On Reaching out to Those on the Margins

I am so pained by the vilification of all refugees based on the actions of a few. Pope Francis, nearly daily, calls us to respond with compassion to those on the margins – in the world, in our communities and in our lives. Please check out my post on Loyola Press’ dotMagis blog this month:

A Grain of Compassion

 

 

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“What is it that I Love?”

Want to delve deeper with this question?  Check out my post on the dotMagis blog this month!

Love, Relationship, and How We Live

“Where’d You Go?”

Dear friends,

Thank you for your feedback and for asking where I’ve gone!

Things got really busy in September of last year and haven’t slowed down yet! So, I’ve only been able to get a blog a month out.  Until I have time to write more here, you can find my monthly blogs on the dotMagis blog of  Loyola Press.

 

My latest blog is out today and can be found here:

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/23747/de-caussade-chance-encounter-divine-intervention?

 

Older blogs can be found at:

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/author/ruiz

 

Peace,

Rebecca

Losing the Masks this Lent

I was reading something that Marilyn Monroe wrote and it really resonated with me.

Monroe wrote, “I’m finding that sincerity, and to be [as] simple and direct as I’d like, is often taken for sheer stupidity.”

There is truth in her words. Sincerity and simplicity are not often-prized in modern times.  Rather, from the time we are small, we are taught control – which often claims sincerity and simplicity as its casualty.  We are taught to control our words, deeds, actions, goals, and dreams.  We are taught that we can control our destiny and our entire world.

As we grow and realize that this is not actually always possible, we develop masks to cover those places where we feel less adequate or where we feel afraid.  Nearly everyone develops these masks.  There is a multi-million dollar industry built on the sale of self-improvement books that teach us how to project power and confidence in the boardroom – and every other area of life.  They teach us to “pretend until you become” and “fake it until you make it.”  They teach us how to survive by putting on masks of power and of control.

Yet, despite our best efforts to maintain control, hardships still arise.  As much as we may try to project confidence and control our destinies with positive thoughts and illusions of power, difficult things still happen.  How is one to reconcile this?

The problem with “masks” is that this mentality, this projection of control, completely closes the door to God.  If we try to control everything and mask those things we fear we can’t control, we leave no opening for God to work in our lives.

Yet, whether or not we admit it to ourselves, God knows our minds and our hearts: LORD, you search me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.” (Psalm 139)

God knows what is under our masks.  It is in this place of sincerity and simplicity that God works without hindrance.  He is at home in our unabashed fears and in our unencumbered happiness.  St. Therese of Liseaux, contemplating ways to get to heaven, spoke of her “Little Way.”  It is a way of simplicity. In St. Therese’s “Little Way,” there are no masks – just overflowing love for her Creator, the desire to please Him in her every deed, and an openness to receiving His gifts.

One of the most common ways that God helps us to “lose the mask” is through illness and other hardships.  Countless saints, including St. Therese, St. Francis, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and St. Ignatius, all learned through illness.  St. Ignatius lost his health in battle and during the long and painful months of recovery, came to the realization that he was not in control.  He dropped the masks of wealth and power that he had inherited at his noble birth.  It was during this time, that Ignatius wrote his famous prayer of surrender to God, the Suscipe.  This prayer represents a total offering of the self to God.

Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

 

The more I pray this prayer, the more I realize how completely counter-cultural it is. The Suscipe represents a return to authenticity and simplicity – a removing of the masks before God. Essentially, what we are saying when we pray it is, “Here I am, Lord. I realize that I am dependent on you for every breath.  I offer myself to you totally and completely. I surrender my mask.”

In Latin, “suscipe” means “to receive.”  The beautiful paradox is that the more we give to God, the more we ourselves receive.

Perhaps because it presents an opening for God to work in our lives, each day I pray it, I also think of different things I should be handing over to God.  I offer whatever is weighing on me and whatever is making me happy that day.  As I pray it, I often find concerns that I didn’t even know were there rising to the surface of my consciousness.  I hand these things over too.

Praying the Suscipe almost always gives rise to further prayer which, for me, generally goes something like this:

Lord, I give you my joys, sorrows, victories, defeats, pains, consolations, and everything in between.  I give you my imperfections. 

Lord, please sort it all out. You know what’s best for me.  If it is your will, Lord, replace my fears, sorrows, and sufferings, with your love, joy, and peace.  Let me not hold onto things that weigh me down but let me hand them over to you. You are my strength in weakness. 

Even my dreams and aspirations – you may have better ones for me.  Let me not hold too tightly to these.  Keep my eyes and ears open to your designs for my life.  I am an empty vessel.  Fill me with whatever you choose – words, deeds, actions – according to your will, not mine.

Help me to see you at work in my life, Lord.  Open my eyes, my ears, my heart to recognize all of the ways in which you are working in my life throughout the day. 

Allow me to accept your love.

Allow me to accept the gifts you want to give me.

Allow me to accept the abundance of your gifts. 

Allow me to use these gifts you give me in word and deed for those around me too. Work through me in all things for your greater glory.

Praying the Suscipe creates a sacred space in our souls where we ask that “perfect Love” to “cast out all fear”; a place where we allow His mercy and His love to permeate our beings. It is a place where we come to the profound realization that, in the end, and every day in between, He is really our only strength.  In our weakness, He does make us strong.

This Lent, give Him your masks. Give Him all the fears that they cover.  Be weak in Him and let Him make you strong.

This Lent, open yourself to the Love that He is dying to give you.

Commandments for the New Year

Discipline. Most New Year’s resolutions are all about discipline. We resolve to start working out, to start eating better, to get organized. We are determined to do better, be better.

New Year’s resolutions are widely considered to be good, socially-respected forms of self-determination.

Contrast the word “resolution” with the word “commandment,” however, and you will get a completely different reaction. Many, if not most, people bristle at the word “commandment.” Connotations of the word “commandment” include a lack of self-determination, a passive voice, and a “lording over” – unattractive connotations to most in modern society.  Many people today would probably even consider a “commandment” to be something “inflicted upon.”

Indeed, the Latin commandare in the imperative does mean “to command” and does involve an action on a passive subject. Yet, we often miss the finer connotations of the word “command” which also involves an “accountability for.” If you have ever known a military commander, you know that a commander is accountable for those he/she commands. And, not only is the commander accountable for his charges, but he also usually cares deeply for them. Talk to any veteran who has lost a comrade under his charge in war and you will understand the depth of this love, the depth of loss that he feels when he loses the one under his charge.

In the same manner as the loving commander, the Ten Commandments, are commanded by a God who loves His children deeply. If one views them from the perspective of a set of commands “imposed upon,” one might easily consider them to be an unattractive set of rules against which to rebel. Yet, if one considers them from the standpoint of love, the whole picture changes.

Consider any one of the commandments and take the alternative. Take for instance, “Thall shalt not steal.” Consider the possible consequences of stealing – one may go to prison and lose one’s freedom, cause great hardship to another, suffer great guilt, or cause strife. Or, take “Thall shalt not kill” – again, the consequences are hardship, pain, tumult, strife, loss of freedom, and retaliation that leads to strife – all negatives. Nothing good. In fact, the alternative to every single commandment contains hardship and suffering. If we choose not to follow any of these commandments, things become more difficult, less clear, and the end result, is pain.

Through the Ten Commandments, we are invited to freedom from messy and painful consequences. While the Commandments may challenge us and require great discipline, if we follow these rules, we can live in freedom. They liberate us from pain, guilt, hardship, and strife.

The Ten Commandments are an expression of love, expressed by a loving Father who does not want His children to suffer.  And, they are the active promise of relationship, a promise of belonging – “I am the Lord your God” – I am your God and you are mine. I, your God, will always love and protect you.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Why? Because our loving Father hears our every word, if we call Him, He is there to help us. We should only call His name when we need His loving care. The Ten Commandments are the loving instructions of Our Father who loves us deeply.

It’s all in one’s perspective – and we are free to decide this perspective. We can consider the Ten Commandments a stifling list of prohibitions or we can embrace the gifts we are offered through them: the offer of love, of belonging, of justice, of peace, of harmony, of respect for human dignity, of protection from pain.

Myself? I will embrace the gifts. This New Year, I resolve to actively and freely trust that my God loves me more than I can fathom. I trust His commands to me because I belong to Him and want to live freely, unencumbered by the pain of the alternatives. And, I pray that He will give me the discipline and grace to keep His commands so that I can live in a state of love for Him and my neighbor. I trust His love and want to live in this love.

“What greater happiness is there than to live entirely in God, since He loves His own, He protects them, guides them, and leads them to eternity.” – Saint Padre Pio

A Year in Review

New Year’s Eve day…some people are getting ready to party tonight, some are thinking about the past year, some are making New Year’s resolutions. I’m doing all three.

I think about what a whirlwind year it was. We dealt with a lot of illness in the family. A lot of trips out of state to help with family members dealing with illness. Lots of work. Crazy calendars. “To do” lists that were pages long where only the top 3 items would get done each day. So many times, life seemed “out of control” – crashing down on us all at once. Many times it seemed to be too much to humanly handle.

As I look back, I realize that all of these overwhelming situations were, in fact, too much to humanly handle. We simply could not do it alone. We simply cannot do it alone. We can try, but it gets to be too much.

Patiently and persistently, God shows me that I don’t need to do it alone. I am not alone. He is here with me. He is here with each of us. We just need to trust Him.

And trust is so difficult. In fact, I am remarkably bad at trusting God, which is why, I think, He gives me so many opportunities to try and try again.

And, I’m really glad for these opportunities because every time I do let go and trust, amazing things happen. Amazing.

Amisdst the hardships of the year, there were amazing, incredible blessings – overwhelming, flowing-over blessings. And, every time they shone through, it was when I finally let go of control. At all those times, when I really could not humanly struggle any more, I saw what God was trying to do for me. And, when I let go and let Him take over, every single time, the results were beyond my wildest dreams.

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, reminds us, “If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength!”

So, my resolutions this year are to try to recognize His blessings in all things, each day and to “let go and let God” – as much as I can, in every moment. To trust that He’s got it. To trust that He’s got me. I accept the abundance He is continually offering me. I accept His constant and unwavering love. And, I look forward to seeing what He’s got in store for the coming year!

pope francis on trust cropped

Cross on my Mirror

A lot of people hang rosaries or crucifixes from their rearview mirrors. For a long time, I neglected this practice because I didn’t want to be distracted by something hanging by me while driving. After a couple of accidents though, I decided I could use some extra protection so I got a crucifix and hung it from my mirror.

Having the crucifix literally, always before my face, has provided some unexpected insights.

First, it’s hard to ignore Christ when he’s right there before you, hanging on the cross, reminding you of His sacrifice and of His love for you.

Second, the crucifix has become my barometer.  If I drive too fast, I have to slow down and hold onto the cross to stop it from swaying too wildly. The same is true when I cut corners or when the road is bumpy.

As I was driving this morning and a sunbeam illuminated the cross, I realized my experience with this cross is an allegory for the Christian life.  As Christians, we need to keep Him always before us – our eyes always fixed on Him. When we do, we remember his sacrifice and his love.  He steers us straight.

When we cut corners, He reminds us to steer clear.

When the road is bumpy, when life throws curve balls, when we don’t know the road ahead, He reminds us to hang onto the Cross.

And, at all times, He is with us. Christ present. Christ before us.

 

 “I keep the LORD always before me;

with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices;

my body also dwells secure,

For you will not abandon me soul to Sheol

nor let your devout one see the pit.

You will show me the path to life,

abounding joy in your presence,

the delights at your right hand forever. (Psalm 16)