Monthly Archives: June 2015

Come, see what He has done for my soul…

How do I begin?

If I try to start at the beginning, I must admit that I don’t even know where the beginning is. I only know that You have always been there.

Long before I have any conscious memory, You began Your work in me, with the waters of salvation poured upon my head when I was but ten days old. In the arms of my parents, You claimed me.

As I ponder the decades of my life, I see so much that, at first glance, seems to make so little sense. One moment, You were there and the next, it seemed that You were not.

Or was it me? Was I not praying enough or believing enough during those times You seemed so absent?

So I wondered at the time. But now I see differently.

You allowed me such beautiful moments in childhood: learning to pray, receiving You in Eucharist for the first time when I was 7, being confirmed in the Faith with the Holy Chrism when I was 8.

But you also allowed me many dull and ordinary moments, even difficult moments, in which irritability and fears and annoyances crowded out all of the good You had instilled within me. And I felt discouraged.

But greater perhaps than anything, You implanted in my soul a relentless hunger for You – a desire to know You and to know the truth about You. I wanted You to exist but You gave me a mind that would not accept merely believing what it wanted to believe.

And You allowed this hunger to both delight me with its holy promise and torment me with the possibility of a horrifying and inescapable emptiness. Sometimes both in the same day.

Your generosity with me in many ways seems boundless. You have allowed me so much opportunity in life, so much ability (none of which I have earned or deserved). You have sent me innumerable helps and guides and blessings through every phase of my life, in books and dreams and teachers and friends, all to instruct me and guide me that I might know You.

At the same time, at points in my life, You allowed me to undergo great mental suffering – and some physical as well – some of which endured for decades with little or no relief. Sometimes I could barely hold on. Sometimes I didn’t want to hold on, it hurt and frightened me so much.

Yet You never left me alone or without help. And afflictions that I thought would never leave me were lifted. All by Your grace.

There were times when working for You exhausted me so much that I became angry, though I did not recognize it at the time. I saw so many injustices that I could not remain quiet. I heard so many sorrows that I could not stop crying. But in each one, I was sustained in hope because of You.

And then You began opening new doors for me, leading me to unexpected places. Each new door led me through the same maze of challenge and growth, pain and joy, always with You leading and beckoning me to come in a bit further, to enter more deeply into Your promise.

With the openings, You allowed me to see more clearly my sinfulness, the total destitution of my soul when it ventures away from You, even for a moment. You taught me what it means to live a life of repentance. You planted in my heart a longing to pray without ceasing.

At the same time, You flooded my soul like an artist’s palette, with colors that long to be painted, images that call out to be received and words waiting to find form that they might praise You.

Certainly I have not fulfilled all that You have given me. Not even close. Yet I see now that You have been shaping me through each step, through each experience.

In Your presence, I have found joy and consolation. In Your “absence”, I have come to understand how deep is my need for You.

In the many gifts You have given me, I have learned that what I have to give others is not my own but Yours. In my challenges and suffering, I have discovered a compassion and humility that can only be learned through raw need.

For all of this, O God, for all of this – the joys and the sorrows, the suffering and the celebrations – I praise Your great glory. For all of it has led me to be where I am right now, standing before You in worshipful awe…

The choice

Yes, I want to be His servant. I want to join the community of those who serve Him. All I can say is “Yes, yes, yes – please teach me, tell me all you know of who He was and who He is – that I too might follow…”  (from the end of my last post)

With all of these “yeses” pouring out of me, I had thought. for a moment, that I was making a choice.

Wasn’t I choosing God? Proclaiming my desire to follow Him and be part of the community that serves?

I can be so silly at times.

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” (John 15:16)

These words of Jesus to His disciples in the Last Supper discourse began to echo in my memory not long after the post, having been awakened by the wise words of a friend.

I have to stop and wonder: why is it that I so often think that I am the one making the choice?

It is as though my soul is envisioning God hidden in the clouds at the top of a mountain I have just climbed. Though not consciously, on some level, I am imagining that I have done the work, that I have done the searching and the choosing and the giving of myself.

Have I searched for God – or has God searched for me? Have I poured out myself and completely given myself to God – or has He poured out Himself for me, giving without reserve? Have I chosen Him – or has He chosen me?

In reality, He is the one seeking and giving and choosing. In truth, I have barely said “yes”.

It is hard to say He has chosen me. On one level, it sounds so vain, as though I think that I am someone of great importance that God would choose me.

But I know that is just a smoke screen for the real issue. The real issue is that I don’t know why He would choose someone like me.

Having peaked beneath the layers of pride and willfulness and vanity, I now know that under it all lies a child, quivering in shame for all that she is not. One who knows that she truly has sinned, who knows that she is unworthy.

When I imagine that I am making the choice, I remain proud and in control. But when He chooses me, I must meet His gaze and can no longer hide from the reality of my disobedience and brokenness.

“I am afraid. I don’t want to meet that gaze – it is too much,” the shamed child within cries out, the previous “yeses” dissolving in the shadows of fear.

But He who has searched so long and so far, who has given everything to have me, will not let the enemy trap me in his net of fear. He stands by His choice.

He has chosen me. (And He has chosen you as well.)

Once again, I say it: yes…


To be God’s servant

As I noted in a comment to my last post, I have begun a new journey into learning more about the early Church and the Fathers who through their lives and writings brought it into focus.

I’m only on page 29 of When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers, by Marcellino D’Ambrosio and already I am awestruck, discovering in the author’s enthralling narrative how much I don’t know.

Again, I ask myself, “How can this be?” How can it be that, after 16 years of Catholic education and nearly 60 years of active participation in the Church, I have failed to learn and understand so much?

I do not say this with any anger toward my educators nor am I being hard on myself. It is more like having, yet again, opened my eyes and discovered that there is a whole landscape before me that I am only seeing for the first time, despite it always having been there. So amazing…

I particularly thank my Orthodox friends in the Faith for helping to pry my eyes open regarding the importance of the Church Fathers. While I encountered their writings in the Liturgy of the Hours, I confess I did not know much about who they were and therefore did not pay enough attention.

Now, I am reading of Clement, who knew Peter and Paul before they died. I learn of the Didache, (the popular name given to “The Teaching of the Lord According to the Twelve Apostles”) a ancient document that was discovered in 1873 after being missing for a thousand years. I, of course, had never heard of it. And then there is beloved Ignatius, second successor to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch, who left us letters as he traveled to Rome to be martyred for the Faith.

I am discovering that, as I enter the world of the early Church, the words of Scripture take on new life as well. How could the words of Paul ever sound the same to me again, now that I have become acquainted with some of his spiritual children and grandchildren?

Let me share with you a recorded reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, today’s Scripture from the Roman calendar of readings. What could be more perfect for my newly opened eyes to see and my awakened heart to ponder?

Yes, I want to be His servant. I want to join the community of those who serve Him. All I can say is “Yes, yes, yes – please teach me, tell me all you know of who He was and who He is – that I too might follow…”


(The reading is 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10. I realize that this is perhaps not the most common translation for most readers but is appears in the Collins Liturgical Weekday Missal, given to me by a friend years ago. I generally use it in my evening meditation and often find the slight wording differences captivating.)

Suddenly my soul caught fire…

I was driving home from work this evening and I told God that I would like to write for Him, if He would give me something. I truly wanted to but it seemed unlikely, given the circumstances.

All day, I have felt “under the weather”, so to speak. Here in Cleveland, after having had some delightfully warm and sunny days, strong thunderstorms pummeled the area over weekend as a cold front moved in. Today, we were left with temperatures so chilly that we sought out our winter sweaters and, though dry, dark clouds hung heavy over the city from dawn till dusk.

A good day for one of those migraines that is not so severe as to keep me in bed but just enough to leave my body longing for sleep and my senses dulled. Yet I wanted to write for Him, devoid as I was of energy and inspiration.

I struggled to keep focused on Evening Prayer, a prayer I typically enjoy as I follow the familiar route home at the end of the day (Roman Liturgy of the Hours, see for app availability). I confess that my heart was not feeling moved even by the prayers that usually stir me to life.

Then I heard a voice say, “Suddenly my soul caught fire…”

Although I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for years, I have never come close to praying all of them every day. Still, I was taken aback that I had never heard anything remotely resembling these words before in my prayer. They seemed to be part of an antiphon… What were these words doing here in the middle of “Ordinary time”? What did they mean?

However, even more important than that was my realization that this was what I wanted to happen to me. In all of my dullness of body, mind and spirit, I wanted that experience… “Suddenly my soul caught fire…”

From other readings of the day, I had vaguely been aware that today was the feast of St. Justin, philosopher and martyr of the early Church. Yet I knew little about him and I did not recognize these words as his.

How good and appropriate that I should encounter St. Justin now. May he pray for my sorry soul.

As mentioned in my last post, I was blessed last weekend with the opportunity to prepare for Pentecost at a hermitage. While the stay was brief, it was beautiful on many levels and marked a deepening of my soul’s bond to my God.

Not surprisingly, such deepenings do not go unnoticed in a world at war. Thankfully, I have learned to accept that “trouble” may follow such blessed times, anything from an intense migraine to onslaughts of thoughts questioning the existence of God. Such challenges are unpleasant, of course, but part of the commitment to follow the Lord.

Reading and learning a bit about St. Justin this evening gave me much encouragement. It is an odd but inevitable side effect, I suppose, of having attended Catholic schools throughout childhood that martyrdom seems almost easy.

Someone is challenged to worship an idol. They refuse and are killed for the Faith. The stories, as told at a child’s level, make it sound so simple, as though anyone could be courageous in that one grand gesture and thereby enter heaven triumphantly. The whole thing is over in about 5-10 minutes, maybe 20 at most.

This, of course, is ridiculous. But without a broader picture of the lives of these witnesses to the Faith and the times in which they lived, we often associate their martyrdom with the one ultimate, public declaration they made. In reality, their martyrdom was most certainly composed of many choices and many struggles and sacrifices, both internal and external, seen and unseen.

Reading of St. Justin this evening, I was struck by how he was a philosopher before a Christian, educated in the philosophical thinking of his time. Yet he discovered Truth in the teachings of Christianity as witnessed by the early Church and underwent conversion, writing the words:

“Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and whilst revolving his words in my mind, I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.”

                                                                                         – Saint Justin

And so, a man named Justin, born in Palestine, studying philosophy to understand meaning (and undoubtedly to question the nature of being and God), found his soul catching fire with the Truth.

No longer could he hide within the safety of a scholarly existence, debating this question or that. He was on fire with Truth. So much so that nothing else made sense to him anymore but that. So much so that he would endure any torment for that Truth, even to the point of forfeiting his life. 

Suddenly, the little skirmishes I endure in this world at war seem as nothing.

I am thankful. Thankful that Christ has drawn me close and allowed me to give the little bit I am able to give in this world of darkness. Thankful for the Spirit who gives me strength and hope.



(I was blessed to receive the image above while at the hermitage…it is my joy to share it with you now.)