1 Corinthians 2:10b-16; Luke 4:31-37
In the early 1950’s a young girl dreaming of a glorious acting career packed her bags, left Chicago, and set out for Hollywood. She changed her name to Dolores Hart. A fine actress who reminded many people of Grace Kelly, she achieved almost instant success. By age 18 she landed the part of Elvis Presley’s love interest in the movie “Loving You,” and over the next few years appeared in 9 more films with such stars as Montgomery Clift, George Hamilton and Robert Wagner. After falling in love with a young architect, Dolores got engaged and set their wedding date for the following February, 1963.
Then something happened. At the age of 24, after visiting a Benedictine abbey of Regina Laudis for a rest, Dolores left Hollywood to become a nun. Shocked, her fans and friends wrote angry letters, accusing her of throwing her life away. Her response was simple: “If you heard what I hear, you would come, too.”
We might wonder how she heard anything but the fact is that she had been listening for a long time. Since the age of 10 when she converted from Protestantism, Dolores was a devout, practicing Catholic. Even at the height of her career she attended holy Mass every day. Such devotion our Lord surely repays; undoubtedly over the years the Holy Spirit moved within her, stirring her to a deeper relationship with Christ. What a splendid example of St. Paul’s words in the first reading: We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.
Like her fans and friends, we may wonder what was so wrong with the path she was already on, but if so consider how St. Paul continued: And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Dolores may herself not have been able to put these realities into words; indeed, she was probably unaware of what was happening. By her own account she wasn’t unhappy with either her success or her plans for marriage and family life; the call for change within her came as much as a surprise to her as it did to everyone else. Ultimately however, what mattered was not her plans or awareness but her docility; she remained in conversation with our Lord and in close relationship with him. So it is with all of us; like Dolores, all of us are called to docility in our spiritual life; ideally, to dialog with God and discern his plans for us and our openness to them.
I say “ideally” because in the gospel we are reminded that the spiritual realities spoken of by St. Paul include another voice, one that is not interested in honest dialog but in interjecting, demanding to know what there is between us and our Lord. This is the voice of the enemy and although we tend to think in terms of extraordinary manifestations such as demonic possession, its ordinary activity is much more pervasive and comes in four ways: deception, accusation, doubt, and enticement. First, deception: The voice that whispers, “Everyone does it! Everyone looks at their phone while driving; everyone watches violent or degrading movies,” etc. Second, accusation: “You’re hopeless; don’t even bother trying to be good; God will never forgive you; you aren’t good enough for religious life.” Third, doubt: “Is that really a sin? Aren’t you just being scrupulous?” Finally, he entices us: “Look, that food you gave up for Lent! Come on, just this one time, just a little bit. Indulge! You deserve it!”
Yet, just as Jesus expelled the demon in the gospel, so His grace counters the enemy within us. Against deception he gives the truth that his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9); against the accusation of our worthlessness he assures us of our dignity as sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:18); against doubt he gives the certainty of God’s infinite mercy and love (John 3:16); and against enticements to weaken and commit evil he gives the strength of the promise that those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
In his promise is our hope and we will only hear it if we like Mother Dolores take the advice of St. Benedict and listen with the ear of the heart.