17 December 2009

Creating a Replica of the Cave at Bethlehem

As we enter the final seven days of Advent and begin the glorious “O” antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, here is a marvelous Carthusian meditation that brings deeper meaning to the birth of our Savior. It points out who we are as opposed to who we should be. It makes analogies by comparing interior stillness to “the cave at Bethlehem” while delineating that souls cluttered with concerns and worries are like “a crowded public place”. The writer points out that the Charterhouse or a Carthusian monastery is “a place where our Lord wants to be born anew.” Each of us must create that Charterhouse atmosphere in our living space – a place where we can go to be alone with our Lord. It is there where a pure soul will find Jesus communicating His joy to that soul. There are some tough pills to swallow in this writing because of our fallen nature, but the writer tells us, nevertheless, that “it is a question of cooperating with a supreme desire of God.” While this reflection may promote an examination of conscience, it is the realization of our faults that leads to a deeper understanding of God's love for us and the reason for Christmas.

Whenever God wants to bring about the beginning of a new life, He prepares a sacred place, a haven of purity and silence, where His action can be welcomed unreservedly, safe from all interruption. All beginnings are thus undertaken in recollection and silence. We see this at Bethlehem. Jesus came to be born, not amidst the clamor of a city nor in a crowded public place, but in a mysterious cave, a sacred retreat carved in a rock. And hidden therein – a Virgin: the most chaste, the most silent, and the most humble of creatures. And it was in the heart of that Virgin, where no earthly desire penetrated, that God elected to give Himself to mankind.

Well, it is such analogous conditions as these that each of us must realize if we are to receive the life of grace, and assure our growth until Christ Himself lives in us. A Charterhouse is a place where our Lord wants to be born anew: it is a replica of the cave at Bethlehem, and is a mirror of Mary herself. It is a haven of solitude and silence, where our soul is set apart for God alone, and by the very fact invites Him to fulfill His highest work, which is to communicate His joy.

But a Charterhouse will not be that Virgin and Mother of the life of grace in us, unless we are faithful to its (and her) spirit. By recollection and detachment, we must do all we can to keep our purity of soul.

One of the first faults we are liable to commit against solitude is to remain attached to the world and to our family. No one could wish us to do anything but retain all our love for our parents and those dear to us: indeed, we ought to love them always with an even purer love. If they are in need or are suffering, we should suffer too. But we must learn to leave them to God. And if we suffer, we should do so with confidence and perfect abandonment, so much so that suffering unites us to God still more, instead of being a distraction turning us away from our vocation.

Another fault against solitude, which has even the appearance of a good intention, is to worry ourselves about others, for whom we are not responsible. We should – and must – aid those with whom we live, but spiritually; and we do so by being devoted to them, and ready to serve them, but avoiding all gossip and scandal, and above all always remaining ourselves united to our Lord. Then the gentle flame of charity will shed its light around us, and will contribute to maintain in our religious home that atmosphere of peace, which is a preparation for heaven, while consoling and sanctifying ourselves. Unfortunately, there is an interior talkativeness, which lies at the root of the exterior, and does as much harm. Instead of thinking of the reality of the divine Love Who invites us to serve Him in the present moment, we indulge in daydreams, we think of the past, of the future, of what we could do in the world, in circumstances that are purely imaginary.

Or we encourage over and over again thoughts that are critical of others, or that concern the management of the house. Or, again, we brood over our troubles. I know that interior silence is not easy, and it will always be imperfect. At the same time, we must apply ourselves to it with great patience. Our heart is so indiscreet; it is that which betrays us. If we could keep our heart still, the devil would be baffled, and temptations would find nothing in us to take hold of.

The object of our efforts to preserve our solitude and the spirit of recollection is not merely to assure our calm and preserve our balance; it is a question of cooperating with a supreme desire of God which He wants to realize in our soul, by giving birth therein to His Son. Be the life of a religious as humble and hidden as you will, the love which reigns in his soul is something for the whole of humanity. For the world has need of love, for love alone gives joy. And grace is of itself fruitful; it cannot burn within us without lighting up other souls.

May the Blessed Virgin, hidden and silent in the cave of Bethlehem, help us to imitate her in her recollectedness and purity; in her fidelity as spouse of the Holy Spirit, and in her generosity as the Mother of souls.