30 September 2009

May the Devil Always Find You Occupied

Today’s post on this Feast of Saint Jerome focuses on a portion of an epistle which Jerome wrote to Saint Rusticus of Narbonne. The letter’s theme is very monastic, although in some parts, monasticism in a primitive sense mentioning occupations like weaving baskets. But Saint Jerome takes this to a very spiritual direction as well, recommending that the Psalter be memorized word for word. While that seems like quite an undertaking in this day and age, considering that the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours is now spread out over a four week period, it was nevertheless quite common among those spiritual giants we now call the early desert Fathers. The epistle’s overall message waves the same banner that monasticism waves today – ora et labora. Here are Saint Jerome’s thoughts.

Others may think what they like and follow each his own inclination. But to me a city is a prison and a desert paradise. Why do we long for the bustle of cities, we who bear the name of Solitary? To fit him for the leadership of the Jewish people, Moses was trained for forty years in the wilderness; and it was not until after these that the shepherd of sheep became a shepherd of men. The apostles were fishers on Lake Gennesaret before they became fishers of men. But at the Lord's call they had forsaken all that they had: father, net, and ship, and bore their cross daily without so much as a rod in their hands.

I say these things that, in case you desire to enter the ranks of the clergy, you may learn what you must afterwards teach, that you may offer a reasonable sacrifice to Christ, that you may not think yourself a finished soldier while still a raw recruit, or suppose yourself a master while you are as yet only a learner. It does not become one of my humble abilities to pass judgment upon the clergy or to speak to the discredit of those who are ministers in the churches. They have their own rank and station and must keep it.

The first point to be considered is whether you ought to live by yourself or in a monastery with others. For my part, I would like you to live in a community so as not to be thrown altogether on your resources. For if you set out upon a road that is new to you without a guide, you are sure to turn aside immediately either to the right or to the left, to lay yourself open to the assaults of error, to go too far or else not far enough, to weary yourself with running too fast or to loiter by the way and fall asleep. In loneliness pride quickly creeps upon a man; if he has fasted for a little while and has seen no one, he fancies himself a person of some note; forgetting who he is, from where he comes, and where he goes, he lets his thoughts riot within and outwardly indulges in rash speech. Contrary to the apostle's wish he judges another man's servants, puts forth his hand to grasp whatever his appetite desires, sleeps as long he pleases, fears no one, does what he likes, fancies everyone inferior to himself, spends more of his time in cities than in his cell, and, while with the brothers he affects to be retiring, rubs shoulders with the crowd in the streets. Do I condemn a solitary life? By no means; in fact I have often commended it. But I wish to see the monastic schools turn out soldiers who have no fear of the rough training of the desert, who have exhibited the spectacle of a holy life for a considerable time, who have made themselves last that they might be first, who have not been overcome by hunger or satiety, whose joy is in poverty, who teach virtue by their appearance.

If you embrace a life consecrated to God, I prefer that you do not live with your mother. You will avoid making her sad by your refusal of her choice foods, or throwing oil on the fire by accepting them. Always keep in your hands and beneath your eyes the Bible, learning the Psalter word for word, praying unceasingly, keeping your mind in an alert state, and not open to vain thoughts. Keep both body and spirit oriented towards the Lord. Control anger with patience; love the knowledge of Scripture and you will no longer love the sins of the flesh. If your mind does not abandon various passions, they will install themselves in your heart and get a hold of you and lead you to more grave faults. Attend to manual labor so that the devil always finds you occupied. If the apostles who had the right to live the Gospel labored with their own hands that they might be accountable to no man, and bestowed relief upon others whose carnal things they had a claim to reap as having sown unto them spiritual things, why do you not provide a supply to meet your needs?

Make creels of reeds or weave baskets out of pliant osiers. Hoe your land; mark out your garden into even plots; and when you have sown your legumes or set your plants bring in the water for irrigation, that you may see with your own eyes the lovely vision of the poet:

“Art draws fresh water from the hilltop near
Till the stream plashing down among the rocks
Cools the parched meadows and allays their thirst.”

Graft unfruitful stocks with buds and shoots that you may shortly be rewarded for your toil by plucking sweet apples from them. Construct also hives for bees, for to these the proverbs of Solomon send you, and you may learn from these tiny insects how to order a monastery and to discipline a kingdom. Weave nets for catching fish, and transcribe books, that your hands may earn your food and your mind may be satisfied with reading. Always remember that when idle you are at the mercy of your passions. In Egypt the monasteries make it a rule to receive no one who is not willing to work; for they regard labor as necessary not only for the support of the body but also for the salvation of the soul. Do not let your mind stray into harmful thoughts.

29 September 2009

They Enjoy the Intangible Presence and Vision of God

At the Carthusian night Office, the monks on this Feast of the Archangels were blessed to hear the most edifying words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Here is most of that discourse.

We celebrate today, dear brothers, the feast of the holy angels. Poor little worm I am, how can I speak about angelic spirits? I believe by faith that they enjoy the intangible presence and vision of God and are flooded with endless happiness in contemplating those things that eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). But can a mere mortal speak of this topic to other mortals? In the first place, I haven’t the faintest idea about these realities; moreover, you are not in a position to hear them.

The words ascend from me, yes, overflowing from the heart, but I had better remain silent, because I lack the adequate concepts for dealing with angels. The heavenly spirits are conspicuous by their admirable dignity and loving regard. It’s obvious that their glory exceeds our poor understanding. We tie ourselves, then, closer to their mercy.

In the Book of Daniel we read a description of the angels before the Throne of God: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and myriads upon myriads attended Him” (Daniel 7:10). Do you think it is an unworthy thing for the angels to serve? Consider, then, the Creator, the King of angels, Who came not to be served but to serve and gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28). None of the angels are scorned as servants when He Whom they serve with inexpressible ardor and felicity preceded them in this same ministry. The psalmist, speaking to God of His Son, said: “You have made Him a little less than the angels” (Psalm 8:6). It was fitting, therefore, that One Who exceeds the angels in dignity, surpassed them in humility. The Son has lowered Himself below the angels, because He wanted to lend an inferior service to theirs, but His is far superior to the angels because He has by inheritance a Name more excellent than theirs.

The angels love us because Christ loved us. As you know brothers, that proverb which says: “Whoever loves me, loves my dog.” Are we not, O blessed angels, the little dogs that the Lord surrounds with much affection? Little dogs, desiring to eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their angelic hosts. I used this image, brothers, to increase your confidence in the angels. We must call upon them in our every need with love, every day trying to conciliate their favor, be captivated by their benevolence, asking them to mercifully reveal themselves to us.

Allow me, dear brethren, to offer reasons why the angels are reminders of our poverty. We know that the human soul, endowed with reason and capable of blessedness, is linked by a bond of kinship with the angelic nature. Holy angels, could you ever disdain visiting us, against the precept of charity, even though we are precipitated by an extreme baseness? Are we not all a part of the same family? If you love -- as in fact you do love – the beauty of God’s house, then manifest your zeal to these living stones, and rationalize that we are the only ones that could contribute to the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem.

There are three reasons, brothers why we are, like ropes that pull at us, from the sky, the pre-eminent love of angels. They come to console us, to visit us, to help us because of God’s love for us. Because of God, the angels visit us, to imitate the infinite mercy of God. Because of us, the angels come to console us, because they have compassion for those who have a certain similarity with them. Because of themselves, finally, the angels rush to our aid, because they hope to recruit among us, men needed to fill the gaps in their ranks. Indeed, the praise that is given to Almighty God, at the end of time, is given both to angels and men. As of now, the angels are celebrating the first fruits of that praise which fills them with the highest delight. But we, men, we are still like infants sucking the milk, even if one day we will make complete and perfect the praise of glory. The angels, therefore, attend to us with eagerness, driven by a desire for the ultimate day.

Consider the angels, dear brethren, and think that there must be at heart, worthiness for their friendship. Do you realize that we must live life in their presence, and not offend the sanctity of their pure gazes? Woe to us if our sin and neglect render us unworthy in the eyes of the angels to receive their visitation and enjoy their company. In that case, all we do is cry and complain like the prophet: “My friends and my neighbors have drawn near, and stood against me. And they that were near me stood afar off” (Psalm 37:12). It would be a shame if those who should protect us with their presence instead left us, when they can defend from the enemy and repel the attacks.

We are in dire need of assistance from the angels my dear friends, thus, beware of offending. What, then, are the virtues that they appreciate and are pleased to see us? Sobriety, chastity, voluntary poverty, the constant longing for heaven, the prayers of extreme repentance and of vigilant affection. But in priority, these messengers of peace have come to expect from us peace and harmony. What could there be more to rejoice about? When they find peace and harmony between us, which is a prelude and sketch of the heavenly city, they seem to be admiring a New Jerusalem. All parts of the holy city are perfectly welded together. The same compactness must reign in our thoughts and in our conversations; there are divisions among us, but we remain united in one body in Christ Jesus.

After saying that he lacked the “adequate concepts for dealing with angels,” Saint Bernard certainly spread out a table of celestial treats for us to ponder concerning these heavenly spirits who love and protect us – and are God’s messengers.

26 September 2009

Scriptural Typology and Our Blessed Lady

God’s harmony in creating the universe mysteriously foresaw the need for a Redeemer and His helper, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sacred Scripture prefigures her in many occurrences. Here are some of those examples:

God said to Abraham: Sarai your wife you shall not call Sarai, but Sarah. And I will bless her, and from her I will give you a son, whom I will bless, and he shall become nations, and kings of people shall spring from him. ~ Genesis 17:15-16
In this passage Sarah symbolizes motherhood by means of divine interposition. Sarah was beyond the age of childbirth according to the natural law and Mary was a Virgin. Both circumstances make pregnancy unforeseen; thus, both circumstances required that the Creator of the natural law would step in and do something supernatural.

So Jael, Heber's wife, took a nail of the tent, and taking also a hammer: and going in softly, and with silence, she put the nail upon the temples of his head, and striking it with the hammer, drove it through his brain fast into the ground: and so passing from deep sleep to death, he fainted away and died. ~ Judges 4:21
By the power given to her by her Son, our Blessed Mother, the new Jael, will crush the head of the evil one prefigured in this scriptural verse by Sisera.

The canticle of Judith in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Judith gives all the glory to God for her victory. This prefigures our Lady and most especially her words in the Magnificat.

In the First Book of Samuel, chapter 25, Abigail falls at the feet of David and begs him to look past the sins of Nabal. This clearly is a look into the New and Everlasting Covenant in which our Blessed Mother pleads to our Savior on our behalf and also her mission of reconciling sinners to her Son.

There are a couple of situations in the First Book of Kings, chapter 1, which prefigure Mary. First, and very briefly, Abishag the Sunamite is ministering to the king – certainly a role that would be humbly accepted by our Lady and foretold elsewhere in Sacred Scripture: “… et in habitatione sancta coram ipso ministravi” – “… and in the holy dwelling-place I have ministered before Him” (Ecclesiasticus 24:14 & Vespers of Our Lady). Second, Bathsheba bows to the face of the earth and worships the king. Certainly our Holy Mother is no stranger to approaching the Throne and the King of kings.

In the second chapter of the Book of Esther, Esther is brought before the king and as the verse reads, “she pleased him and found favor in his sight” (Esther 2:9). Our Blessed Lady is without stain and humbly submits to the will of her Creator; therefore she is always pleasing in the sight of the King of kings – she is His masterpiece.

Denys the Carthusian wrote in his Works: “Many women have gathered together great spiritual treasures, but you, O Virgin most admirable, have surpassed them all. For if, according to Saint Jerome, no one is good when compared to God, in like manner no virgin is perfect in comparison with you.”

Mary is also prefigured by some terms used in both the Old and New Testaments like, Mount Zion (cf. Isaiah 8:18), the Chosen City (cf. 1 Kings 8:44), the Temple of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16), the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Testament (cf. Hebrews 9:3-4).

The prophet Ezekiel says something that surely turns ones reflections towards Mary when he speaks of a gate that only the Lord may enter which looks to the east (cf. Ezekiel 43:4).

She is also the Rod of Aaron that blossomed (cf. Hebrews 9:4).

The Blessed Virgin is also prefigured in the fleece of Gideon which on dry ground was moistened by heavenly dew (cf. Judges 6:37-38).

Mary is also the rod which comes forth out of the root of Jesse as prophesied by Isaiah (cf. 11:1).

She is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (cf. Canticles 4:12).

Beyond Scripture, surely Mary is visible to us in the works of nature. Isn’t she the Dawn preceding the Sun? She is the Star which brightens the night sky. She is the most beautiful of all flowers. She is a sweet-smelling fragrance.

A Carthusian writer exclaims that our Lady is “scattered by God throughout His creation! With a little recollection and goodwill, how easy the life of faith can become. Everything that our eyes light upon has the power to raise our hearts to Mary and, reminding us of all that is attractive in her, can inflame our souls with heavenly desires.”

In the midst of so much beauty and all that is pleasing to the contemplative way, we must, as Lanspergius the Carthusian wrote, “desire intensely to eradicate from [our] soul all that displeases [our] heavenly Mother, and to obtain from God through her intercession all that will be pleasing to her.”

24 September 2009

Juan García de Salazar: Complete Vespers of Our Lady

The Baroque composer, Juan García de Salazar spent much of his career at la Catedral de Zamora. He’s quite ambiguous, though, and the listing of him in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians doesn’t include any of his compositions.

The focus of this post is specifically on his work for Vespers of Our Lady. The album saw the light of day because of the efforts of Manuel Sagastume Arregi, a musicologist, who gathered together some of Juan García de Salazar’s extant movements of the liturgical prayer of Vespers and along with some other material created: “Juan García de Salazar: Complete Vespers of Our Lady.”

The album makes use of plainchant borrowed from a Basque hymnal which dates back to the year 1692. The recording was performed by the Basque ensemble Capilla Peñaflorida.

Mostly everything is sung in Latin with the exception of a few sections that are in Castilian Spanish.

All Music Guide reviewed this album with these words: “One can hardly think of a genre more obscure than Basque Baroque sacred music, and the resulting lack of familiarity might serve to scare some potential listeners away. They would be missing out, because everything about Juan García de Salazar: Complete Vespers of Our Lady is glorious and beautiful -- the singing, the ambience of the unnamed cathedral in Villabuena where this was recorded, the instrumental playing, organ, and music. Rather than pulling something out of the mothballs that was better left in the closet, Manuel Sagastume Arregi has discovered through his hard work on behalf of Basque sacred music an entire musical style that should prove a revelation, and a delight, to all.”

You can listen to the various sample tracks here.

23 September 2009

How Many Rosaries!?

“Love the Madonna and pray the Rosary, for her Rosary is the weapon against the evils of the world today.”

These are the words of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina or perhaps more affectionately known as Padre Pio. This Capuchin priest and son of Saint Francis of Assisi loved the Rosary. He wrote often about our Blessed Lady and among those writings is this gem: “Rest your ear on her maternal heart and listen to her suggestions, and then you will feel all the best desires for perfection being born in you.”

Padre Pio wrote and said many things that were deeply spiritual. Because of who he was: a devoted priest, spiritual director, confessor, stigmatist, mystic and visionary, much of what he said or wrote is believable beyond a shadow of a doubt because of our gift of faith, but at the same time seems unattainable for most to ever experience personally. For example, Padre Pio said that the entire celestial court is present at the Sacrifice of the Mass. Most of us know that but carrying that thought to Mass with us or actually seeing this with our own eyes is unlikely.

Somehow, the laws of time and space mingled with eternity in this holy soul known as Padre Pio. How else could anyone explain his gift of bi-location?

There was also a childlike innocence that occasionally emanated from him. When he was asked why he didn’t share publicly the fact that our Lady visited him often, his response was that he thought everyone experienced visions of her. He once even asked his spiritual director Padre Agostino: “Don’t you see our Lady?” Difficult to know for certain if that was innocence or humility – or perhaps both.

Another example of how time mingled with eternity in this Capuchin saint was that he prayed thirty-five complete Rosaries per day; that is, the Joyful Mysteries thirty-five times, the Sorrowful Mysteries thirty-five times, and the Glorious Mysteries thirty-five times. Obviously Padre Pio was able to perform other priestly functions while at the same time praying his Rosary, a tremendous gift within itself. His long hours of hearing confessions and his often two to three hour Masses are renowned and occupied a great deal of Padre Pio’s daily life.

Even if he did absolutely nothing else all day but pray the Rosary, it seems unlikely that thirty-five complete Rosaries could be squeezed into a twenty-four hour day. Somehow through the great mystery of eternity, Padre Pio was able to do things that defy all we know and comprehend about time and space.

That childlike innocence was also present when asked about the Rosary. When questioned about how many Rosaries he prayed per day, and Padre Pio’s response was, “thirty-five complete Rosaries,” and when that question was followed up with how he could possibly pray that many Rosaries in one day, Padre Pio’s childlike response was: “How can you not pray that much?” It was as if he didn’t understand that praying thirty-five Rosaries per day was supernatural. Most likely Padre Pio had some kind of understanding about his supernatural gifts but knew that any explanation of these gifts was beyond human comprehension.

Many of us probably find that fitting in a single set of Mysteries per day is challenging enough, and then even if we can do that, trying to pray those Mysteries without the mind wandering off into unwanted areas is yet another challenge. And then turning our thoughts to this gifted Capuchin priest who was able to pray thirty-five complete Rosaries with great devotion is edifyingly mind boggling to say the least.

Of course, every time we pray earth mingles with heaven, the natural with the supernatural, mortality with immortality, and time with eternity. This is especially true when we receive the Eucharist.

That which we see, however, is veiled. But Padre Pio saw beyond the veil and lived the words of Saint Paul: “I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernatural vocation of God in Jesus Christ. Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:14, 20).

18 September 2009

Carthusian Chant: Viva et Rotunda Voce

After MANY years of personal study of Carthusian spirituality, including a very generous amount of photostatic copies given to me from a former Carthusian, and an increasing openness from the Order itself on internet sites and published writings, recently I have finally incorporated into my own praying of the Divine Office, some of the Carthusian chant, at least to the best of my limited non-Carthusian capabilities. Chanting, Carthusian style, is not only pleasing to the ears when listening to it on a CD, but I have also discovered that by using it for my own prayer, it can also open wide the temple doors of the soul for edifying interior delights.

Robin Bruce Lockhart, author of, “Halfway to Heaven: The Hidden Life of the Carthusians” devotes a couple of paragraphs in this book to the Carthusian chant. He writes:

“The Carthusian day begins at an hour when much of the world is carousing or just starting to sleep off the excesses of a materialistic day. At 11:45 p.m. the monk rises from his austere bed to say the Little Office of Our Lady, then, leaving his cell, he wends his way through the cloisters to the monastery church. The choir stalls fill up, the professed monks in their white habits, the Novices in their black cloaks. The church is in almost total darkness, the only light coming from the sanctuary lamp and the shaded low lamps in the choir. After a period of deep silence the chanting of the long night vigil of Matins and Lauds begins. The chanting carries, in its cadences, soaring praises of God, then sinks down to lowly supplication. At times it almost seems to break into a sobbing of repentance before pouring itself out in heartfelt whispers of love. The singing, steeped in Gregorian antiquity, has a holiness all its own, and as a sung office proceeds it is impossible not to sense how the fervour of the Psalms takes over, enveloping not only the monks but also the listener in the tribune.”

A “tribune” is a part of the church building used to accommodate visitors who will witness the chanting of the Offices, although permission to enter the Charterhouse is rare.

Robin Bruce Lockhart continues:

“The purity of the Carthusian chant… has been jealously maintained for centuries; slower, lower-pitched and less melismatic than the Benedictine chant, it is considered more deeply spiritual by those who have heard both.”

And then follows these astonishing words:

“The seventeenth-century Cardinal Bona, who undertook vast research into liturgy, records that it was the Carthusian chant which Christ recommended in His revelations to Saint Bridget, the patron saint of Sweden.”

And the book finalizes the subject of the Carthusian chant with these words:

“No organ or other musical instrument accompanies the chant, and in his liturgy the Carthusian seems to be projected by its sacred power to a point where eternity meets his temporal existence.” And that particular sentence is footnoted with a personal note from the author: “Even Benedictines, renowned for their singing, with whom I have spoken admit to the greater spirituality of the Carthusian chant.”

Pope Pius XI, wrote in the Apostolic Constitution, Umbratilem, these words: “At fixed hours of the day and night they assemble in the sacred temple, not merely to chant the divine office without modulation, as is the custom in other Orders, but to sing the whole of it ‘viva et rotunda voce’ -- in lifelike, moulded tones - according to the very ancient Gregorian melodies of their choir books, and with the accompaniment of no musical instrument. How should God Who is so merciful, fail to grant the prayers of those most pious brethren who thus raise their voices to Him in behalf of the Church and of sinners who need conversion?”

Two popular Carthusian chant CD’s on the market are: “In the Silence of the Word” recorded by the monks at Parkminster; and the other is, “Into Great Silence: Office of the Night” which is the soundtrack to Philip Gröning’s movie about life at La Grande Chartreuse. In the former, all the chants are in Latin and the Readings are recited in English. In the latter, the chants are also in Latin and the Readings are chanted recto tono in French. The latter also has a more realistic “as if you were really there” approach to it because various changes in body posture can be heard as well as sounds like the clearing of throats and coughing.

17 September 2009

A Reclusive Host of Love

Since the inception of SECRET HARBOR, Julia Crotta, a.k.a. Sister Nazarena has been the subject of a couple of posts, here and here. Paul Augustin Mayer, O.S.B. was also the subject of a previous post. There was some correspondence between these two holy individuals.

Sister Nazarena lived as an anchoress for forty-five years in a monastery of Camaldolese Benedictine nuns in Rome. She received her call to the desert while she was a college student in Connecticut. It was in March of 1934 during a Holy Week retreat that Julia Crotta heard a voice calling her name, while alone in a convent chapel. She had a vision of a man weeping and stretching out his wounded hands. The wounded man called her to the desert and promised her his abiding presence. This is how it all began for Julia.

Her final destination was with the Camaldolese nuns of Sant’Antonio where she would be an anchoress. Her cell was isolated from the rest of the community where she lived a life of prayer, penance, solitude and silence. She wanted to be as she wrote, “the most hidden and least-known soul in the world – truly and totally hidden with Christ in God.”

Father Augustin Mayer met Sister Nazarena shortly after she arrived at the monastery. Father Mayer was a Benedictine theologian who was impressed with Sister Nazarena. Father Mayer, who would eventually become an abbot and a cardinal, had questions which dealt with fostering a spirit of contemplation in his world of academics. Sister Nazarena filled many pages with advice for fostering a contemplative journey.

In her first letter to Father Mayer, Sister Nazarena addressed him as “my dear brother priest” which reflected what she shared with him by explaining that she had a “priestly soul” because she felt that in her vocation she was offering the Blood of Christ with ordained priests. Humbly, in that first letter to Father Mayer, she wrote that she was embarrassed by the thought of her spiritual counseling. In that letter, though, she wrote: “I sense that within yourself you are groping about, that never, since your birth, have you enjoyed the peace and tranquility of those who are sure they are on the path that suits them.” She advised him to trust in the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary since the Incarnate Word of God was formed by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. She continued: “The Lord wants to be able to count on you; He wants you to have such abundant reserves of the divine life, that it will flow upon… those whom He most loves and renders fit for the building up of Christ’s Mystical Body – the priestly souls. I also greatly desire, by God’s grace, to become like my dear priests, ‘another Christ,’ after my own fashion. May I, like Him, in Him, with Him, give my blood drop by drop, but in total hiddenness rather than on the battlefield. Until the end of ages, may I never cease to work for ‘all souls’ according to this ideal.”

This was a bit of a mysterious statement and Sister Nazarena knew it. Thus she continued: “Let me share with you my ideal… May you offer, together with the sacramental Host, this pristine, hidden host of love for Jesus; humbly ask Him to accept and totally transform her, so that she may be made ‘wholly divine,’ and thus it will be He, not she, Who lives and works again on Earth. I have no better way of helping ‘my dear brother priests’ than by becoming like them, a priestess, working and giving my life for the same ideals.”

This was not an agenda to ordain women as priests, but as the author of Nazarena: An American Anchoress explains: The use of grammatical gender in Italian renders the identification of the “hidden host of love” with Nazarena herself quite obvious; in other words, through the ministry of the priest, her offering as an anchoress is taken up totally into the sacramental Victim.

Father Mayer was the only person to ever have received correspondence from Sister Nazarena which expressed her thoughts of being a “hidden host of love.”

15 September 2009

Finding the Sorrowful Mother at Adoration

The Church places on the lips of our Blessed Lady these beautiful words from Sacred Scripture: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways” (Proverbs 8:22). Almighty God chose Mary from the beginning to be His masterpiece before all other creatures. Dom Louis Rouvier wrote: “When coming out, as it were, from His eternal repose, God the adorable Trinity determined on the creation of the universe, His first thought was of the God-man Who would be the crowning point of creation, and then, of her – blessed among women – who would give birth to Him. The rest of creation, angels and man, creatures animate and inanimate, all were ordained solely for Christ and His Mother” (Le Mois de Marie).

The amount of sorrow our Blessed Mother has accepted on behalf of sinful mankind is astronomical. Saint Bonaventure cries out: “It is by your protection, O Blessed Virgin, that the world is preserved; this world that God made from the beginning in concert with you” (De Laudibus Virginis).

Recall what our Lady said to the children of La Salette: “If my people will not submit, I will be obliged to let fall the Arm of my Son. It weighs so heavily upon me that I can no longer bear it. How long have I suffered for you, O my people! If my Son is not to abandon you, I must pray to Him unceasingly.”

At the Cross Jesus said to His Mother, “Woman, behold thy Son.” And to His beloved disciple He said: “Behold thy Mother.” Mary’s spiritual maternity to us all has been declared. It is from her sorrows, from her heart, pierced by a sword, that we were born her spiritual children, delivered into her maternal care, into a life of grace. The sorrowful Passion of her Son, and Mary’s consent due to her perfect conformity to the Divine will, is how we were born into this life of grace.

From the Rosary, especially in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we can ask our Lady to reveal her sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to us. And since she prays to her Son unceasingly, count on her being present in Eucharistic Adoration. She adores Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with perfection and she is our teacher on how to adore. Upon your next visit before the Monstrance or Tabernacle, listen very intently in the silence of your heart, and wait for those beautiful words of Jesus, assuring you of Mary’s presence as well, as He says to her: “Woman, behold your son/daughter” – and to you – “Son/daughter, behold your Mother.”

These glorious words are found among the writings of the Carthusian Order: “When we come to die, our sovereign Judge will ask this question of the angel whose care it has been to bring us to the Judgment Seat, ‘To whom does this soul belong; whose livery does it wear?’ If the answer is, ‘Mary’s,’ Jesus will at once say, ‘Then give to My Mother what belongs to her.’ To give us to Mary is to open heaven to us.”

14 September 2009

O Wondrous Power of the Cross

At Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the Carthusians had the pleasure of having proclaimed to them a reflection on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ by Saint Leo the Great. Wonderful how Saint Leo delineates how all of God’s creation was influenced by the Cross and Passion of our Savior! Here is a portion of that reflection:

Before being betrayed, the Lord had told them, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself” (John 12:32). I assume fully the cause of mankind and nature and I will reinstate perfectly what was lost. Through Me all languor will be destroyed and all wounds will be cured.

When Jesus suffered His terrible Passion in our nature, the upheaval of the universe revealed that the Lord, once lifted up, really draws all things to Himself. While the Creator hung from the gallows, the whole creation groaned, experiencing with Him the piercing of the nails to the Cross. Nothing was estranged from this torture: the heavens and earth were united to the sufferings of the Savior, breaking stones, opening graves, freeing prisoners from the underworld, hiding the sun beneath the horror of darkness. The world had to give this witness to its Creator, as if the death of its Author, would end up being the same fate of the universe.

O wondrous power of the Cross! O ineffable glory of the Passion that embodies the tribunal of the Lord, the judgment of the world and the power of the Crucified. You have indeed drawn everything Yourself, Lord, and while You stretched out Your Hands all day towards the people who did not believe and scoffed at You, You desired the whole world to witness and proclaim Your Majesty.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, when in execration for the crime committed by the Jews, all the elements of creation uttered a single sentence: Darkened, the lights in the sky, the day became night, the earth was shaken by an unusual earthquake.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, because the veil of the temple was torn by removing the Holy of holies from the eyes of the unworthy high priests. Thus the symbol that signified the presence of God was replaced by the Truth of that presence, the prophecy gave way to the real event and the law has found fulfillment in the Gospel.

You have drawn everything to Yourself, Lord. Your Cross is the source of every blessing, the cause of all grace. Through You is given to the faithful strength in suffering, glory in humiliation, life in death. You are the True Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. (cf. John 1:29).

12 September 2009

Saint Nom de Marie

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary. There is an abundance of writings from the saints on Our Blessed Lady. Here are some inspirational words from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. He writes of a day when our Blessed Mother will prepare us to extend God's rule and holy will over unbelievers. But Saint Louis Marie tells us that “Dieu seul le sait” how this will occur but his instructions to us as a preparation for that day are: “C'est à nous de nous taire, de prier, soupirer et attendre.” Here are his words:

The whole world is filled with her glory, and this is especially true of Christian peoples, who have chosen her as guardian and protectress of kingdoms, provinces, dioceses, and towns. Many cathedrals are consecrated to God in her name. There is no church without an altar dedicated to her, no country or region without at least one of her miraculous images where all kinds of afflictions are cured and all sorts of benefits received. Many are the confraternities and associations honoring her as patron; many are the orders under her name and protection; many are the members of sodalities and religious of all congregations who voice her praises and make known her compassion. There is not a child who does not praise her by lisping a Hail Mary. There is scarcely a sinner, however hardened, who does not possess some spark of confidence in her. The very devils in hell, while fearing her, show her respect.

We know they will be true disciples of Jesus Christ, imitating His poverty, His humility, His contempt of the world and His love. They will point out the narrow way to God in pure truth according to the holy Gospel, and not according to the maxims of the world. Their hearts will not be troubled, nor will they show favor to anyone; they will not spare or heed or fear any man, however powerful he may be. They will have the two-edged sword of the word of God in their mouths and the blood-stained standard of the Cross on their shoulders. They will carry the crucifix in their right hand and the rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart. The simplicity and self-sacrifice of Jesus will be reflected in their whole behavior.

Such are the great men who are to come. By the will of God, Mary is to prepare them to extend His rule over the impious and unbelievers. But when and how will this come about? Only God knows. For our part we must yearn and wait for it in silence and in prayer: "I have waited and waited."

Saint Louis Marie had also written a hymn titled: “J’aime ardemment Marie” (I love Mary ardently) in which is found the following verse translated for poetic use”:

Unique while on this sphere,
The purest and the best,
She now is without peer
Among the Heaven-blest.
She is the greatest foe
Of Satan, hell’s dark prince;
Her very name is woe
To him and makes him wince.

11 September 2009

Priests are called to give their time generously

You’d be hard-pressed to find more experience and more wisdom than the ninety-eight year old Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer O.S.B., the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. He has been a priest for seventy-four years, a bishop for 37 years and a cardinal for twenty-four years. Please read his words as he spoke about the Sacrament of Confession.

Nowadays, it is sad to say, that Confession, the Sacrament of Confession, is a Sacrament disappearing – yes, disappearing – not everywhere in the world, but in some regions it has diminished.

And so, what is the task of the priest in this very moment, when now the Sacrament so rich, so wonderful, beautiful and merciful, is in danger? And we who are those who must be the ministers of this great Sacrament, what are we doing? The priest first must instruct the faithful about the meaning, about the riches, the graces of the Sacrament; of the peace and joy we’ve got now with the Church. We have to preach about it!

We must ask ourselves, if in these last periods, thirty/forty years, if we have not emitted, to preach enough about these gifts. Then, priests must encourage the faithful to come to the Sacrament, and help them to make a good Confession. They must themselves not forget this! They must make themselves available for the Sacrament. Priests are called to give their time generously.

Recall the example of the great saints of Confession: We had in the nineteenth century and the last century the Curé of Ars – Saint John Vianney, or Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, or the Capuchin priest – Leopold Mandic, who for thirty-four years gave, in Padua, to Confession daily – daily for ten to twelve hours -- and this becomes a great Confessor.

Here today, in some regions of the world, as I said already, the Sacrament is in danger of disappearing. The reasons may be bountiful, but especially the lack of consciousness of sin, which in a secularized world is also less inviting. But not the least reason for the danger of disappearing lies with us priests: that we give not enough, not enough time, not enough attention to preaching, and not enough time in administering the Sacrament. We must make ourselves more available to Confession.

The priests excuse themselves and say: “Nobody’s coming to Confession. Why, then, should I be in the confessional?” But in my experience there’s a different story: When priests make themselves generously available and preach on the importance and blessings of the Sacrament, then the faithful will come. They will use this great – great offering to them by the Lord through the Church.

09 September 2009

Saint Faustina Suffered for Victims of Abortion

Not well-known or highly touted in conversations about the “Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska” are the pangs of abortion she suffered on behalf of souls who experienced this tragic occurrence. It’s quite obvious from Saint Faustina’s entry that abortion is not just an issue with Catholicism or the Pro-Life movement, but is also an issue with God Himself. Here is Saint Faustina’s entry (1276):

September 16, 1937. I wanted very much to make a Holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament today. But God’s will was otherwise. At eight o’clock I was seized with such violent pains that I had to go to bed at once. I was convulsed with pain for three hours; that is, until eleven o’clock at night. No medicine had any effect on me, and whatever I swallowed I threw up. At times, the pains caused me to lose consciousness. Jesus had me realize that in this way I took part in His Agony in the Garden, and that He Himself allowed these sufferings in order to offer reparation to God for the souls murdered in the wombs of wicked mothers. I have gone through these sufferings three times now. They always start at eight o’clock in the evening and last until eleven. No medicine can lessen these sufferings. When eleven o’clock comes, they cease by themselves, and I fall asleep at that moment. The following day, I feel very weak.

This happened to me for the first time when I was at the sanatorium. The doctors couldn’t get to the bottom of it, and no injection or medicine helped me at all or did I myself have any idea of what the sufferings were about. I told the doctor that never before in my life had I experienced such sufferings, and he declared he did not know what sort of pains they are. But now I understand the nature of these pains, because the Lord himself has made this known to me. Yet when I think that I may perhaps suffer in this way again, I tremble. But I don’t know whether I’ll ever again suffer in this way; I leave that to God. What it pleases God to send, I will accept with submission and love. If only I could save even one soul from murder by means of these sufferings!

Something to keep in mind is that Saint Faustina was a victim soul. God called her to experience suffering on behalf of the world’s sins. As Christians, God calls all of us to pray for mercy on behalf of our own sins and the sins of the world. Saint Faustina’s Diary is not her own. She was God’s instrument to express His thoughts to the world. This diary is a diary of mercy not judgment. It is the mercy of God we seek in prayer, not the judgment of God. There are many women who have had abortions who today very much wish they had not. Jesus gave us the Divine Mercy Chaplet as a means to seek His mercy for all souls. And certainly it is no coincidence that Jesus arranged that the Divine Mercy Chaplet could be prayed using His Mother’s beads.

08 September 2009

Mary: God's House that Shines with Divine Splendor

On this day’s Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Carthusian night Office, and more specifically the hour of Matins, contains twelve Readings. The first eight Readings are excerpted from the Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus by Pope Paul VI. Here are those Readings.

Reading One:
We now wish to examine more closely a particular aspect of the relationship between Mary and the liturgy -- namely, Mary as a model of the spiritual attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine mysteries. That the Blessed Virgin is an exemplar in this field derives from the fact that she is recognized as a most excellent exemplar of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ, that is, of that interior disposition with which the Church, the beloved spouse, closely associated with her Lord, invokes Christ and through Him worships the eternal Father. Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to divine motherhood, for, as Saint Augustine realized, "Blessed Mary by believing conceived Him (Jesus) Whom believing she brought forth." It was faith that was for her the cause of blessedness and certainty in the fulfillment of the promise: "Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." Similarly, it was faith with which she, who played a part in the Incarnation and was a unique witness to it, thinking back on the events of the infancy of Christ, meditated upon these events in her heart. The Church also acts in this way, especially in the liturgy, when with faith she listens, accepts, proclaims and venerates the word of God, distributes it to the faithful as the Bread of Life and in the light of that word examines the signs of the times and interprets and lives the events of history.

Reading Two:
Mary is also the Virgin in prayer. She appears as such in the visit to the mother of the precursor, when she pours out her soul in expressions glorifying God, and expressions of humility, faith and hope. This prayer is the Magnificat, Mary's prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel. As Saint Irenaeus seems to suggest, it is in Mary's canticle that there was heard once more the rejoicing of Abraham who foresaw the Messiah and there rang out in prophetic anticipation the voice of the Church: In her exultation Mary prophetically declared in the name of the Church: "My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord." And in fact Mary's hymn has spread far and wide and has become the prayer of the whole Church in all ages. At Cana, Mary appears once more as the Virgin in prayer: when she tactfully told her Son of a temporal need she also obtained an effect of grace, namely, that Jesus, in working the first of His signs, confirmed His disciples' faith in Him.

Reading Three:
Likewise, the last description of Mary's life presents her as praying. The apostles "joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." We have here the prayerful presence of Mary in the early Church and in the Church throughout all ages, for, having been assumed into heaven, she has not abandoned her mission of intercession and salvation. The title Virgin in prayer also fits the Church, which day by day presents to the Father the needs of her children, praises the Lord unceasingly and intercedes for the salvation of the world. Mary is also the Virgin-Mother -- she who believing and obeying, brought forth on earth the Father's Son. This she did, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. This was a miraculous Motherhood, set up by God as the type and exemplar of the fruitfulness of the Virgin-Church, which becomes herself a Mother. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life, children who are conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of God.

Reading Four:
The ancient Fathers rightly taught that the Church prolongs in the Sacrament of Baptism the virginal Motherhood of Mary. Among such references we like to recall that of our illustrious predecessor, Saint Leo the Great, who in a Christmas homily says: "The origin which Christ took in the womb of the Virgin He has given to the baptismal font: He has given to water what He had given to His Mother -- the power of the Most High and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, which was responsible for Mary's bringing forth the Savior, has the same effect, so that water may regenerate the believer." If we wished to go to liturgical sources, we could quote the beautiful Illatio of the Mozarabic liturgy: "The former [Mary] carried Life in her womb; the latter [the Church] bears Life in the waters of baptism. In Mary's members Christ was formed; in the waters of the Church Christ is put on." Mary is, finally, the Virgin presenting offerings. In the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Church, guided by the Spirit, has detected, over and above the fulfillment of the laws regarding the offering of the firstborn and the purification of the mother, a mystery of salvation related to the history of salvation.

Reading Five:
In the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Church has noted the continuity of the fundamental offering that the Incarnate Word made to the Father when He entered the world. The Church has seen the universal nature of salvation proclaimed, for Simeon, greeting in the Child the Light to enlighten the peoples and the glory of the people Israel, recognized in Him the Messiah, the Savior of all. The Church has understood the prophetic reference to the Passion of Christ: the fact that Simeon's words, which linked in one prophecy the Son as "the sign of contradiction" and the Mother, whose soul would be pierced by a sword, came true on Calvary. A mystery of salvation, therefore, that in its various aspects orients the episode of the Presentation in the Temple to the salvific event of the Cross. But the Church herself, in particular from the Middle Ages onwards, has detected in the heart of the Virgin taking her Son to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord a desire to make an offering, a desire that exceeds the ordinary meaning of the rite. A witness to this intuition is found in the loving prayer of Saint Bernard: "Offer your Son, holy Virgin, and present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. Offer for the reconciliation of us all the holy Victim which is pleasing to God."

Reading Six:
This union of the Mother and the Son in the work of redemption reaches its climax on Calvary, where Christ "offered Himself as the perfect Sacrifice to God" and where Mary stood by the Cross, suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united herself with a maternal heart to His Sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth and also was offering to the eternal Father. To perpetuate down the centuries the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Divine Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of His death and Resurrection, and entrusted it to His spouse the Church, which, especially on Sundays, calls the faithful together to celebrate the Passover of the Lord until He comes again. This the Church does in union with the saints in heaven and in particular with the Blessed Virgin, whose burning charity and unshakable faith she imitates.

Reading Seven:
Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship but is also, clearly, a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians. The faithful at a very early date began to look to Mary and to imitate her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives. As early as the fourth century, Saint Ambrose, speaking to the people, expressed the hope that each of them would have the spirit of Mary in order to glory God: "May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may her spirit be in everyone to exult in God." But Mary is above all the example of that worship that consists in making one's life an offering to God. This is an ancient and ever new doctrine that each individual can hear again by heeding the Church's teaching, but also by heeding the very voice of the Virgin as she, anticipating in herself the wonderful petition of the Lord's Prayer -- "Your will be done" -- replied to God's messenger: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me." And Mary's "yes" is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the way and means of one's own sanctification.

Reading Eight:
It is also important to note how the Church expresses in various effective attitudes of devotion the many relationships that bind her to Mary: in profound veneration, when she reflects on the singular dignity of the Virgin who, through the action of the Holy Spirit has become Mother of the Incarnate Word; in burning love, when she considers the spiritual Motherhood of Mary towards all members of the Mystical Body; in trusting invocation; when she experiences the intercession of her advocate and helper; in loving service, when she sees in the humble handmaid of the Lord the Queen of mercy and the Mother of grace; in zealous imitation, when she contemplates the holiness and virtues of her who is "full of grace"; in profound wonder, when she sees in her, as in a faultless model, that which she herself wholly desires and hopes to be"; in attentive study, when she recognizes in the associate of the Redeemer, who already shares fully in the fruits of the Paschal Mystery, the prophetic fulfillment of her own future, until the day on which, when she has been purified of every spot and wrinkle, she will become like a bride arrayed for the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

The ninth and tenth Readings are taken from the Gospel, Matthew 1:1-16, and a discourse from Hugo of St. Victor, a medieval philosopher, theologian and mystical writer.

The eleventh and twelfth Readings are from a homily by Saint Theodore the Studite on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Theodore was a late eighth and early ninth century Byzantine monk and abbot. Here’s a short excerpt:

"What wonder! In His immense love for mankind, God was not ashamed to take His handmaid as Mother. Unprecedented condescension of the Lord! In His infinite goodness, He did not hesitate to become a Child of her that He had modeled. Of her the prophet Zechariah says: ‘Rejoice, rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, behold, I come to dwell among you’ (Zechariah 2:14). But I feel blessed Joel was proclaiming more or less the same thing: ‘Do not worry, O land, but rejoice and be glad, because great things the Lord has made’ (Joel 2:21). Mary is the land on which the One Who founded the earth from the beginning is moulded in the flesh, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Mary is the land that, without being planted, has opened up the fruit that gives everyone Food. Hail the Lord's place, a land that God has touched with His steps. Hail, God's house, the home that shines with divine splendor."

05 September 2009

A Fruit that the Tongue Cannot Describe

Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remains in continual silence. Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within.

If you love truth be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you with God Himself. More than all things love silence, it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe.

In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent and then there is born something which draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this something which is born of silence.

If only you will practice this, untold light will dawn upon you as a consequence. After a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.

~Saint Isaac of Syria~

04 September 2009

Bringing Back the Erring to the Paths of Salvation

Saint Rose of Viterbo had supernatural gifts. At only age three she raised her aunt to life. Rose devoted herself to the penitential life at a very young age. At age seven she was already living the life of a recluse.

Our Blessed Lady miraculously healed Rose of consumption just as she was nearing death. Afterwards, the Holy Mother of God told Rose to join the Third Order of Saint Francis. Our Blessed Mother spoke to Rose: “Reprove, convince, exhort and bring back the erring to the paths of salvation. If your endeavors bring upon you sarcasm and mockery, persecution and labor, you must bear them patiently. Those who assist you will be enriched with all the graces of the Lord.” Rose spent about two years preaching penance to the city of Viterbo, and her success got her banished by the orders of the prefect of the city.

She eventually ended up in the city of Vitorchiano, whose residents lived under the influence of a sorceress. But Rose had the power of God on her side and she managed to convert the entire city, including the sorceress. She did this by standing on a burning pyre, completely enveloped in flames and coming out of it unharmed after three hours.

When papal power was restored to the city of Viterbo, Rose returned there and desired to enter Saint Mary of the Roses monastery but was turned away because of her poverty. She spent her remaining short life in a cell in her father’s house. She died at the age of seventeen, and seven years later her body was transferred to Saint Mary of the Roses which Saint Rose predicted would happen to her body after death.

Saint Rose of Viterbo was gifted with the graces of love for neighbor, the spirit of prayer and a great zeal for the faith.

On 3 September, the eve of her Feast Day, a massive tower is paraded through the city of Viterbo in honor of Saint Rose. The tower is illuminated and is marched through the city whose lights are turned off during this procession.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will make a pastoral visit to the city of Viterbo this Sunday, 6 September.

Heavenly Father,
in the youthful Saint Rose, Your servant,
You combined wonderful courage of soul
and unsullied innocence.
As we celebrate her merits
may we imitate the example of her virtues.

03 September 2009

When the Catholic Hierarchy of England and Wales Knox on the Door

It was first published in one volume in 1955, and it was selected by the National Book League as one of the 100 best-produced books of that year. The Daily Telegraph wrote: “The most considerable and perhaps the most literary version of modern times.” Spectator joined in on the praises: “It is brilliant… the finest modern translation yet to appear in the English language.”

The literary achievement which received so many accolades was The Holy Bible, translated from the Latin Vulgate in the light of the Hebrew and Greek by Ronald Knox.

Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was a convert to the Catholic faith from the Anglican Church. He was a theologian and writer born in Leicestershire, England. Many eloquent writings and novels, notwithstanding, the Catholic hierarchy of England and Wales asked him to translate anew into English, the Vulgate bible while also remaining faithful to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The New Testament was published first in 1945 and then the Old Testament followed in 1949.

The Knox translation found its way into the Catholic liturgy between the years 1965 and 1970.

Baronius Press is currently undertaking reprinting the Knox Bible which is expected to be ready in 2010. I have a 1965 fifth edition and my own opinion is that it is a very readable English translation without sacrificing majestic words like “thee” and “thou.” The translation also has a way of teaching the reader the meaning of the texts. Here’s an example text from the beginning of Saint John’s Gospel:

At the beginning of time the Word already was; and God had the Word abiding with him, and the Word was God.
He abode, at the beginning of time, with God.
It was through him that all things came into being, and without him came nothing that has come to be.

Perhaps the best known psalm is Psalm 23. Monsignor Knox, however, kept the Vulgate numbering of the Book of Psalms which in this case would be Psalm 22. Here is his rendition:

The Lord is my shepherd; how can I lack anything?
He gives me a resting-place where there is green pasture,
leads me out to the cool water’s brink, refreshed and content.
As in honour pledged, by sure paths he leads me;
dark be the valley about my path, hurt I fear none while he is with me;
thy rod, thy crook are my comfort.
Envious my foes watch, while thou dost spread a banquet for me;
richly thou dost anoint my head with oil, well filled my cup.
All my life thy loving favour pursues me;
through the long years the Lord’s house shall be my dwelling-place.

02 September 2009

Possessing God and Being Possesed by God

Here’s another beautiful instruction on prayer by Dom Augustin Guillerand. In this particular writing, he really gets into the interior life and teaches us how to move towards God, forming a union in which we can only ask of God what He wills us to ask for, which is Himself.

Saint John Damascene's definition of prayer is well known. “Prayer,” he says, “is asking God for what is fitting.” We must probe this thought thoroughly, draw from the words their substance, separate its parts and, having done so, restore them to the deep life of this substance which sustains them and gives then life.

This definition of prayer falls, then, into two parts which are, as it were, its matter and form. Prayer is an asking, but an asking of God, and consequently bears the impress of Him to Whom it is addressed.

We can ask God only for what He wants us to ask of Him, and He can will only what is conformable to His will. Now since God is one of the ‘terms’ of prayer -- that is, we pray to Him -- and since He is infinite Order, prayer is a request essentially “ordered,” in other words consonant with the order of God Himself. What is that order? It is what He is -- Being Himself: that Being from Whom, by Whom, and for Whom all things are (cf. John 1:3 & Colossians 1:16). He is our Beginning and our End (Revelation 1:8). He is the Light of our mind and the strength of our will. He is Truth, Goodness and Beauty unalloyed, the source of all joy and the ocean of all life.

What is “fitting,” therefore -- what we must ask God for -- is Himself; to be united with Him, to be transformed in Him: to possess Him and to be possessed by Him. We should ask to enter, by grace, into such intimate relations with Him as unite us to Him; to become His sons by a communication as complete as possible of His Spirit of Love; to share in that joy and in that life which is His joy and His life: in short, to share in joy itself and Life itself. The Scriptures are full of this prayer, which is constantly bubbling up like water-springs on a high mountain. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance, says the Psalmist (Psalm 15 [16]:5)… For what have I in heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth… Thou art the God of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psalm 72 [73]:25, 6).

In the case of the intelligent being, to possess is to see the object of one's love and to find one's complete happiness in it. What we see enters into us by an image, which makes the object present to us -- we say expressly it “re-presents” it to us. This presence allows us to contemplate it, and that contemplation in turn engraves in us the features of what we see. Once engraved, these features are like a continual presence, which perpetually renews our joy.

There is another kind of knowledge and presence which brings neither possession nor pleasure. The object is within us, but it is not part of ourselves. We do not make use of it, nor have we any desire to profit by it. We are content with the image, but we experience no conscious need for any immediate, direct contact with the reality it represents. We do not love that object, for it is not our ‘good'. We do not seek to be united with it, or to be transformed in it; we are content merely to know what it is and that it exists; but that knowledge awakens in us no desire for a more intimate union with it, or for mutual self-surrender. We rightly love what is “good,” but that object does not seem to be our good.

On the other hand, we recognize God as our supreme Good, and we long for the closest union with Him, for the most complete possession and consequently for that clear, direct vision which brings joy -- an intuitive vision, a direct contact with His Being giving Himself, to which we respond by the total gift of our self to His total gift of Himself. This is what we ask for before everything else, and anything else we ask for is ordered towards this. It cannot be otherwise, because the one has always the end in view, the other only the means to that end. Our whole purpose is to arrive at that end.

Now there are two kinds of means which lead to this desired union. The one clears the way of obstacles, the other puts us in touch with the object of our love. We pray to God to keep us from all that might separate us from Him or delay our union; at the same time, we ask for what will bring about that union. It is vices and sins that separate, temptations that can hold us up. To obtain the mastery of them, therefore, should be the first object of our prayer, and we must not make light of this. Those who are proud or only and more often simple and inexperienced, content themselves with asking for union; many, indeed, try to live that union immediately. It does not occur to them that there is danger here. The enemy's blows, they say, cannot touch them. They consider themselves immune, whereas they are simply ignorant and blind. It would be an exaggeration to say that they are endangering their salvation, but they are very much exposed to mark time, and to become paralyzed.

The first act of light is to be separated from darkness (cf. Genesis 1:4): God divided the light from the darkness, and to light up all that it touches. It shines and is visible; it lights up the way and the end only in so far as it separates itself and the other objects from the night. When it emerges from the darkness and wrests a soul from it, the light reveals to that soul the love that has given it being and action. It is now that the Holy Spirit makes His power felt. He draws the soul to Himself, and awakens a reciprocal movement toward union. He causes virtues to flourish in the soul, communicating His own dispositions to it, and becomes the hidden cause of all its activity. He prays in it, adores in it, utters cries of love, and pours Himself forth in the most wonderful colloquies and unspeakable groanings (cf. Romans 8:26), repeating unceasingly: “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6).

Saint Augustine's definition of prayer suggests the same thought: “Prayer is a devout movement of the soul towards God,” he says, thus putting into words what must have been most certainly his own form of prayer. In all movement there are two terms -- the one from which we set out, the other towards which we tend. When we pray, one of the terms does not exist: it is ‘nothingness’, or rather it is a being who exists solely by him towards whom it tends. To let our gaze, therefore, rest on this nothingness as on an end, is foolish. By not looking at ourselves we are, by that very fact continually moving in the direction of our true end, which is God, and our prayer is continuous and one which realizes our divine Master's command “to pray always” (cf. Luke 18:1 and 21:38).

01 September 2009

Saint Artold

Saint Artold was born around the year 1101 and since his death wasn’t until 1206, he lived about 105 years.

As a young man in the year 1120 he entered the Carthusian Charterhouse of Portes. In the year 1140, he was the founder and the initial Prior of the Charterhouse of Arvières which was located in the diocese of Geneva. Ever keeping in his heart the Carthusian vocation, he chose lands from his family which were rugged, snow-covered, and other than animals of the wild, lands that would offer plentiful solitude. Artold, along with others who would join him, built structures made of wood, and lived for ten years there practicing an extremely rigorous ascetical lifestyle.

After a pastoral visit by the Bishop of Geneva, he was so impressed by what he saw that he found a more befitting location for Artold and his monks, and solicited the help of the wealthy in his diocese to help build a monastery for these sons of Saint Bruno.

Saint Artold was the Prior of Arvières for many years and was an excellent spiritual Father for his fellow Carthusians. Eventually, there came the prospect that virtually no Carthusian wants to consider: becoming a bishop. In fact, Artold ran away and tried to keep himself out of sight. When he was found, however, he was made to accept the office of bishop, remarkably at the age of 80, in the diocese of Belley, which is where Artold began his Carthusian vocation at the Charterhouse of Portes.

Since Artold was already at an advanced age when he became bishop, and though he served that office very commendably, he was granted his retirement in the year 1190 by Pope Clement III.

Afterwards Artold returned to the Charterhouse of Arvières and ten years into his retirement in the year 1200, he was visited there by perhaps the most renowned bishop ever among the Carthusian Order, Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Saint Hugh was present at the peace treaty between the king of England and the king of France; and so, Saint Artold asked Saint Hugh to share his eyewitness account with the other Brothers in the Charterhouse of Arvières. But Saint Hugh said to Saint Artold: “My Lord and Father, although it is legitimate for bishops to hear and relate such matters, it is not so for monks. It is not right to bring news from outside into the cloister or the cell, and to leave the city in order to discuss secular matters in solitude.” Artold found the bishop of Lincoln’s statement to be edifying and full of heavenly wisdom.

Even today, there are no radios, televisions of secular publications in a Carthusian Charterhouse.

After Saint Hugh’s visit, Artold lived about six more years. In his final words to his Brothers he said: “Grow in virtue in order that the sanctity of this House may last forever, passing on its good traditions to those who come after you. Love one another that charity may be the bond at all times uniting you to all in Jesus Christ.” He also told them to rely on the Holy Spirit for Light and comfort, our Blessed Lady for protection, and Saint Bruno as their model.

Miracles occurred when his intercession was sought and in the year 1834 Pope Gregory XVI permitted Saint Artold’s feast to be celebrated in the diocese of Belley and in 1857 the authorization was extended to the Carthusian Order.