Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rites of Passage

When I was 16, there came a knock at my door one school night from a girl who was a year older or maybe two, a former friend from whom I’d been separated on the cusp of childhood and adolescence by the jagged break between elementary school and junior high. After that, we lost touch, even though she lived just around the corner from me.
She had been working in the stables of the farm at the edge of our neighborhood because she loved animals and wanted to become a vet. On this night, one of the horses was giving birth, and she came on foot to bring me to see. It was one of those beautiful moments in life that occurs wholly by a response to grace. We had not spoken in five years, yet she thought of coming to get me.
We walked briskly through the night air, over the darkened streets and across the main road, through the fence and up the dirt path to the barn in which this horse was in labor. For hours we stood at the edge of her stall as the foal emerged from the womb of its mother, legs first. And then, we watched as those legs labored to stand, each one giving out in its turn at the effort, the foal crumbling to the hay again and again. 
I am reminded this cold autumn night of that foal’s struggle to be born and to stand on those frail tenuous legs, bearing resemblance to my own passage to new life, this moment that is unfolding over the course of days and weeks in which I attempt to stand again and again… pushing a bit harder and further, each time undertaking something more, mindfully watching for my knees to give way, my legs to buckle, yet remaining steadfast in pressing onward.  
Photo: Courtesy of Shahim Al Nakeeb

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints

For All Saints Day, I offer you, in the words of Dom Marmion, “the teaching that our Lord Himself gave to St. Mechtilde” on suffering.
“One day whilst she was thinking that her illness made her useless and that her sufferings were unavailing, the Lord said to her: “Place all your pains in My Heart and I will give them the most absolute perfection that suffering can possess. As My divinity drew to itself the sufferings of My humanity and made them its own, so will I transport your pains into My divinity, I will unite them to My Passion and make you share in that glory which God the Father has bestowed on My sacred humanity in return for all its sufferings. Confide, therefore, each of your pains to Love in saying: ‘O Love, I give them to You with the same intention that You had when You did bring them to me from the Heart of God, and I beseech You to offer them to Him again, made perfect by intensest gratitude…’” “My Passion,” added Christ Jesus, “bore infinite fruit in heaven and upon earth; thus your pains, your tribulations offered to Me and united to My Passion will be so fruitful that they will procure more glory for the elect, new merit for the just, forgiveness for sinners, and an alleviation of their pains for the souls in purgatory. What is there indeed that My Heart cannot change for the better, since it is from the goodness of My Heart that all good flows both in heaven and on earth?” (From Suffering with Christ: An Anthology of the Writings of Dom Columba Marmion, OSB)
As I found myself last week in a very cold place that even sweaters and woolens could do little to help, Dom Marmion emerged from the rows of books in the library of the monastery where I was staying. He is an old friend from before my illness, with whom I sat for a while as my limbs stiffened with chill, and finding this passage in the anthology, sipping apple cinnamon tea, I thought of you.

It is good to remember that as we suffer our sufferings of illness, there are nuns and monks living in voluntary poverty for the sake of penance, freezing in monasteries all over the world! No matter where we are, or what we choose for ourselves, what is chosen for us by God is that we enter into His Passion in some way or other, accepting whatever His way for us might be with trust and gratitude, in order that we may reap the abundant fruit such communion bears.