I was reading Elizabeth Scalia’s post yesterday about Papa Benedict and his new role in the Church.
When I got to the excerpt of an interview the B16 did where he talks about suffering, I just sat there staring at the screen. It’s from an interview that is in God and the World, which I plan to buy and read in its entirety.
Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.
When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.
Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love I experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness. Yet, on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand by it is so important to learn how to suffer — and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection, and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.
There are so many reasons why this hit me. First of all, I hate suffering and it shows because my progress is very slow. I am bitter and I have such a problem understanding other people. I have felt “stuck” spiritually for a long time now. There are things in my personal life with my kids and in my marriage that have been under spiritual attack for over a year now and instead of suffering with grace, I have freaked out and tried to avoid the suffering at all costs. I have gone to priest after priest to get help and they all tell me the same thing: pray and lean in to it, stop resisting the battle. They are so right, but the thing is that I had no idea what they were even talking about. What does that even mean?! And when you feel like a demon is setting up camp in your home and family there is no way to think clearly enough to even try to figure it out.
So I started praying the Novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots.
I have started it 4 times in the last six months. I’m on my fifth try and I am still on day three and it’s been a week. And even then, she has helped me. I see the effects of her intercession. One knot that she has helped me with is with examining my faults.
I have figured out that when I first had my conversion, I had this idea that life would be perfect from then on. That all the battles were over and that was the end of the road so to speak. I knew that I was called to be a saint, but I guess I thought that would be an easy road or something. That God would do all the work for me and I could sit by the pool drinking margaritas and pointing out what was wrong with everyone else.
Even with all the talk about suffering that is part of Catholic theology, I just assumed that it would be like the pain that comes from letting go of bad habits, but just the ones that I was willing to give up. Not my bad attitude or judgmentalness because after all, those are a part of “who I am”; the way that God made me in the first place. We are called to be strong and bold and tell the truth even if we are hated for it. Right? Umm, yeah, but that isn’t what I was doing. I was being a rude biatch who thought I was holier than other people. That is the brutal truth that I was avoiding to look at.
One of those people was my husband. I got into a bad habit of talking to him like he is an idiot because he didn’t know all the theological stuff that I did. The reason that he didn’t is because he is out in the world busting his ass working while I sit inside my nice house and read and go to school. Not because he is an idiot, but because he is a good husband.
The reality is that looking at the fault of others, including but not limited to our current president along with everyone else, was only a distraction from looking at my own sins and faults. I was convinced that since I had this amazing St. Paul style conversion and I know that God will use that for the good of His Kingdom, that I no longer had any work to do on any of those things. I thought that my being a hedonistic pagan slut was my only fault and becoming Catholic was the solving of that fault. Oh, I was so wrong. Those were only symptoms of my faults, which are still there.
I have so many more flaws and I have so much work to do before I can ever fully carry out anything that God has in store for me. I am still so attached to pride. So attached to wanting to be noticed and praised for everything. Even though I know that I would be nothing without God, I still think “But look what He did for me, how special AM I?!” It’s such a balancing act to know that you are special because God made you, but also know that you have serious sinful habits that need to be worked on. God’s grace can do all things, but it does need us to participate. That is what all those priests meant by “lean in and don’t resist”.
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and change is painful.” Flannery O’Connor
Conversion doesn’t simply take away all old wounds and defects. Hard work, humility, and the Sacraments plus the Grace, Love and Mercy of God does. Not understanding this led me to despair. I really thought that something was wrong with me, that just like when I was a child in the Baptist Church, that the “Jesus thing, didn’t take”, because it felt as if things were getting worse than ever around here. (I also have a 12-year-old girl in the house, which can sometimes resemble the spawn of satan.)
Then I read writers like Elizabeth Scalia, Calah Alexander, Katrina Fernandez, Simcha Fisher, Heather King, Flannery O’Connor and Dorothy Day and I realized that we all have something to work through. Conversion isn’t the end; it is only the beginning of life.
Just like when we are born, and there was a lot to learn; how to talk, how to walk, and all of those things. Converts have to learn how to live also. Even St. Paul had to take years of learning before he began his work as an evangelist. It is completely possible that people told me this and in my pride I thought that I was that awesome that it wouldn’t be the case for me. I can see that being possible.
All of this being said, it is the one reason I can’t read about “breaking news” stories right now, I have a lot of personal work to do, so if someone wears their baby on their wedding dress or if Obama is working to have us all killed by the Taliban, just doesn’t really concern me at the moment. I cannot afford to be distracted from my soul right now. I do feel that is what all the drama and hand wringing is, for me anyway. A straight up distraction from good ‘ol sparky, and I have to focus.
Please pray for me.