That struggle against self seems never-ending until Divine Union. And there is a glimpse of union when there is enough pain in body, mind, heart or spirit to nail us to the Cross with Jesus Christ. And in some aspect of that nailing, beauty begins to flow like rich, life-sustaining blood.
What kind of life exists for a Christian who does not struggle against self?
This nothing consecrated Catholic hermit can think of perpetual misery, darkness, self-pity--even if one can place some sort of blame upon the root cause from a form of injustice perpetrated either by the self or others. Even so, the soul ought struggle against itself at such times and in such circumstances. There are seeds to be planted no matter the pain.
Consider this thought expressed by Padre Pio:
"The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain."
The past couple of days, the hermit has prepared soil for planting. Yes, it is beginning to look a little bit like a farm around here--and that is quite something for a place of exile. The mind turns to the Irish hermit, St. Fiacre, who emigrated to France. He was told he could have as much land in a certain province, dependent upon what he could dig in boundaries in one day. He dug an impressive amount. Then he built and planted.
Today this hermit's body is feeling the physical pain of the digging, bending, hauling, weeding, seeding, and pruning. Precious Blood, the used pick-up truck, has graciously carried two loads of compost. Each load had to be shoveled off and now presents itself as two loamy, luscious, smelly-hot hillocks of seasoned excrement. Mixed with some soil that had been heavy sod dug out from around the old farmhouse, two years ago, and now composted itself, the raised bed boxes have an admixture of both.
While yet on the mattress on the floor in this tiny, downstairs room, thoughts began to ferment in unforgiving fashion. The bodily pain prodded painful thoughts which prodded emotions to turn on self in what could have been like seeds planted too deeply. There in the depths and darkness of too much soil above and all around, seeds do not have the ability to germinate well nor have the strength to push upward to sprout in light and air. Too deep down in, either too much water can accumulate or pack-in around the seed, or not enough water can trickle to the seed if in hard, clay-baked soil. Without water, nothing grows. Without light, nothing grows.
So this nothing consecrated Catholic hermit put the spade to the self a short while ago. It struggled against the thoughts and emotions that the pained body had activated. That furrow is too much set; the hermit needs to plow up that field of habit and create new rows in which to plant fresh seeds. The soil is enriched anew. The seeds are at the proper depth. The rains came just in time.
Thoughts turned to others and away from self. The hermit got up, dressed, and headed to the mailbox out by the road with three notes of encouragement and gratitude to three others. The hermit made a phone call to a cousin it had not spoken with for a couple of years, for that person's image and life germinated in the hermit's mind as someone who has been an exemplary person--mother and wife.
Sure enough, this cousin experienced a horrific year like none other in her life. While the hermit had been struggling against self (and not so successfully these past two years), the cousin had endured a spouse whose health required him to be put in constant care elsewhere, a handicapped son who was bullied at work and suffered a breakdown requiring hospitalization, and herself falling unexpectedly just walking out the door--suffering a seriously broken femur that is yet on the mend after eight months.
And to think the hermit was calling to tell this cousin that it had not called sooner because it had not been in a place of flowering soul, but the cousin came to mind as a person who exemplifies courage, love, fidelity, endurance, and beauty as a wife and mother! And sure enough, the cousin is living proof of how pain can bring to perfection beautiful blooms in the soul, as she said they made it through. While her husband is still in the memory care unit, her son is out of hospital and doing well, and her leg is healing--she can walk! The struggle against self yields a beautiful soul.
Now to head out to plant some sunflower seeds. These are the very tall, edible-seed type: Mammoth. Mixed in will be some autumn beauties of rich, rust-red and dark-golden blooms--for a perpetual yield of visual reminder: We must wage the perpetual battle against self; and the perfecting of a beautiful soul blooms from an earth-bed of pain.