Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18
1 And the LORD said to Moses,
2 "Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy.
17 "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him.
18 You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Today's readings stirred up some heavy emotions in me today at Mass. I found myself weeping over a certain person I've axed out of my life. I wondered if doing such a thing has placed me in peril, and displeased God.
The way we handle relationships is not something to play around with. We think if someone gets on our nerves and annoys us to our last end, we can easily brush aside and not pay any heed to them. I'm not sure if that is what God wishes. If a person is in your life, he or she is there for a reason, and that reason is for you to love them and show them the model that is Jesus Christ.
It's tough, isn't it?
The readings and the Gospel for today's Mass reminded me of an experience I had in the convent...
Too many people look at Sisters/Nuns and stereotype them in various ways. Some picture them with rulers who rule the classroom with an iron fist (or Iron Maiden, since I was a Dominican.) Others see them as completely humourless, stiff lipped individuals who have absolutely no joy in them. These could not be more false and farther from the truth. But don't get me wrong. Many young ladies who enter the convent have various backgrounds, and have been through situations and lived lives that were less than pristine. You don't come to the convent automatically perfect. You arrive at the door a beautiful mess. The important thing is to leave the baggage at the door.
When I was entering the convent, I prayed the hardest I've ever done in my life up to that time. I was in constant prayer, up to the moment I walked up to the door of the Motherhouse. As I took those steps into the doorway, I prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to give me the strength and the graces to "live the Two Greatest Commandments." In this way, I told God, "I wish to become a reflection of You in the midst of my Sisters and to the world."
When a young lady enters the Dominican convent, they are assigned a "guardian sister" who makes sure the new postulant is aware of basic convent rules, the lay of the motherhouse, where everything is, etc. Well, I was paired up with the devil, a fiery blonde who was as mean as they come! My first week was hell! I didn't do anything correctly, and she was quick to snap at me for my various infractions. My first Saturday came, and I was washing dishes in silence alongside my guardian. She kept placing the dry dishes into the "dry" sink, where they would occasionally get wet again. I kept placing them on the counter, away from the wet areas. She would put them back. This little "game" she was playing with me was wearing me down. I decided I wasn't going to take anymore and I walked away. She broke silence as she loudly whispered for me to return to my duty. But I kept walking, and I didn't look back.
In the convent, you are assigned a "cell." The word may get some strange looks, but the meaning is something like "little heaven." (I'm sure it's not that way in most jail cells, but a convent cell is a sacred place, a place for ONLY you and Jesus. No other human being is allowed in your cell, just the two of you.) Well, I walked to my cell after that incident in the kitchen, and fell on my knees at the foot of the bed. I looked up at the Crucifix hanging on the wall. "Jesus," I said, "What am I to do with her??? She's soooo hard to get along with and has made my first week in the convent miserable!" I bowed my head and started to feel sorry for myself. I was just about to get up, when I was hit with the memory of my prayer walking into the motherhouse. An inner voice spoke to me and I heard, "LOVE HER. I WANT YOU TO LOVE HER. WHO ARE YOU NOT TO LOVE HER, WHEN I DO?" So loud and clear was this voice, that I thought I had heard it with my ears! At this, I walked up to the Crucifix and I kissed the figure of Jesus tenderly, remembering that LOVE is what cost Him his life. I whispered to Him, "I'll die for love, too...please give me the strength and show me how." I looked around for a few minutes, and I noticed a little vase filled with flowers that an anonymous sister had slipped into my cell. I took the vase, and I looked at it. It was filled with daisies, my favorite. I wanted to keep it, but I decided to make this a sacrifice. I took a note from my desk, and I wrote an apology to my guardian for walking out on my duties. I told her that the she was already precious to me, because God deigned to give her to me as my guardian in religious life. I said, "for as long as we both shall live in this community, you will always be special, for you were the one God appointed to be my guardian sister to look over my first Dominican baby-steps." I then told her that she made it difficult for me, and I wasn't quite sure why. I asked her to be more patient, to remember I am new, that this entrance was difficult, and I was going through home-withdrawl. Then I walked over to her cell, and I silently slipped the note along with the vase of daisies, in through her door.
I went on to my other house duties. It was Saturday, and the morning is spent cleaning house. I mopped the novitiate hallway in silence, praying to God and meditating on his life using the Rosary. This was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see my guardian in tears. Apparently, she had received her little gift in the cell. She gave me a hug, and since we were in silence, whispered to me, "You are a good egg, Sister...a good egg!" And I whispered back to her, "You're my Sister-in-Christ and I'm afraid I already love you! We need to begin again!" And she nodded and slowly walked off. This monster of a woman was tamed by an act of humility and love. That was to be my weapon and I used it a lot while I was there.
True to the letter, Sr. guardian and I grew extremely close, and I would do anything for her. She needed constant prayers as she battled with her inner demons of anger and impatience. I decided to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for her everyday. By the time I left the convent two years later, she was completely changed. She was no longer feared by the others, but she was greatly loved, sought out and appreciated. So radical was her conversion, that it brought about changes in others as well. When we said goodbye, I reminded her that she had come a long way since that first week we met, and I had as well. That one act of love had changed us both for the better. Can you imagine if I had acted in retaliation instead?
Father Bryan spoke in his homily that today's Gospel is summed up like this: "Love your enemies at all cost, it'll mess with their heads!" It is true, and if you put it into practice, you will see that Love conquers all!