Monday, August 9, 2010

The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

"You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be, so long as my trust in God gives me strength. We must always be cheerful. Sadness should be banished from all Christian souls. For suffering is a far different thing from sadness, which is the worst disease of all. It is almost always caused by lack of Faith. But the purpose for which we have been created shows us the path along which we should go, perhaps strewn with many thorns, but not a sad path. Even in the midst of intense suffering it is one of joy."

That's quite a statement. And it comes from none other than Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati himself. I was meditating on the concept of joyfulness a few days ago. At the time I didn't see much joy, being overtired from work with impending bill-paying and bag-packing on my hands. On top of that, I just hadn't felt joyful in my prayer life. I had been suffering a lot in the past few weeks, and my attitude was more grind-my-teeth-and-bear-it rather than skipping through a tulip fields while singing that the hills are alive with the sound of music and isn't it a beautiful day?
Now that last image might seem extreme joyfulness to some (such as myself), but I think Pier Giorgio would rather see that in Christian souls than the former. We are called to be joyful! It seems such an oxymoron to some, and it did to me for a long time, to have the concept of a joyful "religious" person. But it is that very misconception that I think has hurt many Christians over time, and has played a role in discouraging people from the faith. Look around at Mass next Sunday. Almost everyone in that Church is about to experience the single greatest event of their lives, a complete union with God Himself. A union so intimate that God had to die for it to become possible, a union so profound and so close that as Fulton Sheen said "the angels themselves if they were capable of jealousy, would be incredibly envious of the Eucharist." A union that literally brings heaven on earth, that is the ultimate display of the most extreme love that a human can ever exist. Now, how many people actually look like that is what is about to happen? If you knew that the person you loved more than anything was coming over to see you and spend time with just you, wouldn't that make you happy? How much happier should we be with that closeness of unity with God? Imagine Jesus smiling every time you go to receive Communion, because no matter how lackadaisical or uncaring our response is, he's so excited to be with us.
Christ needs to be the source of our strength, and it only follows that joy will come. We know our end, we know that crown of glory that awaits us that St. Paul talks about. We know we are called to suffer, for Christ himself suffered, and in our suffering we are united with him. So we have no reason for sorrow! We must truly trust that no matter what circumstances that we are faced in this world, that they are nothing compared for the glory of the next life. And that is our joy, our strength, rooted in Christ. For to draw the world to Him, we must be lights. Look at joyful people, truly joyful people (like an expectant mother or a bride on her wedding day). They have a "glow" about them, as people say. It's true! Let our souls constantly be aglow with the light of Christ, it will spread to our faces and to the world.
Mother Teresa put it beautifully: "Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls." So be joyful in the Lord, and be prepared for a large catch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Obedience, the mother-of-all-virtues

So one of my summer reading books (which means I pick up fifty different books and finish maybe two) has been Mother Teresa's "Total Surrender." This was recommended to me by a friend who said it was one of the things that helped inspire him to do mission work. Now frankly, mission work has been the story of my life. Or lack thereof. I have never done a mission trip. Ever. In the B.C. era of my life (that would be before conversion), evangelizing was not something I was remotely interested in doing. At all. And there wasn't much need growing up. My sheltered community was very well established in the faith, and I was far more interested in seeking attention and acceptance from the "normal" people around then telling them about Jesus. I very much was lay-low about my beliefs and faith.
In the on-going conversion that I am going through, evangelization still had been difficult. I feel uncomfortable trying to talk about my faith with people that, let's face it, don't get it. But the idea of going to a foreign country and helping impoverished children in some God-forsaken jungle with dirty water actually started to appeal to me. The world is bigger than my own backyard and I wanted to go win it for Jesus. I tried to get on a mission trip for Christmas break to Jamaica, but after making the team, my work would not bend it's schedule and I had to say no. I didn't get on a team for spring break because I was too late applying. And this summer it seems like everyone I know has gone to Haiti, Honduras, Belize, the Sudan, Kenya, and all over the globe doing what my heart has been aching to do. And I will admit, I was upset at God for a long time about this. I couldn't understand why I, who had so much desire to do this, was held back because I couldn't afford to be a missionary. Literally, the irony that I couldn't afford to be a missionary because I needed to work was not lost on me.
Which brings me back to Mother Teresa. She says in her book that obedience is the key to knowing, loving and serving God. Being a 20-year-old college student, there is not much I'm obedient to anymore at first glance. Living with my parents for the summer has not been bad, I have much independence. Even work at a day camp requires little action for active obedience; I use much of my own judgement day-to-day. So I began wondering how I could become obedient, and how I could do it cheerfully and blindly. And then I began to realize that my obedience was not going to be obeying orders from a superior, parent, boss, or general. My obedience, at this time in my life, is to God, and to His will for me. Right now, at this very moment, He has asked that I be a daughter to my parents, a sister to my siblings, a day-camp counselor, and a part-time convenient store worker. And to be the best of me that I can be in doing that. My obedience lies in not wondering why God doesn't want me to go teach orphans about Jesus in a third-world country, but in obeying His command for me to be present to my life here and now. When we constantly wish away our present circumstances or constantly look forward to what could be or look back to what might have been, we pass up our only opportunity to work on becoming a saint. Saints are made in the present, by doing their daily duties just as God asks of them, without question, whatever those tasks are. Christ lived in humble hiding for 30 years, and in those 30 years He lived a perceived ordinary life of a carpenter. Those 30 years of "ordinary" life were preparing Him for his 3 years of ministry in the world, outside of his "circle."
Looks like I have at least 10 more years of obscurity to go. But until then, I will strive in virtue of Our Lady, to live a blindly obedient life, to whatever the circumstances are that I live in and that God calls me to.

"Obedience is the key to holiness." -Mother Teresa

Sunday, July 18, 2010

To the top

I named this blog after my favorite saint and adopted patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. As dictated at the top, he once said "The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ." How is it that we can get higher to hear the voice of Christ? Pier Giorgio was an avid hiker, did he really expect us all to go sit on mountain tops all day so that we could hear the voice of Christ? Obviously not. Yet we are still all called to live at a higher level, to be in the world, but not of the world, and to hear the call of Christ through the noise of the world. This culture and society we live in is not conducive to living at a high moral standard. The world tells us to do what we want because it feels good, no matter the consequences.
Even for those who try to combat the culture and try to live at a life of holiness, that mountain looms ahead in an ominous way. "It's too far off in the distance, it looks too high, too difficult, too dangerous. Can't I hear God right here? Where I am comfortable? Where I feel safe?" I recently went hiking with sixty kids with the day camp I work at. Hiking with sixty kids is a ton of work, and I remember thinking going up "Gosh, couldn't we have just played tag on the ground? Between falling off of rocks and the peeing in the woods breaks and the too-tired-to-move-anymore breaks we will never get there." But once the top was reached, the view was more breath-taking then I could have imagined, and was worth the hour's climb to the top. And while on our own spiritual journey, we may stumble on the rocks, we may have to stop and catch our breath (or pee in the woods), we must climb the mountain. For though we start on the ground, and we can hear the faint whisper of Christ in the comfort of where we are at, we are not called to remain there. As Pope Benedict XVI said: "The world will give you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness." Greatness is achieved when we start on that mountain to hear the voice of Christ. When we head to the top.