- Altar Bread
I have a prayer that I received when I entered the monastery that some of you may recognize. From my own experience this prayer is one that simply becomes one’s life. You pray it when you’re young and then you become that prayer as you get older. There’s a whole different way of looking at it in the different stages of life. It’s about a continual letting go. It’s called the “Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola”:
Take Lord and receive all:
my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will.
You have given all to me, now I return it.
Give me only your love and your grace O Lord,
that is enough for me.
Grant me only these, Lord Jesus, and I shall desire nothing more.
I do believe that as we grow in the spiritual life there comes a day when we can honestly say that we desire nothing more than to know His will and to see Him. I think that’s pure gift, because we all have desires, we all have somewhere hidden ambitions that get uncovered throughout our life. And we discover how empty they are and how full He is. When we kneel before Him, giving all to Him and we receive all, that really is enough. It really is enough.
Celibacy is a gift—it isn’t what everybody can live. It’s what has been given to those who are called to the religious life. God doesn’t call you without giving you all the means to answer that call. But we do have to work at it. We do this not only by guarding our senses. People seek comfort when they don’t feel loved. I think one of the greatest things a community can do to guard celibacy is to love our sisters, to do all the good that is necessary, because by this , we have more grace to love Christ so fully that we are not worried about not being loved by the community.
Also, guard your senses: the things that you read, the things that you listen to. What you fill your heart and mind with will creep back and play over in your head. When we love Christ and we are persons of prayer we need to watch these things. Fill the voids with prayer and be sure it’s by far better to love than to be loved.
Instead of focusing on how much you are loved, focus on making sure that you love others. Smile at others, include others, talk even when you don’t think you have something to say. It’s so easy to be quiet and look "good"; it’s so much harder to try to bring out the best in others. But isn’t that what a good monk (a Christian!) does—brings out the very best in others? That is so important in a community. We should strive to have that burning charity that brings out great love in all circumstances. That’s what it takes: a burning community of love. How does life lead us to a firey love? A love that forgets oneself and pours self out for the sake of others, not just in prayer but also in action.
“Listen my daughter, do not go to glean in anyone else’s field. You are not to leave here. Stay here with my women servants. Watch to see which field is to be harvested and follow them. I have commanded the young men to do you no harm. When you are thirsty you may go and drink from the bezel the young men have filled.” (Ruth 2:8-9)
We’re those women. God is jealous for us, for our relationship with Him. And He tells us, “Listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in anyone else’s field. You are not to leave here. Stay here with my women servants.” That’s our call. Stay here with your sisters. Stay here and pray together. Don’t go glean in anyone else’s fields, glean in my harvest. And just as Ruth had Naomi for a mother-in-law, we have a mother-in-law. We have the most claim to the Queen of Heaven. We have made vows to her Son. I always remind her of that when everything’s going wrong. I tell her, “I have special claim.” And to Jesus, I tell Him, “Remember, you’re my husband, you must take care.” I have given all to Him and He has given all to me. There is a relationship—count on it.
In the book of Hosea it says, " I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely." Freely. He gave His life freely. He hung on the Cross, freely. He allowed them to spit on Him, to strip Him-- and His mother was there! Everybody left Him; but the women stayed. Freely... The Father didn't force His Son. He took it freely upon Himself. That word "freely" is huge.
A nun is called to live a life freely given to God, to accept everything it entails even suffering. You will endure suffering. You will be called to exercise humility. You will be asked to lay down your life. Everything in your life is going to be asked of you. The response must be freely given. And nobody's going to know whether or not it is but you.
We had a sister who recently passed away whose prayer word for over 20 years was "Yes." That 'yes' entails every freedom within it.