Going Deeper & Enjoying The Gift of The Ordinary

It’s been a while since I was here.  I needed to sort some things out in my life and was quite unable to write very much.  It feels good to be back and able to share my experiences of the small and daily that life offers once again.

This morning while on the bus I happened to glance through the window.  The sky – that part which was visible to me, was magnificent – full of greys and blues – thick streaks which were blurred and softened by a white centre which seemed to be rising, taking over the sky.  I looked through the bare tree branches and over the tops of apartment buildings, wishing for a short instant that I was atop of one of those buildings so as to have a better view of the eastern sky.  It would be like witnessing the ‘glory of God’.  But my thoughts swiftly moved back to take in a sky that was constantly changing – views that were being transformed as quick as each breath that I took.  It was magnificent.

For a moment I thought of the “Transfiguration” as told by Matthew 17:2.  I felt like I was catching a partial glance of what is the Glory of God.  And so I sat on the bus experiencing moments of awe and wonder.  I found myself giving thanks to God for something that was so ordinary and part of each day and yet which seemed to an extraordinary gift.  During those few moments I could only give thanks to God for pointing out to me the exquisite beauty that God’s love provides to us each and every day.

As I got off of the bus I thought of what I had been given.  The wind was cold, the sky seemed to have covered over the beauty that moments ago had been there for all to see – but now had become grey and heavy.  But inside of me – I was still grinning quite madly to myself.  It was a beautiful morning no matter the weather.  It is still Easter and Christ is Risen.  My response –  Alleluia.

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In early January of 1838 Eugene wrote to Father Courtès, at Aix, explaining his new coat of arms and motto that he has chosen now that he is Bishop of Marseilles.

 “My Pastoral Letter will not have reached you yet because my seals had not arrived from Paris. You will notice that I have not disowned my position as Founder and superior of our beloved Congregation. While prudence required that for the peace of its future I do not openly take a title that would have caused embarrassment, I did combine its coat of arms with that of my family, and you will notice the missionary cross shining brighter than my own coat of arms, and the motto so precious which is distinctive of this Society on the top of everything. You will explain it to whomever wishes to listen, no beating around the bush in this matter. This is a coat of arms that speaks.

 Good-bye. dear son, a thousand good wishes at the beginning of this year, and my most abundant blessings.” (656:IX in Oblate Writings)

I find myself with a small hunger to see a picture of the coat of arms that Eugene has described.  In his own words he has described how he incorporated his whole self, his ‘Oblateness’ if you will, his family into his new position as Bishop of Marseilles.  I find myself immensely pleased that he did not in any way abandon or disown who he was which was Founder and Superior General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  And of course why would he for it was God who brought him to this point of his life.

I think of couples going into a marriage – so often now the woman does not drop her father’s name but rather adds that of her husband.  And why not – for she brings who she is – not to trash it, but she brings it in to the new union and family that she and her husband are forging.

I look at all that I have been, and some of it has been far from pretty.  And even once I’d heard the voice of my most beloved as he took my heart into that of himself, still I have not been anywhere near perfectly faithful.  Never did he tell me to pretend that was anyone different from who I was and how I had coped, never did he tell me to pretend that the past did not exist.  I brought it all with me even as he embraced all of who I was/am/will be.  Even today I bring who I am, with all that has led up to this point in time, I bring that with me – not separated but integrated for it all has been made holy in our God’s love.  I have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  At this very moment there is a truth and understanding in those words.

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I interrupt my reflections on the letters with Eugene in order to pause in prayer for all the people of Paris, and all  people  around the world who have been touched by one of the latest salvos of violence and suffering – all it would seem born out of plain old hatred and intolerance.

The killings and the subsequent sorrow and fear that has spread throughout the world has been hard to watch and listen to, to read of and to somehow come to terms with in my own life.

When I first heard of what was happening in France I did as many others did, turned on the TV and became glued to it – to learn what was happening, who would do such a thing, and why.  There were no answers at first, only a huge sorrow within me.  A sorrow for the people of Paris who had lost loved ones and who were now sitting in the midst of pain and fear.  Terrible soul-gripping fear of what could happen next, and to whom.

But there was an even deeper sorrow – for all of mankind.  That someone, anyone could do to another, what was being done.  Only the evil of hatred and intolerance could be to blame – but not a whole ‘people’ or race of people.   I was not able to pull myself outside of that.  And there was upon hearing the news of the end fight in the Concert Hall a deep sadness for the police who had to storm the hall, for those inside of the hall, and for the persons responsible for the attacks for they too were ready to die – for what?

And then to hear that France had closed her borders – of course she did, but I began also to hear from many here in North America that we should do the same.  Halt any ideas of bringing over those refugees, who were running from exactly what was being experienced in Paris.  We had, some were saying, to close our borders, circle-the-wagons and find a way of making any prospective refugees eligible to enter our country prove that they were not members of ISIS or some other like organization.  These people, hundreds of thousands of them who are on roads as winter approaches, on foot walking to find a place where they can be safe and find shelter; where they can feed and bring up their children and send them to school.  How could they prove that they were simply people in need any further than just being who they are?

I think back to the Crucifixion, to Jesus on the Cross – didn’t some of the solders and people call out to him to prove he was the son of God?  This is an opportunity for all of us to open our hearts and to love others who have less than we do.  Here in Canada we have such a huge country, and we have so much to offer.  Let’s not talk about closing our borders and protecting ourselves from some unproven fears.  Let’s welcome in these people who have nowhere to go, no extra clothing on their backs and no place in which to find shelter.  So many are dying as they try to have what we take for granted.

Now is the time for us to push aside our nameless fears and ‘what ifs’.  Our prayers will only be real if we live them out.  I think of our veterans who went and fought and died in two World Wars, and then later in smaller ones in other places so that we would have the freedom to live as we desired.  We are being asked to simply open our hearts and our doors and share a little more of what we have.

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November 1837 St. Eugene wrote a long detailed letter to Fr. Guigues at Notre Dame de L’Osier stating for him the requirements and mandatory/obligatory ceremonies to be carried out during a mission.  Explicit authorization was required before any could be omitted.

The letter is long so I select only part for this reflection.

What is prescribed in the Rule as for example the entry of missionaries into a place they are going to evangelize, cannot be suppressed, even temporarily, except by an explicit authorization from me. The consecration to the Blessed Virgin, the renewal of baptismal promises, the promulgation of the law, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, the funeral service and the instruction after the Gospel of the Requiem High Mass as well as the procession and absolution at the cemetery, the first procession known as the penitential procession, the exercise preparatory to the act of contrition and the separate act of contrition for both sexes, the general Communion, are obligatory in all the missions. […]The consecration to the Blessed Virgin is made when the procession held in honour of the Mother of God comes back; it is quite obligatory. It is made from the pulpit, before the Blessed Virgin’s statue, placed on a throne, as beautiful as the locality can provide. What is not indispensable is girls publicly renouncing dances and other dangerous recreations. These things can be more or less explicitly included in the act of consecration that is made in their name from the pulpit. […] The renewal of the baptismal promises is obligatory. […] The service for the dead, the homily after [the Gospel of] the Requiem High Mass, the procession and the absolution at the cemetery with some pious words suitable for the occasion, if the weather is good for going outside, are obligatory. […] On the day of the men’s general Communion, you must not fail to inform them that after the Agnus Dei of the Mass, the kiss of peace will come from the altar to be given to the entire community. How it should be done must be explained well in order to avoid any confusion and, at the right moment, two missionaries will go to receive the kiss of peace from the celebrant and then take it to the first person in each row, who will turn towards his neighbour to pass on the kiss of peace; this one to the next and so on. If they know how to say: pax tecum, et cum spiritu tuo, well and good, if not, it does not matter, what is essential is that the entire congregation gives the kiss of peace. If the missionary, seeing the people spiritually renewed, embracing one another through the impulse of divine love and giving one another the kiss of peace before receiving Holy Communion, can contain his tears, let him place his hand on his chest to find out if he may not have a stone there instead of the heart.

 This, my dear child, is what the good Lord inspires me to tell you today…” (652:IX in Oblate Writings)

Once in a while  during Mass I wonder if the Presider really notices each of us in the pews, if he really sees us.  Even at communion although he might look at us briefly as we are given the Eucharist there is no hint of recognition or of the joy we are about to receive.  Indeed there does not seem to be much in the way of when they give us the Eucharist.  Has it become just a part of the job?  It is not like that with all, but certainly with some.  Do they not care what they are sharing with us?

I am a Eucharistic Minister and it is with profound joy that I be able to say “The Body of Christ” as I hold the bread or the host up before their eyes, before giving it to them.  What greater gift than to be able to offer the Eucharist to another?

Sometimes during daily Mass when we celebrate with the Kiss of Peace – it is of course said by the priest but then he might move quickly on to the next part of the Mass.  Does he not realise that this is our chance to greet each other with joy.  We have just said the Our Father.  ‘Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…’ What could be more natural.  I know that sometimes I attend the Mass seemingly without life but it is then that I need it the most.  I need to be able to celebrate with my brothers and sisters.  My wish of peace, the peace of my Crucified Christ is real and deeply felt – it is not just empty words for my heart is fully engaged.  I wish that it were so for others and that includes the Presider. It cannot be rote for any of us.

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I interrupt the chronological order of Eugene’s letters this morning to share a prayer that he wrote and which was shared by Fr. Frank Santucci, OMI in his daily blog.

How still imperfect, my God, is my conversion; the root of sin lives on in me; the thoughts and memory of the world are still powerfully at work; the things I have renounced retain their hold on my imagination, and reawaken threatening images.

My heart, still weak, is quite disturbed by it, and in the midst of this disturbance it feels all its passions coming back to life; it takes but little for it to be ensnared.

Is this what it is to belong perfectly to God? My inconstancy in the little good I do, my God, is no less humiliating for me; full of good desires, I am often satisfied with their formulation, almost all my zeal is used up in the making of plans;

I fluctuate between yielding to grace and to my own desires, while time flows by, I journey swiftly towards eternity, and I am always the same.

Shall I all my life be the plaything of the enemy of my salvation? Make firm, my God, my inconstancy, wholly change my heart; inspire within me, for my salvation, the same zeal I showed for losing myself. Sicut enim exhibuistis membra vestra servire … iniquitati … ita nunc exhibete … servire justitiae (Rm 6, 19) [ed. For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves… to lawlessness … so now present them… to serve righteousness.Prayer for a perfect conversion ” (EO XIV n 24in Oblate Writings)

This touched me deeply today.  I am not alone.  Of course I am not alone, but I have often wondered what was so wrong with me that I could so easily forget how much God loves me.  Often I have asked myself how could I even for a moment forget about God and move out of his embrace?  After all that I have been given and after all that I wish to give God of myself how could I keep making the same mistakes over and over again.  I would secretly wonder if I was the only such being alive that could not always ‘get it right’.  And here we have a saint, a bona fide saint seeming to say the same thing.

This is why I must pray most often.  This is why I must daily ask God to fill me, to love me, to send his Spirit upon me, to have others lead and guide and teach.

Frank Santucci said in his blog:  “Through the eyes of our Crucified Savior: Because He gives direction when we are in danger of losing direction. […] Conversion and discernment are not once-off events. We have major moments of understanding and conversion and commitment to a life direction and lifestyle – but these have to be renewed on a constant basis. Each day we need to renew our commitment. Each day we need to allow the Savior to look at us and to renew us in our journey.”

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St. Eugene wrote a long letter to Fr. Casimir Aubert on October 14, 1837.  It was a letter filled with love while at the same time being a bit of reproach because Fr. Aubert had disobeyed him by not remaining longer at St. Martin-des-Pallieres for his needed rest.  I copy much of it here because of the content.

“It is at St-Martin, my dear Aubert, that you should have remained 1) because I had asked you to stay there three weeks and I have consented to such a short period only because we were hard-pressed by the retreat. I had expressed my wish too well for there to be any possibility of misunderstanding. What good can be accomplished by an absence of two weeks? 2) because I had explicitly written to my sister, who will not have failed to communicate it to you, that you should stay with her until I gave further orders. I relied so much on this order that I was going to write to you the very day I received my sister’s letter informing me that your departure was to take place on the day I received her letter. You knew quite well that I was on a visitation tour, so you should not have been surprised at not receiving a prompt reply to your letter, and above all, knowing how I abhor interpretations, you should not have made use of them against an explicit order perfectly known to you.

 The reasons you allege to excuse yourself are not acceptable; I knew beforehand about the usefulness of your presence at the house of Calvaire and all the service you could render in the church. Thus you did not have to trouble yourself about it anymore. I had sent you out to the country precisely to take your mind away from these concerns. You cannot defend yourself by claiming a lack of simplicity in your obedience for you knew my intention too well. If you fall back into your usual state of weakness and you are obliged to apply the brakes in the midst of your year’s work, you will have to blame yourself before God for being its cause. If your health continues to get worse, you will be responsible for it before God, before the Church, the Congregation and myself. When one is sent to teach solid virtues to others, one must behave in a way that would hardly be permissible to the inconsiderate fervour of a novice. I intend that the week you are going to spend at Aix be a supplement to your stay at St-Martin. For a moment I debated whether I should make you go back there. I rejected this solution because I feared that the fatigue of the journey may neutralize the good I expected from your prolonged stay in the country. At Aix, you will not offer yourself for any religious service whatsoever, you will go out with your companion into the country on either side of the city, as long as the weather is good. However you will avoid the suburb where cholera was brought in this year.  

…Good-bye, dear and loving son, I embrace you to prove to you that you need not fear losing what you like to call my good graces, even though I somewhat reproach you; for after all, my good son, you have never sinned except by excess.” (649:IX in Oblate Writings)

What an exquisite moment of healing this morning as Eugene shared his account of dealing with Fr. Casimir.

Fr. Casimir, who was so very far from being perfect and who Eugene needed to speak with over and over again always with tender affection.  Like many others in his small congregation Fr. Casimir was a good man, but was he ever wilful.  I sort of recognize myself in him.

Despite my early formation in life, God has corrected me and loved me over and over and most endlessly.  He has so many times turned me around, set me in the right direction, held my hand, scolded me with a look of tender love showing me the truth of my actions and ways. And here again this morning where he once again speaks to me through Eugene, my beloved Saint and friend, who never stopped loving Fr. Casimir who he would bring him back over and over again – it was a part of being in his community.

I know that I shall never be a full member of the Oblate community for I am not a religious, not a cleric and I am not male.  But that has not stopped Eugene from inviting me to be his daughter and it did not stop him from inviting me to live in a most particular way.  Nor has it stopped me from learning from him and his, about who I am and how God is working within me.  He has given me so many brothers and sisters.  It was Eugene’s words that opened for me the possibility of realising sainthood and holiness.  This dear beloved saint knew my heart and just as he spoke with Fr. Casimir, he has spoken with me.  I am so very grateful – for his love and for speaking with me as he has this morning for it has turned on another light for me.

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On October 11, 1837 Eugene wrote a strong letter to Fr. Courtes in Aix reproaching him for not having given Holy Communion to person who though repentant was sentenced to death and also about the importance of missions for instructing the people.

You have made a very great mistake in refusing Jouve Holy Communion. This situation has taken away from me all the joy that the account of his beautiful death had caused me.

 I thought you were more loyal to my teachings which are those of the Church. You could not have forgotten what I have done at the execution of Germaine. Quite recently the Quotidienne and so many other newspapers informed you what I did at Gap. Hence you have become a real weakling and I must tell you that you have greatly sinned. I don’t want to see you observing practices which the Sovereign Pontiffs describe as barbarian and which they order to be destroyed wherever they are found. These horrible practices, moreover, have been abrogated in your district, either through the precedent I had set by my example, or through the solemn approval his Grace the Archbishop de Bausset, who came to confirm and give Holy Communion to all the accused as well as condemned prisoners who were in the jails at the time of the retreat we preached there. Even if it were otherwise, you should have done your duty without worrying about the consequences. God’s commandment must take precedence over any human consideration.

 I am sorry that his Grace the Archbishop allows himself to be influenced by people like the parish priest of N. He cannot have any idea of the people’s situation if he does not know how to reduce to silence those presumptuous men who dare to propose that since the people are not instructed, it is not the moment to preach the mission. Then who will come forward to instruct them? Don’t we know that a mission is needed precisely to instruct the people gone astray, because only a mission could draw people to the church.” (648:IX in Oblate Writings)

This letter speaks most strongly to me.  Eugene could be writing about the church and some of the practices of the day in the 21st century rather than those of 19th century.  Here, at least in this part of the world the problem is not whether the prisoners are worthy and needing of the Eucharist, but whether those who have divorced and remarried outside of the church are to share in all that God has given to us, including the Eucharist.  It would seem to be the problem of those whose sexuality differs from one way of being; for those who wish to follow God’s call to them within the Catholic Church to shepherd in a very specific way, but who because of their gender are not considered at all.  It seems to be so easy to get caught up in the current state of judgement and exclusion, of limiting love and forgiveness, of deciding who and how and when the teaching of Jesus will be shared with.

We are called to share our humanity with all, in the midst of all that is.  I believe our spirituality is meant to be lived, not whispered in a small dark room, or only in silent prayer to God only.  It must be something alive – shared with each other.  I believe that it is in sharing everything that we have been given that we live out the awesome love of our God.  If we hold it for a select and elite few then we are saying that Jesus Crucified and Resurrected was only for a small portion of the world.

I believe that Jesus, our Saviour is for all of mankind, not just a select few because of their gender, or their state in life, or whether they have followed a set of particular rules.  “Eleanor I love you, you are mine, I have called you by name….”  There was no mention of worthiness or rules that I did or did not follow.  I was not created to try to remake God in my image, but rather to allow God to continuously be making me in God’s image.

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Having become steeped in the life of Eugene de Mazenod and how he gave his all to God, to his people in Marseilles, and indeed to all of France and out into the world, and how he continues to give his all through his writings to his sons and daughters, I found myself yesterday looking at his life and my own as the Gospel (Mark 12.38-44) was read telling us the story of the widow who gave her all – all that she had to live on. Our pastor in his homily asked us to look at ourselves and ask what we might be holding back.

What am I holding back I asked myself?  Of course I have kept some money to pay the rent and buy food.  Even some extra to buy a new book that I want to read.  But I don’t think that’s exactly what he was asking about.  I am a generous person – so what am I holding back?

My love, my giving of myself in love to my brothers and sisters, to those I work with, to my friends and family, to those I know and to those I don’t know who have so much less than I, less that what I’ve been given.  How much and of what am I holding back, saving for that rainy day – just in case….

I know of a person who was incredibly poor growing up, and hungry all of the time and who almost stock piles food – just so that he won’t have to ever be hungry again.  Do I do that?  What do I stockpile and have more than enough that I seem to hold onto.  What about that which is inside of me.  Do I hold back on my love?  On my trust of others?  Just in case I am betrayed or slighted and want to feel good in myself?  Do I hold back on the joy in all of life that God has so richly blessed me with?  Could I not be a little more open and share all of that?

It will not be in great big ways that I do this, that I let go and simply love – it will be in the little daily ways of my life.  If I am slighted or put down I will continue to stand in life and joy, to ‘turn the other cheek’ so to speak.  Because if I look at it – God simply continues to fill and refill, and renew me constantly so I can hardly give it all away.  There will never not be enough.

Most loving God, bless me with courage and daring – to give it all for you.

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This morning my day began with a reflection of how it is in sharing the spirit of St. Eugene that I come to walk in the presence of God.  It has coloured my morning and I can do little but thank God for all the blessings which I have been given, beginning with the desire to be in the presence of my God.

It has not come from myself but rather has been planted in the deepest part of my soul, before even I was created.

And over the years of my becoming who I am right now in this moment I have wanted to walk in the presence of God, to be a part of God and all of life.  I have done so many things, but none that could ever make sense so much and be naturally a part of me as to share in the spirit of St. Eugene de Mazenod.  I have heard men speak of how their hearts have found a home with the Oblates.  There are I believe a good many lay persons who have discovered that they too have found a home for their hearts with the Oblates.  It may look on the outside a little different for our roles though the same look a little different, but underneath we are all the same.

I once said aloud that I was a daughter of St. Eugene and I was gently corrected and told I was an adopted daughter.  Fine by me – still I am a daughter.  God has led me to be where I am today, walking in the presence of my most glorious and wondrous God.  To be able to live thus with all who share in a particular way of walking given and shared with us by Eugene de Mazenod is most wondrous.  I thank God today for such a gift of life.

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Eugene wrote to Fr. Courtes in Aix on how to behave towards the Archbishop of Aix and any requests that came from the Archbishop concerning chaplaincy of a boarding school.

Don’t you think, my dear Courtès, that it is unwise to always bring me to the fore when it is a question of responding to some proposal of his Grace the Archbishop? Don’t you fear that he may be offended when he hears the opinions of another Bishop constantly quoted in matters pertaining to his diocese? I do not approve this way of doing things. It is much more natural that you say very simply that such a thing is against the spirit of our Rules, against the good of the community you are in charge of and of the members who are under your direction. […] You must follow the opposite system which is to leave me in the background and appear to have recourse to me only in extreme cases.

 Regarding the question of the boarding school, when his Grace the Archbishop proposed that you take charge of it, you should have told him in all simplicity that it is against our Rules to take on the regular direction of a community of persons of the opposite sex; that we could go there from time to time to give some instructions, if his Grace the Archbishop wished; but that it is preferable not to overburden your small community with new activities which divert its members from the principal end of the Institute, which is preaching missions..” (645:IX in Oblate Writings)

This letter speaks to me about having to let go of ‘myself’.  It speaks to trying to be true to the Rule of Life, the Oblate Constitutions and Rules and not to just running off and doing good works because we are asked or even told to.  It speaks to discernment, it speaks to letting go of self and being obedient, to a rule of life, to our Superiors, to how God has called us to live.

It might look a little different now than it did 200 years ago.  And it is certainly true that now there are lay people such as myself involved and a part of the family.  I have silently and humbly put myself under obedience to my Oblate Superiors for this is what I feel called to.  It is not a big deal but it does mean that I have to let go of ‘myself’ and trust that God will not abandon me even as he calls me to the Cross.

It almost sounds holy and romantic somehow.  But it’s not – it’s just that I am not quite used to be so open about where my heart lives.  The Cross is rough-hewn – there are splinters and nails that stab and tear.   Yet still I say yes for it all a part of a heart filled with love and needing desperately to give back that very love in order to somehow become whole.

The focus on the Cross which comes from my primary daily morning reflections has entered into the rest of my day.  I am not surprised but I had not expected it to be so evident.  There is a vulnerability here that I can only honour.

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