During COVID, I’ve been trying to spend more time in prayer. In particular, I’ve tried to devote fifteen minutes, each day for a week, to meditating on a particular Gospel passage.
The first week the Parable of the Rich Young Man [Matthew 19:16-22] bubbled up from my subconscious. The next week: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah” [Matthew 16:4]. The third week, unmistakably, the verse that rose to mind was “Blessed are the poor in spirit” from the Sermon on the Mount.
You can’t be a by-the-book, neither right nor left, practicing Catholic without running up against some form of exile, in or out of the Church. Secular friends I sense are baffled by my failure to canvass door-to-door trying to drum up Democratic votes. I’ve been accused by the “woke” of being responsible for hundreds of deaths for my failure to accuse myself of white privilege. Catholic Workers feel anyone worth his or her salt should have done prison time. Right-leaning Catholics are baffled by my failure, in spite of my fidelity to the teachings of the Church on marriage and the family, to take up the “pro-life” banner.
The fact is that a single, childless, celibate woman is an outcast to all.
The fact is I’m not a narcissist but my psychic constitution is such that since birth much of my energy goes toward simply maintaining, managing, controlling, shoring myself up sufficiently to function. I’m organized, conscientious, high-functioning, and hard-working. I’m also an extreme introvert. Noise is a scourge. Too much talk drains me.
Thus, I am simply not built for family life. Not because I’m selfish, but because I’m constitutionally unsuited.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Neither am I an empire builder. If I were a better organizer, leader, commander of attention, I, too, perhaps would be thinking, “My God, we need to get the right person in the White House, the right laws passed. Let’s get on with the important work: Nuclear disarmament. The abolition of the death penalty. Immigration.”
All of that is important work. It’s just not my primary work.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
For decades I have wept, interceded, and prayed ceaselessly for my family. Not only have they not been converted: to many of them, I’m a poseur and a crank.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
This is why I’ve taken St. Thérèse of Lisieux—“My Vocation is Love!”—as my patron saint. St. Teresa of Calcutta observed, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” But Mother Teresa actually did great things. In her lifetime, the whole world knew her.
St. Therese of Lisieux, during her lifetime, really didn’t do great things. She died as she’d lived, in utter obscurity. Her triumphs consisted in refraining from yelling at the klutz nun who splashed laundry water in her face; in training herself not to turn and glare at the annoying nun behind her in chapel; in escorting the crabby old impossible-to-please nun to the refectory each night as if she were Christ.
This is the kind of thing that with superhuman effort on my part, and supernatural help from God, I might be capable of at least working toward.
To that end a Catholic friend, father to six and a wealth manager in the Midwest, recently emailed that he was devastated by the death of rock guitarist Eddie van Halen. Knowing I live in Pasadena, he asked if I could go by the house on Las Lunas Drive where his teenage hero had once lived and light a candle, or leave a flower.
I barely knew who Eddie van Halen was, but I sympathized entirely with my friend’s heart.
So I made a little home-made card, and baggied up a votive candle and matches, and cut a spray of oleander from a bush in my side yard. Then, after finishing work that day, I made my way to Eddie’s former address and placed my friend’s vicarious offering on the sidewalk, among the many other showier bouquets and larger candles.
Did my little action help change the course of the election, or feed a starving child in India, or save a drunk from the gutter? Did it go toward giving Eddie van Halen’s soul a moment of peace? Maybe not—but then again, who knows?
In The Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote: “The heart of a child does not seek riches and glory (even the glory of heaven). She understands that this glory belongs by right to her brothers, the angels and saints…Astounding works are forbidden to her; she cannot preach the Gospel, shed her blood…she loves in her brothers’ place while they do the fighting. But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.”
Or as Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
14 Replies to “BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT”
I don’t think catholic workers are THAT judgmental. ❤️✌🏽
Ha ha, Martha, that may have been a SLIGHT overgeneralization…present company excluded of course. Eternal thanks for welcoming me to Brittania St way back when!
One of your best, Heather. Ever since I discovered Story of a Soul in grammar school, she’s been a steadfast friend. Will forward this to my friends, the Carmelites of Carmel and Seattle. Love and gratitude.
Hello dear Father Pat! So glad you esp liked this one! I was able to quote you today during the course of my Writing Workshop: “If it’s too good to be true–that’s how you know it’s God!” Perhaps that should be your epitaph. I gave full attribution of course. On we muddle–Blessed All Saints and All Souls–gateway to Advent and winter…I think we are ready. Love and peace to you and the Carmelites of Carmel–I am reading Ruth Burrows at the moment…
This piece meant the world to me. I don’t know my place within the Catholic church at this moment. I struggle. But I think my struggle is making me a better person because, while I am stuck in the miry clay (Psalm 40), I am sensitive to other’s struggles. My empathy has grown as I deal with my demons and with my confusion. I want to just comfort everyone, singing Mavis Staples’ song “You Are Not Alone” to everyone… I think your delivery of the flower and homemade card to the childhood home of Eddie Van Halen was a comforting thing to do for your friend. That’s the kind of action that “sets our foot upon a rock.” (again, Psalm 40).
Ha, oh I know being stuck in the miry clay well, David! Fantastic phrase, thanks for calling out Ps 40. The Divine Office has been a huge help/faithful companion these past many years. I’m continually struck by how well they describe both my own psycho-spiritual state and the state of the world at any given time…I know, finding our place in the Church can seem daunting. I just stick close to Jesus and Mary…and they send along amazing people like Mavis Staples…Eddie van Halen if that’s your thing…Townes van Zandt…Beethoven…so glad the piece struck a chord. Thanks for letting me know.
Thanks Heather. I totally get where you’re coming from.
Thank you, Ron! Seems many of us are rowing the “I can’t do great things, or even small things very well” boat! Good to have company…
Although you seem to do many things very well to the benefit of your readers. Thanks for your daily thoughts and inspirations.
Thanks, Ron, my pleasure!
“I’m also an extreme introvert. Noise is a scourge. Too much talk drains me….
“Neither am I an empire builder…
“For decades I have wept, interceded, and prayed ceaselessly for my family. Not only have they not been converted, to many of them, I’m a poseur and a crank.”
You just described me! The only reason the Lord would send me this message is so that I can say: “I know how you feel!” And I know that God wants me to pray for you regularly. And I promise to do so from now on!
Barbara! Please do pray for me and I will hold you in my prayers as well. Prayer is so essential, so deep…accessible to all…something we can do for one another in and out of pandemic times…We non-empire building introverts, unnerved by noise and too much conversation, must stick together! I’m so glad you related…Thanks you.
Dear Heather, I grew up under a political system which envisioned, engineered, and enacted social progress by mass movements. There was no place for the individual. Non-participation on the ground of personality or conscience was not tolerated. It was condemned at best as selfish, worst, as reactionary. Individuality was, is, a thorn to tribes, a pain to manipulation and control. Even silence is suspect. I was an outcast then, and I’m afraid I am again in this land of my adopted country. I’m an artist who is not woke, a Catholic who does not believe in “Catholic art.” But I’m not afraid because it’s in Christianity where my outcast heart found rest, where I’m one of the multitude, but also singular, not by my assertion, but by Christ‘a. If tension gives energy to life, I can’t imagine a better kind of tension to live with. Know that you are not alone Heather. Many treaded the same path and have become saints. I read your column in the Magnificat this morning, in which you introduced me to Julia Greeley who did not choose to be a warrior but to be small. She has given me much needed focus and strength.
Thank you so much, Lin Chen. Yes, I ponder this paradox/tension–Whoever loses his life for my sake will find himself vs. our secular culture’s virulent hostility to the individual: we’re now called, by both the left and the right, to mouth the same cultic acronym and slogans–but not remotely actually to examine our souls, consciences, and hearts, nor to change OUR lives…to lay down our lives–only to spy upon, rat out, and accuse others. You, who have lived under mass movement idolatry, have experienced this first hand. We’ve mistaken equality for sameness so that, as you say, any kind of departure from the prescribed cultural totalitarian groupthink is viewed with suspicion, alarm, distrust, and finally, hatred. To follow Christ alone, without a tribe or movement or political/religious label of any kind, in fear and trembling, is not for the faint of heart! Of course we need massive guidance, spiritual friendship, conversation, connection, those who will help us discern, the Sacraments, and a life ordered to prayer…saints like Julia Greeley–who was a TOTAL one-of-a-kind individual–are like the widow who gave her last two mites…I, too, was deeply resistant to the “silence is violence” pronouncement. People who try to impose speech on others didn’t want anyone’s actual thoughts–they’re issuing a shrill demand to mouth the cultic slogans. The notion that you might be saying everything there is to be said with your life–and that you have been, for decades–is of course utterly foreign…
The antidote, for me, is to leave all that aside as much as I can and simply to continue to read, walk, pray, ponder, talk with friends, write, travel a bit, make myself available to others as much as humanly possible (and insofar as I’m needed/wanted, which often isn’t much), given that I’m a major introvert. To avoid argument and direct my energy toward what is beautiful, good, true, paradoxical, mysterious, funny…
Again, many thanks–may all outcast hearts find a welcome and a home in Christ…