I have something to confess and I hope you won’t hold it against me. I … am a lawyer. I know: I’m supposed to sheepishly say “I’m not that kind of lawyer.” But to be honest, I don’t know of any legal practice that cannot be done with a humble heart, a servant’s spirit and a clear conscience.
So, I’m a lawyer and for over a decade my practice has focused primarily on contracts. Drafting, reviewing, negotiating, enforcing. And I read today’s reading through the lens of my experience.
I have to admit that I had some difficulty following along in today’s reading. There are some apparent non-sequiturs, but I think the overall gist is this: sure, there are a lot of positives in this world, but compared to the Heavenly promises Christ offers through His sacrifice, these are naught and we are called to make relatively small sacrifices (giving up worldly joys) compared to the gain we will have when we join Him in the afterlife.
Beads in my pocket, formerly attached; Loosely floating orbs and chain links recently unlatched. A crucifix and pendant—remnants and remains Of things I use to garner graces, gifts and holy gains.
A patch of woolen fabric, a square with icon blessed
That used to hang consolingly, a comfort on my chest.
This scapular most holy. A rosary of wood.
Now sit inside a leather pouch instead of where they should.
And though they both are damaged, and neither one is whole,
They each provide me blessings for my worn and weary soul.
These broken sacramentals, though bruised and broken things,
Still serve their purpose, drawing me to Jesus Christ our King.
Their brokenness reminds me that even with my blame,
Even though I’m flawed and weak, He’ll use me just the same.
If only I allow Him, surrender to His will,
He’ll use me to draw people to his sermon on the hill.
This broken sacramental, though barren all alone, He’ll take me—if I offer—to draw children to his throne.
And just like broken bead strings, when put to holy use,
My life can be a blessing in the ways that He will choose.
When I read the first reading on Wednesday, the last verse caught my attention:
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith
It seemed to have the whole cause-and-effect thing mixed up. Victory is supposed to result from conquest, not cause it. It’s the end product of strain and effort, the culmination of sweat and struggle. Victory is supposed to be the brass ring you grasp after reaching for it. It’s the pose you strike standing over the vanquished foe, not the device that helped you gain that position.
This idea of victory being the agent that brings itself about (in the form of conquest) was confusing to me, but it became a little clearer when I finished reading the sentence.
And the victory . . . is our faith
So, if victory is faith, then it makes sense that victory is both means and end. Because faith, as I understand it, feeds itself and culminates in more faith.
I have experienced this phenomenon. At times when I feel most desperate, like when I found myself with an unplanned stop in Ouagadougou, I often resort to rote prayer. And like yanking on an engine’s pull-cord, the rote prayer eventually finds traction in my soul and faith starts to bloom. And in these moments — when the warm glow of hope displaces the cold blanch of fear — I recognize that faith is victory.
As I have grown more familiar with the Rosary and developed a stronger attachment to our Blessed Mother, I have begun to notice certain patterns and themes. Some are clearly intentional, and some I’m not so sure. For example, I noticed a pattern when praying the Glorious Mysteries: Up, Up, Down, Up, Down/Up. It’s all very vertical in its orientation. Let me explain.
Up. Resurrection. Jesus rises from the dead. Clearly a very vertical event.
Up. Ascension. Jesus ascends to His throne in heaven. Also very vertical.
Down. Descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
Up. Mary is assumed into Heaven, body and soul.
Down/Up. Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. This takes a little more imagination. For down, I imagine the crown being lowered on her brow. for up, I imagine her elevation to the lofty role of queen.
This vertical orientation reminds me of a higher calling — vocational, professional or personal — a calling to improve, to work harder, to be better, but also a calling to serve, to reach down as I reach up. It reminds me to reach up to Him who made me, but also reminds me that I don’t have to close the gap on my own or with my own wherewithal. Christ has made the round trip for me. He has sent the Holy Spirit down to me. And His mother has his ear–I can always ask her for intervention. Vertical rosary. I lift up my petitions and praise, knowing that his mercies and graces rain down on me.
Those of you who know me may think of me as a worldly traveler, a globe trotter of sorts. After all, my Navy duties have me traveling annually to exotic places such as Gabon, Trinidad and Germany. But in all honesty, I’m not very good at dealing with the stress of travel. In the hustle and bustle of air travel, with the risk of missed connections, lost luggage, third world accommodations and puddle-jumping turboprops, I have difficulty handling the anxiety and stress. Once I’ve settled into a location for a couple three days, I’m hunky-dory and have a blast! Until then, my nerves are frazzled.
Words fail; what can I say? No word combination will help me to pray. And if I could number my blessings each day, my tongue would be twisted, my confidence sway; If honey-dew lyrics were lifted in song with voices of angels, they still would be wrong. And, knowing that all verbal offerings fail, not able to vocalize more than a wail; And yet, I pray.
Thoughts fail; how can I grasp the mercies and graces that enter my clasp? My feeble cognitions would come out a rasp if I tried but to voice them–a humbling gasp. If my human condition allowed me to plumb the depth of my blessings, I still would be numb To the vast benediction of each counted breath, each inhale and exhale an unearned bequest. And still, I think.
Acts fail; what can I do? No vigorous action will help me pursue The source of my blessings that seem to accrue without any effort on my part; but You Provide me with everything I could require, the sum of my needs, if not every desire. I cannot do anything to gain Your love, to merit the manna You send from above. But still I act.
And though no thoughts, words or deeds will suffice to make me deserving of Your Sacrifice; And while, seeking virtue, I stumble in vice; my scant tithe is weak, but You make up the price. My inadequate words You gladly accept, transforming to beauty what I make inept. My lowliest efforts You take in Your hand, and gently you add it to Your master plan. So that everything I do in seeking Your will You transform to beauty with unbridled skill. And You redeem.