Not too infrequently I find myself making life more difficult than it needs to be. First, I want very much to grow in my prayer life, to deepen my relationship with God, to practice contemplation more naturally. At the same time, I am concerned by the challenges faced by friends, by family, by members of my Community as these are the ones that I know personally. Yet I cannot dismiss the overwhelming needs that also impact me every day: the ever-present precautions from the pandemic; the devastation resulting from global warming and the consequences that follow; drought, poverty, starvation, and the migration of millions of people from what was once their home. I could continue, but you know too well what the challenges are that confront us. Wanting to act with compassion in order to mitigate even one of these needs overwhelms me.
As I prayed the Office recently, I was struck by these words of St. Hildegard of Bingen, osb: Believers who have their hearts and minds directed toward God cannot be forgotten by God. On the one hand, your desires and feelings sigh for the narrow path that leads to God. But on the other hand, you have a whole realm of worries about the people entrusted to you.
At least someoneknows what I am experiencing, I thought, and that helps me know that I am not alone in this maze of desires and strivings. But it was what Hildegard said next that gave me pause:
You don’t allow yourself to see that they belong together, and this is why you so frequently experience depression in your spirit. For you fail to see your striving for God and your concern for people as a unity. My counsel is that you let your toil be saturated at the fountain of wisdom.
Initially I was encouraged because I now had some direction. But all too quickly I became confused. I had no idea what Hildegard meant to “let your toil be saturated at the fountain of wisdom.” That insight would need more prayer.
In the meantime, the everyday events of my life continued to carry me forward. During morning prayer at the beginning of September, I was struck by the celebration of three Feast Days of Our Lady, all occurring within eight days’ time. As I prayed on the Nativity of Mary, September 8th, I learned that hers is only one of three births recognized by the Church, and hers the only woman; that the 8thday of the month was chosen as a reminder of the “beginning of human salvation”, of “the time of new creation.” But it was not until I entered into the prayer intentions for the day that I found a connection between my desire for a deepening prayer life and the nagging concerns of other human beings. I began to discern a way to allow my “toil to be saturated at the fountain of wisdom.” Let me share some examples:
On the feast of the Nativity of Mary:Mary’s birth brought hope that God seeks to dwell forever with us; help us offer our world your compassionate love.
Mary’s birth reveals the capacity of women to be filled with grace; transform your church so that whatever blocks the acceptance of women’s equal dignity is removed.
Mary’s birth asserts the human body’s dignity, for she gave flesh to God; convert humanity from our use of torture and rape as military weapons, from pornographic and sadistic “entertainment,” and from economies where people starve or die of preventable diseases.
Mary’s birth indicates that the birth of a girl-child deserves as much celebration as that of a boy; show us how to help vulnerable girls in countries that practice abortion and infanticide based on gender.
On the feast of the Holy Name of Mary: For Christians to live as other Christs and for Catholics to be universal in compassion:
For the world’s peoples who do not know themselves to be your daughters and sons, sisters and brothers of Jesus,
For young people taunted and bullied with name-calling at home, in school, or in their neighborhoods:
And on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows: For mothers who suffer the loss of children through abortion, miscarriage, poverty, violence, drugs, or disease:
For mothers who suffer their children’s imprisonment, especially for mothers of those awaiting execution;
For women who suffer unfulfilled longing for motherhood that places them before the cross of emptiness;
For spiritual mothers who suffer the anguish of birthing justice, of offering spiritual or psychological help that’s rejected, or of spending their lives in service that goes unappreciated;
Is there any better way to bring the human sufferings of my mind, my body and my soul to the fountain of Wisdom than by following Mary’s example, by joining my prayers with hers to the God who loves us? Is there anyone who could better help us translate our human and womanly concerns so that Jesus would more readily attend to our pleas? Is there anyone whose example of compassion is more powerful than that of Mary who stood by the Cross of her Son as he was crucified and died and who welcomed Him into her loving arms as He was taken down for burial? With restored hope, I am growing in confidence that the words of Hildegard will be realized:
[Then} you can bring to fulfillment the difficult work assigned to you by Love. God who fathoms all will support you.