There Be Dragons

One of the many amazing things about this summer is how much my friendship with the saints have grown.  I love getting to know these Heavenly brothers and sisters, and how much I am able to relate to their stories.

One of my summer reading projects has been The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila.  Ironically, while I’ve been gone, one of our parish priests has been using the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila as material for his morning mass homilies! Great minds think alike, I suppose.

If you don’t know much about Saint Teresa, let me introduce you to her.  She’s pretty amazing.

She was born in 1515 in Spain, and even from a very young age showed great devotion to a prayer life.  She would go on silent retreats as a child, and was always known for giving away her things to the poor.  When she was five years old, she told her little brother she wished to go fight the Moors and be a martyr.  Her mother and her grew very close, but her mother died when she was only a teenager.  At that point, she dedicated herself to Mama Mary as her mother, a relationship that continued throughout her life.

She went to a convent-run school at age 16, but later became very sick.  Yet she used her time as a patient to grow in spiritual reading, and favored medieval mystics – most of whom Ignatius based his spiritual exercises off of.

In 1535, she entered the Carmelite order, but quickly became aware of the worldliness that had seeped into the order.  High name society visited often, and luxury instead of poverty reigned.  So in the early 1560s, she founded new monasteries and convents that followed the original, stricter rule and embraced the vows of poverty.  Her reform movement sparked concern and she was then investigated during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, but charges were not followed through.

She wrote some amazing pieces on prayer and spirituality and is now a Doctor of the Church – one of only four women to be honored with that title.

It is her work, The Interior Castle that was my adoration hour companion this morning.  Although I am a pretty speedy reader, this book is something that is being very slowly consumed.  I had to share this passage in light of struggles I have had recently and the culture that surrounds us today.

“But we speak of the other souls, who finally enter the castle, because, though they are very much entangled with the world, they have good desires, and sometimes, though rarely, they commend themselves to the Lord, and consider what they are, though not very thoroughly.  Perhaps they pray several times a month, yet with many distractions, since their minds are almost always occupied with business, and because they are so attached to it, their heart is where their treasure is.  Sometimes however, they disentangle themselves, and self-knowledge shows them plainly that they are not in a good way to reach the gate.

Finally, they enter the first room on the lower floor, but many reptiles enter with them, and they do not permit them to either see the beauty of the castle, or to find repose in it; it is, indeed, much that they have entered at all.

The Interior Castle, First Mansions

That passage hit me like a ton of bricks…mostly because I discovered that I was reading the description of my life.  How easy it to read about the Lord, talk about the Lord and never once have a legitimate conversation with Him? To let prayer became mundane, a duty that is often shirked for ‘better things to do’ and then simply counting actions as prayer instead of sitting and listening to God.

And I think the biggest culprit is the lack of knowledge on how to structure a prayer life.

And the second biggest culprit is the access that I give the world into my life.  And how much I enjoy it’s presence there instead of being ok with the knowledge that this world is not my home, and Heaven is my end goal, not a fleeting sense of ‘happiness.’

There be reptiles.  There be dragons.

How do we fight them?

For me, today, it was deleting a lot of social media apps off my phone, and then committing to not checking it nearly so often during the day.  Because the reptile of social media plays a pretty darn large role in the blocking of my view from the beauty of the castle inside my heart.  Maybe it’s removing a deadly friendship that is in your life, or picking up the Bible at a set time each day and not letting that slip.

Mother Teresa once wrote, “Be careful of all that can block personal contact wit the living Jesus.  The Devil may try to use the hurts of your life, and sometimes our own mistakes to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you.  This is a danger for all of us.  And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting to tell you..  Not only that He loves you, but even more.  He longs for you.  He Misses you when you don’t come close.  He thirsts for you.  He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy.  When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes.  He is the one who accepts you.  My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you.  Only believe – you are precious to Him.  Bring all you are suffering to His feet – only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are.  He will do the rest.”

If the goal of this life is to know, love, sand serve God and be ultimately with Him in Heaven, then I think my life could use some simplifying.  I think the world could use some simplifying, in all honesty.

So, hopefully with a little help from my Saintly friends – especially Teresa of Avila, this journey into the interior castle can begin.

Your Brain on Summer Mission Trips

So this summer, the blog has been sorely neglected by yours truly because I was hired on to be a team member for the Prayer and Action mission trip in a diocese in our state.  It’s been amazing, no it’s been better than amazing. It’s been like living in a slice of Heaven.

But before I tell you about my past four weeks, I have to tell you about January.  Because in January, I was kneeling in front of Christ in the Eucharist in Nashville Tennessee at a FOCUS conference and begging Him to shed some light in my life.  I told Him I would do whatever He wanted to do this summer….He only had to point the way.  I walked out of adoration and into one of my friends from another college who had played music with me one night on a retreat.  He joked,  “You should have been up there playing with Matt Maher last night!” which I quickly laughed off, but that one comment caught the attention of a priest who was standing by.  I had never met Father, but I had heard so many good things about him.

He asked, “You play guitar?” I sure did, I replied.  “What are you doing this summer” was the following question, which frankly blew me out of the water. Wow God…that was quick.  He asked me to apply for Prayer and Action team in the Salina Diocese of Kansas and I told him I’d pray on it.  I had two things for school to still line up and I couldn’t go if my job wasn’t held for me.  I asked for a month to pray on it.

That was Saturday.  By Monday afternoon at 3:00 pm, all three things that I had asked to be lined up were lined up.  I texted Father “Well, God keeps dropping hints and I can’t say no.” And that was that…I was on team.

Let me explain a little more about the mission of Prayer and Action…and if you have never experienced it, you’re going to think I’m crazy. Every morning I get up at 6:00 am and then spend some quality time with the Lord in adoration.  Then we head into morning rosary by 7:10 am, which transitions to a morning Mass and time for silent reflection based on an idea presented the night before.  After that, we get to eat breakfast as a group, pack lunch and head out to work sites, where we will stay from about 9:30 am to 3:45 pm.  We start each work site off with a prayer to our patron saints, Mother Teresa (lovingly referred to as ‘Mama T’) and Saint Michael.  Then at noon, we break to say the Angelus, and work some more.

This isn’t fluff ‘n stuff work.  We scrape houses, prime fences, climb ladders and finish trim.  We mow lawns, weed gardens, and move rocks.  We get sun burnt, sweaty, and literally earn every shower that we get.  And I love it.

Then we come back to our base and we gather for skits and praise and worship and then every night we have a team member who gives a talk on some subject relating to the week at Prayer and Action or a subject relevant to high school kids.  Guess what my subject is?  You guessed it: chastity and relationships. And that talk, the one where I splay my soul out in front of wide-eyed highschoolers who can’t believe that I have never been on a date, is one of my favorite nights of the week.  It’s almost beat in significance by the amazing and genuine conversations that it opens up for the next day on the work sites.

The first week, we worked with over 50 college students from all over the state.  I had never met a great majority of them, and was frankly scared to death.  I’m normally pretty introverted, and it felt like everyone knew everyone but me.  But I powered through day one, went to bed half excited to start the work sites, half questioning what the heck I had gotten myself into.

But then we met the first home owner.  He’s a man who lives in Stockton whose house was in horrible condition.  One side was siding, the other sides were a concrete.  The grass in front of his house was about four inches tall and his back porch was in just as bad shape as the house itself.  His wife was mostly blind, and she didn’t know what she thought about Catholics.

And after that we met a Protestant minister who said the work we were doing had restored his faith in both Catholics and young adults.

And then I met a woman who was over one hundred years old whose advice was to “Just wake up in the morning and do what you have to do.”

God kept flooding my life with people who made me appreciate all the gifts I had ever been given.  It was only week one.  Then high school weeks started up, and the butterfly feelings crept back into my heart.  I wasn’t good enough to be a role model for these kids.  I barely knew the program myself, and these kids were coming back for the fourth, sometimes fifth time.  I was a rookie, and I was in charge.

We had almost a hundred people in the first high school week.  And every single one of them blew me out of the water with their love for God, their striving for holiness and
their desire to simply be Christ’s hands and feet in a small Kansas town.  I met girls who I wished I had known when I was in high school, and the conversations that I had with the guys literally restored my hope in today’s young men.

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in my life.  I also don’t think I’ve ever been so moved to tears in my life either.  Nor did I ever think that I could be such good friends with highschoolers.  But I usually found that instead of me pushing them in their faith, it was them constantly pushing me to be a better person.

And then I started to fall in love.  Whoa, now, you say, hold on.  You, Chloe, fall in love? Yep.  Trust me, I didn’t see it coming either.  But I started to fall in love with someone who I saw wherever I turned.  I fell in love with someone I sat down and ate breakfast with.  I begin to not be able to live without someone who I visited every morning.  I was running to see him during a lunch break and finishing my nights with talking to him.  I was writing about him in my journal (typical homeschooler) and talking to him with everyone I encountered.

I was falling in love with Christ for maybe the first time in my life.  Because I have spent a bulk of my life talking about Christ, but not to Him.  And this summer romance was more deep and passionate than I ever could have imagined or predicted.  And I don’t want it to end with the summer.

But it’s not just Christ Himself who has won my heart and relentlessly pursued me.  It’s how people both in the community that we serve and those who come to the program are being reflections of His love in my life.  I’ve seen Him in the tear-filled eyes of a home owner whose house looks like a brand new place after just a week of setting some high school kids on it.  I’ve seen Him in the Eucharist at midnight, as I sat in a soaking wet skirt and tee shirt after coming in from dancing in the rain.  I’ve seen Him in notes that people have written to me telling me how I’ve impacted them over the week.

He’s everywhere.

And do you know what is even more beautiful than His constant presence?  If there is one thing, it’s the knowledge that, at the end of this life, Heaven is going to be like this.  Heaven is going to be a constant and ever-present offering of ourselves to Christ’s heart.  It’s going to be an eternity of never having to say goodbye on Friday afternoon when we send the groups back out into the ‘real world’…because it turns out that Heaven is going to be the reality for those who have given themselves totally over to His divine love and compassion.  Heaven is going to be amazing.  And until then, I am given the incredible blessing of seeing each and everyone of these Prayer and Action friends in the divine presence of the Holy Eucharist as I offer them and their intentions up at every Mass.

God is good.  If there is anything that I’ve said over and over this summer, it’s that phrase right there.  God is so good, but He’s more than good – He’s love.  And this summer I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to be love with and for others…and to fall in love with the author of love Himself.

And I don’t want to leave.  We only have three weeks left and I already know it’s going to fly by faster than you can say “P and A.”  But how exciting, how exhilarating that what I love about Prayer and Action doesn’t end with that last Friday goodbye, waving to vehicles that pull out of a parking lot and drive into a world that isn’t as friendly as small town Kansas.  In fact, if anything, Prayer and Action is just the beginning.  It’s a call to something greater-  it’s a call to be Christ in this world past the week that we provide.  It’s a call to be Him for those we love the most, and are the hardest to get along with.  It’s a call to serve the least of His brethren within our own four walls, and within our own families and friends.

That can be harder than taking off work for two months to serve some people you don’t know.  Because it requires true sacrifice to put yourself third to your family, or to tell yourself you can sacrifice for your friend.

But it’s worth it.  It’s all a process of little opportunities to say ‘yes’ to God so that when He asks something big of us, we can respond without a second of hesitation.

So here is to summer mission trips – as crazy as they may seem.  Here is to giving until you don’t think you can give anymore, and then pushing that extra mile.  Here is to God….the author of divine love, and for His goodness in providing opportunities for us to tap into a slice of Heaven.