Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
November 10, 2020
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 37, a song of promise and encouragement to live a good life. Although I don’t usually choose to write a subjective reflection, a life-shaping memory keeps rising up from this psalm today.
I was nineteen years old, kneeling on an antique prie-dieu in front of the Superior General. She was about to rename me “Sister Something” for the rest of my life. You know, something like this picture – except that novice couldn’t sing quite as well as I did! 🙂
We postulants had been able to submit three suggestions, so I was expecting a name in honor of my mother or father, or my own baptismal name. How stunned was I when Mother intoned, “God bless you, Sister Mary Nathaniel”- a name I had heard maybe once in American Lit class! (You remember Hawthorne, right?)
But my shock is not the point of the story. Later, Mother took me aside and told me that she gave me the name because I reminded her of Nathaniel in the Gospel – the guileless one. Being guileless I guess, I told her I didn’t know what “guileless” meant. She said, “It means whole hearted. Be wholehearted, without pretense.”
The LORD watches over the lives of the wholehearted;
their inheritance lasts forever.
By the LORD are your steps made firm,
as the Lord blesses your way.
Psalm 37 gave me the gift of that word, and that memory, again today. I realized that it is still taking me a lifetime to live into Mother’s long-ago challenge.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and God will grant you your heart’s requests.
Even though, after Vatican II, I eventually returned to my baptismal name, my heart has remained “Nathaniel”. Like the disciple under the fig tree, I am still trying to weave a true and loving life out of life’s tangled threads – still trying to do so wholeheartedly and without guile.
Gratefully and humbly, I thank God for watching over me. But God is not the only one. Mother Bernard came once more this morning, borne on memory’s beloved wing, to bless me with renewed hope and challenge.
As we pray this psalm today, let us call on the memory of those who have blessed us by their confidence and hope in us. Let us call on the God who watches over our desire to be truly wholehearted disciples.
Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (1927) – a writing I loved in my youth and have often passed on to those just beginning the glorious journey.
GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Music: Tenderhearted – Jeanne Cotter