I’m one of those people who constantly gets stuck in the rut of trying to fix myself, to make myself better, and then to approach God. Be perfect before I seek His help. Well, you can imagine how well that works out. God, in His great mercy, keeps working on changing that attitude. That’s why I love this piece by Sister Ruth Burrows. The answer is in the second to the last sentence. Read on.
Let me stress a little more the supreme importance of refusing to evade our own personal poverty, refusing to be discouraged by it. Only too easily, self-disgust and discouragement become spiritual waste. I think it is of utmost importance to use everything for loving. After all, our lives are made up of “nothings”! We can be on the lookout for the big occasions and let slip the hundreds of little opportunities when divine love is asking to be let in.
Nothing about us is hidden from the loving, compassionate eyes of God, but when we are feeling miserable within, shamed, silly, dirty even, we hide away. God isn’t in all this, we implicitly assume. But God is in all this, to us, contemptible stuff. We love very much by this lack of childlike trust.
Through what is happening to us, we are brought to face our sinfulness, our selfishness, our inadequacy or whatever it is. Yet this is God’s moment. It, I believe, in the constant, almost hourly choices that these humiliating, self-revealing experiences afford us, that true holiness and union with God is brought about. I’m sure that what God longs for us to do is never to stop looking in his compassionate eyes. Nothing is too small, pathetic or shameful to be used for love.
“There was no limit to what God could do in Thérèse once she held out her empty hands . . . ” (Ruth Burrows)
It’s really that simple.
“I wonder whether we take seriously enough, we grown men and women, the stress that Jesus puts on being a child in order to receive what God has to give? It means God can come fully only to the little one. It means renouncing all ideas of our own spiritual importance, of what we do for God, what we give to God, our own supposed goodness and virtue. It means casting aside any concern for that image of ourselves, so precious to ourselves, that we are indeed truly spiritual men and women. Julian of Norwich maintains that, in this life, we can have no other stature than that of childhood. I think that when Jesus takes the child in his arms, sets him in front of himself, pointing to him as a model, it is to himself he is pointing. His inmost heart was always that of a child and that is hwy he could live with such freedom, courage and self-squandering. To my mind this is the nub of the truly Christian faith, this grasp that all is gift and our work is simply to receive, to learn how to receive. Certainly, when I myself get the spiritual ‘fidgets’ and become anxious about myself and my life, I find my answer in simply saying to myself: ‘You are only a child!'” (Ruth Burrows)
The Pharisee becomes the publican
One thing that can cause me discouragement is dealing with besetting sin–you know that thing you keep taking back to confession over and over. One of mine is critical thinking. A few years ago I read Sr. Ruth Burrow’s autobiography, and in it she spoke about this being one of her ongoing faults as well. However, she found what I think is a very clever way to deal with it:
Perceptive, quick to see the flaws in another, I was prone to criticism, finding a certain satisfaction in seeing another at fault as though this, in some way, raised me up. I knew that no fault would so displease our Lord or stop his grace as this harsh judgment on his children. I realized I had the mentality of a pharisee but, I thought to myself, if a pharisee had turned to our Lord and admitted his hardness of heart, his crabbed, mean spirit and asked for help, our Lord would have helped him. So I did the same. The pharisee became the publican. I came to realize that temptations to pride, the sin of the pharisee, could make one a publican. The stone which the builders rejected could become head of the corner. I tried to use these bad tendencies to grow in humility.
And the Angels danced, don’t you think?
I am struck, on this Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, by Sr. Ruth Burrows meditation in Magnificat. She clarifies the message of the cross:
“Holding up the cross, bidding us gaze into that bleeding, humiliated face, the Holy Spirit’s focus is not first and foremost on suffering, of even on sin and its consequences, but on a love that is absolute, ‘out of this world,’ ‘other,’ ‘what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived.’ We must gaze and gaze with fullest attention and then affirm: this is God; this is what God is really like.”
Do your best today to keep your gaze with fullest attention on this Love.
Today’s gospel reading is the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee, which brought to mind this hope-filled reflection by Sr. Ruth Burrows will encourage those of you who find it easier to identify with the Pharisee than the publican:
Perceptive, quick to see the flaws in another, I was prone to criticism, finding a certain satisfaction in seeing another at fault as though this, in some way, raised me up. I knew that no fault would so displease our Lord or stop his grace as this harsh judgment on his children. I realized I had the mentality of a pharisee but, I thought to myself, if a pharisee had turned to our Lord and admitted his hardness of heart, his crabbed, mean spirit and asked for help, our Lord would have helped him. So I did the same. The pharisee became the publican. I came to realize that temptations to pride, the sins of the pharisee, could make one a publican. The stone which the builders rejected could become head of the corner. I tried to use these bad tendencies to grown in humility.
So, as I said yesterday, for many of us, the most difficult love is to love ourselves, to love ourselves as Christ loves us. to let ourselves be loved by Christ. It is the easiest thing to do, but it is the hardest thing to do. It is the easiest because God always loves us no matter what, always, always. It is the hardest thing for us to do because we simply don’t believe it and always find excuses to not make ourselves vulnerable to Him. We think we need to prove ourselves, we’re afraid of being hurt and disappointed, we just don’t believe it. Some of the best things in life–in fact, the best thing–are free.
So, what to do? Just simply turn towards that Love. I know, easier said than done. He is always turned toward you and will never turn away. My prayer is that today, right at this moment, you can do this simple–but seeming difficult–thing.
Lastly, there is the difficulty of remembering that, in this necessarily interior language of self and heart, the first and last words are the God who loves us, ‘a Divine Love who is always seeking the human heart.’ It is easy to evade this, to transfer focus too quickly to what we think we must do next, to those obligations to others to which we never seem to measure up. And this is competing against a standard which surreptitiously we are in fact setting for ourselves. There may not be a malicious vanity here, but there is a vanity all the same. isn’t one of the big barriers to prayer our inhibition about accepting the love Jesus has for each one of us as we are? (Mark Allen, quoted in Ruth Burrows, Letters on Prayer, p. 21)