Father James Martin is a priest-author that I find writes in manner that leads one to understand the mystery of Christ and provides tools that help the believer (or unbeliever) deepen their faith.[i] In a mere 90 Kindle pages (90 minutes) he makes the case to invite you to become a saint! This book is a great way to skim the surface of pursuing a deeper faith.
My reflections – applying this book to my journey with God
“Find your own Calcutta”[ii]
Inevitably we will suffer in this life from spiritual, physical, and mental anguish. Our own suffering and perhaps more importantly the suffering of others, left unattended can take us away from God. When Mother Teresa says above, find your own Calcutta, she is speaking about helping others who are suffering. Helping others is a powerful spiritual experience but likely will fall short of providing a sustained peace unless we have been attuned to our own suffering and our response to these trials as well.
My own suffering took the form of alcoholic parents, addictions in the family, untimely deaths, shattered confidence and self-esteem as a youngster and young adult, varying degrees of speech fluency, micro personal defeats, and my struggle with alcohol, periods of crisis of faith, and numerous bouts with the seven deadly sins. The latter I shall define as self-imposed suffering as these biblical sins drive pain and misery in human kind.
My faults are not glamorous or dramatic enough to warrant an Augustinian biography. My suffering is not uncommon to many. Relative to others my ability to claim martyr status is pathetic. They are enough though to deflate pursuit of seeking a holy life – never mind being a saint. The dialectic of suffering imposed by external uncontrollable events and suffering self-imposed is a surgical cleaver that separates many from faith. Not to mention failing at to carry such little weight (suffering) relative to what the Saints have carried is very crushing indeed. How can Father Martin invite the likes of me to be a Saint?
“But no one leads that proverbial “charmed life.” Everyone’s life is a full measure of graces and blessings, as well as struggles and challenges. And if we consistently compare our own complicated reality with the supposed perfection of another’s life, is it any wonder that we wish we were other than who we are?”[iv]
It is easy to forget this when in the throes of life. Father Martin mentions that Merton and Nouwen had the following in common:
“… a lifelong process of self-examination and self-criticism and self-revelations had a point; it was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge. Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God.”[v]
It is here where I can take refuge, in contemplation. In contemplation I can take stock in my calling and have gratitude for my many blessings – including my struggles. In many ways my struggles and suffering have defined who I am today:
“More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God.”[vi]
They have provided me with humility and strength that have fueled my passion in the field of social work. I have had, to date, an excellent career with 14 wonderful years serving homeless families and 13 years serving consumers living with severe and persistent mental illness. The work I have done with them within my limited role and skill set is not mine. It has been built on the struggles I have had, suffering experienced, education provided, and skillful people that have surrounded me that both enabled me to lead and provided leadership when needed. It is daunting work and continues to evolve and call me to serve a different role – none of which has been natural to me. Yet time and time again I am provided with alliances and intelligent people that support the calling I have – to advocate and provide services to vulnerable populations in the most respectful and passionate way possible. My vocation is one calling. Interestingly my faith and beliefs are not on stage in my work. I work alongside people of different faiths and no faith at all. In a way, I am a “hidden contemplative,” in plain sight doing God’s work (provided I am doing it well). I also have a calling as a husband, a father, and a community member. Each of those comes with responsibilities and challenges as well.
Father Martin quotes St. Therese of Lisieux to make the point that living a saintly life within your calling in life is indeed possible. “The Little Way” is in doing what you do, whatever that maybe, doing it well. Whatever you do it is indeed difficult to consistently and persistently do it well over a long period of time – especially if it is deemed a little thing! How many of us secretly want to be great writers, mystics, or the best in our fields – to do great things worthy of public admiration? We are all not called to live the life of a hermit, to be great authors, to be priest, martyrs, or the best in our fields. Thank goodness for that as we cannot be what we are not – we can only be ourselves. Our strength is in our diversity and our interdependence.
Seeking a contemplative daily prayer can be very simple.[vii] I have recommended before and will recommend again here the “Daily Examen” below from St. Ignatius. All of the above is based on a firm willingness to seek God, and for this writer, to seek Jesus Christ.
Take a look today at all your actions and thoughts. If you had the opportunity to change any of them by applying “What would Jesus think, say or do” would you have acted differently? And if your answer is yes, do you have the courage to do so and the perseverance to continue to refine your being to be aligned with spiritual calling? And if you found nothing to be changed – are you truly honest with yourself – or are you not taking on a greater calling that will present you with even greater challenges?
Are we not all fallible perfectionists at heart?
Don’t Despair – find a Daily Prayer routine:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.
[ii] Mother Teresa pg 85
[iv] Pg. 30
[v] Pg. 57
[vi] Pg. 86