Sunday, March 8, 2015

Love at the Foot of the Cross: Part 3

Then it was like I had tunnel vision and I saw no one else that was in the room with me. Interiorly, I felt Jesus say to me, “You have my heart. Everything is yours. I only wish to love you. Will you return this love with yours?” While Jesus was saying this, I felt a strong but gentle “fire” in my heart and I responded with a “yes.” Exactly a month prior to this experience, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary. She had literally led me to her Son.

By freely choosing virginity, women confirm themselves as persons, as beings whom the Creator from the beginning has willed for their own sake. At the same time they realize the personal value of their own femininity by becoming "a sincere gift" for God who has revealed himself in Christ, a gift for Christ, the Redeemer of humanity and the Spouse of souls: a "spousal" gift. One cannot correctly understand virginity - a woman's consecration in virginity - without referring to spousal love. It is through this kind of love that a person becomes a gift for the other. Moreover, a man's consecration in priestly celibacy or in the religious state is to be understood analogously.

The naturally spousal predisposition of the feminine personality finds a response in virginity understood in this way. Women, called from the very "beginning" to be loved and to love, in a vocation to virginity find Christ first of all as the Redeemer who "loved until the end" through his total gift of self; and they respond to this gift with a "sincere gift" of their whole lives. They thus give themselves to the divine Spouse, and this personal gift tends to union, which is properly spiritual in character. Through the Holy Spirit's action a woman becomes "one spirit" with Christ the Spouse (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

This is the evangelical ideal of virginity, in which both the dignity and the vocation of women are realized in a special way. In virginity thus understood the so-called radicalism of the Gospel finds expression: "Leave everything and follow Christ" (cf. Mt 19:27). This cannot be compared to remaining simply unmarried or single, because virginity is not restricted to a mere "no", but contains a profound "yes" in the spousal order: the gift of self for love in a total and undivided manner. (JPII, MD 20)

A few months prior to that life altering silent retreat, my spiritual father encouraged me to read Story of a Soul by St. Therese. Initially, I was not excited to read this book because I thought St. Therese was too flowery and unrelatable. Surprisingly, I quickly noticed similarities between me and this “little” saint, as did my spiritual father. One thing that really stood out to me was her famous “my vocation is love” section (found in Manuscript B). I felt like I was reading a graduate paper that I just wrote a few weeks prior. In my Theories in Counseling course, we had to write a paper that illustrated our personal approach to counseling based on some of the theories we discussed over the semester. Basically, I concluded (after much research and reflection) that LOVE is the only thing that will bring about healing and self-actualization in a counseling setting. When I read more or less the same thing in St. Therese’s book, I was rather startled. However, I am now seeing that at some point in all the lives of the saints, they have come to this same conclusion in one way or another.
In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them. In no one do we see this more clearly than in Mary. The words addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciple—to John and through him to all to disciples of Jesus: “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:27)—are fulfilled anew in every generation. (Benedict XVI, DC 42)
We return once again to Mary at the foot of the Cross. Whenever you look at a crucifix, I hope you see the reality of God’s love for us. No one knows or understands this love better than Mary, who will always lead us to her Son if we let her. Mary’s feminine heart is something all women can relate to and strive to emulate. Similarly, Mary’s feminine heart is complementary to all men’s masculine draw out love. This is especially important for those who are called to the priesthood. Recall what I already wrote above about my spiritual father (who continues to be a big part of my religious life!) and I would like to close with this beautiful reflection from Monsignor John Cihak. If anything I hope this selection helps you pray for our priests...for without them, we do not have the Eucharist:
This complementary engagement of the Blessed Virgin Mary's feminine love with the priest's masculine love happens within the central mystery of the priesthood: the Cross, and specifically in the scene of Our Lady and St. John at the foot of the Cross. Call to your imagination the scene: there is Our Lord nailed to the Cross, bloodied and broken in His passion. At the foot of the Cross, we find Our Lady and the only priest who stood with Our Lord eis telos (Jn. 13:1), St. John. The Blessed Virgin Mary is in utter agony; both she and His priest are being interiorly drawn into His crucifixion.

"Then Jesus says to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!'" (Jn. 19:27). At this moment, Jesus asks the Apostle in the depth of his own pain to attune himself to her. As priest, he must decide to put her first, attune himself to her heart. He must put her suffering ahead of his own. I imagine St. John turning toward Our Lady, and looking at her with such tenderness and reverence. Jesus sends His command deep into the heart of his priest, "Look at her...receive her...take care of her." As a man, he must feel helpless and inadequate, but now he has been given a manly task. St. John is commanded to care for her, to comfort her, to hold her, to protect her because she is so alone and vulnerable at that moment. Such a command would resonate deeply in the heart of such a man: he must look beyond his pain and accommodate himself to her, and have all that is best about being a man rise up within him in a great act of celibate agape. The choice to be attentive to her pain brings him to the threshold of entering into his spousal love and paternity as a celibate, as the Church is coming to birth.

The Blessed Virgin Mary's role is to call out of the priest this celibate agape to help him become a husband to the Church and a spiritual father—a strong father, even in his weakness. She does this at the Cross by drawing the priest out of his own pain to offer pure masculine love in the midst of her own pure feminine love. This scene becomes an icon of the relationship between the priest and the Church. The priest hands himself over to the Church in her suffering and need – to have his life shaped by hers. At the foot of the Cross the Church agonizes in labor to give birth to the members of the mystical body.

The transformation of the priest through consoling the Mother of God at the Cross not only brings him into his spousal and paternal love, but also transforms his whole notion of joy. From its revaluing by the Cross, Christian joy is less a passing emotional state and more of a spiritual condition. Joy is not found in the lack of suffering or on the other side of suffering but in self-giving love. Thus joy can flow clearly and directly from suffering. This is joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit and thus something indestructible, something the world cannot give.

The only way the priest will make it through the Cross is by allowing her to help him and for him to unite himself mystically to her in her suffering. Through her feminine love the celibate priest becomes a husband to the Church and spiritual father to all. And from the depths of his masculinity the priest can say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). (Cihak, BVM, 2009)


What Fr. Cihak says here about the priesthood is relatable to what St. JPII has said about spiritual motherhood. Both men and women are called to share in Christ’s redemptive love through the Cross.

As we draw close to the halfway point of the Lenten season, let us all place ourselves at the foot of the Cross with Mary and St. John. Please pray for those who are called to the priesthood and religious life, a special way to live out everyone’s call to love.

United in the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,

Katie McCloskey, Postulant

Friday, March 6, 2015

Love at the Foot of the Cross: Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

This priest’s pointed question made me stop and reflect on something that I have previously overlooked: the reality of spiritual fatherhood. I needed a spiritual father to love me in a way that would reflect the love of God the Father. Over the years in college, that is exactly what happened. This reflection of God’s love led me to get more involved in the campus ministry programs at UF, especially with retreat ministry. People told me I was a natural in working with people on these retreats, which then led me to continue my education at UF in the highly-ranked Counselor Education program.
Right before my graduate classes started, I finished reading the first spiritual book I ever read: Divine Mercy in my Soul by St. Faustina. That book helped me see Jesus in a completely different light and I even entertained the thought of religious life, but I quickly suppressed the thought and focused on my classes. Many of my classes had us write reflection papers and many of my reflection papers mentioned God. A friend of mine who was also in the same program as me strongly encouraged me to start going to daily Mass, something I was not accustomed to doing. I noticed that the days where I either did not pray or go to Mass, I would feel really “weird”. I was becoming different, yet, I felt like I was becoming more myself than I ever have been before.
My spiritual father also became my spiritual director after much prompting from a friend of mine. My spiritual father was one of the first people to notice the very rapid change that was taking place in me. I became defensive every time he alluded to religious life because I did not understand what religious life was about. I thought the women who became nuns could not get married and that was a backup plan. I would often use my new counselor skills against him as if we were in some wizard duel whenever he brought up things I did not want to talk about, especially the family “stuff” and religious life. It was very easy for me to love and to help my spiritual father, but it was extremely hard for me to let him love me and help me. Similarly, it was very hard for me to accept God’s love.
There were many walls surrounding my heart that I did not realize were there until my spiritual father asked me what the deepest desire of my heart was. I could not answer his question. I had no idea. No one has ever asked me a question like that before.
My classes were becoming intense and emotionally exhausting and I knew that the only thing that would keep me going was daily Mass. I also started doing holy hours without knowing I was doing holy hours! People would ask me how I could sit and “do nothing” for an hour in the church. For them, holy hours included journaling and reading. It was difficult to explain what was going on in me. All I knew was that I needed to be around the Eucharist in order to do anything. I also began to realize that the more I went to Mass and “sat” with Jesus, the more I wanted to love people. My spiritual father even said to me one day, “you love as easily as birds are put to wing.”
What my spiritual father said to me affected me greatly, but I still didn’t know what the deepest desire of my heart was! At least, I couldn’t put it into words. Let me share some insight from my friend, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented...Love grows through love. Love is “divine because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “we” which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until the end when God is “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). (DC 14,18)

The summer after my first year of grad school, I was invited on a women’s weekend silent retreat (something I have never done before). I felt like I really needed to go, so I went. On Saturday night of this retreat there was a Eucharistic healing procession. I was reflecting on what the deepest desire of my heart could be and suddenly a question popped in my head: “What do you want?” I answered, “love.” Another question followed the first, “And WHO is love?” I replied, “God is love.” Something clicked within me, like a key unlocking a door. I suddenly realized the deepest desire of my heart was God because He IS love!

He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can blossom as a response within us. (Benedict XVI, DC 17)

I was in shock. Then I felt someone put a blanket on me, but when I looked over my shoulder, there was no blanket. Then I heard a woman’s voice say, “Look at Him,” and I immediately looked at Jesus in the monstrance.

To be continued....

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Love at the Foot of the Cross: Part 1

May the Heart of Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time. Amen.

This is not meant to be a theological paper, but this 3-part series of posts required me to do some outside research (because I am a nerd) to further illustrate a specific topic that has been both continuously coming up in prayer and coming to life in my everyday experiences. I am a big-picture person, so organizing my thoughts and finding appropriate texts that coincide with what God has been sharing with me was a fun challenge. In future posts, I will probably be coming back to what I write here since, in my humble opinion, it is a fairly important topic.

These are the documents I will be quoting from and their respective abbreviations. You should read these in your “free time” because they will drop kick you in your soul:

BVM - “The Blessed Virgin Mary’s Role in the Celibate Priest’s Spousal and Paternal Love,” Monsignor John Cihak, Ignatius Insight (July, 2009)
DC - Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Pope Benedict XVI (December, 2005)
MD - Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), Pope John Paul II (August, 1988)

This mysterious topic that I have been alluding to above is the call to love through spiritual parenthood and the centrality of the Eucharist and a devotion to Mary. Yeah, not an easy topic to write about. Jesus has been lovingly demolishing me in my daily holy hour (my community has daily Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament) in regards to the reality of spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. I have encountered many people who are afraid of truly discerning a religious vocation because they have this idea that priests and nuns “give up” being fathers and mothers. This is not the case at all. Throughout this post, I will share some reflections from my own life because I used to be one of those people who was not open to discerning a religious vocation.
I was born into a cradle-Catholic family and I attended Catholic school from 6th grade - 12th grade, but I somehow missed that pretty important reality of Jesus being fully present in the Eucharist! It is definitely because of God’s grace and mercy that I can say that I cannot think of a time in my life where I did not believe in God’s existence, but that was really all I understood. I was not aware of how much God loved me until it was reflected to me through one of His priests.
About halfway through college at the University of Florida, family “stuff” began to happen and the only place where I felt any peace was at the church, which was conveniently across the street from campus. I would go to the church at random times and just sit in one of the pews and stare at the crucifix. I knew that God was out there somewhere, but I felt that He did not understand the loneliness and pain I was feeling. We do not necessarily need to use words when we pray. I cannot recall saying much to God during that time, yet, He answered my unspoken prayers and knew what I needed.
...our thoughts go to all the suffering women in the world, suffering either physically or morally. In this suffering a woman's sensitivity plays a role, even though she often succeeds in resisting suffering better than a man. It is difficult to enumerate these sufferings; it is difficult to call them all by name. We may recall her maternal care for her children, especially when they fall sick or fall into bad ways; the death of those most dear to her; the loneliness of mothers forgotten by their grown up children; the loneliness of widows; the sufferings of women who struggle alone to make a living; and women who have been wronged or exploited. Then there are the sufferings of consciences as a result of sin, which has wounded the woman's human or maternal dignity: the wounds of consciences which do not heal easily. With these sufferings too we must place ourselves at the foot of the Cross. (JPII, MD 19)

*St. JPII said exactly what I was feeling and was somehow led to do. The theme of the Cross with Jesus, Mary, and St. John will be recurring as I continue with my reflection*

You know those people who always happen to be at the right place at the right time? For me, this person was a priest. Just about every time I was about to cross the line from desolation to straight-up despair, this particular priest would somehow find me. It was also very hard for me to hide my sadness from this priest. I hate crying, but apparently my “puppy-eyes,” as he would call them, would always give me away. When I was found, he would know all the right things to say and do, which made me comfortable to share how I was really was. There are many personal examples I can give, but I would rather direct your heart to the image of the Good Shepherd. Here, I will even provide you with an image off of Google:
See how that sad, little lamb (probably with “puppy-eyes”) ran off and got stuck in the thornbush off of a giant cliff? Yeah, that was me. Many times. I’m sure many of you can relate. Do you also see how Jesus is risking His life to save this little lamb? He is reaching for this little lamb and the little lamb is trying to move towards Him. There is a reason why Jesus used this image in one of His most famous parables (Luke 15:1-6). There is a reason why priests are called to be shepherds.
The image of the Good Shepherd did not mean very much to me until one seemingly normal day from my undergrad years, which ended up becoming a turning point for me: I was invited to help decorate the church for Christmas over the break (since my family lived in Gainesville). When my ride came to pick me up after a few hours of decorating, I went to tell this priest that I had to go home, he then looked at me rather seriously and asked, “Am I not father enough for you?”
To be continued....
-Katie McCloskey, Postulant
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