Saint Bernadette’s answer when asked, “what do you fear the most?”, was striking; she simply said: “bad Catholics”. I am not necessarily referring to perhaps the Catholics she intended; that answer is very broad and can include several examples: priests entering seminary to corrupt the Church from within, cafeteria Catholics who only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter, or even lukewarm religious who live sinful lives while wearing a holy habit. Perhaps she did intend all the above; her answer is short yet packed with variety.
The souls I am referring to in this post are a little tricky to tackle head-on. On the surface everything looks good and holy because they are not “bad” in the sense that they do not know their faith, catechism, or dogmas; oh, they pray. You may see them at daily Mass, filling in their time at perpetual adoration (praying their rosaries in a loud whisper for all to hear) and their whole lives are dedicated to our beloved Church. But do you also know who dedicated their daily schedule to the laws of the old covenant? The chief priests and scribes: the Pharisees. In fact, they not only knew their faith- but wore it on their sleeves!
The perfect example of this “modern day Pharisee” so to speak, was when a very good friend, who is like a brother to me, related a shared experience with myself of a mutual acquaintance of ours, who while devout and zealous, always left us in such poor spirits after being around him. I remember his words as if they were yesterday, when he said something along the lines of: “[this person] is not even saying anything wrong; I just do not know why I leave the conversation feeling so low”. It got to the point however, where we would see this mutual friend at a distance, look at each other with expressions of dread and want to run the other way, hoping the person would not see us.
I have sensed, for quite some time, the need to write a post on this, because there have been many times I have blamed my own fallen nature for thinking, “maybe I am only left feeling this way after being around ‘so and so’ because I have a major lack of humility; if I was humble none of these encounters would bother me!” when the pain or annoyance might be a deeper rooted issue. While I am sure my lack of humility is still part of the problem, I remembered this other friend, I mentioned above, who dreaded seeing the same person I did and he certainly did not struggle with humility, as he is one of the humblest souls I know. So, why did we both feel this way about “so and so”?
These experiences have led me to much reflection; I began noticing trends of Catholics I have met over the years -and I remember them all quite frankly because I never wanted to see them again- who left me in such misery after conversing with them that I was almost tempted to avoid Our Lord in prayer, thinking: “if God is anything like this person, I want no part of it”. I have mentioned, in several former blog posts, how the “practice of the presence of Mary” (taken from Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God maxims) produce true fruit. And speaking of fruit, when we hear “you shall know them by their fruits” can be applied to the grace that stems from this devotion.
The practice of the presence of Mary is exactly what it sounds like: doing all KNOWING that Mary is keeping you company, while you keep Her company as well. Do you remember the way Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco described being in the presence of Mary? Lucia wrote in her memoirs how after the visits of the angel (Fatima experts say this glorious celestial being was Saint Michael the Archangel) they often could not speak afterwards and were exhausted because they were left in an atmosphere of fear from the severity of the message.
I compare that “fear” and “exhaustion” to the the modern day Catholic Pharisees. Our Lady, though the Immaculate Conception, did not instill exhaustion or fear due to Her holiness. Her presence left the seers with a vastly different impression: an unspeakable joy; they talked with relative ease when the first apparition ended because this Great Lady’s “presence” was one of tenderness. This must be the same fruit you radiate when other souls are around you. Not allowing others to be left with weariness or confusion, but fruit that draws one closer to Our Great God.
Think about it, despite Mary’s sinlessness, Lucia said she felt at ease in speaking with Mary- in fact, being in Mary’s presence produced a sort of child-like confidence in very naturally being able to speak to her Mother. And of course, Our Lord, in scripture when we read how “virtue went out of Him”. The sinners as well as the saints were desperate to draw near to Him. This stole all the glory from the Pharisees and filled their hearts with bitter, and evil, hatred. The very way to see if this presence of Mary and Our Lord in your life is humble and true, let us think of Emily Post.
This great author wrote an entire book on why good behavior is the true judge of our characters, called Etiquette. Never were her words truer when she said “manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use”. One of Post’s family members, wrote the preface of an updated copy of the book, and she made a few remarkable statements about the “fruit” of what it means to be “well behaved”, which I wish to share with you now. This is what she had to say about Emily Post and the “fruit” of that “awareness”:
– I found that the supposedly unapproachable authority on all our manners and behavior was the sweetest, most natural, warmhearted, unaffected person I had ever met.
– Without appearing stiff and at the same time to let those about you feel that they are equally well- mannered (in our case, equally blessed) is a goal that can be achieved only be making consideration and unselfish an integral part of your behavior.
– Even they [the grandchildren in Post’s family] felt the atmosphere that radiated from her and were almost invariably at their best in her presence, not because they had to be, but because they wanted to be.
The spirit of Jesus and Mary is never proud; you must never be unapproachable, never make others feel beneath you and most importantly, you must radiate God in your behavior in public, in all you accomplish throughout the day- and when no one can see you. The essence of this practice is that They will walk with you not just sometimes, but all the time; if you allow Them. This same family member of Post’s made one last profound statement about the “proof of etiquette”, and how one must act, with the upmost charity when around others:
“I was never once made uncomfortable or self-conscious in her presence” (you, with others in public). “That to me is the proof of the value of etiquette”. How many of us have been around Catholics who have made us feel intimidated in their presence? We see them approaching and we wish we could run or hide and avoid them entirely. Remember those times of discomfort when you are tempted to brag about hidden graces, Our Lord has bestowed on you. Rather, humbly proclaim “my soul doth magnify Mary”. We have all had a Pharisee or two in our lives, and no doubt we have also been a Pharisee to others; that spirit is totally alien to the Magnificat. Besides the experience I opened this blog post with, I have had a handful of others which included some of the following:
- The person wanted to talk only about themselves for hours, how much they pray, how many blessings and miracles God has bestowed on them- even visions they have had of God etc. They never asked how I was doing, and when I was tempted to talk about myself to retaliate, they very quickly compared my experience to their own and brought back the story to themselves.
- Lectured me on the Catholic faith in saying I am un-educated (which is true) and attempted to cram their methods of prayer down my throat- ultimately leaving me fearful and exhausted afterwards.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, what is your interior reaction when these occurances take place? For myself, these reactions have often left me in turmoil, questioning everything I believe about God and sometimes even left me sobbing because being around these souls, though prayerful and dedicated to the Catholic Church, had me in such a wretched state that I finally wanted to do something about it. A few things occurred, after the dust would settle, in regards to experiencing one of these encounters. One of them was when I blogged on “discernment of spirits” and how important it is to discern what is of God and what is not. The second was my above studies on the practice of the presence of Mary and having that “awareness” for the need of other souls.
The anonymous monk from the book Hermitage Within, said “The great anchorites of old were listeners”. It is simple human nature, in some shape or form, in having the need to WANT to talk about ourselves; that is normal. But giving into the temptation to share imprudently, all the graces God has bestowed on us, is a sign of spiritual immaturity. I urge you to challenge yourself, next time someone tells you the good that God has done for them, to not be tempted to say something like, “He has done such and such a thing for me too!”. Can you imagine Our Lady saying that? “well I AM the Mother of God”. It is just laughable; it would NEVER happen. And while She could certainly say that, She would not.
- It is also important to note that most, if not all, my encounters have been with Catholics. Non-Catholics have hardly ever been the ones to make me feel this way. Which is a problem we all need to address; this is dangerous and sinful. Our Lord deserves better representatives in His Church.
Maybe gently check your responses when conversing with someone who appears “self-absorbed”; hold it in inside and encourage the other to expand more on their blessings as you ask the questions and be silent so they can share. Wouldn’t Mary have done the same thing? Meekness does not mean one is weak or quiet but has the power to remain silent in adversity; even during times of disagreeableness. This is the true definition of security and confidence- if we really knew that we were loved by God, we would not need to share our story to gain affirmation from other people. Such as what we saw with Our Lord before Herod and Pilate; THAT was the true omnipotence shown by Our Creator. He could have shown His power and glory as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but He chose to be scourged as He remained united to His Father.
There have been certain people who have left me in such poor spirits after being in their “presence”, yet have opened my eyes to a few valuable lessons:
- Maybe if I was not so self-absorbed myself in wanting to talk about myself, then it would not matter at all that they spent the whole conversation in speaking only about themselves.
- But also, this: maybe these experiences are tests. The “stuff of divine union” as Our Holy Father John of the Cross said. What if God is asking each and every one of us to be like ducks, and just let the water roll off our backs as we advance toward perfection. In Our Lord’s time, do you really think the Pharisees disturbed His unshakable union (as being part of the Trinity) with His Father and the Spirit, by their words of contradiction toward Him? We all know that answer is no. So next time you are dealing with a Pharisee, show the nicest and most genuine pure hearted smile you can give them- all the while remembering internally how much God has done in your own soul- let the person speak and then joyfully “kick up the dust as you leave that house or town”.