30 November 2009

The First to Recognize the Lord

On this day, the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, this reflection is excerpted from Saint Peter Damian. It focuses mainly on Saint Peter, the first among the apostles in rank, and his brother Saint Andrew, the first to recognize Jesus. Saint Peter Damian teaches us to follow in the path of these two great apostles: the path of self-surrender, of letting go of worldly goods to seek the treasures of heaven, and finally, something which no one escapes this life without experiencing – suffering.

Dear brothers, today we are enlightened by the feast of Saint Andrew. In the dark mist and cold of winter, this celebration surrounds the soul with the beautiful weather of serenity. If the inclement weather numbs us from the cold outside, the announcement of victory makes us such brave warriors of fire. Andrew encourages generous hearts to arm themselves for spiritual battle and spread the flame of divine love in the hearts of the brave soldiers of Christ.

The noblest martyrdom we can suffer is surely the one that made our holy Redeemer the Chief of martyrs. In His divine plan, He had died as did Peter and Andrew, by the torture of the Cross. They are separated from the other apostles, although all of them have the same power and the same dignity. The Cross, which administered the scepter to the King, then led the two soldiers to their reward.

Note the blessed relationship of the two brothers: Originating from the same race and coming together for life, Peter and Andrew entered into eternal bliss through the same martyrdom. Both distinguished on earth, and in heaven have the same eminent nobility.

Here on earth are the children of John; in heaven are the children of the Cross. Separating them with death from this earthly life, the Cross opened for them a new birth, gloriously triumphant among the citizens of the New Jerusalem.

According to the testimony of the Gospel, the second in the list of the apostles, was the first to recognize the Lord. Saint John in fact says: one of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. And the text adds that he met up with his brother Simon and said: “We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42). Andrew was the messenger of a great mystery: he had found the One that all the saints have eagerly waited for since the beginning of time but never could see.

The King of Glory Who had come to fight alone, marching to war, gradually enlisted soldiers. Christ came to free man captured under the tyrannical yoke of the devil and call them to liberty.

He came to snatch His people from the yoke of Pharaoh, to guide and lead them with a strong Hand to the land flowing with milk and honey.

Coming into this world, Christ did not choose collaborators from illustrious men or gallant warriors; neither did He choose philosophers but simple fishermen struggling with their nets, because His victory depended solely on His divine power, and not human strength.

The destruction of Jericho had foreshadowed the victory of Christ. The mighty walls of that city did not collapse under the blows of war machines, but by the cheers of the people and the sound of trumpets.

With a sign from the Lord, the holy apostles Peter and Andrew did not hesitate to abandon all they had in order to convert worldly goods into heavenly treasures. They abandoned visible property for the invisible. They turned their backs on what they had to tend to and turned towards what they hoped for. They are on their way to the Kingdom through suffering and will rise to the joys of eternal life by passing through the Cross.

Andrew did not seem jealous of the primacy of Peter, although he had preceded him in faith.

The Master of heaven has placed us under the precept of self-denial – this is the rule of true humility – that we follow the right path. In those early disciples, who became doctors of the world, Christ has given the model of all virtues. Thus, until the consummation of the world any faithful soul can direct their gaze towards them and imitate them.

We follow these rivers from which flows life until we reach the Source. We walk behind the soldiers to meet the King, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

28 November 2009

The Shining Model of Chastity and the Ideal Form of Virtue

On Saturday, a day in which the Church traditionally honors Mary, comes this excerpt from Saint Ambrose’s treatise titled, “De Virginibus.” It is written for those living the life of virginity, with our Blessed Lady being presented as the perfect model. But this treatise goes far beyond that. It is also a wonderful reflection on the virtues of Mary, offering some gems for one's interior life. And there’s more: this treatise may also add to and enhance one’s meditations on the Holy Rosary, most especially the Joyful Mysteries. As the text itself proclaims, our Blessed Mother's life “is an education for all.” As we prepare to enter into the season of Advent, and the expectation of the Savior, it's not a bad idea to re-visit the Annunciation; and Saint Ambrose does that for us here.

Let Mary’s life for you be an image of virginity itself, as from a mirror, the shining model of chastity and the ideal form of virtue. Take, then, the existential life of Mary as an example, as the perfect model, showing you what you need to correct, and keep in you.

Mary was chosen by the Holy Spirit, who is visited by an angel, which is told by the evangelist. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, and her worthiness that the Son of God should be born of her.

When the angel entered, he found her at home, in the inner room, without company, that no one could distract her attention or disturb her. In fact, she did not even desire the company of women, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Indeed, she seemed so much less alone when she was alone, for how could she be alone, and how could she be isolated, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?

When the angel salutes Mary, she remains silent, but when addressed she answered. Initially, she feels troubled, but then promises to have done to her the words of the angel.

Scripture depicts Mary as modest towards her neighbors. She became even more humble when she realized she was chosen by God, and immediately goes to her cousin in a mountainous area. She did not go there to see the evidence adduced by the angel, because she had already believed in his prophecy. The sacred text says in fact: “Blessed are you who have believed” (Luke 1:45).

Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months. In such an interval of time, it is not faith that is being sought, but she shows kindness to her cousin. And this was after the child leapt for joy in Elizabeth when greeting the Mother of the Lord. Thus John expressed an affection that exceeds the natural rate. Many miraculous signs came one after another: the barren will give birth, a Virgin conceives, a mute regains his speech; there is the Adoration of the Magi, the expectation of Simeon, the stars gave notice. Mary, who is moved by the angel’s entrance, is not shaken by these miracles. The text says that she kept all these things in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19).

Although the Mother of God, Mary wants to learn the precepts of the Lord God; and she who brought forth God yet desired to know God.

Every year she went to Jerusalem for the Passover with Joseph. Why do you go with him? For a virgin, modesty always accompanies all the virtues. It is so inseparable from virginity, that this cannot exist without that. Thus, Mary did not even go to the temple without the guardian of her modesty.

Mary shines in the true image of virginity. Her life alone is an education for all. There is a proverb which says: “If the author does not displease us, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires the rewards of Mary may imitate the example.” How many virtues shine forth in one Virgin: the confidentiality of modesty, the emblem of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the Mother at the temple.

What a triumph in the heavens, what a great joy of jubilant angels, when she is found worthy of living in heaven, after living a heavenly life in this world. Then Mary, with her timbrel, will stir up choirs of virgins who sing to the Lord, because they have crossed the seas of this world without suffering the storms. Then, each shall rejoice saying: I will go to the altar of God, to God Who makes my youth glad; and, I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay vows to the Most High.

Blessed Virgin, I will not hesitate to say that you have access to the true altar of God, for you yourself are the altar in which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body, which is the Church.

For if the virgin's body is a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapor of the divine fire.

Blessed Virgin, you emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest.

27 November 2009

Seeking to Pierce the High Cloud of Unknowing

This particular piece is from “The Cloud of Unknowing,” familiar to many as an anonymous latter half of the fourteenth century work on Christian mysticism. If you’re familiar with the various English versions, you might find this a bit unique. I translated it from Italian, even though it is a Middle English work; and I think it translates a bit more contemplative/monastic friendly, so to speak. I hope you enjoy it! The final two small paragraphs in this post are from the follow-up work and is believed to have been written by the same author. This work is titled: “The Epistle of Privy Counsel.” Remaining fixed on God is never easy and the final two paragraphs briefly address this.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke it is written, that our Lord was received in the home of Martha, the sister of Mary. While Martha is preparing lunch, Mary sits at the Feet of the Master. While listening to His Word, she does not behold the business of her sister, although her business was full of goodness and holiness, for truly it is the first part of the active life.

Mary does not yet even behold the preciousness of the sacred Body of Christ, nor of the human gentleness of His Voice and His words, even though this indicates progress, as this is the second part of the active life and the first part of the contemplative life.

What’s interesting is the supreme wisdom of Mary in the Lord’s Divinity, although veiled by the words of His Humanity, she beheld with all the love of her heart. Despite what she sees or hears from what is being done around her, she sits at the Feet of the Lord without batting an eyelid. In her privy, a secret longing for love and many sweet impulses, she seeks to pierce the high cloud of unknowing that stands between her and God.

I will say this: there never has been and never will be in this life a creature, however pure and ecstatic in contemplating and loving God, who has not always had between himself and God, this cloud of unknowing so lofty and mysterious. Precisely in this cloud Mary was occupied with many secret eruptions of His love. And why? Because it is the best part of contemplation, that there may be more holiness in this world. She would have left the world for this occupation; so much so that her sister Martha complained about her to our Lord and begs Him to tell her to get up and help her, and not to leave her alone in doing all the serving. Mary is sitting, not saying a word. She shows no sign of resentment or protest against her sister, for any complaint she could make. And no wonder: Mary was busy doing other work, of which Martha did not realize. Therefore she hadn’t the time to listen to her, nor to respond to her complaints.

You see, my friend, all that happened between the Lord and the two sisters is an example for what will be until the day of doom, both actives and contemplatives will be in the Church.

Charity is only the love of God for Himself above all creatures, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, for love of God should not be understood otherwise.

In this work, God is loved for Himself, and above all creatures, because in essence this work is nothing but a pure desire directed unto God for Himself, and Him alone.

Yes, I called it a pure desire because from this work comes into being a true contemplative who does not expect relief from fatigue or an increase in reward. In short, he asks for nothing more from God and does not care anymore about his pain or bliss; his only concern is the will of Him Whom he loves. Thus it seems in this occupation that God is loved for Himself, perfectly and above all creatures.

Experience shows that in the second commandment of charity: that of relating to others is also perfectly fulfilled. How is this possible? The true contemplative does not take into account any particular person whether that be, relative or stranger, friend or foe. All men are his brothers and no one is a stranger. He comes to regard as his dear friends those that cause him pain and suffering, and feels compelled to will them as much goodness as his homeliest friend.

You may say: All I feel is toil and pain, not rest. On the one hand, my faculties hound me to give up this work and I will not. On the other hand, I long to lose the experience of myself and I cannot. If this is rest, I think it is a rather odd kind of rest!

Yes, I know it is painful and toilsome. And yet I call it rest. Persevere in it with humility and great desire, for it is a work which begins here on earth, but will go on without end into eternity.

26 November 2009

To all U.S. readers...


25 November 2009

Consumed by Love in Imitating the Passion

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Blessed Béatrice d’Ornacieux. At the very young age of thirteen she joined the Carthusian Order and became a nun of the Order at Parménie where her novice mistress was another well-known Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt.

Béatrice was subject to demonic torments and often was attacked with impure illusions and nightly fantasies which included seeing dangerous animals and hearing frightening sounds. Like anyone would do in these types of occurrences, she pleaded with God to be delivered from these attacks and even asked Him to be taken from this earth. Her prayers received a miraculous response with a Voice that said: “Receive the consolations that I give you and do not refuse the sufferings that I send you.” After that encounter she was able to completely surrender herself to the will of God.

Béatrice was intensely in love with Jesus Christ and lived a life of penance in order to follow Him in His sufferings. In response to her love, Jesus gave her the wonderful gift of possessing an intimate knowledge of Himself but she would, however, later experience the “dark night of the soul” in which she felt completely abandoned by the Lord. This caused her great suffering. After that period of refinement she once again regained full intimate union with Jesus, a union that would never again be interrupted.

In the year 1300, Béatrice was the foundress and Prioress of a new monastery at Eymeu where she continued to live in holiness until her death in 1309.

When the Carthusian Order gave up the monastery at Eymeu, Béatrice’s relics were moved to Parménie. An uprising of the Albigensians caused the nuns to flee Parménie. Shortly after, the monastery was burned down and Béatrice’s relics were lost. In the seventeenth century her relics were found and in the year 1697 pronounced authentic by a Cardinal of that region. Later, in the year 1839 the relics were once again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble and thirty years later in 1869 Pope Pius IX gave permission for her feast to be celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

24 November 2009

How is your prayer?

This wonderful piece on prayer is from Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), a monk of Eastern Christendom. In 1872, when he became a recluse, he lived in two rooms and survived physically on mostly bread and tea. Only the Abbot of the monastery and his Confessor visited him. Most of his time in his cell was spent in the daily liturgy, interior prayer, his own writings as well as translating the writings of the Fathers into Russian.

Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the “equipment” of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another -- feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts' striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is, one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.

We must pray so that our mind and heart receive the content of the prayers that we read. In this way the act of praying becomes a font of true prayer in us. I will give here three very simple instructions:
1. Always begin praying with at least a little preparation;
2. Do not pray carelessly, but with attention and feeling;
3. Do not go on to ordinary work immediately after prayer.

When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again. In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders. On the other hand it may happen that a particular word or phrase might act so strongly on the soul, that the soul no longer wants to continue with the prayer, and even though the lips continue praying, the mind keeps wandering back to that place which first acted on it. In this case: Stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul. Do not hurry to get yourself out of this state. If time cannot wait, it is better to leave your rule unfinished than to disturb this prayerful state. Maybe this feeling will stay with you all day like your guardian Angel! This sort of grace-filled action on the soul during prayer means that the spirit of prayer is becoming internalized, and consequently, maintaining this state is the most hopeful means of raising up and strengthening a spirit of prayer in your heart.

Finally, when you finish your prayers, do not immediately go off to any sort of work, but remain and think at least a little about what you have just finished and what now lies before you. If some feeling was given to you during prayer, keep it after you pray. If you completed your prayer rule in the true spirit of prayer, then you will not wish to quickly go about other work; this is a property of prayer. Thus our ancestors said when they returned from Constantinople: “He who has tasted sweet things does not desire bitter things.” So it is with each person who has prayed well during his prayers. One should recognize that tasting this sweetness of prayer is the very goal of praying, and if praying leads to a prayerful spirit, then it is exactly through such a tasting.

If you will follow these few rules, then you will quickly see the fruit of prayerful labor. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Mistress, the Theotokos!

23 November 2009

Austere at First - Heavenly in its End

Dom Guigo, the fifth prior of La Grande Chartreuse, had written a letter somewhere around the year 1135 to his friend whose name is unknown. Below is an excerpt of that letter which offers advice in the spiritual life. It is a letter that can almost be read as if written to you personally. While it may be nearly impossible to embrace fully Guigo’s suggestions since most of us do not live in a hermitage, one can certainly adapt these Christ-like ways according to one’s state in life. The picture shown here is a manuscript of Guigo’s letter which is kept at La Bibliothèque Municipale de Grenoble.

One man will think another happy. I esteem him happy above all who does not have the ambitious quest to be lifted up with great honors in a palace, but who chooses to be humble, to live like a poor man in a hermitage; who with thoughtful application loves to meditate quietly in peace; who longs to sit alone in silence.

Indeed, to shine with honors, to be lifted up in dignity is in my judgment a way of little peace, exposed to perils, subject to concerns, hazardous to many, unsafe for anyone. Happy in the beginning, perplexed in its development, sad in its end; flattering to the unworthy, disgraceful to the good, generally deceptive to both. While it makes many wretched, it gives satisfaction to no one, makes many unhappy.

Conversely, the poor and lonely life, austere at first, easy in its progress, becomes, in its end, heavenly. It is constant in adversity, confident in uncertainties, modest in good fortune, simple in dress, reserved in speech, pure in manners – worthy of the greatest desires without ambition. Often wounded with sorrow at the thought of past sins, avoids sin in the present, is wary of future evil. Rests on the hope of mercy, not relying on its own merit, it longs for heaven, disdains things of earth, earnestly strives for virtue, which it retains in perseverance and holds firmly for ever. It is devoted to fasting by determined fidelity to the Cross, yet consents to eat for the body’s necessities. In both it regulates with perfect measure by controlling greed when it needs food and pride when it fasts. It is devoted to reading, but mostly in the Scripture canon and in holy books where it is more intent upon the inner marrow of meaning than on the froth of words. But you may praise or wonder more at this: that such a life is continually idle yet never lazy. For it finds many things to do, so that time is more often lacking to it than this or that occupation. It more often laments that its time has slipped away than that its business is tedious.

What else? A fine subject, to advise tranquility, but such an exhortation seeks out a mind that is its own master, concerned with its own good, disdaining to be meddling in the affairs of others, or of society; who so fights as a soldier of Christ in peace as to refuse double service as a soldier of God and of the world; who knows for certain it cannot here be glad with this world and then in the next reign with God.

Small sacrifices are these, and their like, if you recall what drink He took at the gibbet, Who calls you to His Throne. Like it or not, you need to follow the example of Christ poor if you want to share with Christ in His riches. If we suffer with Him, says the Apostle, we shall reign with Him. If we die with Him, then we shall live together with Him. The Mediator Himself replied to the two disciples who asked Him if one of them might sit at His right Hand and the other at His left: “Can you drink the chalice which I am about to drink?” Here He showed us that it is by cups of earthly bitterness that we come to the banquet of the Patriarchs and to the nectar of heavenly celebrations.

20 November 2009

Transforming Union (part II)

Here is the concluding part of a Carthusian monk’s perspective on transforming union. If you missed the first part, you can find it here.

The Holy Spirit is in charge of the whole of this transformation. It is the Spirit Who acts in us as the principle of our sanctification. He inclines the soul to these supernatural acts, not by passing through the faculties, from outside, but from inside, from His dwelling in the center, in the substance of the soul. Thus the Spirit moves the faculties, but in His own particular way, enabling them to attain their objects directly with an assurance and strength beyond their normal possibilities. Paradoxically, there is great liberty in this, for the soul is not moved like a lifeless puppet, but as someone who is free. This is a great mystery. The spiritual acts flow freely from a person transformed in his very substance by the Spirit; and these acts express perfectly the most intimate depths of that person, there where he adheres to God so closely that, with God, he is spirit, and source of life (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:17).

It is easy to say words that mean nothing, or say too much. It has been suggested – and by the mystics sometimes – that the soul breathes the Spirit with the Father and the Son; that it creates the world; that, placed within God’s creative act, it is maintaining all things; that, in a game of love, it gives God to God, since God in all truth has given Himself to the soul… All this is true, but in a sense that in no way diminishes the infinite transcendence of the Lord which is radically beyond our grasp. What is clear is that, by grace, in transforming union, the soul is plunged into a life that is infinitely beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. The fine shell of its little personality becomes perfectly transparent to the marvelous light in which it bathes. The soul is known and it knows. It is loved and it loves: perfectly, beyond anything we can possibly imagine or hope for.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

We set off to seek God, following in the steps of Jesus, on the path of the beatitudes of poverty and purity of heart, by the way of the cross and love, towards the Father. Now at the end, we find Christ again, but the risen Christ. The extraordinary phenomena of the mystical life are an irruption in our world of the life of the resurrection, rays of light from Mount Tabor. If we can come to the Father in all confidence, as sons, it is because of the grace of Christ communicated to us through the Spirit. We are taken up into the life of Christ, we become as it were one person with Him, to constitute what Augustine called “the total Christ.” “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

When the Word became flesh, He did not eliminate human nature, but raised it, rather, to the fullness of its liberty and perfection; and in the same way, when divine life takes flesh, so to speak, in us – not hypostatically, but by union of grace – our humanity is not eliminated, but radically transformed. It is really our own self that is transformed; myself, with my own features, my character, my feelings, my personal history, my wounds, my limits, my sufferings, my sensitivity… Christ in His glory bears the marks of the nails. The glory He communicates to us is the glory of humanity redeemed, and is all the more luminous because of that. The bread that we offer to be consecrated is the bread of our whole nature. That is why the Eucharist is so important: for there, the Body and Blood of Christ, the living humanity of Christ, touches us, penetrates us, in order to transform us into Himself.

The spiritual person does not become an angel, he or she becomes Christ. And just as so few were able to recognize God in Jesus, so we too often pass by the saints. We look out for the extraordinary and the spectacular, and all we find is something marvelously human, a humanity that is in the likeness of God.

Generally there are not many extraordinary sensory phenomena, and hardly any more ecstasies. The human nature of the mystic is now used to God’s action, and has adapted to it. On the level of the senses, there is no resistance, and the higher faculties have been strengthened in their usual mode of activity.

We are so concerned with the outward show of sanctity, with appearances! Yet the whole life of a monk, and especially of the solitary monk, is on the level of being, where all show is ridiculous comedy. The “little” Thérèse said once: “There is no need for appearances, as long as the reality is there. Our Lord died of love on the Cross, and yet look at His agony.”

And all is humility, because humility is born of truth. In this ultimate intimacy with the Lord, the monk knows, he experiences, that all is grace, that all comes from God. He takes stock in his own minute little self in the shadow of the greatness of God, the greatness of infinite Love. He makes no effort to be humble. We do not need light to see daylight.

In the mystic, the struggle between attention to God and contact with the world no longer exists. Throughout the whole development of the life of prayer, we have seen a ligature of the powers of the soul, from the partial withdrawal from the world in the prayer of quietude, up to the point of ecstasy, when all its usual activity in relation to the surrounding world becomes impossible: it has to be Martha or Mary. But from now on, we find Martha and Mary living together in harmony. Interior union with God is not hindered by the activity of Martha, and vice versa.

There are two levels of conscience, simultaneously occupied each with its own object, natural or supernatural, without hampering one another. This is the secret of the activity of the great saints, which is so fruitful spiritually: it flows from the source, without leaving it. Everything in the saints is unity, and they have tremendous strength to act – if God calls them to do so – and to suffer.

The soul is not exempt from temptations and trials, which are usually of short duration; but it is not deeply affected by them. The great peace in the depths of the heart is not troubled, even when the surface is tossed by the storm. “My peace I leave with you” (John 14:27).

Let us not forget that, except for a few moments on Mount Tabor, Christ offered us the humble, hidden image of the Servant. He renounced, precisely, the outward show of glory that so attracts our ambivalent desires. The light of a soul transformed by grace often dwells in a humanity which seems quite ordinary, sometimes even in one that is heavily burdened, always in one that is simple. Christian perfection does not lie in the Greek ideal of an earthly fulfillment of all one’s human potential; its aim is the plenitude of charity, which, in a world marked by sin, can take the form of sacrifice and suffering assumed in a consent of faith, and of which the fulfillment is on the other side of death, in eternal life.

19 November 2009

Transforming Union

Transforming Union or possessing the fullness of Christ is something most of us will never experience in this lifetime. But certainly we’re familiar with stories of saints and mystics who have been there. But what is this transforming union? Why do so few experience it? Is it available to everyone? A Carthusian writer tackles this subject. This is part one of what will likely be a two-part post.

“My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Song of Songs 2:16).

Transforming union is the full development on earth of sanctifying grace, that is, the fullness of the life of Christ within us. Sadly, it is a state which is rarely reached, for it implies a plentitude of love. But, however far we may be from that state, we should know something about it, so as to be able to distinguish what is only transitory in the spiritual life, from that which pertains to its perfection.

There is one last trial, a testing of love, in which the soul, intensely drawn to the One it loves, aspires with its whole being to heavenly union. It is the desire to die, to break the chains of this life. If the Lord inspires this desire in the soul, it is in order to fulfill it, but in an unexpected way, by giving the grace of transforming union.

Sanctifying grace is the free gift of alliance contracted by God with each one of us, in the Church. It consists in the gift of the Holy Spirit Who communicates divine life to us: the knowledge and love which enable us to know and love God in an intimate exchange of personal friendship. He says to each of us, “I am calling you and you are My friend.” And His Creator Word establishes us in a sort of equality with Him, of friend to Friend (or, in other words, makes us share in the divine nature). The life of prayer is all about learning to live this friendship. We have to be gradually raised to this dignity, purified, and slowly transformed, until our will is one with the will of the Lord and our heart belongs totally to Him. Love is at the heart of transforming union, it is the substance of it. The phenomena which usually manifest this state are secondary, and in some cases are quite hidden, or even absent.

The life of grace becomes conscious. God is experienced not only as the objects of our acts of faith, hope and love, but as the interior source, the indwelling co-principle, of these acts. The sap of divine life flows in our faculties.

The term “spiritual marriage” is sometimes used to indicate this fusion of two lives: an intimate and stable union, based on the total, mutual gift of love between two persons, a gift with implications of rights and duties. “All that is Mine is yours, and all that is yours is Mine” (John 17:10).

The soul shares in the knowledge of God. It is given a mysterious knowledge, both luminous and obscure, by the love poured into it by the Holy Spirit. Love is itself a form of knowledge that goes further than any knowledge that can be formulated in images or ideas. It plunges into the infinite reality of divine life. The Spirit is the flame of love in the soul, a brightly burning flame.

There is no longer any distance. God communicates Himself to the soul by substantial touches, that is, directly, substance to substance, without passing by the faculties. Plunged into the divine fire, the soul becomes fire. Immersed in the vast sea, the drop of water becomes sea. Traversed by light, the pane of glass becomes light, without however ceasing to be what it is. No image can adequately express the reality. The saints and great mystics of all times have tried to speak of it, but this irruption of infinite life into the tiny space of a human soul is beyond words; do we not however, each one of us, recognize in this, in some obscure way, our deepest desire? How strange. But not so strange really, for our heart is made for You, Lord.

This union is the source of special insights on God and on the mysteries of the faith: sparks from the furnace at the center, that the intelligence receives by way of intuitive knowledge. The faculties no longer operate in their usual way, which is more or less discursive, but in the mode of the Holy Spirit acting through the gifts of intelligence and wisdom.

In this state, there is an habitual vision of the presence of God in the center of the soul, which is perceived, without mediation, as the dwelling of God. The higher faculties are drawn passively and imperiously towards the deep center of the soul where God dwells. They are plunged into this source of life, and emerge from it transformed, to act at the exterior. The activity of the soul flows from this deep center, the initiative comes from the interior and not from outside, from the Spirit and not from the world. This is why it is so important for the person of prayer to be able to enter into the interior depths of his or her soul, to remain there habitually, and to act from that center.

The soul often possesses habitually, but with differing degrees of intensity, the vision of the Holy Trinity, or of the divine nature. This is the highest point of spiritual illumination, but paradoxically is sometimes called “the Great Darkness,” for in drawing nearer, God reveals Himself to be supreme mystery, and totally different.

Whether this vision concerns the divine Persons or their unique nature, seems to depend on the religious sensitivity of the soul and the path followed. There is an Eastern tradition particularly directed towards experience of the divine nature, without however excluding, or regarding as secondary, loving intimacy with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But at this level of mystical experience, however necessary the concepts of nature and person may be, they are very inadequate with regard to the incandescent reality of the union of God.

17 November 2009

Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Here’s an excerpt from Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis by Adam of Eynsham.

Hugh was a canon of Villarbenoit in Dauphine where he had entered as a youth. The potential qualities of saint and scholar were recognized in the boy and fostered by his tutor. With all his longing for holy orders Hugh shrank from promotion. The desire to be a priest was tempered by the sense of utter unworthiness.

At first sight Hugh was in love with the monastery of La Grande Chartreuse in its high solitude of the Dauphine Alps. It was here he would dwell, swiftly his mind was made up. The prior of Villarbenoit on the day he paid a visit to La Grande Chartreuse, taking Hugh with him for company, brought sorrow upon himself. For Hugh seeing the place was filled with rapture and an immediate resolve. Amazing and wonderful was this great monastery in the very heart of the mountains; amazing and wonderful this place, no other than the house of God and gate of heaven. It was the spirit of the place that thrilled him and held him captive.

On that first visit Hugh, young as he was, recognized the powerful charm of the Carthusian life. The solitude that is the essence of the Carthusian rule is tempered by the fact that the life is communal.

Youthful enthusiasm an excellent thing in itself is no evidence of religious vocation. Besides, it is written in the Carthusian constitutions that the severity of the Carthusian life must be set out plainly to all who seek admission. And then he was so young, this canon from the priory of Villarbenoit, and he looked delicate.

During that visit Hugh confided his hopes of becoming a Carthusian to others than the prior, and these so far from shaking their head at the presumption highly approved. They did more, they promised to back him up, urged him to stick to his purpose, did all they could to welcome him to the charterhouse.
Here was a horrible dilemma. That God had called him to the Carthusian life Hugh was convinced ; at the same time how could he resist the prayer of the dear old man who had been to him not only a foster-father but his superior, to whom he had promised obedience? His soul was torn and perplexed. His feelings counseled surrender. Hugh took the vow. While the prior lived he would not leave him.

And then having taken this oath to stay with the canons Hugh realized that it was a mistake, an oath that ought not to have been taken. He had acted in good faith; for the moment it had seemed that it was God's will he should stay at the priory. But it was clear he must not stay.

Once convinced that this oath taken under stress need not be kept, an oath which God did not desire to be kept, Hugh put his affairs at the priory in order and then without saying a word went quietly off to La Grande Chartreuse. He was welcomed joyfully and with the greatest kindness.

For sixteen years did Saint Hugh live at La Grande Chartreuse; the first ten in the uninterrupted solitude his soul desired. Prayer is the chief business: common prayer in the church, private prayer in the quiet of the hermit's cell. What finer life could Hugh, a man of prayer and of study, desire than this steady progress through the years?

With prayer went the training in obedience, poverty and chastity. La Grande Chartreuse trained men to be of strong character, of resolute will. The practice of obedience developed the talent to rule and command the obedience of others. In Hugh the daily exercise in humility produced a courage so robust and fearless that no room was left for subservience to the princes of this world.

The devil has his own methods for projecting evil, and unabashed by failure, aims to reduce the solitary to the mortifying humiliation of confessing partial surrender. In the case of Hugh the Carthusian the devil had no success at all. The torture of an imagination that day and night prompted the flesh to revolt, inviting a rush of wild rebellious feelings, threatening destruction to the health of the soul, had to be endured. Hugh did endure it; but held out stubbornly against any consent of the will to the pictures presented in the mind; refused flatly any recognition of the suggestions that surged so furiously within. They were not his, these vile intrusions of the devil; they did not belong to him, these loathsome pictures of the obscene. He would never receive them or own them. Hugh unflinching held to his course, answering temptation with prayer.

For Hugh came the end of the life of contemplation, of detachment from the world, the life of prayer and study he had set his heart upon. The business of the monastery was in his hands; the employment of servants on the monastery lands; the reception of visitors the procurator was guest master and would himself take guests to their appointed quarters.

Obedience does not come readily or easily to men like the twelfth-century lay brothers; but they rallied to Hugh, the new procurator. They said of him that he brought peace to their souls. Rare characters these lay brothers. Of iron will and gentleness of heart they walked with God and were without fear of man.

Hugh, later, by the order of the bishop of Grenoble became the prior of Witham. Hugh was now forty and prior of Witham, where as yet no priory stood, where everything remained to be done. He at once faced the situation and set about the work. The years of ordered discipline, the fine training in obedience left no room for fretful indulgence in regret or feeling of disappointment ; pride could not whisper a protest against the personal discomfiture, nor self-pity allow a sense of irritation at the depressing environment; for pride in Hugh, the Carthusian, there was none, and of self-pity he was ignorant. Banished from La Grande Chartreuse to this desolate spot in Somerset, the prior of Witham neither hesitated nor looked back.

Far too wise to seek the burden of responsibility shrinking in distress of mind every time it was forced upon him Hugh, once the burden was upon him, would never surrender the responsibility until authority sanctioned release. Good work prospered at Witham, the monastery walls rose steadily. The Carthusian life of prayer deepened with the years. In the few short hours given to sleep by the prior it was said by those who had business to come near him that they often heard him murmur Amen, amen while he slept, as though he were still at prayer.

Five years did Hugh rule Witham charterhouse as prior. The monastery was not completed when he was called to be bishop of Lincoln, but the greater part was built, and of stone that it might endure. He warned the monks against wooden structures that were liable to catch fire. And now, Anno Domini 1186, king Henry knew the man he must have for bishop of Lincoln his friend Dom Hugh, the Carthusian prior of Witham. Every year since the coming of Hugh to England the regard and affection of the king for his Carthusian friend had increased. On a rough crossing from Normandy to England when it seemed that the king and all his ships might be lost Henry had called on the mercy of God to heed the prayers of 'my Carthusian Hugh' in his cell at Witham or chanting the divine office with his brethren, and had come safely to land.

A hermit to rule! Dreadful thought! How could a monk trained to solitude manage the vast diocese of Lincoln? The canons were neither irreligious nor worldly beyond their fellows, but their hearts were dismayed and they trembled in mind at the prospect of this recluse, an austere Carthusian, a stranger to all their ways, coming into their midst. In the end a unanimous vote was given by the canons for the prior of Witham and messengers from the canons were sent to the priory with letters from the king and the archbishop announcing the result of the election, and calling on Hugh to present himself at court in order that a date might be fixed for consecration to the see of Lincoln.

On Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, 1186, was Saint Hugh consecrated, in the chapel of Saint Catherine in Westminster Abbey. All the vestments and ornaments that it was necessary for the bishop to put on, from the miter on his head to the sandals that covered his feet, were at Hugh's request of the simplest and plainest material.

Saint Hugh could command both respect and affection. His clergy loved him and revered him. His displeasure frightened people. Rarely was the bishop moved to anger, but when he saw one of his lay servants ill-treating a child the wrath of Saint Hugh exploded and he soundly cuffed that offending servant. Over and over again he had made it known to his attendants that he would not have children harshly treated or roughly handled, and since neither rebuke nor reprimand were effective, Saint Hugh came down heavily on the man who dared misuse one of God's little ones. In the diocese of Lincoln and in his own cathedral the bishop faced the fury of the anti-Jewish mob; in God's name he demanded an end to the wickedness, and would not be denied. Saint Hugh was most careful that the business of his court should be in every way worthily conducted; since that business was the administration of justice, the justice of God. Heavily the responsibilities of office bore upon him; and the cares and anxieties of his bishopric were at times so oppressive that more than once Saint Hugh begged the pope to let him return to the peace of the Carthusian cloister, to resign his See as other Carthusian bishops had been allowed to do. The Carthusian training and discipline prevailed. Modified the rule must be; the spirit of the sons of Saint Bruno was unquenched in the years when Hugh was bishop of Lincoln. There was no internal relaxation in the crowded hours. In his spare diet which required total abstinence from flesh-meat the only concession was an additional ration of fish. To others the bishop's hospitality supplied a generous table at all times. The hair shirt was retained, the white habit of the order was worn save when occasion demanded the official and ceremonial vestments. The bishop clung with devotion to the daily singing of the divine office.

Becoming ill, Saint Hugh, with fast unbroken, went to church at Dover and there said Mass. It was the last time he was to celebrate the holy mysteries, to offer the holy sacrifice. For two months more the flame of life flickered.

Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, was the anniversary of his consecration as a bishop and Saint Hugh decided that he must now receive the viaticum and be anointed with the oil of the sick. So after making a general confession of all his sins from boyhood the holy Eucharist was brought to him. St Hugh rose up from bed and knelt down to adore his Lord. The sacred Host was placed upon his lips. A short time after he was anointed. Strengthened by the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, Saint Hugh said cheerfully to his attendants: 'Physicians and diseases may now do their worst with me, for I care little for either of them. God Himself has come to me; I trusted to Him and I have received Him. I will hold Him and cleave to Him for ever.'

The clergy were saying Compline when the change in the bishop's countenance told them that the end was near. Saint Hugh made a sign and very tenderly his chaplains lifted the worn-out body and placed it on the ashes above the bare ground. Peacefully and quietly the bishop gave up his soul to God. It was just when they had reached Nunc Dimittis servum tuum Domine that he died, Thursday, November 16, A.D. 1200.

14 November 2009

Our Lady Visits Purgatory

Many of the giants of our faith had a devotion to the Holy Souls. From Saint Faustina’s account in her diary, it sure sounds like the souls in purgatory are dependent upon our prayers. They need us now and we’ll surely need them later. Pray for the Holy Souls! Here’s what Saint Faustina wrote.

I asked the Lord who… I should pray for. Jesus said that on the following night He would let me know for whom I should pray. The next night I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant.

I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God.

I saw our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls called her the Star of the Sea. She brings them refreshment.

I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. I heard an interior voice which said, "My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it." Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.

It’s interesting that their prayers for themselves are “to no avail”… it is our prayers that relieve their sufferings. This clearly delineates our connectedness as the Body of Christ. With all our prejudices, hang-ups, worldly enticements and judgments, it is a lesson we struggle so hard to embrace and practice in this life. Rampant secularism has diminished our culture's "longing for God."

Keep in mind that at Fatima our Lady revealed to us the story of a young girl who will remain in purgatory until the end of time. Our Blessed Mother isn't using scare tactics. She is embracing her children, pleading with them that Jesus is the only way.

13 November 2009

Reverential Love begins with Contemplation

One must contemplate the greatness of God in order to understand and experience His love, to know the Lord, the supreme Master, in order to love the Father unchanging and deep, which become neither familiarity nor irreverence. The liveliest transports of love are born of these thoughts: this goodness so compassionate is that of the infinite Being; that love, that understanding, those exchanges of love, that life with God and in Him – He alone can give them. Without Him, we should possess nothing; without Him we should do nothing.

Praise does not exclude petition. God wants to be praised. He wants that, in the face of His greatness, the cry of the soul should be one of admiration. But He loves also that we should realize our weakness, and tell Him our needs. In the last resort, the greatest thing about Him is His goodness. He is the good God: the Being Who gives Himself, communicates Himself, pours out on others, and that in an unlimited degree, His treasures and His joy.

In begging Him for further favors, we thereby recognize those He has already given us. To appeal to His goodness is the way to the Divine Heart.

In order to be touched by the sufferings of others, we must first of all overcome our own self-love, and take our passions in hand.

The heart that shows mercy, which has pity for all frailty and the generosity to come to its aid, will experience a peace which does not change, a calm without cloud – almost, one might say, a participation in the divine unchangeableness.

The greatest joy, if it can come to an end, is not perfect joy. The fear of losing it is a perpetual menace, and casts thereon its shadow. The joy of the just knows not this shadow; its region is beyond all passing clouds, for its source is God, Who knows no change.

It is in God that the just live. Their abode is in the Divine Mind. They dwell there continuously. They see God as an infinitely loving Father in the depth of their soul. Their faith reveals that Presence and recalls to them that love. They believe that at every instant this Father is communicating to them His own Spirit, His own life. They turn away from all created things in order to welcome Him. They make every effort to turn to the Father, even as the Father is unceasingly turned towards them. They place their mind in God’s Mind, and in that union find a stability which is even now a foretaste of eternal life.

At these heights evil does not touch them. They are in God; they are in their supreme Good. Others may speak of them, think of them, do what they will with them: their soul dominates and despises these vain attacks of a world which no longer counts with them. They leave the creature – inviting him to come out of himself – for the Creator, Who bids them be still and dwell with Him in His Heart. That place where now they love to dwell is a place to which neither the world nor the devil has access. It is the abode of the Father, the innermost sanctuary where the Father gives Himself to those who seek Him alone. It is the sacred retreat, where the life of heaven already begins to take form here below.

Sacrifice and renunciation allow us to give ourselves to God. They sever the human and created ties which hold back the soul. They set the soul free and permit it to wing its way towards those high regions where we find peace.

~Dom Augustin Guillerand~

11 November 2009

The Life of Saint Martin of Tours

For this day’s Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, here’s an excerpt from “The Life of Saint Martin” by the ancient Christian writer, Sulpicius Severus. In this particular excerpt, Saint Martin’s compassion is evident. Also very evident is Martin’s monastic/eremitic spirit: living in a cell, his mind always focused on heaven, his fasting and abstinence, and an interior life that has him always engaged in the service of God. This is a very inspiring piece for anyone who is serious about their Christian journey.

Martin was born at Sabaria in Hungary but was educated at Pavia in Italy. His pagan parents were of no mean rank: his father was at first simply a soldier but became a military tribune. The youthful Martin followed a military career, serving on horseback in the Imperial Guard under the Emperor Constantine, and then under Julius. This, however, was not done of his own free will, because since his earliest years, this noble youth aspired to serve God; in fact, when he was ten years old, despite family resistance, he sought refuge in the Church and asked to become a catechumen. Soon afterwards, he wanted to devote himself entirely to God’s work and wished to live in the desert; and he would have followed up on that burning desire if the weakness of his twelve years of age had not prevented him. His heart, however, being always engaged in matters of hermitages or the Church, always meditated on in his boyish years what he afterwards accomplished.

One winter’s day, more severe than usual, so much that people were dying from the extreme cold, Martin, who was wearing only a cloak and military arms, happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens, a half-naked beggar. The poor fellow was begging those who passed by to take pity upon his misery, but all passed by him without notice. The man of God recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar good works. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Some of the bystanders mocked him, finding it ridiculous that he stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar; they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. The next night, when Martin was asleep, Christ appeared to him dressed in that part of his cloak with which he had dressed the poor man. As he contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, the saint recognized the clothes Jesus was wearing. Then he heard Him cry out loudly to the multitude of angels standing round: “Martin, a simple catechumen, clothed Me with this robe.”

After leaving the military, Martin went to Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, who even then was a recognized authority in theology, and spent some time with him. Now, this same Hilary, having instituted him in the office of the diaconate, endeavored still more closely to attach him to himself, and to bind him by leading him to take part in the service of God, but Martin repeatedly refused, declaring that he was unworthy. The wise bishop felt that the only way to engage him would be to give him functions that were quite humiliating. He therefore appointed him to be an exorcist. The young man did not dare refuse this appointment, for fear that he might seem to have looked down upon it as somewhat humble.

Later, Martin was called upon to be the bishop of Tours. With perfect firmness, he remained the same as he had been before: the same humility of heart, and the same homeliness in his garments. He performed the duties of bishop with prestige and authority, without betraying the objects and virtues of a monk. For a time he lived in a cell adjacent to the church. Then, no longer able to bear the disturbance of so many visitors, he moved to a hermitage just outside of town. This was a retreat so remote that he enjoyed in it the solitude of a hermit. On one side, it was surrounded by a precipitous rock of a lofty mountain, while the river Loire had shut in the rest of the plain by a bay extending back for a little distance; and the place could be approached only by one, and that a very narrow passage. Martin occupied a cell constructed of wood, and also several brothers in the same manner. But the majority preferred to dig a shelter into the rock from the mountain above. There were altogether eighty disciples, who were being disciplined after the example of the saintly master.

The interior life of Martin, his daily conduct and his mind always bent upon the things of heaven, no discourse could adequately express. Mentioned would be his perseverance and self-mastery in abstinence and fasting, and his power in vigilance and prayer, along with the nights, as well as days, which were spent by him, while not a moment was separated from the service of God, either for indulging in ease, or engaging in business. In fact, he did not indulge either in food or sleep, except in so far as the necessities of nature required. Never did a single hour or moment pass in which he was not either actually engaged in prayer; or, if it happened that he was occupied with something else, still he never let his mind loose from prayer. In truth, just as it is the custom of blacksmiths, in the midst of their work to beat their own anvil as a sort of relief to the laborer, so Martin even when he appeared to be doing something else, was still engaged in prayer.

Blessed is the man in whom there was no guile -- judging no man, condemning no man, returning evil for evil to no man! His patience was such a strong armor against any offense. Even when he was chief priest, he allowed himself to be wronged by the lowest clerics with impunity; nor did he either remove them from the office on account of such conduct, or, as far as in him lay, repel them from a place in his affection. No one ever saw Martin angry, upset, distressed, or in the throes of laughter. He was always one and the same, his face radiant with the joy of heaven, seeming to belong to another world. Never was there any word on his lips but Christ, and never was there a feeling in his heart except piety, peace, and tender mercy. Frequently, too, he used to weep for the sins of those who showed themselves his revilers -- those who, as he led his retired and tranquil life, slandered him with poisoned tongue and a viper's mouth.

Martin had predicted long before the day in which he would die. When he suddenly felt the forces of the body leave him, he summoned the brothers and warned them of his impending death. Everyone was very much saddened and in tears, as if becoming one and saying: “Why do you abandon us Father? Why do you leave us desolate? If ravenous wolves attack the flock, who will defend us from their bites? To whom will you entrust the care of your disconsolate children?” Deeply moved, Martin turned to God: “Lord, if I am still necessary for Your people, I will not refuse the labor. Your will be done!”

O great man beyond words, not defeated by troubles, invincible in the face of death! He had no fear of dying. When the bystanders saw that, despite his great fever, he remained lying on his back, they besought him to change position to alleviate somewhat the pain. But Martin answered, “Brothers, rather let me look toward heaven than to earth so that my soul in its journey home may take a direct flight to the Lord.” Shortly before death he saw the evil spirit. “What do you want, horrible beast? You will find nothing in me that is yours!” With those words, he gave his soul to God.

Sancte Martine, ora pro nobis!

10 November 2009

God is All and wants to do All in me

Here’s more from the vault of Carthusian reflections. This particular writing deals with something we all likely deal with – or at least we know exists but perhaps we’re not quite ready to confront – that is, great sacrifices being a consequence of intimacy. While it is seldom a topic of external conversation, at least interiorly the thought has crossed many hearts and minds as to the extent of sacrifice required to grow in intimacy with God, as well as how much suffering will our Lord permit in our life if we truly desire to follow in His Footsteps. For those who set aside time for God every day, such thoughts can become a daily Agony in the Garden. Our human weakness has many questions about the spiritual life, all stemming from our inability to surrender completely and unconditionally. This causes our life with God to lack an “ideal,” an inability to conceive a union that is very beautiful. Hope you enjoy these few paragraphs!

At last, I have found my ideal. Now I know where I want to go, and that I shall arrive at my goal. Hitherto, I have groped my way in the darkness; the difficulties I have encountered have wearied and discouraged me. Now I know, and henceforth nothing will hold me back. I will not rest until I have found God in the innermost depths of my heart: “I have found Him Who my soul loves; I held Him and I will not let Him go” (Canticles 3:4). Love will give me wings, for “love is as strong as death” (Canticles 8:6). Difficulties will no longer matter, for “I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

If I glance over my past life and am truly sincere with myself, I will have to admit that so far my spiritual life has lacked an ideal, and that is the real reason I have made so little progress. I have failed to understand how deeply God loves and seeks souls – souls that will give themselves to Him so that He may give Himself to them. The degree of intimacy to which our Lord calls us will be achieved in the measure of the generosity of our response to grace. His love is without measure, and longs to give itself completely to souls. But souls are afraid, because of the consequence of that intimacy which calls for great sacrifices on our part.

In future, however, I shall be honest with myself. On the one hand, I know that God wants to take full and entire possession of my soul and that He has predestined me to be “conformable to the Image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). He wants me to be His son by adoption. On the other hand, I know also that my unworthiness is no obstacle to His love. Who, indeed, could deem himself worthy? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).

But there is much more than this. It is not in spite of our unworthiness that God seeks our love, but because of it: that He may reveal His glory in us. The more unworthy the material, the more is glory reflected on an artist who fashions a masterpiece out of it. It is this truth that our Lord tried to bring home to men in the parables of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep. There is more joy in heaven, we are told, over one sinner doing penance than over all the just (cf. Luke 15:7). If , then, I have made up my mind to persevere in my ideal, I must be continually acknowledging that, on the one hand, I am nothing and can do nothing of myself, but that , on the other hand, God is all: that He can do all things and wants to do all in me, so that I can make a complete oblation of my life to Him.

09 November 2009

The Interior House of Prayer

For this Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, found in the writings of the fourteenth century Byzantine writer and mystic, Nicholas Cabasilas, are instructions concerning a house of prayer not built by human hands, that is, the heart and soul of man. This is written as a reflection of the Gosepl story of Jesus casting out those who sold and bought in the temple. Nicholas Cabasilas writes:

"Virtuous men keep prompt vigilance against the roots of evil and resist it from the outset; guarding their heart for God alone, dedicating it to Him as a temple, a remembrance of God. They know, in fact, that this sacred place should not be exposed to folly. They know that nothing equals the sacred soul that is consecrated to God. It must be very impenetrable to those who sell and buy, and be free from hawkers and moneychangers. For him who prays, this house of prayer must be free from turmoil. Truthfully, the term 'house of prayer' was not always present in the temple of Jerusalem where at times no one was praying. Instead, the expression 'house of prayer' well suits Christians, who according to the prescription of Saint Paul (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), must be constantly devoted to union with God through constant prayer."

Nicholas Cabasilas continues by the explaining that the imagery of Christ driving them out with a scourge of little cords was “not to enforce the temple which He knew would be destroyed, but to emphasize to all of His faithful in which He promised to dwell,” that His Indwelling should keep us “free from worries and concerns.” He continues by writing that Jesus also “uses the whip to symbolize the boldness of our passions, and therefore there is much need of a strong heart and soul, of a sober mind and of maintaining vigilance, and above all that the intervening Hand of the Savior, for those who do not accept Him as such, cannot drive out the tumult of the soul. For anyone who lives in Christ, it is very important to maintain purity of soul from every disorder."

As this teaching continues, Nicholas Cabasilas writes about grace in the soul of the believer which comes through the sacraments; and that “grace, which dwells in the believer, is the Spirit of the Son of God crying out in our hearts: ‘Abba, Father.’ Scripture says that it is not right for us to leave the Word of God and serve tables" (cf. Acts 6:2). Nicholas Cabasilas explains that there are three reasons for this: "First, nothing is perpended ahead of God; next, because everything comes from the Supreme Distributor of every good; and finally, because the True God has promised those who seek first the Kingdom of heaven, to give the remainder in addition” (cf. Luke 12:31).

To close out his reflection on the interior house of prayer, Nicholas Cabasilas writes that Jesus “does not want us to tire ourselves fruitlessly. It takes the soul away from the remembrance of God and obscures the intellect.”

07 November 2009

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, 1 Kings 17:10-16
Zarephath is located in what is modern day Lebanon.

This Reading offers a foretaste of the abundant blessings that would flow from God to His people via the Incarnation of Jesus Christ of Whom Elijah prefigures. In this Reading's example, God showers blessings upon a woman and her son through the intercession of Elijah the prophet. After perusing this text you might be recalling the multiplication of the loaves and fishes story in the Gospels.

There are a couple of things to consider here. First, God supplies the blessing, and Elijah intercedes on behalf of the woman and her son; but it is the woman's obedience to Elijah that seems to trigger the blessing. In other words, the woman is rewarded for taking a leap of faith. The other thing to consider is something that Catholics don't talk about too much -- the biblical principle of tithing. The woman barely has enough ingredients to feed herself and her son but obeys Elijah's command to feed him first and then go and prepare something for herself and her son. She not only displays an act of faith by trusting in the words of Elijah but also gives to God or the work of God first. She trusted that what was left would be at the very least sufficient. It was not only sufficient but abundant.

It's easy to get caught up in negativity when serving God. "I'm too nervous to be a Reader at Mass." – "My voice isn't polished enough to sing in the choir." – "Father will yell at me if I make a mistake while serving at the altar." -- "I don't have the endurance to get involved with the Pro-Life movement," – etc., etc., etc. God is looking for leaps of faith and says to human hearts: "Give Me what you have and watch what I can do with it."

A poor, humble girl named Miriam became the Mother of God. One of Christianity's staunchest enemies became one of its greatest apostles in Saint Paul. An uneducated Polish nun named Faustina became the herald of the Divine Mercy message. A thespian in Nazi occupied Poland would later become Pope John Paul II. Jean-Marie Vianney was a man of limited knowledge who failed his entrance exams to enter the seminary; but he was certain of his vocation and would eventually become a priest and convert the entire town of Ars. This man of limited knowledge is today the patron saint of priests.

Saints come from all walks of life and for many of them it was an unbelievable and miraculous road that led to their eventual canonization. But it was their faith that helped pave that road. They gave what they had and God multiplied it. Somewhere, someone was the first to offer the prayer: "Lord, I've done all I can do – now do all You can do."

Second Reading, Hebrews 9:24-28
Saint Augustine of Canterbury taught that when Christ died He put chains around the devil in the sense that he would not be able to tempt us beyond our limits of resistance. The reality of this teaching might cause the shedding of tears when reflecting on the reality of our own lives. But our brokenness is never irreparable unless we make that choice.

Christ will appear a second time and bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him. To eagerly await Him is to be faithful to the Gospel message. Christ also dwells in another sanctuary not made by hands – the human soul. Eagerly awaiting Him and living out the Gospel means to pray that the Indwelling of Christ will be manifested daily in our lives so that Christ can clearly be seen in us.

Jesus only needed to offer Himself once. We are sinners but the gift of Christ's mercy is the cure for our illness. And with the cure comes yet another gracious invitation from Jesus to be in His service.

Gospel, Mark 12:38-44
After reading this Gospel don't be tempted to throw away your clothes and jewelry and put on sackcloth unless you have a very radical Saint Francis-like calling to serve Christ. Don't shy away from sitting in the front pew at your parish. Don't feel that you shouldn't pray before the Blessed Sacrament but rather somewhere that you cannot be seen; and don't feel like you need to cut your prayer time in half. It would be, however, beneficial for your soul not to engage in devouring the houses of widows.

What is in your heart? That is a key question to understanding this Gospel. It isn’t so much important that anyone else knows what is in your heart; but it is important that you know because God knows. Scripture tells us that God does not judge by the appearances of a man, but instead looks into the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

Traditionally this Gospel story is titled, "The Widow's Mite". According to what is written in the Talmud, there were thirteen receptacles or containers in which to place offerings in the temple. These receptacles were shaped like trumpets. Jesus, proving Himself to be God, brings to the attention of His apostles the hidden truth behind the widow's offering. He does this to stress the importance of the intention of the heart when serving God. The moral worth of the widow's offering is measured in accordance to the sacrifice she made.

There are virtually two reasons for doing anything. One's intentions will either be honorable or dishonorable. In matters of prayer, for example, honor and dishonor can be more specific by suggesting that on the honorable side, one prays out of true love for God and seeks a more intimate relationship with Him. On the dishonorable side, it is done to be somewhat glitzy. Do I go to church and pray before the Monstrance or Tabernacle because I truly love Jesus and have a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; or is it because I want to impress Father? Am I singing in the choir because God gave me this voice and I'm using it to serve Him; or is it because of all the compliments I receive from parishioners?

Temptation is a powerful force and it's easy for even the most devout to occasionally catch themselves on the wrong side of the fence. Sometimes holy intentions result in nothing more than feeding egos. Jesus teaches us that gifts should not be judged by their absolute value. How true this is, otherwise, how could God love us so much? Deeming God as our greatest gift maps out for us a life of service to Him; and even when holy intentions go awry His boundless mercy heals us and once again sets our sights to giving Him all the glory. "He must increase; but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

06 November 2009

Draw from Thy Heart that which will grant rest for the Holy Souls

Most merciful Jesus, I offer Thee the virtues and merits of Thy holy life and of Thy Passion, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thy Mother, of all the Saints and Elect. I offer them to Thy Heart and, through this same Heart, to Thy Divine Father, for the souls in Purgatory.

Most faithful and most good Jesus, vouchsafe to draw from Thy Wounds and Thy merciful Heart that which will give eternal rest to the souls of the departed. Most merciful Jesus, through Thy compassionate Heart, grant eternal rest to each and all of them.

O most sweet Jesus, I beseech Thee, through the kindness of Thy Heart, to take pity on the souls detained in the flames of Purgatory. Remember, O most merciful Jesus, all the favors and mercies Thou hast shown towards us; remember Thy pains, the Wounds Thou hast received, all the Blood Thou hast shed; and finally, the very bitter death Thou hast accepted for us. I beseech Thee to pour out on the souls in Purgatory the virtue, efficacy, fruit and merit of Thy sufferings and Thy Passion, in order that each soul there may be entirely released, or at least greatly relieved. O Jesus, remember that these souls are Thy friends, Thy children, Thy Elect, whom Thou hast redeemed. Let Thy justice be satisfied with the grievous punishment they have endured until now. For Thine own sake, O Lord, show mercy and remit the rest of their sufferings.

And then, O sweet Jesus, if it can contribute to Thy glory, grant that I may pass from this life straight into life eternal. But, O my God, if Thou hast otherwise decreed, and the contrary is for Thy greater glory, I resign and give myself into Thy loving Hands. Do with me as Thou wilt, most loving, most faithful and most merciful Lord Jesus.

Jean Michel de Vesly
General of the Carthusian Order from 1594 to 1600

05 November 2009

Silence is of Eternity

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard; neither has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those that love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

What the eyes will see and the ears will hear -- could there be anything in the ability to speak that would do it justice? Even the brilliant mind of Saint Thomas Aquinas was left silent. Perhaps even contemplating this biblical verse to the very edge that our limited intellect can take us may be enough to reduce us to silence. When one has gone as far as the mind will allow, what else is there to be said? Being awestruck renders silence. Beholding renders silence. Being privy to deep celestial mysteries renders silence. Even if the simple exercise of listening to one another is to be effective, then quiet and stillness are necessary. In attempting to listen to the gentle whispers of the Almighty, heaven mandates silence.

In The Silence of Saint Thomas by Joseph Pieper are these words:

The last word of Saint Thomas is not communication but silence. And it is not death which takes the pen out of his hand. His tongue is stilled by the super-abundance of life in the mystery of God. He is silent, not because he has nothing further to say; he is silent because he has been allowed to glimpse into the inexpressible depths of that mystery which is not reached by any human thought or speech.

The acts of the canonization process record: On the feast of Saint Nicholas, in the year 1273, as Thomas turned back to his work after Holy Mass, he was strangely altered. He remained steadily silent; he did not write; he dictated nothing. He laid aside the Summa Theologica on which he had been working. Abruptly, in the middle of the treatise on the Sacrament of Penance, he stopped writing. Reginald, his friend, asks him, troubled: "Father, how can you want to stop such a great work?" Thomas answers only, "I can write no more." Reginald of Piperno seriously believed that his master and friend might have become mentally ill through his overwhelming burden of work. After a long while, he asks and urges once again. Thomas gives the answer: "Reginald, I can write no more. All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw. Reginald is stunned by his reply.

It’s almost as if the remarkable wisdom given to Saint Thomas Aquinas, far beyond what most humans beings receive, did not compare, however, to what he discovered, what enveloped him and reduced him to silence – so much so, that he was too awestruck to continue to let his pen record what he had never previously beheld.

In Sartor Resartus by the poet Thomas Carlyle, a character explaining the virtues of silence, concluded his exhortation by saying: “Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity.” The Augustinian Walter Hilton wrote in his Ladder of Perfection: “His [Jesus] Voice is so sweet and so mighty that it puts to silence in a soul all the jangling of all other speakers, for it is a Voice of power, softly founded in a pure soul.”

03 November 2009

The Word of God Illumines Our Daily Path

During last week’s Wednesday General Audience at Saint Peter’s Square, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI spoke on Monastic and Scholastic theology. He spoke about the importance of Sacred Scripture in the monasteries of the twelfth century and the occupation of lectio divina. This, of course, is still a treasured occupation today. In fact, the Holy Father said that “it is useful to treasure monastic theology.” Here’s an excerpt from his catechesis last week.

In the monasteries of the 12th century… biblical theology was particularly widespread. The monks, in fact, were all devoted listeners and readers of Sacred Scripture, and one of their main occupations consisted in lectio divina, namely, prayerful reading of the Bible. For them the simple reading of the sacred text was not enough to perceive the profound meaning, the interior unity and the transcendent message. Therefore, they had to practice a "spiritual reading," leading in docility to the Holy Spirit. Thus, in the school of the Fathers, the Bible was interpreted allegorically, to discover in every page, of the Old as well as the New Testament, what is said about Christ and His work of salvation.

Last year's synod of bishops on the "Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" recalled the importance of the spiritual approach to Sacred Scripture. To this end, it is useful to treasure monastic theology, an uninterrupted biblical exegesis, as also the works composed by its representatives, precious ascetic commentaries on the books of the Bible. Therefore, to literary preparation, monastic theology joined spiritual preparation. It was, in fact, aware that a purely theoretic or profane reading was not enough: To enter the heart of Sacred Scripture, it must be read in the spirit in which it was written and created. Literary preparation was necessary to know the exact meaning of the words and to facilitate the understanding of the text, refining the grammatical and philological sensibility. Jean Leclercq, the Benedictine scholar of the last century titled the essay with which he presented the characteristics of monastic theology thus : "L'amour des lettres et le desir de Dieu" (The love of words and the desire for God).

In fact, the desire to know and to love God, which comes to us through His Word received, meditated and practiced, leads to seeking to go deeper into the biblical texts in all their dimensions. There is then another attitude on which those who practice monastic theology insist, that is, a profound attitude of prayer, which must precede, support and complement the study of Sacred Scripture. Because, in the last analysis, monastic theology is listening to the Word of God, one cannot but purify the heart to receive it and, above all, one cannot but kindle it with fervor to encounter the Lord. Therefore, theology becomes meditation, prayer, song of praise and drives one to a sincere conversion. Not a few representatives of monastic theology reached, along this way, the highest goal of mystical experience, and they constitute an invitation also for us to nourish our existence with the Word of God, for example, through more attentive listening to the Readings and the Gospel, especially in Sunday Mass. Moreover, it is important to reserve a certain time every day for meditation of the Bible, so that the Word of God is the lamp that illumines our daily path on earth.

Translation by Zenit

02 November 2009

What Must Be Done

In the Carthusian Order, the Office of the Dead is not only prayed on the Commemoration of All Souls, 2 November, but also on 13 November, which is when the Order prays for all their dearly departed monks or nuns, their families and relatives. Along with the daily praying of the Canonical Office, and the daily offering of the Office of Our Lady, the Office of the Dead is prayed weekly by the Carthusian Fathers in the solitude of their cells, praying for all the departed. On 2 and 13 November and when a member of their monastic community dies, however, the Office of the Dead is prayed in choir in the church. When a relative or family member of a monk or nun dies, the entire community prays Vespers of the Dead for the whole week in the solitude of the cell. The Carthusian Office of the Dead is known as the Agenda which translates as, “what must be done.”

Death in the Carthusian Order maintains the same hiddenness as did life on earth. When a monk or nun dies, he or she is buried on the grounds of the monastery. The grave is marked by a simple wooden cross in the ground without the name of the monk or nun buried there, maintaining their anonymity.