I am hoping that your summer months have been filled with many graces and blessings from the Lord.It is hard to believe that the end of July is in sight, but with the close of this month comes a very special day for those of us in Bethesda to celebrate.July the 31st is the Birthday of St. Mary Euphrasia, our foundress and Mother.On this glorious day, God sent to earth one whose heart for women and imitation of the Good Shepherd would eventually lead us to begin this ministry, where God’s own love and mercy would pour out in abundance upon us all.We admire her holiness, and look to her, because she embraced a life in God with zeal and great love.But the call God issued to her and to all His saints, is the same call He gives to each of us, in our own day, and in our own circumstances, to enter into a special life with him.The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, that ALL are called to holiness.Sometimes that can seem unimaginable. Does ALL include even me?
I remember once, a well meaning relative offered to tell me “what holiness was” based on the example of someone we both knew.As this individuals’ qualities were lauded before me, I began to shrink in horror, thinking there was no hope for me.After all, this person was mild mannered, soft spoken, introverted, and graceful, with an air of purity about her, and I seemed to be all of what was opposite.She was choosing to enter a cloistered convent, and I was a busy mom in the world.It caused me to see myself under a microscope, but the lens I was using was not God’s lens but one of condemnation.Looking closely, all I could see was my failures, my lack of discipline, my selfish nature, and of course all of my sins.Surely this was a formula for disaster. I was painfully aware of how much I was missing the mark, and with my lens in such a focus it did seem hopeless.Of course nothing is hidden from God, but when He looks at us, He adjusts His lens just so, and looks through His Son Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice, and His offering to take our place on the cross.
There is no difference, for All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Romans 3:23
Simply speaking, not one of us is worthy, not one of us can earn our own salvation, it is by the power of the cross that we are saved, so that none of us can boast.
Perhaps I would have been better served had I been given the wisdom of St. Francis, for his advice on the subject surely helped Brother Leo when he was despairing of ever arriving at purity of heart.
“Leo listen carefully to me.Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart.Turn and look at Jesus.Admire him.Rejoice that he is what he is – your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior.That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart.And once you’ve turned to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself.Don’t wonder where you stand with him. . . it is enough that Jesus is Lord.After a long pause, Leo said, “Still Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”
“No doubt about that,” replied Francis.“But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself.Instead of resenting it you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew.To cry out, “you alone are the HOLY ONE, you alone are the Lord,” that is what it means to be pure of heart.And it doesn’t come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.” “Then how?” asked Leo.
“Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean.Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past.Accept being shipwrecked.Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins.See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ.Jesus is Lord.That suffices.”
Sanctity, then must have something to do with the emptying of ourselves so that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.That takes awareness that we are not sufficient unto ourselves but that we are in need of a Savior.
This story has really helped me, as I have tried to find my way.While I am still walking through this journey of awareness, encountering God’s compassion and mercy has opened up a new way of looking at this call to holiness.The simple truth of this story, and the crowning glory of the saints is their transparency, their ability to let go of all the things that cloud the way, and allow the light of Christ to shine through their lives, so that when one sees them, one sees the face of Christ.Saints remain keenly aware of their own wantonness.As St. Teresa of Avila wisely observed, when you get holier, you don’t stop sinning, you just repent sooner.Come to think of it, some of my favorite saints are those that have led lives of terrible sin and then turned to God for forgiveness.St. Augustine, who struggled with his sexuality and sins of lust, St. Bartolo Longo, who was a priest of Satan worship, St. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute,St. Ignatius, and St. Francis who spent much of their youth in worldly pursuits, drinking and partying all the time.St. Margaret of Cortona, who bore a son out of wedlock and struggled greatly with temptations of the flesh.Each of them had different personalities, different ways of expression, different challenges to overcome, but they continued to seek God and persevered in the end.Let us not underestimate the seeking of God, and how pleasing it is to Him, that even after falling, we run to Him, once more fix our eyes on His love for us, and resolve to rise up and go on.
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life throughJesus Christ Our Lord.Romans 5:20
If this is the way of the saints, may we too recognize our need for forgiveness and healing, repent with confidence, and embrace with our whole heart God’s forgiveness; remembering always that the gift of the sacrament of reconciliation is truly a gift of freedom, and of hope, restoring us to our baptismal purity so that we are born anew, and ready to begin again.It is so important for us not to be become attached to a particular recipe for holiness, or to compare our progress with that of others, but to be attentive to the grace that God gives to us, individually, right in the middle of our ordinary lives, as well as our difficult struggles.
When I am tempted to fall into discouragement, and begin to focus on my progress, or lack of it, I try to remember the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians:My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
I also take great comfort in the fact that we are certainly not left alone, to wander aimlessly searching out this path of holiness.God has given us Himself in the Eucharist, His Church as a guide, His Mother to gently direct us, and all our friends in Heaven.What a gift St. Mary Euphrasia has been to each of us, her prayers, and those of her dear daughters, The Sisters of the Good Shepherd have held our every petition before the throne of God’s love.How wonderful it is to be a part of such a family, one which helps us to seek the Face of Christ before all else, and to let His light shine through.May we be a constant consolation to one another on this journey.Happy Birthday Mother!
The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in My mercy.My delight is to act in a human soul and to fill it with My mercy. (1784) (The words of Christ to St. Faustina)