Letter Penitent to Penitent
When to Cry 'Uncle'!
My dearest sister in Christ,
You are undergoing tremendous stress in the midst of so many painful changes and decisions. In the course of our conversation, you asked me, "When do you say 'uncle'?" I, thinking you were referring to me amid my own stresses and concerns, replied, "I'm not ready to say 'uncle', a phrase indicative of admitting defeat." But I'd like to reconsider your question in another light.
If you mean, "When do you say 'uncle?' to mean ,'When do I finally say 'uncle' to God?," the answer has to be "right now." Saying 'uncle' to God means telling Him that you surrender everything and everyone to Him, that you are giving Him absolute and full control over every aspect of your life, over ever decision, every love, every person, every group, every duty, every pleasure, every pain, every possession, every thought, every dream, every goal, every plan, everything. "My Lord, I give You all that I am, all that I have, all that I want, all that I hold dear, all that I shun, all that I hate, all that I fear, all that I do. My Lord, I give You all of myself." This is not an attitude of defeat, which is commonly implied by the phrase, "saying 'uncle.'" It is an attitude of victory over self and the generous and total giving of self to the higher and wiser and perfect Love. Surrender is triumph.
My dear sister, in the midst of these many trials which have been besetting you for so long and which seem to be always increasing, God is making you more like Jesus. You worked at living our holy way of life in the Confraternity of Penitents. You have prayed over and over that you wish to surrender everything to Him. He has taken you further and further into that surrender. And now He wants to take you all the way. He wants to crucify in you everything that is of you so that you will be made fully into everything that is of Him.
St. Margaret of Cortona, in the mid-1200's, lived our holy Rule of Life in its first expression. When St. Margaret was suffering from the many trials which befell her, she came to Christ and poured out her heart to Him in bitter anguish. Interiorly she heard a voice asking her to lift her eyes to the large crucifix beneath which she, in sobbing, confused prayer, lay prostrate. "Margaret," the inner voice spoke as she stared at the Lord through her tears, "when I was hanging here, I wasn't laughing."
Indeed, crucifixion is painful, dear sister. We cannot know how painful it is until it comes to us. "Gaze upon the mirror of Christ." St. Clare wrote to St. Agnes of Prague, "and see yourself reflected there." Our Lord wishes to make us into images of Himself. He did this most perfectly with St. Francis whose initial anguished prayers to God took place beneath the Crucifix of San Damiano, the symbol of our Confraternity. "What do You want of me, Lord? What do You want of me?' The question implies obedience to the answer. The answer comes to Francis, "Go and rebuild My house, which as you can see is falling into ruin." As Francis went about his mission, he came to more and more clearly realize that God's call was larger than he had first imagined. "What do You want of me?" means ultimately "What can I give to You?" The answer to that comes to us eventually. "You can give Me yourself. All that you are. All that you have. Give Me your all. And I will give you My all."
I can only imagine the stress you are under at this time, dearest sister. I can think of the stresses that I have been under and remember the anguish, confusion, and fears I felt while undergoing them, and think that some or all or even more of these same emotions are what are now besetting you. Dearest sister, I pray that you will get to the point of going the only place you can go, which is right into the arms of the Lord. Run to Him like a little child. Throw yourself into His embrace and sob into His wide and warm chest. He knows every sorrow, question, pain, and loss you face. He knows because He has given you all of these for a greater good. He wants to make you totally and fully His daughter. He wants all of you, dear sister, and that means that you can have no attachments to anything but Him. That means that your will must be fully His. "Not my will but Yours be done, Lord."
I know you are in prayer at this precious time. Ask Him over and over, "What do You want of me, Lord?" Listen to His answer. He will guide. It may not be what you wish to hear. It may not be what you expect. His plans are not ours, but they are for our ultimate good. You will never fully know how much you have done for so many people. You will never see, until eternity, all the souls you have touched. God has used you most beautifully, dear sister. He wants to use you more fully now, in your family, your community, your Church. He is preparing you for even greater service by these many trials and losses. He is conforming you to Himself.
"Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive," the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth sing. The entire song consists of only those four words, repeated gently, liltingly. "Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive." Trust what He is doing, what He is asking, dear sister. Surrender totally to His Will, even as it unfolds moment by moment in your life. Believe that He has only your sanctity in mind, in all of what befalls you. Receive from Him the direction and guidance and holiness He will give, in His time, in His way.
Know that my prayers are with you, dearest sister in Christ. I am far distant from you in space but close in heart. As you walk through this dark valley, seeking the Light, my hand is in yours, holding you and giving you strength. And not mine alone but the hands of the others of us sisters and brothers in the CFP. When our times came to walk through our own dark valleys, your hand was there for us, your prayers were strengthening us. Now we return the favor to you. Go with Him, dear sister, wherever He is taking you. Give to Him whatever He asks. Accept from Him whatever He sends. Make our Lady's words yours. "Let it be done to me according to Your Will." The fiat that brought us the Savior must be yours, for your fiat will bring Him to you and to the rest of us. "Not my will, Lord, but Yours be done." Jesus's words as He conformed Himself to God the Father. Yours as He conforms you to Himself.
"Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Speak. Transform. Embrace. Love. Make me totally Yours, my God, my Lord, my All. Give me the courage to say always 'yes,.' Amen.
With my prayers for you and those of your fellow penitents,
Your sister in penance