Called to Conversion: What I mean when I say, “This Changed My Life.”

“This changed my life.”

It’s a sentence that I find coming from my lips more and more frequently. For a long time, I feared the phrase, “life changing,” because I didn’t want to hyperbolize. As someone who has become overwhelmed by the goodness of pumpkin pie pop tarts, I sometimes need to keep my passionate reactions in check.

There are some moments and experiences that have unquestionably changed me. There were painful experiences like moving cross country or losing family members. There were huge decisions like switching ballet studios in eighth grade or accepting this traineeship. There were the books I read like Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis which changed my perception of spiritual warfare and the Christian life, or Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge that opened my eyes to previously unchartered facets of my own soul and the Lord’s heart. There were the spiritual encounters like falling in love with the Eucharist in a whole new way while on a vacation out West or attending the Destination Jesus retreat in my junior year.

But then there are the smaller moments. The one sentence whispered by Jesus in a Holy Hour on an ordinary Friday evening. The casual conversation with a friend where the Holy Spirit moved powerfully. There was Brideshead Revisited which taught me how to self-examine and evangelize and become pierced by the transcendent in ways I hadn’t previously encountered. And I’ve come to realize that my list of “life changing moments” grows on a regular basis. I’m not Saul being knocked off his horse every other week. But the One who blinded Saul is the same One I converse with every time I enter prayer. And shouldn’t every encounter with Infinite Goodness be life changing?

St. Therese famously writes, “You cannot be half a Saint; You must be a whole Saint or no Saint at all.” To be a Saint is to run back to the Father and away from our self-centeredness and worldliness daily. It requires constant conversion, constant cooperation with the Holy Spirit to change one’s life a little more every day. Fortunately we have all the grace sufficient for this call to conversion, for this invitation to press even more deeply into the heart of Jesus.

Because every day we have the opportunity for our lives to be changed. We can let ourselves be captivated by the beauty of this autumn weather and hear the personalized homily that Christ preaches through nature. We can be attentive to the words the Holy Spirit whispers at a red light. We can immerse ourselves in media that teaches us to love the Lord in new ways. If it wasn’t for a single Instagram post explaining an aspect of Eucharistic devotion that I read the summer after eighth grade, my life would look very different. And every day, we can reach out like the hemorrhaging woman, coming to the feet of the Master through Scripture and the Sacraments. You might not notice a tangible change. Be grateful that every period of prayer is not like Saturday night adoration at a youth conference, because that would be exhausting. But know that whether or not you feel like prayer is transforming you, the Lord is moving in unspeakably beautiful ways over the waters of your soul every time you approach Him.

So today, I invite you to join me in praying, “Jesus, open my eyes to the way you want to change my life today.” And take some time to consider the things that have changed your life. Don’t be afraid of a long list. That doesn’t mean that you’re inauthentic in your answers or overexaggerating your own conversion. It simply means that you belong to a merciful God who didn’t come to save you one Saturday night in Steubenville. He comes to save you and transform you every day, if you only give Him permission. He has a goodness that cannot be overexaggerated.

Dear Weeping Heart: St. Therese and the Pro-Life Movement

White crosses dot the field in front of the Dominican parish near my house, their small planks crudely nailed together. In a harsh reminder of the cross’s brutish nature, little white sticks sprout from the grass like a spring prairie that was deformed. These are not the beautiful crosses you encounter at Hobby Lobby. These are markers for those who do not have graves. These are reminders of the murdered unborn.

It’s easy to become numb to abortion statistics just like it is to any large casualty rate. We get excited when abortion numbers drop by the thousands, forgetting that the new number still leaves thousands of babies killed by abortion every day. But there are moments when the reality of abortion presses upon you, whether that is when you connect the number 3000 with the words, “babies who die daily,” see an image of an aborted child, or hear the testimony of a post-abortive woman. And that reality can crush you as you realize that despite the adrenaline of the March for Life, the success of Unplanned, or political gain for the pro-life movement, 61 million children are dead and in trash cans.

Despite the excitement seen on social media for every pro-life victory, there can be a lot of hopelessness in the intense uphill battle that we have had to fight since 1973. A couple years ago I was in Adoration after a local January march, and despite the excitement of the crowd and the cheers at the rally as pro-life legislation was explained, all I saw before me in the chapel was my Bible open to Psalm 22. It’s the prayer of an innocent person, the prayer of one considered to not be human, whose heart melts within him, whose bones are disjointed as he is laid aside to die. I grew angry as the psalmist praised God for his coming deliverance, because I knew that as I read that psalm, there was a baby being murdered. And there was no deliverance for him.

As I wrote this post, I sat right here on the page, my cursor blinking in exasperated anticipation. Because what more is there to say? We can press forward in fighting abortion and providing hope and help to the women currently in crisis pregnancies, but how do we account for the tens of millions of children who our society failed?

Love is strong as Death.1 Perhaps the answer to this tragedy lies in St. Therese of Lisieux’s Offering to Merciful Love.

I was never wild about St. Therese2 until I read 33 Days to Merciful Love by Fr. Michael Gaitley. Like Fr. Gaitley’s preparation for Marian Consecration, this personal retreat prepares the reader for the same consecration that St. Therese created, the Offering of Love. Therese writes,

“Oh, my God! …Will it be only Your Justice that will receive souls that offer themselves as sacrificial victims?…Doesn’t Your Merciful Love need them as well?…Everywhere it is misunderstood, rejected. The hearts into which You desire to pour it are turned toward created things…instead of throwing themselves into Your arms…It seems to me that if You found souls that were offering themselves as sacrificial victims to Your Love, You would consume them rapidly… Oh, my Jesus! Let me be that happy victim; consume your sacrifice through the fire of Your Divine Love!”

The Story of a Soul

The covenant of Therese’s offering entails far more than this post could go into,3 but at its heart is this cry to console the heart of Jesus by accepting all of the graces rejected by those who have shut themselves off from the Lord and His tender mercy. The Lord has oceans of grace and mercy reserved for each soul, but so often that torrent cannot be released because of a soul’s unwillingness to accept. So Therese asks that all of Christ’s rejected love and grace be poured into her own soul for the sake of the sinners who have rejected Christ, as well as for Jesus, who so desperately loves but is so little loved in return.

There are unseen depths of love and grace that were reserved for each baby who never got to take a breath. It was not God’s plan for a child to be murdered within her own mother. That baby was created by Love to pursue Love with her whole being over the course of a long life. And that baby, that innocent person crying out in Psalm 22, may not have been pursued by her parents or by a world that so ruthlessly lies about the existence of human life. But even in her final, painful moment she was ardently pursued and passionately loved by her Maker.

I think it would be the greatest honor that we could give to each aborted baby to ask God for the graces that He was prepared to bestow on that soul for what was intended to be a long life. These sweet souls are in the hands of God and no longer in need of strength to finish the race well. But those of us who live in this valley of tears and culture entrenched in the jaws of death? We need all the grace and strength we can receive on this slow, painful, uphill battle against Roe.

I can no longer do anything about the babies who were silently slaughtered today in my city. But I can throw myself before the jealous God whose heart is broken by the weeping of Rachel. I can ask to console His tender, battered heart by asking for the graces no longer needed by the battered bodies in Planned Parenthood. I can allow these forsaken children who never had a chance to change the world to live, in a sense, through me, as I fight for a world in which abortion is unthinkable and denounced for the depravity that it is. The Lord desires that we ask boldly for His grace, His spirit, His love. Today, I invite you to ask boldly through the intercession of the innocent unborn for the unfathomable graces that the Lord never had a chance to give. And as you are overshadowed by His merciful love, ask for the strength and perseverance to do whatever it takes to end abortion.

St. Therese writes, “I know that Jesus…wouldn’t inspire in me the desires that I feel if He didn’t want to fulfill them…” I desire justice for victims of abortion. I desire a culture of life. Come, Holy Spirit.

With Love,

Larisa

1 – Song of Songs 8:6

2 – Gotta find some way to be a rebel in the Catholic home school world

3 – Please, I am begging you, include this book in your next 2020 Amazon impulse spree. The consecration has been one of the deepest gifts that the Lord has ever given me. Also, Fr. Gaitley explains Therese’s theology far better than I ever could. So if this post bothers you or confuses you, read the book. If you love this post, read the book. If you are a human being, read the book.

Let Me Lead

One of my favorite parts of ballet is Pas de Deux, or dancing with a partner. The intricacy of weight transfer and coordination between the two dancers brings joy to my analytic side, the thrill of being thrown in the air or turned seven times is what every little girl dreams of, and the rich artistry and storytelling intrinsic to performed pas are the experiences I come back to every time the road is long and hard. An interesting difference between partnering in classical ballet and other forms of partnered dance, like swing or ballroom, is that the female dancer is the one calling the majority of the shots. The man is responsible for those extra turns or for getting the girl up in the air, but when it comes to timing and execution of steps, the man is mostly at the mercy of the woman – this becomes abundantly clear if you’ve forgotten the combination while doing it. 

It’s a comforting thing to be in control. As long as you have an experienced partner to support you, there’s there’s the knowledge that you’re responsible for what your legs are doing, and therefore the timing and outcome of your arabesque, turn, and even lift, are mostly up to you. Enough drive of the supporting leg will ensure a stable developpe. The amount of pressure in the hand will dictate the success of your pirouette after a promenade. 

But some things aren’t as certain. There was a recurring lift in a recent performance which involved jumping forward and trusting that my partner would be there to lift me onto his shoulder and keep me up there. There was a turn in The Nutcracker which required only slight movement after reaching out as far as possible on pointe.* And in those moments, you can think of all the right things and make sure you’re doing your part. But there’s also that split second when you can’t know the outcome. Whether you’re in the air or doing a chasse penche, there’s the possibility that your next location will be the ground or ice bucket. But you trust your training. You trust your partner. And so you leap, or step out, or flip upside down. And the result? Well, it’s pretty fun.

A few months ago, my heart was aching in Adoration as I wrestled with some of my deepest desires. I began to go down the rabbit hole of playing out all possible scenarios, some positive, some negative, as my mind raced for solutions to my problems and as I tried to see the potential future. Jesus was so patient in the monstrance, watching me try to sort it all out, completely forgetting about His Presence as I tried to take on the role of Divine Author. But finally, He broke in, whispering the simplest words to my weary soul: “Let me lead.”

“Let me lead.”

I would love to know my story like I know my favorite book – the pages well-read, the good parts dog-eared, key phrases highlighted. Or I’d like to know the Lord’s plan like I know my First Arabesque line and supporting leg. But that is not what I am invited to. I am invited to that hovering between the ground and my partner’s shoulder, to that impetus before a grande saut de chat where you’re not allowed to carry yourself forward, no matter how much you love to travel by yourself. I am invited to that tender moment after the pas when you are walked forward to the audience by your partner. I am invited to let Him lead.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew, a tax collector and traitor whose life was changed by a single glance and the invitation, “Follow me.” I’m struck by the mere two words that brought Matthew to Christ that day. Jesus did not say, “Follow me to the local Starbucks for a brief Onboarding Apostle orientation. Follow me and I’ll inspire you to write one of the Gospels. Follow me and be one of my first Bishops. Follow me and, yes, things will be hard, but good will come out of your suffering in this exact way.” No, Jesus does not offer explanation. He does not make promises. The only promise He makes is the gift of His friendship, the gift of Himself. And that is enough for Matthew.

Today, the same hand that points to Matthew points to me. The same eyes beckon. The same voice calls, “Follow me.” He does not promise healing in the exact way I desire. He does not guarantee that my yearnings will be satisfied in the way that I long for – He is too good of a Father to give me mudcakes when the sea is at hand.** But He offers Himself, His skilled hand that has danced in rapture over Creation since the beginning of time. He offers to lead. And there can be no better partner.

So today I will leap even when I cannot see. I will follow Jesus to whatever end. I’ll let Him lead.

*- Ok, so ballet is much prettier to watch than it is to read

**- Your C.S. Lewis allusion for the day

This was the song I was praying with this morning on this topic

Why Full Throttle?

In the thirteenth century, the brilliant theologian and saintly Dominican Thomas Aquinas was praying before a Crucifix when the Lord spoke to Him. “Well you have written of me, Thomas. What would you have in return?”

There is so much that Thomas, arguably the most intelligent man to ever live in the West, could have asked for. And yet his answer came in merely four words: “Non nisi te, Domine. Nothing except you, Lord.”

800 years later, I was kneeling on a gym floor at a diocesan retreat in my junior year of high school, speaking to the same God with whom St. Thomas spoke. It had been a retreat of unspeakable grace and beauty as the Lord began to reveal parts of myself and plans for my life that I had never before concretely envisioned. Jesus was walking among the crowd in a Eucharistic procession and as He passed the row of high school students in front of me, I asked, with hands open, “Lord, what do you want of me?”

His answer was identical to the one that Thomas had given Him: “Only yourself.”

What I do with my life matters. I firmly believe that “God has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.”1 And yet, my vocation and position in life is secondary to the most arduous, jubilant reality of all: I am made for an eternal covenant of Love with Love Himself. The Prime Mover stooped to become Man and to exist rejected in the tabernacle so that He could give Himself completely to me and so that I can offer my entire self to Him. How can I say no to a love that is so self-sacrifical, and yet so overflowing in beauty and joy and adventure?

As I was unpacking some of that retreat in my youth minister’s office, he suggested the phrase “Full throttle” to describe my desires for prayer. And, partially in thanks to my morbid mind misunderstanding the phrase and needing friends to set me straight,2 the phrase stuck.

I want to live a life that is full throttle. From pouring myself into my work as a trainee with a professional ballet company, to giving of myself in ministry, to loving my family, friends, and even myself as Christ loves, I want to live in the intense joy that is only found in the arms of the Crucified. I want to run after the Beauty that has captivated my heart and bring as many people as possible to gaze on that same Beauty.

One day, by God’s grace, “The grey rain curtain of this world [will roll] back,”3 and that gaze on the Beauty of the Lord, that deepest desire of our human hearts will be brought to its consummation. Until then, I invite you “to run with me; let us long for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers.”4

God bless you!

Larisa

1 St. John Henry Newman

2 I honestly thought he was saying prayer should look like strangling something and making sure it was dead, and I was too scared to ask about a clarification. When I learned later that week that “full throttle” generally refers to the much more mundane concept of accelerating in a car, I fell out of my chair at Red Robin from laughing. Social anxiety, folks. Don’t let it keep you from asking clarifying questions.

3 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

4 St. Augustine