I continue passing on my experience on how I found myself working through the years in the items that Jesus said I needed in order to be His disciple. I always remember King David when I deal with my ego needs. He decided to count and register the number of men who were fit for military service, as if any number would assure him of winning battles against the enemies of Israel and Judah. This was a clear sin against God as the King doubted the mercy of God for His chosen people.
After 9 months, he had the exact count but immediately realized his sin. God was of course very angry and gave him to choose from three types of punishment. David pleaded with God since he realized the sin was his. Yet, pestilence overcame the people and the King once more pleaded for God’s mercy, and He ordered him to build an altar and offer sacrifice in order for the pestilence to end. King David went to secure some land to do so, but the owner wanted to give it to him for free since it was destined to build an altar to offer sacrifice to God. However, the King refused and said, “No, I must pay you for it, for I cannot offer to the Lord my God holocausts that cost nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24.
I love this story because the punch line not only comes with verse numbers very easy to remember, but it also hints to all of us that following God will cost us, and self-denial is one of those things that in my own life has been the hardest to practice. In the early years when I consciously started cooperating with this race to the Promised Land, I fell for a while into the wagon of spiritual consumerism. I was into getting graces, blessings, trips to Shrines and holy places, all experiences that comforted and blessed my soul, and yet, all along my inner self was center stage. My ego was in charge of how I could get graces until one day I understood that I was into spiritual avarice. Lack of self denial was the diagnosis, and the lives of the Saints through the mercy of God, allowed me to identify my egocentric symptoms. As I look back, some 20 years later, indeed, His mercy has healed me in so many angles of spiritual consumerism.
But there is another aspect of the above egocentrism. When my will is reigning, even in matters of spirituality, I close my mind and heart to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I see more what others do than what I do. I easily could fail to recognize that I am capable of the same behavior, and my conversion consists in accepting who I am, with my sins, and opening myself to have His mercy start the process of a thousand conversions, climbing to the place of truth, of poverty where I do not have anything to prove, where my identity does not depend on others applauding me, loving me or opposing me. Needless to say, it took several years for me to accept my call to holiness, but for a long time I still wanted to control and define the process.
For example, the temptation was to postpone the “race” towards my Father’s house. Let’s say, the velocity of my journey towards God. I knew I was doing fairly well in my spiritual journey and therefore, I became content with small amounts of time spent with Him. At this time I was not trained as a good spiritual athlete because in the days of a huge amount of work as mother, wife, professional, and therefore, unable to spend quality time with Him in His Eucharistic Presence, I only had to be in His Name present to God within me and to every patient whom I took care of, and co-workers as well. He was there as well. I knew I was a temple of the Holy Spirit, and if a temple, I was an altar as well. Yet, I would forget to do it, and did not know that I only had to ask for His mercy to train me to live in His Presence at all times regardless of my external occupation. In fact, every single spinal tap I did in patients for spinal anesthesia, when impossible to make this fine needle get to the right space, and there are those that bone growth (common in the elder) makes it impossible, I would call the Holy Ghost and always, I did get in. But the rest of the day I would forget about it.
In my retirement years, well, I finally got it… The experience of His love was growing during the years of taking it easy, thanks to Him, and eventually, my pass time became to sit in front of the Eucharistic Jesus. My record: 17 continuous Holy Hour and planned with His permission and much prayer, taking some protein drink and water to feed myself in the narthex of this Church, a very comfortable place to adore Him. The Bible makes reference to this. He gave Mary the right to remain at His feet, versus leaving to help her sister Martha. The race speeds up in His Presence. It is like a Nascar racing car that makes stops to refuel to continue racing…!!!
But at the same time, I realized that the temptation not to deny ourselves of our own plans starts with walking in the spiritual life and never truly wanting to sprint. The Saints speak of fear of intimacy with this God and what He can call us to do, tough things for the Kingdom… And yes, indeed, He can be demanding but His mercy endures forever, that is, this crazy love that He has for us, like a mom loves the baby in her womb. I must report that I learned that the more I concentrated in Him, like Peter who was fine while walking on water until he took his eyes away from Jesus and fear took over, the more I exposed myself to the sunshine of His mercy incarnate, that much more I felt loved by Him, and my love started growing to a point that it is still ascending Mount Carmel… Also, I must say that the more I denied myself, the more I remained at His feet, within or in front of the Eucharist, that much more I was sprinting and big time, and the freer I felt. Simply, heaven on earth!
Well, His mercy has worked over time on my soul because now I truly never think of holiness per se. I only think of submitting to God’s will without any changes or modifications for His glory, since His love could never allow anything in my life that it is not for my sanctification. Obviously, crosses came in bunches, but the yoke always would turn to be easy as He promised. St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that “the present sorrow and suffering is the way to glory, the way to the Kingdom.” Yes, the cross of self denial and the crosses that come from the world, the flesh and Satan are key for this marathon to the Promised Land. The point is to choose to pick them up as gems full of grace for this love affair with the Trinity. More on our crosses next time.
On February 7, 1994, while practicing in Steubenville, Ohio, I found this prayer from one of my favorite Saints at the church of the Franciscan University campus, and it addresses this need of denying ourselves.
“My God, I do not want to know Your roads for me; that is why I am Your daughter. You are a Father of wisdom and also a Father to me, and if you take me through the darkness of night, I know that You are leading me to Yourself.” Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Jewish convert to the Catholic faith and a Carmelite nun who died in Auschwitz, 1943)
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
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