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Strength and Energy Through Prayer
By Br. Leonard Konopka, MIC (Feb 4, 2007)
I saw the little Infant Jesus, who told me that I was to depend on Him for everything; No action undertaken on your own, even though you put much effort into it, pleases Me. I understood this [need of] dependence.
— Diary of St. Faustina, 659
If there is one thing I take great comfort in, it is to work for "Christ and the Church." This, in fact, is our Marian Community motto. It's one of the principle reasons that I joined religious life and — only through His grace — why I have been able to persevere within it.
The notion of taking pride in being busy working for the Lord is quite common. Even St. Paul said: Caritas Christi Urget nos, meaning "The love of Christ impels us ..." (2 Cor 14).
However, I must admit, I have struggled with those "work-a-holic" and "thought-a-holic" tendencies most of my life. Work-a-holism provided me with an identity in the early stage of religious life, and I still have that gnawing tendency to always do more. I'll never forget the months of burning midnight oil when we were transferring raw data into our new computer system at the Marian Helpers Center in Stockbridge, Mass. The thrill of accomplishing this task became intoxicating. Something major was being done, and it was quite visible and rewarding. Prayer at that time was not always as stimulating nor as rewarding.
As a result, it was quite providential that I was transferred, since the Lord knew I was drowning in expanding energy that was not directed toward virtue nor toward Him. I was losing my soul as I neared the classic burnout stage of my life. Emptiness and utter futility bore itself deeply within me. Being too self-absorbed, I couldn't find a way out of that morass.
Having to abandon the addiction of work, I then became inundated with thoughts of futility, despair and utter frustration. After all, what could be more exhilarating than working untold hours on a computer? At the time, the computer world was where all the action was. It was not until I regained a sense of the need to direct my energies toward fulfilling His desires, reading His word, consciously looking forward to receiving Him daily and deepening my prayer life, that was I then able to regain the notion that my self-identity and self-worth depended on Him and not on my efforts alone.
I had to learn that what was more important was what He thought of me and not necessarily what others thought. Finally, it was imperative to learn how He wanted to fulfill His desires through my ministry. It was a difficult lesson to integrate. In fact, it was a Jesuit spiritual director who warned me about a rather subtle form of discernment. He reminded me that I could actually convince everyone, even my superiors as well as myself, that what I was doing is "for God." But then he challenged me to ask: But is it "of" God? That is a notable distinction that I am still learning to this day.
As a result, I've learned that there is no merit or grace in the best of accomplishments that Our Lord does not demand. He was not asking me to "do those many things" that I was convinced are so important. Even "good works" can be quite seductive and lead us away from Him. Worldly success can often lead to spiritual pride. I've realized that much of what I've accomplished was actually in many instances a waste of time and effort because it was not "of" God.
I am not referring to sin or human failure, because that obviously is not of God. I am referring to efforts I've tried to do on my own without asking Him first, even if I had the permission of my superiors. When He does become the focus of my effort, His grace is always more than adequate to accomplish the task. Burnout or despair never enters the picture. If there is a seeming lack of success or even failure, He always gives me the grace to accept and understand His purpose. On the other hand, I know our Lord tempers success and spiritual pride. I am convinced that nothing is accomplished without His grace.
At first, my actions seemed rewarding. But in the end, my tainted nature and so-called "good intentions" completely drained me of energy. This was my evidence that these good works and loving acts were not "of" God. Finally, through daily meditation on the scriptures and the Diary of St. Faustina, I have learned that when I am discouraged with results, rather than become disillusioned, I have to consider if my actions are dependent on my will rather than on His.
The evil one can enter in at this point and be very convincing that all my efforts are worthless. His best tool is despair. He wants Christians to cease doing good works. He will do anything to discourage our inner souls and takes advantage of our feelings of not being appreciated, which often leads to burnout.
One way to describe being burned out is: I'm doing things, or thinking in ways,
that God is not asking of me (c.f. Phil 4:8-9). In other words, I don't have the grace to do those things that are not of Him. I had to cease doing or thinking in a manner that does not bring me inner peace since I may not be in His will.
St. Faustina again helped me in this regard when she wrote: "Now I understand that if the Lord demands something of a soul, He gives it the means to carry it out and through grace He makes it capable of doing this. So, even if the soul be utterly miserable, at the Lord's command it can undertake things beyond its expectation. Because this is the sign by which it can be known that the Lord is with that soul: if God's power and strength, which make the soul courageous and valiant, is manifest within it... " (Diary, 1090).
We can make the following prayer of St. Faustina our own:
Jesus, Eternal Light, enlighten my mind, strengthen my will, inflame my heart and be with me as You have promised, for without You I am nothing. You know, Jesus, how weak I am. I do not need to tell You this, for You yourself know perfectly well how wretched I am. It is in You that all my strength lies (Diary, 495).
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Brother Leonard Konopka, MIC, is on the staff of the Marian Seminary in Washington, D.C. He also provides spiritual direction, retreats, and seminars. Brother Leonard has a leaflet available that has a series of meditations on the five wounds of our Lord. The meditations are intended for use while praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order Contemplate My Wounds. He also has a CD available with the meditations on the five wounds, interspersed with the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Click here to order A Musical Interlude.