The complete* text of Sister Regina Marie, O.C.D.’s address to the Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast, September 16, 2014
When Allen Lund called me last year about this morning’s Prayer Breakfast, my first response was, “Allen, you need a big name for your speaker.” His response was, “Sister, we want a homegrown speaker.” It is an honor to be with you this morning, Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Mohony, all our brothers and sisters in Christ — and – to be your homegrown speaker!
I will begin by telling you how we are going to end. We often go to talks and either we are bored stiff and can’t wait for it to conclude – OR – as we listen, we are moved and our heart is stirred as something deep within is touched. That stirring – that is God and He is speaking to us personally. What do we do? Do we give Him the courtesy of a response or even just a simple acknowledgement? In all probability, we do the very same thing we do when we’ve been bored: we applaud and then we get into our car and move on to the next thing on the “To Do” list. Wait a minute! What are we doing?? God has just spoken to us, personally! Are we really going to pay such scant attention to His gentle whisperings to our soul?
At the conclusion of this talk, we will take a few minutes and make ourselves receptive to how Our Lord might choose to touch our hearts and to not just hear whatever it is He might wish to say to each one of us, but to really listen to Him. Hopefully, your heart will urge you to respond to Him.
We know a family living in Arizona with whom we’ve been friends for years. When they come to Los Angeles they always visit us. They have two adopted teenagers and three younger foster-care children. During one of their visits, Michael, who was seven years of age but had the physical stature of a four-year-old, came running up to us, eyes wide.
“GUESS WHAT???” he shouted by way of greeting.
“Michael, tell us!” we encouraged him.
“I’VE BEEN ADOPTED!!!!!” he shouted again.
“Michael, that is wonderful! What does ‘adopted’ mean??” we asked him.
“It means I’m part of the FAMILY FOREEEVVVER!!!” He was positively beaming.
“Michael!! That is great news. It can’t get any better!” we enthused.
“OHHH, YESSSS, IT CAAAN! NOW NEXT SUNDAY I GET TO BE BAPTIZED!!!” He was practically walking on air.
“Michael, what does ‘baptized’ mean??” we asked.
“It means I’m part of GOD’S FAMILY FOREEEVVVER!”
Some experiences are life-altering and change us. . . . from the inside out . . . .FOREVER! All change affects us in some way or another. We feel differently when we change jobs, change clothing, change eating habits. But these are rather superficial. However, there are some changes that touch us at our very core and change all of life forever, where there’s no going back, much like Michael’s adoption did for him. For this little boy, everything changed. He was still underweight and under height; he still bore the painful scars of his years of instability. Hope suddenly blossomed in this little fellow and instinctively his eyes were drawn upward, daring to focus the future. All of a sudden, deep within, he was anchored. He now had a family. He now belonged to them and they belonged to him; he belonged to God and God belonged to him. His new-found confidence and freedom was palpable.
There is something in each one of us that seeks completion, wholeness, peace, contentment. We all want security. We want to know we are not alone. We want to belong, to be able to help and be helped. We want to be accepted for who we are, and not having to pretend being what we are not.
There is one thing that can anchor us definitively.
I’ll now share with you a true story. It is one, with which I know some of you are familiar. The place is the Deep South during the 1950’s. One of our former chaplains at that time was serving in a poor area of the Bible belt. One of the families in his parish was very poor. The couple had each other, they had four beautiful children, they had love, they had a very small home with running water, electricity and they had a meager amount of food. Beyond this, they had nothing. Somewhere in life, the lady came to possess a set of crystal goblets, acquired perhaps from a church bazaar, or it might have been a gift from one of the families for whom she cleaned house. She took great pride in her crystal goblets because they meant that she owned something beautiful, something artistic and they added a touch of elegance to their otherwise frugal celebrations. Every year at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas out came the goblets. The husband would bring home a small bottle of wine for his wife and himself and a bottle of grape juice for the children. One particular Christmas, the mother had been up late and had spent the entire day cooking. That night during the clean-up after dinner, one of the children inadvertently knocked one of the crystal goblets off the drain-board. The tired mother heard the jarring sound of breaking glass, turned and saw the goblet in a thousand pieces shattered across the kitchen floor. She burst into tears. She quickly retreated to the bedroom, gathered herself, dried her eyes and just a few minutes later headed back to the kitchen. A surprise met her eyes. Her husband was kneeling on the floor, meticulously looking for each broken piece and placing them in a shoe box.
As her shoulders drooped, she said to him, “Don’t do that. Just because you married a foolish woman doesn’t mean you need to be a foolish man. I’ll get the broom and you just throw those pieces away.”
“Honey, just let me be,” her husband responded without looking up and not pausing in his collection of the broken pieces of crystal.
“Surely, you are not going to save all those pieces. I was silly with my tears. Don’t you be silly, too! Throw it all away!” she flatly stated.
“Honey, please let me,” came the patient reply.
The very next night, after the children were snugly tucked into bed, the husband brought out his shoebox, a pair of tweezers and a small tube of waterproof glue and set to work. Piece by piece, he began carefully reconstructing the goblet.
Every night his wife expressed various forms of disapproval: “Honey, why are you wasting your time? It was a child’s accident, let’s just forget it.”
One night, her comment really got to the heart of her resistance: “I reacted in a childish way and you’re spending all this time gluing these pieces together. It makes me feel awful. Just throw it away.”
Every night came his same patient response: “Honey, please let me.”
Piece after piece, night after night, week after week he worked, until he had a whole goblet again. When he poured water into it, it held – no leaks.
In time, the children grew up and left home, but they would return for the holiday celebrations. When the tray carrying the crystal goblets filled with wine was passed around, it was the goblet that had been shattered which was always chosen first from the tray. When filled with wine, the fracture lines in the repaired goblet refracted the light, creating sparkly rainbow prisms and tiny scintillations. The once-broken goblet was by far more beautiful than the other pristinely intact goblets.
This is very good news for those of us whose lives don’t feel very whole anymore. Perhaps we are weighed down by disappointments or the burdens we carry secretly within our hearts; or ill health might be taking its toll; or perhaps important relationships have deteriorated; or our parish that we love is struggling; or our companies are broken and we fear the future.
This simple, true story expresses a truth at the very heart of Christianity. It’s a law of Christianity, more reliable than even the law of gravity. Christ makes ALL things new. This doesn’t mean He makes all things new in a theoretical way. No. He takes actual messes, very real broken, extremely worn-out people and works through them and restores them to wholeness. There is only one essential element and that is we have to let Him pick up the pieces. There is no need for us to mourn the shattered goblet that is our life, for if we allow Him to pick up the shards of crystal, He will transform those broken pieces into a whole that is more beautiful than the unblemished version had been. We simply have to let Him do it. It is that simple. We must allow Him to enter our very practical, mundane lives, sit with us at table and even allow Him to kneel on our kitchen floor and gather up the shattered pieces. “Kitchen floor” means our personal, practical, space, both our external space where we sleep, work, eat and play, as well as our interior space – all that we carry within us at all times – our thoughts, our ruminations, our feelings, our desires.
It’s like Peter’s encounter with Christ, in his very own fishing boat that was inundated with a huge catch of fish, where Peter realized that the Man standing right there in Peter’s own personal space was the one, true God. Peter’s answer to Christ wasn’t perfect. He was scared witless and he threw himself down on the deck of the boat, his face in the pile of floundering fish, and said, “You get out of the boat, Jesus! I am a sinner! ” Hardly a perfect answer, but Peter had already allowed Christ into his boat, into his personal space and the One who reads hearts knew what Peter really wanted and just what Peter was capable of. Jesus looked at him with so much love and said, “I accept you as you are, Peter. You are a fisherman – and I will live your life with you as a fisherman. I living in you and you living in Me. Peter, for greater things you were born, and now “I will make you a fisher of men.”
If we will only let Him, He takes us where we are and begins His work of renewing us, of transforming us, of taking us beyond what we thought we were capable of.
The hallmark of His work is ALWAYS a new dimension of life. Life becomes more than just routine; more than just work, fishing, producing, acquiring, spending. When Christ is a living person, fully welcomed and engaged in our life, then work, producing and spending are still part of our life, but they no longer define us. Our life now develops new dimensions of meaning, of depth, of creativity, fruitfulness and freedom.
These gifts are ours for the taking. We have only to say YES to Him.
When we talk about learning to relate with the Lord in our personal space, it means we are no longer dichotomizing life into parts:
• The God-part (going to Mass on Sunday, going to Church sponsored events); and
• The “Real” part: my spouse, kids, in-laws, work, vacations and retirement . . .
We can think to ourselves: “I am keeping all the parts balanced and now I am a good person! That is dichotomizing and trying to keep everything in balance is, in itself, a source of stress. The goal is not to balance but to integrate. I have one life. I have one Lord and I am not the Lord. He is my friend and I am His friend. I can count on Him and He can count on me. He and I live all of my life together. He wants all of me – the bright, beautiful dimensions, AND the dark and unattractive elements; the happy days and the grumpy days. He wants to be welcomed into all of it.
God thought of you and the thought of you so utterly delighted Him, He created you. That is why you were made. You are His handiwork , a masterpiece of His art.
God does not love generically. He loves you uniquely, individually, unequivocally. He knows your name, he knows all about you – your dreams, your hopes, your sorrows. He loves you from the bottom of His Heart – and He is GOD, so there is no bottom to His Heart – it is fathomless! He loves you so much that He can’t take His eyes off you. Think of it. Each one of us is always held within the loving gaze of God, no matter what our mood or behavior. God sees us with the eyes of love. The question is: will we make eye contact with Him?
We all know intellectually that God is love. The logical implication, then, is that God is a lover – not a CEO, a manager, an accountant, an owner, but a lover. He wants to be with us. He doesn’t care about our perfect performance – what He wants is our heart. He thirsts for our love – and He doesn’t thirst for our love generically – He thirsts for the unique love that you alone can give Him. Your love matters to God. But we need to clearly understand that God’s love is not a mere feeling or attitude inside God. No. It is an objective reality that causes a very real effect outside God and within us.
God’s love is as objective as light. When we walked into the Cathedral this morning, the plaza was dark. While we were inside, dawn came and there was a real transformation of the plaza. When the sun crested the horizon and we felt it’s warmth on our bodies there was a very, real objective change in us. God’s love is an objective reality. It effects an objective transformation in us – not just a mere adjustment in our subjective feeling or attitude. Something changes in our objective being.
He does not just restore a person, a relationship, a business to its original beauty but He leaves His own fingerprints, His own indelible mark on His handiwork and the result is infinitely more beautiful than had He never had to rework it. That is Who He is. It is what He does. It doesn’t even matter how we got to where we are. The only thing that matters is that we allow Him to gather all the pieces and that we trust Him and allow Him to do His transformative work, even if we don’t understand what He is doing.
Sometimes the brokenness is within us. It could be the moral struggle of Augustine, who became a Saint; or it could be the physical suffering of Teresa of Avila, who became a Saint; or it could be the mental anguish of Matt Talbot, a helpless alcoholic and now a Venerable of our Church, on his way to becoming a Saint.
Sometimes the brokenness is outside of us. Perhaps it is brokenness in a marriage as in the case of Rita of Cascia, who became a Saint; or the brokenness in a government, as in the life of our own Foundress, Mother Luisita, who is now a Venerable of our Church, soon to be a Saint.
I want to share a little bit of her story with you, not because she is our Foundress or because she will soon be our own homegrown saint, but rather because it still bears relevance today, here and now. Nothing can thwart God’s work of love. Her life had so many pieces, it almost seems disjointed.
Mother Luisita was born in 1866 in Mexico, not far from Guadalajara. She felt drawn to the religious life at an early age; however, when she was 15, her father arranged a marriage for her to a prominent physician, Pascual Rojas, a man twice Luisita’s age. That is a broken dream.
As it turned out, it was a true marriage and they grew to love each other deeply. In her love for Pascual, Luisita entered into his profession of caring for the sick; the two of them providing a small hospital for the poor. They were not able to conceive children – another broken dream – so they decided to build an orphanage and adopt the orphans as their own.
God worked through Pascual to help Luisita grow out of herself and prepare her for leadership and God worked through Luisita to help Pascual get in touch with the God who lives within, preparing Pascual, although it was unbeknownst to him, for a saintly death 14 years after they were married.
The rest of her life continued to be filled with broken paths, brick walls and dead-end streets. As a widow, Luisita continued her administration of the hospital and orphanage. Eight years later, when everyone was prepared for new leadership, she could finally follow her heart’s desire and she entered the Carmelite Cloister in Guadalajara, where she was very happy.
However, after just eight months, the Bishop came to talk to her about returning to run the orphanage and hospital as they had fallen into neglect and disrepair and were sorely in need of her administrative abilities. She obeyed his request and left the cloister. Soon, more and more women began to come to help her and they would stay and pray with her.
As the signs of persecution grew, the Bishop, concerned for their safety, asked Luisita and the women who were serving with her to join an established active religious community. These were neither her plans nor her desires, but she obeyed, allowing herself to be guided by Divine Providence. Mother Luisita was in this community for three years when the Mexican government engaged in a virulent and violent religious persecution against the Catholic Church. The new constitution of Mexico was promulgated in 1917 whereby the church was laicized, religious vows were forbidden and priests lost their citizenship.
The Bishop again recalled Mother to her hospital and orphanage. I do not know what pain she suffered interiorly. I do know that Mother never lost touch with the loving God who lives within. She knew who she was – she was a beloved and a lover of Jesus Christ, therefore, she was anchored interiorly. She could stay steady on her course moving forward because she knew precisely Who was at the helm directing her course.
When she returned to the hospital and orphanage, women gathered around her because she drew them to God. This is what happens. When we allow God’s love to fill us, we can’t help but radiate that love out to others and like a magnet, it draws others to that love, as well. It just happens.
In time, the Bishop suggested that Luisita found an active Carmelite religious congregation and the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart were established on February 2, 1921 and she became now Mother Luisita. She had been a widow for 25 years – a long time to walk along a broken path.
By 1924, just three years after the establishment of our community, all seminaries were closed in Guadalajara. Eighteen months later, the Penal Code of Calles was enacted, which provided that those who preach doctrinal sermons or administer the sacraments would be imprisoned; all churches became nationalized property; private primary schools may be established only if subject to government regulation; convents had to be immediately dissolved and if their members secretly came together, those members would be imprisoned for two-years, six years for the superiors. Those were indeed very dark days.
The Sisters were split up, hiding in barns and secretly living with different families. Some of our Sisters were imprisoned for being Catholic and Mother feared for all their lives. In June 1927, Mother and her two companion Sisters left the terrible persecution of their homeland in disguise, embarking on a perilous journey to the United States and religious freedom. It was on June 24, 1927, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, that Mother Luisita and the two other Sisters arrived in Los Angeles , just a little over a mile from where we sit today, and were warmly welcomed by Archbishop Cantwell.
Even during the darkest of times, Mother steadfastly continued to encourage the Sisters and the laity, “Remember, for greater things you were born.” When she herself was near death and external circumstances were still very precarious, her trust in God’s loving providence never wavered: “Let us bless our good God for everything. He loves us very much and He disposes everything for our own good.”
Her cause for sainthood is far along. We have hundreds and hundreds of letters from people testifying that Mother has interceded on their behalf and that she has been with them throughout their struggles, and has given them hope, consequently changing their lives profoundly.
How could this be? How could a woman whose life was continually marked by broken dreams and dead-end streets be still bearing fruit today? It’s really quite simple. She allowed God to love her. She allowed God to kneel on the kitchen floor of her life and take care of the broken shards. Her humble and consistent efforts of 90 years ago are still bearing beautiful scintillations of God’s nearness. That is who God is and that is what God does.
How do people make a genuine surrender of their lives to God? One step at a time. For most of us, it starts out quite pure and simple. As children, we had adults in our lives, usually parents, who told us about God, and it was the most natural thing to love and trust. They made sure we were baptized and received our First Holy Communion. We said YES to Christ and it was honest and sincere and He truly came to be a part of our life. As we grew up, leaving childhood behind, life started to get complicated. Now we are faced with complicated decisions, with heart-wrenching losses, the effects of sin – our own and those of others. We get so caught up in the daily demands of life, we cannot find the time to be in touch with the God who dwells within us. We start reaching for securities that we can grasp and hold onto immediately, right here and now. We start relying on ourselves, our own strength, good looks, smart children, professional status. While none of these are bad things, we are investing in them an expectation that they cannot possibly live up to.
We need to delve deeper. This is the crucial time of what spiritual writers call the “SECOND YES”. This is what happened in the lives of Augustine, Teresa, Rita, Matt Talbot and Mother Luisita . . . and all the other saints in our family. In their complicated lives, they turned to God. The real person opened himself to the real God and found an unending source of love and soon objective changes began to happen.
I have a question for you. Since I am a “homegrown” speaker, you will permit me to raise questions that are not easy. This is our 10th Catholic Prayer Breakfast here in Los Angeles. We have had great speakers, but now let us ask ourselves: How has Los Angeles been changed? How has our culture developed? Although we can’t fix it all, we are, nonetheless, not helpless and more importantly, we are not alone. There are almost 2,000 of us here this morning. Twenty-seven years ago today, Saint John Paul II celebrated Mass and addressed us in Dodgers’ Stadium. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and we stand on their firm shoulders. Christ looked to Augustine, Teresa, Rita, Matt Talbot, Mother Luisita and Pope John Paul in their day. Today He looks to you and to me. I am not going to suggest that we do more, join more groups, and initiate more activities. We are already pulled in a million different directions, aren’t we? Our hectic lives often border on the frenetic. Why don’t we try another direction?
Our mothers or fathers taught us by the time we were in 3rd grade . . . “We can’t give what we don’t have.” We cannot be an anchoring presence to anyone – to our family, our religious community, our parish, our archdiocese – unless we allow Him to permeate us with His love. His love alone anchors us definitively.
Last year, Matthew Kelly challenged us to get to know the Shepherd. Instead of trying harder to accomplish more, how about if we all make a commitment to schedule a time in our day . . . . everyday . . . . when we pause long enough just to to rest in His love. It could be an evening walk with your spouse, it could be a personal visit to the Blessed Sacrament on your way home from work, or maybe by simply taking (not finding – it is impossible to “find” time) taking a few quiet moments to drink your coffee in solitude with God. You will be amazed to see what happens. Life changes at the core when we give Him the space to love us. Imagine the possibilities – all that would happen in our homes, in our parishes, our neighborhoods, our Archdiocese if everyone one of us took a few moments each day to just be in the presence of God.
Say YES to Him. Let Him have all the pieces. Truly, truly, for greater things you were born!
*Due to the record breaking heat we were experiencing in Los Angeles this week, Sister Regina Marie gave the “cliff notes” version of her talk at the Prayer Breakfast. This text is the unabridged version.