This is a “guest post” by my sister, Sr. Christina Marie, O.Cist on the occasion of her solemn profession as a Cistercian nun.
My Soul Clings Fast to You; Your Right Hand Upholds Me (Ps. 63:9)
Customarily, those making final religious vows choose a phrase or quote as a motto of sorts. As I approach my solemn vows, I have chosen this line from Psalm 63 (above). While many scriptural quotes came to mind, this one always seemed the most appropriate. I know all too well that I cannot live monastic life well or keep any of the vows by my own strength or ability. I need the constant upholding of God’s grace. And I recognize I cannot receive this needed support except by clinging to Him by love and trust.
The mysterious dance between the workings of divine grace and human freedom intrigues me. God showers us with so many gifts: gratuitously creating us, giving the Son as our Redeemer, sending the Spirit as our Sanctifier, establishing the Church and her sacraments. The gift of sanctifying grace alone is enough to make me to wonder how we are not all saints. This grace (which is conferred at Baptism, increased through the Eucharist, restored by Confession) is no mere spiritual band-aid for original sin; rather, it transforms our souls by modifying our very nature, allowing us to share in God’s nature and empowering us to act supernaturally. With all these unmerited, lavishly given gifts, what could be in the way of our holiness?
The short answer is: our own wills! God pours out grace but allows us to accept or reject it. Certainly when we sin we oppose grace, but often we are more subtly, even unconsciously, opposed or ill-disposed to divine grace. One resistance I all too often find in my own heart is a hesitancy to trust and believe in God’s loving providence for me personally. When God asks for a leap of faith, I go about making a parachute and weaving a safety net. And when He wants me to leave something in His hands, I continue to fret and worry about it. Yet if I do not depend on His providence and do not rely on His grace, why do I wonder why I do not experience this grace upholding me? I can tell myself how God is trustworthy and repeat His words: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). But often a more effective means for being open to grace and seeing difficulties in the light of faith is that wisdom found in the psalms: remembering God’s faithfulness in the past and letting that experiential knowledge transform our perspective of the present.
Has God’s love ceased forever? Has God forgotten mercy, in anger withheld compassion? I conclude, ‘My sorrow is this, the right hand of the Most High has left us.’ After this heart-wrenching description of how God has seemingly abandoned him, the psalmist immediately adds: I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, your wonders of old I will remember (Ps 77:9-11). In the biblical sense, remembering is not simply a calling to mind but a making present. This concept of remembering was brought to perfection by Christ at the last supper: Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19). To live by faith and allow grace to work more fully in our present circumstances, we too must remember and re-experience God’s faithful love in our past.
One fitting experience that I frequently need to remember in this biblical sense is when I was at prayer a few years ago and suddenly found myself immersed in a traumatic memory of nearly drowning as a young child. I was filled with fear and helplessness and believed that here was dying and no one cared. As I let this memory with its emotions wash over me, suddenly the atmosphere changed. The Spirit showed me what really happen: I saw myself unconscious at the bottom of the pool but there was a huge hand gently holding me and Psalm 139 filled my mind: Darkness is not dark for you, night shines as the day. Where can I hide from your Spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens you are there; if I lie down in the depths, you are there too, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand hold me fast. The immense fear was replaced by indescribable peace and serenity. Despite all evidence to the contrary, my loving Father held me securely in His hand.
I ask the help of your prayers, that I may continue to cling to God through love and know the support of His grace. Now to Him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph 3:20-21).
~ Sr. Christina Marie Murphy, O.Cist.
For more information on the Cistercian Nuns visit: www.nunocist.org
If you’d like to donate toward their new monastery Project or learn more about it visit: www.valleyofourlady.org
Photo by Sr. Marie Gabrielle Roux, O.Cist