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.

Impermeable Love and the Call to Relationship

Have you ever seen two young people who are in love? It sometimes appears that they are in their own little world. Absorbed in their love for each other, they seem unaware of what is happening around them. Their focus is solely on one another. They seem, in this state, to be floating through life.

God’s love for each one of us is like this. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.”

God loves each one of us and focuses on each one of us as if there were only one of us in the world. By human standards of comprehension, this amount of love is completely incomprehensible – especially considering He loves everyone He has created, down through the ages, in this same way.

And, like young lovers in their own little worlds, God’s love is impermeable. Like this love, His love, makes us lighter, burdens fall away.

Unlike the love of young lovers though, His love never waivers. Neither floods, nor war, nor even death can take us from His love.

If we accept it, His love is the only constant – through life or death – for all eternity. When one accepts His love and surrenders in trust to God, His love is impermeable. His love encircles us and guards us.

But we must accept it. St. Augustine said, “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst and ours.” It is a two-way relationship. God waits expectantly for us to accept Him and His love.

There really is no better offer – but we must trust Him – and accept the offer.

“God is indeed waiting for you; He asks of you only the courage to go to Him.” – Pope Francis

Jesus' love

“God is in the Details”

So, I have to give credit where credit is due. My friend, Mary Ann, just gave me the title for this post when I told her this story a few minutes ago.

Listen to this. As often happens, I got busy with the end of the school year activities, work, and life in general and again waited until the last minute to plan our summer vacation. I checked the online listings for the area we had originally planned to go and it was all picked over.  There was nothing left at a reasonable price. In desperation, I punched the dates we are free to go on vacation into the computer and did a worldwide search. All of these cool worldwide destinations came up. Hawaii looked nice – the room prices were reasonable, but airfare was out of the question. So, I decided to stick to the East Coast and, just for fun, looked to see if there was anything left on the Cape – my dream beach destination. I fully expected it also to be completely sold out. (Now, if like Mary Ann, you ask “which Cape?,” I will tell you what I told her. What other Cape is there? Cape Cod of course! Sorry, Massachusetts pride is as strong as NY Yankees pride!)

Anyway, I was surprised to see that there were still a lot of cottages listed as being available the week we have off. However, when I e-mailed the owners, most of the cottages were actually already booked.  I spent many hours looking at these listings and even called on friends in Massachusetts to give me advice. Still, it looked like I was going to strike out again.  I wasn’t sure quite what to do and I was acutely aware of time running out.

So, last night, when Mary Ann asked if I wanted to go to Adoration, I decided to take a break from the frustrating cottage search and said “sure, I’ll go.”  It was still on my mind when I got to the church though, so I decided to ask God for help with the vacation planning. When I was in college, the Jesuits taught us to envision Jesus sitting next to us and just have a conversation with him about whatever was on our minds.  So, although I almost hesitated to ask because it seemed kind of ridiculous that God would care about my vacation plans, I decided to tell ask Him for help. Just as I would tell a friend, I told him I didn’t know where to reserve or which house to reserve. I was concerned about many things and many details and I told him every one!

I woke up this morning and found in my e-mailbox an e-mail from the owner of my favorite cottage. She said it was available. And, not only was it available, but it had every single one of the things we wanted in a cottage – and more!

Then I called up my friend from college who has a family cottage on The Cape and told her where and when we could be there.  She said, “No way!” She said that the cottage I had rented is just a few streets away from her family cottage. I thought that this was nice, but I knew that she would be working so I told her it was really too bad I wouldn’t get to see her. She said, “No! Our week at the Cape is always this weekend, but this year my cousins took my weekend and I was really mad!” Her new weekend happens to fall during the same week that we have reserved. We will be a few streets away and I will get to see her!  And, on top of this, one of our other dear college friends, who now lives in Utah, will also be vacationing in the same town on the Cape the same week!

I could not have planned it better if I had tried! God really is “in the details” as my friend Mary Ann said. It still astounds me that He could really care about every little detail in our lives – but He really does. We just have to bring it to Him and ask for help. Every time I do this, I get results that are far better than any I could plan myself.   As the old adage goes, “Let go and let God”…it works every time!

Footprints+in+the+Sand,+Oregon+Coast[1]

 

“The Word of God is Volatile”

 

“The word of God is volatile.  It is unpredictable.  It produces a zeal that can be a little embarrassing.”

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard the priest at Mass yesterday.

“Yes,” I thought to myself.  “It certainly is. I can’t believe I am writing a blog in the public domain  about my spiritual journey.”  Those of you who know me, know that I’m a very private person and I rarely talk about such things even “in person.”

Yet, over the past few years, I’ve had an amazing journey.  I didn’t intend any of the journey and I certainly didn’t plan to share about it.

Let me start by sharing with you what was going on when I really put on “my walkin’ boots.”  Over the past decade, our family has weathered many serious illnesses.  Actually, to say we have been innundated by illness probably wouldn’t be an overstatement.  We have dealt with preterm pregnancies and the NICU, neuropathy, cancer diagnoses, diabetes, heart issues, neck injuries, concussions, blood disorders, multiple surgeries, epilepsy, dyslexia, and much more.

Over these years, when I would go to pray, I often felt like I would come before the altar of the Lord and fall “flat out” and face down in front of Him because I had no strength to stand.  I had no words to say.  I was too exhausted to even process thoughts.   I was empty and deflated.

Sometimes I wondered if it could even be considered praying – to drag myself before the Lord and then just say nothing at all.

It was during one such very difficult stretch a couple of years ago, that I came across a prayer card stuck between the pages of a book I was reading.  I had received it while I was on an Ignatian retreat in college. It is called the “Suscipe.”

 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.

                                                            –          St. Ignatius of Loyola

I took it out and prayed it.  “What could I lose?” I thought to myself. I didn’t really feel anything at all the first time I prayed it.

I prayed it again a few days later.  “I think I’ll just hand it all over,” I thought to myself.  “God knows, I really am not doing a great job of handling all of it myself.”  So, I prayed the Suscipe, envisioning myself literally handling all of my burdens over to Him.

It felt good.  I felt lighter.

I decided to try to pray it every day.  I didn’t really know that God would even care to receive my weak prayers but I decided to say the Suscipe every morning on the way to work.

Things started to happen.  Just saying the prayer left me feeling comforted.  After saying it, I seemed to have renewed energy and peace.  Some days, it literally felt like an infusion of energy.  Things started to fall into place. I started to meet people in all areas of my life whose friendships would enrich and sustain me.  I also started listening for God more.

I have come to realize that this is an incredibly powerful prayer.  In speaking with a Jesuit friend recently, I learned that this prayer is more than just a prayer of words.  It is an offering of the full and total person to the Lord – mind, body, and spirit.  When we pray this prayer, amazing things happen.  Just try it.  You’ll see.

Ignatius-Suscpie