Lent with St Edith Stein Day 24: Virtues, Gifts, and Graces

Lent with St Edith Stein Day 24: Virtues, Gifts, and Graces

“One must look beyond that which serves the spirit in raising the heart to God,…must look away and not let it act as a charm to the senses; for if I give in to the pleasure that the means afford, then that which should serve as a prop to my imperfection will become a hindrance.”

St Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross                                                                                             

               Whenever I go to the Catholic Women’s Conference, we all love the vendors as much as we love the speakers. Every sort of Catholic artwork/decor, devotional book, jewelry, rosary, novena booklet, and statue are on display. It’s easy, so easy, to get carried away. It is important, however, to use these items in the appropriate way for our spiritual benefit.

               These items help stimulate the senses and engage the will to lead us to devotion. We have to remember that these are tools to point us to Christ. It is to our detriment if we become attached to them to the point that we are saddened if they are lost or taken away from us. We seek the image of the living Christ, not charms.

               We can all be picky about our rosaries and I have a collection of fine beads. Also, there are so many images of Jesus and the saints and we can be drawn to one image over another so that we form an attachment. I have been waiting for the Catholic Company to get a particular image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus back in stock for a while now because it complements my living room aesthetic. But God looks on our faith and purity of heart, not the rosary we’re holding or the image we’re looking at.

               Oratories are a wonderful addition to our homes, but we can go overboard when decorating them and can, once again, become attached. It is useful to set aside a particular place for prayer. Someplace solitary and peaceful that doesn’t cater to the senses, but contains a few meaningful items that can help us to focus our attention on God. But once we elevate our souls, we should let go of the object and cling to God. We should never become dependent on gilded rosaries and colorful oil paintings to pray.

               We can see the same danger in ceremonies and I’m not referring the Mass, but private prayers. Establishing a ritual or ceremony in our prayer life can be useful insomuch as it allows us to come to God with greater reverence. However, we can get caught up in procedure. For example, a novena is a great way to create structure in our prayer life, but we have to remember that these are not incantations that must be followed to the letter in order to have our wishes granted. If you don’t get what you prayed for, it’s not because you missed a day in your novena. Prayer isn’t about following a formula to get what you want, it’s a means of bringing your petitions to God and uniting your will to His.

               St John of the Cross said that “If God does not hear their prayer when they offered it in simplicity, let them be convinced that He would not answer them, no matter how many ceremonies they might invent.” Ouch. It’s true, though. I’ve spent countless hours in novenas begging God to give me the desire of my heart. In the end, I had to let go of what I wanted so I could have open hands for what He wanted to give me.

               None of this is to say that rosaries, artwork, oratories, and novenas are bad. These are all wonderful devotional tools. We must be careful not to center ourselves on these things. What’s important is that these things lead us to reverence and devotion, not that we have the right image, the right rosary, say the right words for the correct number of days. Turn your heart toward God in humility and love. That is what He wants from us.

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