Saturday, November 5, 2016

What Pilgrimage Made Grow: I didn't see this coming

One of the outcroppings of my pilgrimage which I did not at all see coming while I was in Poland was a certain practical shifting in my prayer focus. It continues to surprise me, though "surprise" isn't exactly the right word for something that I find having taken root in my soul.

Because it is the Year of Mercy, works of mercy came through as a theme at various World Youth Day events. And during that time, the spiritual works of mercy in particular sort of hummed with an attention-getting sort of resonance with me. But upon returning home, I found myself drawn powerfully to pray specifically for those in addictions, for those working in sex trafficking (pimps and prostitutes), and for those suffering violent abuse, whether physical or emotional.

It isn't that I have never prayed before for these needs, but since returning from Poland, this occupies a front and center place in my heart. There are no personal relationships informing this, but anyone who knows my hometown realizes that I am describing a hefty but hidden population here in the town. I am beginning to truly know myself called as a missionary right where I live.

There are complex intertwinings here, of course.

For one thing, I was invited to teach the Bible to children in an after school club downtown. I've known of this club for about six months, but this was nowhere on my radar screen while in Poland. But I am quickly finding it to be one of the biggest joys of my week. That's a surprise to me, too. Most if not all of these kids come from families or at least neighborhoods marked by the evils mentioned above. Several have never read the Bible, and some are not quite sure of why we bother talking about Jesus, and what he has to do with God. I have been teaching from the gospels connected to the mysteries of the rosary, beginning with the joyful mysteries. In taking this approach, one thing I'm looking for for myself (if I can say it this way) is to "watch" how Mary interacts with children such as these. And one thing that has become obvious is that, as a friend put it to me recently, Christianity is not a middle-class religion. God brings joy because he enters our human condition, our longing, our misery, and he shares it out of tremendous, mind-blowing love and desire for us.

Another complexity that is becoming simpler for me is a false dichotomy that has irritated me in various ways since my early days as a Catholic, with roots established earlier. Again, I'm not sure how to say this, but in my childhood I was firmly taught that the "social gospel" (which was said to be primarily, though not entirely, a byproduct of Catholicism) was a falsehood that is opposed to the true gospel, which was all about the eternal salvation of souls in heaven. That social gospel was about doing good works (essentially the corporal works of mercy) and advancing human progress, and about pretending that this was the reason Jesus died on the cross. I'll leave aside, for the moment, the puzzlement of how and why this was the deposit Lutheranism left with me. It simply was.

But when I became Catholic, this trouble did not quickly clear for me. If anything, I was left with a deeper kind of confusion. Theological troubles of the role of good works cleared more easily than did my wrestling with what I saw touted as the good works Catholics were encouraged to be about. Because of the era and place of my entry into the Church, I subconsciously realized the Catholic social gospel arena was heavily politicized. Conservatives had their issues; liberals had their issues. There were lots of axes grinding. I rarely saw anything promoted that seemed to directly help actual people. I was a conservative and worked with my people (literally; I worked for a pro-life group), and learned distrust of and despaired over the efforts of other camps.

And meanwhile, Jesus patiently tried to teach me that he meant it when he said "Inasmuch as you've done it to the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me."

This topic is really complex enough for several of its own posts, but for now I will say that theologically or practically separating love of God and love of neighbor destroys both. St. John and St. James made it clear that we lie if we say we love God but do not love our neighbor in practical, active terms. Likewise, if we seek to love our neighbor based on personal power and agenda that omits surrendering Lordship to Jesus, it is not love in which we deal, but corruption.

God's love in us impels us outward to others. All of our social gospel problems boil down to a privation of love in us.

And a third intertwining point, connected here, is that love, the pure love of God in us, brings us holy death. We resist this with all our energy. What God wants most deeply from us all is to let Him love us. Once He has this, He can move. We cannot induce this "letting" in anyone; each door must be unlocked from within the heart.

Some of those kids in my Bible club have already spoken to me of painful realities in their lives. But they do it in an innocent and childlike way, simply as facts that they own. If we can look up into the Father's face with our misery like that, or if we can come to Mary and ask her to help us find the God we don't know... oh my gosh... what an abundance of grace and mercy awaits us.

God is so powerfully good and is so on our side. He can undo the most complex difficulties in response to such a cry for mercy. He wants to do it.

And so I am praying daily for breakthroughs of His mercy.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Learning to Expect Jesus

It has been two and a half months now since returning from pilgrimage, and from this vantage point, key lessons and peak points suggest themselves both more generally and more plainly all the time. It's one of these that I have on my mind today.

I associate this particular piece with a time of prayer during the Diocesan Days in Wroclaw; this was about the second week that we were in Poland. We had had our "easy, pleasant" first pass through Wroclaw, then our journey to Czestochowa. Warsaw had happened. We visited Niepokalanow. And I think I had already had my culture shock of meeting other Americans there in Wroclaw. So, quite a lot had passed through my soul up to that point. From the vantage point of time passed, I think of the pilgrimage up to that point as "the easy stuff."

During that prayer time that day in that church, I looked back upon who I was when I set out on pilgrimage, and who it seemed I was becoming along the way. And I was struck by how hard I try, how much effort I put into everything. I have a definite choleric side to me, and working, competence, and effort are all things I value. At the same time, I am a person open-ended to the potential of every circumstance and situation, and I am not very goal-oriented. Bite-size goals seem paltry, boring, and unnecessary, so I usually skip setting any. Often I work hard all day, and at the end of it, I feel lazy and unaccomplished. I am inspired by huge, life-time-sized goals. And I am also inspired to express love for others, including God, by working hard. These things create a dynamic that often sends me into an intense, driven fury to DO.

And I found that this dynamic was at work in my spiritual life as well, of course. I want to do what I can do to draw near to God, so I will take up penance (and tell my kids to do the same) and persevere in prayer to the letter of the law of how I am obliged to do it, and I will be somewhat stringent about things that are typical for me but not required by God nor Church.

Even as I type, the image that comes to mind is someone hunkered down over her work. And that day, as I prayed in that church, I realized that hunkered down had become my spiritual posture.

And that image makes me think of two things: being cold, and not expecting anyone or anything to happen.

It happens when I'm left with just me. I'm kind of all I've got. And I'm giving it all I've got, in part so that I don't get stuck in that other aspect of my personality: the melancholic. Because I might go there if I just stopped and said to myself, "I'm alone."

I work, sometimes, so that I'm not lonely.

But that day in the church, I realized this was not necessary, nor was it good, this bent interior posture I had developed without noticing. I was working as if everything depended on me. But I was not pursuing the fire of God's love, or was I living expectantly. I was leaving God out of our relationship, maybe thinking I had to leave Him an "out," you know, in case He really didn't want to be there.

I remember a dinner I made years ago for guests. All day I anticipated their coming. It was part of me. When the time came for their arrival, even though I was in the kitchen, every ounce of me was set on the street, on the gate, on the door, on the doorbell. I was with them long before they were with me. When I set the table, I was paying attention to them. When I stirred the food, I was paying attention to them. I was so not hunkered down. In fact, I do have an opposite setting, where I become almost uncontrollably flighty because I am so filled with expectation or flooded with someone's presence that my social function goes haywire.

But what God was calling me to that day was none of my own personality excesses. He was lifting my head, the same way a certain deacon always manages to do, whenever he offers me the Host. I am a good several inches taller than he, but he raises the Host far above both of our eye levels, so that I have to stand tall and lift my head up. There is something in this posture that requires me to go beyond myself, and expect Jesus.

Work is good, but our work does not command God. I can produce work. I cannot produce love. I respond to the love given me; God's love precedes me in everything. His love fills me, and then I can love. Then my doing is not self-protection. It is self-giving.

There is something of Thérèse in what God was teaching me here. Rather than pursuing a path that is supposed to lead me to feel competent and powerful and effective (yeaahhh, but somehow never quite makes it), God calls me to look up, run to the arms of the Father, and be lifted up as in an elevator. I don't need to show God how hard I've tried. I need to learn to bury my face in Him and say "Regardless of what I've done, love me, purify me, hold me, pick me up! For you are so good!"

I have the same temperament; that's not going to change. But rather than become frustrated with how little I feel I can do, or worse yet, admiringly self-congratulatory, I can recall that everything I do strains to expect Jesus. The work all falls into its place when the One Who is Love takes center stage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

To Delight in God's Will

I thought I had written all that I would write, here. Perhaps I am not completely finished yet.

A few days ago I stumbled across a prayer I had written out (something I seldom do) just a few weeks before heading off on the pilgrimage. It goes like this:

Oh Lord, give me discernment between my passionate desires for good and holy things, my imagination of what your will could be, and the clear revelation of what your will actually is. Give me the faith and trust that my wildest imagination could never match the pure joy you actually desire to give me. Give me the detachment from even my holy passions, that makes me read to say Yes, Fiat, to the revelation of your will in which is ALL my delight.

God has acted on this prayer, it seems. The farther I move in time from the pilgrimage, it isn't as if anything is lost, but it is as if the main treasures stand out in stark relief. God's will for me is to love everyone. That is so simple, yet so profound, and even more amazing is that what He equips those He calls. In a daily being-conformed to Christ in His dying and rising, my heart expands. What else is life for?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

It Is (Never) Finished

At this writing, I've been back from Poland for not quite two months. It feels like a much, much longer time. For the last month, my processing of things has been more like soaking than sorting through. I am aware of tremendous changes that have happened in my heart, and even around me in the circumstances of my life. None of these could I have anticipated, but all of them demonstrate to me God's faithfulness and the fact that relationship with Him is never static, but is always dynamic, and that dynamic is not something supplied on my end of the relationship.

I am remembering one day early in the pilgrimage. I attempted to engage my Carmelite commitment of 30 minutes of mental prayer on our bus as we traveled somewhere. On this particular day, my prayer was largely liquid. In other words, I cried a lot. If I could translate what was happening interiorly into words, it would be something along the lines of offering myself to the Lord to be emptied out, but not so much because of it being my desire to do so. Rather, it wasn't my initiative, but I was responding to the Lord's call and the reality in front of me. I sensed, though, the Lord near me, encouraging me that I should not shrink back from the call or be afraid of it, because He was excited about the infilling that He intended after the emptying stage cycled through.

You know how that is when someone you love is excited about something, when you aren't? Doesn't it help you to keep in step with them? It does for me.

There is that moment of great cost, though. Jesus shows us God's pattern in dealing with us here. On Mount Tabor, Jesus was faced in advance with discussion of His exodus, in a glory moment with Moses and Elijah. God doesn't give glory moments as candy; He gives them as signs and as strength. The moment of great cost for Jesus came in his passion, when humanly speaking, everything became dark. God led me through that bit, too. But even in that moment on the bus, He seemed to be suggesting that this dark moment was not going to be so awful. Walking by faith is the made more painful the more we resist purification. Our resistance aggravates the pain. The more deeply we say yes to purification, the shorter and more bearable the moment of great cost will be. But willingness does not do away with the cost. This is another cycle we go through again and again in following Jesus.

It is safe to say that this pilgrimage  has been a life-changing experience for me. But it is better to live a changed life than it is to try to explain it. My heart has stretched, is stretching. I had some broken notions of love which, like mechanisms held together with duct tape, spit, and desperation, I tried to function with. God has exposed these and replaced them with His reality, and now I have the surprise of learning how they work. Most importantly, I know that God is real, and reality is trustworthy.

I can't recommend the experience of pilgrimage highly enough. I can't recommend relationship with the living God highly enough! I can't recommend penance as a means of seeking this God highly enough. Give God your willingness to meet Him and to jettison whatever is revealed as not-God in your life. With this willingness offered, God will meet you and lead you. Every difficulty on the journey is by every means worth it.

With this, I will probably close writing new posts on this blog. I'll integrate further reflections on my long-standing blog Naru Hodo, and invite you over there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why Are We Doing This?

During our first day hiking in the Tatra mountains, my daughter (who is 11) made an honest comment: I don't understand why we are doing this.

Her mental approach is not unlike my own, and so I find this a very useful observation. She was not making a thinly-veiled complaint (Why am I doing this? I don't want to.) but rather was searching for understanding of what use this was.

Because, let's face it, climbing up that mountain we were bathed in sweat, carrying backpacks, straining muscles, panting, getting sore, traveling mostly in silence for sheer lack of breath, and various other discomforts -- all with the point of climbing to an unseen destination an unknown distance away. And then we'd turn and go back down again. What's the point?

Metaphorically, this question can be applied to pilgrimage in general. We invested a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of effort, all to go to a destination that offered constant unknown, surprises, discomforts, trials.

Why? Why do this?

The Christian conception of pilgrimage, as I have now experienced it, boils down to this: Love calls and awakens a desire in the beloved for Himself. That desire compels us, and eventually propels us past what we actually bargained for. We do not seek difficulties. We do not seek thrills. We do not seek challenges. We seek God. God will be found by any heart that is determined to seek. It is the will that keeps on after the feeling of desire gives out.

Determination happens inside one's soul. St. Teresa of Avila says determination is the fruit of Christian daring. You cannot borrow someone else's determination; you cannot put it on like a jacket. Endurance can push you through difficulties, but determination means the will faces the difficulty and goes forward, regardless of feeling. We dare to seek the face of God, and God rewards us with grace that unites us to Him more profoundly.

I generally find graces to be shocking. Better territory than I ever expect, but always surprising, costly, humbling, and ennobling.

For me, I see that God is dead serious about me being a Carmelite. Frankly, it comes as a bit of a surprise just how serious God is about me at all. I haven't always taken myself very seriously. I'm just a doot, a basically meaningless person. Who cares. I've thought this attitude was humility.

But it isn't. God is Totally Awesome, and I exist in order to live in union with Him, making me an agent of bearing Totally Awesome into this world where vast, heart-breaking numbers of people basically want to die because all they know is pain, pain, and pain. Repeatedly, I have been the recipient of love either dripping from or flowing from another (depending upon how much I could handle without being suffocated by it all). God does not give to me so that I can sit on a couch and hug myself and think about myself. He gives to me so that I can give every ounce of my little soul to Him, so that I can love and pray -- not because I am great and have great things to give, but because He is great and has great things to give through me. I ain't got nothin'! But He's got everything, and I have Him!

We go to this place of stripping because we follow Jesus who accepted the way of the cross. We follow other believers who, in following Jesus have climbed mountains and entered churches and shrines and gathered and prayed and sought Him. We join where others have led. We call to others to follow, even if they aren't exactly sure Who they will find. As St. John of the Cross famously said, when a soul is seeking God, his Beloved is already seeking that soul all the more ardently.

We climb the mountain and we go on pilgrimage to be found. In being found by God, we discover who we are. We are His sons and daughters. We are His mother, bringing Him to birth again in this world, for the salvation of souls and the glory of Blessed Trinity.

We live and move and have our being in the Totally Awesome.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Polish Liturgies

We were privileged to have Holy Mass almost every day during our pilgrimage, and several of these were in English, or partially so, or with translation. And when it was none of the above, I usually had my Word Among Us along so that I could follow the readings in English. Sometimes I followed the Mass parts, too, to help me focus.

So many interesting observations here.

First of all, I loved that when our Polish friends spoke English, they almost always used the term "Holy Mass," not just "Mass" as most English speakers I know are accustomed to say. It simply strikes me as a term of endearment, an expression of love. I wonder, though, too, why I don't use it, and it also strikes me that for me, being so language oriented, it could easily become a matter of scrupulosity or pedantry -- and God help us free from that with everything connected with liturgy! Amen!

Many of our Masses were not typical parish Masses, either because of World Youth Day or the Days in the Dioceses events, or because of the Hallelujah community or specially organized liturgies, or because we were at shrines and holy places, or simply because of all of the lingering-about pilgrims. And when they were typical parish Masses, they were of course entirely in Polish, so I can hardly report on the feel of them from any sense that involves understanding language.

One detail that threw me a bit at first is that the congregation kneels for a shorter time than in the US. I wondered about this, but then during the Mass at Czestochowa, when we knelt in a squashing crowd in dripping heat on a marble floor... I thought just maybe scenes like this have influenced the Bishops of Poland to decree kneeling only in the heart of the consecration prayer. I don't know.

And speaking of squashing crowds, this happened more than once. Those churches with Gothic style floor plans (one narrow seating area down the middle) are wonderful for having multiple Masses happening at once when they are huge, but they are not so great when they are mini-versions and you have hordes of people to pack in. But then again, no one seemed to find it odd to pack into every available space, sitting around side altars, standing in the aisles, the doorways, even outside in the yards when no one could enter the building. No one was having a conniption fit about fire regulations. That was refreshing.

Our last Sunday Mass (a parish Mass) was a strange hybrid of a homily-less Mass with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction at the end, still clocking in at about an hour. I was there early to hear the devotional prayers being sung before Mass. Obviously everyone knew everything because this had happened for always. It was the only time I saw (not necessarily the only time it happened) a church filled with elderly-ish women each dressed in their pretty, colorful scarves. I guess they all come early, maybe not only to pray, but to make sure they have a seat.

I'm remembering now my non-Catholic friend who visited a Mass in Poland last year asking me if it was a common thing for people to basically ignore you at the sign of peace. And I'm chuckling to myself. It really is a strange feeling, and I suppose an even stranger feeling for a non-Catholic, to offer a hearty American handshake and greeting at the sign of peace and be turned down. I probably scared a few babushkas. The other day I was at our local Greek church to buy food and saw how the priest greeted all his parishoners with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. I'll have to brace myself on the other end of the spectrum if I ever want to visit Greece, I guess.

One valuable exercise throughout the whole pilgrimage was the intensity of concentration I found myself giving to what was actually happening in the Mass. Even when the Masses were in English, they were almost never in American English, so there was always an effort required to understand what was being said. I found myself squeezing the words I did understand, sucking them dry, and fixing my mind on what I read when something else was being spoken around me. Occasionally I knew that the reading I had in my book was not what was being read from the ambo (because of a special feast day or votive Mass or whatnot), and then, like straining to see in a dark room I tried to make out a piece of the reading to give a clue as to its whole. Same with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I knew what was happening, but it is a different practice to unite yourself with the action by a means other than words, for me at least, because I am so verbally oriented. I worked my will very hard in those moments.

And you know what? It was freeing. I wasn't aware if the priest had a sing-songy voice or if the lector stumbled over words or mispronounced them, if the sermon was boring or missing the point. I was freed, in an uncomfortable yet real way, from needing language to pray. My prayer was a lot more basic and I missed 95% of the nuances I might normally find in Mass, but I sucked that 5% dry.

And when I came back home, I was relieved to not have to work so hard, and is much, much easier to get distracted and to nit-pick. There is less "thanksgiving" involved.

I served as impromptu cantor a few times, sometimes in English and sometimes in Latin. During one of those Masses during the Diocesan Days in Wroclaw, the music team didn't show and our Encounter group was called on six minutes before the beginning of Mass in a huge church, packed to the gills. My job was Mass parts. Fine. I was mentally prepared because of cantoring for eight years and doing all the music for Masses on Saturday mornings for three years. Everything... except that Gospel Acclamation (which the lector does at my parish on Saturdays). So that moment in the Mass came, and in a split second I realized I hadn't thought of anything. At that moment, I was grateful that my training kicked in my liturgical-auto pilot! I started singing "Alleluia," though it was only as I was singing that I was asking myself What melody is this coming out of my mouth, and how in the world does it end?! So glad for the choir training I carried inside me at that moment, though. The most important thing about leading is to look and sound confident, even when your brain is scrambling!

And though it wasn't a liturgy, the very last outing my daughter and I did the night before we left was to attend a prayer service at our host family's parish. The idea was to spiritually unite with pilgrims who were walking to Czestochowa. Arriving late, we entered one of the only modern parishes I saw there, aptly (for the pilgrimage) named Divine Mercy. A young priest was leading a small group of mostly older women in singing some peppy song that had hand motions. I'm not always that kind of person, but that night I just dove right in. I gather we were singing about walking and praising and praying, and stuff. There were a variety of prayers, I think a decade of the rosary, I think the Bogurodzica, an ancient hymn to the Mother of God. And then, suddenly we were gathering  in a circle and dancing the Hava Nagila. I mean, not all the old women were putting too much energy into it, but we were moving pretty well. I simply could not wipe the smile off my face. It felt so incredibly bizarre, and I kept saying to myself "I'm in Poland dancing with old ladies in a church." I think I probably made the whole room smile because it was like my whole body was laughing with the joy of Divine Mercy. Not to mention my flip-flop had come off so I was dancing with one shoe. It was a perfect way to leave the last Polish parish I entered.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


This post is not about events I experienced in Poland, but it touches on what I have essentially gleaned, or rather, that I'm starting to glean, from having gone. This is from the book Poustinia by Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty, from a final section of the book entitled "The Heart of the Poustinia."

"Poustinia" is a Russian concept that translates to "hermitage," but while there is a physical aspect to what her community lives in Combermere, Ontario, spiritually it is about something one experiences interiorly. Every Christian is called to this by baptism, but as with all vocations, for some this interior "poustinia" is a stronger call than some other universal aspect.

She wrote this is 1973, 12 years before her death. (Long excerpts, followed by other comments):

"...I was surprised on the way back from Barry's Bay (after seeing a movie about the tsar and tsarina) to Madonna House. Such a feeling of total loneliness took hold of me that I was really astonished I am lonely. I have been lonely many, many times. But this time it was a sort of strange loneliness, a loneliness that held me like a vise and shook me.

"I looked at the road. It was like any other Russian road. The trees were like the trees at home. The hills were very similar to what I remembered I had left. I don't know about other people's experience, but suddenly I realized with a most extraordinary realization that I was a stranger in a strange country...

"When we returned home all I wanted to do was to get to my poustinia. I collected my things, went in, and closed the door.

"Now I began to realize something that I hadn't known before: the poustinia, the desert (for that is what it is) brings back memories, memories of a thousand things which we think we have completely forgotten.


"But the realization that was overwhelming me most of all -- like a sea in which I was drowning, now surfacing, now overcome by it again, now surfacing -- the overwhelming wave or remembrance tonight was that I was a stranger in a strange land. There was no denying it. I lived with values different from other people. I was beginning to understand more deeply the darkness of which St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila speak. In such a darkness there is only one light, and that light is God. Unless you hold on to him, you become enmeshed in the meshes of the devil. For the first time since I have started coming to my poustinia, I knew that I was being tempted by self-pity. I also knew that the temptation was well directed because ever since I came to Canada I have been lonely, lonely with a cosmic loneliness of a refugee whom nobody understands or wishes to, and who perhaps was only understood after a long and arduous fight.

"Yes, I knew I was being tempted in the area where it hurts the most. The night became darker...

"I fell asleep after a rough night, and the day was a little better.... The key is very simple. I am a stranger in this land, in this world, by the gift of God. He has called me from my youth as he called Jesus his Son to go to Egypt. Christ was also a refugee, and so were his mother and foster-father...

"The whole panorama of my journey unfolded itself before my eyes... I was a pilgrim. I was a solitary. I was a poustinik, and I never knew it.

"...Ever since I left Russia I have been a poustinik, a pilgrim. I have been fasting from the food of my language and of my people. I have been mortifying myself by adapting myself to the ways and manners of other people. And always I walked in solitude. That was my true vocation -- and I never understood it! I did not understand that it was the vocation of loneliness, that God had invited me to share his loneliness because this was to be the vocation of many. Many people don't realize that their loneliness is an invitation to share the loneliness of God.

"I sat in my poustinia dumbfounded, and wondered why I had not seen the whole pattern of my vocation...


"Yes, today I have clarified something very important to myself -- the essence of my vocation...

"And so you entered a strange land, and you were given silence. You were also given solitude. You were given the type of solitude which is spent in the midst of people. Like so many other Eastern notions, this also seems a bit incomprehensible to the Western world in which you now live -- but it will eventually be understood because God wants it to be understood.

"Yes, he wants it to be understood. Solitude in the midst of people is the Jesus Prayer, the prayer of the presence of God. It is the holding on to God in what may sometimes be a land of total despair, a real poustinia, a real desert...

"...But what has all this to do with you, you the staff workers of Madonna House?...

"...Many of you were solitaries in your heart. You yearned for something bigger than yourselves. You did not know that this was solitude. You were sort of different from the people around you... And so ,,, you arose, seeking what was not there...

"God now extends the same invitation to you as he extended to me. To you also he says, 'I am lonely.' That's what you were, weren't you? Didn't you really start out on your pilgrimage because you were lonely? Now he invites you too to Gethsemane, there to sweat out your struggle with him. He invites you to stand before the High Priest, that is to say, before all those who will in some way or other laugh at you, jeer at you, maybe even persecute you.

"When all this has taken place, he will invite you to come with him to Pontius Pilate, into that terrible solitude, into that totally strange land that man must enter before he dies, that predeath land, the last pilgrimage, where strangers will examine you...

"Finally, he will take yoou by the hand and lead you to Golgotha to be crucified on the other side of his cross. If you follow him all the way into this poustinia which (I'm almost afraid to say these words) he has brought me to the West to reveal, he will bring you to Golgotha so as to give you the complete, infinite, incredible joy of his resurrection. This joy will be your guide into the new land where there is no solitude, no silence, to strangeness. It will be the final pilgrimage of love toward love, if pilgrimage it can be called. This crucifixion you will undergo with alleluias, because now yu will know what it is all about.

"This joy is not only for the hereafter. No. It will be yours, now, dearly beloved, this very minute, tomorrow, the day after, as soon as we accept solitude, silence, strange lands, pilgrimages with Christ. When we accept these things we have accepted loneliness, which is none other than the loneliness of Christ. If we can do this, God will give us tools to bring a rich harvest to him and his Church."


Catherine's vocation resonates in my soul, and though I still chafe at the huge paradigm shift of embracing loneliness rather than reckoning it my enemy, I have to say that it is my chafing that makes no sense in that equation, not the reality that this is where the Lord waits to meet me. Knowing what not to fight is a big step forward.

And I want that joy! I believe in that joy! I believe in the resurrection. Ain't nobody really wants to do the program that gets you there, but maybe more than anything I don't like to waste a thing, and I most certainly do not want to waste a single grace the Lord has given me as a pilgrim.