Where there is no love, pour love in, and you will draw love out. — St. John of the Cross
A friend of mine took this picture recently during our anomalous snowfall in Louisiana. He and I agreed it should be called “tenacity,” or maybe “hope.”
It is absolutely stunning, isn’t it? It speaks a thousand words.
As ever, I immediately began to think theologically about this image. Lots of things coursed through my mind, but what sprang to mind most forcefully was a woman my wife and I knew, who is now deceased. A person who stands out, a splash of color in a wasteland of bland sameness.
She’d had a hard life filled with terrible loss and setback, yet she possessed an indomitable spirit and irrepressible hope. Her constant refrain was, “God knows what He is about.” But what stood out most, which in my experience is so rare, was her ability to not turn attention on herself in a conversation. A true Christian art form. She listened deeply and spoke with you as if she were (best way I can think to say it) getting lost in your world and interests. She was not what I would call a chipper or cheery person, but was joyful, if by Christian joy we mean the inner spirit’s confident delight in God’s promise to be with us no matter how dark things get.
A daily Mass goer, she had a raspy smoker’s voice, was a good read of character and was no-nonsense, making things happen without fanfare, much as I imagine her personal role model, Dorothy Day, to have been. She was suspected of heterodoxy by the orthodox and suspected of orthodoxy by those outside of the Church. She was an apostle of encouragement wherever she went. After being in her presence, you always felt lighter, lifted up.
Yes, in her presence it was easy to believe in God.
She reminded me so much of my grandfather’s words, “A truly great man leaves you thinking, not that he is great, but that you are.” She believed her special mission in life was to seek out people who are down and out, who feel left out, lost or discouraged, and breathe new life into them.
Pope Francis’ words in “The Joy of the Gospel” describe her well:
One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centered lack of trust.
If I had to identify her “secret” that made her so singular, I would say she lived in the surety of trust, animated by an audacious hope in the victory of Christ’s love. In her, love conquered with aggressive tenderness.
She was that tenacious, hopeful flower.
It’s important to have such greatness in your life, to shape your aspirations. Thinking of her makes me want to be what she was, what He is, what we are called to be.
I’ll end with her favorite prayer.
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life