Dear Friends of the Sacred Heart,
Several years ago as we were driving on a very busy thoroughfare on route to visit two of our sisters in a health care facility outside of Baltimore, one of our sisters casually remarked that she wondered what was going through the minds of all the drivers on the highway. The comment made me wonder too as I looked out the window at lines of traffic that seemed to be racing to unnamed locations. Were these people conscious of the deeper dimensions of life? Did they reach their destinations with a sense of God’s presence in their hearts? Did they even care to?
St. John of the Cross does not mince words when he speaks about the attainment of spiritual realities. He says quite plainly: “Would that we might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.” Do we find ourselves drawing back when hearing these words? I do. It is our natural tendency to be frightened of added suffering in our lives. Only when we stop and consider deeply and carefully and spiritually do we begin to open our hearts to the truth of what God is telling us, of where God might be directing us. If we are truly ready to be still and listen, then that is a sure beginning. And if we join to this listening a loving, receptive attentiveness, and a sincere detachment from seeing, hearing, knowing, feeling, or controlling, then we are giving God center stage in our lives.
This was a lesson that was brought home to me through two different experiences some years ago. The first happened in our Wilmington monastery when I tried to grapple with a personal dilemma. I really wanted to have a divine answer to a problem and began praying feverishly that one would be given to me. I determined I would pound on heaven’s door every chance I could and that my earnestness would wrest from God some measure of light to see clearly the solution to my trouble. And so the siege began, but to my utter frustration, nothing came, only dryness, emptiness, darkness. I visited our cemetery whenever possible and prayed for our deceased sister’s intercession. One day not too long afterward as I was doing this, a hint of something passed through some part of me which said, “You are not getting any light.” I repeated what I thought I heard to myself, “I am not going to get any light.” What a strange response! As I walked away I pondered what this heavenly refusal could mean.
It was a few hours later at our weekly Holy Hour that I was graced with some insight. Pulling out of my choir drawer the little book entitled They Speak in Silences (written by a Carthusian monk), I opened at random and was surprised to read the caption “Darkness Becomes Light.” My heart skipped a beat as I immediately felt that an answer was coming to clarify my day’s experience. I read with awe the words: “It is not in the light of words that we must seek the light. The light of a word is still something created, ephemeral – part of our nothingness. If we become attached to that light, we are halting on the way; we shall never reach the goal. That is why God bestows on souls whom He loves the grace of refusing them this light. He leaves them in darkness, and it is that darkness that becomes light: And night shall be my light in my pleasures. The true light shines in the darkness, but one must get accustomed to finding it there. At first one is terrified: light is such a lovely and necessary thing. But little by little, the day begins to dawn, and one sees that the light we miss is an interior light, whilst that which is growing is much purer.” Now I was beginning to put the pieces of this puzzle together and understand the message in a more spiritual sense. And what did I learn? That the best direction we can pursue in search of light is down the path of faith. God does not always give us a ready answer because ready answers leave us too much in control. God is the one who is in control and to know this and live by it one must place one’s feet squarely on the cloud of faith! In our worship of God, there is simply the “foundational” embrace of faith.
The other experience I would like to share also happened in our Wilmington monastery. A good friend of mine whom I had met while working as a dorm counsellor before entering the monastery came to visit. We sat in our downstairs visiting parlor with the enclosure grille between us. Born in Ireland, my friend had a very charming personality. I loved her “county Cork lilt” and had often used her remarkably logical mind to help me untangle difficult assignments in my studies. She came from a solid Catholic family, her father being principal of a Christian Brothers School. Coming to the United States for higher studies she became disenchanted with her faith and turned instead to the teachings of a popular guru. Our meeting that day eventually turned to spiritual topics and she explained to me how similar she believed our spiritual approaches seemed to be. Afterwards I pondered her words and could only notice that her calmness and confidence were convincing, for she seemed to be totally at ease and even joyful. However, it struck me that she made almost no references to God or Christ in her conversation, but mostly to “techniques” that proved spiritually fruitful in her meditation practices. I came to the conclusion from our meeting that we were on totally different paths, and that transformation in Christ was infinitely more precious to me.
In one of his first homilies as pope, our holy father Francis made this illuminating statement:
We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not build on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ — I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy — “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.
We learn from the lives of the saints that it is Christ himself who is the foundation upon which to build. Saint Francis de Sales gently reminded his directees, “Do not seek the consolations of God, but seek the God of consolations.” We for our part must wait in readiness. It is this spirit of faith-filled readiness that the Gospels assure us can move mountains. For despite human mistakes along the way, we know that God does convert everything to good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). In the words of an unknown author: “For silence is not God, nor speaking is not God; fasting is not God nor eating is not God; loneliness is not God nor company is not God … God is hid between them, and may not be found by any work (or technique) of thy soul but only by love of thine heart.”
Recently I’ve read a very good piece of advice from the inimitable Mother Angelica. A question came to her from one of her TV viewers: “If you feel like you are being called to do something, how do you know this is coming from God and not from some other source?” Mother answered directly, “If you feel you are being called to do something, just begin, sweetheart. If this is from God, the doors will then begin to open for you to continue.” No big techniques here, only the simple faith of an innocent child. And yet how Gospel oriented. In our everyday dilemmas and difficulties perhaps we can take up the sheer simplicity of those who, though not unwilling to examine their interiors, yet turn their attention ever more to the merciful presence of God in their midst, counting on Him and what He can do and will do to bring us to his Sacred Heart.
I think it was from the life of St. Therese of Lisieux that the story is told of an old nun’s insightful remarks to the young Carmelite. She imparted these words of wisdom to the future saint: “The closer one gets to God, the simpler one becomes.” In our Christian tradition, our final perseverance does not consist in having all the pieces of the puzzle in good order, but in knowing that there is “Someone” who does and that our utter trust in His mysterious providence will etch out the details of our days, if we allow Him that freedom. Consider what the Lord’s Divine Mercy revealed to St. Faustina:
The graces of My Mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.
Thus we should count on the reassurance of the words from Jesus’ Heart: “I will be with you.” And perhaps a word or two from St. Margaret Mary will also add encouragement. “Cling to the Sacred Heart” she says, and with added emphasis she notes,“The Sacred Heart is a hidden and infinite treasure desiring to manifest Itself, to be poured out and distributed, so as to relieve our distress.” How wonderful to know that the human-divine heart of Jesus knows that our woes are not meant to do us in, but to make our hearts like unto His, and to impart to us a hope and courage to continue our spiritual journey, keeping our eyes ever fixed on Him. Herein lies the key to our sanctification: to run the race, to fight the good fight, and to receive the crown of glory that awaits us as faithful lovers of His most Sacred Heart. †