Monday, December 29, 2014

On Self-Denial and Love of the Cross

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. ~ Matt 16:24

I admit readily that I have a very difficult time carrying any cross. I suffer from chronic migraines and this year has been better than previous years, and still I've complained. Dec. was a tough month but it took me a while to give thanks and praise to God and sadly it was more with a spirit of resignation than that of rejoicing. However, this month, with St. Alphonsus' help I've been able to look at the many blessings that come with this particular cross. 1. Letting go of expectations. 2. Lying in bed in prayer. 3. Scribbling in my notebook -- pouring out my heart to God on the page. 4. Awaiting Him. Come Lord Jesus. 5. Offering it as a sacrifice for the conversion of others. 6. The time to contemplate what is to come. 7. Watching my husband and children care for each other and me.
We are so conditioned to do things, it's hard to just be. This is when I remember how sweet it is to waste time with God, just like I did when Michael and I first met and we wasted hours together, doing absolutely nothing but simply being together.
The words of the great Spanish mystic, John of Avila, come to mind: “Do not think now of what you would do if you were well, but be content to remain sick as long as it pleases God. If you are seeking the will of God, what matters it whether you are sick or well?” St. Frances de Sales (patron of writers) maintained that we can serve God better by suffering than by laboring. And I have to remind myself of this every time I get hit on the head with Harry.
My cross is not that heavy when I compare it to others' but it is mine to carry. I have wondered why suffering is the way to God; wouldn't it be easier if the path were more pleasant? More people would walk it. But it is not the way of our Lord.
St. Alphonsus begins this chapter with, "The love which our Divine Master Jesus entertained for the cross was so great that He embraced it from the first moment of His Incarnation. The will of His heavenly Father had decreed that His life on earth should be the way of the cross; accordingly, He began His sorrowful journey to Calvary's Mount the very moment that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’.
"Hand in hand with the love of the cross is the virtue of self-denial, for he who is attached to the comforts of life or to himself lacks courage to walk in the bloodstained footsteps of the suffering Savior.”
Peace of Heart
"Patience hath a perfect work, says the Apostle James (1:4), for by patience in bearing the crosses of life we make a perfect sacrifice to God. ... Patience is to be preferred to the courage of the hero. Many a man will display great courage in undertaking and bringing to completion some pious work; but he may not have patience enough to bear with the little annoyances and contradictions he encounters. For such a one it were better to be steadfast in patient suffering than courageous in great undertakings. ... In a word we all have something to endure ...
“Accordingly, we can enjoy true peace of heart only when we carry our cross with patience and resignation.
Value of Suffering
"If you are forced to acknowledge, dear Christian reader, that you have offended your God, and you wish at the same time to sanctify your immortal soul, you should rejoice when God sends you suffering. ... When God gives you something to suffer, says St. Augustine, He acts as a physician, and the suffering He sends is not a punishment but a remedy. ... But suffering is not only an excellent means of atonement for past sins, it is also an abundant source of merit.
Proof of Love
St. Alphonsus says, “Suffering is the touchstone of love. … Love is patient, says St. Paul, it beareth all things (1 Cor. 13:4). It patiently carries the external as well as the internal cross: for example, the loss of health, of fortune, of honor, of relatives and friends; anguish, temptations, pains and spiritual aridity. By patience virtue is tried. … “Because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee (Tobit 12:13).”
To Suffer is to Pray
“You say you cannot pray? Why not?” asks St. Alphonsus. “What prevents you from turning your eyes to Jesus Crucified and offering Him the sufferings you must endure? The best prayer you can say is to resign yourself to the will of God in the midst of your sufferings, uniting your pains to the pains of Jesus Christ and offering them as a sacrifice to God.”
Spiritual Aridity
I wanted to share this bit because we all go through periods of spiritual dryness. I’m still in a honeymoon period since our conversion, but I know there will be greater trials and I want to remember these words of St. Alphonsus. “There is a great need of patience in bearing the cross of spiritual abandonment, for it is one of the hardest trials that a soul who loves God can endure.”
Patience again!
“By means of spiritual aridity, God unites Himself intimately with the souls He loves in an especial manner. What hinders us from being truly united to God is attachment to our inordinate inclinations. When God, therefore, desires to lead a soul to His perfect love, He endeavors first to free her from all attachment to created things. To this end He deprives her little by little of earthly goods such as riches, honors, relatives, bodily health and so forth. Then follow contradictions and humiliations of every sort. These are so many means that the Lord makes use of to divest the soul of all attachment to creatures and to self.
“In the beginning of the soul’s conversion, God often gives her a flood of consolations. In consequence of this, the soul is gradually weaned from attachment to creatures and gives herself to God; but not as yet in a perfect manner, for she acts more for the sake of the consolation of God than for the God of consolations.”
This describes me so well. I only pray that my will be strong to do what is pleasing go God. Let us therefore place our unbounded trust in God.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Lowcountry


Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Savior with Missa cum Jubilo. The Bodachs four wish you peace and joy this Christmas and throughout the New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rorate Sunday

My daughter has been making these amazing chocolate balls ... and they're almost like dewdrops from heaven!

Here's a picture of her winning horse. He's finally home!

Tonight, we sight-read this beautiful hymn, Rorate caeli. It expresses my contrite and sorrowful heart for the sins of my youth even as I am grateful and filled with joy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Best Books I Read in 2014

I read many amazing and wonderful books this year. But I want to highlight three because they are extraordinarily good. And this is why I am a writer, because I strive not just to write, but to write well. I want to make a difference and these three books have done that for me. They are keepers. They are friends to accompany me on my journey.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. If I loved Code Name Verity, I loved Rose even more. It had so much heart. I know some people don't like all the details of flying or cars or whatnot, but I absolutely adored all the details that allowed me to imagine more fully as I read the book. The author's voice is sure and strong in both books and I trusted her to take me for a brilliant ride again. I've been interested in Holocaust survival stories since I first picked up the Diary of Anne Frank. These are stories we must never forget and I thank Elizabeth Wein for writing an unforgettable story about the Polish *rabbits* and their friendship with the women in Ravensbruck. Despite the difficult subject, there were moments that made me laugh. It just goes to show that joy is the most infallible sign of God's love. This is a book I will definitely read when I want to remember the power of perseverance and the power of words.

The 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation by St. Alphonsus Ligouri. I might have started off a bit sour, thinking it's too hard to practice these Christian virtues but this great saint has been guiding me this entire year on increasing my virtue and it's a book I will return to again and again, perhaps even next year. This is not a self-help book. This is a book about getting to heaven. And for less than ten bucks, you can't afford not to study and live this book. Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew 5:48 

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass. I'm only halfway through this book because I'm doing the writing exercises and boy does Don push you to dig deeper and deeper. I already have his Breakout Novel Workbook and it helped me to revise the first novel I ever completed. But this book, through various prompts and exercises forces you to think beyond the obvious. If you ever hang out at Writer Unboxed, you will discover what a generous fellow he is. Even his comments are mini-lessons.

What are the best books you read this year? What are you looking forward to? Please do share. I value the recommendations that come from you.

Wishing all my Jewish friends a very happy and blessed Hannukah!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Theokotos)

Today we celebrate not the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Ghost (that's Mar. 25, the Annunciation), but the miraculous conception of Mary, the Mother of God, by her saintly parents Joachim and Anne.

16th century, Russian icon

Extra-Gospel sources tell us that this devout older couple was ridiculed for their barrenness, their offerings refused by the High Priest. St. Joachim, filled with grief, went to the desert to pray. St. Anne prayed at home. When I first read about them, I thought, oh people, you have to be together, work with God, you know? Thankfully, an angel appeared to both of them telling them that their prayer will be answered, not just with any child, but with Mary, full of grace, who would give birth to the Savior. Joachim and Anne met at the temple :) and the rest is history.

As you can imagine, many women who hope to conceive a child ask for these saints to pray for them. Myself included.

This feast of the Immaculate Conception causes a lot of confusion ... when we were going through RCIA, we wondered about Mary, full of grace. What does it mean? And what did it mean to be preserved from the stain of original sin? Does it mean Mary has no need of a Savior? I am not sure I can explain this well, but let me try with an example. It means that Mary, instead of falling into the pit of sin like all of us and then being saved by Jesus, was prevented from falling into the pit in the first place (by the merits of Jesus before He is Incarnated as a human). She was given ALL the graces necessary to become the Mother of God, but she still had free will and could've said no. But she didn't. She lived in the Divine Will by the grace of God.

Here's the official language of the Feast:

We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful. —Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854

Saturday, December 6, 2014

You Better Watch Out!

This Advent might be a good time to read Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How we became a Nation of Heretics, mend our ways and avoid a punch from St. Nick.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Prayer

We ought always to pray, and not to faint. Luke 18:1
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:16
Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Matt 6:9

I blame a late Thanksgiving for doing my Nov. post in Dec. This was another favorite chapter because like Tweety Bird I can say, “I did! I did! I did pway.” Nowadays, my heart and mind are lifted to God many times throughout the day. It is as natural for me to be with Him as it is to be with my family or a good friend and in prayer, time and distance from loved ones dissolves. I didn’t come by this at once, rather in small steps, first by thanksgiving and sorrow for my sins, later petitioning, and still later in contemplation. I find it fascinating that I lose nothing of myself by being open to Him. I am still me, but being with Him makes me as I ought to be. There are times even now when I don’t want to talk to God, but it’s laughable that I can even try to keep a secret from Him. He knows the depths of my heart even when I don’t want to admit to some of my longings and desires. Even if I begin my prayers like a recalcitrant child, I end up in His arms, content. 

When I lost my faith at age 12, I didn’t stop praying immediately. In fact, I wept because I thought I lost my best friend, but a few months later, my mind hardly turned to Jesus, and a few years later, I gave Him no thought at all. And I can honestly say that it was the path to perdition. It is so easy to become your own god, to do what is right for yourself (moral relativism), and not give a care to anyone else. I am not the most charitable person on this planet, but in my 20s, I was downright callous. The poor and suffering were not even worth a thought, a tear, a prayer. And yet, prayer … sweet hour of prayer. It is the *one talent* we are all given, by which we can gain all other graces. I never thought about this until St. Alphonsus pointed it out in this chapter and which was discussed in a beautiful homily by Father Ryan:   
St. Alphonsus says, “The worship of God takes the first place in the order of moral virtues; it is occupied more with God and leads us nearer to Him than the others. For every Christian, therefore, who is striving after perfection it must be a matter of no little concern to make this virtue his own in the highest degree. Now the easiest means of doing so, a means that we can employ at all times and in all places, is found in prayer. Whether it be a prayer of praise or thanksgiving or impenetration or propitiation, we are worshipping God, for every prayer is a humble acknowledgement of the greatness or goodness or fidelity or mercy of God.”
“Vocal prayer, or prayer pronounced by the lips, is very pleasing to God because by it the endless Majesty of God is acknowledged and glorified. … In order, however, that vocal prayer may tend to God’s glory and our own salvation, it must be accompanied by attention and devotion. Such prayer is like sweet-smelling incense that is agreeable to God and wins for us treasures of graces. On the other hand, prayer without recollection is insulting and offensive to God and calls down His wrath on the offender."

OUCH!!! I am mortified at all the times I have given lip-service but my mind was elsewhere. St. Alphonsus always gives it to me straight.
We can blame the devil for the worldly distractions. St. Alphonsus says, “It’s because he desires to rob us of the benefit we derive from fervent prayer; and on the other he wishes to make us guilty of disrespect towards God, and therefore deserving of punishment.” As always, he gives some practical suggestions. “Offer Him beforehand (Mass) the prayers you intend to say, and beg Him to preserve you from distractions. During prayer, avoid haste... Abstain from everything that is incompatible with interior recollection, ex. gazing at every distracting object, speaking with others, etc. Interior attention is threefold: it may be directed to the words you utter, or to their sense, or, finally, to God. When during prayer, your mind is fixed on God with a view to adore Him, to thank Him, to love Him or to ask Him for His graces.
“The easiest means of practicing vocal prayer consists in uttering fervent ejaculations. These pious outpourings of the heart need not be restricted to any particular place or time. They are in order at all times and in all places, at work, at meals, at recreation, at home or away from home. They may take the form of acts of desire, conformity, love, oblation, or self-denial; they may be acts of petition, thanksgiving, humility, confidence and the like. ... Those who frequently utter ejaculations close the door against Satan and prevent his constant annoyance and wicked thoughts." Some examples:
O my God, I desire only Thee and nothing else.
I give myself wholly to Thee.

My God, I love Thee.
My Love, my All!


That last ejaculation was sometimes all I could say when I was in severe pain. Just "Jesus." On better days, I find myself singing various hymns or parts of the Mass, like the Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.

St. Alphonsus reminds us, “The invocation of the holy names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph should have first place. All that we love and desire and hope to possess is summed up in these beautiful names. Jesus Christ has not saved us only once; He is continually saving us by His merits, when in accordance with His promise, He frees us from the danger of sin as often as we invoke His Holy Name. Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that I will do. John 14:13

"With the holy name of Jesus we must unite the beautiful name of Mary. It is so powerful that all hell trembles when it is pronounced. ... If the King of Heaven and earth conferred on Joseph the honor of being the foster father of His Beloved Son and the protector of the holy and immaculate Mother, surely it behooves us to honor him and invoke his powerful intercession.

“You may also, without uttering a word, raise your eyes to Heaven or cast a loving glance at the tabernacle or the crucifix. … The best acts of love, of course, are those that well up from the depth of the heart at the impulse of the Holy Ghost."

St. Alphonsus then focuses the remainder of the chapter on silent prayer and meditation. He says, "Our Divine Redeemer had no need to retire to a lonely place to pray; for as His blessed soul was constantly in the presence of His heavenly Father … He did this to teach us the necessity of interior prayer."
"Mental prayer is like a mirror. If you have a speck of dirt on your face and come before a looking glass, you see the dirt at once and remove it. Had you not looked in the mirror, you would not have thought of the dirt nor washed it away. So it is with mental prayer; we are standing before the mirror of our soul. It is then we recognize our faults and the danger we are in, and accordingly we take measures to rid ourselves of the faults and to escape from the dangers that threaten us."

He then gives a method that is in three parts: preparation, consideration and conclusion. Since this post is already too long, I direct you to: St. Alphonsus' method of mental prayer

I agree with the saint completely when he says, "Without prayer it is absolutely impossible to lead a virtuous life." If you do not pray, do not despair. You can start now. Let the Jim Reeves song give you hope. It still brings tears to my eyes. I used to sing these songs with my mother. Requiescat in pace, Ai.