Sitting in the darkness

And my final excerpt from Fr. Marc Foley’s book, The Context of Holiness:

Acts of faith are expressed in two ways.  The first is our willingness to jump into the darkness, that is, choosing to trust in God’s guidance as we venture into the unknown.  The second is our willingness to sit in the darkness, which is continuing to do God’s will when our emotional resources are depleted and life seems hollow, meaningless and absurd.  . . .

These are the worst times in our life of faith when viewed from a psychological and emotional perspective.  But from a spiritual vantage point, they are potentially the best of times.  For when we continue to do God’s will without emotional support, our love for God and neighbor grows and is purified.

A great weight off

Another dose of Fr. Marc Foley:

Even though I believe that by the grace of God I am not the man I was thirty-five years ago, for I can honestly say that much emotional healing has taken place in my heart.  Nevertheless, during times of stress, when my old fears and neurotic compulsions well up within me in all their savage intensity, I feel that nothing has changed.  I say to myself, ‘When will I ever be rid of this fear?’

Once I could accept the answer ‘Never’ I felt a great weight taken off my shoulders.  For I was released from the impossible goal of trying to become someone other than myself. ‘Working on yourself’ can be an insidious mask of self-hate for it makes you feel that there is something wrong with you until you are ‘healed.’

I have often told people who come to me for spiritual direction to never make it a goal to conquer their faults.  Simply ask for the grace to resist the temptation at the moment.  Take it for granted that you will always have tendencies toward certain sins and self-destructive behaviors, which will always be opportunities to grow in virtue and rely upon the grace of God.

The battle of your emotions

More from Fr. Marc Foley:

What does it mean to leave childhood?  What does it mean to become an adult?  It means having the strength not to be ruled by one’s emotions or allowing one’s feelings to dictate one’s choices,and possessing the determination to stand upright in the face of an emotional storm. This was the grace given to Thérèse.

Thérèse was not healed of her hypersensitivity.  Rather, she was given the strength to deal with it.  . . .  God did not remove Thérèse from the battle of her emotions but gave her the fortitude to remain in the battle.

. . . . .

Reflect upon your own life . . . What do we suffer in doing God’s will?  Is it not some painful emotion that accompanies our choices?  Is it not fear that makes an act of faith harrowing?  Is it not the sadness of mourning that makes ‘letting go’ difficult?  Is not loneliness or emptiness the price of remaining faithful to one’s vows?  Is not tediousness and boredom the burden of being dutiful to the daily round?

Love and suffering are inseparable.  If we are unwilling to suffer, then we cannot love.”

The context of holiness

Digging into my 600 page journal last night and I found some gems from Fr. Marc Foley’s book, The Context of Holiness.  I’ll share them over the next few posts.  Hope they encourage you as they do me.

Becoming an adult does not mean that the deep emotional wounds of childhood disappear. Rather, being an adult means  choosing to make courageous decisions in the face of powerful emotions.


When she [Thérèse] was assigned a job [as novice mistress] that she thought was too much for her to handle, she felt overwhelmed, incompetent, unqualified, and inadequate . . .

However, Thérèse does not apologize for her fears.  She does not berate herself for feeling like a child; rather her fears and insecurities are the context within which she places her trust in God.  It is as if Thérèse is saying to all of us: ‘There are many situations in life that trigger the deep-seated fears of childhood.  I have come to see that this is a normal part of daily life.  I have also come to see that our childhood wounds are not obstacles to our spiritual growth but are in some mysterious manner the path on which we find our way back to God.  The deep-seated fears of my life have forced me to abandon my self-sufficiency and to rely upon the grace of God.’

The context of our lives

I just finished re-reading The Context of Holiness, Psychological and Spiritual Reflections on the Life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Marc Foley, OCD.  His main point is that God works within the context of each our lives, within the physical, psychological, social and emotional dimensions of our lives.   Here is an excerpt from the last chapter:

Each of us fights a “war within,” the cost of which no one knows but God alone.  Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart (1 Sam 16.7).  Judged by the standards of this world, our lives look like a “world without event,” but known to God alone “the heroic breast.”  All of us can say with Thérèse “Ah! what a surprise we shall have at the end of the world when we read the story of souls!  There will be those who will be surprised when they see the way through which my soul was guided” (S. 149)!

Our real life is that which is known to God alone and not that which is judged by the standards of this world.  In act IV of King Lear, there appears upon the stage a character who is so insignificant that Shakespeare doesn’t even give him a name; he is simply referred to as the First Servant.  As he witnessed Gloucester being blinded, the First Servant draws his sword to defend his master but is mortally stabbed in the back by Goneral.  His whole part consists of only eight lines, none of which are quote worthy.

No one remembers the First Servant.  But if King Lear were not a play but real life, then his part would have been the best to have played.  For it is not important that we are lauded or remembered by this passing world, for all that the world affords is fleeting. . . .

The only glory that survives the grave is a life well lived.  In a hundred years it will not have made any difference how much money we have in the bank, how many cars we have in the garage, how much power we wielded in our jobs, how many books we have written or how esteemed we were by colleagues and friends.  The only thing that ultimately matters is whether or not we have done the will of God.

In this book, I have tried to show through the life of one woman that the trials and tragedies of life, the fears and conflicts of the human heart are not obstacles to growth in holiness but the stage upon which the drama of holiness unfolds.  The same is true for us.  The gray mundaneness of daily life, our wounded psyches with all their fears and neurotic conflicts, our families, friends, and peers who never live up to our expectations and who often disappoint us, the impersonal and insecure world that we live in, is the context in which we choose to do God’s will.  (pp. 140-41, emphasis added)