Overcoming the world

The verse for the Canticle of Zechariah in Morning Prayer this morning is: “The world will persecute you, but have courage, I have overcome the world, alleluia.”  I began to think: “How are we to overcome the world?  How did Christ overcome the world?”  The answer that sprang immediately to my mind–and which I trust came from the Holy Spirit–was “By love.”  He, and we, conquere by love. So often, I think, other plans and ideas for overcoming the world spring to our minds, but we must carefully test from where they come, for if they are not underpinned and motivated by love, their source is probably not God.  Perhaps they come from ourselves or from our Enemy.  A story comes to mind from a book I am currently reading, Evidence Not Seen, A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II.  It is the autobiography of Darlene Deibler Rose, a young American bride, who with her husband went as missionaries to Dutch New Guinea shortly before WWII.  She and her husband were interred in separate Japanese concentration camps.  She suffered under horrific conditions and oppressors.  Her husband died.  Yet her faith remained strong despite her suffering.  The story that came to mind has to do with her relationship with the Japanese commander of her camp who would beat the women savagely for any infraction.  Many days she had to struggle internally to obey Jesus’ command to love our enemies. One day she was called into his office.  She boldly asked if she could have permission to talk with him, which he granted.  She began to witness to him of Christ’s place in her life, ending with: “He died for you, Mr. Yamaji, and He puts love in our hearts–even for those who are our enemies.  That’s why I don’t hate you, Mr. Yamaji.  Maybe God brought me to this place and this time to tell you He loves you.”  She continues in her book, “With tears running down his cheeks, he rose hastily and went into his bedroom, closing the door.  I could hear him blowing his nose and knew he was still crying.”

This all brought to mind an excerpt from a letter written by Caryll Houselander, a contemporary of Darlene, at the beginning of World War II.  She, too, was dealing with the suffering of many.  She wrote:

When the first days of this agony [WWII] are over, it is going to lead on from suffering to suffering in every way, fear, loss, death–one can’t bear to think of it.  Our work is to keep alive, a deep constant awareness of the living love of God, to be, as never before contemplatives of Christ in ourselves and in one another. To keep His passion before us and to keep our faith in His love, never allowing the despair and pessimism which must sweep many hearts.

True beauty

. . . last September Our Lord told me that He wished that I would look at Him much more in people, that He would like to be loved and reverenced more in people and “discovered” and recognized even in very unlikely people.  He would like people to be told and shown “their glory”–which of course is Himself.  (Caryll Houselander quoted in That Divine Eccentric by Maisie Ward)

That quote of Caryll’s came to mind this morning when we sang this line from a song during morning prayer: “You have illumined our spirit and Your eternal light is reflected everywhere so that in that light man might discover true beauty and all become luminous.”  (St. Gregory Nazianzen)  How else can we see the true beauty in each other except by His illumining our spirits?  There are many gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, but I believe this is the greatest: to love and reverence each other (“even very unlikely people”) for their worth in Christ, to see “true beauty” in each other.  And some times–maybe most of the time–that means seeing that “true beauty” in ourselves. Come, Holy Spirit, and enkindle the hearts of Your faithful . . .

My ways are not your ways . . .

Sometimes I just have to repeat myself.  I was browsing through my journal last night and came across this quote from Caryll Houselander which I love.  I know I posted it awhile ago, but maybe your memory is like mine and you won’t mind reading–and pondering–it again.

I often think that the ideal of our perfection that we set up, and often go through torture to achieve, may not be God’s idea of how He wants us to be at all.  That may be something quite different that we never would have thought of, and what seems like a failure to us may really be something bringing us closer to His will for us.   (Caryll Houselander, quoted in Caryll Houselander, That Divine Eccentric by Maisie Ward)

Also . . . I just put up a new homily by Fr. Ken McKenna (at “Other Talks” at the “Talks” tab).  You can also listen to it here: “Pure Faith, Hope, and Love.” If you haven’t listened to him before, free up ten minutes and give yourself a little treat.

Responding to Haiti

If you’re like me, you feel heartsick and helpless about Haiti.  I found a lot of consolation in this excerpt from a letter of Caryll Houselander’s:

It struck me last night that many people are increasing their fear by thinking in crowds, i.e. they think of hundreds and thousands suffering etc., whilst the fact is, God is thinking of each one of us separately; and when–say–a hundred or a million are suffering, it is God who has each one separately in His own hands and is Himself measuring what each one can take, and to each one He is giving His illimitable love.  This thought, though obvious, consoles me a lot.

May each suffering soul know that “illimitable love” of God.

We are just human

As you can imagine, with our good friend in the hospital and her family out-of-state, we have been very busy.  In addition, two of the four residents in one of our Emmanuel Houses were admitted to two different hospitals this week.  Saturday night during Evening Prayer I could hardly keep my eyes open.  (I had been at the hospital from 8:00 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. the day before and had not slept well that night.)  As a result of my temperament, I started thinking, “Lord, I wish I was serving you better.  I’m sorry that I’m so tired and don’t have more to give.”  Then I remembered–I am just a human.  I had given all I could give, and part of loving is bearing the cost of giving everything you have.  Feeling drained and empty does not necessarily mean that you are doing something wrong.  I remembered this piece by Caryll Houselander that has encouraged me in the past.  I hope it encourages you as well:

When you have done something really healing, it happens so often that the only way you know it at first is by your own feeling of emptiness.  Even our Lord experienced this; when the woman who touched the hem of His garment was healed, He knew it by the sense of something having gone out of Him, and emptying “[power] has gone out of Me.”  It is the same for His followers–we know the moment of healing, not yet evident, not by exaltation and triumph but by emptiness and a sense of failure.   (from Maise Ward, That Divine Eccentric,  p. 136)

Christmas is so incarnational

Christmas is so incarnational.  That may sound redundant, but it is worth pondering: the whole mystery of the divine taking on flesh and blood.  Some thoughts about this from Caryll Houselander:

Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat.  Christ used his own body to utter his love on hearth; his perfectly real body, with bone and sinew and blood and tears; Christ uses our bodies to express his love on earth, our humanity.
     A Christian life is a sacramental life, it is not a life lived only in the mind, only by the soul; through the bodies of men and women Christ toils and endures and rejoices and loves and dies; in them he is increased, set free, imprisoned, restrained.  In them he is crucified and buried and rises from the dead.
     Our humanity is the substance of the sacramental life of Christ in us, like the wheat for the host, like the grape for the chalice.
     Christ works his love through material as well as spiritual things.  Into his worship, following his own lead, the Church, his Church, brings material things, pure wax, flame, oil, salt, gold, water, linen, the voices of people, the gestures and actions of people, our own souls and bodies–the substance of our flesh and blood.  All this is consistent with the Incarnation, when Christ took the human nature of our Lady to be himself.   (The Comforting of Christ, pp. 26-27)

Advent and seeds

A reflection from Caryll Houselander:

A seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of  a thing which even the glorious sun will  not enliven unless it is buried under the earth.  There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.

If only those who suffer would be patient with their earthly humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendor of peace.   (Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 36)

What seems like a failure

What seems like a failure to us may really be something bringing us closer to God’s will for us.

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Many times, I think, the standard we set for ourselves of what we think God wants us to be or become is not, in reality what He’s really concerned about.  We fret about not measuring up here or there and then get discouraged because of our failure.  A word of wisdom from Caryll Houselander:

I often think that the ideal of our perfection that we set up, and often go through torture to achieve, may not be God’s idea of how He wants us to be at all.  That may be something quite different that we never would have thought of, and what seems like a failure to us may really be something bringing us closer to His will for us.

So . . . try to be a little bit freer to let go of what may not be His expectations for you and just abandon to His love.  He is a good Father–really not that hard to please if we are well-intentioned.  “For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16.7)

The persistent will of love

A word of hope from Caryll Houselander for those of us who go to Mass distracted,  maybe not quite awake, no inspiration, perhaps with a heart that feels dull and cold, but with the firm intention and desire to worship and adore this One Who gives Himself to us beyond measure:

Every day crowds of unknown people come to him, who feel as hard, as cold, as empty as the tomb.  They come with the first light, before going to the day’s work, and with the grey mind of early morning, hardly able to concentrate at all on the mystery which they themselves are part of: impelled only by the persistent will of love, not by any sweetness of consolation, and it seems to them as if nothing happens at all.  But Christ’s response to that dogged, devoted will of a multitude of insignificant men is his coming to life in them, his resurrection in their souls.  In the eyes of the world they are without importance, but in fact, because of them and their unemotional communions, when the world seems to be finished, given up to hatred and pride, secretly, in unimaginable humility Love comes to life again.  There is resurrection everywhere. (The Risen Christ)

It’s a great word of hope also for us who may feel powerless in the face of the state of this world.   Because of us and our “unemotional communions”, Love comes to life again.  And that will change the world.