Heaven Begins Now: Elizabeth of the Trinity

Elizabeth of the Trinity

Next month the Catholic galaxy will become a little brighter as the Church receives a new cluster of saints.  Among the holy handful will be just one woman, a French Carmelite considered by Pope Saint John Paul II to be one the most influential mystics of his life.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was born as Elizabeth Catez, “Sabeth” to her friends, in 1880.  She was a hot-tempered child with sometimes “furious eyes”  whose father died while she was young, forcing her mother to move Sabeth and her younger sister from their home in Dijon to a smaller second-story flat.  From her window, little Sabeth could look down into the garden of the Carmelite convent.

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Young Elizabeth

 

Slowly, a desire to give herself completely to Jesus, whom she encountered profoundly in the Eucharist, began to take shape.  Carmel called to her.  And although she would become an accomplished pianist, travel extensively, and have many friends and multiple offers of marriage, Sabeth chose to leave it all behind at the door of the convent.

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On the day Elizabeth entered the novitiate

 

Given the name Elizabeth of the Trinity, she would live only five years after her entrance to Carmel.  She would leave, however, like her close contemporary St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a rich spiritual legacy of writings and reflections weighted with depth and profound theology, while buoyant with joy and love.  In contrast to the Jansenism which pervaded France at the time and portrayed God as primarily a Just Judge, she foreshadowed the message of St. Faustina and encountered Him as an “Abyss of Mercy.” In the deepest part of her, in her own personal poverty, her “abyss of nothingness” collided with this merciful expanse of endless love.

This Abyss of Love was not a nameless void, but a Somebody.  A living reality.  A Trinity of Persons, boundless and yet intimate and near and able to be known and loved.

Elizabeth lived her life with constant awareness of the life of the Trinity within her.  In the center of her soul, the “secret cellar,” she found a bottomless depth of the divine.  She knew that there she could taste heaven even while on earth, that our heaven – which, in the end, is union with God – began even now.  She saw her life as an “anticipated heaven” and time as “eternity begun and still in progress.”  She lived under and in the constant gaze of her beloved, who had put the timeless into her heart (Eccl 3: 11), and felt herself  plunged in a love so  immense and unfathomable she could not help but praise Him, and not just praise Him, but become a song of praise herself, dissolved into Him.

The first work I read of Elizabeth’s was a retreat she wrote entitled “Heaven in Faith.” A series of twenty prayerful meditations, to be read over ten days, it encapsulated her mystical, luminous heart.  Spilling over with love and longing, it is a true testament of praise to the glory of God.

All of which, perhaps, seems fitting for a little saint in a monastery.  Surely the nuns benefitted from her pious reflections, we think, as we shuffle bills and babies.  Too bad those of us called to remain in the world cannot remain as recollected, cannot experience such interior solitude and boundless grace.  If only we could crawl into a convent for a while and find God.

But here’s the beautiful thing.  Elizabeth wrote “Heaven in Faith” not for the nuns, but for her sister, Guite, who at the time was a young mother at home with two small children (one of whom would follow her aunt into the convent).  Eventually, Guite would raise a total of nine children.  In other words, Elizabeth didn’t see the business of a mom as an excuse not to go into the depths of contemplative prayer right where she was in her home, in the midst of her own vocation.  Instead, she urges all of us not to neglect the depths of our heart, however dusty it may be.  Someone, she knows, waits for us there.  And she doesn’t want us to wait any longer to find Him in the deepest part of ourselves and abide with Him there, in the interior quiet we can create through prayer, even in the midst of chaos.  In other words, holiness, which is really just extraordinary love, the flowering of baptism grace, is for anyone.  It is, in fact, for everyone.

No one has to hover on the outside of the Lord’s love, no matter how busy and noisy life is, no matter how every clamorous thing seems to push us further away from Him.  No.  Even in the chaos, there is a deeper silence that breathes peace – not a mere emptiness, not an absence, but a Someone whose love is immense and deafening.

We can all live as contemplatives in our approach to life.   To abide with Him under “our roof” however unworthy we feel.  To keep company with Christ in the cell of our hearts even while in the noise of our homes.  To be Marthas who linger interiorly at the feet of Jesus, or even more, in His arms.  To allow His presence to saturate every area of life and sanctify and make sacramental the groceries, the laundry, the freeway.  “Each incident,” Elizabeth explained, ” each event, each suffering, as well as each joy, is a sacrament which God gives to (the soul); so it no longer makes a distinction between these things; it surmounts them, goes beyond them to rest in its Master, above all things.”

“She understood it to be her apostolate to infect as many as possible with an immense longing for the infinite,” said Hans Urs Von Balthasar in Two Sisters in the Spirit.  Once our souls become containers for infinity, it simply will spill over and satisfy the thirst of others, too.

I think in this way, even while enclosed in Carmel, even from her little cells, both exterior and interior, she contributes to the sanctification of the laity.

Just eleven days before her death from Addison’s disease,  twenty-six year old Elizabeth wrote:

I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself.

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Elizabeth of the Trinity

 

Two days later, her family would gather around her, expecting to say goodbye.  Instead, she would suffer a novena of agony before entering Heaven nine days later on November 9, 1906.  She was just twenty-six.  The heaven she began on earth would finally reach its limitless end.

Unlike St. Thérèse, Elizabeth saw her mission in heaven to be hidden and interior.  But the Church has wisely lifted the bushel, so to speak, that we can all call on her friendship and prayers for us as we venture to find the Trinity deep within.  May her light help lead the way.

 

Image attributions:

By Willuconquer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
By Willuconquer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
By Willuconquer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mom on Mount Carmel

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I took a fascinating online class on the nature of Mystical Theology in the Church this Spring. What precious time I could carve out from my busy life as a mom six, I spent delving into the works of St. John of the Cross and meeting a new friend, a little Carmelite mystic named Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, often called a “spiritual sister” to St. Therese, the Little Flower.  Late at night, huddled on the couch while the household slept, I read about the ascent of  Mount Carmel, the famous allegory used by St. John of the Cross to describe the spiritual life, the journey of the soul’s toward union with God.

Our professor asked us to write our final paper on our own journey on this mystical mountain.  He challenged us to reflect on how we could embrace the self-renunciation necessary to climb closer to the summit.  After a few days of mulling this over mounds of laundry and miles of carpooling, here is what I came up with:

I’ve never been “outdoorsy.”  (Does reading in a lawn chair count?)  While I live in the “Valley of the Sun,” there are plenty of mountain trails to hike here in Phoenix.  My friends and family strap on their packs and hike Camelback or South Mountain, even in the hottest months, and hold up pictures like trophies, proving their prowess.  But me?  Not too interested.  I don’t have much free time, and when I do, sweating on the side of the mountain isn’t my first choice.

But I do love God, and I do want to get closer to Him.  So “Mt. Carmel” is one mountain I must try to ascend.  I suppose I’m in the foothills, still, but I am making some progress.  Allow me to share.

I have long been intrigued by the story of the rich young man in Matthew’s gospel who wanted eternal life, kept the commandments, but went away sad because he was instructed to part with all of his possessions.  I identify with this poor man, but I have always pictured myself like this: unable to shed all of my attachments on my own, but still determined to follow Christ, I drag along sacks of clutter and whatnots, huffing and puffing up Carmel, lagging behind Jesus and his holier followers who have the freedom – and breath – to have animated and intimate conversations.  Meanwhile I’m too far behind to ever hear what they are saying.  But I press on, haltingly, reluctantly shedding a scrap here, a trinket there, trying to lighten my load.

Somewhere along the way, stopping to rub my aching feet, while the saints sail ahead, I notice the boulder in my backpack isn’t even a thing at all – it’s my will.  It’s my grasping of not only my own things but my own desires.  Hmmm.  If I could let go of that, heave it over the edge…I glance at those far ahead.

But it’s just too much to give up all at once.  I could go away sad, but in the words of St. Peter, “to whom should we go?”  There is nothing for me in the valley below.  So I stagger up and press on.

And Jesus knows I’m back there.  So He gives me a little help.  He breaks the boulder into six littler pieces and asks me to surrender one at a time.  And propelled by love, one by one, they have fallen away.

You want to know the fastest way to lighten the load of “self?”  The surest way to leave your will behind?  Have a baby.  And then another.  And another.  And another.  And another.  And another.  And then suddenly, you’ll be 40, and you’ll look down, and there’s nothing of “you” left.  You have “sold” it all, and given it to the poor.  The poor in your home, who come into this world with nothing.  You will feel like a cup, turned up side down and poured out until the last drop – and the last tiny bit of that boulder – is emptied out.  You will wonder if you should take a pottery class or a tango lesson.  But then you remember that the “mystics have no hobbies.”  And you realize why.

Because, wonder of wonder and miracle of miracles, while you are gone, you are not empty.  On the contrary.  You are fuller than you have ever been.  Christ is sneaky sometimes, and while you were reluctantly shedding yourself, He was stealthily pouring Himself in, little by little.  Every sleepless night with a feverish child.  Every cold shower, long day at home, longer day in the car.   Every hour struggling over Latin verbs or math facts, each burned meal, every early morning with toddlers and late night with teenagers.  All of it was a little death.  “Quotidie morior” which means “I die daily” as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity reminds us.  But it was the most merciful stripping of the self ever, because it was for those you love most, and each time a piece of the selfish you was left behind, Jesus was giving you a bit more of Himself.  Until finally, you realize that you don’t mind losing yourself.  As long as it’s in the sea of Him.  And you can’t even remember what all that stuff even was that you were hauling around.  You’ve lost the taste for it.  Everything ends up like cotton candy, just making you more thirsty.  Even your ‘spiritual sweet tooth.’  There’s only one bread, one drink that satisfies.  It’s the reason you climb, and its what sustains you on the narrow road as you stumble upwards.

I’m still far behind on the ascent, and I still have some things that keep sneaking into my pack.  (Too many shoes, and an inordinate attachment to coffee and chocolate, I’m afraid.)  But I’m grateful for the Saints, some of whom I’ve met recently, who have scouted out the best way, especially St. John of the Cross, who literally made the map.   I really love St. Therese’s elevator when the going seems to tough for me.  I love waking up sometimes and realizing that Christ has carried me part of the rockiest way while I was asleep – I suppose that is the passive way of the dark night that St. John speaks of.

Each incident, each event, each suffering, as well as each joy, is a sacrament which God gives to it; so it no longer makes a distinction between these things; it surmounts them, goes beyond them to rest in its Master above all things.  It exalts Him high on the ‘mountain of its heart,’ yes, higher than His gifts, His consolation, higher than the sweetness that comes from Him.    ~Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

And when you find that in the darkest nights, your lamp burns with love, then you know you’ll make it someday, God willing, to the top.  And I can’t wait to see who’ll be waiting for us there.

St. John of the Cross, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, ora pro nobis.

What Little Boys Are Made Of

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My husband are I are raising six lively children; two-thirds of which are boys. (Come March, one will be a man…but let’s not think about that just yet.  Oy vey.)  And the boys are bookends of the bunch.

Which means that for almost eighteen years now, I’ve been buying, stepping on, picking up, sorting, containerizing, carrying, hot-gluing, and looking frantically for, an ever-growing collection of “guys.”  That is what they all are called: guys.  Whether they are Jedis, Lord of the Rings or Narnia figures, army men, knights, or comic-book style superheroes, they are cherished “guys” and we cart them around everywhere.  There are always some in the car, the bottom of my purse (covered in crumbs), scattered in the bottom of the bathtub or kitchen sink, in pockets, puddles, sofa cushions, strollers – for a while my youngest took to carting guys around in an empty cereal box.  Guys appear out of nowhere in church, and even – true story – were spotted this Christmas in the crèche on our table “protecting the baby Jesus.”  My daughters were never much inclined to carry dolls around outside of the home, but my sons all clasped ever-so-tightly to miniture men with gigantic powers.12377679_1041101309255511_2580522357998219090_o

Their eyes would shine as they studied their guys in quiet contemplation.  Then, silently, their lips would move as they began an imaginary scene.  More guys would be gathered, and epic stories unfolded on the carpet, in the car, even the shopping cart.  And always, the everyday would fade away and scenes I would never fully see were played out in imaginations filled with boyish wonder.  Bad guys would be thrown, smashed, tossed, hit, flung.  And good guys would be lifted, victorious in the end.  And it would repeat, day after day, hour after hour.

Our youngest has of late become particulary fond of such heros as Captain America, Spiderman, Ironman.  He tucks them tenderly in bed after a hard day of battle and wakes up anxious that they join him for breakfast.  Never have I seen a more devoted general to such an array of characters.

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And then there is the gear.  Sheilds, helmets, capes, swords, hammers, huge green hands perfect for “smashing.”  A hero, it appears, needs his stuff.  Around Halloween, our little hero wore his Captain America suit, mask and all, everywhere.  Gingerly, I would have to peel it off his little, sweaty face after he would finally fall asleep.  Suited up, he recently accompanied me to an appointment at a large medical clinic, but quickly became distraught at the comments of kind-hearted patients.  He didn’t want to be cute or adorable, or even noticed.  He just wanted to be Captain America.  Was that too much to ask?

After watching this drama replay for years, I have come to understand something.  It is something deep and true, and it is unique to boys.  It is the call at their core to admire someone brave and strong and imitate him.  It is the dream to be bigger than they are and serve something – someone – great and good and powerful and become more and more so themselves.  First they find their father, and God willing he’s a good one, like my boys’ loving, strong Dad.  And then coaches, mentors, teachers, priests.  Our Bishop here in the diocese of Phoenix, Thomas J. Olmsted, wrote to men asking them to follow him “Into the Breach,” the title of his recent exhortation. “Be confident! Be bold! Forward, into the breach!”  the Bishop called.   (Find the entire exhortation here.)  And of course, in the end they take their marching orders from Christ himself.

I read Into the Breach while laying next to a little boy sleeping in Spiderman pjs.  I thought about him someday hearing this call and dropping his nets (webs?) to follow.  I resolved to pray that he would hear the true voice amid the chaotic noise of the busy but largely empty world.  (Empty cavernous voids can echo very, very loudly.)  Would that he would answer God’s firm but quiet breeze when it called him.

I can tell you this, too: Girls have dreams.  But their dreams revolve a little closer to home. Oh, there are exceptions.  I mean, thank goodness for St. Joan of Arc!  But my little girls dream in play houses and kitchens and drawers full of doll clothes.  They live to nuture and cherish, to heal and grow things, to coax life out of dark places and bear it through to the light.  To plant seeds of love and will them into fruitful blossoms.   Beautiful, lovely things that need to be protected – people and relationships and homes and lands.  Dreams that need boys’ dreams to survive in a sometimes harsh, bitter world.

I know the day will come – trust me, I know how very, very soon it will come – when I will pack up all those miniture plastic men with strong jaws and stronger weapons.  Away will go the bent swords and battered sheilds.  But I pray – Oh, how I pray! – that what attracted my little boys to them will remain, as steady and constant as the faithful red light standing staunchly next to every tabernacle.  A fierce, loyal, brave love that longs to do great things for a great cause.  To defend the defenseless, to be a voice for the voiceless, to protect the lovely, vulnerable things and people God has created and grown and entrusted him with.  To carry the Gospel like a banner into lands and hearts, often hostile, who need it, and need it from a man of real spiritual stature.

As a mom, I know that there can be no grasping or clinging here.  There can be only love and releasing back to God what was always His.  If I could, I would sweep my little (and not-so-little) boys into my arms and give them permission and encouragement to follow the call in their hearts.

I would whisper to my small superhero, Dream of big things, little dreamer.  For the sake of All That Is Holy, for the sake of all little girls, dream.  Dream of being part of something larger than this life, of glory, of throwing all your weight into a war that is won but a battle that desperately needs you.  Suit up, little man.  Let your heart swell.  And know this: that every day, Every Single Day, your Dad and I will pray for you, for the unfolding of grace, born in your baptism, that groans within you as you grow.  For courage, honor, bravery, and fiery loyalty to your Commander.  Our dream for you is translated into prayers that rise like incense from the altar of our own hearts.  And Someone Else has dreams for you, too.  Follow Him;  follow him anywhere.  You will be great if you do.  He is not “safe,”  as they said of Aslan in the Narnia stories, but he is good.  And I know you, little fighter.  You don’t want safe.  You want the thrill of battle.  So get ready, and don’t let the fallen world dull your swords or your dreams.  We need you.

Everyday Mercies

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“The theme is Mercy,” she said.  “Our scripture is, ‘He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.’  But what you want to talk about is up to you; just keep it to about 25 or 35 minutes.”

I thanked the organizer of the woman’s conference and hung up the phone.  I was delighted to have been asked to be one of the local speakers at the dynamic, well-attended diocesan conference.  But as I stood there in the kitchen, feelings of doubt began to well up and I thought, Why couldn’t I have an amazing story to share in this talk?  A miraculous healing, maybe.  If only I could have been brought back to life – after a tête-à-tête with Jesus in heaven – by the touch of a relic flown in from Rome.  Or a conversion.  Yes, a conversion – a breathtaking story of how God appeared to me and broke through the years of hardened cynicism and unbelief.  But, alas.  I was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cradle Catholic and I didn’t much to say about Mercy.  This was going to be awfully dull, I decided.  Maybe I should back out.

Have I not shown you Mercy every single day of your life?  The words, unspoken, were unmistakable.

“Yes, Lord,” I admitted.

Then tell them that.

And suddenly it all became clear.

There are a few of us with stories that reveal God’s glory and mercy in marvelous ways, ways that crash through our everyday and jolt us into worship and wonder.  But for most of us, cradle or convert, God’s mercies are gentle, subtle, tender reminders of love meant just for us.  And how easily they are forgotten or overlooked.  How quick we are to chalk little mercies up to luck, timing, chance.  Or attribute them to our own spunkiness or smarts.  But real wisdom is seeing God’s hand in everything: orchestrating, healing, saving, catching, leading, holding.  If we see life in this perspective, if we see the many, many ways His mercy is working, the many times it has saved us from even ourselves, it changes everything.  When our spiritual eyes are open, we can see manifestations of his mercy – which is really His love turned toward us little sinners – all over our life.  His fingerprints are everywhere.  We must not lose little mercies. They are love notes from heaven.

Sticky kisses.  An unexpected check when the bills are stacked up on the counter.  The sunlight, warm on your skin, on that weary morning.  The unplanned, and much needed, gift of time when the children take a long nap.  The right song at the right time on the Christian radio station.  Even a long line at the store – you see, it was really an invitation to pray.  Or that feverish cry from the baby at night – yup, it was 3AM.  The Hour of Mercy.  And God was calling you like convent bells, asking you to wait just one hour with Him, present now in your little one.  That, dear woman, was a mercy too.  Even those bitter losses were severe mercies, severing attachments to worldly things, or anything that was other than Him. (Is not, in the end, the Cross the most severe, and yet most sweet, mercy there could ever be?)

I think we need to be reminded sometimes to turn on the spiritual receptors in our life and notice God’s love and grace.  They are always mercies, you see, because they are always undeserved.  And as in the scripture, they are always steadfast, constant and never changing.  It is we who forget and overlook Him.  We must recognize Him in the everyday.  With each new recognition comes not just joy – but an ever-growing trust that begins to be a fortress in our soul against sin, anxiety, doubt, and fear.  We trust Jesus because He is trustworthy – we have seen it.  We see it everywhere.  He turns everything to good.

If this is hard for us, then let’s pray for God to reveal the ways He loves us.  To help us wipe the sleepiness or self-centeredness from our eyes and see His little mercies like wildflowers along the side of this long road to Him.  And to have the foresight to tuck a few in our pockets for the night-times, when things aren’t so easy to see.  The fragrance lingers in our memory if we let it.  Forget-me-nots from God.

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And get ready – in a year dedicated to mercy, there are bound to be bouquets of mercies ready for the picking, new every morning, a harvest of grace to be gathered by our waiting, expectant hearts.  We just have to see it.

Copyright 2015 Claire Dwyer
Photo by David Luther Thomas [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“The 33”: Of Men and Miracles

Last weekend my husband and I sneaked out for a rare evening to ourselves.  I had been waiting for “The 33” to come to theaters; it was a familiar storyline to me – and to many – and I was anxious to see it dramatized.

My Dad had providentially been working on pro-life projects in Chile five years ago at the time of the 33 mine workers unbelievable rescue, and had enthusiastically shared with us the immense relief felt by an entire country as they were pulled from what seemed like the center of the earth.  It was an answer to prayers echoing around the world, and a there was a sense that God may have a message in it for those who would take the time to hear it.  Certainly, the 33 men of the miracle thought so.

In short, the movie is based on the true story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days over 2ooo feet underground when the hundred-year-old San José mine collapsed in the middle of their shift. The conditions were such that chances of their survival for more than a few days were slim at best.  But believing in the love of their families and the faithfulness and power of God, the miners did not give up hope.  Deep underground, they prayed with a true humility.  Those above also clung to a strength greater than themselves and gave their own hopes over to prayer. Spontaneous shrines dotted the desert around the camp, “Camp Hope” where they lived during the long wait.  Rescue workers, too, from many nations, huddled in prayer before beginning their efforts, draping a rosary over the drill and having the equipment – much of it coming from all over the world – blessed by the local bishop.  Masses and vigils kept up a steady hum of prayer to heaven.

The miners, carefully rationing a few cans of tuna and some cookies, met together daily for prayer time, begging God for a rescue.  They repented of past sins and even confessed to each other little injuries that occured as they huddled together in the collapsed cavern – tempers lost, angry words.    Finally, they could hear the drills probing for them, looking for signs of life.  But time and time again, they were tempted to despair as the sounds drifted downward and became fainter.  The drills often missed their spot by just a few feet.  Still, grace reached them like an unseen light.  They continued to pray.

When the miners were finally located, all of them miraculously unharmed even after over two weeks deep underground, the prayers intensified.  It was a miracle that they had survived.  But it would be another miracle to get them out.  Deacon Greg Hall from Texas, an expert who was called in to assist the efforts explains in an interview in the Catholic Herald, “All the computer models we did, all the calculations we did didn’t work, because we knew that we had to drill a minimum of a 26-inch hold through solid rock, 635 meters, and we couldn’t use fluids.  You can’t really do that,” he said.  It seemed impossible.

Deacon Hall recalled going out to the desert as the drills droned on, praying the liturgy of the hours. “On one particularly bad day, after a setback on the job, ‘I remember the Psalm was Psalm 63:2, which says, ‘O God, you are my God, for you I long, my body has pined for you like a dry weary land without water’…I thought, man, here I’ve been praying and I’ve been asking God to help me, but I’m failing, I’m failing completely.  But he’s here – the same spirit of God that was with Moses out in the desert, the same spirit of God, the Holy Spirit that’s in our Eucharist is with me.  And so pretty much at that point I said, ‘Hey, we’re changing the dynamic – I’m no longer praying that you help me, I’m praying that you do it and I help you.

Even then the setbacks continued.  It began to look like the miners might have to wait for months for rescue, in the increasingly damp and unstable mine, living on food sent down to them in little tubes.  Deacon Hall distinctly remembers praying these words: “‘Listen, I’ve done everything I can, we’ve done everything, we can, we failed.  Those are your sons down there as well.  If you want us to keep on going you’re going to have to send your angels down to dig them out.’  That’s what happened.  We got unstuck and we were able to continue to go down and we were able to reach them.”

Millions and millions watched as one by one, the 33 miners rose out of the tiny shaft in the capsule called the “Phoenix,” named after the mythical bird which rises from the dead, and a Christian symbol of Christ’s resurrection.    Embracing the rescue workers with unspeakable gratitude, they knew who had really reached into the rubble of their catacombs and pulled them out.  God had saved them.

The miners remained convinced that their rescue was an act of God.  Strong in faith, most of them traveled to Rome last month to spend the fifth anniversary of their rescue with Pope Francis.

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The author’s father, Dan Zeidler (left) in Rome with shift supervisor Luis Urzua, the last miner to be rescued.

Their story reads like a parable, and its meaning is easy to see.  The power of prayer, trust in God, the love of families and the common brotherhood of men: these are universal themes that resonate in the caverns of our own hearts.  We can all find a message that speaks to us.

And like everything that God writes, there are layers in the story, to be peeled away as we ponder.  The pro-life theme is hard to miss.  One miner called the shaft which sent them food, water, notes, even bibles and rosaries blessed by the Pope, his “umbilical cord.”  It seemed to all that they had been given a “second birth,” and as their eyes adjusted to the sunlight, they awoke like new men, born again. (They were finally rescued on October 13 – the anniversary of the miracle of the sun at Fatima.)  The cavern had been, in the end, a womb which had kept them alive while the cave callapsed, not a tomb. The world had used all its resources to save them, without counting the cost. In the end, millions were spent in the rescue.  Why?  Simply because they were alive.  33 hearts beating below the ground.

Chile was at the time, and is now, a country rich in faith.  It remains one of the nations where currently life is constitutionally protected in all of its stages, including before birth.  And proving the propaganda and lies of the abortion industry wrong, it boasts one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world.  But there is a growing movement pushing for legalized abortion in Chile.  In an interview with LifeSite News while they were in Rome, some of the miners themselves expressed their dismay at the proposed legislation and the need to protect mothers and children.  Let’s pray with them that this movement fails.

And finally, I think, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see the mine as a symbol of the human heart, the nous, the deepest center of ourselves.  When our heart, weakened through ages and ages of scratching and digging for shiny bits of dust, finally collapses in on itself, then we are forced to cry out to God.  Then, on our knees, the darkness pressing in upon us and tempted to doubt and fear and anxiety, we pray, wondering if we are heard.  Can God see us?  Is His gaze more weighty than the heaviness of our self-inflicted prisons?  How deep can mercy reach?

And then, always, if our prayer is sincere, in the fullness of time – His time, not ours – the hand of heaven reaches in and pulls us back into the luminosity of a life of grace, the light of God’s life and presence.  And we again can see the outline of His face.  We realize what concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom said: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

At last there will be a moment, too, when we will look down and see our darknesses, and our hearts will stop for a second as we see something else.  There in the deep, we were not only rescued by God.  A more profound truth will fall upon us.  It is what the miners wrote on the walls of their earthy womb before they left it: God was with us. 

He not only saves us.  He waits in the dark with us.

 

 

 

For the Woman Who Wasn’t There: To All the Moms who Watched Philly From Afar

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When we welcomed Pope Francis into our country,  I’m sure many of you moms, like me, dreamt of traveling to be with the crowds who were there to celebrate, listen, and pray with the pontiff.  Of course, for most of us, it never got further than a fleeting, wishful thought.

But we watched from home.  Calling our kids into the room when the Pope appeared on the screen.  Straining to hear his broken English as we listened from the kitchen.  Stopping in our tracks while carrying laundry baskets to listen to snippets of commentary from the exuberant reporters.  Catching an interview with a weeping bystander between the dentist appointment and the basketball game.

Thanks to my gloriously Catholic college, my husband and I have a blessedly big collection of friends, now scattered throughout the country, who made the trek to be there.  Families, priests, nuns, all posting photos and updates and selfies from the heart of the action.  Some actually sang for the Papal Mass.  One family we know was blessed by his hands as he lingered near their spot in line.

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Local leaders took our intentions with them and journeyed to represent our desert diocese.  They met up with our beloved bishop and shared his words with us back home.  Pictures of their pilgrimage were sprinkled in my newsfeed each day.  And I loved it all. I loved hearing, seeing, thinking, praying from afar.

If you were like me, you teared up watching John Boehner cry, got all warm inside when the Pope hugged prisoners, laughed seeing his delight at a baby wearing a Pope ensemble.  And still, there may have been a tinge of melancholy and wistfulness.  Because, in the end, you weren’t there.

Ahhh.  But you were.

You were there, sweet woman, because Pope Francis came for you and all that you are for, and you were carried by love to the center of his thoughts and his prayers.  He had you with him.

The  “Gospel of the Family” he proclaims is your life.  You are the living Gospel.  And when he said in the homily at St. Junipero Serra’s canonization Mass that “the joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away,” he was speaking not just of missionaries, but also of the daily giving of yourself that begins as soon as your feet hit the floor – and often before!  The first load of laundry flung in before dawn.  The kiss on your husband’s sleepy cheek. The lunches packed, the toast buttered, the crosses traced on foreheads as children dash out the door.

Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit.  It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures.  ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf.Mk 9:41).  These little gestures are those gestures we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different.  They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters.  They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion.  Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.  Homely gestures.  Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.  Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.  Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love.  That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches.  They are the right place for faith to vecome life, and life to grow in faith.

(Homily of Pope Francis for the Closing Mass of the World Meeting of Families)

It seems that the little things that “get lost” – those things you spend your life doing – are not lost on the Holy Father.

He knew reason you were home in September was because you were busy living the Gospel he came to preach.  You were the living Gospel.  A perfect one?  No, the Pope knows that too.  That’s why, in the prayer vigil for the Festival of Families he said, “Children are hard work” and “children cause headaches.”   He reminded us that even though “families always, always have crosses” yet the family is a “workshop of hope.”  We are all a work in progress.

Perfect families do not exist.  This must not discourage us.   Quite the opposite.  Love is something we learn; love is something we live; love grows as it is ‘forged’ by concrete situations which each particular family experiences.  Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows.

So while you bounced that baby and sorted socks and thawed ground beef and kissed boo-boos and quizzed Latin verbs and spelling words and tossed up tired but heartfelt prayers, you were Eucharistically united to our Papa. He was speaking to you and about you.  You embody his message.  You are the witness that the Christian family is not just a lofty ideal but a living “workshop of hope.”  You are the Gospel the world meets in the grocery store and the park and at Chick-fil-A, and maybe the only Gospel someone will encounter.  Your family is the sometimes smeary but always sunny window into a Church impossibly vast and unshakably true.

In other words, dear Catholic mother, if the Pope is the head of the Church, this amazing and mysterious Body, you are undeniably the heart.  In other words, where he goes, you go.

In other words, you were there.

Copyright 2015 Claire Dwyer

Image attribution: Featured Image – By governortomwolf [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Embedded image – By governortomwolf [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy

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This week we’ll celebrate two important feasts: the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on September 14, and the following day, September 15, we’ll remember Our Lady of Sorrows.  Two days linked forever in meaning, inseparable, poignant.

September 15 also happens to be my birthday.  And for a long time, as long as I was old enough to realize who I shared the day with, I felt a little – cheated. I mean, it’s a bit of a downer to liturgically “celebrate” all the bitterness in Mary’s life on a day for celebrating your own.  Not that I ever thought it should be all about me, but as a child, it just didn’t seem quite fair.  To enter the world as Mary grieved at the Cross.

Eventually I made peace with it.  And then I considered it an honor to be born on a Marian day, whichever one it may be.  Forever I’ll be tucked into that title, a little footnote on her calendar.  And as I got older, the meaning of suffering, hers and my own, took on its own strange beauty and could be appreciated.  At least, I reasoned, I have a patroness in all the little crosses I drag reluctantly as I shuffle along, hopefully heavenward.

But today I came to love it.

Suddenly, in my Suburban.  A flash of clarity at a stoplight, that came, like most good things, while meditating on the rosary.  It was this: Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy.

These are both ancient titles of Mary, but I had never held them together in my heart before, each one like a mirror reflecting the other, returning its own light.  Each one meaningless, really, without the other.  There is no value in suffering without it’s little sunday at the end, and there is no joyful redemption without the cross.  There just isn’t.  It’s one of those paradoxes our faith is famous for.

STA_WomenMorningReflectionFirst, Our Lady of Sorrows, the woman who tasted bitterness at the prophecy of Simeon, when she hears that a sword would pierce her heart, already fear stabbing her. But then, as always, a yes.  Each sorrow a yes.  Specifically, we remember seven: The Prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, their Meeting on the Way to Calvary, Jesus’ Death on the Cross, Mary’s Reception of His Body, And the Placing of His Body in the Tomb.  Those are the big ones.  And all the little piercings, too, each step he took away from her, into the crowds that would kill him, each soul that rejected him, each sin she saw, each one was an ache.  But every time there is the yes, the giving away of herself into the will of God.  Every sorrow was sealed with a “fiat” that gave it eternal power.  Until finally it would culminate at the foot of the Cross, with her leaning into that will with a silent agony we can only imagine.

And then.  In that darkest hour, in the horrible silence as heaven held its breath, He spoke.  “Woman, behold your son…behold your mother.”  In that extreme grief, there was yet another yes.  And we all flooded into her heart, hollowed out by humility and suffering.  The day he wrenched eternal life back for us, he gave us the source of his own human life – he handed us his Mother.  And we won twice.

So that’s one reason she’s the Cause of Our Joy.  Because in another act of generosity only possible for God Himself, she is ours.  Our Lady.  In the most anguished hour of all her sorrows, we received a gift that the angels would envy if they could envy.  We share her with them as a Queen, but only to us can she be a Mother.  In all things she shares our life and loves us with unspeakable tenderness.  Once we have become her children, we feel the warm gentle weight of her gaze that makes life bearable even in its most difficult days.  “Our faith tells us that here below, in our present life, we are pilgrims, wayfarers,” says St. Josemaria Escriva.  “Our lot is one of sacrifices, suffering, and privations.  Nonetheless, joy must mark the rhythm of our steps.  ‘Serve the Lord with joy’ – there is no other way to serve Him.”  Every shimmering joy, each a foretaste of the eternal that awaits us, is from her spoon.

She is also the Cause of Our Joy because by the design of God, it is only through her that He came.  Christ, our salvation, came through this little vessel and we are so forever grateful.  From the first, the big “Fiat” spoken to Gabriel, divinity took flesh within her and finally, our salvation was underway.  She is the first chapter in the book of eternal life.  Joy itself comes to the world, and only through Mary.  St. John the Baptist was the first to feel it, leaping with joy as a unborn baby as he felt their presence, even as she herself exclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:47)

Appropriately, then, we rejoice too because she is honored in heaven and earth.  She is given a seat next to her son, she is crowned Queen of Heaven, the final victory is given to her.  “A great marvel appeared in the heaven: a woman, dressed with the sun, with the moon at her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”  (Revelation 12:1)  If our Mother is Queen, then we take heart.  St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that we are prompted to “acknowledge the basis for this joyful hope.  Yes, we are still pilgrims, but our mother has gone ahead, where she points to the reward of our efforts.  She tells us we can make it.  And, if we are faithful, we will reach home.”  So she is the Cause of Our Joy because she is a sign of our salvation.  What we hope for she holds high as a promise fulfilled.

Finally, and this is the difficult part, but what brings it all full circle –  Our Lady of Sorrows is the Cause of Our Joy because, Fr. John Hardon said, “She enjoyed the happiness of suffering with Christ, suffering for Christ, suffering like Christ.  How the meaning of happiness is taught us by the mother of God…happiness on earth is a measure of our living lives of sacrifice as Our Lady did.  When we address Our Lady as the Cause of Our Joy, we mean it… She is the Cause of Our Joy because our joy will depend on how faithfully we allow Mary to teach us what it means to be happy.”

What he’s saying is this: if joy is union with God, then there’s a cross in it for us.  No cross, no joy.  We can run away from it, and maybe there’ll be a little relief in the distractions of the world, but no real joy.  Only by leaning in, as she did, can true joy be found, and once we do, we find that being so close to a God who suffered too takes on a certain sweetness.  No Sunday sunrise without Friday’s slow fade.  No Queen of Heaven without the Sorrowful Mother.

I guess then, it is a “happy” birthday after all.  In the most joyful sense of the word.