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"Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." – Luke 2:19 (RSV)

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restless

Finding a hobby

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St. Augustine of Hippo

You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.

– St. Augustine

For years I have been searching for a hobby that sticks around. Often I’d try something thinking that it would be my new hobby because it’s exciting in the beginning, but after a short while it dies off. The reason why it dies off is because it doesn’t satisfy my restless heart. I’ve tried so many things, reading fiction, writing fiction, knitting, playing the flute, colouring, drawing, cycling, running, sewing, etc.

Finally, I found something that sticks; because it satisfies my restless heart. I guess my hobby is to immerse myself in the rich tradition of the Catholic Church. I love reading the beautiful writings of the saints (my favourite so far is ‘a Story of a Soul’ by St. Therese of Lisieux). I love thinking about God and praying always by imitating Our Lady in pondering things of heaven in my heart. Most of all, I love going to daily Mass. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do this especially since I live a mere 8 Min walk away from my parish and am currently unemployed and on Uni holidays.

My heart is restless until it rests in God.

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Routines

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Today I read an article titled ‘St. Francis De Sales’s guide to starting your day right‘ and it got me thinking of routines and how they relate to my spiritual life and my marriage.

The routines that my husband and I set in our total power exchange are many. But in the end, they all have one purpose, to help me call to mind the dynamic of our marriage.

In a similar way, routines in the spiritual life have the purpose of helping me call to mind how I am designed to be loved by God and to love Him in return. These routines, should I choose to adopt them, remind me that “You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You”. Routines in the spiritual life help me to be fully alive (St. Irenaeus said “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”).

A routine that I have the privilege of practicing now that I’m on uni holidays is going to daily Mass. I used to take Mass for granted in the past but now that I appreciate it more I treasure every opportunity I get to attend. I have noticed that the routine of attending daily Mass has made a huge difference in my life. When I go for Mass in the morning, the rest of the day is more likely to be ordered right. Being able to receive the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion is such a precious opportunity and it makes every morning a blessed one.

One of the routines that I have been really drawn to is praying the Angelus when I wake up. The Angelus is such a beautiful prayer and I’m so grateful that I had been introduced to it a few days ago. It is so quick to pray but yet captures the very heart of Catholicism; Jesus’ incarnation and Mary’s fiat.

 

A hungry heart

mary-jesus

Today the Lord taught me that nothing will satisfy my hungry heart apart from Him. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee.”

My husband took me out to dinner and to go shopping for shoes tonight. What I learnt was that despite having more than enough to eat and despite not being in financial strife, I was not satisfied. I knew that what my heart was hungry for was for the Lord and as long as I do not keep my sights on Him, I will be aching and longing for Him.

I think I am still in the habit of trying to substitute God with wealth, pleasure and honor. I have to keep trying to break this habit…

Happiness, Aristotle & Catholicism

Obviously, the “positive” emotions are more enjoyable and easier to life with, but it’s perfectly normal to be occasionally engulfed by waves of grief or sadness, and stymied by feelings of despair, doubt or disappointment. All those emotions have something to teach us about ourselves and, without them, we’d never know what happiness is.

But it all depends on what we mean by “happiness”, so let’s start at the beginning. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the ideal life was the life of eudaimonia – a word usually translated as “happiness”. But Aristotle was not talking about a life of sensory pleasure; nor was he endorsing a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are.

His idea of happiness comes much closer to our word “wholeness” than it does to the often self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling we call “happiness”. For Aristotle, eudaimonia was about living in accordance with reason; fulfilling our sense of purpose; doing our civic duty; living virtuously; being fully engaged with the world and, especially, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship.

– Hugh Mackay, ‘Why we sometimes need to be sad’

I came across this in my reading today and found it a fantastic explanation of what Christian joy is.

For a long time I had been struggling to articulate what “Christian joy” means. I hear the term used all the time but didn’t really know how to speak about how Christian joy compared with the “joy/happiness” that people can experience without Christ. So I went and googled it in search for some way to articulate the difference. I didn’t manage to find an answer so I decided to leave it up to the Lord to reveal it to me if it is His will.

When I read this article, I realised that Aristotle’s explanation of “happiness” could be used to describe “Christian joy”

So here’s how I would articulate what “Christian joy” means to me:

Firstly, let’s talk about what Christian joy is not…

Christian joy is not a life of sensory pleasure, nor a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are. 

Christian joy is not the self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling society nowadays call “happiness”. 

Now, let’s talk about what Christian joy is…

Christian joy is living in accordance with reason. To me, living the life Christ calls us to live as Christians is very logical exercise. It’s a series of if this is true/not true… then naturally/logically I would respond in this way… For example, if Jesus is who He says He is, if He is indeed God, then it is only logical that I need to center my life around Him. On the other hand, if Jesus is not who He says He is, if He is not God, then He’s not a nice man, He’s a dangerous fanatic, and therefore I would do well to avoid centering my life around Him.

Christian joy is living in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose. As Catholics, we believe that our hearts are designed for union with God. This is the purpose of our existence that is inscribed into us; to love God and to be loved by God. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” And so, when we live in a way that we were designed to live, we experience a pervading joy and peace that the world cannot give. St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, to be fully alive is to be who we are meant to be.

Christian joy is living virtuously. The Catholic Church teaches us that there are 7 deadly sins and the antidote to these are the 7 lively virtues. The 7 deadly sins are exactly what they are, they are deadly; they prevent us from being fully alive and thereby prevent us from participating in the fullness of Christian joy. The 7 lively virtues on the other hand are antidotes to the 7 deadly sins; they set us free to experience a deep joy and peace beyond our wildest dreams.

Christian joy is being fully engaged with the world. As Catholics, we believe that to be fully engaged with the world, we have to understand objective truth. Only when you understand something can you engage it as it is. Objective truth is a big topic and of course the Church’s teaching on what the truth of things is very extensive. What helps me to understand the world is the fact that our hearts are designed to love God and to be loved by Him. Therefore, everything we do is ordered to satisfy this desire whether we recognise it or not. If we repress the desire for God, it doesn’t go away, rather, it comes up in a distorted way. If we don’t turn to God to satisfy this desire that is hardwired into us, we try to substitute God with wealth, pleasure, honor and/or power. C.S. Lewis in his work ‘Mere Christianity’ said, “Human history… is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Christian joy is experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God. Ultimately, Christian joy comes down to one thing, being who we are made to be; in communion with the Holy Trinity. We are designed by God from the beginning to participate in the Divine love and friendship of the Holy Trinity. When we are able to do this fully, we experience the fullness of Christian joy; this happens in Heaven. However, the good news is, we can still experience an extent of Christian joy right here and right now on earth to the extent by which we participate in the love of God (that is to the extent by which we allow God to love us and love God in return).

So in a nutshell, Christian joy is living in accordance with reason, in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God. 

The journey Home

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We are designed to be united with the Holy Trinity. That is our home; where our hearts find rest. We are only pilgrims on this earth. Saint Augustine said, “You made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

I read this article today and it touched my heart. When I finished reading it I realised in a new way that we all need to be continually converted to Jesus. Whether we’re Catholic Christian or no, we most likely are not completely united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (unless we are already Saints on earth).

There are many paths to this communion with God, but not all of them are the most efficient or easiest paths. The path that supplies us with the objective truth of things would logically be the quickest path; like using a GPS that has the most updated map instead of an outdated one.

As Catholic Christians, we believe that the Catholic Church is the most updated GPS map and therefore the most efficient and accurate way to union with God (that’s why Jesus gave the key to Saint Peter). However, while we have access to this up to date and accurate map, we might often choose to disregard it or disobey its instructions. Fortunately, the GPS will always recalculate the fastest route to our destination no matter how many times we stray. With the most up to date map we can trust that we will be instructed to drive along the most efficient way towards our destination; union with the Lover of our souls, the Holy Trinity.

If we trust an outdated map (the analogy is for one that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church), then we would naturally run into road blocks or take unnecessary detours. We would probably end up at our destination eventually but it would take a much much longer route then is necessary.

Fortunately, we can easily update our GPS with the most up to date map if we choose to. All it takes is to stop the car, pull out our gear and update the map.

The objective truth is out there, it is accessible, it is simple. The one objective truth is made available to the world by the Catholic Church that continually tries its best to present it in its fullness, we only have to approach it with a prayerful and humble heart asking the Lord to help us understand it in His time (not ours).

Often times even Catholics with the best intentions can not fully understand the truth presented by the Church. I think this is because the Lord reveals truth in its entirety to humble and little hearts who are open to it (as He has said so many times before in the Gospels).

Sometimes we are unsure if the map we are using is accurate because there are so many different version of maps out there in the world. Sometimes we want to see if others who used the map we are using arrived at their destination efficiently and in the best way possible. Fortunately, this can be verified by reading the writings of those who have completed the journey and have safely arrived at their destination. Reading the writings of the early Church fathers, the Saints who have walked on this earth would certainly be one way to do this.

A book that helped me update my map 2 months ago was Saint Therese’s ‘Story of a Soul’. I had been a Catholic my whole life but I was using an outdated map before I read her book. After I read what Saint Therese the Little Flower wrote, I was able to search for the most updated version of the map and update my GPS. After I did, I saw how congruent the Bible, the teachings & traditions of the Catholic Church (eg. Holy Mass, the Holy Rosary), and the writings of the Saints (eg. St. Augustine, St. Therese, St. Fatima, St. John Paul II) really were. But what delighted my heart even more was how relevant all of these were to my soul’s journey to union with my Lord. I started seeing tangible, consistent, and sustained change in my life since I updated my map 2 months ago, and I am continually amazed at what a difference using an updated map made in my soul’s journey to its home in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This is just a short expression of my thoughts on the subject of objective truth and how it is so crucially relevant to my life. Great minds have written books and books on this topic, so this is but a drop in the ocean of thought on the subject.

My prayer is that all souls (Catholic Christian or no) on this earth and in purgatory will be united to the most Holy Trinity, a purpose for which we are designed for since the beginning of time.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Earthly affection

mary-jesus

He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy.

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Every day I learn how I am still attached to earthly affection because of what upsets and distracts me. It always, always, falls into 4 broad categories; wealth, pleasure, honor and power.

I am not surprised by this of course. Without God’s help I can’t free myself from earthly affections as much as I want to. So I ask the Lord to form my soul the way He wants.

I (try to) treat every moment of my life like a learning task that a loving Father gives to His little child who doesn’t even know how to speak. He stands by my side watching over me and offers all the materials, resources and help I need to complete the task. All I have to do is accept His help and to reach up to Him with confident arms for help if I don’t know how to do it.

I watched Bishop Robert Barron’s youtube commentary on violence in the Bible a few days back and what he said really stuck with me. Bishop Barron said that violence in the Bible is symbolic for the need to battle eg. earthly attachment all the way down. I haven’t been doing this and have seen how true it is that if I don’t completely detach myself from earthly things, my disordered desires for them will grow in strength again. It’s a reliable piece of what I think of as spiritual physics. It’s not going to change no matter how much I wish that it would. It’s an inconvenient truth in a way but such as important one.

The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 1 – Reflection

secret garden

Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
you fled like the stag
after wounding me;
I went out calling you, but you were gone.

St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

St. John accompanies every stanza in his ‘Spiritual Canticle’ with beautiful commentary.

Commentary…

… the absence of the Beloved causes continual moaning in the lover. Since she loves nothing outside of him, she finds no rest or relief in anything. This is how we recognize persons who truly love God: if they are content with nothing less than God. But what am I saying, if they are content? Even if they possess everything they will not be content; in fact the more they have, the less satisfied they will be. Satisfaction of heart is not found in the possession of things, but in being stripped of them all and in poverty of spirit. Since perfection consists in this poverty of spirit, in which God is possessed by a very intimate and special grace, the soul, having attained it, lives in this life with some satisfaction, although not complete. For David, in spite of all his perfection, hoped to have this fullness in heaven, saying: When your glory appears, I shall be filled [Ps. 17:15].

As a result, the peace, tranquility, and satisfaction of heart attainable in this life is insufficient to prevent the soul from moaning within itself – although this moan may be tranquil and painless – hoping for what it lacks. Moaning is connected with hope, and the Apostle affirmed that he and others moaned even though they were perfect: We ourselves who have the first fruits of the spirit moan within ourselves, hoping for the adoption of the children of God [Rom. 8:23].

The soul, then, bears this moan within herself, in her enamored heart. For there where love wounds is the moan rising from the wound, and it ever cries out in the feeling of his absence; especially when the soul, after the taste of some sweet and delightful communication of the Bridegroom, suffers his absence and is left alone and dry.

St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle

In recent times, God has graciously drawn me closer to Himself not because of my own merit but because of His providence. In this time, I have felt more and more keenly that I am content with nothing less than God.

I still try to substitute God with the 4 categories of worldly things; wealth, pleasure, honor and power. I do this daily in fact. But each time I do, I find no rest or relief in anything but God. The Lord has made my heart for Himself, and so I am restless until I rest in Him.

It is so difficult to express what my soul is going through. All I can say are using the words that the Lord gives me. Even these don’t scratch the surface of how things really are; beyond even my understanding.

A concept/word that St. John brings up in his commentary of Stanza 1 however, resonates with me. My soul is moaning within itself because I find no rest and no relief in worldly things. Only my Lord can quench my thirst and sate my hunger.

Expectations

confession

Because You love me, You let me understand how no one will fully understand my soul except You. 

Today was a low mood day for me. I had seen my clinical psychologist the afternoon before and I crashed so badly after that.

I went to my husband with my low mood with the intention of sharing everything I possibly could about the sorrow my soul was going through. When I got the opportunity to share this with him, I realised that while I was doing my best to explain what I am going through, I didn’t have the words to fully express everything. Some things can’t be explained using words sometimes unless the Lord grants the speaker and the listener the means to understand each other.

When my husband couldn’t understand me fully and when I realised that I didn’t have the means to explain myself fully, I became sad. Afterwards, I realised that this was because I had expected my husband to be able to understand the workings of my soul completely. What a silly thought that was!

I had a perfectly valid desire for my soul to be completely understood, but I went looking for it to be fulfilled in the wrong place. No wonder I was disappointed and my desire unsatisfied when my husband couldn’t understand my soul in its entirety. He tried his best but he just wasn’t designed for that sort of thing.

Only my Lord Jesus can truly comprehend my soul in its entirety; He probably understands it better than I do. When I understood this, I went to the Lord (or at least tried to because I still tend to try to substitute God with pleasure and honor aka procrastinating). I went to the Lord and I didn’t have to say much. I didn’t have to explain myself as best I could. I just turned my gaze to God and offered myself up to Him in submission. He knows my inability to articulate many things about my soul, so I just let my soul do its baby talk and trust that my Lord Jesus will understand.

Once I turned to the right place to fill the thirst for my soul to be completely understood, my desire was truly quenched.

Because You love me, You teach me that my heart is restless until it rests in You. 

Restless

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You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

– St. Augustine of Hippo

Recently I have wondered about my restlessness. When I am contemplating God by praying the Rosary, in Adoration, in Mass, I feel at peace, tranquil. When I take my eyes off God, in excessive pursuit of earthly pleasures such as human approval and validation, I lose my peace and become restless.

I have had a growing desire for silence over the past weeks. This desire is of course scary to me because it would require me to sacrifice the earthly pleasures that I so desperately cling on to as substitutes for God. Usually, I’d be able to dismiss this desire quite easily and get on with my day. However, yesterday, my craving and desire for silence became so strong it was uncomfortable and persistent.

I could not put it out of my mind. So I began googling of course. Where else could I go to find preliminary information about this ‘Holy silence’ that kept bugging me? I instinctively named my desire as the desire for ‘Holy silence’ which of course would help with the terms I needed to put into google. The more I read about it, the more certain I was that this is what my heart seemed to be pulled towards. I gave in a little and experimented with entering into the silence. I was blown away with the peace and joy that I found in God’s company while retreating into silence.

I have been discussing with my husband how he would like me to enter into the silence. The permissions that I would have around this approach to life. The discussion is not at its end yet and no decision has been made. So I wait patiently for my husband’s verdict.

Today I entered into the silence under my husband’s command. I remained in silence for 6 hours. It was so intensely joyful and peaceful. Even more than I could ever imagine. I also learnt how much my husband’s dominance over this area of my life meant to me. Sure I could try to enter into the silence on my own but since I am married, I also need the full approval and support of my husband to fully immerse myself in the silence. There is only so far I can immerse myself in silence before I am disobedient to my husband. So I will be patient and wait for my husband’s decision about the protocol regarding silence.

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