Different Kinds of Saints

sisters at sunriseSister Weekend 2013 is coming to a close.  We were all up this morning though to see the sunrise–and there were dolphins!  All bundled up and with blankets, we laughed and told stories and huddled close while the humongous perfectly round orange sun rose into the clear sky.

Mom and I were up at 5am first, saying our prayers.  We got into a discussion about how different people pray in different ways.  She prays for others.  My Mom has a list of people she prays for every day.  This list is SO LONG.  And some of the people on her list are people she’s heard about on the news or gotten a prayer request about long ago–and she doesn’t even know if they’re better yet, but she keeps praying for them. But the majority of her prayers are for her eleven children, their spouses and children, and Dad.

One person on her list is a child who was smushed by an elevator—but she doesn’t know how he is doing today or if he even survived.

Mom has all these saints and prayer cards and typed meditations in her little prayer bag—she has a third or fourth degree relic for Padre Pio, something that touched another Padre Pio relic.  My mom loves to pray through Padre Pio, Saint Faustina, Infant of Prague.  She has a prayer for priests, a prayer for religious liberty, a prayer for the Pope, a 30 day prayer she says for all of her children.  She was showing me, “I pray this prayer for you and your sister, this prayer for that person, this prayer for this person, this one for the sons-in-law, this one for Paul’s back troubles…

me and jennyI was so impressed.

In my prayers, I read/pray and meditate on the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, Mother Theresa, Saint Therese the Little Flower, and lately I’ve been praying on the Cloud of the Unknowing.

And then (full disclosure here) I “remember” to pray for everybody else.  It’s like an after thought for me to pray for others during my morning prayers.  I pray for my loved ones throughout the day as their struggles come to mind, but unlike my Mom I do not have a list and a persistence to my prayers for others.

I find what she does is truly remarkable. I’ve thought about this before–like is my way is a little selfish?  I’ve wished I prayed better for others.

And then my Mom this morning commented she wished she could pray more like me.  She’s actually taking a Lectio Divina class at Church with Daddy to learn how to do this better.

She said she has trouble connecting directly to God, having an intimate relationship with him. I said that’s all I do, is connect intimately with God—but it’s all about me!  lol

I was floored.  So, is my way of praying “okay?” If my Mom thinks it is okay, then it must be okay because my Mom is a living saint.  I am thinking about this now.

Last week’s Gospel reading at Mass explained how we each have different spiritual gifts but we’re all of the same body. And there are hundreds and hundreds of saints given to us by the Church to show us there are different ways of approaching God, living our vocations, praying.

I’m drawn to the mystics because they pray like I do:  read, reflect, meditate and pray.  My Mom is drawn to other types of saints, who do acts of service and pray for others.  Because they’re more like her. Like Saint Faustina whose whole big thick diary is filled with praying that others receive divine Mercy.

Anyways, these are thoughts I think of today.  We are all different parts of the same body.

And All is Vanity

In Western art, vanity was often symbolized by a peacock,

In Western art, vanity was often symbolized by a peacock,

There is this girl in my meetings who often says God will keep repeating the lesson until the lesson is learned.  We nod in agreement because nobody has been better at not learning our lessons than we alcoholics.  And sometimes we’re described as “insane” by doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

It’s a myth that alcoholics have no willpower. We have more willpower than the average guy–we just misdirect our will, trying to do things our way no matter what the consequences. It is a very strong will that refuses to accept things the way things are.  Do we not see the consequences or do we just insist stubbornly on our own way by ignoring God’s reality?

How wonderful life could be if only everything went our way!

What ever it is, it’s me.  God is once again trying to teach me a lesson He’s tried to teach me for years: to tame my vanity.  The only way for God to break me of my vanity is to allow me to be humiliated and embarrassed over and over again until finally on my knees I remember to turn back to Him.  Like a little child, I am reprimanded by the lesson; but then repeat it as if I’m convinced the teacher is wrong.  (Convinced I am God?)

It wasn’t until a few years ago I even realized vanity was my problem.  Like people have preconceived ideas of what an “alcoholic” is, I had a preconceived idea of what vanity was.  A vain person always looked in the mirror right?  Well, that wasn’t me.  A vain person thought they were beautiful, right?  That certainly wasn’t me.  A vain person thought the world revolved around them, right?  I didn’t think that was me. But was it?

Then my sister got a spiritual director who instructed her to pick a vice to work on, just one.  And to fix that vice in herself, she was instructed to practice the opposite virtue for a month.

I wanted to try this, but I didn’t know which vice to pick.  I read all the definitions of the various vices — and I was quite proud of myself for not being infected with pride. I kept returning to vanity.  The definition was foreign to me–in this day and age, the definition of vanity has been distorted so much so we don’t recognize it in ourselves. Stupid Screwtape does it again.

The necessity of countering the vices with virtues has always been recognized by Christians. Saint Francis of Assisi describes the power of the virtues in destroying vices in his poetic discourse on The Praises of the Virtues (Salutatio Virtutum).

O most holy Virtues, may the Lord protect all of you, from Whom you come and proceed. There is surely no one in the entire world who can possess any one of you unless he dies first. Whoever possesses one (of you) and does not offend the others, possesses all. And whoever offends one (of you) does not possess any and offends all.  And each one destroys vices and sins. Holy Wisdom destroys Satan and all his subtlety. …Holy Charity destroys every temptation of the devil and of the flesh and every carnal fear.

Vanity refers to egoism, in which one rejects God for the sake of one’s own image, and thereby becomes divorced from the graces of God. My simplistic definition is that I care more about what people think of me than what God thinks of me.

Hieronymus Bosch's The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Vanity is the fear of appearing original: it is thus a lack of pride, but not necessarily a lack of originality.”  And one of Mason Cooley’s aphorisms is “Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.”

I was happy in a sense to discover vanity was not one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Phew!  But then I learned in Christian teachings vanity is considered an example of pride, which is indeed one of the worst of the seven deadlies. This list of seven evolved from an earlier list of eight sins, which included vainglory as a sin independent of pride.  Yikes!

All is Vanity, by Charles Allan Gilbert (1873–1929), carries on this theme. An optical illusion, the painting depicts what appears to be a large grinning skull. Upon closer examination, it reveals itself to be a young woman gazing at her reflection in the mirror. In the film The Devil’s Advocate, Satan (Al Pacino) claims, “Vanity is my favorite sin”.

So, here we are on our annual trip to Florida. This year we decided to go to Tampa to visit one of Rob’s biological relatives and also check up with his best friend who just got out of rehab.  Then we drove to Orlando; and we have tickets today to attend the UGA vs NE bowl game.  Go Dawgs!

In Tampa, we stayed with his biological relatives–who happen to live in a beautiful house on the Bay and are quite wealthy and connected politically.  I have become friends with these people over Facebook and I could tell they liked me. I always like people who like me 🙂  So, I wanted to impress them a little bit, show what a happy little family we were and how worthy we were of operating in the same circles.  YUCK!  Just writing this truth disgusts my better brain.  They are such a nice and happy family and I wanted them to think we were too.  Are we?  Yes, but I suppose in my twisted mind we weren’t as nice and happy as they were? So, I felt the need to pretend.

Ugh. Vanity is grose.

Stupid :0 Husband decides to tell them that I’m in AA.  WTF?  They were offering us drinks and I declined; but he felt he needed to explain, so he tells them he “doesn’t drink around his wife to support her.”  The conversation went on and the questions came and he was completely open and honest about me being an alcoholic!  I about died.  In fact, I sunk into a 12 hour mini depression over this! I still pretended around them but despaired in grossness behind closed doors.

What is going on in my brain? I’m having all kinds of irrational thoughts: I’m a loser. I assume I know what they’re thinking. Everybody thinks alcoholics are bums; and an alcoholic mother is the bottom of the bottom, right?  I assume they’re just being polite now that they know the real me.  I assume they wish we would hurry up and leave.  They are probably worried I might steal something.  That’s what alcoholics do, right?  on and on…  my brain is absolutely convinced of my complete unworthiness. I was so embarrassed.

Composition of flowers, less obvious style of Vanitas by Abraham Mignon in the National Museum in Warsaw. Barely visible amid vivid and perilous nature (snakes, poisonous mushrooms) a sole bird skeleton is a symbol of vanity and shortness of life.

Composition of flowers, less obvious style of Vanitas by Abraham Mignon in the National Museum in Warsaw. Barely visible amid vivid and perilous nature (snakes, poisonous mushrooms) a sole bird skeleton is a symbol of vanity and shortness of life.

No where do I remember Jesus.  No where do I turn my focus to God.  As long as my focus remains on comparing myself to other people, I am doomed.

Because the truth is not only am I not unworthy, but Jesus died for me.  Not only am I not a heathen outcast but God made me wonderfully and beautifully in His image!  So, who am I to think so often so little of myself? This bottom of the barrel thinking becomes my turning point, my spring-board into new life.  Now, I am able to turn back to God, if only to ask Him this question–why did you make me to be such a loser?

Turning to God with this question is the only beginning I need. My thoughts begin to turn around.  My focus slowly moves back to where it should be: on my husband and children and on God.  Pray to do God’s will and be of service to Him today.  My depression lifts and irrational thoughts become rational again.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change–what other people think of me!  Not only do I have no clue what these people are thinking of me, it is entirely none of my business.  All that matters is what God thinks of me.  All that matters is that I impress God, not men.  And how do I impress God? By my authenticity.

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury,pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen