Saturday, April 22, 2017

For Those Who Mourn

Her rocking chair lets out a creak as she leans back. Physically, she's not a commanding presence, to your surprise. If it weren't for her wrinkles, she could easily be mistaken for a child in that chair. But you know different. She's, after all, Saint Louise de Marillac. And she's your director for this year's retreat on the Beatitudes.

She pats the Bible on her lap. She opens her mouth to speak and her voice is comfortingly soft. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted....I believe you know enough about me that you will understand why this has been my favorite Beatitude. I've had a lifetime of mourning. Later in life, I understood my way to holiness was the way of the Cross. I suffered much...beginning with my very birth."

Yes, you knew. Louise de Marillac was born illegitimate. She never knew her mother nor do any of her biographers or historians. While Louise didn't end up in a home for foundlings (as did many other illegitimate children), her relationship with her family was...well, complicated. Her father sent her to live with her aunt, who was a Dominican nun. There, Louise received a great education - better than some of her counterparts - but she never experienced love from her father.

She continues, "I mourned the mother I never knew. I mourned the loss of my family through their rejection. I mourned over breaking my promise to God that I would be a nun - I married Antoine instead. And then, of course, later...later, I mourned the loss of his warm and loving personality when the sickness fell."

Silence. You notice Louise is no longer looking at you. Instead, she's staring off somewhere in the distance. Fighting off the bad memories? Praying? You realize, at that moment, there is more to the story than you'll ever know. What you do know is that, even during his illness, Louise contemplated leaving her husband and joining the convent. It was the time of her Lumiere (Pentecost Experience) that would lead her to found the Daughters of Charity ten years later.

She clears her throat and nervously smooths out her dress, obviously flustered with herself. "I then mourned the loss of my husband's physical presence. And while I would never physically lose my son Michel, I lived in constant fear that I had lost him emotionally and spiritually."

I know you have had your own moments of mourning during your life as well...and not always over deaths.

She lovingly looks intently at you and sympathetically smiles. "Perhaps you've even going through one of those times now?"

Your eyes give away the answer. Suddenly, you share everything with this woman, this stranger, this saint. Yet, something strange has happened. By listening to Louise's story in her own words, in her own voice, she is no longer a holy card, a medal or a character in a biography - she has turned into a real person, maybe even a friend. And she listens more intently than anyone else you've ever met. 

When there's nothing more to tell, she speaks, "What got me through those mourning periods was the belief that somehow God was still in control. It's not an easy concept to grasp. Easier said than done, as you say. But I had to believe I would be comforted - in this life and the next.

She leans in and her hands clasp yours.

And I am comforted. We must trust, dear friend, always trust Him."

(Note: I wrote this in 2014 as a draft for a heritage project about St. Louise de Marillac. The project was originally a 8-day retreat with St. Louise in this style. I ended up going forward with a different idea but this draft survived in one of my writing notebooks.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Disciples and Me

I've been thinking of the disciples a lot lately - those crazy screwups like Simon Peter, Andrew and even Mary Magdalene. For three years or so, they knew what their life was. They followed that nomad named Jesus, sat and listened to his preaching, and did some fishing while they were at it. Jesus was unpredictable but they knew what their life entailed.

And then He was gone.

I've been thinking of the disciples a lot lately.
Because for five years or so, I knew what my life was. I followed that nomad community Daughters of Charity, sat and prayed with my community and served the poor while I was at it. Life was unpredictable but I knew what my life entailed.

And then it was gone.
(Granted, it was by my own choice and I do not regret it, but it was still gone.)

In the dark of Holy Saturday, memories probably flooded the disciples - memories of the amazing unbelievable miracles, chatting and laughing with Him in the boat, etc.
In the dark of Holy Saturday, memories flood me - memories of the amazing unbelievable Easter Vigil at St. Vincent's in St. Louis, chatting and laughing with the Sisters in the kitchen (with popcorn or banana bread) after each late-night Vigil, etc.

The difference between the disciples and me is that I have to find my own resurrection.
I have to work at my own resurrection.
But there are so many lessons that I can find in this Holy Week and Easter season: that Jesus felt the same way as me in so many ways, that the disciples also had to live through painful impatience like me, and, that, through resurrection, life completely changes.

But the biggest lesson of all is that resurrection comes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Why Emilio Estevez was Right about Journeys

Do you have a book or movie that you can go back to again and again and always find something new? For me, it's the movie The Way with Martin Sheen (directed by his son Emilio Estevez).

I recently watched it again and, for the first time, I saw myself in Sarah.
Sarah, the sarcastic angry Canadian.
(And it came from more than the fact I call a friend of a certain generation "Boomer" like she does with Tom.)

Sarah carries a heavy past, a sad story, with her as she walks the Camino. I won't share it because it's up to you to see the movie. I will share that Sarah tells no one and instead masks her journey as a quest to "quit smoking". Tom, our main character, and a very hostile Sarah meet for the first time at a hostel on the Camino and Tom says:
"You sound really angry."
"Yeah. Sure. I'm angry. I gotta quit these and I'm really, really angry about that."

So, how did I see myself in Sarah? Am I really that angry? Am I really that secretive?

The answer is yes, yes, I am.

It's been six months and I'm still very angry about things that didn't happen but should have and things that did happen but shouldn't have.
It's been six months and I find myself questioning basic things about others - trustworthiness, goodness, etc.
It's been six months and most who have met me for the first time since October have no idea I used to be a Sister nor do I really want to tell them.

The truth is I'm not okay. Not completely anyway.
I'm in the process of healing and of grieving. And according to others that I've shared this journey with, it takes awhile. I personally wish it would hurry the hell up.

When does the healing journey end? I know there's an end. There has to be.
Strangely enough, out of everything, I'm not angry with God. I plead with Him and even complain to Him but I'm not angry with God.

Muxia, Spain - the final stop in the Camino for the characters in "The Way"
At one point in the movie, when Tom was walking way ahead of the group, Sarah stopped and said "why does it piss me off so much that I haven't seen him stop to take a break? Why does something that should be inspirational make me so angry? Totally irrational.
The same could be said for this entire journey."

Sarah's right. Emilio Estevez is right. The journey is irrational. But I have to remind myself that "irrational" doesn't have to mean "bad".
God doesn't seem to speak in logic anyway. All is mystery.
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