My first introduction to C.S Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia was nothing short of “Divinely” inspired or rather, God’s will. Of course my official first encounter of it was when the story of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was made into a moving picture some time in 2006. My middle-school best friend, Corrine had read all the books (I had never heard of them) and she took me with her to see it on the big screen when it hit all the cinemas. Though I was clueless in not knowing that the first book had been skipped and not made into a movie (The Magician’s Nephew), I was able to fall right into the story line; I loved every bit of it – especially Azlan, above all, Azlan.
Something about the battle scene of good vs. evil in that film and the incessant cry of “FOR AZLAN, FOR NARNIA!” awakened in my own warrior like heart a need to fight for something I was passionate about. Now I want to fight next to the valiant Saint Michael and yell “FOR JESUS! FOR MARY!” as I run with sword and shield in my hands with the risk of knowing I might die. I wanted to love something so much that I would be willing to give my life for it when I saw Narnia’s all-out war against the white witch.
We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others. ~St Clare of Assisi~
Fast forward to 2018 after I had entered Carmel and was having one of my monthly talks with our Novice Mistress; I was just a few months old in my postulancy and Mother Therese and I had one of the most memorable conversations of my life. God truly gave her the grace and ability to see into my poor soul, to show me what I was not able to see in myself. Her words were not exactly easy to hear or swallow, but she was right. As Oscar Wilde so brilliantly said: “A true friend stabs you in the front” and in Mother Therese’s case, we can say the same thing about the role of mothers. She knew I had grown up acting in drama classes and performing in theater; she correctly pointed out how those iconic masks symbolizing
the acting profession (the happy and sad faces) cover our true faces – always concealing the person’s real emotions. She told me that this mask needed to come off my own face.
It’s just not you, God wants all those masks to come off.
I have always tried to be someone that I’m not; I prided myself on the ability to always shield my true feelings behind a pretty convincing phony facade – I even convinced myself. For this reason, I often wished I was someone else, comparing myself to someone who was more beautiful, talented or just downright perfect! I didn’t really know I had been doing it until Mother (Our Lord, really) told me to stop. I have also always been a people-pleaser; I would do what others expected of me or say what they wanted to hear. If I was hurt, I wore that drama “happy face” like a champion even though I was miserable inside. And yet, the only one to suffer was myself AND Our Lord because in not being who He made me to be, I was the one who felt the consequences. This is when Mother Therese introduced me to the Chronicles of Narnia; she asked me if I ever read them or was familiar with the particular story she wanted to share.
Of course my answer was no and no; this story was profound, she told me about a boy in the series named Eustace who acted so beastly that he literally turned into the beast he was on the inside, a dragon. She wasn’t saying I was a monster but she wanted to compare his own transformation from dragon back into a boy to what I must undergo in the spiritual life with removing my masks and not being insecure in showing my real face, and how true beauty is found in the human heart. Eustace became the best dragon and confronted his wretched behavior and when he conquered himself, he knew he was ready to be a boy again. It was time, but as he tried to remove the dragon skin- like a snake skin- he realized there were multiple layers to remove. He grew quite restless when every time he removed one layer, there was yet another.
He finally understood that even though putting in his best effort, he simply couldn’t remove these layers upon layers by himself; he needed help. The great Lion Himself appears and with His sharp claws digs into the layers of skin and removes it all, Eustace described it as painful, but in a good way. How moving, for I saw, like Eustace I couldn’t remove my own masks on my own; I needed assistance. None other than Jesus and Mary would have to do it for me, and not because I was being lazy but there are certain things we simply cannot do by ourselves. Sometimes all we can do is sit down patiently and let Them do it. That’s the most difficult part of all, not being in control yet at the same time trusting we are in the best of Hands. That has been my greatest discovery!
As I write this, I see how I had changed so much from when I first saw that movie with Corrine to who I had become sitting before my Novice Mistress. I was unrecognizable not only to myself but to God; I who thought I had come so far (I made it to Carmel afterall!) was only just beginning my journey of transformation- restoration really. From that span of 2006 to 2018 I had put on so many masks that I didn’t even know what my real face looked like. That girl who was moved to want to fight for something (Someone?) all those years ago got buried and I didn’t even know what I was fighting for anymore. I knew my identity was Mary, would be found in Her and She became more than ever before (as She has always been and always will be) my Life, my Sweetness and my Hope as Christ started removing the masks, one by one.
After that story Mother gave me “providential” permission to read the whole series of The Chronicles; I knew then why I had never read them before, God reserved these books for the proper season in my life. My two favorite books out of the seven are The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy and above all The Last Battle, but each book was filled with meaning and every story that unfolded always seemed to land in my hands in Carmel during a period of darkness. There usually was a profound message for me contained in each book, as those masks were (are) being removed. I will also never forget when a priest friend of mine said “if you’re suffering now it’s only going to get worse, God’s just preparing you for more suffering”, yet the words of C.S Lewis in Horse and His Boy served as a powerful reminder :
During my stay in the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph these books accompanied me through all I endured there (the masks being removed etc. to discovering my true identity in Christ and His Mother) but I still had a very valuable lesson I had yet to learn. Little did I know it then but the character Lucy suffered the same thing. As I mentioned, I always spent my time wishing I was in somebody else’s shoes or was anything but…me. “Comparison is the thief of all joy” a friend just told me and never did words ring more true because I would look at the other sisters and wish I had what they had; their joy, their talents and their abilities! And who was I but someone who despised myself, so I made myself believe God did too.
I clung and clung to Our Lady but I understood the words of the wise magician from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader ( 5th book) on how the greatest battle to conquer is the war against self. We must lose ourselves as Saint Paul discusses so Christ alone will remain; we must reject self-love in the way that does not glorify God but to despise ourselves in a unholy manner is to reject His canvas, His art, His masterpiece. I always think of Our Lord’s greatest work of art being the Immaculate Conception, She does nothing but reflect Her Creator! Without knowing it, by rejecting myself and wishing I was another sister, I was insulting Christ; the One who designed everything about me.
This leads me to Lucy. This scene was not in the book but the film and I am so glad it was added; Lucy reached a stage where she was always comparing herself to her sister Susan who was far prettier than she (or so she thought). She grabbed hold of the magician’s spell-book and there was an incantation to make her beautiful; immediately she saw how her reflection was not her own anymore but her sister Susan’s. In fact her name was no longer Lucy, she became Susan (remember we become the thing we love) and she didn’t exist anymore; her own brothers didn’t know there ever was a Lucy. When she realized the horror of what she had done Azlan broke through the spell and she found herself as Lucy again back before a large mirror staring at herself facing Azlan. Full of tears she said:
Azlan: what have you done, child?
Lucy: That was awful.
Aslan: But you chose it, Lucy.
Lucy: I didn’t mean to choose all of that. I just wanted to be beautiful like Susan. That’s all.
Aslan: You wished yourself away, and with that, much more. Your brothers and sister wouldn’t know Narnia without you, Lucy. You discovered it first, remember?
Lucy: …I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.
Aslan: You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.
That was exactly what I was doing, I was wishing myself away by wanting to be someone else, another sister in the community…I was running from my own destiny! How many of us have been stuck in the shadow of another when the only shadow we should ever be under is God the Father and the Mary as Mother? C.S Lewis came through for me yet again when he reminded me “how monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.” If Lucy hadn’t discovered Narnia through the wardrobe NONE of her siblings (no matter how beautiful, successful or smart) would have stepped foot there, by being who we are meant to be the lives of others can also move forward in a glorious harmony; I completely forgot how the Body of Christ has many members and if one member is dysfunctional, the whole Body pays the price. Azlan didn’t choose to appear to Lucy more than the others because she was more sophisticated, good looking or talented; we don’t know why God chooses whom He does but we can be assured above all He is drawn to a noble heart AND our weakness. I am starting to see how Our Lord’s definition of beauty is so different than what we think it is.
The world teaches us to put on the mask ( literally, in these wretched times); the mask of false beauty, success, pounds and pounds of makeup, plastic surgery, immodest clothing- having it “all”! But my most powerful lesson has been having a clean heart for Our Lord; for years I was always drawn to the Beatitude “blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God” or “all the glory of the King’s Daughter is within.” I remember all the times I suffered serious rejection that expanded my heart but also wounded it. From not making varsity soccer in high-school to being told my best friend looked beautiful while I was ignored to seeing my vows put off in Carmel. How many times I wished I had the looks of that best friend, or the talent of the ones who made varsity soccer while I watched them move ahead or seeing that sister take her vows to become a bride or Christ while I watched, in tears. “Who am I- what am I good for?” I would think to myself. I spent so many years “wishing myself away” yet quotes like “be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire” by the bold Catherine of Siena brought me to my knees in tears; tears of hope!
My greatest realization of all has been to stop running. Don’t run from who you are, if you don’t stop you will miss what God intends to show you: your mission, your identity and most importantly how His plan for you will never be the same as any other son or daughter of His. How did I miss this though? How could I forget that if all the hairs on my head are numbered that I would doubt my own value in God’s master plan? The last lesson is confidence; confidence is not pride! It all depends on who we have confidence in. I learned to never have confidence in my own ability but in the strength of Jesus and Mary alone. We can remain humble knowing we are nothing without God, but having all the confidence in Christ as King that He will do what we can’t otherwise accomplish without Him.
I still remember as clear as day when I made one of my first ever discernment retreat with a religious community and my first night was simply wretched. I was scared and filled with nothing but fear in how I could be called to a life so glorious as celibacy but also fear of this life was too perfect for someone like me, there had to be a catch (there usually was)! However, there was a picture in my room placed between two framed images: Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Padre Pio; right below them was a statue of the Woman I love more than life- Our Lady of the Fatima. The picture read:
Let the Immaculata do what you cannot. ~Maximilian Kolbe~
How many of times I have caught myself having the attitude of the Character Prince Cor from Horse and His Boy where Cor does everything he can to do the right thing just like everyone else, yet he always comes up short. As Cor is thinking these bitter thoughts of self-pity, he is alone walking in the dark near a forest and he begins to cry, little did he know until later that not only was the Great Lion walking beside him the entire time, but between him and the Lion was a great ledge of a cliff that he easily could have fallen to his death if he walked in another direction. As the Prince said later:
God walking beside me in my sorrow became radically clear when the last book of the series was placed in my hands by my Mother Mistress just months before my departure from community life and I was taken aback when I saw the title:
Confidence in God and humility go hand and hand, once we realize that… you will no longer desire to run from who you are, but will tread on ahead in great haste ready to be the Saint only you can be.
Dedicated to Our Lady on the eve of Her First Saturday and to Moses on his Feast Day, for being the very one God used to lure me up the mountain of sacrifice and love!