Rescue My Heart

The church I was in. clangeblog.files.wordpress.com

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No – when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence. — Pope Benedict at Auschwitz-Birkenau

A number of years ago, when I worked for a parish in Florida, I was in the church one day fixing some broken kneelers and a man walked in. I don’t think he saw me. He walked over into the sanctuary behind the altar, under the crucifix, threw himself face down on the ground and began to sob and wail aloud: “O God, please don’t take my wife. Please, God! No! I love her! The children need her! Please! Don’t! Why? Why? Dear God! Please! Oh please! No, God! My wife! My wife!”

I sat motionless. His sounds echoed in the church.

It was brutal to listen to. He continued in this way for about five minutes, quieted, sat up and knelt, and then after a period of silence spoke softly in an almost relieved tone, “Thank you.” Then he got up and left. I ducked and hid on the floor between the pews for a minute or so because I did not want him to see me and feel I had violated his privacy.

I realized, as I lay there waiting for him to leave, to hear someone pray like that was so intimate. It was like being allowed to walk into the center of their soul, into their holy of holies. After I got up and sat in the pew I was paralyzed, and cried myself for a bit as I was shaken by the depth of his pain and desperate plea. I wondered how God could have received that prayer without weeping.

Step forward to today. A friend of mine texted me and introduced me yesterday to the singer and composer, Liz Longley. Whoa. How have I missed her? This lady can sing and write music. And though I don’t sense, from the little research I did on her, that she writes her music from a faith perspective, her articulation of the human desire for redemption and love is exquisitely beautiful, to me.

This song he texted me, called Rescue My Heart, is especially attuned to a very Jewish form of plaintive longing for God to rescue His people. The psalms are filled with her cry, her words of pain carved “out of the depths” (130:1). Soundings of Isaiah’s “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1). Even our Creed retains this yearning:

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

I sent Longley’s song yesterday during the day to someone I know who is suffering from a recent terrifying betrayal. She said: “This is totally balm to my heart. It helped me pray when I can’t these days. Thanks for sending it.”

Listen:

“Her and the snow and the Seine”

picdn.net

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. ― Henry David Thoreau

Deep down, we know our souls need something wild, something dangerous, something that makes us feel alive. — Peter Kreeft

A dear friend of mine emailed me the other day after she saw La La Land. A few weeks ago, I wrote a brief reflection on this movie and encouraged people to see it. Subsequently, quite a number of people wrote, told or texted me to share their thoughts and experience of the film. But this particular woman’s reflection on the movie was so moving to me that I asked her if I could post it here. She graciously agreed.

She’s a beautiful person, a feminine incarnation of fire and spirit, a mother to the core and, as my wife says it, “she’s just so real.” Yes, and she’s the kind of person who leaves you wanting to live life more fully after you’ve spent time with her. I am always so grateful for people like that in the world.

And so of her reference to the song, The Fools Who Dream, I would say she can also count me among those who can trace a deepened inspiration back to her influence.

Enjoy, and I will include the La La Land song, The Fools Who Dream, below her email:

After reading your blog I decided to go see La La Land and was able to go tonight alone (I tend to go to the movies alone quite often and very much enjoy doing so). I wanted so much to thank you for sharing your gift of writing. I am often unable to put into words the intensity of emotion I feel and am so grateful when I read something like your blog that helps to shine a light on the jumble of feelings going on in my head and heart.

This movie touched something deep in me as well, it brought to mind a myriad of events in my life where I dared to live the moment to the fullest despite the consequences. Climbing in the Swiss Alps alone at 18 and getting fogged in on a tiny point surrounded on 3 sides by sheer drop offs…the joy of being alone in the fog. Dancing alone at low tide on the sand at Myrtle Beach with the moonlight reflecting on the wet sand giving the illusion of an ice rink. Jumping off the waterfalls in Bosnia/Herzegovinia into the freezing waters. Falling madly in love with an artist while pursuing photography alone in the Carolinas, then driving along a dark mountain road in an intense rain storm, lost and not knowing where I would find shelter after choosing to leave him.

I am so grateful that I had a mother that encouraged me to adventure out on my own and fill my life with so many adventures. I find myself hoping that my children will live life to the fullest, love passionately and risk heart ache and that perhaps someone may say of me that “I trace it all back to that, Her and the snow and the Seine, Smiling through it she said she’d do it, Again”

What a beautiful journey this life has been and what a gift this movie was to help me to glimpse some of it in a new light.

God Bless and thank you!

Mother, Hearer of the heart’s cry

nursia.org

At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will ask, How much love did you put into what you did?” ― Mother Teresa

As I have felt deeply moved these last days to write on Mother Teresa, let me end this series with a quote from Pope Francis’ homily at Mother’s canonization, and a song by the British electropop band, Ooberfüse. I believe it captures well the heart of Mother’s magnificent mission to shine light into the darkness and bring charity alive in the Church and in the world.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”.

She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

Bound to the Destitute

Gethsemane at night. amazonaws.com/

Who wrote this?

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no one to answer–no one to whom I can cling–no, No One–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart–and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

Whenever I read this text aloud in classes, workshops or retreats, rarely does anyone guess that this was written by the now canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, during the many years she endured what has been called her “dark night of faith.” It’s absolutely stunning, and seems to betray the woman of smiles whose bold spirit, profound aphorisms and tireless service to the poorest of the poor captured the world’s attention for decades. When I first read the collection of her private letters, I had to catch my breath. But, having been a student of St. John of the Cross, mystic of the dark night, as well as of St Thérèse of Lisieux, I began to connect the dots. In fact, after reading these words from Mother I immediately searched for a quote from Thérèse I’d come across years before that sounded very much like Mother’s lament.

Thérèse:

I get tired of the darkness all around me. The darkness itself seems to borrow, from the sinners who live in it, the gift of speech. I hear its mocking accents: ‘It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession in eternity! All right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence!’ … For love of you, my God, I will sit at that table of bitterness where poor sinners take their food, and I will not stir from it until you give the sign. I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it shall please you to bring me to your Kingdom of Light.

That last line was, for me, the key that unlocked the mystery of this darkness both women suffered.

When I served back in 1991 at the Gift of Peace home and hospice for homeless men and women infected with HIV-AIDS, one of the Missionary of Charity Sisters spoke to me of Mother’s vision for their life of vowed poverty. I wrote down her insight that night in my journal:

…Sister told me, “Mother reminds us that we freely vow poverty to share in the poverty of Jesus, who shared in the poverty of the world’s poor whom we serve. Most of these poor live in poverty and despair for reasons beyond their control. Charity commands us to share their lot as much as we can, like Jesus.”

This made me think of a passage in St. Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). I’ve never really thought of this passage as a paradigm for Christian life, how it shapes the way I think about my own life and faith as a call to such radical solidarity. I am a child of my culture, placing autonomy over communion.

Sister also said to me, “We choose to live our life very near to the poorest of the poor, the lonely, the destitute, to lighten their burdens and so they see we are not above them, but with them. This is the Christian way. Not God above us, but God with us. Jesus. Our poverty, Mother says, is a lifelong fast that gathers up food to offer to the hungry and drink to give to the thirsty. Not just material food and drink, but the food of love, companionship, friendship, joy, hope. It is truly heaven — isn’t it? — when none hungers or thirsts, because all share all with all? We must give the poor a taste of heaven, now, like the disciples did in the church of the apostles.”

She was referring to this striking passage in Acts: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

These Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, are living signs in the church of this apostolic exaltation of the common good; of the vocation of each disciple of Jesus to be a Simon of Cyrene, called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “You received without paying, give without pay” (Matt. 10:8).

The same logic Sister applied to her evangelical vow of poverty — the logic of divine charity — applies to Mother’s experience of darkness and abandonment. In her vow to serve the poorest of the poor, she bound herself to their terrible lot, leaving to God the implications of that binding. She chose to shoulder the destitution of the poor, and God received her Yes as consent to make of her life a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1ff). This is the “logic of exchange” that burns deep in the heart of Christ’s sacrificial offering on Golgotha. And, so, those of us who, through Baptism, have been bound to the cross of Christ also partake in this marvelous exchange. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

How great is the folly of God who, in Christ, has chosen to overthrow the kingdom of darkness by turning Hell’s dark arts into the very weapons wielded by the Children of Light.

Mother said of herself in one of her letters,

I have begun to love my darkness,
for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part,
of Jesus’ darkness and pain on the earth.
If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of darkness.

Surely she is that. Deo gratias.

Grant me the grace, O Father of the poor, to see in my burdens, bound to your Son’s cross by the eternal Spirit, a mysterious offering that can lighten another’s burden. Such a lovely providence, my God! Only in heaven will I come to know the joy my small offerings brought to others’ lives, as well as the joy others’ offerings have brought into my own. Oh the beauty of your Christ’s Body! May it be so now, dear Father, and into the day of our eternity. Amen.

Twenty One Silence

[re-post from March 2016]

Those of you who read my blog with any consistency know well that I share my daughters’ affection for the group, Twenty One Pilots. I dig their sound, energy and vibe, but even more their clean and meaningful lyrics. I wish I could find a way to communicate to them my admiration for their work. I was thrilled to see on Word on Fire philosophy professor Father Damian Ference make these comments about them:

What I am saying is that Twenty One Pilots has offered a masterful incarnation of the culture of encounter. They meet their audience where they are, as they are, and they let them know that they “get them.” Once their audience trusts them, then they can slowly challenge them to consider a new way of seeing, a new way of living, and a new way of being. Is it evangelization? Maybe not exactly, but it is encounter, which is a prerequisite for authentic evangelization. They’ve accomplished the important work of preparing the soil for seeds to be sown, which isn’t easy. And, if by the end of the night, Twenty One Pilots can get some young people to say “Hello” to God for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, well, that’s better than most.

Among their songs, I have a number I really love and have nearly memorized. Among these is Car Radio, which is about abandoning the culture of distraction and being confronted by the frightful vulnerability found in stark silence. The lyrics are fabulous. I have given several retreats on the value of silence over the last twenty years, and have said far more about silence than anyone should. I’ve found again and again that people benefit more from those silent retreats about silence than any other I have given. Precisely for the reasons stated in this song. The music video for Car Radio, in true Twenty One Pilots form, is off-beat schizo-pop. It offers a wild visual narrative of the painful process of being stripped, shaved, of all those external “noises” that distract us from facing our inner struggles, preventing us from having to face head-on life’s most profound meaning-questions.

A man I know, who is now a bishop, said to me back in the 1980’s when I took a philosophy course from him:

There are nights when I feel the pain of loneliness to such a degree that I feel almost desperate. I used to immediately distract myself with TV or a phone call, or head out to the drug store to buy chips. But now I just sit in the chapel in my rectory and let it burn through me, in the silence, with tears, and ask Jesus to make me a better priest. Silence is the only way I can allow what is deep within me to surface out into God’s presence. And it’s a taste of hell.

I couldn’t help but think of this segment of the Creed:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell…

Okay, let me get to the song and video. I’ll preface it with a gritty quote from Henri Nouwen that I’ve used to open many of the silent retreats I’ve given.

As soon as we are alone in silence, inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

Gardening

The Risen Christ as the Gardener encountering Mary Magdalene by Abraham Janssens. Taken from blogspot.com

[re-post from 2015]

I love to garden, though it has been years since I’ve made the time to do it right.

I love being outdoors. It opens my soul wide.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are marked by an almost myopic fascination with the natural world. My dad says I would sit motionless in front of an ant hill for lengthy periods of time when I was 4 or 5 years old. I can still vividly recall the throbbing joy I would feel smelling the sweet scent of those hot pink Spring azaleas, watching the bumble bees dart from blossom to blossom siphoning out nectar with frantic excitement.

I also remember regularly stealing away from home into a small patch of dense woods near our house, thrilled at the prospect of hiding away in secret solitude. No one knew I was there, and all around me, like wild Cathedral, was a universe teeming with mystery and meaning. Very many times, as I sat on an old stone fence beneath the leafy canopy, I sensed a warm and joyful presence that seemed to emanate harmony from the unruly tangle of sights, sounds and smells. It was my first intuition of the meaning of sacrament, as God seeped into my soul gently through His creation. Here is a terribly blurry picture of an old photo of the woods near my childhood house:

Woods

Samuel Taylor Coleridge gives voice to this world I loved:

So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to thee.

Humanity is born in love with nature. We were made by God to be gardeners. Pope St. John XXIII said in his Journal of a Soul,

We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to tend a blooming garden full of life.

The natural world, whether it be the cultivated garden or the wild meadow, enriches our capacity to imagine beauty. The kaleidoscope of colors, textures, tastes and fragrances overwhelms and uplifts the soul. Nature is awash in the lovely splendors of Paradise, suspended between the first beauty God once sang into being “in the beginning” and the second beauty that sprang new from the Garden Tomb. A radiant beauty, a fragile splendor, a terrible beauty etched by cycles of death and rebirth. A paschal beauty.

“The Cross as the Tree of Life,” Pacino di Bonaguida, 14th century. nd.edu

The liber naturae, “book of nature” is itself a divinely inspired scripture, an iconostasis leaking rumors of a Kingdom come.

Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enameled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection. — Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

I love to think of theology as a blooming garden of language. Good theology is always beautiful theology, bearing the grammar and syntax of sacrificial love. The Cross is the highest form of beauty, a Tree inscribed with a new Law by the bleeding finger of God. Theologians think and pray amid Gardens: Eden, Gethsemane, Golgotha, New Jerusalem’s Paradise. They are invited by the Spirit to inhabit the Risen Gardener (John 20:15), the human imagination of God, opening their minds to the rioting colors and fragrances, textures and tastes and sounds that eternally overflow the realms of nature and grace and water the world’s parched deserts.

Beauty never exists for its own sake. Like the flower that yearns to conceive and bear edible fruit, beauty is life giving.

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
– T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday, 1930

Gardens are encoded by law of the gift. Plants sink their hungry roots in fertile soil, spout leaves to drink in the sun’s light and offer these gifts received as gifts given. They transform what they receive into medicinal leaves, lovely flowers and nourishing fruits. Such generosity! And the fruits eaten contain the seeds of new life, born again only after they die.

I think now of bread. An unspeakably selfless gift. Wheat wholly renouncing its own life to give life. Harvested, winnowed, crushed, kneaded, baked in fire only to rise again as food for man. A gift total, absolute, an entire existence expended for the life of the world.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51).

O selfless wheat, you are nature’s High sacrament of God, mystic sign of our Creator-become-Bread, crushed for the life of the world. O Christ, you are the Wheat of God given as food to us, the ones who crushed you.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His Word to Flesh He turns. — St. Thomas Aquinas

God is Bread = God is love. God is food, a feeding God. Transubstantiated by the Spirit into Christ in His act of self-sacrificing love: “This is my Body which will be given up for you…” Dangerous food to eat.

Behold what you are, become what you receive. — St. Augustine

Consent to Christ’s gardening in you, to make your life yield super-abundant fruits. Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, chastity. These fruits of the Spirit are born in us to nourish others. My joy is joyless if it is not for you, is not your joy as well.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15

I remember years ago one of my daughters asked me, “Daddy, are you happy?” I said, “Yes, of course. Why do you ask?” They said, “When you’re happy, I feel safe.”

That made me desire happiness with a passion. If my happiness were only for me, how dead it would be.

Thank you, God, for gardens.

Let every Christian be a gardener so that he and she and the whole of creation, which groans in expectation of the Spirit’s final harvest, may inherit Paradise. If we Christian’s truly treasure the hope that one day we, like Adam and the penitent thief, will walk alongside the One who caused even the dead wood of the Cross to blossom with flowers, then we must also imitate the Master’s art and make the desolate earth grow green. — Vigen Guroian

Beginners, all of us

[re-post from 2015]

I know a priest in his late 70’s who gives retreats to nuns all over the world. He told me once about a retreat he gave at a convent in France, where he met a nun who was in her late 90’s. He said she was a very joyful woman, whose face betrayed her age. She enthusiastically thanked him for the retreat after his last talk. He said to her in reply, “Thank you, Sister, but did you really find the retreat helpful?” She said, “Oh yes, Father, I did.” Then he said to her, “At this point in your life, how would you describe your spiritual state?” She said, “Father, I’m just beginning.”

I told him, “I quit.”

The priest then offered me his fascinating interpretation of her answer. Here’s what I wrote later in my journal:

Tom, that’s the definition of being poor in spirit. She gets her vow of poverty. Man is a beggar who needs to ask God for everything. I thought at once of St. Catherine of Siena’s vision of Christ, who told her: “You are she-who-is-not; whereas I am He-who-is.” In other words, God is the cause of her existence, whereas He is the cause of His own existence. She depends on Him for every nanosecond of existence, He is self-subsistent Being. That blows your mind, doesn’t it?

You can never imagine yourself in the spiritual life to be some adept, or take an elitist stance that places you above others. Humility is the ground of everything. And humility is the most elusive of the virtues, because once you claim it, you’ve lost it. Every day we begin anew, utterly dependent on God for everything. St. Anselm prayed, “O Lord, do not withdraw from me, for if you would, by nightfall, I would be an unbeliever.” It’s said that St. Francis, at the end of his life, said to the friars, “Let us begin again, brothers. For up till now we have done little or nothing.”

When I was a new priest my first pastor, who was a wise old salt, said to me: “Remember, John, this parish belongs to Christ, not to you. So while you are here, make everything you do for the people about Him, for Him. Lead them to Him, bring Him to them, unite them around Him. Don’t build the parish around your personality. Build all to endure. If, when you leave, people think only of you, of your gifts and your greatness, they will always think less of your successor because he’s not you. And because it was, in the end, really all about you. If you think it all depends on you, you’ve failed. Christ can use anything or anyone to do His work, speak through a jackass [Numbers 22:30], so if you build on Christ, no matter what or who follows, the people will find Him. If it’s about you, it will all fall.”

Being poor means being free of burdens that should never be yours. So, Tom, every day begin by letting go of everything, everyone, all your successes and your failures, and return all of them to God. Mother Teresa got this: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” This way, success and failure will hold equal value, as God receives both as a worthy sacrifice and turns them to His good use.

The late Orthodox Bishop Anthony Bloom once wrote, “To pluck a flower means to take possession of it, and it also means to kill it. The obsession we have in our spiritual lives to possess, to be right, to be better, to turn everything toward ourselves, to manipulate God and others, to demand control over our spiritual progress, over the oscillations of consolation and desolation, or over the speed with which God eradicates our sins. This obsession kills the life of God within us, which demands poverty of spirit.”

St. John of the Cross, referring to God’s action of purifying this impatient need we have to control His work in us, captures this well:

Softened and humbled by spiritual dryness and hardships and by other temptations and trials in which God exercises the soul in the course of this [purifying night], individuals become meek toward God and themselves and also toward their neighbor. As a result they no longer become impatiently angry with themselves and their faults or with their neighbor’s faults. Neither are they displeased or disrespectfully impatient with God for not making them perfect quickly.

Lord, make me poor in spirit so your Kingdom might come in me. Amen.