I recently posted the following question in our community: what is the number one thing you could do today to show mercy toward someone who hurt you? What surprised me was not the answers I read from other members, but my own. I had to think about this question for a minute. Not only was I feeling that the possibilities were restricted by physical distance, like living in different places, but I also wanted to choose something I would actually do; otherwise, the question-and-answer process would be a waste of time.
A few days ago, I learned that a friend of mine passed away. I was devastated when I heard the news, and I didn’t believe it at first. It must have been a mistake, I thought. He was too good to die; the world needs him. Grief is a natural process that all people go through when a loved one passes away. Christians go through the stages of grief. They don’t stop being sad just because they’re Christian.
When I watch penguins on video, I always find them to be awkward, yet debonair. A penguin walking on land is definitely awkward, but a penguin in the water is a sight to behold. The penguin's wings make it look like it’s meant for flight in the air, like other birds, but the wings are actually meant for flight in the water (watch a video of a penguin in the water; it looks like it’s flying).
Carmelite spirituality is known for contemplation and prayer, but less is said about the type of actions that are fitting for a person who follows the Carmelite way of perfection. What I’m about to tell you may sound painfully unwitty at first, but stay with me for a moment: the type of actions that are fitting for Carmelites are good actions. Refusing to love or conform to God’s will defeats the purpose of prayer.
When you think of spiritual perfection, do you ever consider where your journey toward perfection begins? I mean in terms of the human person—you know, the body and soul and all that constitutes them—where does the journey begin? You might be surprised when I tell you this, but the journey actually begins through the senses. Why the senses? Because the senses are the place where all human persons begin their interaction with being (reality).
Attaining spiritual perfection and union with God requires doing things we at first don't want to do. One of these things is letting go of attachments that keep us from doing what God calls us to. We often don't recognize what we are attached to, but the spiritual life requires identifying these attachments as we strive for spiritual perfection and union with God. This is sort of a silly example, but maybe you discern that God is calling you to learn how to paint, but you really like watching TV in your free time even when nothing particularly edifying is on.
If someone asked you to explain the Church’s teaching on purgatory, how would you describe it? Perhaps you would mention that purgatory is a place that removes a person’s imperfections and bad habits before reaching heaven. You might mention that people here on earth can pray for the souls in purgatory who are part of the "Church Suffering." These souls suffer flames with love and long for God. But would you also mention that people have the opportunity for purgation here in this life?
Suffering is supposed to be redemptive, but we often fail to think of its redemptive nature when we're in the midst of suffering. We concentrate on the physical, emotional, or mental pain, sometimes crumble under the weight of the pain (either physically or spiritually), and ultimately, if the pain continues for long enough, break. St. John of the Cross wisely advises us on how to suffer: In tribulation, immediately draw near to God with trust, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.