Sunday, October 19, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Well, I encountered a very difficult situation this Friday. Everything had been going wonderfully. Our classrooms were combined into one room, and I had worked with the teacher of the other classroom all morning. We get along well, and it is, of course, much easier to work with someone who knows the schedule of the classroom and who knows the children. We had eight children between our two rooms, and they’d been behaving well (for a crawler, this means they hadn’t fallen off of things, smacked or clawed at other children, or otherwise gotten themselves into trouble). My coworker left at 2:30 each day, and so someone had to come in and take her place, because the ratio of teachers to crawlers is 1 to 5, and we still had 8.

A lady came in that I’d spoken to very briefly. She was from an outside temporary agency that hired out nannies and childcare workers. She’d done my breaks a couple of times before, and so I knew her name and face. Other coworkers had expressed a distaste for working with this lady, but I did my best to put their judgments aside and form my own.

We got along well for a time, because naptime was still going on—the children were to remain in their cribs until 3:30, when we would get them up, change their diapers and give them their afternoon snack. The children had been a bit crazy during nap, partly because there were so many of them in the room, and partly because one of them had to have a breathing treatment at 2:00 that had been rather noisy. 6 out of 8 were awake, but for the most part they were fairly content. All that to say, when this lady came in, we did well for a while because all we had to do was sit there and wait for 3:30 to come, occasionally checking diapers to make sure none of the children got diaper rash while they were waiting to come out of their cribs. We made a bit of small talk, and I thought to myself, “This isn’t bad at all. I think perhaps we will get along great and everything will go smoothly.”

Fast forward to 3:20. A couple of the children had been screaming since 2:45, and one had just started fussing and was being particularly loud. This lady asked if we could get them up early. I told her no, that we had to keep them on the schedule so that they can get used to it. We began to set out the high chairs, and I went behind the counter to heat up their sippy cups, only to discover the little crockpot we normally heat them in had been unplugged. I announced we’d have to heat the cups in the microwave. The lady expressed sympathy with my agitation.

At this point, things were still relatively okay. I’d remembered one of my coworkers telling me that this lady was known for questioning the schedule and asking multiple times if she could stray from it. But that was only once.

Then the diaper changes began. At around 3:25 this lady decided she wanted to pick up one of the children and carry them around. I had a specific order I needed to change diapers in, based on what time I knew they would probably leave. I wanted to make sure that the ones that left first got their snack first so they’d be done by the time their parents arrived. She brought me the child she’d been carrying, and I asked her if she could please bring me a different child.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had a specific order,” she said, and went to place the child on the floor.

“Oh, don’t put her down on the floor, put her back in her crib,” I was quick to say.

“Why?” she asked, giving me a confused look.

“Because,” I tried to explain gently, “she can walk and she may try to climb on the high chairs. It’s a safety hazard.”

“Oh.” She picked the child back up, and turned and flipped on the light switch.

“Oh, we can’t turn the light on right now,” I said. “There are children still sleeping, so we have to keep the light off ‘til they wake up.”

Her eyes bugged out at me in exasperation.

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes.” She carried the child back to her crib and set her down while I turned the light back off and carried on with my diaper changes, too stunned for words.

Several tense diaper changes later, the children were eating their snack. As I cleaned off one of the children, the lady reached over and turned down the music I’d had on for nap. Now, in a room full of screaming children, music calms me, because I can focus on the beauty of the music rather than their screaming. To have someone else come in and mess with that only added to my irritation. Struggling to control my rage, I reached up and ripped the auxiliary cord out of the stereo, shutting off the music completely.

“Oh, good,” the lady said, breathing a sigh of relief.

I know, I know. Music is such a small thing to get upset about. And I would have been much more obliging had she asked me to turn it down. And I know, her turning down the music is a very slight thing. I’m the type of person, though, that is loathe to touch things or mess with things in another person’s classroom, and if I have the overwhelming urge to do so, I ask first. So I guess it’s one of those things that specially irritates me, when people mess with my belongings or my settings and don’t even bother to ask. A pet peeve, I suppose. A fault to be overcome. But needless to say, it didn’t make the situation any better.

Continuing on.

I did fairly well dealing with the anger. I couldn’t stop myself from feeling it, but I did my best not to show it. We made conversation, some about the childcare facility and our personal beliefs about it. That was a bit more calming. We have similar views.

As we were cleaning up from snack, I did my best to get ahold of someone at the front desk so I could go use the bathroom—and calm myself a bit. The rage built up within me needed an outlet, and I’m a cryer when I’m angry. She made remarks here and there about different things. Most weren’t irritating, but some really got under my skin and blew on my rage like a strong wind building up a fire. I don’t remember what they were and I’m not going to take pains to remember. But at one point I knew—if I didn’t leave the room soon, I might snap with the next remark that grated at me. I found one of my directors out in the cafeteria and called to her. As she approached the door I slipped outside and shut the door briefly.

“Is there any way you can get her out of here?” I pleaded. “I’m losing my mind.”

She told me I’d have to wait til we were at ratio because there was no one else available to take her place, and so I went to the bathroom and cried a bit to release the anger. It only added to my desperation that as I was crying and trying to splash water on my face, kids were banging on the door to the bathroom.

Still, eyes a bit puffy, I marched back to the classroom and geared up for a battle with myself. As I stepped inside, I noticed there were children crawling around on the carpet while the high chairs were still out and cookie crumbs all over the tile. Ignoring this, I went behind the counter for the broom.

“I talked to the director. She said they usually get the kids up at 3, not 3:30. I told her you wouldn’t let me.” At this point, her remark was just another log in the fire already roaring within me.

“Well, I’ve always been told they wake up at 3:30. That’s what we’ve done since I’ve been here,” I said, as calmly as I could manage.

“No,” she said. “The director said 3.”

I didn’t answer. There was no point. Instead I cleaned off the high chairs, stacked them against the wall, and began to sweep, tossing the dustpan onto the tile.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m watching the kids on the carpet.” I continued to sweep, turning when I heard little palms slapping the tile. One of the children was already on the tile and headed straight for the dustpan.

“Will you get him off the tile?” I demanded.

“Yes, yes, I’ve got him.” She went and picked him up and chuckled. “That’s the second time he’s gone for that dustpan.” I snorted internally.

“Yes, well, that’s why we usually keep them in their cribs until the cleaning’s done,” I said testily.

“I know, I know,” she said, and stood there watching them while I finished up, shaking with rage.

Thankfully, the director remembered my request, and as soon as we were down to five children she called into the room and sent the lady somewhere else. I think the lady sensed the tension between us.

“Gladly I’ll go,” she said with a small laugh, and went to fetch her shoes. I bade her have a good weekend and breathed a sigh of relief when she’d gone.

This was my experience with my human emery board. It is probably the second or third most trying thing I’ve experienced since my conversion. It is amazing how some people are designed to rub you exactly the wrong way and push all of your buttons with stunning accuracy. But without these people, we wouldn’t be able to progress in the spiritual life. In order to practice patience, we have to have someone to be patient with. In order to practice meekness and peaceableness, someone we have to make sacrifices for in order to get along with. I only hope, that knowing what this experience was, I will be better prepared to face it in the future, as well as others like it.

I realize maybe I have strange buttons, strange pet peeves…some of you might read this and think, “Well, I don’t see how she did anything wrong.” And perhaps you’re right. It is difficult coming into a new place and having to mold yourself to their schedule and procedures, especially if you have trouble seeing the motives or reasons behind that schedule and those procedures. It is also hard being the person used to said schedule and procedures and having someone come in and willfully go against them. I’m used to the workers from the temp agency simply being obedient and going along with everything. I’m used to being the one to have to direct, to point out which child is which, where their diapers are, where their cribs are, where they are supposed to be at what time, and to lead the effort to keep everything running smoothly. And usually the staff that come in to help me simply obey. That is what I would do, were I the one in a new childcare facility, were I the one unfamiliar with procedure.

Then again, I thrive on routine and procedure.

And maybe this lady doesn’t.

My theory is that, deep down, she doesn’t agree with the schedule or procedures. And I can understand that, and even respect it. It’s fine if this isn’t the way you’d want your household run. I might not run mine the same way. And my theory is also that she wanted to do things the way she thought they should be done, as much as I would allow her to, or as much as she could get away with. Hence the children on the floor, hence getting them up early to stop their crying, hence turning the light on or turning the music down, as she saw fit.

I can respect all of that. But in an institutional setting, with eight children to care for and only two teachers between them, the procedures and routines are there for a reason, and a simple reason at that: to keep both children and teachers sane. Hence keeping the children in their cribs while we clean up from mealtimes, hence keeping them in their cribs until naptime is officially over, so they learn to content themselves while other children are sleeping (because that’s what will happen in the toddler room), hence specific times and places for meals and specific tasks that must be done at each meal.

A routine for children so small may seem ridiculous or even cruel, but in all honestly, human beings thrive on routine, and especially children. Coming in from the infant room, where their schedules are much more flexible, sure, the routine may be hard at first, but after a week or two they get used to it. They sit in their cribs and play with the toy or the mirror without fussing. They fall asleep on their own and sleep at assigned nap times. They are hungry when it’s time to eat, and in between eating and sleeping, they are happy and content. And for us teachers, who may have to deal with a group of 8 or even 9 between 2 teachers, or 5 for one teacher, this routine is what makes taking care of so many children possible in the first place. And just because there is a routine doesn’t mean there isn’t any love. No, it’s certainly not how I would do things with my own household and my own children. But it makes sense in the context of having to care for so many children at the same time.

All that to say, I have another lesson under my belt and a long way to go still. God humbled me and gave me many graces that day—He kept me from boiling over and having an all-out crying and yelling fit, like I was tempted to, and He helped me to see her for what she is—a fellow soul, bought at the price of Our Lord’s most Precious Blood, and an invaluable help to my own soul by virtue of our conflicting personalities. We need our ‘enemies’ sometimes more than we need our friends, and affliction has much more to teach us than prosperity.

And the ironic twist to this story: Just that morning, I’d read in “Introduction to the Devout Life” a chapter entitled, “Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.” Does God have a sense of humor? Did He give me a pop quiz? I think so. Most certainly.

May God grant me the grace to serve Him more faithfully in any other trials I might come across, and to be humble enough to see every trial and every soul for what they are.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Advertisements

October 11, 2014

[+J.M.J.+]

So, it seems that the commitment to post at least once a week is harder than I thought. I apologize for the lapse in posts. I started drafting one at the end of September, but I don’t think I will post it. At least, not yet. This post, I think, will take a different route.

I’ve been hit with a bout of depression lately. Now, I’m not the type of person who can handle just shoving things aside that need to be dealt with, and when I noticed my melancholy over these past few days, I wanted to examine it. I am kept very busy with my full-time job working in the crawler room at a daycare. I am grateful I don’t have to take my work home with me like many do. I am not a morning person, however, and so my mornings are all about frantically getting ready and heading out the door (usually a few minutes late). I try to think in the car, which comes naturally to me since I spent several years in my middle and high school years riding the bus for 45 minutes in the morning and in the evening. It gave me lots of time to think, since I can’t read for very long without getting motion-sickness. I’m grateful for this habit. It gives me the time I need to sort things out. But here lately, I’ve been using the new stereo I put in my car, playing Disney music and classical and Gregorian chant. Not that any of that’s bad, just that…I started craving time in silence. I missed silence. Just listening to the noise of the road. Just listening to the sounds that a house makes as it settles. Last night, I sat in silence for a moment. I noticed it. It was deafening to me. I’m the kind of person who needs some sort of white noise…not radio, not voices, just noise, like water or a fan running. Pure silence does intimidate me. It makes me hyper-aware of everything around me, everything outside of me. Which, for inner reflection, does not bode well. So I turned on the fan in my bathroom (which adjoins my room) and when my boyfriend called, I reflected. I use him as a sounding board a lot. He listened patiently as I sorted out my thoughts, as I dug into the root of my depression and melancholy, brought it to the foreground, and put the puzzle pieces in place. Really, much of it was very easy to do, once I finally sat down and dug in. God gave me the grace in that moment to figure it out, I think.

This habit, of digging in, needs to be done more often. I’m preaching to myself just as much as I am preaching to you, dear reader. What I found surprised me, in good ways and in bad. My depression was not deep-rooted, which rang true with my intuition. Sometimes, the melancholy would seize me and I would be brought close to tears—but I could never cry. If I were truly and honestly, soul-deep, unhappy, I would have cried every night. I would have cried any time my thoughts got close to depression. But I never could cry. Something in me kept telling me, “It’s a nuisance…like a thorn in your foot. Nothing major. It does need to be dealt with so you can keep moving forward. It’s slowing you down.” So my mind justified shoving that to the back burner because, hey, it wasn’t a big deal. But things like that can become a big deal…or rather, you make them out to be a big deal and end up upset for no good reason.

No, the reason behind my depression is something I’m quite familiar with. It’s been plaguing me for the past few years, sticking thorns in my foot when I’m not paying attention, and being a nuisance, though not a danger. It’s a fear, a doubt, about the future, about the path God has placed me on, about marriage and about my past. This doubt can be paralyzing, but only if I let it. It’s something that won’t see reason; it’s something that tempts me to despair; it’s something I can’t argue with. I simply have to banish it with an act of faith in God. It sneers at me, “God is deceiving you. You are not safe on this path. You are on the wrong path. It doesn’t matter what your confessors have told you. What if they’re wrong? What if you are wrong about your past? What if there’s an impediment to marriage that no one knows about, or that you forgot about?”

I have tried battling it out. It’s too strong for me to fight on my own. I become overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and despairing. And that’s exactly where it wants me. Whatever ‘it’ is. I say back, “God would not lead me to a vocation which would be sinful or wrong under my circumstances. I have done my part. I have told the truth, and I’ve told it with all honesty and intention of wanting the truth about my circumstances in return. God would not deceive someone who honestly begged and prayed for the truth, no matter what it cost. He knows all. He is omniscient, not me. It is not my place to look for all the answers. God knows, and He will see to it that whatever needs to be known, will be made known, in the right time and place.”

Of course, it dismisses my argument with a simple retort. “But what if He doesn’t?”

See, this is where the act of faith needs to come in full force. Argument does not prevail against temptations like this. Only a simple and childlike faith and trust in God will serve to overcome it. And I think, last night, I finally grasped this truth. I see now that perhaps God wants me to learn this childlike faith. And He is allowing this temptation to buffet me for that purpose. Thank God that He has seen fit to preserve me from total despair thus far. I have fallen under the weight of this cross many times, but God has not taken it away. He keeps giving me grace to see better, to walk more strongly, and to keep going towards Him. I have to put off my silly intellectual pride in order to keep going, and this is perhaps why He is humbling me with this cross. “Be childlike. Trust in Me. It is I Who knows all, Who sees all, not you. See yourself for the stumbling child of dust you are, and see how much love and grace I pour out on you every moment. If only you will humble yourself, I will exalt you.”

Little children do not ask ‘why’. I am not talking about 4 or 5 year olds who ask every question under the sun. I am speaking of 2 and 3 year olds, who I see running to their mothers and fathers each day, who expect their mothers and fathers to be infallible, unfailing, in picking them up each day, in lifting them up into their arms, in making them better when they are sick, in caring for their wounds, in giving them meals each day. If little children have such trust in their parents, who are as human as we are, why can we not trust God the same way, Who truly is infallible, perfect, and unfailing in all of His promises?

Let us not allow distrust and doubt to hinder our running to God. Let us run to Him, arms wide in trust, marvelling at His greatness and our littleness, and at His condescension to love us more than we could ever love ourselves. He is faithful and unfailing, and He will not despise a contrite and humble heart that cries to Him in trust.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Friday, May 9, 2014

+J.M.J.+

Well, perhaps in this post we can get to some more of the numerous things I have learned in the past week or so, such as diligence, keeping promises, and more recently, humility. I’ve learned more things about faith from my catechism readings, and I still have those post-grad hopes to share…we still may not get to them all, and that’s okay.

With regards to diligence…I feel this is a virtue that is highly lacking, both in myself and in the world as a whole. Diligence is working at something, building up your skills, learning from your mistakes, and through it all, never giving up. Learning the faith requires a lot of diligence…and a lot of humility. Humility truly is the root of this virtue of diligence. We must first realize that we have something to learn, that we are not where we need to be with some skill, some virtue, some gift or talent that needs development. This requires humility, looking at ourselves as we are and evaluating truthfully what we are capable of (honestly, nothing without God’s grace) and what we are not. When we see those many areas in need of development, we employ the virtue of diligence– a mixture of patience, perseverance, wisdom, hope and courage–to get the job done.

In addition to employing this virtue, we must also pray for it, and ask for God’s grace to see us through to the end of our task, no matter how long it may take or how many times we may fail at it. There are no true failures unless we give up. And when it is virtue we seek, which draws us closer to God and renders our soul more pleasing to Him, He will not fail to give us what we ask for. That is the great thing about diligence in the spiritual life–it always has a pay off, whereas diligence in the purely temporal aspects of our life (asking our boss for a raise, working to gain some skill we are not particularly gifted in, etc.) does not necessarily guarantee a reward. But the old adage holds true, most especially in the spiritual life: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

I believe Our Lord told a parable about a widow pestering a judge to hear her case. After asking continually that the judge avenge her, though the judge did not fear God or man, he eventually granted her what she asked. Our Lord comforts us with this, saying that God will swiftly avenge His elect who cry to Him for justice (Luke 18:1-8, DRA). If an unjust judge heard the case of the persistent widow, will not God hear the prayers of His people? We must have diligence in prayer; we read in the lives of the Saints how their diligence won them what they asked for–and often more than what they asked for. The first instance that comes to mind is the diligence of St. Monica for the conversion of her husband and son. After years and years of weeping and praying, her prayers were answered and she died in the knowledge that her husband and theretofore lost son were reconciled to the Church and to God. And not only did her prayers for their conversion bring their desired fruit, but her son became a great Saint, a Doctor of the Church! Thus God always repays those who cry to Him without fail, giving even more than their prayers’ request in His goodness and kindness towards them.

Diligence also teaches us about hope. Why are we diligent unless we earnestly hope for what we seek? If we did not hope for it, diligence would be of no use to us. What we seek would be always out of reach–thus those who lose hope often cease from doing good works and sometimes even take their own life, no longer seeing the usefulness of anything they do. No, friends, hope inspires diligence, as do humility, love of God, wisdom and courage. We love God; we hope to possess Him, and He gives us the wisdom and courage to seek Him with all our might, and the patience and perseverance to keep going–thus resulting in diligence, a lovely name we can use for this lovely virtue, a ‘compound’ virtue, if you will. It requires a lot of us, but the grace of God is sufficient for us in all things.

Also, on a side note, we must have diligence in keeping promises, not only between neighbors, but in our state of life and in our spiritual lives as well. At Baptism we make a promise to God to serve Him only. In Holy Matrimony we promise God and our spouse to remain with them, dwell with them, and raise children in the Catholic faith with them until death parts us. In Holy Orders the soul commits itself to serve God in a special way and devotes itself to the pastoring of souls and care of the Sacraments. Special promises to God are made by those of a religious vocation as well. Whatever our state of life, we have made a promise of one type or another to God to serve Him in a certain way, and that is why obedience and diligence in the duties of our state of life are so vital, and why it is a grave sin for us to neglect them. Our duties are part of a promise we have made to God, and therefore require diligent observation and care. We are diligent in them because we hope to obtain the reward of our promise to God, and hope to obtain His helps in keeping our promises, and most of all because we hope to possess eternal life with God.

Our chosen state of life is our little roadway to Him, and we must be willing to persevere through anything we find on that path, because this is the only road for us–this is the road we have promised God to travel on, and the road He has promised to help us travel, in order to reach Him. So diligence requires hope for something, and the highest hope is to hope to possess God. This is why we keep our promises–each one is important, each one requires diligence to keep.

Even among our neighbors, we are required to keep our promises, because they bind us on our word, and to fail in them means to tarnish our name and, more importantly, to dishonor God. Dutiful obedience to His commands brings honor and glory to God. When we do not obey, or are remiss in our duties that we have bound ourselves to, we dishonor God by disobedience and by turning away from the promises we have made. God never fails in His promises, and therefore we, as representatives of God and of His Church, made in His image, bring dishonor to God by acting contrary to the One we represent.

Also, humility and self-knowledge should keep us from making promises that we are unable to keep. We should not bind ourselves to something that is outside of our power, but only what is reasonable for us to keep and hold ourselves to. And in any promise we make, whether to God or our neighbor, we should ask God to help us keep it, because only by His grace can we stand, and only by His grace are we made to live according to the Truth.

Well, that covers quite a bit. I learned a lot just by writing this today, and I hope you, dear reader, have gained something here by my humble scribblings. May God bless you, and hopefully next time I can share some of my hopes for the future, and what God has given me thus far in this new chapter of my life.

P.S. Don’t forget–the Month of May is dedicated to Our Lady!! Honor her and thank her for her holy intercession and maternal love for us by some special prayers, devotions, readings, etc., especially in this month devoted to her!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (March 31, 2014)

“True humility consists in not presuming on our own strength, but in trusting to obtain all things from the power of God.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 36. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

We cannot underestimate this little violet of the virtues, that is, humility. Tucked away in the shade of other, more colorful virtues is this potent little flower of deep violet hue, the color of penance. Indeed, humility presupposes a certain kind of penance already done in the soul and continuously renewed–that of recognizing our own inferiority and the supreme majesty and goodness of God.

However, the exercise of humility does not mean our violet must be moping about, drooping in recognition of the superiority of God. No, indeed, we should rejoice in the goodness of God; we ought to rejoice in our weaknesses, because God takes pity on our frailty and strengthens us by His power. Think of the lovely beauty of the penitential violet hue against a backdrop of hopeful green grass! Yes, this should be our state, like the violet: lowly and meek with humility but abiding in abundant hope, a hope that is fed and renewed and confirmed by the mercies and graces God showers upon us as life-giving dew.

Just as the violet cannot sustain itself by its own strength, so neither can we, who are born and pass away like the grass, seemingly overnight. We must, like the violet, trust upon the warmth of the sun of God’s love to enkindle the flame of holy charity in our hearts; we must look to the precious dews of God’s mercies and graces to feed and sustain the life of our soul; and we must take our place in the garden of God’s chosen people, content to be the little violets that He delights in–for God exalts the humble, and works all things for good to those who love Him and trust Him.

+Deo Gratias!+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (March 21, 2014)

“It is easy, indeed, to place a veil before the eyes, and to work with the head bowed down; but patient endurance of wrong proves who is truly humble.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 104. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

This lesson struck me very hard today. At work I was discussing with my boss some injustice–an expectation that another faculty member has of us workers and how unrealistic they are. My boss knows there is not much she can do about it. I expressed how infuriating those expectations are. We should not be expected to do something that we are not really supposed to do, right?

That may be true. But still, even in the face of real injustice done to ourselves, we must bear it patiently. Me expressing what was already known in angry terms did nothing to help the situation. It just served to get me angry. In response to my anger, my boss calmly said, “I just try not to let it get under my skin.” She understood the reality of the situation, but chose to deal with it patiently, and was gently reminding me to do the same. Then I came across this little lesson and my heart was struck.

Of all the examples of unjust suffering, Our Lord is the best. He took upon Himself without complaint the burden of the Cross, and was crucified for our sins, OURS, not His–sin could never be found in Him, so of course, it was ours. He prayed for those who cursed Him and mocked Him as He hung in agony upon the Cross. This, also, is what we should do, blessing those who curse us, taking upon ourselves our daily crosses with love and with patience, bearing them to whatever end God has in store for us. Then we will be truly humble. And some little cross as having to deal with faulty expectations? I should not complain, but should rather embrace it as a cross that God Himself has fashioned just for me, and treat it as the means by which God will make me a saint–because that’s what each of our crosses are. They are hand-crafted by a loving Father Who seeks to make us more like Him each day. Our crosses teach us true humility and draw us closer to God–but we must let them do their work upon our souls.

+Deo Gratias!+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (Make-up for March 13)

“Humility orders us in relation to God; justice regulates us in regard to our neighbors; and purity with regard to ourselves.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas” pg. 35. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

We owe humility to God, to the Holy Trinity–He created us, He redeemed us, and He sanctifies us. Without Him, we are nothing. Therefore, humility is most befitting us in the presence of God. With our neighbors, we should always do what is just. God in His commandments tells us what is just–He tells us how to treat our neighbor and how to regard him, in thought, word, deed and desire. We should never do, speak, think or desire evil of or for our neighbor, but love them as we love ourselves. Then we will do what is just.

“Purity with regard to ourselves”…that is tougher to break apart and understand. Purity in thought, word deed and desire…this is the only way we can be at peace with ourselves. Any impurity stains the conscience, and unless our conscience does not rebuke us, we cannot be at peace. Perhaps this is what our great saint meant.

+Deo Gratias!+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (March 5, 2014–Ash Wednesday)

“Without falsehood one may avow and believe oneself in all ways unprofitable and useless in respect of one’s own capability, so as to refer all one’s sufficiency to God.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence:  A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas.” pg 41. Selected and Arranged  by John P. McClernon.

 +J.M.J.+

This sentence-sermon, I feel, captures the essential message of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent: We are dust and ashes, and ‘in all ways unprofitable and useless’ when we rely on our own strength. Only in God can we find our ‘sufficiency.’

It is a hard message to swallow. Don’t we, after all, do many and various things each day, seemingly of our own accord, our own will, our own strength? There is the key word: seemingly. With the use of right reason we can trace each action back to its source of strength. What enabled us to rise this morning? The fact that God graciously preserved us through the night, keeping our heart beating, our lungs pulling in and releasing air, keeping the roof above us from tumbling down. What enabled us to put fingers to keys and log on to the internet, rather than wander off to some other thing? What put this meditation before our eyes? And if we do not see this meditation, why is that? Because God allows it. His Will orders all things. Just think of the many things outside of our control. We cannot tell the earth when to turn, or the sun when to rise or fall, or the clouds to move, or the moon when to have its phases. All we have control of is our own little selves, and in order to find our sole happiness, we must relinquish, to a great degree, even this control!

Our free will, yes, dictates what we actually do and do not do. But when our will is aligned to our motives rather than the motives of God, we are unprofitable! So if we go to sleep, rise, log onto the internet and read this meditation simply because we feel like it (doggone it!), that is our will pointed to our motives. But…if we do the same, offering it to God, and read St. Thomas’ words knowing they will move us closer to God, we are seeking the will of God–whatever will bring us closer to Him, whatever is in line with His commandments and teachings. Thus, when we offer our actions and thoughts and desires and, indeed, our whole will to God, He will lead us to what is good for us and uphold us with His grace in avoiding those things which are bad. It is only when this is happening that our works gain any ‘sufficiency’ before God.

We can especially see the strength of God working in us when we, in order to obey the laws of the Church, deprive our flesh of the things it craves. Were God’s power not working in us, we would fly to those things which our flesh naturally desires–the use of meat, the use of food and snacks–without a second thought (as we usually do throughout the rest of the year). But, so that we might align ourselves with His law, God graciously gives us the grace we need to resist these natural impulses and instead, fast.

When we rise in the morning and go to do some work, whether it be a duty of our state of life, a work of charity, a work of penance, etc., we really ought to offer it to God, whatever it may be. Alone, we are ‘unprofitable and useless.’ God knows that we are dust and ashes. He knows that we need His grace to have any sufficiency. And He has offered it to us, in manifold ways, but most especially and importantly in the Sacraments. Daily prayer, especially the Rosary, also calls down the graces needed to live each day relying on God’s strength. Let us ask God for the grace to trust Him, to humble ourselves before Him and admit our nothingness, and to rely solely on His grace and power to render our works sufficient in His sight.

+Adoramus Te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi,

Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.+