Losing Your Mask This Lent

By: Rebecca Ruiz, Staff Spotlight

I was reading something that Marilyn Monroe wrote and it really resonated with me.

Monroe wrote, “I’m finding that sincerity, and to be [as] simple and direct as I’d like, is often taken for sheer stupidity.”

There is truth in her words. Sincerity and simplicity are not often-prized in modern times. Rather, from the time we are small, we are taught control – which often claims sincerity and simplicity as its casualty. We are taught to control our words, deeds, actions, goals, and dreams. We are taught that we can control our destiny and our entire world.

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As we grow and realize that this is not actually always possible, we develop masks to cover those places where we feel less adequate or where we feel afraid. Nearly everyone develops these masks. Self-improvement represents a $10-billion-per-year industry, in the U.S. alone. This industry is built on the sale of self-improvement books that teach us how to project power and confidence in the boardroom – and every other area of life. They teach us to “pretend until you become” and “fake it until you make it.” They teach us how to survive by putting on masks of power and of control.

Yet, despite our best efforts to maintain control, hardships still arise. As much as we may try to project confidence and control our destinies with positive thoughts and illusions of power, difficult things still happen. How can we reconcile this?

The problem with “masks” is that this mentality, this projection of control, completely closes the door to God. If we try to control everything and mask those things we fear we can’t control, we leave no opening for God to work in our lives.

Yet, whether or not we admit it to ourselves, God knows our minds and our hearts: “LORD, you search me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all” (Psalm 139).

God knows what is under our masks. It is in this place of sincerity and simplicity that God works without hindrance. He is at home in our unabashed fears and in our unencumbered happiness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, contemplating ways to get to heaven, spoke of her “Little Way.” It is a way of simplicity. In St. Thérèse’s “Little Way,” there are no masks – just overflowing love for her Creator, the desire to please Him in her every deed, and an openness to receiving His gifts.

One of the most common ways that God helps us to “lose the mask” is through illness and other hardships. Countless saints, including St. Thérèse, St. Francis, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and St. Ignatius, all learned through illness. St. Ignatius lost his health in battle and during the long and painful months of recovery, came to the realization that he was not in control. He dropped the masks of wealth and power that he had inherited at his noble birth. It was during this time, that Ignatius wrote his famous prayer of surrender to God, the Suscipe. This prayer represents a total offering of the self to God.

Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.

The more I pray this prayer, the more I realize how completely counter-cultural it is. The Suscipe represents a return to authenticity and simplicity – a removing of the masks before God. Essentially, what we are saying when we pray it is: “Here I am, Lord. I realize that I am dependent on you for every breath. I offer myself to you totally and completely. I surrender my mask.”

In Latin, “suscipe” means “to receive.” The beautiful paradox is that the more we give to God, the more we ourselves receive.

Perhaps because it presents an opening for God to work in our lives, each day I pray it, I also think of different things I should be handing over to God. I offer whatever is weighing on me and whatever is making me happy that day. As I pray it, I often find concerns that I didn’t even know were there rising to the surface of my consciousness. I hand these things over, too.

Praying the Suscipe almost always gives rise to further prayer which, for me, generally goes something like this:

Lord, I give you my joys, sorrows, victories, defeats, pains, consolations, and everything in between. I give you my imperfections.

Lord, please sort it all out. You know what’s best for me. If it is your will, Lord, replace my fears, sorrows, and sufferings, with your love, joy, and peace. Let me not hold onto things that weigh me down but let me hand them over to you. You are my strength in weakness.

Even my dreams and aspirations – you may have better ones for me. Let me not hold too tightly to these. Keep my eyes and ears open to your designs for my life. I am an empty vessel. Fill me with whatever you choose – words, deeds, actions – according to your will, not mine.

Help me to see you at work in my life, Lord. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart to recognize all of the ways in which you are working in my life throughout the day.

Allow me to accept your love.

Allow me to accept the gifts you want to give me.

Allow me to accept the abundance of your gifts.

Allow me to use these gifts you give me in word and deed for those around me, too. Work through me in all things for your greater glory.

Praying the Suscipe creates a sacred space in our souls where we ask that “perfect Love” to “cast out all fear;” a place where we allow His mercy and His love to permeate our beings. It is a place where we come to the profound realization that, in the end, and every day in between, He is really our only strength. In our weakness, He does make us strong.

This Lent, give Him your masks. Give Him all the fears that they cover. Be weak in Him and let Him make you strong.

This Lent, open yourself to the Love that He is dying to give you.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Rebecca Ruiz holds a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.A. from Tufts University. She serves as Development and Communications Manager at Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services.

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