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 http://divineoffice.org/ 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.)