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Saturday, August 15, 2015

“Unless the Lord Build...” - On Laboring in Vain

Art by Ruth J Smucker - I Have Overcome
“Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil—
all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.” (Psalm 127:1-2)

This Psalm has “haunted” me from the time I began praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  The Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the Catholic Church.  Basically it is a form for praying the Psalms and various Canticles of the Bible at various hours of the day.

I think most of us have a habit of wanting to be in control, of wanting to do whatever it takes to reach some particular goal.  I know I do.  It’s something I constantly take to prayer, to Confession. 

Surely if I just do “x+y” then I will achieve “z”, right?  Shouldn’t everything just be a mathematical equation, shouldn’t it just be science?

Somehow, life is not just a mathematical equation, and having a geek for a husband, and watching many a YouTube video relating to science and new scientific discoveries, I think the deeper science digs the more it finds out that there are unknowns in these equations, that there are things we cannot measure that somehow hold the equations together and make them work.  Also, sometimes these equations just plain come apart. 

Some things just cannot quite be explained—yet—and these things have to be taken as is, on faith in a way, until somehow we can maybe discover more. 

If doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity...What about when we put in “x+y” and expect it will always give us “z”? 

Looking at it simply, this should be the case, looking at it deeper, like quantum relationships, this is not always so.  Results vary, equations break. 

“Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch.

It is vain for you to rise early
and put off your rest at night,
To eat bread earned by hard toil—
all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.” (Psalm 127:1-2)

I do believe that the something more needed for life is God.  He holds everything together.  I believe this on faith, because I know that something greater has to be holding everything in order. 

So why is it so difficult to trust that God will hold together my own little crazy life and will use my life for His greater glory, for the good of others, and for the good of my own soul?  If I do believe that He is an omnipotent God, what prevents me from putting my full trust in Him?

I think there have been at least a few times in the last several months where I have complained that God seems to often play the role of a procrastinator.  Why is it that some things just happen to work out at the very last second possible? 

Now I know that sometimes it is just how the the equation works out, and the odds are thus and so, and so finally it had to just work out one way or another. 

However, God has a perfect will and has a permissive will.  Everything that happens is either ordained by God’s perfect will or God’s permissive will.  Regardless, God’s will is somewhat of a mystery to us, and it permeates everything. 

If God so cares about the order of the universe, about quantum mechanics, about gravity, and so on, then can I not also assume that He cares about the details of my life, in an intimate way?  If God’s will and His abundant charity holds all things together down to the least electron, then will He not care for my life? 

I have certainly spent time laboring in vain, knowing that I was probably overexerting myself, that I might be wasting my time “barking up the wrong tree” and so forth.  Nature readily obey’s God’s laws and commands, we however, have been given our own free will and can choose to work with His will or not. 

I pray that someday I might learn to see more quickly when my labor is in vain.  When I need to step aside and let God take over, or when I need to change what I am doing and work a different way to better work with God’s will. 

So what is God’s will? 

I will leave this post with a simple thought, a quote from Pope Francis regarding discernment:

"If a thought, if a desire takes you along the road of humility and abasement, of service to others, it is from Jesus," noted Pope Francis, "but if it brings you to the road of sufficiency, of vanity, of pride, along the path of an abstract thought, it is not from Jesus.” (Pope Francis, Mass Homily Jan 7, 2014)

The true key here is—as it is oftentimes in science as well—relationship. 

What does my laboring mean for others?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Come O Holy Spirit, Enkindle Us with Your Love

Art by Ruth J Smucker - Out of Emptiness & Pain
Well, apparently I’m feeling called to write an even more personal post…Something that was very relevant to my spiritual life in the last few weeks.   

I just went to see my spiritual director recently.  I don’t always see him for Confession, but I did this time.  My penance involved meditation on a very particular passage of scripture. 

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?  Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

This scripture opens up two very big wounds for me.  One has to do with children, the other to do with trust.  There are things in my life that I continually strive to suffer well, and there are things in my life I continually try to lift up, work through, and change.  One thing I try to suffer well, is having a big hole in my life where my children “should” be, and the another thing I try to lift up, work through, and change, is my issue with trust.   

Father giving me this scripture passage to meditate upon tore these wounds wide open, to let them weep…now I have to try to give it time, and allow healing and growth to happen in some way. 

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?”

As much as I sometimes want to, I cannot forget the five children I don’t have in my life.  Sometimes I really wish the memories of them would just go away.  I wish I could go back to a time when I was more naive, when they had not come into existence.  A mother really can’t forget.  She might be able to be distracted, but completely forget.  I’m not sure that can happen. 

“Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

It often sounds cliché, but God does love us more than anyone else ever could.  Even one’s own mother.  A mother can be distracted from her children.  A mother who has experienced the death of a child, however that death may have occurred, may want to forget, and may even forget temporarily.  God’s love however is supernatural and goes far beyond the natural love we might feel for a son or daughter, and what a strong love that is! 

I never take a passage of scripture without exploring the rest of the passage. 

Put simply, Isaiah is the prophet who prophesied the coming of the Messiah.  Chapter 49 of Isaiah speaks of not just of the restoration of Israel, but of the salvation of the world through Israel.  The passage goes on, Zion had assumed itself abandoned by God, it further expresses the increase, protection, and blessing of Israel by the Lord. 

Everyone I think feels alone and abandoned, much of the time. 

We each have our own problems.  Big or small, everything in between.  Most have at least one or two big problems in their life that need attention of some kind, and much of that time we feel alone in these problems.   It is difficult to turn to God for help, to trust that He will have mercy upon us, and that there is hope.  Even if not in here and now, then in the future.  Mercy will bring us to new life, after we are gone and our problems gone with us.  Suffering of course can be productive as well, and I have written about that before.  (See my previous post, Sacrifice and the Glorious Mysteries.) 

So, why is it so hard to turn to God and to trust?  It has to do with love.  Trust finds itself in love. 

A quote from Pope Francis, that I often read goes as follows:

“The heart, when it is hardened, is not free and if it is not free it is because it does not love: that was how the Apostle John’s First Letter concluded. Perfect love chases away fear. In love there is no fear because fear presumes a punishment and he who fears is not perfect in love. He is not free,” the Pope said.  “It is only the Holy Spirit that can move your heart to say ‘Father.’”  Morning Homily, January 9, 2015. 

I have had trouble with a hardness of heart since I can remember.   A hardened heart cannot love freely and fully because it is fearful.  If we rely on our own natural love, we cannot see God the Father for who He is.  We cannot understand how He wishes to fully reveal Himself to us in all that we celebrate, and all that we suffer.  To really say “Abba” we must ask for supernatural love, given to us as a grace by the Holy Spirit. 

Moving into the next part of the passage of John 1, it reads…

“We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:19-21

And so it takes supernatural love to love fully at all—God or neighbor—even our own children. 

In reality, both of my wounds that I wrote of here—a “lost” motherhood, and trust—both come down to one thing.  Love.  A love that remembers, and a love that trusts. 

And so it is I pray:

Come O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.  
Send forth your Spirit O Lord, and they shall be created. 
And you shall renew the face of the earth. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

And There Was Much Rejoicing and Weeping

Art by Ruth J Smucker - Uniting Our Suffering
Now that I have finished the posts on the Mysteries of the Rosary, I am left wondering what’s next for this blog, so I am starting with a more personal post. 

Before I get too far into this post…

I want to mention that I am now making the artwork from each of my posts available for sale online.  All artwork from my past posts is now available, and the artwork for this post will be available shortly. 
(Shop Ruth’s art online)

Okay…on with this post…

Noah and I celebrated 12 years of marriage this past weekend.  It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s a difficult thing. These years have been filled with change, and growth.  They have been filled to overflowing with joys and sorrows, with laughter and tears. 

Please do not assume that this post is going to be about Noah and I and our marriage.  Nor is it going to be about the new Supreme Court decision on marriage. 

What I think I will share is about one of my deepest struggles…

It’s that we are called to share and unite ourselves to the joys and sufferings of Christ.  Furthermore, if we are to treat others as we would Christ, then we must unite ourselves to the joys and sufferings of others as well. 

Just this past week, I was praying, and I felt as though it was made so clear to me how we can either come closer and closer to Christ and suffer with Him, or we can move further and further away from Christ and suffer alone.  

This is not only true in our relationship with God, the same is true for our own lives with others.  We can either come closer and closer to others and suffer with them, or we can move further and further away from others and suffer alone.

In the Passion narratives we find that Christ is left alone to suffer, except by a few—His mother, Mary Magdalene, and St. John. 

There is a drifting away that happens as soon as Christ enters the garden at Gethsemane.  The disciples fall asleep and they scatter when the crowd comes to take Jesus away, Peter denies Christ, Judas gives up on life after he realizes what he has done. 

Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and St. John, however, draw themselves close to the foot of the cross where Christ is crucified.   They suffer with Him, and He is comforted in His suffering, and the pain of Christ’s mother, Mary Magdalene and St. John is shared with Christ and with the others.  None of them suffers completely alone. 

All of us hurt.  All of us suffer.  Pain inevitably comes.  Why go through it alone, or why leave others to suffer alone? 

We must take this a step further however, this also applies to periods of happiness and joy.

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

All of us have times of happiness, times of celebration.  Again, why not share them with others?

Oftentimes it is out of our own self indulgence that we do not reach out. 

We really don’t want to be sad with someone when we are happy, and we really don’t want to be happy with someone when we are sad.  Sometimes we aren’t happy or sad, and we just want to be left alone. 

Truthfully though…

We can bring joy to someone who is suffering. 
We can share in another’s joy when we are suffering. 
We can also share in someone’s sufferings when we are joyful.

For me, as it might be for many, it can be truly painful to try to live this out. 

This is why it is so important that we do not do this by our own strength but by God’s strength.  Note that the Mother of Christ, Mary Magdalene, and St. John, are there united with Christ at the foot of the cross.  It’s not the three of them suffering together.  Even in that moment they need God’s strength to suffer there with God! 

Oftentimes, I wonder to myself, surely life would be better if it was even keel?  

Nope.  God knows we need joy and sorrow to be well rounded people—who reach out to one another in love, and who look to Him to have the strength to do so. 

Life is full of ups and downs. It is better shared with others and in union with Christ. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Beyond Easter - Living "Ordinary" Life and the Luminous Mysteries

Art by Ruth J Smucker - Hearts from Stone
We are now out of the Easter season, and back into ordinary time…and numerous times I have looked ahead to writing about the Luminous Mysteries, but it was not yet time. 

For whatever reason, the time is now...

The Luminous Mysteries were instituted by Saint Pope John Paul II, and are sometimes considered an “extra” addition to the traditional mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious).  However, the Luminous Mysteries are integral to closing the gap between the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries.  How can we meditate fully on the mysteries of the gospel without meditating on the work of Christ?  How can we live our lives as disciples of Christ, if we do not meditate on the three critical years of His public ministry? 

It was actually the Luminous Mysteries for which I had first received some insights a few years ago, and it transformed the way I worked throughout my day.  Even still, I need to continually come back to these meditations, and refocus my attention on them. 

These meditations are somewhat different from the others.  These are short and acute.  The point being to take them and live them out directly—moment to moment in one’s day. 

I think that in these, the Mysteries of Light, we find how we too can open ourselves to becoming flames of light like our Lord. 

How important it is that at this point in time, when Popes have been calling for a New Evangelization, Saint Pope John Paul II gave to us the Luminous Mysteries.  Over and again, it is made clear to us—in the gospel, in Christian tradition, in the lives of the Saints—that as Christians it is first and foremost that we actually live the gospel.  Evangelization cannot happen without the living out of Christian love. 

Going back to the fact that we are now beyond the season of Easter…

At Easter, in the Catholic Church, many thousands of persons the world over are welcomed into the Church on the night of Easter Vigil.  Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the Liturgical Year, and is celebrated with deep solemnity and joy.  Our entire faith is hinged on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. 

Then, the Sunday directly following is Divine Mercy Sunday.  It is another gift of Saint Pope John Paul II, and a day when special graces are poured out on those following the devotion to the Divine Mercy, to which Saint Pope John Paul II called everyone. 

Catholics throughout the world renew their Baptismal Promises during he Easter season.

In the initial Octave of Easter, and in the Easter season following, there is a tremendous outpouring of mercy, grace and love by God through His Church.  It is spring not only in nature in the northern hemisphere of the earth, but spring in the Church.

If you know anything about gardening and plants, you will know that once seeds have sprouted and grown, or bulbs send forth their first growth, the next thing they need is food.  They have had the spring rain, or you have watered them sufficiently, but now they need food for growth, and in due time they will begin growing flowers. 

Now that we have experienced the renewal of Easter after the penance of Lent, it is time to nurture and feed our lives, to allow the next level of growth and flowering to occur.

Our Lord, in being baptized Himself and in His actions following baptism, shows us how to live as baptized Christians.  He calls us to trust, He calls us to conversion, He calls us to worship, and He calls us to celebrate the Eucharist.  These are the Mysteries of Light. 

We are watered through baptism, or the renewal thereof, and now we need to be nurtured and to allow ourselves to grow and be transformed.

What I am about to describe in these meditations is a living out of the Luminous Mysteries moment to moment, every day.  It is a way to live out God’s will in the nitty gritty of our lives. 

Based on the meditations below, we could lay it out this way:
  • Obedience to each little call. 
  • Trust in following that call.
  • Conversion in doing what we are to do. 
  • Worship to God for what has been done. 
  • Thankfulness for the ability to respond to the call. 

This may sound simple…but because of our concupiscence and the strength of our own wills, it can feel more like being tried in a crucible. 

Growth and transformation almost always comes with pain, suffering and self sacrifice. 

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” John 12:24

The Luminous Mysteries

(Jesus is baptized by St. John in the river Jordan and is acknowledged as the Son of God.)
Christ in baptism is obedient to the Father.  In every moment we must be obedient to each little call.  We must acknowledge and submit ourselves to the will of God in every moment. 

Wedding at Cana
(Jesus turns water into wine at the request of His mother Mary at the Wedding at Cana.)
Christ trusts His Father’s plan for Him.  Mary gives Christ the opportunity to perform His first miracle, knowing this will begin His public ministry.  We must follow the call of God, and trust. 

Proclamation of the Kingdom
(Jesus goes out and preaches the Kingdom of God, healing many and forgiving sins.
Christ goes out and calls everyone He encounters to conversion.  In doing God’s will in every moment, we ourselves experience conversion, and we can also call others to conversion.

(Jesus is transfigured on the mount, and is glorified before Saints Peter, James and John.) 
Christ reveals His identity in a profound way, calling us to worship Him for He is the Son of God.  He reveals His true divinity.  We must praise God for the work that He does in and through us. 

Institution of the Eucharist
(Jesus institutes the Eucharist as a memorial of His sacrifice of His Body and Blood.) 
Christ gives Himself entirely to us, body, blood, soul and divinity.  We must give entirely of ourselves, and in doing so, we must give thanks to God for the ability to respond to His will.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sacrifice and the Glorious Mysteries

Art by Ruth J Smucker - At the Center
Lent is nearly here, and yet it is the Glorious Mysteries I have in mind.  As I have heard many times, and had to remind myself many times, there is no resurrection without the cross. 

Much good comes at a cost.  The cliché is that good things come to those who wait, but what about the good that comes to those who sacrifice?  Many good things come about as a result of sacrifices, big and small.

Most sacrifices can be categorized into the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy include: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, harboring the harborless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive, and burying the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy include: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead. 

Just a few examples... 
  • The child who spends hours at the bedside of a dying parent.  (This child is visiting the sick, but also comforting the afflicted.)
  • The parent who spends hours at work to provide for their family.  (This parent is feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and harboring the harborless.)
  • The neighbor who offers a cup of tea, a listening ear, and perhaps some counsel.  (This neighbor is is comforting the afflicted, but also perhaps instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful as well.)
  • The stranger just cut in front of in the checkout line, but does not become angry, and even puts on a smile for the clerk.  (This person is bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving offenses willingly.)  
  • The colleague who takes the time to visit the funeral home after the death of a colleague's loved one.  (This colleague is helping to bury the dead by offering their respects.) 
The list could go on...

All of these are examples of sacrifice, a dying to self.  Some seem natural to one's state in life, and some are, but that does not make it less of a sacrifice.  Nor does it mean one is not called to further sacrifice.  Sometimes our state in life can be in transition, or through certain circumstances become different from the norm for one's state in life. 

For example, my husband and I, having no live children, do not have the opportunity to offer the usual sacrifice of parents for their children.  We are called then to other ways of sacrifice.  This might sound simple, but many times when one finds oneself in unusual circumstances, it actually becomes more difficult.  

Works of mercy, whether corporal, spiritual, or both, if done in a spirit of supernatural charity can become a supernatural offering to God.  A prayer offered up with the sacrifice made, completely changes the nature of the act, transforming it into an offering to God and a supernatural gift of self. 

Therefore, sacrifices need not only have corporal or spiritual effect, but they can have a supernatural effect that only offering it up in this way can.  It can be offered for those in need, in reparation for sins, etc.  It is spiritually life giving.  It is a multiplication of good that comes from sacrifice.

This is especially true if sacrifices are offered up to Mary to be offered to God.  As St. Louis-Marie de Montfort writes in his treatise on True Devotion to Mary, Mary will take one's offering and make it worthy of reception by God.  St. Louis-Marie de Montfort gives the example of fruit given to the king from a peasant-friend of the queen mother.  The queen takes the fruit, plates it on a silver or gold plate, and then offers it to the king, making any gift all the more rich.  

Lent is a special time of penance...of prayer, fasting and alms giving.  Yes, all of these can have corporal and spiritual benefits.  The supernatural benefit comes with the offering of it up in prayer to God, and the humbling of oneself.

The Psalmist writes: "For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept.  My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn." Psalm 51:18-19

Showing true love, true charity, to others by whatever means it might be, is a sweet smelling oblation to the Lord when it is properly offered up in prayer.

Furthermore, it is in sacrifice that one learns who one really is.  It is in sacrifice that one becomes a better person.  Denying oneself hurts, it hurts at the core of who we are.  We discover a lot about ourselves in pain and suffering.  Suffering curbs our vices: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.  We become better people, and we ourselves become an offering to God.  

We can offer ourselves as Christ offers Himself.  Followers of Christ, who wish to be molded in His image recognize that the servant is not treated better than His master.  In other words, if Christ is crucified for us, we must die for others.  In small ways, and sometimes in big ways.  Whether it might include the shedding of blood or not.

Here finally are the meditations I wish to share regarding the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. 

The Resurrection
(Christ is resurrected from the dead and leaves the tomb.)
One must give of oneself to the point of dying as a seed.  Without dying one cannot be raised.  There is no joy without sacrifice.  There is no love in only doing what is easy or comfortable.  Suffering begets a good.  Joy and life come out of suffering.  Be willing to suffer, for in suffering you will find great peace.

The Ascension into Heaven
(Christ ascends to the Father in heaven.)
We do not suffer alone in silence.  Our Savior has walked ahead of us and is seated at the right hand of God.  He comes to us in the Eucharist.  He promised He would be with us always.  We must have hope in Him who keeps His promises.  He has made the journey for us to follow.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit
(The Holy Spirit descends upon the apostles and Mary.)
The Holy Spirit is come.  We forget that He is the ever faithful spouse of Our Blessed Mother.  He cannot refuse coming to our aid, especially when we come to Him as the children of His Most Beloved Spouse, the Virgin Mary.  We must trust that He is with us, guiding us, setting our hearts ablaze with love and courage.

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
(Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven.)
If we give ourselves to Our Lady as her children, as is part of our baptismal promises, then we will arrive at heaven.  We can be assured of a holy death as her children.  For her Son wishes to gather all of His brothers and sisters together under His Father and our Father in heaven.

The Coronation of Mary
(Mary is crowned queen of heaven and of us all.)
We too know that if we run the race giving all we have to God, we will surely receive our crowns as well, and it is good that we be rewarded for our service, for Our Lady was rewarded for her service, and if we share in the sufferings we should be rewarded as well, for we are one family.  Christ said that if St. Peter wanted a part with him, he would need to serve.  He wishes us to serve with Him, but then also to receive that same glory according to our service.