7 Steps To Sharing Talents – Pt. 3

Little Ballerina

Re-posted from 2016:

This is the last post in a 3-part series. To read Pt. 1 click here; for Pt. 2 click hereIn Step 3 of my previous post, we listed all our talents and abilities. Step 4 dealt with finding opportunities to share our gifts. Now on to our last three steps:

5. Give without worrying about your imperfections or limitations. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8 NIV). You don’t have to be a saint,  genius, or the next winner of a TV talent program to bring joy to others with your gifts. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us will never reach those levels! Give without restraint, and it will free you to be more than you ever imagined. Don’t get discouraged by what you see as your limitations. My mother couldn’t drive in her later years, but she used her talent for knitting to make sweaters and other items for charity.

Your gifts are only as great as you allow them to be. If you feel the need, read books or take a class to improve your skills. But it is by using our gifts and seeing the happiness they bring that we gain the greatest confidence. Our skills will grow as we continue to share them. We will also gain valuable feedback about where we are succeeding and how we can keep improving. 

Jesus told a parable about three servants who were entrusted by their master with varying sums of money (called “talents”), each according to his ability, before he left on a journey. The first two servants invested the money wisely and doubled the amount they had been given. But the third servant, because he was afraid of losing his master’s money and angering him, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he praised the first two servants for their ingenuity and entrusted them with greater authority and responsibilities. But when the third servant returned the money exactly as it had been given, with the excuse that he had been afraid to do anything else with it, the master was angry. He took the money from the third servant and gave it to the first servant, who had returned to the master the greatest amount of money.

God wants us to “invest” in the talents he has given us, and if we do, He will increase them and reward us with greater opportunities and deeper fulfillment. But if we “bury” our talents out of laziness, fear, or feelings of inadequacy, this is contrary to God’s plan. It is not showing proper appreciation and gratitude for the gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Hoarding our gifts gives nothing back to the world, or to God from whom we have received so much. When we stop giving, we stop growing.

Although we fear other people’s criticism and rejection, we usually are our own worst critic. We are eager to answer God’s call to use our gifts.  Then that little negative voice inside us undermines our confidence, reminding us of our limitations and everything that can possibly go wrong. “You can’t do that!” it taunts. And that’s true: We can’t do it, but God can do it through us! If we reach out to God in faith, He will lift us up to our true potential.

6. Remember that sharing our gifts and earning money are not mutually exclusive! What if you are unhappy in your job, or unemployed and trying to find a job, or are in need of additional income? Usually our talents will lie in the areas for which we have a real passion. Many times, these passions point to our life’s true purpose. A career change or an entrepreneurial opportunity will sometimes develop from volunteer work that opened new doors for us. If you are unhappy in your present job, finding ways to do the things you love and for which you have an innate gift can help you feel happier and more fulfilled, whether or not you ever earn any money from it.

If you are unemployed and job hunting, share your gifts and abilities in the meantime. Offering your talents as a volunteer is an excellent way to hone your skills, make new contacts, and ward off the depression and discouragement that can come with being unemployed and searching for a new position. It also is a way to “plant seeds” that will demonstrate your faith and grow into future blessings.

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7. Make use of the present time and don’t procrastinate. “So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin” (Jas. 4:17). The excuses are many: “I’m too busy right now,” “I’m not ready,” “I’ll wait until I retire,” “Maybe next year,” “I’m not good enough yet.” But our time on earth is limited. We don’t know if we’ll have tomorrow. By procrastinating, we can miss precious opportunities and later regret it. Future possibilities grow out of what we do in the present. Don’t wait until all the conditions of your life are ideal or your gift is “perfect.” Guess what? This will never happen! Do it now!

As we freely share what we have been given, our power to help others and do God’s work multiplies. Using our gifts is an investment in God’s Kingdom. This is like buying stock that can only go up. Be a star in God’s talent show! Lavishly spending our gifts brings happiness to others as well as ourselves. It fulfills our responsibility to make the world a better place.

What are your particular gifts and how have you used them?  I would love to hear your own thoughts and experiences in the Comment section below. 

 

 

Anthony of Padua: The Wonder-Working Saint

 

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Originally posted in June 2016:

You’ve lost your wallet with your driver’s license, credit cards, and money just withdrawn from the ATM. Quick — who ya gonna call? Chances are, if you’re like most Catholics, you’ll enlist the aid of St. Anthony of Padua, renowned for his ability to recover everything from a missing child to a misplaced set of house keys. But this is only one of the many powers attributed to this extraordinary saint, acknowledged as one of the greatest miracle workers of all time.

He began his remarkable life at Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and was christened “Fernando.” Little is known of his early years. Experts cannot even agree on his parents’ names, but it is generally believed they were wealthy members of the nobility. He was educated at the Cathedral school in Lisbon, and at the age of 15 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1212 he was transferred to Coimbra in order to devote himself more fully to prayer and study, away from the distraction of frequent visits by family and friends.

In 1220, Don Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, brought from Morocco the relics of the first Franciscan martyrs. Seized with a new zeal to be a missionary and martyr, he left the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order, founded about a decade earlier in Assisi by Francesco Bernardone (who would become known as Francis of Assisi). He took the name Anthony after Antony of Egypt, founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to go as a missionary to Morocco, but God had other plans for him.

Immediately upon his arrival, he became so ill with malaria that he was forced to return to Europe. The ship on which he booked passage was diverted off course by severe storms and docked in Sicily. He recuperated there for several months, then went to Assisi, where he was assigned to the hermitage near Forli, a town outside Bologna. Although a brilliant scholar with a profound knowledge of Scripture, his great humility caused him to say nothing of his scholastic achievements. He lived quietly, serving the other Brothers and working in the kitchen.

One day, he accompanied some other Friars to Forli for an ordination. At the last minute there was no one available to preach, and in desperation the Superior asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit prompted. Things would never be the same again! Although timid at first, Anthony was soon preaching so eloquently and fervently that everyone was amazed. Thus began the aspect of his public life for which he would become the most renowned: preaching.  “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul,” he wrote, “He fills it with His fire and lets it enkindle others.”  He had all the qualities of a successful preacher: a charismatic presence, clear, resonant voice, attractive appearance and magnetic personality. Although the Franciscans were guarded in their attitude toward book learning, Francis was so impressed by Anthony’s newly-discovered ability that he appointed him as teacher of theology to the Franciscans.

During the remainder of his short life, Anthony’s achievements were astounding. Crowds numbering over 30,000 flocked to hear him speak. He preached so forcefully against heresy, he became known as malleus hereticorum, “Hammer of the Heretics.” Thousands of conversions followed his compelling sermons, and miracles abounded wherever he went. Many of these miracles are legendary: Along the coast of Rimini, fish rose out of the water as he preached. Poisoned food offered to Anthony by his enemies was rendered harmless after he made the sign of the cross over it. A young man’s amputated foot was miraculously restored at Anthony’s touch.

In 1226, after the death of Francis of Assisi, Anthony eventually made his home in Padua, where he was greatly revered. During Lent in 1231 he preached a powerful series of sermons that were to be his last. Shortly after Easter he became fatally ill with edema, and died in Vercelli on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. Immediately after his death he appeared to Thomas Gallo, the Abbott at Vercelli. Numerous miracles followed, and he was canonized on May 30, 1232, less than a year later — one of the fastest canonization processes in the Church’s history! Pope Gregory IX, who had known him personally, called Anthony the “Ark of the Covenant,” because of his prodigious knowledge of Holy Scripture.

Thirty years later, Anthony’s body was exhumed and his tongue found to be perfectly preserved. It remains uncorrupt to this day. When St. Bonaventure beheld this miracle, he exclaimed, “O Blessed Tongue, that always praised the Lord and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit you have before God!”

So how did he come to be regarded as “Finder of the Lost?” It all began with a cherished book of Psalms belonging to Anthony, in which he kept written notes for use in teaching theology to the friars. One day a novice suddenly deserted the monastery, taking with him, for reasons unknown, Anthony’s precious Psalm book. Anthony pleaded with Heaven for its return. The novice soon had a change of heart and not only returned the book, but rejoined the Franciscan Order. After Anthony’s death, people invoked his help in finding lost and stolen things, and so many of these were recovered that he became known as the patron saint of lost articles.

His patronage also includes: amputees, animals, barrenness, boatmen, donkeys, the elderly, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mariners, Native Americans, the oppressed, the poor, Portugal, the Tigua Indian tribe, travelers, against shipwrecks and starvation. In paintings St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus. This custom dates back to a 17th-century legend which says that while staying at a friend’s house, Anthony was spied on by his host, who found him in a state of rapture with the Christ Child in his arms.

Today, more than 750 years after his death, Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and powerful saints of the Church, the many miracles attributed to him over the centuries earning him the title of “The Wonder-Working Saint.” His Feast Day is June 13th.

TRADITIONAL PRAYER TO ST. ANTHONY

Holy Saint Anthony, gentle and powerful in your help, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were always ready to request for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle. Even so, you are the Saint of miracles. Gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart is ever full of human sympathy, take my petition to the Infant Savior for whom you have such a great love, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

The Smiling Man

With love and praise to the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday

Whirly Sky.3

Originally posted in 2016:

The 1990’s were for me a time of spiritual searching. I had always believed in God and had always been able to speak to Him as a Friend and Father. However, at this time I had many unresolved questions about destiny, my purpose, life in general. I was at the time of life that many of us eventually encounter, when we search for deeper meaning and purpose in our existence.

In church one day, during this period of questioning and searching, I found a prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived from 1851 to 1926. The prayer was short and simple and promised to be a life-changer if said faithfully every day. The prayer card quoted Cardinal Mercier as follows:

“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know only Your Will.’”

Cardinal Mercier went on to say that if you said the prayer daily, you would receive the serenity, consolation, grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of trials.

I didn’t know much at that time about the Holy Spirit, except for what most Christians know: He is the Third Person of the Trinity, He came to the Apostles at Pentecost, and at Confirmation He infuses us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (awe). But all of these were only facts I had learned in Catechism class, not truths that I felt or understood on a deep, personal level. However, I decided to say the prayer every day and see what happened.

What gradually did occur when I put my trust in the Holy Spirit transformed my life and my relationship with God in ways I never imagined. I didn’t get all the answers to every question I had, but insights started to emerge – not the faltering human attempts at reason that the conscious mind produces, but serene, gracious, perfectly wise and loving answers that I knew were coming from a Source far greater than anything in my own power. I knew with deepest certainty that they were the true answers, because they reflected only the highest values and motives that I knew to be Truth, even at times when my human, conscious mind had been thinking just the opposite or had no answers at all.

Other changes began occurring. Because of the loving wisdom I was now perceiving in my life, God’s love became truly personal to me, a tangible thing, not merely the abstract concept I had grasped only partially before, which had consisted of thoughts like, “Yeah, I know God loves me. He has to love me, since God is Love and He created me.” Now God’s love and guidance became a real, vibrant force, not an idea or theory. Now when I heard Scripture being read or a sermon being given, I was grasping them with an understanding that really related them to my own life. I became aware that I was surrounded by love, protection and guidance from unseen sources that were as real as anything that existed in the material world – actually, more real! The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit took on meaning as powerful graces that were alive and working in my life and were mine for the asking, not just words to be memorized. I entrusted my life and my future to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and asked Him to bless me with the gifts necessary to do whatever work God had planned for me.

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At this time, I was also doing a lot of dream work, studying about dreams and keeping a dream journal. Many times, I would pray and meditate upon a question at bedtime and see what insights I might receive in my dreams. I was a vivid dreamer, and would often have detailed dreams full of personal symbolism and meaning, which I faithfully recorded and worked on interpreting (more about dreams in a future blog article)!

In March of 1995, I began praying to the Holy Spirit at bedtime, asking Him: “Please help my unbelief, and show me what serving You will mean to me.” I also requested that the Holy Spirit would show me a way to visualize Him that would be more personal than the customary depiction of Him as a dove, tongues of fire, or wind, which were hard for me to relate to. I asked Him to send me a “Divine dream.”

On the night of March 25, 1995, I received an answer in the form of the following dream, which I call “The Smiling Man:”

In the dream, I am in a building that resembled an office building. I don’t know where or why I am there. As I walk through this building, I pass a man who is looking at me with a big, friendly smile. I don’t recognize him as anyone I know. I am wondering who he is. He certainly seems to know me, since he is smiling at me in such a familiar way. So I ask a woman nearby who that man is. She replies, “Oh, that’s the Holy Spirit!” I am thrilled and awed to be seeing Him, yet I’m surprised that he looks like a mortal, human man.

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I don’t recall now exactly what He looked like, but the thing that stands out in my memory was that radiant smile He was directing at me. He looked like an ordinary person – no fanfare, no great rays of light beaming from Him, no resplendent garments, nothing “biblical” in the least – just an ordinary man with a beautiful smile.

In the next scene of the dream, I am starting a new job in that same office building, and I am introduced to the group of men for whom I will be working. They all look like the man who had been identified to me as the Holy Spirit! I remark to someone standing nearby, “Well, since they all resemble the Holy Spirit, at least I’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to work for Him! I’ll see what kind of a boss He is!” There the dream ended.

Upon awakening from this dream (it was the middle of the night), I immediately closed my eyes again to see if I could get back into the dream or see some imagery to expand upon the dream. After a few seconds of lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly saw an image of a page with writing on it that looked like a piece of verse. I barely had time to read it before it faded and I woke up completely. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words of the verse:

“Every time you hear selfless human words,

Feel loving emotions,

Or help another soul,

I am there.

My Truth is in everything you do with high motives.

Live your life with spiritual Light –

You will know Me.”

These beautiful words made clear to me the meaning of the dream: The Holy Spirit had looked like an “ordinary person” because He wants me to know that God is within every person we meet. We don’t always recognize Him  — as I didn’t recognize the man in my dream as being the Holy Spirit — but He knows us intimately and loves us with an unsurpassed love, symbolized by the man’s bright, beautiful, loving smile.

In the dream I was working for men who also “resembled the Holy Spirit” and I was curious to see what working for Him would be like, what kind of “boss” He would be. To me this part of the dream symbolizes that when we serve our fellow humans, we are serving God as well.  The opportunities to serve God are often disguised as ordinary tasks of daily life.  This answered my bedtime prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to “show me what serving You would mean to me.” (Thank You, Holy Spirit!)

As Pentecost Sunday approaches, I share this dream as an encouragement to anyone who has not yet discovered what a wonderful Friend (and “Boss”) the Holy Spirit can be.  I urge you to seek Him out, ask Him to manifest in your life and draw you closer to Him. He will enlighten and guide You and share His marvelous gifts with you, if you will only open up and let His light in. As the dream symbolized, by serving our fellow humans and living in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will find true happiness and peace, and we will know God.

Happy Pentecost!

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7 Steps to Sharing Talents – Pt. 2

Leaping in Air-edited

Reposted from 2016:

In my last post, I listed some of the benefits of sharing our talents and gifts. I also outlined the first two steps, which were praying for guidance and staying receptive to whatever answers you receive. You can read Part 1 here

Here are the next two steps of our 7-step program:

  1. List all of your talents and abilities. “Then Moses called…every skilled person in whom the Lord had given ability, and who was willing to come and do the work” (Exodus 36:2 NIV). Like a designer of great artistic creations, God gives each of us unique gifts and the power to use them to touch other souls with His light. Open your mind and heart to honestly evaluate your abilities:
  • Do you have a creative gift like music, art, writing or dancing?
  • Are you good with animals? With children?
  • Do you excel in sports?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Can you make people laugh?
  • Are you good at gardening, sewing, cooking, or carpentry?
  • Have a talent for public speaking?
  • Are you a compassionate, nurturing type of person?

Ask people who know you well for their input. This is no time for false modesty! True humility is the ego rising to a higher level just honoring the will of God. It is the attitude that God is the creator of our gifts, and our duty is to use them according to His plan, to honor Him, serve others, and make the world a brighter place.

One way to brainstorm ideas is to use the “mind-mapping” method: Across the top of a large piece of paper or whiteboard, list all your talents, abilities and things you love to do. You will be using this mind-mapping list in our next step, as well.

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  1. Brainstorm ways you can use and share your gifts.

You don’t have to go far to find ways to share your gifts.  Check out volunteer opportunities in your community, school, local non-profit organizations, church or synagogue. Here are some suggestions for some of the talents you may have listed:

  • Teaching: Offer to teach a class at your local high school’s or YMCA’s adult education program.
  • An outgoing type who loves people, good listener or nurturing personality: Offer your help with fundraising or public relations for a local non-profit.  Volunteer at a local hospital, nursing home or hospice. Many churches and synagogues have bereavement committees for which you can volunteer to help the grieving. Or visit a friend who has suffered a loss or is feeling troubled or sad. Don’t worry if you cannot offer help or advice to solve their problem; sometimes all that is needed is someone who is willing to listen and “be there.”
  • Good with children: Offer to teach Sunday school or religious instruction classes at your church or synagogue. Volunteer at a children’s hospital, or join an organization such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters to act as a mentor for a child who needs your love and caring. Help out a new mother in your community who might be feeling overwhelmed.
  • Love animals: Offer your services at a local animal shelter or rescue group. I love horses, but after being injured in a fall off a horse, my riding days unfortunately were over. However, I greatly missed being around horses, so I became a volunteer at a non-profit horse sanctuary. I not only get to be around dozens of horses, but also have made new friends who share my equine passion!
  • Performing Arts: Join your local community theatre, or consider using your talents to brighten the lives of people in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, etc. If you like public speaking and have a good reading voice, you can become a lector/reader at your church or volunteer to record audiobooks for the blind. Consider giving lectures or workshops about a subject in which you have expertise. If singing or playing an instrument is your talent, join a church choir or community choral group.
  • If getting up in front of people is not your thing, but you are good at carpentry or have artistic talent, your community theater could use your skills as part of their stage crew. If you can sew, the costume department would love to have you!
  • Love books/reading: Volunteer at the local library, or offer your help to a local literacy program that teaches adults to read.
  • Good with computers, web design or graphic arts: Offer your services to a non-profit organization.
  • Gardening: Give your beautiful, home-grown flowers and vegetables to neighbors and friends, especially those who are sick, lonely, or dealing with trouble or grief. Offer to help establish or tend a garden for your church or synagogue. Or start a community garden in your neighborhood. 
  • Cooking/Baking: Share your culinary delights with others. Bring some of your homemade treats to shut-ins, for whom they will bring much-needed cheer and nourishment. Volunteer your skills to charitable organizations that feed the hungry. Bake goodies for fundraising events.
  • Building and carpentry skills: Charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity can always use talented people with these particular skills! If you are good at fixing things, help out a neighbor who doesn’t have the physical or financial resources for needed repairs. Small non-profit organizations usually operate on a shoestring budget and greatly appreciate people who can do remodeling or repairs to their facilities.
  • Writing: Consider authoring an article, book, e-book or blog to share your original stories, poems, or knowledge with others.

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These are just idea starters to get your own brainstorming juices flowing! With a little research and ingenuity, you can come up with many more ideas and find the opportunities that fit in with your particular circumstances and abilities. Take the mind-mapping paper or board that you used to write down your gifts in our last step. Now, using the above list and your own ideas, write as many possible opportunities as you can think of underneath each gift’s heading. Then seek out local organizations that might logically offer opportunities to use some of the skills you listed. An internet search will suggest places in your area that you may not have noticed on your own. Contact them to get more information and see if they can use your help. At least one of them should be just the right fit for you!

True Humility

Does anyone have additional ideas or information? Please share them in the comment section!

Next up: Dealing with imperfections and limitations. Check out my next post!

7 Steps for Sharing Your Talents & Gifts-Pt. 1

This 3-part series is a repost from 2016, for those who might have missed it the first time around! Here is Part 1:

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God is holding a universal, never-ending talent show — are you a contestant?

“When I stand before God at the end of my life,” said American humorist and best-selling author, Erma Bombeck, “I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Yet many of us find it easier to be generous with our money than with our time and talents. Giving of ourselves feels frightening and risky, and we tend to put our own feelings before God. Like a mother bird with her fledglings, God wants to push us out of our nest of complacency to use the talents He has given us. We want to try our wings, but lack confidence in our ability. But God is always nearby to answer our call for help. When we trust in Him, He gives us the strength and courage to spread our wings and soar to greater heights.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all…so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5:13-15, NLT). Let your light shine!

What are some benefits of sharing our talents and abilities?

  • Giving glory to God for the gifts He has given us
  • Bringing joy to others
  • Inspiring others by our example to share their own gifts
  • Finding personal fulfillment and satisfaction
  • Improving and enhancing our talents by using them
  • Opening up new opportunities for us

What if you are not sure of your own unique gifts and abilities, or perhaps you know where your talents lie, but are uncertain about how to share them with others? In this series, we’ll discuss 7 steps for determining your gifts and the best way to use them.

This week we’ll tackle Steps 1 & 2, which are important preparation steps:

  1. Pray for guidance to determine your own unique abilities and how God wants you to use them to brighten others’ lives and find personal fulfillment. Here is a suggested prayer: “Heavenly Father, I thank and praise you for the gifts and talents you have given me. Help me to recognize them and use them according to your will. I might not think they are remarkable, but I know you give only perfect gifts. Give me the confidence to turn mine into a personal triumph — not necessarily in the eyes of other people, but in your eyes. Help me to be open to any opportunities to use my gifts. Remove from me any selfishness, conceit or false humility, and keep me aware of my dependence on you, the origin of all good things. I trustingly place all I have into your loving care. Amen.”                                                                                                                            
  2. Leave your mind receptive to God’s answers and guidance. When we ask God our questions, we need to make sure we give him room to respond. God’s answers come in various, sometimes unexpected, ways, so we need to keep alert and open. Some suggestions:
  • Spend time this week in quiet reflection about what you most love to do and what you think you do well. Quieting the mind is necessary in order to hear the still, small voice that will give us the insight that we seek. Even if you can spare only a few minutes a day, it will make a big difference.
  • If you are already familiar with meditation, use whatever technique you prefer to open your mind to God’s guidance.
  • If you are not an experienced meditator, at least try to sit quietly for a few minutes and clear your mind as best as you can. Sit in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, turn off your cell phone, close your eyes. When thoughts pop into your mind (and they will!), try to just “witness” your passing thoughts without getting involved with them. It’s not easy to turn off the mind’s endless chatter, so don’t get frustrated if your mind is not entirely blank the whole time.
  • Inspiration and ideas may bubble up spontaneously, either during your quiet time or at random times during the day. Often when we ask God for guidance, we will receive it in the course of daily life by something that we see, read, or hear from other people.
  • Carry a small notebook, digital recorder, or use your smartphone to instantly record any ideas while they are still fresh in your mind.
  • Dreams are also an excellent source of Divine guidance and inspiration. Immediately upon awakening, be sure to record any dream insights you have. If you wait too long, you may forget them as your mind becomes immersed in the concerns of the day.

Next in the series: Determining your talents and abilities.

 

 

Bernadette of Lourdes: Saint of Simplicity – Pt. 2

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Bernadette as Sister Marie-Bernarde

Part One summarized Bernadette’s life, highlighting the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette in 1858 and the miraculous healing spring which Bernadette unearthed at Our Lady’s direction. We took a look at some of her virtues and struggles. In Part Two, we continue to explore Bernadette’s characteristics and the many challenges she faced throughout her life.

 Sense of Humor

Bernadette had a quick wit and a merry, sometimes mischievous, personality. At the convent, she often entertained the other sisters during recreation with her amusing stories and talent for mimicry. But her wit was always good-natured, never malicious or hurtful. Her sense of humor no doubt kept her from taking herself too seriously and becoming overwhelmed by the extremes of adulation and ridicule that came with being a public figure.

People often used any excuse to make her touch objects so they could have a blessed relic. Knowing their intentions, she would quip, “And after I touch it, how much more will it be worth?”

Charity

Bernadette loved nursing the sick and excelled at it. “She always had the kind word that relaxed, reassured, and got them to take their medicine,” said one of her patients. In November 1872 she was made Head Infirmarian at Nevers, a position she held until October 1873. Friendly and affectionate, she was a compassionate and understanding listener, who always had an encouraging word for the troubled or homesick novices her superiors often sent to her.

In the words of one of her fellow teachers: “I never heard her say an unbecoming word, nor fail in charity.”

Prayer

Admittedly incapable of lengthy recitations, Bernadette often repeated short prayers throughout the day, such as: “My God, I believe in You, hope in You; I love You.”

She loved common prayer but did not practice many private devotions, except the ones she considered most important: Mass, Communion, and the Stations of the Cross. She placed a strong emphasis on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and had a profound respect for priests. “The priest at the altar is always Jesus on earth,” she often said. “If you encounter a priest and an angel, the priest should be acknowledged first.”

Deluged with endless prayer petitions, she always agreed, on one condition: “I also need prayers. I don’t give something for nothing!” She was faithful to the Virgin’s message of prayer and penance given at Lourdes, and offered her prayers and sacrifices to Our Lord each day for the conversion of one sinner.

Although she had some initial difficulty learning the Rosary, it remained a favorite devotion throughout her life. She often recommended it to others, saying, “You will never say it in vain. Go to sleep reciting it…like little children who fall asleep saying ‘Mama’.” She was also devoted to St. Joseph and her Guardian Angel, and told a novice, “When you pass the chapel and haven’t time to stop, tell your Guardian Angel to take your messages to Our Lord in the tabernacle.”

Silence

Although vivacious and talkative by nature, when it came spiritual matters, Bernadette found God in the practice of recollection. She had difficulty with formal meditation, but loved the Congregation’s rule of silence during specified times and would break it only for the most urgent reasons.

“Silence was one of Bernadette’s fundamental traits,” said Bishop Forcade of Nevers. “Although people delight in attributing to her countless beautiful sayings that I, for my part, have never heard, I have always observed that she suffered, like everything else she did, simply and without words.”

Devotion to Mary

Bernadette never referred to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, except when giving an account of the apparition of March 25 in which the Lady identified herself by that title. When speaking of the Blessed Virgin, she usually called her “my Good Mother,” or “my Mother in heaven.” Ironically, Bernadette’s earthly mother, Louise, died on December 8, 1866 — the feast of the Immaculate Conception! Of this Bernadette said, “The Blessed Virgin wanted it that way to show me that she would replace my mother, whom I had lost.”

Bernadette’s piety towards Mary was simple, trusting, daughterly, and like everything else about her, without ostentation. She always urged others to “love her very much,” exclaiming, “If you only knew how good the Blessed Virgin is!” When asked if the Virgin was beautiful, Bernadette replied, “So beautiful that when you’ve seen her once, you can’t wait to die see her again….When you’ve seen her, you can’t love this world anymore.”

Most of the time, however, Bernadette spoke of the Lady of Lourdes only when asked, and then her answers were brief, objective and reserved. Over time, Bernadette’s memory of the apparitions grew dimmer, and she could no longer see a clear image in her mind’s eye. But she didn’t need a picture, because it was forever engraved in her heart.

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The Shrine of the Grotto at Lourdes as it appears today

Our Lady’s Promise

Although Bernadette rarely spoke of the Virgin’ s words, “I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next,” she accepted them fully as her own personal penance. She did not consider the second part of the promise to be a guarantee of heaven, but conditional upon her doing what was required. Throughout her life, she suffered illness, frustration, separation from family, and every public reaction to her from veneration to curiosity to harassment and ridicule. “Oh, how tiresome this is!” she would sigh. “When will they stop treating me like a strange animal?”

A considerable amount has been written, much of it exaggerated, about the complex relationship between Bernadette and her superiors at Nevers, particularly Mother Marie-Therese Vauzou. It’s true, however, that this situation was one of Bernadette’s heaviest crosses. Mother Vauzou, despite her initial excitement at having the visionary of Lourdes join the Order, was often cold and severe with Bernadette, subjecting her to frequent humiliation and testing her almost beyond endurance.

One likely explanation was the problem presented by the entrance of so extraordinary a figure as Bernadette into the Order. The Sisters recognized the challenge of trying to treat her like any ordinary novice. Most likely, in their zeal to protect Bernadette’s soul as well as the dignity and integrity of the Congregation, her superiors sometimes carried their efforts too far.

Another factor was the basic difference in personality between Mother Vauzou and Bernadette. Mother Vauzou wanted the sisters in her charge to openly confide in her, and hoped to be privy to the innermost thoughts and soul-stirrings of the chosen one of Mary. Bernadette’s disinclination to analyze or verbalize about the spiritual life must have greatly frustrated and disappointed Mother Vauzou.

Moreover, being somewhat of a snob regarding class distinctions, Mother Vauzou was probably resentful and jealous of the graces and attention that had been showered upon Bernadette, a mere peasant girl. For Bernadette’s part, although she felt somewhat reserved and uneasy around Mother Vauzou, she loved and admired her, and suffered greatly when she didn’t receive the same affection as the other nuns did.

Whether a warmer relationship with her superiors would have jeopardized Bernadette’s sanctity is impossible to say. But she eventually attained a state of detachment that allowed her to endure such psychological suffering without complaining or harboring grudges. During a retreat, she wrote in her notes: “Work on becoming indifferent to everything my superiors or companions say or think about me….To live for God only, for God everywhere, for God always.”

Patience and Fortitude

From the age of six, Bernadette was plagued with various physical illnesses, including stomach and spleen ailments and asthma. At Nevers, she developed tuberculosis of the bone. An enormous tumor on her right knee caused her excruciating pain, and she suffered attacks of coughing so severe they nearly choked her. Eventually, disease ravaged her entire system. Agonizing sores erupted all over her body, including abscesses in her ears that affected her hearing.

In addition to physical afflictions, Bernadette experienced a “dark night of the soul,” during which she was tormented with demonic attacks and temptations of doubt and despair. She told her good friend Julie Garros in 1873: “It’s really painful not to be able to breathe, but it’s much worse to be tortured by interior distress. It’s terrifying.”

Sister Marthe once found Bernadette crying and inquired if she was feeling sick. Bernadette replied, “If you only knew everything that’s going on inside me…Pray for me!” At the heart of this inner torment were her deeply disturbing, though unwarranted, doubts about the apparitions and the fear that she “might have been mistaken” about them.

Throughout all her sufferings, Bernadette remained cheerful and patient. Her first thought was always for others rather than herself. Although she accepted her afflictions with tremendous grace and courage, she did not love suffering for its own sake or voluntarily seek it out. Despite her devotion to St. Bernard, her patron saint, she admitted, “I don’t imitate him very much. St. Bernard loved suffering, while I avoid it as much as I can.”

During the final phase of her life, Bernadette’s spirituality evolved into a state of complete abandonment to God. She removed all the holy pictures with which she had surrounded her sickbed, keeping only the crucifix. When asked why, she said, “This is enough for me.” In the throes of her deepest agony she would clutch it and say with resignation, “Now I am like Him.”

In a letter to the Pope, she wrote: “My weapons are prayer and sacrifice, which I will grip firmly to my dying breath. Only then will the weapon of sacrifice fall, but prayer will come along with me to heaven where it will be much more powerful.”

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The partially incorrupt body of St. Bernadette at the Convent of St. Gildard in Nevers, France

An “Exquisite Soul”

The essence of Bernadette’s sanctity is beautifully expressed in the words of Pope Pius XI, who called her “a simple miller’ s daughter, who possessed no other wealth than the candor of her exquisite soul.” In his homily at Bernadette’s canonization Mass, he said: “When one considers Bernadette’s life…[it] can be summed up in three words: Bernadette was faithful to her mission, she was humble in glory, she was valiant under trial.”

***

Author’s Note: I have loved St Bernadette and the story of her life and the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes since I was a child and first saw the beautiful movie, “The Song of Bernadette,” based on the best-selling novel by Franz Werfel. Although the novel and movie contain some fictionalized or romanticized elements, they are based on historical fact and give a wonderful overall picture of the marvelous events at Lourdes and the life of St. Bernadette Soubirous. I highly recommend both the book and the movie. Jennifer Jones gives a glowing and poignant portrayal of Bernadette, and the movie is worth watching for her performance alone, which won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1943. It’s hard to watch the ending without being moved to tears.

Interestingly, Franz Werfel was a German-speaking Jewish novelist, playwright and poet, born in Prague, Czechoslavakia. While escaping from the Nazis during WWII, Franz and his wife, Alma, were given refuge in Lourdes, France, where Franz heard the story of Bernadette Soubirous and the Lady.  Impressed and gratified by the assistance and kindness he received from the people of Lourdes and the staff at the famous Lourdes shrine, he made a vow to write about Bernadette once he was safely settled. He and Alma eventually journeyed to California, where they lived for the rest of his life. 

In fulfillment of his vow, Franz Werfel wrote “The Song of Bernadette” in 1941, which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for a year and occupied first place for 13 weeks. In Werfel’s own words: “All the memorable happenings that constitute the substance of this book took place in the world of reality…. My story makes no changes in this body of truth. I exercised my right of creative freedom only where the work, as a work of art, demanded certain chronological condensations or where there was need of striking the spark of life from the hardened substance….’The Song of Bernadette’ is a novel but not a fictive work.” 

My own two-part article on this blog was based on extensive research into the life of Bernadette Soubirous, not on the Werfel novel, and I have not strayed from the facts. I mention the novel and the movie because they first kindled in me a love for Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes, and because I strongly feel that both are masterpieces well worth reading and watching, as I have done many times.

 

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Bernadette of Lourdes: Saint of Simplicity

young-bernadette

Bernadette Soubirous

PART ONE OF TWO

On January 9, 1844 in Lourdes, a town at the foot of the Pyrenees in southwest France, two-day-old Bernadette Soubirous was being baptized. Much to the embarrassment of her relatives, she wailed incessantly throughout the entire ceremony. “All she does is cry,” her godfather complained on the way home. “She’ll be a bad one!”

Bernadette, the first child of the miller François and his wife, Louise, spent the first 10 years of her life at the Boly Mill, which her father operated. Then, in 1854, the business fell on hard times. The family, which now had grown to six, was evicted and forced to move into the dungeon room of a former prison, considered too damp and unhealthy to house criminals any longer. Despite their extreme poverty and deplorable living conditions, the Soubirous were devout and close-knit family.

Spirited, fun-loving Bernadette was petite and pretty, with a round face, beautiful chestnut hair and gentle, velvety dark-brown eyes. As the eldest daughter, she cheerfully and efficiently performed all the traditional family duties expected of her. Although of delicate health, she was to all outward appearances an ordinary, unremarkable young girl. But on February 11, 1858, when Bernadette was 14, she had an experience that would change her life beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

While gathering wood in the grotto at Massabielle, she saw an indescribably beautiful young lady dressed in a white veil and a white gown tied with a blue sash, standing in a niche above her. The Lady had a rosary on her arm and golden roses on her bare feet. She smiled at Bernadette and held out her arms in welcome. The astonished girl fell to her knees, instinctively reached for her rosary, and began to pray.

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The Lady of Lourdes (“Aquero”) as described by Bernadette

This was the first of 18 apparitions occurring over a five-month period. During the third apparition, the Lady spoke for the first time. With a tender smile, she asked Bernadette, “Would you have the kindness come here for 15 days?” At Bernadette’s consent, the Lady added, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”

For many weeks, Bernadette had no idea who the Lady was; she referred to her simply as “Aquero” (“that one”). When, at the urging of her companions, Bernadette offered the Lady pen and paper to write her name, the Lady laughed gently and replied, “It is not necessary.” On February 25, at the Lady’s direction, Bernadette unearthed an underground spring, which ever since has been a miraculous source of spiritual and physical healing.

“Aquero” finally revealed her identity during the 16th apparition on March 25, feast of the Annunciation. Folding her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, she said: “Que soy era Immaculada Counchetsiou (I am the Immaculate Conception).” So as not to forget, Bernadette silently repeated the unfamiliar words all the way to the rectory, where she dutifully reported them to the pastor, Fr. Peyramale. It was only after the priest explained the meaning of the words to her that Bernadette finally knew that “Aquero”  was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In July 1866, Bernadette left Lourdes forever to join the order of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, where she took the name Sr. Marie-Bernarde and served as Infirmarian and Sacristan. Her health continue to decline steadily, and she died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. She was beatified on June 14, 1925 and canonized on December 8, 1933. She is buried at the Convent of St. Gildard at Nevers. Her body remains mostly incorrupt to this day.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF BERNADETTE

Bernadette’s holiness was humble, straightforward, and unpretentious. She possessed no great knowledge of theology; she was, in fact, a poor student who struggled to memorize her lessons. Her nurse, Marie Lagues, became so frustrated trying to teach the young Bernadette catechism, she threw a book across the room and shouted at the crying girl, “You’ll never know anything!”

Bernadette did not perform heroic deeds or suffer martyrdom; she died quietly in a French convent after a long and painful illness. She did not seek out suffering or extreme mortification, but accepted with grace and courage the many trials, pain, and humiliations life handed her.

She has been compared with St. Therese of Lisieux, who was 6½ years old when Bernadette died in 1879. In actuality, Bernadette was living the “Little Way” years before Therese was born. Yet, unlike Therese, who left such prolific spiritual writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church, Bernadette has been called “the most secretive of all the saints,” because she was not given to deeply analytical, sentimental, or effusive discourses on spiritual matters. She lived her faith naturally and instinctively.

In this simplicity lies Bernadette’s appeal. She is a model we can emulate, someone whose common-sense spirituality is down-to-earth and approachable. In fact, Bernadette herself insisted on learning about the faults and spiritual trials of the saints, which humanized them and inspired her to overcome her own shortcomings. Similarly, in this series we will explore the virtues and struggles of this charmingly simple, humble saint.

Mirror of Mary

Like Mary of Nazareth, Bernadette’s life was one of poverty, humility, obedience, fortitude, and total dedication to doing the will of God. In his excellent biography, Bernadette Speaks, Fr. Rene Laurentin writes: “Chosen by God, Bernadette splendidly demonstrated the happiness of the poor. This child, unknown or disregarded, would be proclaimed blessed by all.” Father Raffin, a witness at Bernadette’s beatification process, stated: “She delighted in saying that if she had been chosen…by the Blessed Virgin, it was because of her littleness, her lowliness, so that all honor would revert to the Blessed Virgin and to the glory of God.”

Humility

Bernadette did not take pride in the great spiritual favors she had been accorded or feel she deserved them; yet neither did she resort to contrived displays of false humility. Her attitude was well-balanced and tinged with good-natured humor. “The Blessed Virgin picked me up like a pebble,” she would remark. Bernadette’s humility was the result of her awareness of being only an instrument of the Divine, of being nothing without God’s great love. “I was like a broomstick for the Blessed Virgin. When she no longer needed me, she put me in my place behind the door,” she said, adding happily, “Here I am and here I’ll stay!”

For Bernadette, poverty was a means of preserving humility. “I want to stay poor,” she told a journalist who was laying out before her the prospect of wealth. She repeatedly turned down gifts of money that well-meaning people tried to press on her and her family. “It burns me!” she would say.

Even in the convent, she received many visitors who wanted to see her and hear about her extraordinary experiences. These visits became a great trial to Bernadette, who wanted nothing more than to remain hidden and be just an ordinary nun. She did, however, dutifully see visitors when directed to do so by her superiors.

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Illustration of the grotto and miraculous spring at Lourdes during an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette Soubirous

One evening, a woman named Felicitie Benoit visited the convent and hoped to meet the famed visionary. While taking a walk with a short, unfamiliar nun, Felicitie asked if she could see Bernadette. “Oh, Mademoiselle!” the sister replied, “Bernadette is just like everyone else!” Felicitie later repeated to another nun her request to see Bernadette. “What?” the sister said in surprise. “You didn’t recognize her? Why, just a little while ago you were strolling with her!”

Sr. Marthe du Rais, a contemporary of Bernadette’s, described her humility: “When she received undeserved reprimands, she would say, ‘The good Lord sees my intentions. Fiat!’ and preserve the same serenity of soul. She remained friendly as before towards people who had caused her pain.” But Bernadette was realistic enough to know that pride is an elemental part of human nature. During a discussion on self-esteem, she made a circle with her thumb and forefinger and said, “Let her who doesn’t have any, put her finger here.”

Acceptance

What hurt Bernadette most was feeling useless and being called “good for nothing.” But she accepted this without bitterness, remaining always grateful to God for the many graces she had received, and to the Congregation at Nevers, whom she felt had accepted her out of charity. Like Therese of Lisieux, she wanted to do great and wonderful deeds for God, but was prevented from doing much because of poor health. She once referred to being sick as “her job.” Believing she was a burden on the motherhouse, especially as her health deteriorated, she would say, “I’m good for nothing. The only thing I can do is pray.”

Obedience

Obedience did not come easily to Bernadette, because of her quick temper, strong will, and exuberant personality. She found it hard to adjust to the strict and confining life of the convent, and sometimes reacted spontaneously despite her best efforts to conform. She would get discouraged, but this only caused her to depend more totally on God’s grace. “How I need the help of God!” she would exclaim.

Perhaps the hardest test of Bernadette’s obedience was the strict order of her superiors at Nevers not to speak to her fellow nuns about the visions of Lourdes. She naturally would have longed to share her extraordinary experience, and the other sisters were bursting with curiosity. Yet, with unflinching  obedience, she kept silent about it.

“Above all, the depth of her obedience was dependent on its relationship to God,” writes René Laurentin. “He is the one whom she obeyed in all things.”

(In Part Two: Bernadette’s characteristics and challenges)