In recent days I have found the most extraordinary words coming out of my mouth and thoughts coming out of my head--things that in my wildest imagination, I could never envisage myself saying or thinking. And sometimes these words and thoughts have led to actions that, once again, have surprised me beyond all bounds.
For example, I had heard, and I honestly believed that people could offer up their difficulties for the benefit of others. I knew this was true, but I suppose there was a subconscious codicil to this overall principle--such action was for the saintly, for the cloistered nun, for the priest, for "professionals." If offering things up were televised, it would bear the big legal warning: "What you are seeing is done by trained professionals. Do not try this at home."
Gradually God worked on my hard heart and head. I came to realized that for what it was worth, I could do this also. I have only started doing so recently, in the past few months, and I have heard all around me extraordinary stories of grace. These are perhaps the little consolations that St. John of the Cross tells us are offered early on to beginners in prayer to encourage them to continue in the way of grace and prayer. And they are encouraging--they tell me that prayer and sacrifice works--often beyond our own wildest expectations.
I have always been pacifist in tendency--but a few years ago militantly so. I was a person who felt that those who did not hold my pacifist convictions either did not understand them or was in league with the devil. I never said as much aloud, but I'm sure my attitude must have conveyed something of my contempt for such people. Today, I remain committed to the cause of peace by conscience--I don't know if that COULD change (although I leave all to God), but I also am committed to the cause of individual liberty of conscience. It is not for me to dictate to another where they should stand on an issue that is so bound up in how God created them and the relationship between God and that person. More than that, it is incumbent upon me to support them in their convictions through my prayer and small sacrifices. My prayer must always be for the ever increasing strength of the bond between a soul and God.
Also recently I discovered that I do care about souls. I care about souls and their approach to God in a way that never entered my conscious life before. I am astounded by how much I care and by how much I want to pull others along with me into the Divine Ballroom--first to waltz, and then to tango with God. Strange metaphor, but I see before me St. Teresa and her sisters, tambourines and dancing. I see David who danced before the Lord. I am called to the intimate embrace and the magnificent openness of a dance with God.
I continue to be careless, lazy, self-serving, self-indulgent, and sometimes arrogant. God doesn't change your personality in one fell swoop--but I am more aware of the times these things surge to the forefront, and I am committed to letting God have His way with them. I still have vices and little attachments that I really want to give up, but have not yet the strength to abandon (Lord, let me observe silence, but not yet. Lord, let me pray continuously, so long as I can continue to read my Science Fiction books. . . you all know the drill). These are places where He will work if I will listen, observe, and obey.
There are many other transformations that have taken place in recent days as well. I have done none of these things myself. I'm not even certain that I ever prayed for these things. Had I known they were likely to happen, I might have prayed against them. One thing I am fairly certain of is that St. John of the Cross intercedes for me daily, hourly. I feel like a favorite child, so strong is the impression of his presence in my life. Who could be more powerfully configured to appeal to me? One of the world's great poets who also knew God intimately, almost a perfect match for my exact interests. His prayers are part of the changes in my life of recent date. But there is more than that. I have honestly prayed that God's will be done--that is the extent of my cooperation with grace. I haven't really acted all that much on it. When I try to do it on my own steam, I fail miserably. But when I do pray, I pray for God's will and the strength to see it through. And slowly God seems to be leading me out of myself and into the image of His son. I am very, very far from my goal. But it seems that I begin to understand what Jesus says more. I don't always act on it, but the words begin to make sense--puzzle pieces are falling into place. I am often led to say and write things that I could not possibly have done even last year. I have grown in love with my precious wife and son, and I have become utterly committed to making their lives better regardless of the personal cost. This is a place where I can be entirely self-sacrificing and not make a radical display of it. No one needs to know the hundreds or thousands of little things that take place that are gradual mastery of self and immolation in God.
Cooperating with grace is actually quite easy--surprisingly easy (My yoke is easy, my burden light.). It is a matter of praying the Lord's prayer and meaning it--of hearing the words "thy will be one on Earth as it is in heaven," and willing that I might be the instrument of that will. It is a matter of growing in love with God and relying upon the Holy Spirit and the sacraments to support me when I might otherwise fail. And I do fail, often, daily. Then it is a matter of recalling with Brother Lawrence as I look up to heaven, "It is ever thus when I abandon your grace.," and recommitting to the right direction.
Cooperating with grace is nothing that can be done by oneself. Even cooperating with grace requires grace, but one must make the act of will and one must take steps, even though they are small steps, when prompted. One must seize the myriad opportunities that are all around and humbly, gratefully approach Incarnate Love and show Him how much one loves. Only in this way can God's ultimately effective grace take root and begin to flower in one's life. Meaningful prayer and meaningful small steps toward God are our first, stumbling infant's steps--arms outstretched ready to fall. . . and to be picked back up, dusted off and set on our feet again by an all-loving Father.