Sunday, September 30, 2012

What's It Like to Die?

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The same Abba Theophilus [the Archbishop] said, “What fear, what trembling, what uneasiness will there be for us when our soul is separated from the body. Then indeed the force and strength of the adverse powers come against us, the rulers of darkness, those who command the world of evil, the principalities, the powers, the spirits of evil. They accuse our souls as in a lawsuit, bringing before it all the sins it has committed, whether deliberately or through ignorance, from its youth until the time when it has been taken away. So they stand accusing it of all it has done. Furthermore, what anxiety do you supposed the soul will have at that hour, until sentence is pronounced and it gains its liberty. That is its hour of affliction, until it sees what will happen to it…

That makes me want to go to confession and start living a life of penance and prayer in earnest. I wish I could maintain that level of concern about my immortal soul as a constant. I wish I didn’t forget about the Judgment. I wish I wouldn’t make excuses for my sins.

Sometimes I wish for death, always hoping that I will go to Heaven, of course. But the reality is that I know I’m going to need a lot of time in purgatory…assuming I make it that far. And that will be painful…I have no doubt about that. I suppose it will be more painful than anything we can imagine here on earth. Don’t believe me? Read Hungry Souls.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Usquequo, Domine

The last few days…sigh.

It happens every so often. All I can pray for is to leave the world; all I want is to enter into the transforming union. I pray for that daily anyway, but sometimes the desire is so much more intense.

Abandonment to Divine Providence…yes. But still, the desire to…well, I can’t even say it. I’m not supposed to think that way.

I guess it’s not a good thing. Doubts creep in. Demons plant bad thoughts.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pray, and Be Careful About It

I read this in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers the other day:

"Abba Theodore of Scetis said,  ‘A thought comes to me which troubles me and does not leave me free; but not being able to lead me to act, it simply stops me progressing in virtue; but a vigilant man would cut it off and get up to pray.’"
Uh…yeah. I think that happens to me more times per day than I would like to admit.

And before that saying was this one:

"Abba Theodore of Enaton said, ‘If God reproaches us for carelessness in our prayers and infidelities in our psalmody, we cannot be saved.’"

There’s a scary thought. I think I am too often careless in my prayers and distracted in my  psalmody. May God forgive me instead of reproaching me!
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Depression Demons

Last night I didn't get up for Vigils. Sigh.

I think the alarm went off...I don't know why else I would have woken up at 1:12am. However, I have no recollection of the alarm making any noise at all. I remember looking at the numbers, and noticing that the alarm symbol was displayed, and it was just past alarm time (1:10am). I thought, "But the alarm didn't go off. Maybe it needs new batteries."

And then, since the alarm had not sounded, I didn't get up. Oh, I thought about it...briefly. Then I went back to sleep.

At 3:30am, my phone notified me - rather rudely, I thought - that I had received a text message. I struggled to read it, and then thought again about getting up to pray Vigils. I argued with myself, trying to cajole myself into it. Didn't work. I went back to sleep.

I hate it when that happens. 

The morning prayers were prayed, but then I had two errands to do in town, which kept me away from home for a couple of hours. Then I went back into town again for another errand...ugh. It drains me, and then I get depressed.

I think it is a sign of weakness. My spiritual director seems to be able to handle long trips into town without falling into despondency. I think I must lack that much-needed ability to retreat into the hermitage of my heart. The secular concerns suck all the energy out of me. 

Then the depression demons come for me, and they are hard to resist. "What's the point?" they ask. "Why all the prayers? Just do the housework, fix the meals, enjoy life!" I guess there is some part of me that likes feeling sorry for myself. 

My habit of prayer saves me, though. I can see that that is a benefit of praying the Divine Office faithfully; when you get depressed and don't want to do it, you just do it anyway...because that's what you do. Since it's part of my Rule of Life, I do it. Even when I don't want to, and even when I occasionally tell myself I'm just not going to, I end up praying the hours anyway. 

Except Vigils, I guess. Sigh.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Demon Wrangling

I’ve been reading in my Spiritual Mothers book about Sts. Cyprian and Justina. They are commemorated on September 26 in the old calendar of the Latin rite, but they are remembered on a different date (which I forget now) in the Eastern calendar.

At any rate, St. Cyprian was anything but a saint in the beginning! He was a “magus” as my book calls him – and he had magic books to work spells, and he conjured up demons to do his dirty work. A wealthy nobleman, knowing of Cyprian’s skill in the dark arts, enlisted his aid in order to win the beautiful Justa as his wife. She had already declined and spurned his further efforts, and so he had tried to take her by force. That didn’t work either.

So the nobleman explained his problem to Cyprian, who agreed to take on the task. He conjured up a demon, explained what was needed, and sent the demon off to do the job. But Justa recognized what was up, and made the Sign of the Cross, and the demon fled in terror. When questioned by Cyprian as to his failure, the demon mentioned a “gesture”…but remained vague.

Cyprian summoned a more powerful demon to do the dirty deed – but that demon met the same fate. This demon was more specific as to the gesture and reported to Cyprian that it was the Sign the Cross which had caused him to flee.

The most powerful demon Cyprian could summon was also conquered when Justa made the Sign of the Cross. It began to dawn on Cyprian that he was on the wrong side of the battle.

And so Cyprian was converted, and became a deacon, then a priest, then a bishop. He tonsured Justa and gave her the name Justina.

The thing I like most about this story is that Justina discerned that a demon was after her, and she used that most powerful weapon, the Cross, to subdue it. I need to remember that.   
I do use it, of course, but I think I lack the confidence and trust that Justina had.

I have some prayers for chasing away the demons. They are in Latin, and I am not sure of the translation of all of them – at least not all the way through. One of them, though, is primarily a prayer invoking the power of the Cross. Sometimes I actually remember to pray it before the demons have begun their attack on me in earnest!

The real Hermitess Photini has a few words to share on warfare with the demons, too, in the little book which bears her name (The Hermitess Photini, by Archimandrite Joachim Spetsieris).  She relates that Abba Makarios was beset by thoughts compelling him to leave his cell, so he threw himself down at the door of his cell for 8 days. Photini says,  

But since I am weak and therefore unable to fight with the demons as Abba Makarios did, I run to my Christ, Who comes to my help by driving away and obliterating the evil thoughts, and thus I don’t have to struggle for long. So anyone who has doubts about something should resort to prayer.

…The wicked one brings these and many other thoughts to my mind. But I run to my Christ, denouncing the devil, so to speak. Then he retreats immediately, and the evil thoughts disappear.

Doesn’t it seem that making the Sign of the Cross is tantamount to running to the Lord?

I run to my Christ.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


I looked it up (on-line, of course) to make sure I had a good, solid, dictionary-sounding definition:

Equanimity: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

This is something I do not possess. Not even a little bit. Especially in a difficult situation.

I have been meaning to acquire it, of course, at the suggestion of my spiritual director, who mentioned that he tries to cultivate it in himself.

It’s difficult to train one’s physiological responses, and mine go off the charts when I am in a confrontational situation – no matter how minor! Recently, I’ve noticed that as soon as I start to perceive conflict, my head begins to throb. It’s the blood pressure. It’s like the cartoons where the guy gets mad, gets red in the face, and then his top blows off. Mine doesn’t blow off…but the pressure is painful.

Not only do I get upset when the confrontation begins, I get upset at the thought of a potential confrontation.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

I pray that often, and have tried to make it a part of my soul for years. When I start to get upset, I pray it some more. Out loud. Faster and faster…in a panic, you might say.

I need to get a handle on this.                                                                         

Deep, cleansing breaths. 

Or, put more simply, as my spiritual director sometimes has to tell me, “BREATHE!”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Do I Love Him?

Sometimes I wonder if I really love Jesus.

Notice I didn’t say I wonder if He love me. I wonder if I love Him.

I say I do…but I don’t act like I do. I do so many things that hurt Him!

But even apart from that, I wonder sometimes: Do I love Him? I don’t always feel those “feelings” of love – the warm fuzzies and all. In fact, I guard against that. It doesn’t seem to me that that’s the kind of “love” we should have for Our Lord. I can recall times when I felt that way, and it was back in my Protestant days.  I feel embarrassed about some of that…

Anyway…I wonder…am I so sure of my love for Him that I would be able to endure physical persecution? He’d help me with that, right?!

Silly, I guess…demons working overtime, with nothing better to do than try to plant seeds of doubt in my mind.

But a scripture verse comes to mind: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14:15,21).

I don’t think loving Our Lord is as much about warm fuzzy love feelings for Jesus as it is about obeying His commandments. Sometimes when people throw out what has become the rather cliché “What would Jesus do?” I want to say, “No…what would Jesus REALLY do?” So often people who ask the question don’t really know what Jesus did.

Maybe I’ll just keep trying to observe His commandments. If I have His commandments and observe them, Scripture says, then I am the one who loves Him.

Okay…done wondering for now: I do love Him!

Every morning I pray this little prayer from my Blessed Be God book:

Oh My Jesus, thou knowest well that I love Thee,
but I do not love Thee enough.  
Grant that I may love Thee more.
O Love that burnest ever and never failest, 
my God, Thou who art Charity itself, 
enkindle in my heart
that divine fire which consumes the saints
and transforms them unto Thee.

Balancing Act

Sometimes the tension of the balancing act seems unbearable.

But then, I do tend to whine.

Still, it can be difficult. On the one hand, I live my life as a hermitess; on the other hand, I’m a wife and mother…even if my “baby” is now officially an adult. I have one foot in the secular world, the other in the religious world.

Sort of.

Sometimes when I’m trying to pray, I am distracted by the perceived need to go check on what's happening elsewhere around the house. Or, those little demons, knowing my weak spots, nudge me as I pray, saying, “Did you remember to make the mortgage payment?” Or sometimes it's something something as mundane and inconsequential as, “You forgot to put in a load of laundry!”

If I lived here all by myself, things would be different. For one thing, I wouldn’t live here! I would find a different place, with less maintenance required. For another thing, there would be fewer bills, and there would not be overspending.

But what would I do with the dogs?

Well, it is no use wandering off into the fantasy world of thoughts of a potential future. Today has enough worries of its own, right? I have before me what God has given me. I don’t always see what I’m supposed to be doing, but I know He has a plan for me to work out my salvation.

So I will banish the “if only” thoughts once again, give thanks to God, and carry on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus, I Trust in Thee

I read from The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers (published by Holy Apostles Convent) almost every night before going to sleep. Lately, I’ve been reading about St. Thecla of Iconium.

Thecla was an apostle of St. Paul. She heard him preaching at her neighbor’s house and was won for Christ. She sought out his teaching, and he taught her that the nobler course for her life would be to preserve her virginity rather than marry the man to whom she was betrothed.

Thecla underwent many torments, and most of those were in Paul’s absence. Finally, when Thecla was reunited with Paul, he said to her,

“I know, my beloved daughter, that thou was saddened when I left thee; but know this, it was to thy benefit that I did this, so thou might not take courage in my person. It is in the Lord Whom thou shouldest place thy hope with all thy heart, not in thy friends and kinfolk. Thus, this is what came about when thou didst overcome so many torments with His might and help.”

In my own life, I know I have at times relied too heavily on my own spiritual father. He “leaves” me at times – usually when I am feeling most unable to bear whatever trials I think I’m experiencing at the moment. It’s for my own spiritual good, though – and this is true whether he is intentionally leaving me to fight the spiritual battle on my own, or whether he is just tired of my whining. God always works it for my good, and I always come away knowing that the One I need to trust is the Lord.

Other times, I lament to myself that “I am all alone”, and I punctuate that statement with a long sigh. I wonder whether I have any true friends; even my family seems distant. But again…who do I need, but my Lord Jesus?

And when I’m alone and struggling against the demons, I try to remember the Hermitess Photini who said that she knew she was not strong enough to fight the demons, and so when they attacked, she said, “I run to my Christ.” There is where the protection lies; in Him is where I must put my trust.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Books and Being Alone

I read two things in the Desert Fathers book yesterday that made me think…(that’s what those sayings are supposed to do, right?!) They were sayings of Theodore of Pherme.

The first one tells us that Abba Theodore had three good books; he went to Abba Macarius and told him that both he and the brothers profited from the books. He wondered whether he should keep the books for his own and the brothers’ use, or whether he should instead sell them and give the money to the poor. Macarius answered that even though it was good for Theodore and the monks to use the books, it was better to possess nothing. So Theodore sold the books and gave the money to the poor.

I love my books. It would be very difficult for me to bring myself to voluntarily sell them and give the money to the poor! There was something similar in The Way of a Pilgrim, I think. He lost his Philokalia, or it was stolen…and he was heartbroken. But he learned to live without it, and then it was restored to him.

The environment for prayer that I have created for myself is important to me. I know it’s important to be able to retreat to the hermitage of my heart, too, but my spiritual director has pointed out that, since we are physical beings with five senses, the environment for prayer is important – or at least it can enhance and encourage our spiritual efforts and experience. My environment is conducive to prayer, and since I am  in that environment so much, it also reminds what to pray and when to pray it. I cultivate that, because I figure one of these days I might be senile, and if I have a routine in a particular environment, perhaps I will be still be able to pray from that little island in the midst of my dementia.

The other saying of Theodore was about a brother who lived in solitude, but was “troubled”. Abba Theodore told him to “be more humble in your aspirations and to go and put yourself under obedience and live with others.” The brother did so, but then reported back that he still could find no peace. Abba Theodore said, “If you are not at peace either alone or with others, why have you become a monk? Is it not to suffer trials?” And he said that he’d “worn the habit for 70 years, and on no day have I found peace.”

When I have complained about the people who distract me and give me no peace, and say that I wish I could live in silence and solitude, my spiritual director has pointed out that I will still have to live with myself. More and more I discover how difficult that really can be.
I guess “peace” comes in Heaven. We’re not supposed to find it here. It’s supposed to be a struggle. That was also brought home to me a while back when I was reading a chapter in my Desert Mothers book. Can’t recall which story it was, but there was the comment that a holy woman and her brother “struggled in the ascetic life” for many years. And I thought. THEY struggled?! Duh. It’s always a struggle. It’s supposed to be. No pain, no gain, and all that.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


 Why would a hermitess write a blog?

Good question.

I’m writing this blog because I hope it will help me in my spiritual growth. I think it might help me discern my path, maybe clear some brush out of the way. 

I have spent the last year writing a different sort of blog – one that has helped me understand our Catholic faith a little better, and has helped me to ponder why our Holy Catholic Church is in such a sad, sorry state these days. It’s been an interesting year. I think writing about Church issues has encouraged my spiritual growth, but at times it seems like it’s been a distraction and a bit of detour from my spiritual path. Blogging about my spiritual life as a hermitess – the hidden life I never mention on the other blog – may help me keep the distractions in check, and bring back into focus some things that seem a little blurry right now.

I’m not advertising this blog, or promoting it in any way. I just want to write it.

Another thought: there have always been hermits, and there have always been people who seek them out. My spiritual director is a hermit, and he has way more friends and acquaintances than I do; and more people are seeking him out all the time. Hermits don’t usually want people to seek them out, and they don’t usually advertise their existence or their location. But people seek and find them anyway. I guess the seekers are looking for words of wisdom, or spiritual guidance, or prayers from someone they see as holy and therefore close to God. Sometimes they seek miracles…well, at least it seems that they did so back in ancient times! (Maybe not so much now…faith being at a rather low ebb, I think.)

And sometimes, people just stumble upon a hermit. (That’s what happened to me. I think God probably had a lot to do with that.)

As for me, I'm just a "lay hermitess"...almost no one knows about this aspect of my life. I'm not qualified to give spiritual guidance to anyone, and if any words of wisdom ever come out of my mouth, it will be because God put them there.  I can and do pray for people, of course, but I’m not aware that any miracles have ever resulted! At best, I’m nothing special; at worst, I'm a nit-picking nattering nabob. Still, maybe God will inspire me to write something which will find its way to someone who can benefit from it. If someone stumbles upon this blog, and finds something helpful, then thanks and all glory be to God.

Mostly, though, this is for me. Selfish, huh?

I warned you!

Away From Home

I spent a couple of days in a motel room.

Feast day breakfast in motel room
That was odd for me, because I did it by choice. Up till recently, I would not have voluntarily left my own little "prayer space" for the secularity of a motel room unless I absolutely had to travel.

It's telling, I guess, that I came to this pass: my home was feeling "busy" and noisy; my thoughts were constantly interrupted; I was becoming anxious and irritated. Since I could not ask my family to leave, I left instead, seeking a little silence and solitude.

It was good, in a lot of ways. There was still noise, of course; it was a motel. The man in the room next door, talking to a woman, used a very loud voice with the "f" word sprinkled liberally throughout his diatribe...and I wasn't sure whether he was angry or just loud. At least this only occurred for a short period of time.  The second time it commenced, I put in my ear plugs.

I did a lot of writing, and was really only "interrupted" by my designated prayer times, which I observed faithfully...except for vigils. The second night, I slept through vigils. Sigh.

I learned something about eating: I eat at home out of anxiety and tension. I also eat because it's "time", and I have fixed a meal. I feel pressured to eat the meal with the family. I'm going to try to correct both of these issues.

I also was happy to find that the hermitage of my heart seems to have become more of a reality. In the past, I've not found it easy to pray in a motel room. This time, it wasn't so bad. Of course, it's nice to be back to my own personal, private chapel!

While I was away, I read some more about St. Theodora of Alexandria. She committed one big sin (infidelity to her husband), and did penance the rest of her life. She wept over that sin for the rest of her life. I do a lot of weeping myself, and although I would like to say it's over my past sins, too often it is not. It is over a selfish desire to live in silence and solitude. Oh yes, I want to do penance, for myself and for the world! But God has given me the opportunity to do that penance in my current situation, and too often I ignore his invitation. 

St. Theodora disguised herself as a monk, and lived in a monastery. Then a wayward young woman who had become pregnant accused "Brother Theodore" of being the father of her baby. Later, the baby was brought to the monastery and abandoned there, and the abbot banished Brother Theodore, who took the child and to raise himself. For seven years, St. Theodora lived outside the walls of the monastery raising the little boy. Of course she could have revealed her innocence at any time, but she simply accepted what God sent her.

I want to do the same. I am often tempted to weep and wail over the fact that I "missed my calling" to the eremitic life. But God allowed things to happen as they did, and I should be thankful for what He has given me, and for what He has done with my life. 

I'm working on it.

Morning on the First Day

I woke up when the alarm went off at 5:30am. Ugh. I did not want to get up.

At least I had risen for vigils earlier (at 2), so there was that sense of relief I feel when I know I have done what I am supposed to do. But still, I wanted to sleep.

I thought, "It's hard."

And then I heard my spiritual director's voice in my head saying, "It's supposed to be hard."


So begins the first day that I'll be posting on this blog. We'll see where it leads.