2020 Vision – Part 2 – How St. Therese Elevated the Daily Grind
On January 1, I did not receive a blinding flash of grace to help me be a model follower of Christ. But one of the Italian priests at the New Year’s Mass mentioned humility. He said it was something we all had to practice, it means not thinking less of ourselves (I’m no good, I’m not dressed right, no hair curlers) but thinking of ourselves less. In other words, don’t waste time thinking how this or that will affect my life, my persona, but rather think less of me and more of thee. It seems St. Therese could help with that.
In the Bellarmine Forum’s series on Mercy, I came to Therese in my quest to understand the puzzle of mercy. I present that article here, and in reading it, realize what a long way there is to go.
In asking what mercy is, I asked,
Is it caritas then? Is mercy in actuality Christian charity, being the love of God to one another, putting ourselves aside to be a reflection of the Christ? The mercy of Christ healed the sick, welcomed the sinners, raised the people around Him toward holiness and everlasting life. If we reflect Christ in this way, will others follow the path of mercy, of self-giving charity?
Caritas – Christian charity, mercy-giving acts in the name of God. One thing has become clear in this quest. Mercy isn’t a plug and play, you cannot turn it on and off as needed, rather, mercy needs to be a way of life. In the mercy series, Matt Yonke mentions the Eastern Rite practice of the Jesus Prayer with each breath. Such a practice creates a heightened state of awareness of God. Mercy must be like that for all of us or we will be clueless how to handle our day-to-day-life as one obliged to be Christ’s mercy to others.
Daily Life Clashes With the Serene Goal
Day-to-day life, that is the sticking point. But back to St. Therese. Nothing big, nothing spectacular, just little deeds of kindness and mercy done for the love of God. After all, sanctity is not achieved with a rocket blast but more of a gentle reconstruction of life into holiness (wholly His). She called herself the broom to be hidden away behind the door after a task, such as hanging up the cloaks of the other nuns, was completed. Therese struggled, to be sure. The clanking of the rosary beads in chapel by the nun next to her drove her nuts, as did the constant splashing of water on her habit by an elderly nun in the laundry. Did Therese respond, yank the beads or splash back or even tell these offenders to stop? No, she prayed and mercifully did not disturb their peace.
At one place of employment, the secretary’s desk was next to mine in a large reception area. it was a walk on the wild side, people coming and going, phones constantly ringing, interruptions by staff — it really did take two of us, side-by-side to manage the front desk. But in the down times, my partner would talk to herself, read the daily obituaries aloud, chomp at her lunch. Sometimes I would be so angry at her I wanted to kick a wastebasket down the hallway or just yell. When the administrator asked how the job was going, I said frankly, “I’m not St. Therese.”
Why did I think of the Little Flower at that moment? Was there something in her life, how she met her challenges, that I could appropriate to my situation?
Prayer Nurtures the Little Things
Life isn’t just the big IMAX picture, life is made of all the tiny things that go into every day. How can a person focus on doing all those tiny things with charity and mercy, how to even think in those terms 24/7? Again, Matt Yonke gives a clue: prayer. Prayer is the way to tune in to God. Prayer is the way to become aware of the little inclinations toward the will of God. It’s hard work not to think of all the busy stuff coming up today, tomorrow, next week, next month. It’s hard to concentrate on an Our Father several times a day in free time – driving, walking the hallway at work, cleaning the garage – but without such a tune in we will be tuned out.
A flower doesn’t just grow. The seed is planted as was the Faith at Baptism. The proper nurturing brings forth the sprout, then there is growth and a blossom. The connection to God needs to grow, needs nurturing by increasing prayer and learning. Once we have grown to know God and understand His goodness, we come to love Him and from love our faith blossoms into service. As Thomas Bishop Doran has written, “Our good works must be beatified by a spirit of prayer.”
Prayer Refocuses the Little Things Back to God, and Points Our Way for Each of Us
It is only through the prayer connection that the whispers of God to our hearts for charitable acts will be understood and acted upon. For each of us, that call to mercy is different. A homily I heard discussed the common question of “What am I to do with my life?” The priest, an African who converted from Islam, said a person can only know this answer from prayer. What one is called to do is different from the call for another. Our talents are different and each of us must ask in what way our talents can serve God and others. The answers are so different:
- Pro-Life Action League’s Joe Scheidler took up a bullhorn to spread the pro-life message in front of abortion clinics in Chicago. He was sued, persecuted, verbally abused, jailed, his house vandalized, yet he stood fast, sustained by the daily prayers of fellow pro-lifers.
- The Sisters of Life bring the mercy of God to families and women needing shelter, considering abortion and/or in need of healing following abortion. The religious order has flourished because each young woman who has joined found an answer to the question, “What am I to do, God?” in this service.
- Sister Kristine lives alone at Mt. Carmel Hermitage in Wisconsin. Her call was to the life of a Carmelite hermit in constant prayer for the needs of those who reach her through e-mails, phone calls, letters, and visits.
- Mary Jo Copeland started Sharing and Caring Hands, and in 30 years has assisted thousands of destitute people with food, clothing, and dignity. According to Michelle Hinck in her 2003 book, Great Love, “Not everyone can do what Mary Jo does and build an entire campus of love, but everyone has something to share.” She hopes that sharing Mary Jo’s story will inspire others to find ways to use their talents and skills to help others. “Everyone has something to give, and although we may never know the specific impact this could make for someone else, we can be sure that it will, indeed, make an impact.”
- Actor Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and his wife of 20 years, adopted children from China. In one instance, they had been offered a healthy baby, but felt such a child would be easily adopted, but not so one with a cancerous brain tumor. And, as it turns out, they adopted another with a brain tumor. “We took the harder road,” the actor said in a Catholic.org article. “That is what faith is to me; it’s action. It’s the Samaritan.”
Or take the example of the Forty Days For Life movement. In 2004, Pro-lifer Dave Bereit was asked by a guest at a potluck dinner, “Do you understand that 2000 little boys and girls have just lost their lives on our watch?…Where is the Church? Why are they silent from the pulpit?”
The words haunted Bereit. He met with other pro-lifers and developed a three-pronged plan for prayer, fasting, peaceful vigil in front of abortion clinics. “God put in our hearts a time frame of 40 days, ” he said. Word of mouth brought 1000 volunteers who prayed publically around the clock at that first demonstration. The effort was repeated again and again in Texas and went national in 2007, according to the article in Defend Life (September-October, 2016).
Because one person made it personal, he helped launch a campaign that eventually involved hundreds of thousands of people around the country, saved thousands of babies’ lives, and closed abortion clinics, Bereit said. How? “By each of us making it personal! And each of us asking God, show me what I can do – and then each of us using our talents that God gave us to do everything possible.”
Prayer Can Make Big Things of My Way
Show me what I can do. We aren’t alone in this for Jesus Himself provided a roadmap in the Beatitudes and the Church has given us the Works of Mercy. Once we are tuned in through prayer, the whispers of God into the soul can direct us to reach out maybe this year to a needy family at church, maybe next year the clothing collection for Appalachia, maybe serving food at a Dorothy Day Center. Or as Matt Yonke writes, just sitting with the poor castoffs of society who happen to come along.
Prayer permeates. It fills the being, it inspires, it reflects the One to whom the prayer is directed. Venerable Archbishop Sheen wrote:
“Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?”Archbishop Fulton Sheen (www.fultonsheen.com)
That’s how the little way of mercy can work. Prayer creates the consuming fire. It heightens awareness so that every action becomes an opportunity to caritas – mercy: opening the door for another, aiding a family member with chores, hugging an anxious child. Your eyes become His eyes; your feet, His feet; your hands do His work in all things, all the little tiny things of each day.
This article, 2020 Vision – Part 2 – How St. Therese Elevated the Daily Grind is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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