ON THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Exactly nineteen years ago to the day, I consecrated my entire life and ministry to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Since then, she has enclosed me in the secret garden of her heart, and like a good Mother, has tended to my wounds, kissed my bruises, and taught me about her Son. She has loved me as her own—as she loves all her children. Today’s writing is, in a sense, a milestone. It is the work of a “Woman clothed in the sun laboring to give birth” to a little son… and now you, her Little Rabble.
IN the early summer of 2018, like a thief in the night, a huge windstorm made a direct hit on our farm. This storm, as I would soon find out, had a purpose: to bring to nothing the idols that I had clung to in my heart for decades…
After my sister’s death when I was only nineteen, almost overnight, I subconsciously began to look for comfort in other ways than in God. Although I continued to go regularly to Mass and Confession, I found myself seeking solace in the touch and affection of the girls I was dating. But that inevitably led to trouble. Alcohol increasingly became a “reward,” a way to “unwind” at the end of a week. Or I would turn to sports, to wasting time in front of the TV, or to food and coffee. I would occasionally have a cigar or puff a pipe. Later, when I married Lea, I sought comfort through our marital union, sometimes crying in her arms, wishing the moment would not pass. Even nature became an attachment for me; it became my place of comfort, the lap on which I would rest instead of the Father’s.
You see, when I was seven years old, I invited Jesus to be my “personal Lord and Savior,” which He has remained to this day. I loved God too much to “turn on” Him; I knew that He probably had a plan in all this sorrow; I knew that, to renounce my faith, would be a disaster in itself… So, I still believed and followed Him. But I no longer trusted Him. I could trust these comforts. They were tangible, in my control; they couldn’t betray me; they couldn’t turn my world upside down, so I thought.
Remarkably, in the midst of this “minor rebellion,” God called me into ministry in the mid-90’s. He began to do much to heal my trust in Him. I was committed to daily prayer, frequent confession, spiritual reading, spiritual direction and so on. These would often bring great spiritual consolations and the presence of God. I was learning to trust in His Divine Mercy. But still, I hung on to these other comforts. They were reliable, predictable. They were there when I was stressed or lonely. I thought I could love both “God and mammon.” cf. Matt 6:24 I was wrong.
The storm was literally over in about 15 seconds. Dozens of beautiful trees surrounding our yard on the bald prairies were toppled. It turned out that nature could turn my world upside down. I was angry and bitter for days. It soon became clear that I didn’t just appreciate creation; it was indeed a little idol.
In the months ahead, the strain of dealing with the storm, and the renovations to our house that was falling apart, strained my relationship with my wife. Just days before Christmas, we took a break from one another. I lived in a hotel and then a friend’s place. It was the most painful two weeks of my life (how could this be happening to us?). But in the midst of it, Jesus revealed another idol: co-dependency with my wife. The Lord did much after that Christmas to reveal the brokenness and dysfunction in my heart. He began to heal the root issues in my life and bring about a new freedom in my soul. I thought the worst of it was over.
But this past summer was a different storm altogether. Within a span of two months, the breakdown of machinery, vehicles and whatever else, plunged us tens of thousands of dollars into debt thus shaking me to the core. As I always did, I would give God the perfunctory nod—then turn to those other comforts, the idols I had not yet dealt with…
In early November this year, my wife walked into my office and tenderly said, “I think you need to rethink your approach to wine and your pipe. You like your comforts whether it’s these or food or coffee or… me. I know you’re not a drunk and that you’re pretty responsible, but still, you’re reaching for these things in stress. I think you might be sending a wrong message to our boys, and honestly, I’m struggling with your approach too.”
I sat alone for a few minutes. What she was telling me, I already knew deep within. The Holy Spirit had already been preparing me earlier in the year by moving me to reread The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross, a classical treatise on the need to detach in order to progress toward divine union. As St John said of inordinate attachments in his other work:
A bird can be held by a chain or by a thread, still it cannot fly. —St. John of the Cross, op. cit ., cap. xi. (cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book I, n. 4)
Oh, I wanted to fly to God! Ever since the storm, I was in a veritable tug-o-war in my soul. Jesus wanted all of me—and I wanted all of Him… but I wasn’t ready to completely let go. I would make excuses that, after all, I was suffering enough, that these comforts weren’t that unreasonable. The idea of letting them go seemed like a sad thing to do.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)
What happened next, I have no words for. Suddenly, a grace of repentance came over me. I called Lea back into my office. I looked at her and said, “How can I write about these idols in the Church, and yet, cling to my own? You’re right darling. I’ve given away my love to these things. But Jesus asks us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength. It’s time, darling. It’s time for me, once and for all, to smash these idols and abandon myself totally to Him.” Tears of joy and anticipation fell like rain. The window of opportunity was open. The grace was there.
I went to the fridge and grabbed a can of beer and what wine we had left. Then I went to the shop and collected my pipes and tobacco (that I had bought seven years ago when my mother-in-law was dying from cancer, again, to assuage my suffering with an idol of comfort). However, as I walked toward the incinerator to burn these things, something inside recoiled. Suddenly, a deep sadness came over me and I began to cry, then sob, then heave. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, perhaps even a small deliverance of some sort. So, I gathered my courage and tossed the pipes into the fire. Then I poured the wine on the ground, still sobbing.
Then… like water beginning to seep into an empty well… peace began to fill the voids of love.
The next day, I wondered if I’d gone too far. I wondered if this was too radical. And then, the Lord in His goodness, explained to me why I had to do this:
These idols took the place of Me. These comforts took a place in your heart reserved only for Me—I who created you for Me alone. My child, the Scriptures say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” But you have turned elsewhere for your rest, and this is why you have always been restless.
To turn to Jesus for this rest implies turning away from or casting off our burdens. But why don’t we do this? The answer is what St. Thomas Aquinas calls effeminacy or “softness”—a soul who doesn’t want to suffer.
Those who are inclined toward these delights have also another serious imperfection, which is that they are weak and remiss in treading the rough way of the cross. A soul given up to pleasure naturally feels aversion toward the bitterness of self-denial. —The Dark Night, Book One, Ch. 6, n. 7
But this softness is a lie. It actually deprives us of greater goods that would bring immeasurably greater fulfillment.
The attainment of our goal demands that we never stop on this road, which means we must continually get rid of our wants rather than indulging them. For if we do not get rid of them all completely, we will not wholly reach our goal. A log of wood cannot be transformed into the fire if even a single degree of heat is lacking to its preparation for this. The soul, similarly, will not be transformed in God even if it has only one imperfection… —St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book I, Ch. 11, n. 6
Since the day that I “smashed” those idols, I have been experiencing wave after wave of grace, new effusions of understanding and peace amidst tears of joy. St. John of the Cross once said that we can actually progress quickly toward divine union if we but reject all sin and inordinate attachments. In other words, we are not doomed to a life of restlessness, misery and anxiety while on earth. Jesus said:
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly… unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 10:10, 12:24)
NOT MY WILL
Ponder this: all that stands between you and the Gift is your will! It is doing the “hard thing” (at least it feels that way at first) in order to receive the best thing. Our Lady said to Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta that she wants all her children to know the same interior life that she has by living in the Divine Will, not our own.
Do you know what renders us dissimilar? It is your will that robs you of the freshness of grace, of the beauty that enraptures your Creator, of the strength that conquers and endures everything and of the love that impacts everything. —Our Lady to Luisa Piccarreta, The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will, Third Edition (with translation by Rev. Joseph Iannuzzi); Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, Msgr. Francis M. della Cueva S. M., delegate of the Archbishop of Trani, Italy (Feast of Christ the King); from Divine Will Prayer Book, p. 87
I am experiencing that truth at this very moment. With those idols smashed to pieces, there is now room in my heart for the Divine Will; there is “good soil” for the seeds of the Kingdom to germinate in; cf. Luke 8:8 there is a heart more emptied of self so that it can be filled with the Divine. cf. Phil 2:7 And I find myself crying out in the words of Augustine, “Late have I loved Thee, O Lord! Late have I loved thee!”
Oh, how late have my desires been enkindled and how early, Lord, were you seeking and calling that I might be totally taken up with you! —St. Teresa of Avila, from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. 1
Jesus Christ, my Lord, even though my sins from the time of my childhood, and those which I have committed up to this present hour, are very great… your mercy is greater than the malice of my sins. —St. Francis Xavier, from The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier; cited in Magnificat, Dec. 2019, p. 53
What is the lesson then today? It is that you need to exercise courage. I am convinced that, because you’re reading this, you also have the grace to do what is necessary. But you need to exercise courage—to “be not afraid.” For years, I cried out like the blind man Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” But what I was lacking was the courage to let go of what I was clinging to.
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. (Mark 10:46-52)
He threw aside his cloak. And with that, he was healed. What are you clinging to today? Or rather, what is clinging to you. Because in truth, hidden within the pain of letting those things go (the cross) is the seed of new life and light (the resurrection). Therefore…
…let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross… (Heb 12:1-2)
This said, entreat your Blessed Mother to help you, just as the servants at the wedding at Cana approached her when they ran out of wine.
Will you place your heart, your will and your entire self in my maternal hands so that I may prepare you, dispose you, strengthen you and empty you of everything? If you do so, I will completely fill you with the light of the Divine Will, and form in you its divine life. —Our Lady to Luisa, Ibid. Divine Will Prayer Book, p. 86
The jars of your own wine, that is, your own will must be emptied first before they can be filled with the Divine Will. Our Lady will help you. She, in turn, then appeals to her Son to change the water of your weakness into the wine of His strength; to transform your will into the Divine Will. Our Lady, as mediatrix of grace, “will completely fill you” with this New Wine pouring forth like an ocean from the luminous Heart of Christ’s Divine Mercy. She’s going to do it! For your part, it is the courage to say no, once and for all, to those things to which you are inordinately attached.
Jesus once said to Luisa, “To enter [into the Divine Will] creatures need but remove the pebble of their own will… A soul has but to desire it and all is done, my Will assumes all the work.” If you have a spiritual director, reveal to him those idols that you feel must be smashed before you do anything radical. If you don’t have a director, ask Our Lady and the Holy Spirit to temper your zeal so that you do only that which is pleasing to God. Do not fall into the error of thinking that good things like nature, chocolate, marital sex, or even a glass of wine are evil. No! What is sinful and damaging is when these become idols that in turn create “voids of love” where God’s Will ought to reign. Ask Our Lady Seat of Wisdom to give you the knowledge and wisdom needed to become the person the Father created you to be, which ultimately, is found in the Gift and grace of living in the Divine Will.
It is the grace of incarnating Me, of living and growing in your soul, never to leave it, to possess you and to be possessed by you as in one and the same substance. It is I who communicate it to your soul in a compenetration which cannot be comprehended: it is the grace of graces… It is a union of the same nature as that of the union of heaven, except that in paradise the veil which conceals the Divinity disappears… —Blessed Conchita (María Concepción Cabrera Arias de Armida), cited in The Crown and Completion of All Sanctities, by Daniel O’Connor, p. 11-12; nb. Ronda Chervin, Walk with Me, Jesus
Two days before I smashed those idols, I was moved to post this video on Facebook. I didn’t know how prophetic it was going to be…
It is time, my friend, to burn the ships and fill the voids with love.
Rise up and have courage!
—Our Lady to Luisa, The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom, Day 2
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