Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How Do I Get To Heaven?

Over the weekend I was blessed to have some insights into how the Hand of God may be working in unexpected ways.  It was a blessed weekend, and so it was not a surprise, I guess, that Monday was nothing at all like that.  It was just a frustrating day.   Life is never perfect.
I had been trying to call a meeting of some good, like-minded people to gather and plan how we might help those most in need in our area --- this seemed a Godly thing to do.  I met with the meeting presenter, who assured me of his availability this week, and so I invited others to match calendars to find the optimum date to meet.  Wednesday seemed the best date, but then one responded that he was on vacation in Florida, and then another said he had meetings all week that he couldn’t change, and finally the presenter got back to me with an emergency which had come up for him --- he couldn’t be there either.  I tried to put on a calm attitude as I emailed notice of the meetings’ cancellation, suggesting that perhaps a month from now we might better be able to plan a meeting.  (I hoped that would give enough planning time for busy working people).  Promptly came two replies:  “Much better, any day that week works but Friday,” and “Lots going on, but I will keep Friday clear that week.”  Aaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhhhhhh!!
So, naturally after these wonderful happenings, my Monday evening Examen prayer before the Lord began something like this:  “Thank you Lord, for Your many blessings this day … and I’m sorry for my many failings.”  And then I guess I went on a bit, in words and in my heart (which he could read) about how I was TRYING to do good things, trying to love my neighbor, trying to do as he would, trying to make a difference with my life.  But despite all these efforts, I’m afraid that all I felt in my heart was that it was a “trying” day, and I felt somewhat frustrated.  I felt I had failed, and I told God.
I know the most important thing we can do in this life is to love God and love neighbor, the summary of the Commandments and the Gospel.  And I try to have that focus in my life.  It’s taken me many years to get to this point in my life with God, to get to this level of intimacy with His will.  In my last post I wrote of a young waitress who was just beginning to yearn for God, and of a sister who actually heard His voice, two people at different ends of the faith journey, of life’s journey.  I know many people between those two extremes, all wanting to grow in holiness, all in one way or another asking:  How?  How do I get to heaven?  What they’re asking is: How do I get to know the mind of God, and His will for me?  I want to do it.
In my faith journey, I sought to pray, to read, and to study what God and people much holier than I had to say about how to live my life.  And I’ve sought friends and prayer partners and a spiritual director to help me see and do God’s will.  And I’ve found consolations and believe I have found the key focus for my life, as I said, in loving God and neighbor as priority.  I want this to be the key focus of my life --- but what about frustrating days like Monday, when I was trying to do those good things, and failing?  And, quite frankly, I was frustrated I could not accomplish what I thought was God’s will.
But I was wrong.
There is a key point here which I so, so, sooooooo easily forget:  He is God; I am not.  I will never know Him or His will perfectly in this life.  IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.  I can never perfectly say:  This is what He wants me to do.  I can never perfectly say: I failed Him.  I can never perfectly know.  But if I could ever get off my high horse of thinking I CAN know, then I can begin to learn much more.  And so He taught me.
I said that yesterday night I began my prayers confidently telling God of His blessings, and my failures at loving God and neighbor.  And so I was not at all surprised when I subsequently began my spiritual readings that night that the first sentence I read seemed to confirm my prayers and understanding:
Charity is the essence of Christian perfection.
I think perhaps I even imagined a bit of spiritual warmth spread over me as I read those words, and I felt:  God knows that I am trying to love Him and neighbor.  And I felt a certain comfort.  But then I read:
But for us poor, miserable creatures, whom God wishes
to raise to union with Himself, is charity the ultimate
basis of the spiritual life?  No.
No?? What?  What!!  I stopped reading right there and looked at the monstrance and host on the altar.  What!?  Lord, I prayed moments before to You what seemed to be the most important thing in my life, my efforts at charity, and You seemed to confirm this was good.  Why, at this moment, are You putting words in front of me saying that all I thought and learned to this point is wrong?  And then I put my head down and read on:
There is something deeper still which is, so to speak,
the basis of charity, and that is humility.  Humility
is to charity what the foundation is to the building …..
“If you wish to lay good foundations,” says St. Theresa
of Jesus to her daughters, “each of you must try to be
the least of all.”
He that humbles himself shall be exalted.  (Lk 18:14)
Humility deepens the soul’s capacity to receive
the fullness of divine gifts.
-- Readings from Divine Intimacy, pp 301-3
Glancing ahead, I can see that humility is the topic all this week in the book Divine Intimacy.  Through these words, and others, which I’ll write below, it seems God is giving me a lesson:  Charity, love of God and neighbor ARE ultimate goals of this life, but there are steps we must take to be able to achieve these goals well.  We cannot just WILL, with our will, to love God and neighbor.  Our efforts will fail, or be weak.  We need God’s help.  We need to build foundations on which to base our charity, virtues needed to be part of our life, and one of the most foundational virtues is humility.  Humility is getting rid excesses in the natural love of self (which isn’t a totally bad thing, since we are made in God’s image), to make room for love of neighbor.  And love of self, pride, ego, includes those assumptions we make that “we can figure it out.”  We think we can desire God’s will, figure it out, and just do it ---- like it’s all OUR plan.  It’s not; we can’t.
And then I read other prayers and meditations last night:
So long as we continue to behave as sheep, we are victorious.
Even if ten thousand wolves surround us, we conquer and are
victorious.  But the moment we become wolves, we are conquered,
for we lose the help of the shepherd.  He is the Shepherd of sheep,
not wolves.
  If He leaves you and goes away, it is because you do not
allow Him to show His power.
-- St. John Chrysostom
Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and
anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.  (Mt 23:12)
I can only strive to please you, Lord, if I know what truly
pleases You.  And I can only know what pleases You if I study
and pray.  I need You to keep me humble, Lord, I tend so easily
to slip into that self-destructive thirst for recognition and
superiority.  That tendency goes deep --- only Your love goes
deeper.  Purify my heart, Lord.  Teach me to think first of others,
and then of myself, just as you did.  Jesus, I trust in You …
-- Readings from The Better Part, pp 265-8
How do I get to heaven?  That is not a question we can answer, no matter how strong our desire, no matter our intelligence.  Only He knows the way for us.  We must trust in Him --- and tell Him so, often.  And we must follow wherever He leads, even if it seems we are failing, if it seems we are lost.  We must trust that He makes good of all things, if we try our best.
I will continue in my efforts to love God and neighbor, but I will try to be a little bit less anxious when I fail.  I need to be humble enough to accept failure, to not achieve the heights I seek. 

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