While conversing with a family member (via text messaging), she sent me two quotes that she likes. I confess, the first one embodies everything that I find difficult and challenging in my Christian faith. Being immediately drawn to the second quote, I gladly began to think on that one. Surprisingly, my reflections led me to perhaps a better understanding of the first.
Don’t worry, I’m going to share the quotes with you. (I’m not that abstract!) They are both from St. John Vianney.
That last quote, my favorite one, is in this context: “My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer, we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the souls and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.”
But do sorrows really disappear? Not exactly. It’s not like – poof – gone, like a magic trick or something. For if we think about what the Saint is saying, then we see that snow doesn’t so much disappear before the sun as transform into something else, something that isn’t completely unrelated to snow.
Snow is water that is frozen in a crystallized way. When the warmth of the sun shines upon the snow, its temperature rises and it melts — no longer frozen. But still water. Snow melts into water that nourishes the ground, flowing into rivulets and streams and rivers, ensuring the continuance of life, of beautiful green and flowering life. No fruit can be born without water. In the parts of the world where there’s winter cold, it’s the snowmelt that provides the water that makes the fields and orchards bear nourishing produce. I live in New England. Without snow, there is spring drought — no summer richness and no autumn bounty.
How can we take this understanding to St. John Vianney’s insight on prayer and sorrow? Taking his insight on prayer altogether, we understand that the very act of praying allows us to be capable of receiving God’s grace, mercy, wisdom, and comfort. But he does say that we must pray “properly.” What does that mean? It does not mean that there is a specific formula that we need to follow, like A+ B = C, or specific words that we need to repeat, like a magic incantation. No. No. Proper prayer is an opening of the mind and heart to God’s ever present presence.
Like any vessel, we need to be in a receptive position — not upside down, or turned in upon ourselves, but upright and open — in order to be filled. When our minds and hearts are fully turned to God and open to God, then we are able to receive all of the good gifts that our good God is willing to give to us. Focused on God and His divine compassion and love, we can experience the sweet response of His Spirit within us, the Holy Spirit touching us and moving us, like “honey that flows into the souls and makes all things sweet.” A tiny taste of Paradise, of perfect and indissoluble union with the Divine. And our sorrows — the grief, heartache, disappointments, and fears that often bring us to our knees in prayer to begin with — these, the Saint tells us, “will disappear like snow before the sun.”
As I said earlier, this is not a complete ridding of sorrows but, rather, a transforming of sorrows into something that doesn’t resemble “sorrow” anymore, that is of a different makeup — and a different purpose. So the Saint is telling us that true prayer will melt our sorrows into a life-giving sustenance. Hmmm…. So does that mean that we need sorrows?
Well… I think it does seem that way. Not something we want to hear — not something I want to hear. But somehow and nonetheless true.
And that brings us to the first quote that my family member shared with me, the one, well, that I don’t really like, about our crosses. What are our crosses except those things that cause difficulties in our lives, things (events, situations, or maybe even people) that cause us challenges, setbacks, frustrations, pain, heartbreak, confusion, fear, and grief? Jesus’s cross was a heavy weight that He had to carry with much pain, fatigue, and struggle. Jesus’s cross was an instrument of torture and humiliation, the very instrument of His terribly painful dying and death. And yet He embraced it. Throughout His teaching to His disciples, He exhorted them to take up their crosses with Him, following Him. And where did Jesus’s cross lead Him? To fulfillment, to the exquisite fulfillment of His mission, of who He was meant to be. And yes… to Paradise, to eternal glory beyond imagining.
That brings us back to the first quote from St. John Vianney. As the Saint also says, “Why not love our crosses, and make use of them to carry us to heaven?” To follow Jesus, must I truly embrace and love all of the things that cause me sorrow, pain, and fear? Apparently so…
Well, I do love snow and it’s melting into spring and the blossoms and fruit. But sorrow?…
Let’s continue this reflection with next week’s post. (Meanwhile, let’s first dedicate ourselves to concentrating on praying with a pure openness to God’s merciful and ever-present presence, and the sweetness of the knowledge that God is love, that God is good. And I will pray that you, dear reader, will come through your praying to be able to trust that knowledge more and more. Please pray the same for me!)
© 2022 Christina Chase
[Read the theme of this reflection in a poem HERE.]
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.