See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some thoughts on the last day of the year 2009.


Moonstruck.
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I came across a letter from a monk friend of mine - it was written 20 years ago.  I have letters - important letters - all over the house; in books, in folios, in drawers, in journals, in sketchbooks, in boxes - all over the place.  Fr. Tom's letter was interesting, deeply moving really.  I lost contact with him after a letter to the editor at NCR I had written several years ago had been published.  The letter was about a monk who had died young.  Without going into detail - the letter was misunderstood by the monks and I defended myself wretchedly and contemptuously - albeit apologizing shortly after.  I've always been something of a hot-head.  Eventually - mostly out of embarrassment - I just stopped writing or visiting.  (Things I say and write are often misunderstood, as my long time readers can attest.)

The interesting aspect of Father's letter was that in 1989 I evidently was still discerning - that is, considering religious life - 13 years after I had left monastic life, having lived in a Carmelite novitiate, a Trappist novitiate, a Carthusian lay-brother's cell for a month, and visiting numerous abbeys and convents in Italy, France, and Spain.  I had even been professed in Assisi as a Third Order Franciscan, yet in 1989 I was invited to join the Secular Discalced Carmelites - while still wondering if I should be a Carthusian.
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Obviously I wanted to belong somewhere, to be someone or something.  Titles and letters of association behind a name, a habit - such things can become a type of status-symbol for people like me.  (I'm just talking about me here.)  I was looking outside of myself however, looking outside of my reality... learning much in the process of course.  But I wasted a lot of time in what most people today refer to as discernment - I spent years doing that - which is why I can at times adopt a rather imperious tone regarding others who seem to constantly spin their wheels anguishing over vocation.  I mean no harm, I would simply like to somehow relieve their anguish so they could get on with their lives.  Yet each life is a journey, each person's sanctification is a process - oftentimes very painful at that.
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Anyway, Fr. Tom patiently wrote to me with kind advice and suggestions - appearing to be speculating with me.  (In fact - good spiritual direction is often that - not dictating behavior.)  Fr. Tom always seemed to know I was meant to be doing exactly what I was doing - except my worrying about a vocation was distracting me from the present moment - the reality that I was already in the will of God - just as I am in this moment.  A line from his letter impressed me deeply, and affirmed what I've come to understand about my state in life;  "... You will find, as did Catherine of Genoa, that associations do not help you, and it is better for you to be alone.  Only experience will tell you what is best for you."
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There is another amazing paragraph in his letter as well.  I had mentioned to him one of my confessions - what a priest told me.  The priest was an ancient Jesuit - he had to be about 90 years old.  Fr. Andrew had been a missionary in China before the revolution.  He had been in Japan too.  He was a classic Jesuit - very holy.  I went to confession to him regularly at St. Olaf's.
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I was struggling with a particular sin - and so I was confessing pretty much the same thing over and over - at the time I was going to confession 3 or 4 times a week.  One particular confession Fr. Andrew stopped speaking abruptly, looked up as if lost in thought, then he looked at me and said, "Yes.  Yes, I think you will make it."  I asked him what he meant, and he said, "You are going to overcome this."
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Evidently I wrote to Fr. Tom about it and he responded; "Your meeting Fr. Andrew at St. Olaf's was certainly a signal grace.  Like him, I too sense that sooner or later your problems will disappear, or at least not be as intense.  I have known others who struggle for years and then one day the grace is there if they want to accept it.  As Julian of Norwich said, 'All will be well.'"
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That actually happened, suddenly at adoration just over 10 years ago.
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I write this - I don't know why - maybe someone can be encouraged?  Maybe just to praise and thank the Mercy of God.  I'm not sure.
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Keep praying and seeking the will of God - even if you fail every hour - keep trying.  In the end, "All will be well."
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Photo:  "The full moon setting over the west ridge this morning after Lauds." - Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey, Br. Stephen, O. Cist.   Thanksgiving, prayers and heartfelt best wishes for Stephen - he recently made first profession.
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If you really want to be edified - visit New Liturgical Movement - particularly Shawn Tribe's post on Monasticism.

9 comments:

  1. Keep praying and seeking the will of God - even if you fail every hour - keep trying.  In the end, "All will be well."

    Terry
    thanks this spoke my heart..:)

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  2. Thank you for this post. Something I needed to hear today.

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  3. It was for me, too.

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  4. austringer1:32 AM

    What an amazing post -- I hardly know what to say, as it touches on so many areas that are relevant to me and to so many others who seek God's will.

    This is a post that I know I will save and look back on from time to time.

    The surrendering to the will of God -- to know that a misplaced desire to find certainty in a search for Him can obstruct our ability to know His will...aaargh.

    Thanks, Terry. I think you have given me more insight into your particular struggle (and the struggle that all of us face) than anything else you have written.

    God bless--

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  5. I am continually amazed (awed!) by your ability to speak such profound truth and say it in such a personal way.
    The most important mission any of us has in this "exile of tears" is to become a saint; a vessel filled and overflowing with God's Grace, Presence, Mercy and Love.
    HOW we do this is really immaterial.
    At Mass in honor of our Mother of God this morning, the deacon said that in a class he was attending a person called the priesthood "the highest vocation." The professor corrected him by saying, "No. The priesthood is a very high vocation, no doubt. But Mary the Mother of God had the highest vocation; she brought the Savior of the world to us by her 'fiat'."
    Profoundly moving.

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  6. Maria7:22 PM

    I too found this post breathtaking. Doing the will of God with humility. "Costing not less than everything..." Whew.
    Terry, can you explain, or can someone else, precisely what is meant by a signal grace?

    As always, thanks so much for this post. Happy Blessed New Year to you and all your readers!

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  7. Maria - I'll do my best. A signal grace is a sign, a pledge of God's love, a signal that one is on the right track. An affirmation. It can be many other loftier graces as well - a word, a vision, a knowing beyond all doubt. But ordinarily it comes through the Church, the sacraments, devotions - and most often, through Her ministers.

    I don't know if you are familiar with the story from the life of St. Therese - the Little Flower - when her confessor assured her she had never committed a mortal sin - that was a signal grace. Our Lord had more or less assured her - through her confessor - that she was on the right track.

    These are very little graces in a way - but they lift the soul from it's misery and desolation - if just for a moment - as a sign, or a signal they are on the path of salvation. It doesn't mean one has arrived however. God frequently reminds the soul of these moments or graces when they are most in need.

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  8. Oh. That was beautiful. Thanks so much, Terry.

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