise him in our pain, trials, failings, rejections, betrayals, and afflictions. We know the pain now will give way to joy, even if it is not until the next life. In order to enter into this reality, we must be willing to play the long game. We must be willing to accept that we may not see victory in this life. Instead, we must fix our eyes on Christ crucified–our thorny-crowned Captain–and walk deeper into the piercing love He shows us by His sacrifice. It is why even if everyone around us rejects us, we can go on in faith, hope, and charity.

None of this is easy. We will want to quit. There are countless times, especially in the last few years, when I have had to fight through a lot of pain and confusion in prayer. I’ve repeatedly asked God if I can walk away when an affliction, hardship, or temptation seems to be too much for me. His response is always the same. “Yes, Constance, you can walk away or you can learn to love as I love.” Every single time without fail this is what Our Lord tells me in prayer.

He told me the same thing when I almost resigned from my ministry last week. The same thing whenever I’ve been hurt and betrayed by others, when I had to watch my husband suffer, when I had to give all I had to a stranger, when I agonized over the loss of my four babies, when I’ve held my daughter in her agonies, when I have been mocked, derided, or the victim of gossip, when I have felt alienated because of the depth of my charity and my desire to bring people deeper into the mystery of God, or when a friend admitted to me recently that she had betrayed me and abandoned me for a while because the intensity of my faith life and my charity proved too much for her at the time (all unbeknownst to me). The latter is all God’s doing. Any goodness and love in me comes from Him.

In essence what is God saying? He’s saying “Get back up. I’ve called you to love.” That’s what is required of you, me, and of all of us. It’s as simple and as deeply painful as that. When I feel the most beaten down, when I want to quit, God reminds me to keep going. The answer to all of our questions is love. We are to love with everything we have and more through grace. We can only love if we are willing to hurt. Love is not a remote, distant endeavor. Willing the good of another is to see them for all of the good and bad within them and still desire to see them succeed on the only path that matters: heaven. It’s to walk together despite those failings. This means forgiveness is necessary and it must be extended freely and repeatedly. We are all meant to help each other succeed. This is something married couples know well and it’s something real friends come to embrace once they see what real friendship is supposed to look like.

As brothers and sisters in Christ we are meant to fight side-by-side, not with one another. We are not in competition with one another. Our goal is supposed to be the same for all of us. Before we can embrace that goal, we must first ask God to place us firmly on the path to holiness and pray for the grace and strength to endure what will be required of us. It’s not an easy path. We can’t go into it thinking it will be or we will fail utterly. Instead, we must come to see that Our Lord is everything and then order our lives around that reality. Once we give everything to Him, we can embark on the journey and in so doing begin to walk with those around us. We can go on the journey because Christ is the one walking beside us.

As God works in each one of our lives to transform us into the saints we are meant to be, we will see our parishes flourish. We will see the renewal we all desire begin to unfold slowly in God’s time. We will see the love of the Cross transform all of this darkness into a new dawn. We will see the world through the eyes of faith, through the eyes of Christ, and we will be able to love as He loves. This is the answer we are seeking, but it’s the one we don’t want, because at the very center, looming large, is the Cross.

The Struggle to Write as God Intensifies My Spiritual Life

I have received quite a few emails and comments from readers encouraging me to keep writing. I’ve read every single one of them even if I didn’t get a chance to respond to you personally. I greatly appreciate your messages!

The past few months have been a time of rather intense and immense spiritual growth all of which God has accomplished in me. He gets all credit, honor, and glory. He’s taken me to places I never could have imagined, expected, or even known that I desired. He’s also required a very deep purging and purification on my part in various areas. It’s been intense. He’s not even close to finished with that process. All of this is aimed at Him answering my prayer to be able to love as He loves and to become a saint one day.

The things that have gone on I have shared in bits and pieces with a few different people and my priests know small parts, one as my Confessor and the other as my spiritual director. I don’t fully understand what God is asking of me at this point in time, so I’ve been careful in what I tell different people, for good reason. And the full extent is only known by God and me. Although, I’m slowly entrusting more-and-more to my spiritual director.

When God is asking us to grow in charity towards Him and others, betrayal and rejection are inevitable. In fact, it seems to become more common. It’s one of the ways He challenges us to grow in love. Going deeper into divine love and by extension fraternal charity is deeply scary. It’s one of the reasons the Apostles fled. It’s one of the reasons our impulse in those instances is to flee, whether we encounter it in others or God asks it of us. I have had to fight with every ounce of my being not to flee from what God has been asking of me and doing in my life. It is only in standing firm that I get anywhere. When I allow fear to take hold, I fall.

My constant friend and companion along this journey–the one I’ve found who understands what I’m going through right now–is St. Teresa of Avila. St. Therese is also a strong force in my spiritual life. God showed me at Adoration this past week that He has led me to the second water, once again through no merit of my own. This means that a stillness I’ve never known has entered my soul, even as I was deeply hurt by multiple people this week in my effort to serve Christ as He wants. I still cried a lot, but a steadiness and peace stayed with me even as I endured the pain. He’s given me the grace to pray for every single one of them, to forgive, and to accept the pain it’s caused that I know will pass in time. It was quite providential that these were the two verses God had me pray with over the last few days. It was all God’s doing that I started praying through the First Letter of St. Peter this week given what I found myself up against on multiple occasions:

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Peter 4:12-14

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

“Let your love for one another be intense” this is actually a different translation than the one I’ve been praying with, but it’s more fitting. A friend of mine recently told me that the intensity of my love and the intensity of my spiritual life will lead to me being rejected by a lot of people. No, I’m not a mystic. That isn’t what I mean. She wrote me a letter explaining something she had discerned through the help of St. Therese and St. Faustina in prayer where she was told to holdfast as my friend, even if it’s difficult. She doesn’t understand my spiritual life, but she’s willing to walk beside me.

She then confessed that she herself had betrayed me and distanced herself from me and my friendship for a year because of what friendship with me demanded from her. She saw her spiritual life change dramatically by being in my company, unbeknownst to me and through no fault of my own. It was all God’s doing. I was completely ignorant until a few weeks ago. Her revelation to me hurt me a lot, but God used it to fortify me for what is to come. Even though her words to me were a warning that my spiritual life would be deeply difficult, it’s given me a glimpse and helped me to understand in a small way what I’m going to be up against because of the path God has called me to. A path I could never have foreseen.

Her letter helped me to see how many of my relationships have played out and how they are continuing to play out in this way. By virtue of the personality and soul God has given to me, real (holy) friendship with me requires a swimming into the depths. It’s not something I intended, but it is apparently something God wants because those depths are in fact to seek true charity grounded in communion with Christ. It is only this year that I realized how my blog came to be called Swimming the Depths. God is asking me, and some of the people around me, to go into the deep and that is terrifying. I’ve pulled back and pushed back a lot, but when I finally let go God gives me the fortitude, charity, and peace that I need in specific circumstances in order to allow Him to work in my life. How often we impede God’s working in our lives through our fear and blindness!

Part of going into the depths is the willingness to go deeper into charity. When our love for others is “intense” it is actually much easier to forgive. The radiant love of God welling up and surging forth from inside of us burns away the iniquities of those around us from our sight. That doesn’t mean we don’t still hurt and mistrust, but it does mean that we can in charity–through grace–extend the forgiveness the person needs whether they are aware of it or not at the time. This ability is a grace that only can come from God since our immediate response to pain and betrayal is to walk away from those people. Instead, holy love requires us to stand fast even as the other person rejects us, even when they cannot see what God has allowed you to see.

Much of this probably makes little sense. It is the reason that whenever I have thought about writing, I cannot summon the words. I have to force myself to write my weekly contribution for Catholic Exchange right now because words keep failing me. Whenever I’ve tried to in some way explain a piece of it, I keep hearing ‘that’s nice, but I don’t understand what you are saying.’ Or worse, ‘depart from me.’ With the exception of the few instances of the Holy Spirit working through my Confessor and my spiritual director and the willingness of my friend to listen even as she doesn’t understand. My husband and I are very different spiritually and while his guidance has been indispensable, it’s still difficult for me to articulate to him.

I’ve also been beaten down a lot by the envy of other people and I must admit it’s brutal. This is not to make me sound like a victim. I’m not. It’s simply that I did not expect it and so I’ve had to learn to make peace with that reality so that I can push forward in God’s mission for me despite the very large obstacles that have been put in my path. I never knew until recently that spiritual envy is a thing. I can’t claim to be holy, but I’ve known holy people and my desire is to be like them, not to destroy them.

Growing spiritually can require us to go it alone wholly dependent on Christ for a while. It doesn’t mean that we isolate ourselves. That would violate what we are a part of in the Mystical Body, but it means that we may have to keep things to ourselves that we’d love to share simply because the people around us are not ready or do not want to hear it. It’s the difference between those who are to be fed on milk and those who are ready for solid food, as St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Hebrews. It can be a rather lonely path at times, but thankfully Christ makes up what is lacking. Please pray for me as I pray for you.