“Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
He comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
He comes to save you."
Ok. Real talk. I don't know about you, but this semester was a tough one….yes, even for a “baby nun.” There were many moments where I encountered my human limitations and had to humbly admit that I truly cannot do anything on my own. I cannot save myself.
Before entering religious life, I became a certified counselor, worked at a high school, and was very active in ministry. I was often taking care of others in various ways. Sometimes in religious life there is the temptation for me to always be busy in this way. It is easier for me to offer counsel to others than to receive counsel myself, for example. It is hard for me to receive….it is hard for me to allow someone to “save” me.
This past week I was gently called out on this by 2 different people, in 2 different situations….and these people happen to be diocesan priests. One straight up said to me, “You have to receive.” The other one, “I want to protect you.” When something like this happens, one cannot deny that God is trying to communicate something important.
For Advent, in preparation for Christmas, I graciously received permission to reflect on a document with one of those diocesan priests. This document is entitled Mulieris Dignitatem (MD), and it was written by Pope St. John Paull II in 1988 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html).
For every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him. Moreover, we read that man cannot exist "alone" (cf. Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a "unity of the two", and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other “I." This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (MD, 7)
We are created to be in communion with God and one another. We come to truly understand who we are when we become a “sincere gift” to others. “In order to become a ‘sincere gift’ to one another, each of them has to feel responsible for the gift (MD, 14).” This relationship is one of giving AND receiving.
Why is it sometimes so much easier to give than it is to receive? This is something I am still working out, but I have some ideas thanks to St. JPII:
A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting (of human beings), strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her,” always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation (MD, 30).
Our current culture is doing a good job at confusing people about what is true masculinity and true femininity. I am not going to go into politics, but I will share that for a long time I believed that I had to suppress anything truly feminine about me in order to “be strong.” In doing this, I was not truly being who God created me to be. God created women with a particular gift of receptivity. St. JPII is very clear in MD that a woman’s strength lies in her ability to receive love, in order to give love in return. We cannot give to others what we do not have.
When people approach me to ask about why I entered religious life, I often hear comments about all the things I “gave up.” Yes, there is a lot of giving…but now I am starting to realize there is a lot more receiving going on than there is “giving up” ….and this is much harder!
It is always God who initiates. He always wants to give Himself to us. He wants to protect us. Are we allowing Him to love us? Are we able to receive?
I will close with 2 quotes from my favorite saint friends. The meanings are essentially the same, but notice the little differences that reflect who they truly are in the context of this giving-receiving relationship:
“Totally love Him who gave Himself totally out of love for you.” -St. Clare of Assisi
“Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” - St. Francis of Assisi