People, look East; the time is near
Of the crowning of the year;
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.
Furrows, be glad, though earth is bare:
One more seed is planted there;
Give up your strength, the seed to nourish,
That in course, the flower may flourish.
People, look East, and sing today:
Love, the Rose, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch when night is dim;
One more light the bowl shall brim.
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look East, and sing today;
Love, the Star, is on the way.
Angels, announce on this great feast
Him Who cometh from the East;
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming!
People, look East, and sing today;
Love, the Lord, is on the way!
Perhaps these are just meant to appear in pairs. . .it seems like every other day is insanely busy! On this Golden Night, the last day of Fall, I look forward and see four short days before Christmas, the next two of which are booked with activities, fun and exciting. At the same time, I am determined to live these last four days more faithfully and fully than I have lived the rest of Advent. We are approaching the stable–it is within sight–the Star is shining with increasing brilliance–and now is the time to run!
December 19th: O Radix Jesse
(O Root of Jesse)
O Root of Jesse, Which standest for an ensign of the people,
before Whom kings shall keep silence, Whom the Gentiles shall beseech:
come and deliver us, and tarry not.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem
From every foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
December 20th: O Clavis David
(O Key of David)
O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel,
that openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth:
come and bring the prisoner forth from the prison-house,
and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our Heavenly home,
Make straight the way that leads on high
And close the path of misery.
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
The Golden Nights of the O Antiphons are finally upon us! As the first antiphon for Sunday’s Vespers proclaimed, “The Lord will come, and will not tarry. . .” Less than a week until He comes!
I was hoping to make a short post for each O Antiphon, but because I’ve been so busy I’m having to combine the first two a day later than planned. Oh well; humility is good too!
If you aren’t familiar with the O Antiphons, you can read more about them here on FishEaters.com. But the brief of it is that they are seven titles for Christ, prophesied by Isaiah and Micah, the Latin initials of which, when arranged in reverse order, are an acrostic of the Latin Ero Cras: tomorrow I come. The O Antiphons are found, day by day, in Vespers during the Octave before Christmas, ending on the 23rd. This period of time is known as the Golden Nights.
December 17th: O Sapientia
O Wisdom, Which camest out of the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly:
come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Come, Thou Wisdom from on high
Who orderest all things mightily
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
December 18th: O Adonai
(O Lord of Israel)
O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel,
Who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush,
and didst give unto him the law on Sinai:
come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.
O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribe on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
A very blessed last week of Advent to you! I had such happy news today. . .a reply from Ephesus! Deo Gratias! What a surprise from my Merciful Mother.
How to speak of it, Mother? How to begin to tell what you have done for me?
Oh, Mother, to steal the words of a Saint, if only I could proclaim throughout the whole world the mercy Our Lord has shown me by giving me to you! If only everyone might know that I should be already long-lost were it not for you! If only I could offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing: that you are in me. . . in me! Why me, Mother? Who could have deserved you less? There was never anything I had done to merit or even be worthy to receive such an honor as to belong completely and irrevocably to the Queen of Heaven and Earth! On the contrary, I must have grieved your Immaculate Heart at times with my sins, my indifference and ingratitude to you.
With St. Juan Diego, I could cry, “I beg you, Lady, to entrust this grace to someone important. . .I am no one, nothing. . .” With St. Elizabeth, I can do nothing but exclaim,
“Et unde hoc mihi, ut veniat Mater Domini mei ad me?”
“And whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Yet there is no happiness which is not mine, for I belong to you! I ought to be the happiest person in the world! You, my merciful Mother, you have come down to me, called me, beckoned me, even chased me. And in exchange for the nothingness which I offered you a year ago, you have only said,
“Listen and keep in your heart, my littlest child:
There is nothing for you to fear, let nothing afflict you.
Let not your face or your heart be worried. . .
Am I not here, I who am your Mother?
Are you not in my shadow, under my protection?
Am I not the fountain of your joy?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in my crossed arms?
Is there anything else you need?”
You have never been surprised by my nothingness. You know well enough that there could be no one less deserving to be your child than I am, no littler child. And you have made me all yours anyway, knowing that such a little one could safely tread no other way to Jesus except the perfect, easy, and Immaculate way by which He Himself came to us. Truly, there is no bound to your love, my gracious Mother! Truly, there is no limit to your maternal mercy! Come over to me, you say with your sweet smile. Come and be filled with my fruits. Let me fill you with roses and arrange them with my own hands. I will make of your heart a garden, where my Son will love to dwell.
Roses of Castile
“Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun?
As the rainbow giving light in the bright clouds, and as the flower of roses
in the days of spring.”
–Gradual for Our Lady of Guadalupe
Quae es ista? Who is she? She, the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God, the beautiful Virgin of Guadalupe: she is my Mother.
“I have chosen, and have sanctified this place, that my name may be there,
and my eyes and my heart may remain there for evermore.” -Offertory verse for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
“I am your merciful mother;
yours, and of all the inhabitants of this land, of all who love me. . .
I will be grateful and will reward you with happiness.
See, you have heard my command, my littlest son; go and put forth all your effort.”
-Our Lady to St. Juan Diego
Oh merciful Mother, to think that your name will be forever sealed upon my heart, your eyes forever upon me, your heart beating within my own breast. . .what joy! I need no reward, most generous and grateful of all Mothers, for obeying your commands! How could I do anything less than put forth all my efforts to be your faithful slave, your good child, out of no other motives but love and gratitude to God and to you! For you have turned your eyes of mercy towards me, and after this my exile, you will show unto me the blessed Fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O Clemens! O Pia! O Dulcis Virgo Maria!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!
Hail, shining splendor of the human race!
Within thy gentle face,
Thine eyes are morning stars of mercy,
Thy smile warms like the dawn;
How blest the frozen earth it falls upon!
O Mother, turn thine eyes!
Hail, Mary, hope of Eve!
Hail, womb of love where Jesus was conceived!
“Let it be done to me.”
A daughter’s humble answer
Whispered into Gabriel’s ear
Was the glorious song all Heaven longed to hear!
Oh Mother, make us sing!
Hail, Mary, cause of joy!
Hail, Mother of our God made baby Boy!
Thy fingers were Christ’s toy.
When they caressed in wonder
That Child’s angelic face,
He sighed and slept in mantle folds of grace.
Oh, Mother, hold us close!
Hail, Mary, full of grace!
Hail, dove whose wings held Christ in their embrace!
Thy feathers are of lace;
Their threads of radiant beauty
Were woven by the Father’s hands
To carry Heaven’s light to darkened lands.
O Mother, bear us home!
Hail, Mary, hope of Eve!
Hail, wondrous dawn for those who mourn and grieve!
Blest are they who believe
The Lord’s Word is not void,
But Flesh and Blood for all to see,
And Life Eternal, hanging from a tree.
Oh Mother, give us hope!
Hail, Mary, cause of joy!
Hail, one whose faith the tomb could not destroy!
The faith thou didst employ
Once chosen by thy Heart, and
Kept in confidence unworn,
Was the faith God asked for Resurrection Morn.
Oh Mother, give us faith!
Is there anything that could be more beautiful, more exciting, and more lovable than the Christ Child? And He is coming in two weeks!
My mom remarked yesterday how nice it was to hear another mother after Mass saying, “Christmas is only two weeks away! I’m so excited!”
I suppose it is very easy to sink into subtle complaining. Advent is too short this year! It’s going by too fast! There’s too much to do to get ready! Guilty as charged, folks! I’ve said it all!
Of course it’s important to be conscious that we need to make the most of the time we have been given to prepare the way of Christ in our hearts, but at the same time it shouldn’t be an anxious, panicked, or dreary consciousness. It should be a time of breathlessly excited and joyful waiting–the waiting of Mary to see the face of baby Jesus for the first time! The waiting of the Magi to see the Infant King, before whom all their wisdom and treasures were as so much dust! The waiting of a desolate world for the advent of its Salvation and the fulfillment of all its hope!
Jesus is coming in two weeks! Jesus is only two weeks away! Advent is very short this year. . .that must mean He is all the more anxious to come swiftly into our hearts, be they ever so poor. He did not spurn the stable! And while we should work as St. Joseph did to make the poor straw of our souls as comfortable, warm, and clean as possible to welcome Him, we also have to acknowledge our lowliness with all the joy of true humility, recognizing that God has sought it out to be His dwelling place, His nest of love. He is coming to you and to me, asking only for an open door, a little warmth, a little love in a cold and indifferent world.
“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single flame.”
-St. Francis of Assisi
“Oh, that I might offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing!
Mary is in me! O what a consolation! O what a treasure!”
-St. Louis de Montfort
Could any place be less than beautiful to Jesus when Mary is there? Surely even the stable was utterly ravishing to the Infant Christ because of Mary’s presence, the straw made delightful because of her loving touch. This is what I dare to ask of my most loving Mother this Advent; namely, that she will be in my heart, poor as it is, when Jesus comes, so He will find within my stable everything He could desire.
So what have we to fear? How happy we should be! As yesterday’s Introit exclaimed, Populus Sion, ecce Dominus veniet. . .“People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations; and the Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart.”
And the Collect: Excita, Domine, corda nostra. . .“Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we may deserve to serve Thee with purified minds: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.”
So I challenge you to be excited! Let us stir up our hearts like a fire with the ecstatic expectation of His coming to us! And let us lean upon Our Blessed Mother, so we can welcome Him at Christmas with all the love of our souls, for which He did not consider His Incarnation, Passion, and Death too high or extravagant a price.
O Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, that I might receive Jesus!
I pray for a very blessed 2nd Week of Advent for you! And happy Feast of St. Damasus, and of the Humility of Our Lady!
Look forgivingly on Thy flock, Eternal Shepherd, and keep in in Thy constant protection, by the intercession of blessed Damasus, Thy Soverign Pontiff, whom Thou didst constitute Shepherd of the whole Church. Through our Lord. Amen.
O God, Who regardest the humble and removest Thine eyes from the proud, grant that we Thy servants may imitate with a pure heart the humility of the blessed Virgin Mary, who pleased Thee by her virginity and who by her humility became the Mother of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth. Amen.
“Thy vesture is white as snow,
and thy face is as the sun.”
I can’t really describe the raptures of my heart as I look out my bedroom windows and watch the first snow of the season, gentle and relentless, cover everything, today on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I’m not sure if the weather has ever made me this happy before.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels.”
Sometimes you just have to laugh with joy at how beautiful our God is, how extravagantly He loves His Blessed Mother and us. On this very day, when Our Lady’s most immaculate life began in all the fullness of grace and purity, He has decorated the world around me, in her honor, with snow.
“I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world; and my delight is to be with the children of men.”
“By the word Ave (which is the name Eve, Eva), I learned that in His infinite power God had preserved me from all sin and its attendant misery which the first woman had been subject to. “The name Mary which means ‘lady of light’ shows that God has filled me
with wisdom and light, like a shining star, to light up Heaven and earth. “The words full of grace remind me that the Holy Spirit has showered
so many graces upon me that I am able to give these graces in abundance
to those who ask for them through me as Mediatrix. “When people say The Lord is with thee they renew the indescribable joy
that was mine when the Eternal Word became incarnate in my womb. “When you say to me blessed art thou among women I praise Almighty God’s Divine mercy which lifted me to this exalted plane of happiness. “And at the words blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, the whole of Heaven
rejoices with me to see my Son Jesus Christ adored and glorified
for having saved mankind.”
-From a collection of St. Louis de Montfort’s writings
Though it is looking quite dubious that we will be able to make it to Mass tonight because of the road conditions, we plan to tune in to Fribourg at 11:30 as a family (God bless the FSSP!), and with Dad off of work and cooking breakfast this morning, a day to spend together admiring the snow, playing games and making snow ice cream, it still feels like an unbelievably wonderful and blessed Holy Day. My cup is running over. Thank you, sweet Mother! Blessed be thy Divine Son, Who loves thee so much!
“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.”
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
(3x) O Mary, conceived without sin,
pray for us who have recourse to thee!
“Brethren, now is the hour for us to rise from sleep. . .
The night is passed and the day is at hand.
Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness. . .
Let us walk honestly, as in the day.”
Happy New Year!
Over the past several days, I’ve felt as though material for five or six different blog posts has been whirling around my head, waiting for a chance to leap out. I don’t know why it is (or actually, maybe I do) that busyness seems to creep in and disrupt the (relatively) quiet routine of daily life most during Advent. Especially such a short Advent as we have this year.
Already, during the first few days of Advent, it’s been a real struggle for quiet, stillness, prayer, reflection. But today, thankfully, there’s nowhere to go and no huge projects to be undertaken. Yesterday saw my laundry done, my Christmas budget all sorted out (finally! I’m such a terrible procrastinator!), and lots of St. Nicholas festivities, including baking and decorating two dozen cookies after the fashion of my favorite St. Nicholas picture book (yes, I love picture books), The Baker’s Dozen. Although time-consuming, it was a really fun project and very rewarding when they turned out both tasty and adorable. It was also so fun to spend time baking with my younger sister as Advent at Ephesus played in the background.
Yes, that was yesterday. Throw in a sick younger brother, a favorite episode of Laramie, some chicken fajitas, a hysterical game of Telestrations, regular prayer and chores, improvised on notepads because we don’t actually have the game itself, and the first half of the Fellowship of the Ring. . .the theatrical cut. . .so nostalgic. . .and you get the idea.
But today, I have time to sit back, breathe out, and gather my thoughts up into a blog post with a quiet and reflective spirit. This is nice.
“On a time this blessed maid went upon the tower and there she beheld the idols to which her father sacrificed and worshipped, and suddenly she received the Holy Ghost and became marvelously subtle and clear in the love of Jesu Christ. . .This holy maid Barbara, adorned with faith, surmounted the Devil, for when she beheld the idols she scratched them in their visages, despising them all and saying: ‘All they be made like unto you which have made you to err, and all them that have faith in you’; and then she went into the tower and worshipped our Lord.
“. . .the judge commanded to slay her with the sword. And then her father, all enraged, took her out of the hands of the judge and led her up on a mountain, and St. Barbara rejoiced in hastening to receive the salary of her victory. And then when she was drawn thither she made her orison, saying, ‘Lord Jesu Christ, which hast formed Heaven and earth, I beseech Thee to grant me Thy grace and hear my prayer for all they that have memory of Thy Name and my passion; I pray Thee, that Thou wilt not remember their sins, for Thou knowest our fragility.’
“Then came there a voice down from Heaven saying unto her: ‘Come, my spouse Barbara, and rest in the chamber of God my Father which is in Heaven, and I grant to thee that thou hast required of Me.’
“And when this was said, she came to her father and received the end of her martyrdom. . .”
From Caxton’s The Golden Legend
When I read about St. Barbara, I can’t help but love how peppery she was. She was angry at her father’s mere question whether or not she wanted to marry–completely unafraid of ordering a third window, representing the Holy Trinity, be added to his architectural plans for a new building–scratching off the faces of his idols. And this was no sweet, meek pagan father. He eventually insisted on killing her himself. But St. Barbara, imprisoned in a tower because of his intense jealousy over her, had found Christianity in spite of his best efforts. She had found a love, the hold of which was far more powerful than his crazed jealousy. It is a gritty story, as are most martyrdoms, but radiantly beautiful. Christ entrusted to His beloved spouse Saint Barbara the courage of the most heroic of men, the purity of a child, and the faith of an angel, and after many trials freed her like a bird from her deranged father’s prison to rest in the chamber of her true Father. With what surpassing and indelible joy must she have flown to Him!
She is invoked especially against a sudden and unprepared death, hence the beautiful prayer she offers above before she is beheaded by her father, an act of adoration, a plea for grace, and a prayer for mercy upon other poor sinners. On that note, I read today that sixteen-year-old St. Stanislaus Kostka, while seriously ill in the house of an intolerant Protestant who would not allow Holy Communion to be brought to him, turned to Our Lady and St. Barbara and begged that he might not die without receiving the Blessed Sacrament. In answer to his prayer the Virgin Martyr appeared to him with two angels and administered Holy Communion to him.
St. Barbara, pray for us, share with us thy fortitude! Let us fear nothing except the loss of Christ! Assist us at the hour of our death!
A New Year
“If we would overcome one fault a year, we would soon be perfect!”
-The Imitation of Christ
“It is vanity to desire a long life, and to have little care for a good life.”
-The Imitation of Christ
(Check out Mary’s free Living Virtuously Prints!)
“The Devil writes down our sins–our Guardian Angel all our merits.
Labor that the Guardian Angel’s book may be full, and the devil’s empty.”
-St. John Vianney
“We ought to run after crosses as the miser runs after money. . . Nothing but crosses will reassure us at the Day of Judgment.
When that day shall come, we shall be happy in our misfortunes,
proud of our humiliations, and rich in our sacrifices!”
-St. John Vianney
“We should only make use of life to grow in the love of God.” -St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
As another liturgical year begins, I can’t help but wonder what it may hold. It’s no joke that life begins to race by, faster and faster, as you get older. Childhood is steadily slipping into the past; womanhood is almost upon me. I am standing at the edge of a new path, straight and narrow, paved with roses and their thorns; breathing in the scent of all I’ve ever known around me, precious and yet not mine, just as I cannot belong to it.
It is God’s, and so am I.
By a Benedictine of Mary, Queen of Apostles
This Advent so far truly is a time of patience, waiting with Our Lady for the mail to come, wondering if a response might be in it today at last. I won’t pretend it isn’t intensely difficult for me to be patient sometimes; but I know it’s a virtue I must gain, and can gain, with our Lady’s help. What a comfort to be united to her holy Expectation in this season!
While there are the bittersweet moments, the wondering if this or that event may be the last of its kind in this stage of my life, I feel so grateful that I can recognize the precious beauty of each moment now, hold it, kiss it goodbye, and give it back to Jesus with a smile, until He invites me to rejoice in it again an hundredfold in eternal life. I know without a doubt that there is nothing I could possibly give to Him that He will not, in indomitable, incorrigible generosity, turn right back around and make into the greatest of gifts.
. . .and Advent
“Do grant, oh my God, that when my lips approach Yours to kiss You, I may taste the gall that was given to You; when my shoulders lean against Yours, make me feel Your scourging; when my flesh is united with Yours, in the Holy Eucharist, make me feel Your passion; when my head comes near Yours, make me feel Your thorns; when my heart is close to Yours, make me feel Your spear.”
-St. Gemma Galgani
Before I even asked, our dear Lord answered my question of how I was to focus on receiving Him this Advent; namely, in His distressing disguise. He has whispered, too, that the only way I can do this is through true humility.
Beautiful, elusive, true humility. Like every other virtue, it comes easier with practice; so that is the theme of my journey towards Christmas this year, and thanks to Mary’s excellent suggestion, I’ve replaced my usual daily meditations with Mother Teresa’s Fifteen Steps to Humility. And, like every other virtue, it is found nowhere except in the Treasury of all Virtues, Mary Immaculate. As I renew my Total Consecration to her, I ask her as never before for true humility; because there is no way that, without relying on Jesus and Mary, I will ever attain that most precious gem.
“Be comforted, be comforted, O my people: thy Savior shall come quickly!
Why hath grief devoured thee? Why hath sorrow disfigured thee?
I will save thee: fear not: for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.” -Rorate Caeli
I pray you all have a blessed and fruitful season of preparing to embrace our newborn Lord at Christmas! Oremus!
I just had to share this with you, before all of today went by!
Anyone who’s browsed much about on my blog, or ever been inside our home, might have suspected that Tracy Christianson’s work on PortraitsofSaints.com will forever have me as a fan. She has a huge selection of beautiful work that just captivates my eye, from nine different portraits of the Madonna and Child to several of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, from Adrian of Nicomedia to Andre Bessette, from Charles Lwanga to Jacinta and Francisco. Not to mention that she donates ten percent of her proceeds to the FSSP.
I first discovered this amazing site when searching for an image of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque for my younger sister for Christmas a few years ago. Since then, I’m afraid I’ve found it far too easy to spend money out there, and my gift-giving patterns have probably become quite predictable to my family. I love just going out to the site and scrolling through the hundreds of portraits, randomly clicking on a Saint I hadn’t heard of and learning more about them, and usually a visit to the site to check for newly-released portraits is part of my daily (and very limited) Internet routine.
I spent a long time waiting and checking in the hopes that she would come out with a portrait of my beloved Carlo Acutis, the one main face I was missing in the sea of lovely faces on her site. I guess it hadn’t yet occurred to me that me simply asking was all it would take.
But finally, in early October, I did have the sense to email her with a request. She responded quickly that she would add him to the list, and, happily, I continued my routine of checking, waiting, checking each day. Except for yesterday and the day before, when I was recovering from feeling quite under the weather and really didn’t even get to my computer at all.
Well, last night I check my email before going to bed and find that an email from Tracy is sitting in my inbox, letting me know that she had finished Carlo and hoped I liked him.
I can’t describe the excitement and happiness I felt as I read her very kind email and then clicked over to the site to find him there, smiling at me. Maybe it was just a small dream. . .but there’s nothing quite as lovely as when the Lord makes your smallest dreams come true. #thankYouJesus
One thing’s for sure; nobody around here is at a loss for Christmas gift ideas for me anymore. As we enter this season of preparation to receive the Gift of all God’s gifts into our souls and you look for gifts for those you love, please at least give Portraits of Saints a visit! I can’t think of a lovelier or more edifying resource.
God bless you on this New Year’s Eve!
St. Bibiana, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us!
Servant of God Carlo Acutis, pray for us!
Sometimes I can become so blind that, more than anything, I need a little self-knowledge.
I think that’s why yesterday happened the way it did. Wednesday night, I expected a perfectly normal Thursday. . . some sleeping in because of a late Fraternus night, efforts (some of them likely to fail) at keeping up my daily prayer routine (and adding, of course, the St. Andrew Christmas Novena), a lovely hour of Adoration with Mom, and an evening out as chaperone with Mary and her guy. Perhaps a chance to get some good work done on my writing project and to finish getting all of the winter clothes scattered about my room organized and put away.
Well. . .God had different plans.
I woke up at ten before seven yesterday and spent the next half hour in some of the worst abdominal pain and discomfort I can ever remember, covered with cold sweats and almost incapable of walking or speaking enough to go get someone to take care of me. Nothing contagious, chronic, or even serious–really just an opportunity to suffer for a little while.
I’ve always been very attracted to saints who suffered greatly in illness or martyrdom; I’ve even written and self-published a novel about my own fictional one. I’ve spent a lot of time (probably more due to my love of drama than pure virtue) daydreaming about suffering such illnesses or martyrdoms with heroic patience and joy.
But yesterday morning, I received a much clearer (and humbling) view of my true weakness. Unable to relieve my pain and shaking in cold sweat, I was not exactly patient, joyful, or peaceful in my soul, as I could have been with more prayer and greater virtue. The prayers I managed to utter were almost all ejaculations to St. Erasmus (the Holy Helper in charge of stomach pain) or just begging for it all to end. I know it wasn’t sinful to ask for that. . .but it wasn’t virtue, either.
Luckily for me, I have an amazing older sister whom, when I roused her out of her happy repose by coming into her room with a face as white as death and a “I feel awful“, sprang into action, bathing my face with a cool bath cloth, massaging and applying essential oils, until I felt human again. You never quite appreciate just how wonderful it is to feel normal (or at least not in pain) until you’ve felt miserable.
I spent most of yesterday on the couch under a couple of blankets, dealing with a minor sore throat that had already been bothering me Wednesday night, as well as a headache that resulted from not having coffee that morning on account of my stomach. It felt rather like one thing after another, but I was kind of enjoying the drama of it (melancholic to the end) and the attention and love I was receiving. Who wouldn’t, right?
But, once the morning’s misery was gone and I had time to think, I became more and more conscious that I had missed an opportunity. I hadn’t exercised the heroic virtue I’d always imagined I would meet suffering with. I had barely prayed. I had, even after the worst was gone, given in to pampering and pitying myself.
What had just happened?
In a word, I came to realize that, while I had expected to go before the very Face of Christ in Adoration yesterday, He came to me instead first thing with His bloodied, disfigured, forsaken Countenance, looking for my embrace. And I didn’t recognize Him.
“Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. . .Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trials and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus– love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!”
-The Imitation of Christ
I had behaved like Simon rather than Veronica, shrinking from suffering rather than reaching out for the Face of my God, hidden in pain.
But, just as Our Lord fell and rose, fell and rose as he climbed that road with Simon, I see Him at my side teaching me gently through my failure that I must rise up with a greater humility. I must become more rooted in Him, so that the next time I have such an occasion to help Him bear a splinter of His Cross, I will embrace Him, forsaken and full of sorrows, in my pain, and let Him free my love from all self-interest and self-love.
I didn’t read the following antiphon for St. Andrew’s feast yesterday until this morning (I probably should have read it sooner!), but it made me smile. I think this dear Apostle knew I needed his great example as I learned a lot about my own weakness on his feast day.
When the blessed Andrew had come to the place where the cross was prepared, he cried out and said: O good Cross, so long desired, and now made ready for my longing soul! I come unto thee with confidence and joy; do thou also joyfully receive me, the disciple of Him Who hung upon thee.
Dear St. Andrew, pray for me!
“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.”
-Blessed Sebastian Valfre
So yes, I am really thankful that yesterday didn’t turn out the way I expected it to. Having just finished a few days ago the first week of preparation for Total Consecration, which is dedicated especially to “Obtain Knowledge of Yourself”, yesterday came as the unexpected answer to all those prayers for humility and self-knowledge. One might say “be careful what you pray for”; but, honestly, what is there to fear? Could there be a better gift from Our Blessed Mother than a share in her profound humility?
As Advent begins and I look to the coming of Christ at Christmas, I can only pray that I will grow in the humility, courage, and true love of the Blessed Virgin, so that I will be prepared to embrace Him when He comes searching for my embrace in His distressing disguise, looking for someone, as He says He is, that would grieve together with Him, one that would comfort Him
A very blessed First Friday to you as this liturgical year draws to an end.
Cor Jesu, patiens et multae misericordiae, miserere nobis!
Cor Jesu, attritum propter scelera nostra, miserere nobis!
Okay, yes, I got so caught up in posting about St. Catherine yesterday morning, and spent the rest of the day having a second Thanksgiving with my grandmother and watching a grueling Iron Bowl that zapped all of my emotional energy. . .and. . .I forgot that St. Barbara’s novena was supposed to begin on St. Catherine’s Day! My perfect record–destroyed!
Oh, well, I suppose I will be praying a novena that will end on this next Holy Helper’s feast day instead of the day before, as is proper; or I might double up tonight. Either way, I don’t think St. Barbara will mind!
Anyway, I still wanted to share her novena prayer for you real quick, and I look forward to posting more about her on her feast day, December 4th. God bless (and happy Last Sunday after Pentecost)!
Novena to St. Barbara
“O God, Who among the other marvels of Thy power, hast granted even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom: mercifully grant that we who celebrate the heavenly birthday of blessed Barbara, Thy Virgin and Martyr, may by her example draw nearer to Thee.
Through our Lord. Amen.”
Happy, happy feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria!
“I spoke of Thy testimonies before kings, and I was not ashamed:
I meditated also on Thy commandments, which I loved.”
From the Introit for her Mass
This venerable Virgin Martyr was of a patrician family of Alexandria, Egypt. Catherine was very intellectual and devoted herself to studies, through which she discovered Christianity. A vision of the Madonna and Child brought about her conversion to the Faith when she was fourteen years old.
“Let the proud be ashamed, because they have done unjustly towards me: but I will be employed in Thy commandments, in Thy justifications, that I may not be confounded.”
-Communion from her Mass
I love finding links between the Fourteen Holy Helpers, and I can’t help but be reminded of St. George when I think of St. Catherine. Both of these Saints, in their own day, rebuked the current Emperor for his tyrannical persecution of Christians. Catherine was only eighteen years old when Maxentius’ persecution broke out and she went to him in her indignation.
Unable himself to answer her arguments against the pagan gods, Maxentius summoned fifty philosophers to argue her down. Catherine converted every one of them, as well as, later on, Maxentius’ wife, one of his officers, and two hundred soldiers of his guard who went to see her in prison out of curiosity.
All the converts whom Catherine had led to Christ were martyred before Catherine was, and, I’m sure, awaited her arrival in Heaven anxiously.
“. . .in the sight of them that stood by Thou hast been my helper. And Thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of Thy name, from them that did roar, prepared to devour; out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions which compassed me about. . .”
From the Epistle for her Mass
Catherine was sentenced to be killed upon a spiked wheel (which is now one of her symbols in art), but when she was placed upon it, the wheel broke, its spikes flying off and killing many onlookers.
She was beheaded then, and, as happened with St. Pantaleon, a milk-like liquid flowed from her veins in place of blood. According to tradition her body was then borne by angels to Mount Sinai, where a church and monastery were later built. I can’t help but think how beautiful it is that she was laid to rest on the mountain where Moses received the Law from God, when she had so studied, loved, lived and died for that very law.
“. . .the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. . .watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.”
-From the Gospel for her Mass
May the holy Virgin and Martyr St. Catherine pray for us, that we may have a thirst for the truth and true zeal in embracing and defending it once we have found it. May she obtain for us a true childlike obedience to God and protect us from all human respect or fear that could lead us to despise His laws. May she guard us in purity, ignite us in love, lead lost souls to the true Faith, and give us a persuasive tongue in behalf of Christ. May this Wise Virgin most of all obtain for us the strength of martyrs and true fidelity, the oil that will keep our lamps burning until the day the Bridegroom comes to lead us into the eternal marriage feast.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin, Martyr, Holy Helper, pray for us!
“As soon as she could walk, Mary was brought to the Temple by her holy parents, Joachim and Anne. With what an ecstasy of delight she must have entered into the Temple, crying out: ‘How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts; my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.’ (Psalm 83: 1,2) Have I any of the same desire to consecrate my life to the Lord?”
Happy feast of the Presentation of Our Lady! I’m not sure why I’ve never been too terribly conscious of this lovely feast day; but Total Consecration certainly does make every Marian feast especially exciting, and adds a special joy to hearing the name of our Lady over and over in the propers of the Mass, and to seeing various passages of Scripture, depending on the Mass, in which the praises of Wisdom are sung in honor of the Seat of Wisdom.
“From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before Him. And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.” -from the Epistle for today’s Mass
I can’t help thinking that Our Lady’s Presentation, when she joyfully entered the Temple of the Lord and consecrated her life to Him, and then remained in the Temple in prayer and hidden service, is the perfect foreshadowing of her Assumption into Heaven, and, at the same time, the perfect type and example for one answering a call to the religious life, the “vestibule of Heaven” as Ven. Maria Teresa Quevedo called it; for one longing to dwell forever in the house of the Lord, to belong to and claim none but Him, and to live a hidden life of prayer and service to His Holy Church. What a wonderful feast day for a Profession this would be!
On that note, I have written a letter to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles at Ephesus, located in Gower, Missouri, and am eagerly awaiting a reply. I can’t begin to describe how beautiful this community is. . .please pray for me as I try to discern where our Lord is calling me. Right now, I feel as though Ephesus may very well be the place!
If you’d like to read at more length about the Presentation of Our Lady, this page (from which I stole a bunch of pictures) looks like it has lots of good stuff.
Enjoy the Iron Bowl this weekend *ROLL TIDE*, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving. . .I’m so excited about all the baking we get to do this week! Have I ever mentioned how much I love baking? Even if I don’t eat whatever I make, it’s totally one of the most enjoyable things to do ever. . .right up there with working on writing a really good scene. Speaking of writing, I’m so excited about my new fiction project. . .the revival of my most beloved Western stories, wrapped into one, at long last! Alan Bledsoe. . .
. . .meet Nate McIntyre. . .
*Blissful sigh*. . .I get the feeling this will be a good one. Thank heavens for my sisters, who are really the source of all my good ideas–my younger sister’s simple, “Why don’t you just combine Even and Wings, and make Alan take Jonas’ place?” Simple brilliance.
Hello there! I wish I had a better excuse than I do for having neglected to post for so long. I suppose the most honest answer is that I’ve been busy with the little day-to-day things that sometime just seem to take up the whole day. It has been an absolutely beautiful November so far, full of wonderful days in the liturgy, lovely weather, choir practice for Gaudete Sunday and Christmas (yay!), beginning prep for the renewal of my Total Consecration on Dec. 12th (I know you’re not required to do the 33-day preparation after the first time, but I really love it and find I need it by the time a year has gone by!), exciting new ideas to do with combining my two oldest and best (I think!) unwritten story concepts, and working away towards the goal of publishing Paint Everything Blue.
On that note, I have the most amazing friends ever. How many aspiring authors like me have friends who take the time to read their first novel, give honest and encouraging feedback, and actually love the story almost as much as they do? Maybe a lot. But how many aspiring authors have friends whose family business happens to have the most ideal alley ever for book cover photos right beside it? Probably not many. And how many of those friends–and I mean super-busy, college-age guy friends who happen to have Italian profiles–would be willing to pose for a couple of giddy girls in an amateur photo shoot that would probably incur eternal ridicule from co-workers who happened to pass by the alley? And on top of that, buy them lunch afterwards at a nearby taco truck? If that’s not brotherly love, I don’t know what is. Like I said, I have amazing friends.
The whole idea of asking him to take photos in that ideal alley so I could design a book cover exactly as I’d envisioned it seemed far-fetched to me when I first conceived it. But he was game. After all, I guess he had to live up to our motto, Who has a life like ours?
Now does that look awesome or what? I’m still sitting and staring at it in disbelief every once in a while–a dream come true! So thanks, brother!
So yes, it’s novena time again–but I couldn’t make a post without mentioning what a very special day it is for the household of a very special man. That’s right–today is my dad’s birthday–and there’s a homemade Hershey’s chocolate cake that my younger sis and I made last night sitting on our kitchen’s island to prove it. Yep, I think my dad has more than one thing in common with Mr. Biddle.
Happy birthday, Daddy!
Today is also the feast of St. Gertrude, and the Collect of today’s Mass was so lovely I had to share it!
“O God, Who in the heart of the holy virgin Gertrude
didst provide for Thyself a pleasant dwelling:
through her merits and intercession, do Thou, in Thy mercy,
wash all stains from our hearts and grant us joyful fellowship with her.
Through our Lord.”
And last, but certainly not least, today marks the beginning of the novena to
St. Catherine of Alexandria, one of the three women numbered among the Fourteen Holy Helpers. I hope to share much more about this amazing Saint on her feast day, November 25th, but her particular patronage includes students, unmarried girls (especially those who wish to be married), wheel-craftsmen, philosophers, apologists, and educators, and is invoked particularly against sudden death.
Novena to St. Catherine of Alexandria
“O God, Who on the top of Mount Sinai didst give the Law to Moses, and didst,
by means of Thy holy Angels, wondrously convey thither the body of blessed Catherine,
Thy Virgin and Martyr: grant, we beseech Thee, that, through her merits and intercession, we may be able to reach that mountain which is Christ: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.
Today has to be one of the most amazing, joyful, and hope-inspiring days of the whole liturgical year.
If you’ve seen much of my blog, you might have noticed (ahem) that I kind of have this thing for the Saints (hence the name Ut Cum Electis Videamus, “that with the chosen (the Saints) we may see you.” Kind of unintentionally, this blog has become a sort of little shrine for the Saints’ honor, especially those Saints that are little-known, neglected, and obscure. Well, I’m particularly excited because, in the great wisdom of our holy Mother the Church, this very day has been made holy in their honor; in the honor of every single Saint who populates Heaven, known or not. Today is their festival day, on which we should invoke them with great confidence, should rejoice with exceeding great joy in their triumph and the hope it gives us, should rejoice with all the Angels and give praise to the Son of God for His Saints.
How intense the love and intercession of the Cloud of Witnesses must be for us today! Let’s not waste such a day, such magnificent graces as the ones offered to us, but invoke them with our whole hearts, at Mass and throughout the whole day! Let us throw ourselves on their love and intercession and unite ourselves to their luminous examples! As an FSSP priest once said in a homily, Saints have a particularly powerful ability to help us on their own feast day. How that powerful love must be multiplied in Heaven today, for surely each one of the Saints is afire with Christ’s own thirst for our souls.
We have all been created for Sainthood; in the words of Carlo Acutis, “We have always been expected in Heaven.” If there is anything, any doubt, selfishness, pride, sloth or fear hindering my absolute resolve to become a Saint for the love of the Lamb Who died rather than let my soul be lost, it must go. And today is the day on which I will bring this resolution to Him anew and beg His help, and the help of all His Saints, in purifying, strengthening, and ultimately achieving it.
Today is truly a most wonderful day, a Feast of feasts; so let us celebrate, full of joy and hope! Put on Angels and Saints at Ephesus (or if you don’t have it, buy it!), bake a cake, dress up, watch your favorite Saint movie, read aloud favorite Saint stories, pray the Litany of the Saints (the Minute Missivesent it to my inbox this morning in Latin; I should have expected no less! So cool!!!), and above all unite yourself in Holy Communion this day to the whole Communion of Saints.
A very, very happy and blest Feast of All Saints to you!
Litany of the Saints
Lord, have mercy on us. (Lord have mercy on us.)
Christ, have mercy on us. (Christ have mercy on us.)
Lord, have mercy on us. (Lord, have mercy on us.)
God the Father of heaven, (have mercy on us.)
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, (have mercy on us.)
God the Holy Ghost, (have mercy on us.)
Holy Trinity, one God, (have mercy on us.)
Holy Mary, (pray for us.)
Holy Mother of God,
Holy Virgin of virgins,
All ye holy Angels and Archangels,
All ye holy orders of blessed Spirits,
St. John the Baptist,
All ye holy Patriarchs and Prophets,
All ye holy Apostles and Evangelists,
All ye holy Disciples of the Lord,
All ye holy Innocents,
SS. Fabian and Sebastian,
SS. John and Paul,
SS. Cosmas and Damian,
SS. Gervase and Protase,
All ye holy Martyrs,
All ye holy Bishops and Confessors,
All ye holy Doctors,
All ye holy Priests and Levites,
All ye holy Monks and Hermits,
St. Mary Magdalen,
All ye holy Virgins and Widows,
All ye holy Saints of God, (Make intercession for us.)
Be merciful, (Spare us, O Lord.)
Be merciful, (Graciously hear us, O Lord.)
From all evil, O Lord (Deliver us.)
From all sin,
From Thy wrath,
From sudden and unlooked for death,
From the snares of the devil,
From anger, and hatred, and every evil will,
From the spirit of fornication,
From lightning and tempest,
From the scourge of earthquakes,
From plague, famine and war,
From everlasting death,
Through the mystery of Thy holy Incarnation,
Through Thy Coming,
Through Thy Birth,
Through Thy Baptism and holy Fasting,
Through Thy Cross and Passion,
Through Thy Death and Burial,
Through Thy holy Resurrection,
Through Thine admirable Ascension,
Through the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete.
In the day of judgment.
We sinners, (We beseech Thee, hear us)
That Thou wouldst spare us,
That Thou wouldst pardon us,
That Thou wouldst bring us to true penance,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to govern and preserve Thy holy Church,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to preserve our Apostolic Prelate, and all orders of the Church in holy religion,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to humble the enemies of holy Church,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to give peace and true concord to Christian kings and princes,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to grant peace and unity to the whole Christian world,
That Thou wouldst call back to the unity of the Church all who have strayed from her fold, and to guide all unbelievers into the light of the Gospel
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to confirm and preserve us in Thy holy service,
That Thou wouldst lift up our minds to heavenly desires,
That Thou wouldst render eternal blessings to all our benefactors,
That Thou wouldst deliver our souls, and the souls of our brethren, relations, and benefactors, from eternal damnation,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to give and preserve the fruits of the earth,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe to grant eternal rest to all the faithful departed,
That Thou wouldst vouchsafe graciously to hear us,
Son of God,
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, (spare us, O Lord.)
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, (graciously hear us, O Lord.)
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, (have mercy on us.)
Christ, (hear us.)
Christ, (graciously hear us.)
Lord, have mercy, (Lord, have mercy.)
Christ, have mercy, (Christ, have mercy.)
Lord, have mercy, (Lord, have mercy.)
[Our Father inaudibly] And lead us not into temptation (but deliver us from evil.)
Okay, yes, I really meant to make this post two days ago. . .as well as some tribute for Christ the King. . .and I also fully intended to be in the choir loft for our last High Mass until Gaudete Sunday. But, as it turned out, God had different plans for me on October 29th, and besides going to Mass, pretty much all that I did all day was lie on the couch with a blanket and a mug of Mom’s homemade chicken broth, blow my nose, watch an endless marathon of NFL football games (except when we flipped it over to Bob Ross once in while. . .I love that show. . .and when we took a break and put on Journey to the Center of the Earth, the one with Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson in it. We were just sick enough and it was just goofy enough to be truly enjoyable), and being thoroughly spoiled by Dad.
And then I just couldn’t get this post wrapped up yesterday; so, seeing as God is outside of time and, unfortunately, head colds are not, I am here only two days late, to celebrate the birthday of Blessed Chiara Badano, and to wish you a happy (belated) feast of Christ the King!
From Sunday’s Mass:
“Giving thanks to God the Father, Who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the Saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins. . .”
“Alleluia, alleluia. His power shall be an everlasting power, which shall not be taken away; and His kingdom a kingdom that shall not decay. Alleluia.”
“We have received the food of immortality and beg, Lord, that we who are proud to fight under the banner of Christ our King, may reign with Him for ever in His realm above: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.”
Amen and amen!
The first time I remember distinctly hearing of Blessed Chiara was during a mini-retreat on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe last year, the very day of my Total Consecration to Mary. (Hmm. . .funny coincidence?) The good priest who spoke to us mentioned Chiara Luce Badano as one of four modern-day saintly Catholics (he also mentioned Carlo Acutis, which only seems fitting!). I remember being drawn to the simple portrait he painted of her short life, one of joy and love in suffering, and to the picture he held up (above). But, although I might have later felt prompted from time to time to learn more about her, I (typically) got busy and almost forgot her completely. However, what I remembered of her story–like Carlo Acutis’–did manage to infiltrate its way into my conception of Carlo in Paint Everything Blue.
But it wasn’t until very recently–back in mid-September–that I really met Chiara Luce. I had seen her lovely portrait (above) probably a hundred times on Portraits of Saints; but for some reason, on one of my random perusals of the site, I clicked on Chiara. I’m not sure why I suddenly felt a strong attraction to this beatified Italian girl, but I’m a firm believer that the Saints choose us, and I’d be willing to bet that something of that nature was going on.
Her bio read:
Blessed Chiara Badano was born on October 29, 1971, to Ruggero and Maria Teresa Badano in Sassello, Italy. The couple waited and prayed eleven years to have Chiara. At age nine she joined the Focolare Movement and received the nickname “Luce” by the founder Chiara Lubich. When she was 16 she was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a painful bone cancer. Chiara succumbed to cancer on October 7, 1990, after a two-year battle with the disease.
I met Carlo Acutis when I was fifteen, the age at which he entered Heaven; and now, Chiara Badano at eighteen. Another coincidence? If you just want to be a skeptic. . .
But it got better. The prayer I found on the back of her holy card from Portraits of Saints (which now has a happy home on my nightstand) gave words to the needs of my soul that day. At the time I was struggling, less-than-patiently waiting for God’s plan for my future to unfold. In the midst of my own impatience, anxiety, and distraction, surrender and pure love of God were exactly what I needed.
“. . .she believed firmly in Your infinite love and wished to return it with all her strength, surrendering herself in complete trust to Your paternal will. We humbly beseech You that You may also grant us the gift to live with You and for You. . .”
I realized I wouldn’t have to wait too long for her novena to begin, and noted it on a desktop sticky note, along with a simple but beautiful quote of Chiara’s, “For You, Jesus. . .if You want it, I want it, too!” And then I bought the holy card.
It was still a while. . .seventeen days, actually. . .before I finally got around to doing some long-neglected research on Blessed Chiara. When I sat down at my computer and began sifting through Italian websites, I had no idea of the graces she would, along with St. Therese and Carlo Acutis, obtain for me that very night; graces of a renewed conversion and of a tremendous new light and direction in my vocational discernment.
“What matters is to be beautiful inside.”
One of the most beautiful graces I think Chiara obtained for me right away was a reminder of why Jesus fell three times on the road to Calvary–to show us how to get right back up again. This has always been a struggle for me in my scruples and pride; but Chiara understood, and has helped me to understand. “I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight. The important thing is to do God’s will.”
Chiara’s extremely painful and unexpected two-year illness was an uphill battle of falling and getting up and doing it again. She had to face losing her hair, her ability to walk, and the prospect of her earthly life ending at eighteen years old; but always she turned these seeming tragedies into love and smiled, because in them she found Jesus, forsaken on the Cross, and united herself to Him with all the courage and serenity of unconditional love. As she neared the end of her life and faced the most awful physical pain, she refused morphine. “It reduces my lucidity, and there’s only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in His suffering on the cross.” And inevitably, being so closely united to her Jesus, Chiara Luce became radiantly beautiful with His joy.
“I still have my heart, and with that I can still love.”
Chiara once wrote in a letter:
“I must learn to trust Jesus more, to believe in his immense love. In this period, the occasions for embracing my Spouse have certainly not been lacking; as a matter of fact, I’ve had a very high temperature for about a week, which, being already very debilitated, makes me very weak; but these are so many occasions for love that I have to be even more rooted in God. I offer my nothingness so that the Holy Spirit can bestow his gifts of love, light and peace upon the youth; so that everybody can understand what a free and immense gift life is and how important it is to live every instant in the fullness of God. I feel so little and the road ahead is so arduous that I often feel overwhelmed with pain! But that’s the Spouse coming to meet me. Yes, I repeat it: ‘If you want it Jesus, so do I’.”
I realized the other day, while I was doing research for this post, that Chiara Luce and I nearly share the same name, “Lena” meaning something like “sun ray” and “Luce” meaning “light”, while my middle name Clare is just a form of Chiara, “clear, bright”. Coincidence again? Maybe.
Right before she died (on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1990), Chiara motioned to her mother to come close to her and said, “Mom, Ciao! Be happy, because I am.” For her funeral, she wanted to be laid out in a white dress like a wedding gown. She knew she was going to meet her Spouse.
So yes, I prayed her novena this month, asking especially for her intercession in showing me the religious community God is calling me to; and I feel confident that she will help lead me there.
Today, the novena to Blessed Chiara Badano begins, and although I don’t have enough time to post at length about her (I hope to on her feast day!), I wanted to share the prayer in case anyone wanted to join me in it. This Italian girl who died at my age in 1990 has suddenly reached out to touch my life–especially my vocational discernment–and I just love her and have to share this novena with you!
Prayer in Honor of Blessed Chiara
O Father, fount of every good, we give You thanks
for the wonderful testimony of Blessed Chiara Badano.
Filled with the Holy Spirit and guided by the radiant light of Jesus,
she believed firmly in Your infinite love,
and wished to return it with all her strength,
surrendering herself in complete trust to Your paternal will.
We humbly beseech You that You may also grant us the gift
to live with You and for You, and ask You, if it be Your will,
for the grace (mention your intention)
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Also, I discovered–to my amazement and delight–a message Chiara recorded shortly before her death to her fellow members of the Foccolare movement, in her beautiful Italian voice. I was so excited; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a voice quite so beautiful. Here’s the link to in, on her site (which also has much more info and many pictures), if you’re interested: www.chiarabadano.org
“Oh, how the thought of God attracts And draws the heart from earth, And sickens it of passing shows And dissipating mirth!
God only is the creature’s home, Though long and rough the road; Yet nothing less can satisfy The love that longs for God.
Oh, utter but the name of God Down in your heart of hearts, And see how from the world, at once, All tempting light departs.
A trusting heart, a yearning eye, Can win their way above; If mountains can be moved by faith, Is there less power in love?
How little of that road, my soul, How little has thou gone? Take heart, and let the thought of God Allure thee farther on.
Dole not thy duties out to God, But let thy hand be free; Look long at Jesus; His sweet blood, How was it dealt to thee?
The perfect way is hard to flesh; It is not hard to love; If thou wert sick for want of God, How swiftly wouldst thou move!”
In this journey of a week and a half so far, “feeding among the lilies”, I have been given such a peace and conviction that this is the right road, that I am (although certainly imperfectly!) doing what Our Lord wants of me right now. But my Divine Master is so generous with me that He is not satisfied with only giving me that sense of peace. He has been confirming it every day in the smallest things, sweet somethings from the God-Man Who is pursuing my heart. Like the poem above, which I found yesterday while perusing my younger siblings’ old Catholic reader. It perfectly expresses what has been going on my soul, what started this whole journey of discernment afresh.
And then there was Our Lady’s overwhelming answer to a brief but heartfelt prayer–that I might have as many chances to be near the Eucharist as possible in my discernment. This past Saturday, I realized that I was in the middle of five days in a row where I was at least able to pray before my Hidden Lord, if not receive Him in Holy Communion. What a wonderful grace!
I’ve noticed that there happen to be religious brothers or sisters around almost everywhere I go. And there is also all the Scripture I keep coming across. . .for instance, in my daily Gospel reading (I’m in Luke now. . .happy feast day, St. Luke!) on Sunday, it was Mary and Martha.
Then there was being able to venerate the relics of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco on the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. What a grace! While kneeling there, I felt moved to ask them (knowing well my own innate weakness in embracing penances) for a share in their burning love for God and souls and their willingness to sacrifice out of love, especially if our Lord is calling me to a life dedicated especially to mortification and penance. This was a great comfort; and since then, I keep coming across their pictures at random. . .
And on that same weakness note, I am beginning to rely more and more on St. Therese and on her Little Way as I look back at forth, with mountain-versus-grain-of-sand feelings, between the life I desire and myself as I am, my manifold weaknesses, selfishnesses, attachments, etc. But, as she did, I am trying to embrace my imperfection and rely solely on God, so that He can glorify His most gracious and condescending love through a soul as little as mine. As Abbess Catherine from In this House of Brede would say to Him, “I can’t, so You must.”
Finally, yesterday I sat down and wrote out a daily prayer schedule for myself, and it has been so beautiful to have more time to devote to prayer than I really ever have; as St. John Vianney would say, it is helping me to be “on the heights”, to “go from strength to strength”.
“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air;
His watchword at the gates of death–
He enters heaven by prayer.
“Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice,
And cry, ‘Behold, he prays!'”
(What is Prayer? by James Montgomery; another one from the reader!)
As, under my spiritual director’s guidance, I began to study different religious charisms and try to discern where my Beloved’s voice is calling me to seek Him alone, it was easy to feel a bit discouraged. How desperately I wish the Latin Mass were everywhere Catholicism is! But I know that Christ has not given me this love–this profound need–for the Latin Mass for nothing; I know that He Who has never failed to provide will not fail me in this either. On the evening I was feeling most discouraged, my gospel reading happened to be: “And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
“Oh Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house, and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”
I know there is a place for me, and He will surely lead me there as I ask, seek, and knock. And the thought of sharing always the same roof as the Holy Eucharist, of “dwelling in the house of the Lord all the days of my life”, I must say, delights me!
More than anything, I just want Him–to love Him all the way–and I want nothing but Him. I am far too easily distracted; I have far too many attachments to things besides Him; and I don’t want to spend my life thus divided. I do not want, at the end of this life, to present to Christ a divided heart–which I feel it would be any other way than this, because He has created me so single-hearted. My soul is beyond ready to cry, and is indeed crying out the words of St. Therese: “My God, I do not want to be a Saint by halves. I am not afraid to suffer for Your sake; I only fear doing my own will, so I give it to You and choose everything You will.”
I certainly don’t think it is natural to desire a life that would take me away from my family, friends, the only home I’ve ever known, my precious parish, my comforts and conveniences, and anything of the world–only if it were from Him could I accept the thought with such a peace and conviction–even desire it as deeply as I do.
Only my Jesus could ask something like that.
And if it is His will, then the answer is yes.
“I sat down under His shadow Whom I desired: and His fruit was sweet to my palate.
How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord.” “My flesh and my heart hath fainted away; Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever.” “I to my beloved and His turning is towards me.”
-From the Propers for the feast of St. Margaret Mary, yesterday.
Almost two weeks ago, I finished my first novel, Paint Everything Blue, (I think that 48,508 words is close enough to 50,000 to be considered a novel, don’t you?), and I’m just so delighted that I wanted to share the story of my story with you, and how, as Tolkien would say, it grew in the telling.
It’s difficult to really communicate how in love I’ve been, and still am, with this story; how it’s affected me just in the writing of it; how much I’ve discovered about myself as a writer in this seven-month project; how it all came together and turned out to be the first of many, many story ideas to come to any real fruition as a book. It was such a God thing, such a Mary thing. . .but I’ll start from the beginning.
Really, it began years ago; well, when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. It feels like years. It was after a weekday morning Mass, and we were stopping by Jack’s before we headed home to a strenuous day of schoolwork. (By the way, if you’ve never eaten at Jack’s, you’re missing out. It’s our family staple restaurant. I’m sure the franchise had us in mind when they decided to build one right off our exit.) I’m pretty sure I had ordered a gravy biscuit plate. Anyway, when we pulled around to the window, the young guy who took care of us was quite congenial. He struck up a friendly conversation with Mom as he worked and we waited, and when we drove off I mused, You know, I really like people like that–just cheerful. They seem rare these days. More people should be that way. I should be that way.
So that was the glorious beginning. Obviously it doesn’t take much to thrill or inspire my imagination, and so my mind began weaving a dramatic story around a young man who worked at a restaurant, who had all sorts of difficult circumstances, but managed to maintain a real joy, and thus impacted the lives of people around him who were struggling and anything but joyful. It was a concept I liked; but it had a lot of rough edges.
Like the fact that it was set in America. Modern-day. At Jack’s. Those would have to go, sooner or later, although I didn’t discover it for a while. I had come up with a few characters besides this boy (whose name I could hardly ever decide on); a middle-aged woman customer and the boy’s doctor (who were married), a nurse, a boss, and a co-worker. All of these characters, although drastically grown, have survived into my current draft of Paint Everything Blue, even though I wrote and rewrote the few scene ideas I had for them to death long before the story was ready to be written. (Sorry guys!)
Thing No. 1 that I learned about my own writing style: stories need germination time before they are ready to be written. This particular one needed a couple of years of living in the back of my mind before it was ready to stand in broad daylight. Yet it wasn’t dormant; during that time, while I worked away at my junior and senior years of high school and chased other story ideas, it was slowly forming, taking shape. The most important progression it made in that time was the taking on of a definitive Marian theme. During those couple of years I had begun to know our Lady as I’d never really known her; reading first Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of our Lady, and then True Devotion to Mary, (after which I made my Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary) opened my heart to her, embraced her, and sealed her in. There was no turning back; the Cause of my Joy would be the cause of my (still nameless) character’s joy. This story was hers, and I knew it. She made me want to write it.
So yes, I made my Total Consecration last December, and in doing so gave myself and every possession, of body or soul–which included, I must assume, my story ideas–to Our Lady for God’s glory. And what she has done with that one idea since has blown me away. I’m not trying to make my story out to be something that it’s not, or brag on my prowess as a writer. On the complete contrary, I’ve been reminded that nothing of my own is my own anymore–it’s all hers. This story literally came out. Yes, it took thought and effort and perseverance through difficult moments (like having to rewrite my last scene three or four times), as well as a good bit of time. But I have the feeling that if Our Lady hadn’t been in possession of the whole project, I could not have written a single successful scene–much less reached the ending. I would have sat staring at my monitor with a blank expression and a blank imagination. She was what it needed, and once it was hers, it didn’t take long.
She must have planted Italy in my mind, because I’m really not sure why I first thought of it. Maybe it was the fact that so very many of my favorite Saints were Italian–and many of our favorite Saint movies are Italian (and must be watched in Italian; one, because the English dubbing is terrible, and two, because Italian is just an awesome language)–maybe because I like Italian names–or I just thought it would be a romantic setting. And then there was time period. . .it didn’t take long to decide that, to be as modern as possible while still having the TLM, it would be set in 1960. Done.
It was during the first weeks of Lent this year–I was actually fasting that memorable day–when, exasperated after browsing through all my other writing projects and ideas, I opened up a fresh document on my old laptop, (said a prayer, I hope; I can’t really remember!), and began writing what is now the first scene of Paint Everything Blue. And as I said before, it just came out. And I loved it. It was alive–the characters were alive in my head, with voices and movement and light in their eyes–and it was so easy for me to make it so very Catholic.
Thing No. 2: I should never have been afraid of “using my writing as a soapbox” for the Faith. If the most important part of my life–my Life itself, in fact–is not the most important part of my story, then what’s the point?
I began flipping through a thick volume we have, a character naming sourcebook for writers, and found the Italian section. Beautiful names popped out at me everywhere. Alfonso was a no-brainer; Evalina, Gianna, Paolo. But what about my main character?
Carlo. There was a significant reason behind that choice; a lot of Carlo Acutis (whom I posted about here) went into Carlo Mannarini; and so it only seemed right that they should share a name.
So the first scene sprouted; and then another. And another. I don’t guess I expected it to last much longer than any other sudden writing inspiration ever had before it died out. But then came my sisters.
Thing No. 3: I need encouragement. And they provided it. From the start, my two sisters have been my readers and editors, and their enthusiasm and love for the story, as well as their occasional criticisms, have been indispensable. Especially in writing the very last scene. As I mentioned before, it took a few tries to get it right. And a lot of critique. And, I will admit, some tears (yes, I’m such a melancholic!). And patience. And more critique. But it was so worth it. They never stopped loving the story, and made me love it more than I ever could have alone. So thank you girls!!!
And then came Scrivener. I am the biggest fan ever of this software. It provides just the right amount of organization. It’s snazzy. You can have each scene as its own file (with its own name! So fun!) and view them individually, or with a bird’s eye view, or just view the story as a whole. You can have files for each of your characters, with pictures (best part!!!). Being able to have Scrivener as my writing zone limited distractions; being able to see my whole story at a glance, and at the same time to break it down scene-by-scene, for some reason was extraordinarily helpful. So yes, that was the best money Mary ever spent on something I’ve probably used much more than she has!
Scrivener really enabled me to take off with scene after scene, developing gradually the six points of view that make up my story. No, Carlo doesn’t have his own. I have to give credit to Mary for that immensely important innovation; I think I could very easily have killed this story by giving him a point of view. Once steered away from that danger, the story concept took its shape as a mosaic of different characters who are all affected in one way or another, and connected, by Carlo. Also to Mary belongs credit for the (I think amazing) title of Paint Everything Blue. I sort of stole it from a song she wrote inspired by the story. I know. Could it get any better than to have a super-talented songwriter for a sister, and one who claims to love your story more than you do and writes songs for you?
So yes, it was growing. And I was having a ball writing it. It felt like no other project had; again, it was just so Catholic. Themes and events took shape as the characters did, even though there were times I nearly plotted them to death.
Thing No. 4 (and possibly most significant): I am a complete pantser. In writer terminology, this means that instead of being a “plotter”–someone who meticulously outlines and structures and plots and plans their story before setting pen to paper–I “fly by the seat of my pants” through the first draft of my story, coming up with and solidifying the plot as I go. This was such a wonderful thing to finally see in my writing personality. Plotting sterilizes and kills my inspiration; it takes away the sense of adventure, the reliance on instinct, that makes writing so fun for me. I feel that my best and most exciting ideas came to me while I was writing, or just dreaming in an abstract way about the story. Yes, I pretty much always knew the concept of the story; the beginning and end at least for Carlo; but honestly (and this does sound a bit scary), I usually didn’t know exactly how I was going to fix some of the messes my characters made for themselves, or how exactly I was going to heal their deepest wounds. Including the resolution of my most major point of view in the very last scene (which is probably why it took so many takes!). But that’s just how I roll. And it took trust–trust that, if, as I strongly suspected, Our Lady wanted this story to come to completion, and to end a certain way, she would guide me there. And I strongly suspect that she did.
In building my characters for stories, it’s always helped me to choose actors (or sometimes people I know) for each of them; sometimes more for the sound of their voices than anything else. Maybe it’s a weakness in my imagination; but, seeing as I’m not God and can’t create a character with the utter complexity and beauty He puts into each one of us, I find it very helpful to my own characters to put the faces and voices, stature and expression of a real person to each of them.
So yes, a lot of awesome Italian (or passable-for-Italian) actors from Saint movies went into the making of this book.
And then you must have music. Or at least I must have. I needed a soundtrack, and it seems really fitting to me now that the soundtrack for the movie Therese happened to be it.I really did steal that soundtrack, to the point that the next time I watch the movie I’ll probably be completely distracted imagining the parts of my story I fit the songs to. In the same wise, the last time I was watching Don Bosco, I really felt as though I was watching all of my characters acting in a movie. I know, I’m crazy. . .But yes, Therese captured so beautifully the different themes of my story; which isn’t really surprising considering how her spirituality and parts of her life infiltrated it. And that I finished it on her feast day; one of the beautiful roses she obtained for me, along with my Lily.
Above is a peek at my Windows Media Player playlist; mostly songs from Therese that I renamed for my own purposes, as well as some Jon Foreman, Switchfoot, and For King and Country. Awesome stuff. I’ve listened to this playlist so many times that I’m pretty sure I’ve made everyone in the house sick of these songs. . .although Mary generously protests otherwise. I’m still not sick of it. It was so much fun renaming songs and applying themes to different characters and scenes. Also inspiring were Voces8’s Second Eve (from which the title of my blog came) and Steal Away, although for some reason I never got around to putting them on the playlist.
My original goal was to finish the story in six months, which technically would have been at the beginning of September. I feel pretty proud that I was only a month late! Seriously, though, I am certain that it was meant to happen on St. Therese’s feast day, no sooner. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So yes; for seven months, and especially in the months since my graduation, my imagination has been consumed by Paint Everything Blue, by Italian voices and coffee shops and churches and alleyways. I can’t begin to describe how perfect God’s timing is; it’s as though He wanted me to finish this project before distracting me; but as soon as I had, He gave me this Lily, which is now largely consuming my thought. (By the way, I’m meeting with my spiritual director tonight to begin this journey anew under his guidance. If you would say a prayer for me, that would be great!)
As of now, I’ve submitted my first draft to a few friends and to my parents for their reading and thoughts; so far the report has been largely encouraging, with really only a couple of helpful thoughts (like the fact that the name Michele, Michael in Italian, looks too much like Michelle, and is thus confusing. So, with a few sniffs, I’ve changed Michele to Matteo. Which I also love). I hope to self-publish soon with Lulu (whose work we’ve been happily satisfied with in the past) in order to give copies to friends; after that, I’m not sure where it will go. I hope to research different Catholic publishing companies; but, as it has been from the start, this story is Our Lady’s, and whatever she wants to use it for is fine with me!
So there you have it: probably more than you ever wanted to know about my writing life and the making of Paint Everything Blue. Happy feast of St. Hedwig!
“Listen and keep in your heart, my littlest son:
There is nothing for you to fear, let nothing afflict you.
Let not your face or your heart be worried.
Do not fear this sickness or any other illness.
Am I not here, I whom am your mother?
Are you not in my shadow, under my protection?
Am I not the fountain of your joy?
Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in my crossed arms?
Is there anything else you need?”
-Our Lady of Guadalupe
(This quote is so special to me, for manifold reasons, and has been the inspiration for the main theme of my story for a long time–thus I quoted it on my dedication page.)
Just wanted to ask for prayers for my dad and brother and the many men and young men I know in Fraternus as they strive to grow closer to God and to one another in holy brotherhood this weekend. If you don’t find authentic Catholic manliness awe-inspiring, you haven’t seen the amazing, recently-released promo video yet (click here to view).
Also, today (as you probably know!) is the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. With all that we are, let us heed our Blessed Mother of Fatima, the face of God’s mercy, and what she asked of us; obviously she wanted to impress upon the world how important these requests were! Let us set ourselves aside, take up our cross and our rosary, and be confident in this dear Mother, who one day, through the Rosary and the Scapular, will save the world.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
St. Francisco, St. Jacinta, and Servant of God Lucia, pray for us!
Eleven years ago today, a young man named Carlo Acutis died of leukemia, within days of his diagnosis. A few days before he learned of the seriousness of his illness, he had told his parents, “I offer the suffering I’ll have to undergo to the Lord for the Pope and for the Church, so I won’t have to go to Purgatory and I can go straight to Paradise.” During the sufferings of his last few days on earth, his nurse asked how he was feeling. Carlo responded, “Good. There are people worse off. Don’t wake Mom; she’s tired and would worry more.” He was fifteen years old.
“Sadness is the gaze directed inwards, while happiness is the gaze directed toward God. Conversion is nothing more than lifting your gaze from low to high. Just a simple movement of the eyes.”
I learned of Carlo Acutis when I was a fifteen-year-old, and I fell in love with him right away. His story and his spirituality amazed me. “Fifteen years were enough for him to leave an indelible mark on this earth,” someone wrote his family after his death. This young man needed only fifteen years to set those around him afire, to spend himself and his talents passionately for love of God and others, to grow into such union with God that his body couldn’t keep his soul from the Heaven that awaited him any longer.
Carlo was drawn to God like a magnet from the purity and innocence of his young childhood, and this love ruled his heart for the rest of his short life. His childlike curiosity brought his mother back into the Church. He hungered for Christ in the Eucharist and received permission to make his first Holy Communion at seven, an early age in Italy at the time. From that day forward, he never missed daily Mass and Holy Communion, followed by Adoration. There was also “the most loving appointment of the day”, the Rosary, where he bound himself more and more closely to “the only woman” of his life.
He created a website to help guide others in their faith, and he “decided to help them by sharing some of my most special secrets for those who wish to quickly achieve the goal of holiness: “1. You must want it with all your heart, and if this desire has not arisen in your heart, you must ask for it with insistence from the Lord. 2. Go to Mass every day and take Holy Communion. 3. Remember to pray the Rosary every day. 4. Read every day a passage of Holy Scripture. 5. If you can make a moment of Eucharistic adoration before the altar where Jesus is truly present, you will see how wonderfully you can increase your level of holiness. 6. Go to Confession every week, even for the sins that are frivolous. 7. Make requests and offer flowers to the Lord and Our Lady, to help others. 8. Ask your guardian angel to help you continually, so that it becomes your best friend!”
Such was Carlo’s interior life; but it was anything but hidden under the activities of a normal boy who went to school, had many friends, and loved computer programming, editing film, and working on comics. It shone through his everyday life; it fueled, directed, and consumed his activity. Ultimately, he put his talents to use for his most famous work: a seriously large and in-depth exhibit on Eucharistic miracles. “He couldn’t fathom how stadiums could be full for concerts while, instead, churches were empty,” his mother recalled. “He kept saying, ‘They have to understand.'”
Carlo was unashamed of Christ. He loved–with all his heart–and this love was unlimited, unconditional, and unselfish. Carlo was awake to everyone he came in contact with; he embodied the idea that “the most important person in your life is the person you are with right now”. He gave freely to the poor, and was allergic to the idea of misusing money that could be put to good use for them. Classmates, friends whose parents were divorcing, immigrants, beggars, children, the elderly, the homeless, doorkeepers, his family’s Hindu housekeeper, they all mattered to him. He influenced his housekeeper, Rajesh, so much that the man converted to Catholicism. “He said that I would be happier if I drew close to Jesus,” Rajesh recounted. “I got baptized a Christian because he communicated to me and electrified me with his faith, his charity, and his purity. I always considered him beyond normal because such a young, handsome, and rich man normally prefers to live a different life.” But there was only one life for Carlo: “To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life’s plan.”
For seven years of my life, we were contemporaries on this earth. One day I hope that we will be the best of friends in Heaven; but already I feel as though I can call Carlo Acutis a friend. I know he is now expecting me in Paradise. The process for his beatification is underway, and eagerly I wait and pray for the day of his canonization. Already I know that he has helped me in my spiritual life and vocational discernment, and I will continue to rely on him in many ways. I pray especially for some of his fraternal charity, his love for Christ and our Lady, his passion to never waste the time, talent, or resources that God entrusts to us; and I figure it doesn’t hurt to call on his aid when the LiveMass stream isn’t working on our computer!
Below is the official prayer for his canonization, taken (along with all these pictures. . .yeah, I know, he was so handsome!) from carloacutis.com, where you can learn more about him.
who has given us the ardent testimony
of the young Servant of God Carlo Acutis,
who made the Eucharist the core of his life
and the strength of his daily commitments
so that everybody may love You above all else,
let him soon be counted among the Blessed
and the Saints in Your Church.
Confirm my faith,
nurture my hope,
strengthen my charity,
in the image of young Carlo
who, growing in these virtues,
now lives with You.
Grant me the grace that I need …
I trust in You, Father,
and Your Beloved Son Jesus,
in the Virgin Mary, our Dearest Mother,
and in the intervention of Your Servant Carlo Acutis. Amen.
There is simply so much I have to spill out in this post, I hardly know where to begin. But I do want to try to get my thoughts in a coherent, sensible order before I go and overwhelm my spiritual director next week, so here goes. Perhaps the best and simplest way to sum up the whole matter is to say that, when I confidently asked St. Therese for not one rose but an armful of roses, she responded quickly. And there were lilies in the bouquet, too. Never underestimate your patron saint.
I wasn’t expecting the Lily; neither was I expecting her to send such a precious bouquet to me through anyone’s hands but her own. But that’s just what she did, with a smile, too, I imagine.
Thursday of last week (two days after St. Therese’s feast day), although it was late and I probably should have been sensible and gotten in bed, I plopped down at my computer and finally got around to doing some research on two young Italians who had captured my heart; Servant of God Carlo Acutis and Blessed Chiara Luce Badano. Carlo I had loved ever since I was fifteen and first read about him; I still have a crush on that amazing guy with whom I was a contemporary. Chiara I discovered more recently after seeing her lovely image on Portraits of Saints, and I was feeling drawn to her and wanted to learn more about her (since I knew considerably more about Carlo). So I looked each one up, found some wonderful pictures, quotes, and information, all of which I had hoped for; but I also found graces I was not looking for. In reading about their lives, I felt a longing but a separation. Where in myself was the fire I saw in them? The love for Jesus?
As I finally peeled myself away and started getting ready for bed, I silently asked our Lord, “Why can’t I be like them? Why am I not more faithful in loving You, in striving for holiness?”
“Because you do not trust Me enough.”
The answer came suddenly, silently, with a reminder of a quote from Chiara I had just read. “I offer everything, my failures, my pains and joys to Him, starting again every time the Cross makes me feel all its weight.” And it gave me a deep peace as I realized afresh that I had been relying far too much on myself, not trusting Christ with my failures and my weakness as He desires to be trusted.
That in itself was such a grace, a rose in itself; but He was far from done.
As I went about getting ready for bed (luckily for me, Mary was caught up in a blog post and was oblivious to what I was doing), I kept thinking on Carlo and Chiara. Carlo’s voice echoed in my head, a quote I read years ago, one of my favorite quotes ever:
“Sadness is the gaze directed inwards, while happiness is the gaze directed toward God. Conversion is nothing more than lifting your gaze from low to high.
Just a simple movement of the eyes.”
And I began to realize just how often the eyes of my soul have been distracted from God, my gaze from the heights. What was I waiting for? I asked myself. It wasn’t that I hadn’t desired or worked for holiness throughout my life, or loved God, or given myself to Him. But something was missing; a fire, a radical love. How long, I asked myself, before I really focused on Him, strove with all my will to keep my gaze upon Him? How long before I really gave myself, my attention as well as my heart, to loving Him as I knew He deserved and desired? How long would I be satisfied with desires for sainthood that were tainted by my pride and sloth? No more.
In my journal that night, I wrote to Him, “I want to begin anew. . .But help me, my sweet Jesus. . .Heal my blindness; rid me of pride, of apathy, of anything I am attached to—the attachment–that separates me from You. I want to be always with You. . .I am utterly resolved to love You more now, to be a Saint today, because I love You. But I am less than nothing. . .I trust in You.”
It truly felt like a miniature conversion–a lifting of the eyes–when I sorely needed it. Another rose. But not the last flower.
(From what I can decipher of the website’s French, this was painted by St. Therese. One of my favorite images. . .and notice the lilies. . .)
The next morning, Mom and I happened to be the only ones up and about for a while. It is pretty rare to get one-on-one time, uninterrupted, with Mom, and as we chatted I mentioned the research I’d done on Carlo and Chiara, not going into all the graces it had led to. Mom smiled at me, the smile that sparkles in her eyes when she has a thought that needs saying. She came over to me–I stopped my desperate efforts at mixing up a jar of natural peanut butter–and took my hands.
“I feel like God is putting it on my heart–and it could be just me–to tell you that you shouldn’t close the door to the religious life.”
In that moment, the peace and happiness I saw in her eyes captivated me. Totally supportive as she is, it’s always been hard for Mom to think of me leaving in such a permanent way as becoming a nun–but when she said that, there was nothing but serenity in her face. I told her that the thought of the religious life had flitted through my mind in the midst of all the thoughts of the night before. One of my first (self-righteous) reactions was that of course, I’ve never shut the door to religious life, but upon later recollection, I realized that wasn’t perfectly true.
I sat down with my coffee and peanut butter toast, and Mom sat across from me. She described–continually emphasizing God’s will–how she had always seen me as rather single-hearted, that contemplative prayer had come more naturally to me. I began to share with her about the night before, began thinking about my novena, and remembering how long and how seriously–really all of my life, not counting the last year or so–I’d been drawn to the religious life. And I realized that, really, I had not given it a good thorough try yet. I knew as we talked that something was changing inside me; my desires were becoming simple and strong even before I realized it. I wanted to do God’s will, for love of God, and that alone. I’d spent a long time “knowing” what that was. (Ha ha.) And now it was time to trust.
Later that day I sat down and had an even longer conversation with Mary, and her insights added to and deepened my own. Whereas her soul found peace in a diet majorly made up of active prayer, mine found it in greater amounts contemplative prayer. While she is assuredly finding and serving God in her courtship and, God willing, will do so brilliantly through marriage and motherhood in the future, my deep longing for the love of a husband had, I began to see, been distracting me from focusing on the infinite love of God and from believing it was enough (I was already seeing this back when I wrote the first part of this series). “You’re a different-shaped vessel,” she told me.
I think there have simply been too many thoughts and graces filling my head and heart to effectively expound here. Let it suffice to say that, as I prayed and thought and discussed and prayed more, I began to see myself in a new light, began to recognize signs in myself. In my lack of eloquence, I will try to state it simply: Ever since I can remember I’ve had a desire to give myself totally to God–to marry Him, I guess.
When we were little, while Mary was responsibly and reliably helping Mom change diapers and feed babies, I would be dressing up as a nun, creating private little spaces where I could pray, and perusing prayer books and saint stories. I was attracted to nuns long before I knew the difference between a nun and a Sister, or a cloister and a convent; and it was because of that attraction that I formed one of the most important friendships of my life with a Dominican sister (who always wanted me to be a nun, although she was self-controlled enough to mostly conceal it!).
And now, I just feel as though I’ve been distracted from God too frequently for too long. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of anything but Him. I’m seeing the two of us–myself, nothingness; Him, everything–and wondering if there never was a third place to fill. Wondering if He truly does want me for His bride alone. Wondering if, all the Sundays I’ve glanced around the nave and waited for someone special to walk suddenly through the doors, my One and Only was there, gazing patiently at me, begging for my full attention.
As members of His bride the Church, we are all given Christ’s spousal love and called to return it; but I’m beginning to think I am a one-track mind, a one-way heart, that must be focused entirely on Him in order to live that Divine Love, and to love others as I should. It’s not a matter of being special; it’s (certainly) not a matter of personal holiness having merited anything; it’s only about what He wants. That and that alone.
So here I am, having done a 180 discernment-wise in less than a week; my Heavenly Father has gently taken the rose I thought I desired and I am gazing in wonder at the lily He’s replaced it with. I am trying to pray more, to listen more, to cast myself completely on God; I am fighting for the humility, patience, and detachment necessary to discern and, no matter what, to be His. Tomorrow is the anniversary of Carlo Acutis’ death, Chiara Badano’s feast is coming up, as is St. Raphael’s. I know that I am wrapped in the loving intercession of friends in Heaven and on earth. And, although it is so little and weak, and though there may be many trials and difficulties and much to learn, my soul is at peace, and will remain so, as long as I trust in Him.
(I ran across this prayer by St. Anselm, and think it is a wonderful prayer for anyone discerning their vocation. God bless you!)
O Lord my God, teach my heart this day
where and how to see You, where and how to find You.
You have made me and remade me,
and You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess,
and still I do not know You. I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Teach me to seek You, for I cannot seek You unless You teach me,
or find You unless You show Yourself to me.
Let me seek You in my desire, let me desire You in my seeking.
Let me find You by loving You, let me love You when I find You.
I’m back! The first draft of my book is complete (a full-blown post on that is soon to come), and I am here again, to make a (just slightly) belated tribute to my beloved Therese, whose feast we celebrated yesterday in the Old Calendar.
Oh, and happy feast of St. Francis of Assisi! Please be so good as to remember in your prayers the soul of a dear friend of our family who passed away a year ago today, as well as the husband and seven children she left behind. Thank you!
From the outside looking in, it may seem rather strange that Therese and I are a pair.
Most anyone reading this probably has a good idea of my insatiable attraction to extremely obscure and old Saints, especially martyrs. Long before I was really old enough to be thinking about who I would choose as my Confirmation patron, I was going to be Tarcisius. (That would have been pretty awesome, wouldn’t it?) Then as I read more lives of the Saints over my younger years, I would go back and forth. Maybe Joan of Arc. Or Rose. . .or Catherine of Siena. But I do like Tarcisius.
And then it happened.
Before Mom assigned me Story of a Soul as religion reading in my eighth-grade year, I had never had any particular attraction at all to St. Therese. Everyone knew about her; everyone prayed to her; sometimes it even annoyed me how she seemed to be everywhere. That was probably because I really knew very little about her at all, and therefore all the fuss seemed shallow to me.
That having been said, it’s only because I know Therese a little better now that I can understand why she smiled on me from Heaven and leaned to whisper in the Child Jesus’ ear, “I’d like that one, please, sweet Jesus.” It took a beautiful Saint to do that.
I want to write here less about the facts of Therese’s life (which are [I’m very glad!] pretty well known to most Catholics), and rather about the roses she has showered upon me–plenty of roses, as dear Father Dupre would say.
So, as a thirteen-year-old in the year leading up to my Confirmation, I read Story of a Soul, out of obedience, I guess. It wasn’t long before the similarities began to become rather obvious–our close bonds with our families, our struggles with scrupulosity, our desire to be among the Saints (hers certainly far, far above mine), our fear of spiders (yes, go ahead and laugh). . .and never have I been quite as edified by anything written on love of neighbor as what Therese has to say about its practice in the later chapters of her autobiography. But more than anything, I was impressed by the profound depth of her love; her understanding of it, far beyond mine. I was thirsting to have a charity like hers; and so I entrusted that desire to her and received her name when the bishop sealed me with the Holy Ghost. (Yes, I really wish it could have been in the Latin rite, but it was still beautiful! I was crying. . .ever a melancholic. . .like Therese!)
But that was only the very beginning of our relationship; our little flower was only budding then.
I’ve read Story of a Soul through a couple of times since that first read, and each time it has only become deeper for me. As my scrupulosity intensified, it was comforting to know that she understood, and I’m certain she had a part in bringing that particular stage of my life to an end. I found that I shared her as Confirmation patron with the Dominican Sister who was my dearest friend and mentor, and knew I had her to thank for our amazing friendship. As I discerned religious life with the Little Sisters of the Poor, anxious to hear and respond to God’s will for me, she was at my side. The trip our family took to visit their nearest convent/residency took place on her feast day, and I prayed a novena leading up to it, begging for help. When we arrived, there were roses everywhere–in the chapel where we went almost immediately for Mass; in our rooms, on the carpet, the bedspreads, the nightstand; in wreaths on doors; I felt well taken care of, knowing that Therese was near. Gently and steadily, she was interceding on my behalf; not for the immediate clarity and answers I might have been expecting, but for the grace I need for this time of my life, to be content as a child resting in her Father’s arms, in self-surrender and gratitude, as I wait for His plan to unfold. Surely she who went through so many difficulties in pursuit of her own vocation is able to intercede powerfully for a little patience for me!
It’s still impossible for me to see all the ways Therese has interceded for me so far, let alone try to describe them all. But I am certain that the Little Flower has been here, and will be until death, helping me ever so patiently as I stumble along my path to holiness. This sweet Patron has not tired of trying to teach me true love of neighbor; this Doctor of the Church has relentlessly been working to instruct my soul in humility and “the science of love”. She has given me not only a rose, but a shower of roses, trying to arouse in me, by their heavenly scent, a longing for the Heaven where she now dwells.
So, speaking of roses, I prayed a novena leading up to her feast day yesterday: Father Daniel Lord’s novena comprised of a meditation for each day, and then the Collect from her Mass. It was beautiful; although we’ve had the booklet for years, I’d never prayed that particular novena before (which is all too typical of me). Sunday, the eighth day, I was leaving church and paused by her lovely statue, in its own alcove near the confessionals. I love that particular state, regardless of the peeling paint. I get to glance at her on my way to Communion and beg her to share with me more of her love.
Anyway, as I stood there, taking in her smile and her armful of roses, a sense of her generosity filled my heart. St. Therese, I told her silently, I’m going to ask you for many roses. And I laid a lot of intentions before my patroness, for my spiritual needs, for blessings upon my book, for the needs of friends and family and all those I’d promised to pray for and all souls. And I don’t think it was too much to ask her. I wanted a shower of roses; and I think she must have been pleased by just the asking.
I was so happy while praying along with Mass yesterday. I don’t know if I’d ever fully absorbed how perfectly the Propers of her feast fit her spirituality. . .Holy Mother Church’s riches truly blow me away.
“Bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters:
Give ye a sweet odor as frankincense.
Send forth flowers as the lily, and yield a smell,
and bring forth leaves in grace, and praise with canticles
and bless the Lord in His works.”
-Alleluia from her Mass
“It pleases Him to create great Saints,
who may be compared with the lilies or the rose;
but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be
daises or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes
when He should choose to look at them.”
-Story of a Soul
“Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come;
thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse,
thou hast wounded my heart.”
-Introit from her Mass
“Yet He. . .does not hesitate to beg the Samaritan woman
for a drop of water. He was thirsty! . . .He thirsted for love,
and He is more thirsty than ever now.
Indifference and ingratitude are all He finds among the world’s disciples;
even among His own, He finds so few surrendering themselves
without reserve to the tenderness of His infinite love.”
-Story of a Soul
-From the Epistle of her Mass
(After quoting the above verse)
“My darling Sister, one can only remain silent, one can only weep
for gratitude and love, after words like these.
If only everyone weak and imperfect like me felt as I do,
no one would despair of reaching the heights of love,
for Jesus does not ask for glorious deeds.
He asks only for self-surrender and for gratitude.” -Story of a Soul
I could go on for a while. . .but you get the idea. It was also so special that Father Dupre celebrated her Mass at Christ the King; to hear the same Latin she once heard and loved in the Mass in his French accent was just too awesome! (That sounded kind of geeky, didn’t it? Traditional Catholic thrills. . .)
So yes, I have seen roses since praying the novena, visible and invisible. Perhaps the most obvious invisible rose was the answer to my intention for help in finishing my story. That story simply would not be finished until her feast day. It took three tries to get the ending right. . .and all the while, she was smiling her sweet little smile of amused love and teaching me valuable lessons of patience, detachment, and simply “doing small things with great love”. And now it’s done, and I’m so happy!
More than anything, though, I’m grateful that praying this novena has reminded me of the Sister I have in Heaven and renewed my desire to follow her Little Way of sanctity; it’s really been like a little visit with her.
I’m still not sure why she chose me; but I am certain that I want to live up to such a gift, one petal, one thorn, one loving deed at a time!
Dear St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face,
Pray for us!
That’s right! A new novena begins today as we come to the close of September, to Saint Denis (or Dionysius), Bishop and Martyr, and his companions, Sts. Rusticus and Eleutherius (who are not numbered among the Fourteen Holy Helpers; but hey, they’re included in the Collect, and where else on the internet are you likely to find a novena to them?)
Speaking of internet-rarity, I just love how unique images of St. Denis, like the one above from Portraits of Saints, are. Under any other circumstance I would generally find a picture of a man holding his own head to be. . .disturbing. . .but I find the story behind this image (and behind why he is the patron of headaches) fascinating.
St. Denis, born in Italy, was a missionary to Gaul, along with the priest Rusticus and deacon Eleutherius, and the first bishop of Paris. It seems, from my limited research, that much confusion has surrounded stories of St. Denis, but the legend behind the picture goes something like this: after he and his companions suffered martyrdom in the third century by being beheaded, St. Denis arose, picked up his head, and walked for miles, preaching a sermon the whole way, surrounded by angels. He stopped on the site of the future abbey church of Saint-Denis, where he was buried.
While I will admit I’m generally a skeptic about a lot of things, I’m not inclined to raise an eyebrow at this seemingly-fantastical story, certain that God can work much greater wonders through His Saints. But even if this legend is not describing a literal event and is meant to serve only as a striking symbol of the invincibility, holiness, and true missionary zeal of saints like St. Denis, that is more than enough for me.
St. Denis and his companions are commemorated on October 9th; so, without further ado, their novena prayer:
Novena to St. Denis & Companions
O God, Who this day didst strengthen blessed Denis, Thy Martyr and Bishop, with fortitude in suffering, and didst associate Rusticus and Eleutherius with him in preaching Thy glory to the heathen: grant, we beseech Thee, that following their example we may for love of Thee despise worldly success and may not fear worldly misfortune.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who livest and reignest with Thee
in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
Okay, so after a crazy busy extremely blessed & fun weekend which just happened to coincide with the Ember Days (which are such a beautiful, if challenging, tradition), I am posting this a little bit later in the day than I was hoping to; please forgive me if this is your only reminder, and you only see it tomorrow, and therefore end up having to pray an eight-day novena (although I’m sure St. Therese won’t mind!)
I wanted to make sure to post St. Therese’s novena (although she isn’t one of the Fourteen!) because she is my Confirmation patron and very dear to me. I hope to post at more length about my relationship with her around her feast day (October 3rd in the Old Calendar); but as I have set that very day as a deadline for myself to finish the first draft of my current writing project, I am really cracking down on that and trying to avoid distractions (like blogging) until then.
Among other intentions, I will be praying this novena for my story to glorify God and go where He wants it to end up (and, hopefully, to be able to stick to my deadline!) May dear Therese send you a rose from the heavenly garden! God bless!
Novena to St. Therese
O Lord, Who hast said,
“Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” grant us,
we beseech thee, so to follow in humility and simplicity of heart
the footsteps of the virgin Blessed Therese
that we may attain to everlasting reward. Who livest and reignest with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end.
Yesterday, a friend and I got on the subject of poetry and agreed to exchange some poems we had written. As I was compiling the best (or least embarrassing) of them to send off this afternoon, I unearthed a poem I’d begun writing months ago, after the last time I watched The Robe. And, seeing as I liked it better than any others I’d written, and it deserved an ending, I managed to finish it (finally!) and thought, while I was at it, I might share it here just for fun. I think it fits pretty well with the theme of my blog and my fascination with martyrs. . .so here it is. Hope you enjoy!
The Marriage of Diana
She sits enthroned upon a precipice,
A lion at her side,
Her virgin robe immaculate and bright,
Her spine is straight, her fingers, hidden, clutch
The ledge with knuckles light.
A pillar, fair Patrician, marble-white,
Only with trembling eyes.
They watch the cohort drag her lover forth,
They watch the bloody lion lick its fangs.
Her tribune stalwart marches in their midst,
A red cloth on his arm.
He bears his robe, a massive battle shield,
With shoulders straight and silent eyes; oh, how
The universe should yield
Before the burning shafts his eyes can wield!
Oh, sweet and bitter wound
His gaze inflicts upon her loyal heart.
His gaze like arrows drains her breath away.
The ravening lion rises from its lair,
A scepter in its paw.
Its silk robe shrouds Marcellus from her sight,
Blood trimmed with gold cascading to the floor,
A farce of noble might,
It cannot shroud this Caesar’s gleeful spite.
She burns she called it king.
Its growls strike anguished dread inside her breast;
Its growls move not a curl of his fair head.
Ita vero, his voice her soul ignites,
A trumpet in his throat. Ego sum Christiana, gentle boast.
The lion and its parasites exult,
A cruel, triumphant host.
Marcellus’ eyes, the sparkling Capri coast,
Lose nothing of their flame. Christus Rex meus, burns his charity, Christus Rex meus,more than death I owe.
I long to have a faith as great as thine,
A plea of agony,
Her voice had begged, its tone in bitter strain
As her life’s dream choked in the prison air. What could thy dying gain? If thou dost die, I will believe it vain. Her heart faints now to think
They were the words she left him with to die
They were words of a love no longer love.
The laureled lion circles round its prey,
A blackness in its gaze
It hesitates when Christ’s robe it espies,
And reaches out to strip the shield away,
When fear constricts its eyes.
With frightful growls it bounds away and cries Destroy this fell witchcraft! Diana’s heart sends fire through all her bones;
Diana’s heart flings her onto the ledge.
Give it to me! she cries before all Rome,
A tremor in her voice.
As her dear tribune the red cloth extends,
The Festal wedding robe that holds her dream
Her eyes behold therein.
Its crimson glory warm against her skin,
Love kindles in her breast.
A priceless thing she holds, their new King’s robe;
A priceless flame consumes what was their love.
Merciful I will be, the lion taunts,
A putrid clemency,
Its purring tones her cringing ears offend. If thou wilt kneel to me and pay thy vows. The heart in her breast rends
In petrifying fear as his knee bends.
No fear has equaled this;
To watch his flame vanish to nothingness;
To have his flame—all else would now be vain.
Deny this Christ and I shall let thee live. A gust of ocean wind
Relieves her breast as her dear tribune stands. His kingdom is not threatened by thy might; Love is His one demand. The throne you claim He shall one day command. The crowd’s enraged Mortem! Neither he nor his noble lady hear.
Neither lover heeds now the fading world.
He is my chosen husband, and with him, A bride’s adamant vow, Into my new Lord’s kingdom I shall go. The lion’s fury touches not her soul.
Marcellus’ blue eyes glow
As they bear love away to the arrow.
Her wedding robe she holds
As hand-in-hand they go to offer it,
Hand-in-hand, a small gift to give their King.