Up until the summer of my fifth year, my father was my teacher, caregiver, mentor, friend, and protector. His illness kept him homebound, so he babysat my six-month-old brother and me while mom worked to support our family.
Dad died in July, and things changed. Mom didn’t want me wasting my time at home, but the public school in our neighborhood wouldn’t take me. I was too young for first grade, and there was no kindergarten; so Mom and her youngest sister enrolled me in Catholic school.
Mom couldn’t take time from work, so my aunt spoke to the nuns. I was accepted only because I was the tallest kid in class.
Never mind that I was just five and had no idea what was going on. Never mind that I had to learn to be responsible for getting up and dressing on my own. Never mind that I had to ride the city bus to town by myself, though I did have Crucito, the neighborhood baker’s son, to sit with on the ride home from school.
Still, I learned early on that fending for myself didn’t come with guarantees.
I lost part of my bus fare, one of two nickels, the day I had tuna for lunch. Vomiting, with a terrible fever, I had to walk home twenty-five blocks.
Thank God for Crucito’s third grade wisdom and his big brother thoughtfulness. He chose to accompany me instead of riding the bus that afternoon.
My first and only year at Immaculate Conception School left indelible imprints for sure, but the memory of all memories occurred within the first hour of my first day at school.
During our cursive writing lesson, I had a very personal encounter with the three souls adhered to the closet doors in the back of the classroom.
I raised my hand for the first time in my young life to politely ask a question.
“Could you please tell me if I’m making the capital A correctly?”
Observing my first feat forming a large slanted oval with a little curved tail added to its right bottom side, the unsmiling nun led me by the hand to the poster with the totally blackened soul.
“Put out your hands,” she chided, and then whacked the knuckled sides hard with a little green ruler she’d pulled from her pocket.
“Now, go back to your seat!”
I never asked another question in class, which is why I once had an accident during the big silence right before dismissal time.
For what seemed like an eternity, I’d contemplated the pros and cons of asking permission to go to the bathroom; but I wasn’t sure how the nun would respond.
Then, just like that, I didn’t have to ask.
My body lost control and flooded the floor space all around me as my classmates watched the growing puddle in horror and disbelief.
I’ll never forget Crucito’s wide-eyed shock as I crossed the street to where he stood waiting for me after school. He was a mix of what-happened-to-you, what-do-I-say, and she-must-feel-terrible as he checked me out from waist to hemline and then back again.
Crucito didn’t laugh, much less ask about my dark wet, light dry teal uniform. Instead, we walked in silence along the church sidewalk to the bus stop a block away. Being a sensitive boy, Crucito understood my embarrassment.
And he never brought it up. Ever.
Almost a lifetime later when Segy was a high school freshman and we belonged to Sacred Heart Church in Brownsville, our celebrant at Sunday Mass was someone other than our parish priest.
“Man’s soul is an exquisite, multifaceted crystal,” the priest said, captivating us with his gentle knowing.
Segy and I wanted to hear more, but the visiting priest never returned.
If I knew where his church was, we could drive there for Sunday Mass, I thought. But it never happened.
Sometime later we learned that the priest had died, but the news never kept me from wondering what else we could’ve learned from him.
Teresa of Avila
More than a decade since, I’ve discovered St. Teresa who similarly describes the soul as “a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2; Avila, 1577; Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., 1979, p. 6).
Reflecting on Teresa of Avila the last couple of months, I’ve wondered, Was the priest referring to St. Teresa’s book? If so, how would my life have been impacted had I known about (and read) her book all those years ago?
On the other hand, how does one miss out on spiritual growth when one has no idea that anything’s missing?
Still, since reading St. Teresa’s book, I feel embraced, fortified somehow; so maybe earlier awareness would’ve made a difference after all.
Now a daily companion, St. Teresa’s staying power is her genuineness. She appeals to my intellect, but she’s also that special friend and mentor I needed as a child. She cares so deeply about my relationship with God that her writing nurtures my spirit.
St. Teresa understands how easily human nature refutes and refuses truth to avoid making personal changes, so she shares her knowledge and experience without exerting pressure. She also personalizes her narratives with descriptive analogies and anecdotes that complement her finely woven tapestry.
St. Teresa is quite an amazing teacher.
The interior castle
In her book, St. Teresa refers to the “sublime dignity and beauty” (p. 7) of the soul, which is infinitely more valuable than the body but which is easily overlooked since it can’t be seen.
My analogy is this: We’re obsessed with looking good, so we buy expensive hair care products. From shampoos and conditioners to coloring kits and more, we ignore the facts. Hair consists of dead cells, while internal organs and the skin through which hair grows, are malnourished and taken for granted. We accentuate the exterior and forget (disregard) what’s within.
St. Teresa also writes that one’s innermost soul is the place where God delights in spending time with us, his creations. To be near him “the soul is advised to enter within itself…” (p. 9).
The Lord manifests himself to those who pause while in peace and humility of heart…. God, in order to be able to speak to the soul and fill it with the knowledge of his love, leads it to the solitude, detaching it from preoccupations of earthly things. He speaks to the ears of those who are silent and makes them hear his secrets (St. Anthony of Padua, 1195-1231).
Like the many facets of the diamond and the crystal, the interior castle has “many dwelling places: some up above, others down below, others to the sides; and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place” (p. 7).
Yet The Interior Castle focuses on just seven dwelling places.
After all, St. Teresa’s purpose isn’t to overwhelm but to inform, clearly and concisely, so that we who choose to be enlightened can partake of the wonderful blessings God has in store for us.
Looking back on my first day at school, I don’t know what I did to upset the nun; but that one year of Catholic school is forever etched into my pea brain as the bookmark in my book of life.
Past personal experiences, though seemingly meaningless at the time, eventually have purpose (p. 98).
Unintended consequences are when you had the intention of providing one service or message, and users interpret and practice it in ways you didn’t think of. The unintended consequences often have more significance than one might think (Claude Bernard, French physiologist, 1813-1878).
Certainly, as a classroom teacher, I was keenly sensitive to my students’ needs. But, beyond that, was the green ruler incident my personal introduction to the soul?
While I do guilt well— Steven’s comical take on my being Catholic— I’m not altogether preoccupied with the three souls, just as I don’t give thought to ending up in heaven or hell. Instead, I’m focused on personal growth and my evolving spirituality through my relationship with God who loves me unconditionally, the way Dad loved me. And it’s God’s love for me, not the fear of hell or the desire for heaven, that fuels my existence.
Moreover, as I journey through life I’m very much aware that, in as much as God waits patiently for us to show him even a little of the love he feels for us, his desire to have us close is so strong “that from time to time he calls us to draw near him” (pp. 15-16).
And, when he can no longer wait, God takes the entire soul, closing all doors except the one leading to him (p. 99) and places us wherever he wants, just as he brought Steven and me to the seashore, to help us make good on the promises we’ve made him (p. 130).
Then Jesus, in turn, matches our good works so that even more is offered to God (p. 136) in thanksgiving and praise.
December 2, 2011
At mom’s funeral this morning, I learned from a mutual friend, Jerry, who still lives on Dan Street where I grew up, that “Crucito died about two and a half years ago.”
I was stunned!
More than a childhood friend, Crucito was my steadfast guardian, my big brother who took me to school dances. Always sweet and joyful to see me the few times we bumped into each other as adults, Crucito loved me unconditionally.
I’ll treasure him until the end of time!
January 19, 2012
Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul may keep the path but will not reach the goal. While he who walks in love may wander far, yet God will bring him where the blessed are (Henry Van Dyke, 1852-1933).
February 4, 2012
Jesus, I want to come away with you for a while. Refresh me, renew me, and strengthen me. Then send me out to build your kingdom (the Word among us, February 1-21, 2012, p. 24).
October 28, 2012
The human heart is made this way. God himself does not enter it by force but knocks at the door: “Open your heart to me, my child” (St. Eugene de Mazenod in a letter to Fr. Boisrame, September 1858).
December 3, 2012
“I love you not because you have the power to give heaven or hell, but simply because you are— my king and my God” (St. Francis Xavier).
August 20, 2013
Lord, show me who I really am! Fill me with confidence, courage, and the zeal to serve you with all my heart! (the Word among us, July/August 2013, p. 70).
October 22, 2013
“Lord Jesus, I want to be ready to welcome you however you choose to knock on my door today” (the Word among us, October 2013, p. 42).
October 31, 2013
“O God, I put myself into your hands with infinite confidence because you are my Father” (Blessed Charles de Foucauld).
November 12, 2013
Lord, thank you for filling me with your love! Lord, I want to serve you with my whole life! (the Word among us, November 2013, p. 33).
November 29, 2013
The Jewish view of God is not static or frozen in any time or place. It is constantly growing, changing, expanding. For even though God is constant, people are forever growing and developing. So each person, in each generation, must discover, understand, describe, and relate to God in his or her own way, out of his or her own life experiences (Dosick, 1995, p. 9).
May 1, 2014
“In the evening of our lives we shall be judged on love” (St. John of the Cross).
June 28, 2014
In everything we do God considers our disposition rather than our actions. And so, whether we retire mentally to God in earnest contemplation and remain at rest or whether we are intent on being of service to those around us with good works and worthy undertakings, let our object be that we are motivated only by love of Christ. So the really acceptable offering of purification of the spirit is that which is rendered not in a man-made temple, but in the temple of the heart where Christ the Lord is pleased to enter
(St. Laurence Justinian, 1381-1456).
August 13, 2014
“When you really give yourself to God, no difficulty will be able to shake your optimism” (St. Josemaría Escrivá).
August 19, 2014
He belongs to you; but more than that he longs to be in you, living and ruling in you as the head lives and rules in the body. He wants his breath to be in your breath, his heart in your heart, and his soul in your soul (St. John Eudes).
October 17, 2014
“My desire is to belong to God” (St. Ignatius of Antioch).
November 7, 2014
Believe that he loves you. He wants to help you himself in the struggles which you must undergo. Believe in his love, his exceeding love (Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity).
November 11, 2014
God leaves us free, but when we do respond to grace and we do choose to use the gifts he has given us to work for his honor and glory, he blesses our efforts and makes them fruitful. In the light of grace the work is transformed (Aquinas College, 2014).
February 1, 2015
“Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if he wants anything of you, he will fit you for the work and give you strength” (St. Philip Neri).
February 16, 2015
Perfection of life is the perfection of love. For love is the life of the soul
(St. Francis de Sales).
March 2, 2015
“The soul who is in love with God is a gentle, humble, and patient soul” (St. John of the Cross).
April 3, 2015
“The body dies when the soul departs, but the soul dies when God departs”
(St. Augustine of Hippo).
May 20, 2015
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going (John 14: 1-4).
December 3, 2015
“I love you not because you have the power to give heaven or hell, but simply because you are— my king and my God” (St. Francis Xavier, SJ).
March 21, 2016
Then [Benedict] adds: “All that we once performed with dread we will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, no longer out of fear of hell, but rather out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue” (Rule of St. Benedict 7:67 – Humility).
We will never be perfect. Humility is the realization that we are not perfect. Can we be content with imperfection while knowing that we are doing the best we can to live a holy and loving life? I pray we can! (Monday Message, Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau, OSB, March 21, 2016).
September 1, 2016
“Our perfection does not consist of doing extraordinary things but [of doing] the ordinary well” (St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows).
January 4, 2017
“The grace of even wishing to belong to God must come from himself” (St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton).
January 12, 2017
“The effort of the soul must be to fill the mind so full of healthy thoughts that there is no room for others— trying not so much not to think of what is evil as to think of what is good” (Fr. Basil W. Maturin, Christian Self-Mastery).
Links of interest… Appearances… Carmelites… Chaplin’s little tramp on the road to Emmaus… Christ inescapable… Dome blog (Benedictine Sisters)… Dostoevsky & the glory of guilt… Flicking bubbles & wrangling babies… God desires your love… Hope for eternal joy… I had forgotten about St. Therese, but she hadn’t forgotten me… Immaculate Conception Cathedral: about / Catholic directory (Mass times) / diocesan page (facebook) / historic site / new altar / parishes online / website… Interior castle: e-book / meditations (book review)… Lord, when you came: composer (Cesário Gabaráin, 1979) / lyrics / pescador de hombres (YouTube) / seashore song & lyrics (Assumption College chapel choir)… Living Judaism (Dosick)… Sacred Heart Church: parishes online… Teresa of Avila: 1515-1582 / at 500 / profile / reformer / teacher of prayer… van Dyke, Henry: brainy quote / goodreads… When saints choose us… the Word among us…
WP posts… Angels keeping watch… Bearing one’s crosses… Dear God… Father’s guided tour… Father now retired… Gifts… Gift of love… Heart of hearts… In good time… Making meaning… Marian devotions… Memory lane… One prayer… Promise of hope… A real church… Seven dwelling places… Sweet Jesus… Teresa of Avila… Two angels… Two takes… Venerable Margaret
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