ONE could summarize the recent five writings, from The Tiger in the Cage to The Rocky Heart, in the simple phrase: clothe yourself in Christ. Or as St. Paul put it:
…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Rom 13:14)
I want to wrap those writings together, to give you a simple image and vision of what Jesus asks of you and me. For many are the letters I receive that echo what I’ve written in The Rocky Heart… that we want to be holy, but grieve that we fall so short of holiness. It’s often because we strive to be a butterfly before entering the cocoon…
THE CATERPILLAR AND THE BUTTERFLY
The caterpillar is not the prettiest creature. It slithers on the ground until it finally weaves a cocoon. Within this silken "tomb," there is a metamorphosis—a change from one creature into a completely different creature, a butterfly.
When we are baptized, God literally gives us a new nature through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our fallen nature, destroyed by original sin is removed, and we are given a new nature made in His image. Now, some compare this to a butterfly, with the baptized soul emerging like a caterpillar from the waters of baptism into a new creature. If this is case, why then do I feel anything but new, often struggling with old habits and sins like my slithering old self? I am not flying but falling.
A better comparison may be that the Sacrament of
Baptism is the birth of the caterpillar. For, in the state of original sin, we are truly dead to Christ, separated eternally. But in Jesus, we have the hope of new life. He is the firstborn of creation, the head of the Mother butterfly, which is His body, the Church. I am "born again" through her Sacraments. I am part of the "larvae" that emerges from the baptismal font. I do not emerge yet as a butterfly, but rather as a caterpillar that contains the full genetic code to become one. In baptism, the full potential is now given by grace to become who I truly am meant to be: a soul, fully free, fully able to not only fly to God, but soar above the world and its fleshly passions with the wings of the Spirit.
Herein lies the point of attack of Satan upon God’s children. He accuses us for not being "perfect", not being "holy". "You should be a butterfly, but you are merely a maggot!" he sneers. You see how his words always appear true at face value, but they are not the full reality. Yes, we are to be butterflies, but in our weakness we truly are like maggots that as of yet cannot fly. But God knows this! That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit to finish the work begun in Christ:
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)
Even St. Paul admitted that he was still "under construction":
Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
So why do we believe the accuser if even the inspired Word of God does not speak of "instant holiness" but of a process of transformation, one not ultimately completed until Heaven?
All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
Our goal as believers is to become like the model butterfly— the Blessed Virgin Mary: to simply enter into the cocoon of God’s will where transformation will happen through God’s power, not our own. There we come with all the dust and dirt of our sinful slithering, trusting that He can make all things work to the good.
ENTERING THE COCOON: SOLITUDE AND SERVICE
In nature, the caterpillar often finds a place of solitude to build its cocoon. This is symbolic of the necessity to enter the solitude of prayer. Jesus spoke of this cocoon:
When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matt 6:6)
‘When you pray,’ when you enter the secret room of your heart, God will give to you more and more the graces and power to transform the inner self conceived in baptism. However, if you make excuses to avoid this cocoon, that you don’t have time or that it is too dry or that prayer is just for "holy" people, then metamorphasis is going to be a very long way off… if ever. For the Mother Butterfly teaches us:
Prayer attends to the grace we need… —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2010
Lack of prayer means a lack of the graces you need.
Prayer is the life of the new heart. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2697
No prayer means, simply, your new heart is dying, not drawing upon the life it needs for transformation. What more do I need to say? To decide for prayer is to to decide for God, or rather, a relationship with Him who alone can transform you:
…prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father… —CCC, n.2565
(I grew up the most hyper and distracted person you can imagine. If prayer is possible for me, it’s possible for anybody.)
The cocoon is not only a place of communion in the heart, but a place in the Kingdom. And Jesus told us exactly where that place needs to be:
…the one who humbles himself will be exalted…. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.(Luke 14:11; Mark 10:43-44)
Through humble service, the lowly caterp
illar will be raised up to a beautiful butterfly. As I wrote in the The Rocky Heart, we need to have the heart of a servant in order to bear fruit.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing…
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
(jn 15:5, 10)
Who cannot rise from the table and be the first to start dishes? Who can’t get off the couch and mow the elderly widow’s lawn or shovel a senior’s sidewalk? Who can’t change a diaper without being asked or take out the garbage? Or sit and listen to someone air out their heart? This is what Jesus means to be a servant: to do the will of God expressed each day in the simple duty of the moment. His yoke is easy and His burden light. But often, in the process of serving, we fight with our laziness, selfishness, or temptation. This is part of the cocoon—the darkness of the cocoon. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t growing in Him. It means simply that you need still need a Savior, you need His mercy, you need the grace of the cocoon.
JUST DO IT
If you enter into this cocoon of prayer and service, contemplation and action, then something incredible will begin to take place. The life of Jesus, that spiritual "genetic code" written into your heart in baptism, will begin to unfold. You will truly begin to grow the wings of the Spirit (that is, the freedom to fly above the chains of sin); the eyes of the Son (that is, wisdom); and the colors of the Father (that is virtue and holiness). But this takes time, dear brother. It takes patience, dear sister. The cocoon is a place of darkness; of waiting; of giving up the old so as to take on the new. It is the place of battle, of decision, of beginning again. It is the place of faith and surrender where sometimes we feel God has abandoned us because, in our opinion, we are wingless and blind.
But He replies:
My child, that is what YOU see. And yet, you are here in the cocoon, you have chosen to begin again and remain with Me. Do not judge yourself, for you cannot see the wings growing, pressed out of sight. Your eyes are covered over by the film of darkness and trial and even by My own hand so that you will not become proud at the beauty growing within. Do not judge, for I am the Creator, and I know when my children are ready to fly… you need only trust like a little child and persevere that you may be clothed in Me.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry… anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. (Col 3:3-14)
When you fail over and over again, begin again and again: Beginning Again
Hope for the despairing soul: One Word
Hope for the soul in mortal sin: To Those in Mortal Sin