Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Desire for Holiness - Father Ryan, Founder

The most important reason that this little religious community of The Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate exists is that it may gather into its fold, its family, young women who want to become holy, and who want to be helped to become holy by the kind of religious life that they are invited to live—everything else is secondary. The first concern of our community then is to provide the inspiration and the means to help strive after this holiness of life. Naturally we want to do good, to help as many people get to heaven as we possibly can. Naturally too, we want more and more sisters; we would like very much to see our numbers grow—but both of these things will follow—we will do wonderful work for souls, and we will grow, perhaps even rapidly if we persevere in our efforts to become more and more holy. As St. Paul wrote in one of his epistles when he spoke of Paul planting and Apollos watering, the most important point was that “God will give the increase”. Our part is to try to be worthy of God’s special intervention. The history of the Church has an abundance of examples of God’s infinite generosity in helping individuals or groups who are honestly trying to do His Will—very often working miracles in their behalf. And these extraordinary blessings of His are still going on. How else explain the wonderful success of Mother Angelica, for example. There is no way to explain it except to recognize the hand of God, the infinite power of God and so we see this wonderful result—a cloistered nun, with no money and no serious knowledge of the Television Industry, doing what the bishops of the U.S. and their dioceses could not attempt—and making a tremendous success of it—expanding her television apostolate to its present huge size and effectiveness. Or we could mention Mother Cabrini who in her life time opened 67 different institutions of mercy, orphanages, hospitality homes for the aged, day nurseries etc. She is the first canonized U.S. citizen. God’s power is infinite. He doesn’t hesitate to grant miraculous Graces. Our part is to do our best to be worthy of such special graces—and being worthy means being holy—The seeking after holiness as we mentioned before is the main purpose of Religious Life. And to encourage us in this seeking after holiness is the purpose of our short retreat.

The first, and I think the most important, step in accomplishing anything worthwhile is to have a great desire to accomplish it. If you want to be a great musician or a great teacher, or a great ball player, you must have a great desire to reach these heights of greatness—otherwise you will only be mediocre at most. The same is certainly true in the spiritual life. A person must want to be holy—have a great desire for holiness; otherwise he will be satisfied with mediocrity. This is not pride, unless of course his idea was merely to impress people, to show off—and in that case it would not be a desire for real holiness but only for foolish vain-glory, which of course is a sham. Instead of saying he or she we will just say he and it will refer to either men or women—God of course is the one who imparts this desire—without His Grace as we know we are incapable of even a holy thought. Our part is to cooperate with God’s Grace and to welcome this desire that God gives us. It is interesting in reading St. Therese’s autobiography to see that she had a very strong desire to become a saint, even though she claimed to have a great many faults and few merits (many of the saints were like her in having a low opinion of themselves) but this didn’t in any way disturb her or discourage her—it made her turn to Our Lord with even greater trust that He would give her the Graces necessary to help her to become a saint. Here are a few of St. Therese’s own words “This aspiration (to become a saint) may very well appear rash, seeing how imperfect I was and am even now, after so many years of religious life; yet I still feel the same daring confidence that one day I shall become a great saint. I am not trusting in my own merits, for I have none; but I trust in Him who is virtue and holiness itself. It is he alone who, pleased with my feeble efforts will raise me to himself, and by clothing me with His merits, make me a saint”. We know how true her words turned out to be. We can truly say a very important reason for her becoming a saint was the great desire for holiness that she had, right from her earliest years and which grew throughout her life, especially during the nine years she spent in the convent, before her death at the young age of 24. St. Teresa of Avila, the great Mother and Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, was most anxious that her nuns would have a great desire to be holy, right from the beginning of their Religious Lives. She recognized the fact that a beginner could lack discretion and that the Spiritual Director would have to give her some counsel etc. But she warned against having a spiritual director who would counsel too much discretion and so destroy the great desires of the young nun. St. Teresa usually spoke very plainly—her words on this occasion were “See to it that he (the spiritual director) is not the kind of person to teach us to be like toads, satisfied if our souls show themselves fit only to catch lizards”. She wanted her daughters to have a real thirst for God, and to put forth real efforts to reach the goal of union with Him. Her own life showed how right she was in this matter of wanting to be holy. The story is told of how as a very young child of 7, she induced her brother, who was a little older than herself, to run away with her to the country of the Moors, in the hope that they would “have their heads cut off” (be martyred). I don’t know how far they got but they were overtaken by an uncle who brought them back home to their anxious parents. When they asked her why she had run away she said, “I went because I want to see God, and to see Him we must die”. Her words “I want to see god” are used as a title of a book written about her and her teachings by a Carmelite priest Father Marie-Eugene(one of you has read some of the book) The book contains a good explanation of many of St. Teresa’s teachings about the religious life and in particular about prayer. These words of hers “I want to see God” were spoken by her when she was very young, but I would say that she could have said the same words and probably did, at any point in her life. This could be used by any of us as a kind of slogan or battle cry—“I want to see God”. To see God to show her love for Him, to make any sacrifice for Him—this was the life of St. Teresa. Her life and her desire for holiness are most interesting, and very helpful and inspirational to us, and I might say offers reassurance to us that we are on the right track in striving for and hoping for holiness. We of course know that reading the lives of any saints is very rewarding and a very practical way to obtain help and inspiration—we should make it a daily practice to read about them. In a great many cases, in the history of the church, God raised up saints to over come the spiritual plight into which the people of a country or of many countries had fallen. Some had important posts in the Church, like popes or great apostolic teachers—some were known only to a small number of people—or perhaps became known only after their death, or by what they had written—St. Therese and Blessed Dina Belanger would be examples of the latter. Of the former of course we could all name many, from the apostles down to the great leaders of the Church including St. Teresa and St. Catherine of Siena who were named Doctors of the Church. But whether they were widely known or not, God used these saints to do great things for the Church in her work to save souls. We hear it said over and over again, and we have probably said it ourselves probably many times, that only God can correct the present day situation. Only God can bring an end to the immorality in the world, the complete rejection of God’s Commandments and the paganism into which a great many people have fallen, at least I this part of the world. This includes many in positions of influence in Government, the Media, Education, Medicine etc. Only God can bring light into the darkness which has come upon a great many Catholics who have lost the Faith to a great extent. And God will intervene I am sure –we do not know the ways He will do this, but it would seem right to speculate that whatever else His intervention might bring in, suffering, catastrophes or whatever, the one result will be that He will raise up people in the various countries of the world and in the various groups that make up our society, and in the various groups that are to be found in the Church—people who are faithful to Him; and He will use them to bring His people back to their senses—among the various groups are religious, those belonging to Religious Orders—and this is the group we are interested here and now. Religious Life has been for almost 2000 years part of Catholic Life and I am sure that God intends it to continue as such.

It is well, I think, for each one of us to have this general picture in mind—God’s plan, not only for my personal spiritual well being and growth but also for the part that God wishes me to play in His greater plan for His Church and for the salvation of souls. So there are a great many things that we have to think and pray about during these days of retreat as we strive to enter more deeply into God’s will for us, and we do want to follow it as perfectly as we can. We are and we want to be entirely in the hands of God. May we listen to Him and do our best to follow him and His Holy Will.

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