Holy Perseverance

As the children from the parish school next door to our convent were making there way to the Church for Ash Wednesday mass the other day. One little 1st grader proudly cried out, “hey Sister, we’re gunna go get ashes, and do you wanna know what I’m giving up?” Before a response could be given, he replied with great zeal, “chocolate!” His older sister who was walking behind him, chimed in with “we’ll see how long that lasts, last year after about three weeks he couldn’t do it.” We told him that we’d pray that he’s able to persevere in his fast for the whole of Lent.

How often are we like this, though? We have great fervor in an initial decision to do something but half way into it that enthusiasm tapers off. Or discouragement sets in because we find the task that we had set out to accomplish becomes harder than we originally had realized. Or obstacles along the way seem as though they are too much to endure. Or sometimes we’re just simply tired and think it would be easier to compromise.

As Christians our ultimate goal is to become a saint. Those already in the Heavenly Court knew what it meant to persevere throughout the whole of their life, especially in the midst of discouragement, tribulations, or fatigue. We see this in St. John Mary Vianney whose holy priesthood Pope Benedict drew particular attention to at the beginning of this Year for Priests. At the age of 18, John Vianney wanted to enter the seminary but had to wait two years before his father would let him. After entrance he struggled in his studies which led to great discouragement and an eventual leaving of the seminary in order to be tutored privately. He was drafted into the army and taken away from his road to the priesthood for two years. When he finally was tested before ordination he did not pass and was advised to try another diocese. In the midst of all the obstacles, John Mary Vianney had a great resolve to persevere and was not only eventually ordained but is now the patron saint of priests.

The holy perseverance we see in the saints is what we all should strive for. They were secure in their resolve to continuously seek the Lord’s will in all things and then to take the steps necessary to live that out. They had created such a stable foundation in their life of prayer that unwavering perseverance in the midst of the most difficult circumstances was always what drove the deepest desires of their heart. Please God, we too might be able to achieve these desires as well.

Like the saints, we too need to persevere in our life of prayer as well as virtue in order to draw ever closer to the Lord and His will for us. We need to constantly turn again to the Holy Spirit to help guide us through the times of the instability of our human nature. It’s precisely during the times when we begin to stagger even to the slightest degree that we need to be determined to continue forward. The reality is though, on any given day even though we might try to consciously seek the Lord in all things, chances are we might get a bit tired or taken off guard for whatever reason. We shouldn’t let these things discourage us; rather we should take these humble moments and bring them to the Lord with renewed perseverance. As long as we are on this side of heaven, chances are our human nature is a bit unstable, therefore our perseverance might simply be a resolve to begin anew whenever we stumble. Our Lord in His wisdom recognized this and therefore instituted the Sacrament of Penance. With God’s grace we will, in fact, have the fortitude to rise again.

This season of Lent is a great opportunity to aspire for holy perseverance. To continuously seek the Lord in the little and not so little things, in order that we might truly be able to give of ourselves completely to the Lamb who reigns on the throne. Jesus isn’t so much concerned that we don’t eat chocolate for its own sake. Rather, He desires us to persevere in our resolve to do whatever it takes to be completely united to Him.

In a conference Cardinal O’Connor  gave in 1994 he speaks about this perseverance to be united to Almighty God in everything we do. He states:

Everything brings God into us; everything brings us into God. It is not that I am consciously praying. I am wrapped up, as St. Paul put it, into the “seventh heaven” where “eye has not seen and ear has not heard the things that God has destined for us.” This is what the Sisters of Life attempt to achieve in contemplation. Much of it is more prosaic.  Much of it is affected by the elements, by the environment, by the weather, by the heat, by the cold, by the personal feelings of the individual, by moods, by temperament. All of this affects prayer, but always the soul is seeking, always the words of St. Augustine are meaningful, “My heart was made for you, O God, and it will not rest until it rests in You.”  By definition these things can not be fully explained, even by the greatest saints. St. John of the Cross, generally thought of as the great mystic tries to describe the mystical experience, he has to resort to human words. But that which he is describing is beyond humanity. We are finite beings; God is infinite. But you do not have to be a John of the Cross. The woman who scrubs the floor of office buildings for a living, whose education, perhaps, has taken her up to the second grade in elementary school, who is trying to support children, who lives perhaps with a drunken husband, who has known abuse that never gets into the newspapers. That woman may scrub floors in union with God in a way that John of the Cross would envy because of the total simplicity, the uncomplicatedness of it. This is why I, for one, do not look for geniuses to become Sisters of Life. I don’t look for a particular type person to become a Sister of Life. I don’t look for one with a particular kind of experience, a particular education. I look for those who want to be good, who want to be holy in an unholy world. Who want to bring their simplicity, their brains or their brawn, to the service of God’s people, and particularly to the service of God’s most vulnerable people.  I look for those with an appetite for prayer.