... with the help of Jen over at Conversion Diary. Some time ago, she wrote a wonderful post about how she learned to see the happenings in her life from the perspective of what they might mean to others, instead of just herself. Please hop over and take a look, as it is really well-written, and has stayed in my mind for weeks.
I was reminded of it when reading this ruefully humorous post of hers, about what it's like to live in Texas. As I was typing a comment to that post, I had an epiphany about the meaning of something which happened this week, and it's got me thinking.
In this blog, I've hinted at my personal situation. That's partly out of what I hope is prudent veiling in this day of GoogleEverything, but also because going into it to any degree would give scandal. My faith has suffered from scandal given by uncaring or thoughtless ones in the past, so I don't want to imitate them. I look forward to the day when I can speak more freely, but that won't be for some time, yet, -- as God wills.
As I got to this point - today, here, right now - I have prayed so deeply for guidance at each step in the road... and guidance has been given me. The way has been opened for me and the friend of my heart in ways which just have God all over them: ordinary things which are miraculous. And there are so many of them! At any point God could have easily stopped the whole journey.
The latest is yet another one of those ordinary / extraordinary things. (Side note: I shall never be able to use those words without thinking of Holy Mass. A bit exasperating - but in a good way. And, as you read what follows, you're going to think it's deliberate. But it's not - and those words are the best for what I want to convey. But I digress.)
What Jen writes about Texas - the heat, the scorpions - absolutely true. And yet, that is where I will end up one day, if God's grace continues to abound. I will because my love is there, his three grown children are there, and his grandchildren are there. I have no children and, outside of my sister and her husband, no family ties. To move is the obvious thing.
But, as I type this, on August 1, I am sitting beside an open sliding glass door in the foothills above Los Angeles. It's in the low 70s outside. It will be hot later, but it will cool down in the evening, as the sea breeze comes through the valley. The door beside which I sit looks out over a large, completely private enclave which includes extensive gardens (poorly maintained by yours truly) and a large, inviting swimming pool. During the day, I can see my beloved mountains. At night, I can look out over the lights of the valley. This property - old, shabby, and in need of expensive repair as it is - is mine. I own it. And I love it.
But there's more: I've never lived further than 10 miles from this spot, except while I was in college, which was in San Diego - hardly a change, if you know what I mean. I'm half Irish. The Irish tend to bond with their home turf.
The idea of leaving all this, plus having to go deliberately into one of the most inhospitable climates this great land offers, has not been easy to get my will around.
I'm not done whining yet! I also - EXACTLY like Jen - crave solitude. More than that: I must have it. Long, uninterrupted hours of peace and quiet. My mother noticed this about me when I was a child. In fact, this weekend I intend to take my cable boxes down to the cable company and turn them in. Not only do I need the money their monthly subscription represents, I virtually never use them! I can't stand television - and the longer I go without it, the less patience I have for it.
Throughout my young adult years, starting well before I entered the Church at 14, I wanted to be a Carmelite nun. "I wanted" is the operative phrase; I don't think I had a vocation. When I say "nun," I mean just that. Not this (although I would have dearly loved it), but this. The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, now my patron saint, was the book which, along with my mother's 1930 Manual of Prayers and the Bible, brought me into the Church.
For all those reasons, the dread of moving away from here has been deep and pervasive. Being the wife of a man who is an active, involved, and dearly loved father and grandfather to three grown, married children and their offspring does not sound like a recipe for solitude. There is no oasis in Texas like where I live now. Once there, I could not reasonably expect to ever be able to afford to move back.
In the meantime, however, God, through our Holy Father, has been coaxing me back from the barren fields of protestant thought into the lush vistas of the Catholic pastureland of the soul. I sustained spiritual and emotional wreckage in my late teens and early 20s, when blow after blow fell in my spiritual and personal life. In the archdiocese where I live, it was a toss-up at times whether the object of worship at Mass was Our Lord or The Spirit of Vatican II. I gather that ambiguity still exists, but I wouldn't know for sure. I refuse to set foot inside a novus ordo Mass anywhere in this area. The unexpected ambushes have an extremely deleterious effect on my soul. My informed conscience tells me I simply do not have to submit to insults and bullying. It is wrong and gives scandal to seem to approve of the sacrilege that goes on at an ordinary Mass around here. In this archdiocese, to protest means to go against the documents which have been issued by the Cardinal Archbishop. I am at a loss why people pay attention to anything the man says. I need say nothing about him. His actions speak for themselves, whether through the "cathedral" he caused to be built, which was a self-serving exercise - and what a self it reveals! - as well as the shameful behavior which led to the financial catastrophe of the settlements. May God have mercy upon him. He has been a stumbling block for so many of us.
When Pope Benedict was elected, I watched him warily. He'd written some persuasive, hopeful-sounding things during his previous life, but would he prove to be merely a puppet of an entrenched cadre of Vaticanistas, bent on making the Church more banal than even the protestants?
Uh - no.
Summorum Pontificum was the work of a man fully in charge. And I use the word man deliberately. It is one of the most, er, masculine documents in recent memory: reasonable, tactful, and explicitly clear. I particularly love the part which says, if a bishop is "having difficulty" with the provisions, Ecclesia Dei will "help". I doubt there's anyone who didn't understand the meaning of that. It literally was a gauntlet thrown down.
As a displaced Catholic, I was astonished by his alpha-dog leadership. I wondered if it was real. It's clear by now that it is. Benedict XVI is serious about this. He is moving ahead "brick by brick" to reclaim the Church's historic treasures of liturgy and devotion and bring them to light along with - not in place of - the real reforms intended by Vatican II.
I'm very close to capitulating and returning to the Church, starting, as I must, by attending Mass again. Pope Benedict has graciously made it possible once again. A regular TLM has been established a few miles away, instead of the scant "provision" previously made under the Indult. Can you guess which parish is on the Archdiocesan website as the first, and so far, ONLY parish to offer regular TLM since Summorum Pontificum? St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Alhambra!
And now this: at some point this week I was following an Internet trail, possibly via a comment left on some post over at Fr. Z's - I truly don't remember - and here's what I found: the Mater Dei Latin Mass Community in Dallas, Texas. In the neighborhood where - God willing - we will settle.
That changed everything for me. OK, so the weather will be hot, but there's air conditioning most places. Scorpions are God's creatures, too. How soon can I leave?
But back to Jen's point, while this may seem to be about me, it really feels a lot more like, "Here are the tools you need to do the job I have for you. I know you're weak, so I put padding on the yoke before I lay it on your shoulders. But you're still going to have to pull. And it will be uphill, both ways, sometimes. But I'll be there. I'll always be there. I always was."
My dear one, when we were dating and fell so irrevocably in love all those years ago, was a typical cynical teenager. I was a devout Catholic. It didn't bother him that I was; he just didn't partake. When he left me - a deliberate act on his part, I grant you, although he didn't really want to, and he was most definitely lured - the one he eventually married was a cradle Catholic, and they were married at Mass in an extravagant ceremony. That hurt!
Imagine my reaction when he told me - about three years into our current conversation - that he was baptized when one of his sons was. Baptized a Catholic. My friend. However, my dear one didn't follow up on it. He's a man of few words, but he once said, "The Church doesn't seem to know what it wants to be." The deformative Masses and theologically bare homilies and self-celebrating, poorly-done music quickly snuffed out any spark of interest he might have had in following through. He was going through an extremely difficult time at home. He did not need to hear How Wonderful It Is That We All Are Here Loving Each Other when he went to Mass. He needed another man to show him the way to Christ - a strong priest who would speak to his better self, point out the trail towards holiness, hand him a staff and backpack and say, "get going!"
The moment he told me I immediately had the sinking feeling that there was a Reason for this renewal on my part. What if I was meant to do this for myself, but also for him? And what about his kids? And their kids? I am a firm believer in the witness of daily life. I've known many Catholics, whose consistently loving choices touched my life and my family's in ways that truly made a difference to us. That, to me, is a lofty goal: to live a quiet life and do good in my own circle. I don't want to preach or argue or do apologetics. I want to get out of God's way and let Him speak to others' hearts through my acts and words. I have so often been the downcast one, bewildered and alone, and a Catholic's steady, joyful example has heartened and encouraged me.
If this is my vocation, I will need to sacrifice the solitude I so dearly love, give up my house and beloved California, and learn to manage in uncomfortable weather - and those are only the things I know about going in. I am not ignoring those difficulties. I have pursued other paths when I did ignore or deny obvious problems. This is not one of those times. It is just different, this time. God's gracious provision of what I most need in my life - the extraordinary form of the Mass - and daily, even! - proves to me that this is where I am to go. It is quiet, calm knowing. I have no doubt.
After all these years, it would seem that I've found my vocation. In my wanderings, I've had to learn what a true father is, so that I could recognize that God is one, through the example of my dear friend. I've had to accept that God loves me and wants me to thrive in His love. It might mean all kinds of physical, mental and emotional crosses to bear, but He still wants my soul to thrive. And it would seem I've healed enough to be able to be used for something worthwhile, at last.
It is none of my doing... nor, strictly speaking, is it what "I" want. "I" want to loll in my garden, read novels, and eat potato chips and never get fat! Instead, I need to choose to go where "I" will have to submit to the exigencies of daily life. My life literally will not be my own any more, but will be in the hands of God entirely.
I've been on a long, painful, bewildering journey, much of which I brought on myself through willfulness and misapprehension. I would rather atone for my failings here than hereafter; but I have learned that I cannot choose the arena or means of my atonement. I have to let God decide.
I used to work long hours, serve my mother, and do what I could at home, until I wept from exhaustion and despair. He wants me to rest and sleep and do a daily routine of work and play, with appropriate breaks for rest and nourishment. I used to deny myself every pleasure, thinking by doing so I was atoning for my sins. God bestows exquisite pleasures - the scent of a fresh gardenia, this cool morning by an open window, the presence in my life of my dear one - and the penance is in humbly accepting those gifts with gratitude, instead of arguing about why I shouldn't accept such joys - or, worse, outright rejecting them. In my previous attempt at marriage, any show of affection was either denied or only grudgingly, hurriedly given. It was a very lonely existence, but I did my best to accept my abandonment as my punishment for marrying as I did. God's idea of marriage is completely different from that. Real marriage brims with affection, mutual respect, and friendship! Who knew?
Until this revelation, when I thought of marriage, I reflexively cringed at the thought of the exhaustion and loneliness with which I associated it, due to my unfortunate experience. As I've been observing my dear one's behavior, I realize how good it can be when two people are committed to each other's well-being. My friend would not let me get overtired or overwrought, even if it meant he had to work all night in my place. He would do that without even a thought for his own comfort. I marvel at that. I marveled at it when we were teenagers, and I marvel at it today. He is a treasure. And, in that, he behaves in the way I associate with true Catholics, based on my experience. That's why I am sure God has more in store for him, and it's up to me to mind my own spiritual health and fill my soul with God so that He can work through me and I can get out of His way.
Part of that involves cultivating a healthy inattention to others, whether it be their opinion of me, or the impulse to see whether or not "I" have made a difference. There is only One I must serve and please and follow. So long as I do my best, step by step, moment by moment, to be with Him and near Him, the rest will be as He wills. It is actually a relief to finally understand that I'm not responsible for how others choose to react to me. He's there for them as He is for me. What matters is how I serve Him.
You can't make that happen by willing it. You can only love Him, and know Him, and pray, and wait, and accept whatever He gives you in trust that He knows what's best for you and the ones you love. It seems so simple, yet it is a mystery which takes all of one's life to plumb.
It's even caused me to rethink the title of my blog. "Finding Pasture" meant originally that I was doing the "finding," seeking a spiritual home where I could be a sheep and not always have to be on my guard for wolves in sheep's clothing. I see it differently, now. It's not up to me to find pasture. It's up to me to trust God as I go in and out of the various stages and places and times of my life. By His grace, I will find myself in the pasture to which He has led me, after preparing me to know it when I saw it, and teaching me to accept it once I waded into the chest-high sweet clover, instead of automatically assuming I wasn't supposed to be there and just stealing a mouthful or two surreptitiously before sneaking back out into the barren, dry world beyond. I'm not going to change it, though - the title of the blog, I mean. The verse to which it refers is one God used to start me on the journey back from self-denial to healthy acceptance of His will in my life.
The picture on my blog is that of a pasture in Texas. I put it up there some time ago to remind myself that Texas isn't really just a scorpion-infested desert - at least, not all the time. ;)