Accompaniment: Loving as God Loves

This past week, we received the Spring 2018 issue of the Sisters’ of Life Imprint magazine, a quarterly publication both my husband and I read eagerly as soon as it arrives. One of my favourite (and most practical) excerpts I will share here:

“In our work with women, we have tried to learn the great art of being with others, which we call accompaniment. It’s a way of receiving another – looking at the person before me, not as a project or a problem to be solved, but as a gift, a unique masterpiece of God’s love. It’s developing the habit of gazing at this person with the heart, seeing things that are hidden beneath the surface. It’s a way of listening for precisely the things that are not said out loud. Perhaps after much tending, a heart can be awakened and come alive in a new way. A new beauty is revealed. In this exchange, a hidden treasure is discovered; something that was limping can move more freely; buried reservoirs of strength can be uncovered; new areas of the heart are brought to life.” – ninth page of Imprint, Sisters of Life, Spring 2018 Issue

Anyone else perceive the fruit of Eucharistic prayer here? I think it’s quite obvious that the women who wrote this have a habit of practising Adoration, wherein, indeed, one really learns the depths of this sort of love.

A Curious Topic: “My Daily Bread” on Needless Curiosity, and its social media implications

I love using Facebook. I love seeing what my friends and relatives and even acquaintances are up to. It keeps me connected with them, even though I might live far away from them. It also connects me to groups that help me grow in various areas such as my faith, housekeeping, recipe collecting, etc. What a wonderful medium! Yet I have often felt a little discomfort with my use of Facebook – even though I see a lot of good come out of it, my conscience will often needle me, suggesting that I am wasting my time. Frequently I’ll give it up to some extent for Lent, or at other spontaneous times during the year when I feel overwhelmed by it. Somewhere deep down, a small little voice tries to warn me that I should be careful not to let Facebook rule me to the extent that I do. When I read the following reflection from “My Daily Bread” tonight, I understood why.

CHRIST: My Child, uncontrolled curiosity draws your attention away from your duties and brings needless distractions. It can waste a good deal of time and energy which you might use to greater good. It leads to pointless visiting and useless conversations. It fills the mind with so many empty distractions, which prevent you from freely receiving the holy thoughts and good desires which I send you throughout the day.

2. You would have great peace if you were less curious about things which do not concern you. One who is too interested in the sayings and doings of others, becomes forgetful of the glorious ideal which I present to him – the ideal of pleasing Me in all things and thereby gaining eternal life.

3. Many things occur during the day which do not help you become a better person. What does it matter whether this one has a new garment or that one has failed in some personal project? Think of what concerns you, and of any good which you can do to others. Keep your heavenly goal before your mind, as far as your daily occupations will permit. Avoid idle words and useless activities.

THINK: A curious nature, intelligently controlled, has often led men to make great discoveries. Yet, unless curiosity is controlled, it can hurt me forever. My highest interest must be to follow God’s law, and so to enter into eternal life. The less I burden my mind with unnecessary interests, the more will I understand and appreciate my supernatural purpose on earth. too many worldly interests make me forget or disregard my heavenly goal. Many sins of omission and carelessness spring from uncontrolled curiosity.

PRAY: Jesus, my King, Your enemies are whoever and whatever draws me farther from You and closer to sin. Therefore uncontrolled curiosity is Your enemy. If I am loyal to You, I will fight this enemy of Yours. In so doing, I will also be fighting for my own eternal happiness. Lord, give me light to recognize this enemy and to oppose it in my daily life. Amen.

  • Book I, Chapter 86: Needless Curiosity, My Daily Bread (1954), Confraternity of the Precious Blood

I like that the passage acknowledges that curiosity can be good, but it must be disciplined if it is going to benefit us. Curiosity in itself is not a virtue, and unbridled curiosity will often do more harm than good. Perhaps I might be tempted to deem my curiosity in the goings-on of Facebook a neutral curiosity, but it is a distraction – and at times a very great distraction – from better things, such as paying full attention to my family, finishing (or starting) chores, reading, or even simply praying and contemplating God. Indeed, if a pastime is a wholesome one, I find it directs my mind to God. While I’ve tried to redeem Facebook by subscribing to numerous Catholic pages and groups, even these wholesome feed-fillers begin to act as unwholesome distraction from my life.

I don’t think every activity has to be based in an explicitly God-minded pursuit in order to be wholesome. Saints often talk about sanctifying the ordinary day by offering up dishes or mopping. I have even found myself considering BBC’s Planet documentaries spiritually nourishing, as I can’t watch them without admiring God’s gorgeous design. And Facebook, too, can direct my mind to God, either in rejoicing in the people He’s made or in the spiritually inspirational quotations and articles I often encounter there. I can pray for the people who show up on my feed. However, as the Greeks so wisely observed millennia ago, μηδὲν ἄγαν – nothing in excess!

Perhaps Facebook is not your great temptation, but all social media and even old-fashioned media (news, magazines, books) can work the same way and distract us from our heavenly goals and the things we need to do to get to Heaven. Since our society no longer even pretends to put any focus on God, I think it’s quite a common error to fall into idle curiosity, to the point that people frequently do not even see it as error! And then we wonder why our hearts are troubled and we have no peace in our souls….

Teetering on a brink, an answer comes

Last night, my husband and I had the opportunity to talk a little, and we discussed the day’s homily and got onto the topic of the Narrow Gate Christ speaks of, and how the purifications of Purgatory are reportedly more painful than any purifications we might endure in this life, and this brought me to a place of frustration I’ve been heading towards for some time now:

“I’ve been trying to become a saint since I was something like twelve years old, and look at me! I’m still impatient, still moody, still irritable, more irascible than ever, and I still crave the regard of others! For all my striving, I don’t seem to be getting very far. It’s like there is a delicate balance of making an effort and relying upon God’s grace, and I can’t strike it. Recently, I just feel like giving up trying. Maybe the secret is to nag God: hey, God, I need more grace because, as you can see, I’m still pretty pathetic and not getting anywhere, so if you want me to become a saint, you better give me a lot more help!”

Shortly thereafter, we acknowledged the hour was late and we should go to bed, and on my way, I picked up one of the most densely inspirational books in the way of Christian living that I know, My Daily Bread, written by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. I flipped through and landed upon the following – it was a bit of a tollelege moment, if you recall St Augustine. Each chapter begins with the (imagined, yet arguably inspired) voice of Christ, followed by a reflection, followed by a prayer.

“Son, the grace of devotion is not just a holy feeling, nor is it a religious mood. It is an intelligent attachment of your will to Me and to whatever I command or desire of you.

2. This is a very great grace. I will grant it to you if you will make a sincere effort to turn your back on whatever hinders your spiritual progress. You must empty your heart of all useless interests in order to make room for Me.

3. Often it is such a small matter that prevents one from obtaining this grace. Misguided self-interest cuts many people off from this glorious gift.

4. I desire you to have this grace. It will make you loyal to Me in all things. If you do not have it yet, it is because you have not yet prepared your soul for it. Pray for it and labor for it. Gain control of your feelings and unreasoning desires by acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Above all, begin a determined battle against the outstanding faults in your daily life.

5. With this grace of true devotion, you will find many things easy which now seem difficult and impossible. You will never again lose sight of My power, wisdom, and love, and you will consider it a privilege to follow My Will.

THINK: If I make a firm and persevering effort to abandon my foolish love for unnecessary distractions, God will give me the gift of devotion. From then on, I will no longer depend on feelings or moods, but will follow God’s Will intelligently and faithfully even when I do not feel like doing so.

PRAY: My loyal and loving Saviour, you lived an earthly life of devotion to Your Father’s Will. By self-giving action You made reparation for my many acts of disobedience to His holy commandments. By self-giving action You also proved Your love for me. You gave me an example of true devotion. Grant me the grace of true and solid devotion to You, so that I may prove my love for You by self-giving. No matter how I may feel, let me do only what is pleasing to You. I desire not only to avoid all sin, but also to do many little extra things for Your sake. Make my devotion like Yours – a constant self-offering which will prove my love beyond all doubt. Amen.

My Daily Bread, Confraternity of the Precious Blood (1954), Book 2, Ch. 13

It can be hard to find a good spiritual director. I’ve had the guidance of a number over the years, and only one felt like a perfect fit for me, and he I only enjoyed the companionship of over the course of a three-day retreat. Jesus has not left me orphaned, though. When I was a teenager, I prayed that if He would not send me a spiritual director, then would He please send me the books I need when I need them and guide me thus. I have often noticed Him answering this prayer, and this was surely yet another instance.

I need to continue striving, but I need to refocus. I need to assess my life objectively, and I need to do things the way God wants me to do them rather than the way I want to do them, for my will’s discernment is still often clouded by “misguided self-interest.” In the past few months, it’s become clear that I need to make time to be alone, something that used to be easy but with three children is a challenge. I’ve started taking Saturday mornings to myself while my husband minds the kids, and it’s been a wonderful time to recollect myself and look objectively at my life and try to bring some intelligent order to it. I suspect my next sabbatical should be devoted to my spiritual plan of life.

Nurturing Christ Within

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defence. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart.

“This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.

“We could scrub the floor for a tired friend, or dress a wound for a patient in the hospital, or lay the table and wash up for the family; but we shall not do it in a martyr spirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation, of feeling that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind.

“We shall do it just for one thing, that our hands make Christ’s hands in our life, that our service may let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ’s patience back to the world.”  The Reed of God (by Caryll Houselander)

In this chapter on Advent, Caryll Houselander begins to unfold her reflections, through Mary, on the primacy of Christ in our lives and the gentleness of the workings of the Holy Spirit within us, noting as Teresa of Avila more famously preached that Christ has no body on earth now but ours. She observes that often our circumstances do not seem extraordinarily holy, but that like pregnant Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, it is enough that we are present, bringing with us the silent presence of Christ within our souls.

Caryll’s writing (you must forgive me for taking liberties in referring to her by her first name, but she is too intimate an author to be referred to coldly by her surname) reveals a remarkable sensitivity to the experiences of a mother. She herself never had children, yet she understands the experience of a mother stunningly well. She clearly had a remarkable gift for empathy.

The extraordinary act of Our Lady visiting her cousin immediately following the Annunciation has won my admiration all the more after three of my own pregnancies. It’s possible Mary was spared many of the pains of pregnancy, but the growth of another human being is an enormous undertaking. I have yet to meet a mother who is not completely wiped out in her first trimester, yet it is in these first three months that Mary runs to assist her cousin, a time when most of us would prefer to be waited upon ourselves! In my first two pregnancies, the exhaustion was such that I remember excusing myself from charitable deeds. It was only through the example of others going out of their way to help me during a very difficult time that I learned to shift my perspective from self-absorbed to self-giving. And not only self-giving, but Christ-bearing. Yes, we necessarily are preoccupied with an awareness of a secret life within, but while we nurture that life, it directs our life: we do everything for our child, and we must to everything for our Christ.

I was impressed with Caryll’s identification of that “worse spirit of self-congratulation.” We have often been reminded not to act as martyrs (“And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Matthew 6:16), but the spirit of self-congratulation is subtler and certainly more insidious because it is more prideful. I am no stranger to this temptation! It is easy enough to reprimand oneself for desiring the acclamation of others, but to route out from one’s heart the desire of one’s own self-affirmation? When you are battling this, you have levelled up in your fight to live for Christ alone! For it is complete poverty when you renounce even your own evaluation of your deeds — the complete poverty of total freedom, I would add.