"I even believe that the deeper one is drawn into God, the more one must 'go out of oneself'; that is, one must go to the world in order to carry the divine life into it." St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Last year I chose the word ACCEPT as my word for the year, the word upon which I would aim to base my spiritual life in 2010. My desire was to ACCEPT everything the Lord would send to me, to ACCEPT my crosses, my joys, and especially, myself. Looking back on the year now passed, I see that I did not meet my goal of acceptance-my crosses and joys, yes, were easy enough to ACCEPT-some with a bit of complaining or lack of understanding, but soon enough, they became a part of me-what choice did I have? But, self-acceptance was another story. Self-acceptance was hard. How could I ACCEPT my anxiety, my worry, my tension, my fears, my depression sometimes bordering on despair? I couldn't believe that this life, this me, was what God wanted and I railed against myself, often, even unto the very end of the year. I failed to ACCEPT myself, to understand myself, to love myself. Maybe the reason why I struggled and failed with my self-acceptance was because I didn't ACCEPT the virtue of acceptance with humility, but instead, I proudly strove to ACCEPT myself. I let that ugly pride get in the way of what should have been a beautiful form of self-love.
So for 2011, I know that I cannot let go of my need for self-acceptance but instead, I need to go DEEPER into myself, to look beneath the surface-the wrinkles, the grays, the excess weight-to find the intense love that God has for the soul that exists beneath the surface; the soul that is truly flawed-yet loved beyond measure by the One who created it. For how can I truly love God and love others if I continue to maintain this ugly hatred of myself? How can I serve the Lord whom I continuously profess to love with my words, if I fail to love Him within myself, with my very heart and soul? How can I look for the Christ in others when I am blind to His existence right here inside of who I am?
My spiritual director and I had a conversation recently in which he told me about St. Bernard of Clairvaux' Four Degrees of Love. In this treatise, St. Bernard explains why God should be loved and the stages that one goes through in attaining love of God. The four degrees are:
1. Love of Self for Self's Sake
2. Love of God for Self's Sake
3. Love of God for God's Sake
4. Love of Self for God's Sake
I sadly confessed that a year ago, I was struggling with degree number one-the natural level of self love, not nearly ready to enter a spiritual level of loving self or God. Upon reading more about the four degrees of love, I know that I will continue to struggle by fits and spurts in my efforts to reach Love of Self for God's Sake, the stage which even St. Bernard had stated he wasn't anywhere near at the time he wrote his treatise. But I so desperately want to get there! As the old maxim goes, I can't do anything by myself, but with God I can do everything. So I've prayed and asked God to give me a tool that I can turn to and use to help me learn to love myself, others and God. That tool would have to take me beyond self-acceptance to a true self-love. And I believe that God answered my prayer:
DEEPER will be my tool for 2011, the tool that will help me to humbly accept myself: I will look DEEPER beneath the surface to see within my heart and soul, to love myself DEEPER, to love God DEEPER and to love others DEEPER.
That's a huge challenge for this girl who has learned the art of self-hatred so well. I'm going to need some help. So I turned to my friend, Karinann, at Daughter of the King. Karinann is a saint-chooser, and long before Jennifer Fulwiler's "Saint-O-Matic" Saint Generator became popular on the internet, Karinann was quietly choosing saints to companion those who would ask for her help. Last year she chose St. Luke for me, and I was so grateful for his gifted assistance with the use of words and medicine, and now for 2011, she has found that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), would be my companion to accompany me on my journey to the DEEP.
What a great blessing and a joy this is to share the new year with such a beautiful woman who truly understood the meaning of going DEEPER! A quote for which she is well-known is:
"The limitless loving devotion to God, and the gift God makes of Himself to you, are the highest elevation of which the heart is capable; it is the highest degree of prayer. The souls that have reached this point are truly the heart of the Church."
And, at her canonization,Pope John Paul II said of her,
"Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.”
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, spent a great deal of her life searching for what was real and true. She was a brilliant scholar who studied with an open mind, and it was that openness to all possibilities that led her to read the words of St. Teresa of Avila. Upon opening the autobiography of the great Doctor of the Church, she could not put it down, but stayed awake all night reading and going DEEPER into the saint's words. Speaking of the influence that book had on her, she said,
"When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth." Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: "My longing for truth was a single prayer."
After being baptized into the Catholic Church in 1922, she entered the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in 1934, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
I look forward to journeying with this holy woman through the coming year, and pray that I will be able to model my faith after hers, always aiming to go DEEPER within myself to find the necessary love that must surely exist there, so that I may spread that love to the world around me and draw others to the ultimate joy which is only found in His love.
"When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God's hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and to begin the new day like a new life." Prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross