Superhero in the spiritual life

boy child clouds kid

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“but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’  I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“Mom, what is your favorite superhero?” a question my youngest daughter asked me as we walked to feed the turtles. 

At that moment, I’m not sure I had a great answer for her because I never really thought about who my favorite superhero was.

The Avenger movies are quite popular these days.  There are so many it’s hard to keep track of all the Marvel movies starring our childhood superheroes.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Webster defines a superhero as a fictional hero that has extraordinary powers, in other words superhuman powers. The image of being a superhero has swept through our minds since childhood as we imagined ourselves saving the world from the villains.  As we became adults, we developed a different image of a superhero.  Our superhero within us involves doing everything we can for our families, always being strong and never giving in to or revealing weakness. Being vulnerable has no room within our superhero world – US.  I think we have an idea that being vulnerable and being weak limits our abilities to protect ourselves and our families.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, St Paul tells us that Jesus says “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Jesus tells us that He is enough.  He is our superhero but it’s in our weakness that His extraordinary powers are made “PERFECT”.

My life has never been easy.  I have always worked hard to achieve the goals I made for myself.  I became independent and goal driven at a very young age.  My superhero essentially became myself.  Jesus was not prominent in my life as a child.  Growing up, I had to always be strong for myself, my mom, my sister and brother.  As I became a wife and then a mother, being weak and vulnerable was not an option.  In the early days of my marriage and motherhood, Jesus was still not the focal point in my life.  Reality in my life was that being weak and vulnerable was the opposite of survival.

Today, my world is different.  Christ is in my life and although revealing my weakness and vulnerabilities is the scariest thing for me, I know that it is in this weakness that Christ dwells within and makes me strong.

WHY? 
  • He says so in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  When He says so, I’m certain He means it….
  • If I break down what I know of my faith and trust in God, I know that when I am strong, I cannot allow Him to work within me because I am unwilling to surrender myself to Him.  It is in my weakness that He does His best work in me.  It is in the vulnerabilities that I am most open to surrendering all I am to Him and allowing Him to fill me with all He is.

I wish that made me less afraid of being weak and vulnerable.  Simple fact is it doesn’t but I know it is essential in my spiritual growth, especially when it comes to placing my past behind me and moving forward in life.  Now, I don’t want you to take away that when we have to be strong against worldly things or defend ourselves against harmful acts that we should be weak and not do what is necessary.  I think in those cases, it’s a matter of opening oneself up to surrendering to God to aid in such circumstances to guard us against sin and against harm.  I think that is what St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10 – it is an acceptance, contentment with our weaknesses that allows us to depend on God to be with us in these moments, for Christ to dwell within us, to be our superhero living within.  It is in our weakness that we are strong, we are truly a superhero through Christ who gives us strength.

I think if my daughter were to ask me today who my favorite superhero is, I would answer with great clarity that it is JESUS who lives in me and gives me strength to overcome all things.

What about you?  Who do you say your favorite superhero is?

 

A desire so great

“The hope of truth and of freedom is already ours, dearly beloved, but if we are to attain truth and freedom in reality we must endure and persevere.” St Cyprian

What are your greatest desires? Do they consist of happiness and love?

St Ignatius’ spiritual discernment focuses on the things that bring us life and closer to God. God places deep desires within us, which align with His will for us in our lives. Our deepest desires may be found in a number of things. They may be seen in the smiles of your children, your spouse, your grandmother, a parent, friends, nature, even the most soothing sounds. It is in these things which bring life to our spirit, drawing us closer to God, that sync us to hearing God in our lives.

I invite you to pay attention to all things that make your heart smile.

As I write this, I am sitting outdoors, listening to the sounds of nature surrounding me. Peaceful surrender to what God wants me to hear and understand as I sit and write. Nature usually is my go to place to surrender and hear God speak to my heart. It’s a place where I can get in touch with my deepest desires. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the life surrounding me that draws me to the life of God within me.

In several of my recent posts, I’ve referenced the song by Tauren Wells, “God’s Not Done With You.” This song has so much meaning packed in it. Today as I listened to it, I began to contemplate my choices in my life. I have always been very practical and safe in making decisions, yet many of my choices led me down paths that may not have been very practical and safe. As I listened to the song, I realized that my choices make an imprint on my story, but God is still the author of my story. God will take these imprints and continue to write my story. To ever think He is done with my story would be spiritual detriment, spiritual hopelessness.

As we endure and persevere in our lives, God gives us hope. This hope leads us to freedom as we surrender trust in Him, allowing Him to author our story despite our choices. I always like the image of the shattered piece of pottery that has been glued back together and placed on display as a beautiful piece of art. I can imagine the broken pieces in my story being glued together and transformed into something even more beautiful than it was before. I could claim that I was the one who mended the pieces together, but I know the artist was God and it was His hands that picked up each piece, felt my sorrows and gently placed them together with the bond of His love. Even in the broken pieces, God transforms our desires into reality.

He creates a masterpiece through our desires that He has planted within us, a desire for Him – to love and be loved.  God’s desires for each of us is written in our hearts and they are revealed in many different things in our lives.  Openness and awareness are the only requirements from us.  As we unveil our deepest desires, we feel God’s presence and understand His will.

heart shaped clay pot
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In a few posts, I’m sure I’ve mentioned often how my spiritual director will ask me if something I’m discerning brings me life. If we follow the things that bring us life, we feel most connected to God’s presence. Why? Because these are our deepest desires that come from God. When we are discerning, this is the path that is most aligned with God’s will – and the story He is writing, MY STORY AND YOUR STORY.

I invite you to ask yourself, what are my deepest desires? What makes you feel most alive in your life?

“Whatever you are doing, that which makes you feel the most alive…. that is where God is.” St Ignatius of Loyola

Wide open lens… endless possibilities through faith

“Faith widens our lens of our limited human understanding, giving us the graced view of eternal perspective to see that all is well in God.  It’s the unveiled revelation of living faith that allows us to see Christ in the midst of our pain, as our hearts open up to anchor themselves in the promise of life beyond the grave, which is the ground of hope.”  Mary’s Way the Power of Entrusting Your Child to God by Judy Landrieu Klein

Are you operating in a box?  Are you open to the possibilities God has for you?  Are you constantly looking back or dwelling in your past, unable to move beyond it?

I love these sentences from the book Mary’s Way the Power of Entrusting Your Child to God.  The Blessed Mother through her faith and trust in God had an openness when she was visited by St. Gabriel and he told her she would carry the son of God in her womb.  So what about us are we able to place so much trust in our faith and love of God, to be this open to say yes to whatever direction He may be guiding us to, to whatever path He is leading us on?

Today’s readings I find interesting to unpack in relation to my life, especially after reading Inner Compass by Margaret Silf. In the first reading “Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen.”  In her book, Margaret Silf writes about this very passage. One of her dear friends asked her to meditate on it. To his surprise, her reflection was centered around the eleven team of oxen plowing ahead of Elisha.  She goes on to describe the skill of plowing.  When a farmer is plowing, he finds a fixed point to focus on and steadily moves towards it.  She says that when she reflected on this passage, she realized the fixed point in the spiritual life was Jesus and that the oxen teams ahead of us represent those in our life that are guiding us on our journey to the point of reference, Jesus.  In other words, the oxen represent our spiritual friendships, saints, anyone or moment that provides a beacon for us to move forward towards Jesus.  I love this visual because I can see my own yoke of oxen in my life, those that do keep me focused on Jesus.

photo of grass field
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This morning upon the very great advice of one of my spiritual friends, I meditated on this reading and today’s Psalm 16:11 – “You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in Your presence, the delights at Your right hand forever.” As I sat there reflecting on these verses in silence waiting for God to reveal what my “path to life” is, where are my “joys in His presence,” and how will I be able to “delight at [His] right hand forever,” tears were pooling in the corners of my eyes. As I felt them, I asked God what they meant? I guess He thought I needed more tears because that question opened a flood gate of tears. I’m like “really God, not sure that’s an answer.” As I continue to wait for Him to respond on the tears, I could sense that these readings were really talking to me and the last few weeks of me flipping rocks or should I say boulders over in my life that have buried deep feelings within me. My realization in that moment was that these tears were a piece of letting go and opening myself up to a new season in my life – a season of discovery.

I have the beauty of the most amazing spiritual friends, my oxens. They keep me in check and guide me in my journey – whether they know this or not. They help keep my eyes fixed on Jesus as they help me carry the load in my journey. When Jesus says Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” I think He helps us to bear the load by placing these people in our life that keep us focused on Him.  This is a very important reminder, another message I was reminded of by one of me spiritual friends this past week.

I also think a key for me today is that with a wide open lens through my faith, there is “life beyond the grave” – this is the “delights at [His] right hand.” And it is the ground of hope that inflames my faith in my heart. So this new season for me becomes a season of discovery, discovering a new path of my life, not looking back at my past but pushing forward with the oxen in my life keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the one who will always give me joy in His presence.  Perhaps the tears during my meditation were tears of dumping, cleansing the burdens of my past that have filled my vessel so that I can begin to press forward in searching who I am in Christ and what my path of life will unveil.  Part of me is excited to begin this new search, yet a little afraid.  I am blessed that God has given me a gift to turn over the boulders and look deep within myself and recognize that I have a process that isn’t complete.  I also know now why the song “God’s not done with you” by Tauren Wells keeps playing and flooding my eyes when I’m in my car.  God isn’t done with my story.  My story thus far has had a lot of pain, yet a lot of growth and love.  The hands of God have swooped in my life in many ways and taught me there is life beyond the cross, the sun does shine above the clouds.  Now I am ready to begin this new journey of finding myself and moving beyond my crosses.  I embrace what they have taught me and where they have brought me in my faith journey.  Now it’s time to let them go and discover new life, new crosses and new growth.

My dear sisters and brothers, I invite you to allow your faith in God to open your lens and be open to what God has in store for you – may be it’s a new path, may be it’s growth and discovery on the current path.  Whatever it is, be open and obedient, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus as you plow through life with your set of oxen that He has given you to be yoked together, lightening the load. I think this will guide you in seeing your path to life, joys in Christ’s presence and hope in awaiting the delights at the right hand of God.  Blessings on this day the Lord has made.

 

 

Unbinding through desolation

“We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.” St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ever feel like running into a closet to get away from everything in your life? To get away from all your struggles, the pain, the noise, family drama?

I had a friend who once shared a story with me that as a grown adult she literally wanted to escape the noise and the demands of family life and went into a closet and was careful not to breathe heavily, hoping no one would find her.

As she told me this I laughed but I think we can all relate to that moment when we just want to hide from the world.

In theses moments, sometimes, we may also feel the absence of God or a desire to give up on Him. It is important to recognize these moments. St Ignatius teaches us of two movements in the interior spiritual life, consolation and desolation.

Consolation are periods when we are on fire, on a spiritual high (after an ACTS retreat for all my ACTS sisters). During these times we can’t contain what God is moving within us. We literally want to tell the whole world and want them to be a part of it.

Consolation is an awesome experience but I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to talk a little bit about desolation. Desolation can be crucial to our spiritual journey, although it is more critical to recognize it. During these movements in our spiritual journey, we really begin to deal with areas that in turn will produce great growth in our spiritual journey.

I’m not an expert on either desolation or consolation but I guarantee you I’ve been on both roads many times…. kind of like that roller coaster I once wrote about. My spiritual director once told me that consolation helps us to prepare and move through the desolation that will come – like the coaster you need potential energy to give you the kinetic energy to keep that roller coaster moving up and down.

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Today I find myself in a period of desolation. At first I didn’t recognize it, but it became very prominent when I wanted to just retreat from everything, even my prayer life and community of friends.

As I work through my own desolation, I have been uncovering darkness found in my deepest wound that has rooted itself in sin. God has revealed to me that this wound I have buried is not allowing me to move forward, that it is binding me to my past and from my happily ever after. It is a deep source of unforgiveness and unlove. It has created weeds such as fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and exhaustion. This is the junk I mentioned in my last blog filling my vessel preventing me from being able to shine the light of Christ onto others.

So how am I handling this period of desolation? Through spiritual direction and my own experiences, small bits of wisdom from God, I have learned a few steps or techniques to journey through desolation. When I begin to feel this way, actually when I recognize these feelings, I know I do have to retreat. I have to retreat into solitude with God. It is essential for me to find time to pray. I do this by carving time, whether I want to or not to pray at home or go to Adoration. In prayer, I am completely open with God about what I’m feeling which eventually leads to asking for graces I need in that time. I also try to find days that I can go to daily Mass, to receive Jesus and be fed. Both help me to sort and discover the roots of what God is inviting me to dig up or fertilize into something fruitful. If I uncover sin at the base of this root or a resulting weed through this process, confession is another stop for me.

I think each of us will go through both consolation and desolation. Some of us may experience it as a result of God inviting us to see the consolation period as a gift and to invite us to discover Him in a new, fresher light and not necessarily from a dark root or sin.  Each of us may have different techniques to walk through it.  What’s important is that we identify it and take the necessary steps to journey this interior spiritual movement and grow closer to God.

Whatever may be the cause of desolation for you, will you be prepared to tackle it and grow leaps and bounds in your spiritual journey?

Good always wins

“I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

I’m sure everyone has watched at least one Disney princess movie, if not several.  Each is a story of love and each has some version of good and evil.  What I love about these movies is that good always prevails in the end and most of all LOVE.

LOVE can be easy at times and it can be very challenging.  Have you had those relationships where it was very easy to love the other person?  They made it so easy because they loved you back with a selfless kind of love.  What about those challenging relationships?  Some of these can be within our own families.  It can be a mother, a father, a sibling, a spouse, a child, or a good friend.  They may have hurt you in some way or their form of showing love was demanding and selfish.

I think when Jesus was giving this commandment to love one another as He loved us, He may have had these difficult relationships in mind.  I can’t remember where I read this but in this piece I was reading the author was comparing what it would look like for us today to resemble what Jesus did on the cross.  Would you every consider volunteering to take the place of a man who is about to be executed for murdering your child?  Consider what Jesus did for each of us.  That kind of love for another is pretty hard to swallow for probably all of us – to take the place of another on death row who murdered your child.

Truly let that sink in for a bit in alignment with this very commandment Jesus gives us to love one another and the very action Jesus did by giving His life for each of us, who was on death row for our sins against our Father.

sunrise under cloudy sky illustration
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I’m not a saint by any means but I want to share a personal story that helped me to realize what Jesus meant in relation to me when He said “love one another as I have loved you.”  After Mass on Sunday and hearing the nice homily that the deacon delivered, I went about my normal business.  Later in the week, I attended a banquet with my daughters.  It was my evening to have my daughters.  My daughters saw their dad and went to tell him hi and returned to my table.  After sitting for several minutes, waiting for our table to be called up to get food, I caught a glimpse of their father on the other side of the cafeteria alone.  I whispered to both my daughters to go sit with their dad until our table was called up for food.  Now, this may seem like a normal story to most people and you may be saying I don’t get it.  What I want to share is that deep down I knew that my ex would never do this for me.  His actions have repeatedly been quite the opposite – and this past week was proof of the repeated offenses.  My actions were a result of Christ within me and not a result of me as my selfish human form.  It was Christ’s love that flowed through me to give me the grace to turn the other cheek and show love to a person who has hurt me deep within, who has left very deep scars and continues to inflict me.  It wasn’t until later that I realized the connection between my actions that night and the reading and it brought some peace to me.

I won’t pretend it’s easy to respond in love to those that hurt us or someone who just makes it difficult to love them, because it isn’t.  It is expected of us.  Even those individuals are God’s children and He loves them just as much as He loves us.  To love like Him, we MUST love those that we may feel don’t deserve our love.  Look at the cross, we didn’t deserve God’s love either, yet He freely gave it to us.

Choosing to do what Jesus would do will always bring light in the darkness.  GOOD ALWAYS WIN – just as in the Disney princess stories.  So the next time you are faced with the challenge of showing love to someone who has made it difficult for you to love, take that initiative and act in loving kindness just as Jesus would do for you after you committed your worst sin.

The masquerade

He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall. They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. Isaiah 40:29-31

Have you ever been to a masquerade ball? Do you feel like sometimes life can be like a masquerade ball, you are masked on the outside with something that is totally opposite of what’s on the inside?

I’m sure many can say that they have at least once or many times said everything was fine when someone asked but in actuality it wasn’t.

Often it seems like social media is a masquerade ball. Each of us can hide behind the things that we post, keeping our inner vulnerabilities hidden or portraying that everything is amazingly awesome when we are completely broken apart.

The masquerade ball I wanted to unveil is the one that traps us within. It’s the one where our reality seems trapped behind a mirror and we take control instead of surrendering to God.

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My daughter has been watching Once Upon a Time. If you aren’t familiar with this series, it’s a somewhat twisted combination of a lot of the Disney fantasies. A spell is cast and all the characters find themselves in another world trapped in a town and have no recollection of their former life. I think sometimes life can seem just like this series. We are trapped in a world that is not the one we are meant to be in. Perhaps the spell or the illusion is masked by sin or the ideals of the world we live in.

My favorite Bible verse is Isaiah 40:31. I love this verse because it’s a constant reminder of where my strength comes from when I am weary and restless. Like a spell bound world, sometimes I feel like my weakness is trapped behind the mirror of what I perceive as strength to others and in some cases to God. In other words, I don’t allow myself to really be unveiled. In many cases this leads to me trying to be in control, not allowing any defenses down and be vulnerable to support – Jesus carrying that cross for me. I will do this until I absolutely become restless and weary. In these moments I think the tornado starts to whirl around me and I get lost in the center of the darkness.

Let’s draw some focus on the part in Isaiah where it says “they that hope in the Lord”. It is this hope that is the rope in the well that we draw this strength from.

Exposing ourselves, stripping away the mask, whatever it may be that is separating us from God, allows us to grab on to the rope of hope and draw in this strength to truly face the things we need to.  I can go another step further and call the threads of this rope that bind it – trust in God.  This well is the living water that we draw in, refreshing and strengthening our spirit.  It’s the nourishment we need for the journey but we first have to leave the masquerade party and be vulnerable.

When you feel like life is beginning to look like smoke and mirrors, try unveiling the mask of whatever is preventing you from being stripped and bare before God – allowing Him to do His amazing work in you and through you by strengthening you.  Shatter the mirror, exposing whatever is trapped behind the illusion and grasp the rope of hope, drawing your strength from the well of life giving water – Jesus.

 

Managing expectations, not disappointments

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – the reading during my wedding ceremony.  It seems forever and a day but I remember the voice of the person who read it.  As my dear friend read this reading during my wedding ceremony, many dreams and expectations filled my head.  Love was this GREAT EXPECTATION.  It was supposed to be exactly like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Why?  Because God said it was.

I’m sure no one else has done this – had GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Towards the end of my marriage another set of verses filled my head as they were repeated to me often, Ephesians 5:22-23 “wives should be subordinate to their husbands…. for the husband is head of his wife.”  Everything in between and afterwards was strategically omitted during these reminders of the Word of God.

I don’t want to dwell on the details of my past.  The important thing I want to point out is I started my marriage with expectations of this blissful marriage with no problems, with an image of love as in 1 Corinthians 13.  And I ended my marriage with grave disappointment.  My ex-husband is human and I am human, neither of us are God and the marriage could never be perfectly blissful, with the perfect love of 1 Corinthians 13.  In a relationship, both individuals should definitely strive to uphold God’s definition of LOVE but we are not perfect.  We are going to miss the mark sometimes and that’s ok as long as we respond to the missed mark with this definition of LOVE.

My marriage seemed to be the exact opposite of what I think God intended in the covenant of marriage.  Towards the end of the marriage when I kept hearing the verses from Ephesians 5, I thought something was wrong with me.  I was broken and therefore my marriage was broken.  I was failing at fulfilling what I thought the expectations (key word) God had in Ephesians 5.  Part of that could very well be my own fault as I was ignorant to what God really meant in Ephesians 5 – perhaps because most of the message was missing when it was told to me over and over again and I accepted that as it was.

belief bible book business
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Ok – now, I’m hoping to tie both of these things together.  I want to first focus on expectations and disappointments.

We wrestle in our lives with disappointments because of our expectations.  If our expectations aren’t aligned with accepting God’s plan, His Will in our lives then we are greatly disappointed when something happens or doesn’t go the way we planned or we prayed for.  I’ve blogged a lot about God’s Divine Providence in our lives and sometimes it involves bad circumstances in our lives to bring the beauty or fruit.  If our expectations are anything other than what God has in store for us, disappointment rears its ugly head.

What often happens when we become disappointed?

We start pulling away from God.  We start questioning God’s motive in our lives and whether He is a good God, a loving Father.  Our faith starts to suffer.

So when Ephesians 5 kept being brought before me in some things that I felt weren’t healthy, I really began to question God and who I was.  This was embedding inside of me an image that I was a failure in my marriage, not good enough, a disappointment to my husband and to God.  Fast forward to where I am in my faith today, I have a more informed knowledge of the entire message of Ephesians 5:21-30.  As I read Theology of the Body, a wonderful book by the way, I began to put these verses in perspective.  Here is my new perspective and new understanding of Ephesians 5:21-30.  God does intend for wives to submit to their husbands and He also intends for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church.  So, God’s intentions are exactly 1 Corinthians 13-4-7 in Ephesians 5.  In order to be obedient to Ephesians 5:21-30, both husband and wife have to give themselves freely to the other.  Christ loved the Church so much that HE gave Himself to His bride, the Church, by offering His life.  So in order for a husband to “love [his] wife, even as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5: 25),” he must give himself completely to his wife.  A wife in return must submit to her spouse, giving herself entirely to him.  It also says that the Church, the bride of Christ, is subordinate to Christ.  I think this is fulfilled by desiring all that God desires for us – alignment to His Will.

Going back to my own story, at the end of my marriage, I had become disappointed in myself because of another expectation.  Looking back, this is a very good lesson to me on my expectations and disappointments and it reinforces my desire to be aligned with God’s expectations, His Will in my life.

I invite you to evaluate your expectations – may be they involve your children, your parents, your spouse, your job, a friendship or an illness.  Are they aligning with God’s Will?  Are your expectations flexible to accepting circumstance that is part of His plan for you?  If so, you will have less disappointments and more life giving joy.  Blessings!

“Do not, my child, approach Jesus Christ with the hope of bending his will to yours: what I desire is that you yield yourself to him and that he receive you, so that he, your Savior, may do with you and in you whatever he pleases.” St. Cajetan