The Snare of Self-Reliance

It was February 1973, and time to get ready for Our Lady of Mount Carmel School’s “Spring Showcase.”

For the students in Sister Leonora’s music class, participation was not optional. In her decades of teaching, Sister had resolutely led hundreds of students in showstoppers like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Her style of musical direction was decidedly old school: hand the students mimeographed lyric sheets and have them sing the verses repeatedly, as if their grades depended on it – because they did.

Miss Doreen, OLMC’s seventh grade English teacher, had an altogether different style. An aging flower child who wore green eyeshadow and daisy-shaped hair clips, Miss Doreen was the force behind the school’s more artistic undertakings. It was for the love of theater that Miss Doreen recruited students to take part in the showcase, and it was out of respect for Miss Doreen’s creative passion that those students performed with gusto.

Miss Doreen decided that her students’ contribution to the showcase would be a hip musical number from “Godspell,” while Sister Leonora opted to have her class sing the Alpine barnburner “The Happy Wanderer.”

Having already worn down more than one phonograph needle on “Godspell” favorites like “Day by Day,” I really wanted to be in Miss Doreen’s ensemble. But as a student in Sister Leonora’s music class, I was required to “val-deri, val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” with my ha-ha-hapless classmates.

Taking part in both acts would be a problem, as the acts were back-to-back in the program. Besides, the “Godspell” group was supposed to perform in face paint. Since there would be no time for me to be properly made up between the two acts, I needed to either (1) sing the “Godspell” number with a conspicuously unpainted face or (2) do a slapdash job of painting my own face during the scene change. I opted for the latter.

The night of the showcase, after my classmates and I had sung “The Happy Wanderer” to brazenly weak applause, I dashed into the makeshift “changing room.” There were no face paints in sight – and no mirror either. Grabbing some red lipstick and tawny makeup, and giving no thought to either symmetry or artistry, I doodled all over my face before hurrying to join Miss Doreen’s group for the “Godspell” number.

“Oh my gosh!”

One of the “cool girls” who until then had never deigned to speak to me was gaping at the duo-toned cacophony of squiggles on my face.

“What did they do to you?”

“They” hadn’t done it. I had done it myself, by taking control of something that would have best been handled by others.

It’s human nature to want to do things for ourselves. “I’ve got this!” is an oft-heard refrain. But Servant of God Father Dolindo Ruotolo said that, when self-reliance reigns supreme, we are like children whose “efforts get in their mother’s way.”

Similarly, I’m sure that the unsightly results of my self-reliance had gotten very much “in the way” of Miss Doreen’s creative vision!

Father Ruotolo, called the Apostle of Surrender for his profound abandonment to God’s will, was so extraordinarily close to Our Lord that he was able to hear Jesus speak directly to him.

Jesus revealed to Father Ruotolo a series of prayers known as the “Surrender Novena,” which teaches us to give everything over to Our Lord, trusting Him to rescue us from ourselves and resolve our problems as only He can. Each prayer closes with the childlike plea, “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you; take care of everything!”

Our Lord Himself said of the “Surrender Novena,” “There is no novena more effective than this.”

The complete novena can be found at

“The Catholic Storyteller” is a monthly column by Celeste Behe, a parishioner of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown. Find her online at


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