28 January 2009

Continuing with Hugh of Balma: The Sixth Petition in the Lord's Prayer

In the prayer that Jesus taught us, the sixth petition is: “And lead us not into temptation.”

Hugh of Balma continues with his mystical reflections on the Lord’s Prayer by teaching that “the human spirit is led into temptation” by getting caught up in the enticements that partially agree “to the wicked work that the crafty seducer has insistently urged on” the human spirit. We, therefore, ask “to be spared of this danger.” This prayer is brought before the Throne of God because we are “aware of the weakness of human flesh” and not because we lack “confidence in the Beloved’s constant aid.” The human spirit “intently strains upward” with the hope of deservedly attaining “Him and to call Him forth by… affected clamorings.” With confidence in “His mercy,” the human spirit “can contemptuously face down the enemy’s pressing and powerful temptations,” confident in the Beloved Who promised deliverance through the psalmist: “Because he hoped in Me, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he has known My Name” (Psalm 90 [91]:14).

Another reason to pray, “And lead us not into temptation” is because of “the enemy’s insolent deceits.” To the limits which are permitted, these deceits rage against the human spirit, but the more we are “directly subject to the Creator’s control, the farther” we are removed from the enemy’s dominion. When “temptation fails to prevail,” the human spirit is then pursued “with raging fury.”

Thus we beg our Lord to set us free, “longingly challenging Him, asking Him not to fail to see that” His love is gained now by trampling “down earthly joys and the kingdom of the devil; and the Beloved, through the prophet has promised such a yearning one that He will not only hear” the “request, but, like a welcome leader and companion in battle, will liberate… completely through His joyous Presence in the midst of… temptation, and reward” the yearning one “with the crown of glory… as He says: ‘He shall cry to Me and I will hear him; I am with him in tribulation’” (Psalm 90 [91]:15).

Another reason why we ask “to be set free from temptation’s danger is that,” being “united to God,” we don’t pursue our own affairs but follow the “Master ‘Who makes His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and rains upon the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45), that is, He sends the rays of His goodness to good people and uses those rays to draw them to Himself; even while His rays also shine expectantly outside evil people, like the sun’s rays shining expectantly on a shuttered window. He retracts not a bit of His goodly nature, but keeps on knocking on the door, lest any rational spirit… should lack divine love because God stopped sending it forth.” When “united to God in friendship,” we “can beg great favors for sinners from the Beloved because as His friends we are faithful and true to Him, “agreeing completely with what He wants to do and wants not to do.” This will, of course, incur “the raging indignation of the enemy and thus… asks on behalf of everyone for liberation from the enemy’s snares.”

And now, the final reason for this petition: “Having already experienced how sweet it is to love such a kind Beloved,” we must consider “it a most bitter death, something” we “can scarcely come to terms with, to be separated from” our “happy consort now and forever.” Certainly “it is an unbearable disgrace that someone who in godly fashion knows the great joy of loving the Beloved should listen to the enemy’s conversation, should think worldly joys or earthly riches of any worth – as if… never really” knowing “whether something is truly good.” A “happily trained” human spirit “will warn sinful souls who have miserably withdrawn from such a fount of goodness.”

Our Lord tells us through the prophet: “Know and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for you to have left the Lord your God” (Jeremiah 2:19). “By God’s just judgment,” the one filled “of creaturely delights is filled with endless bitterness. For the more deeply worldly delight penetrates the recesses of the human spirit, the more the soul, sad to say, is filled with noxious poisons.” The Beloved “imparts the streams of His happiness to human spirits… When a soul is separated from that wellspring without Whom there can be no joy… it is not surprising that such a soul separated from Him becomes depressed, for the aqueduct of love from which the soul joyfully experiences and obtains gladness from the Creator has been obstructed and broken off.”

“Yet, through affections and yearnings for the Beloved, the spirit is completely disentangled and triumphantly set free.”

27 January 2009

The Lord's Prayer: The Fifth Petition

In Hugh of Balma’s mystical explanation of the “Our Father,” next is the fifth petition which is, “And forgive us our debts” in which we ask “to be freed from three pressing things.”

1. “The evil of venial guilt.”
2. “The danger of temptation, which has to do with both guilt and its punishment.”
3. “The evil of the punishment incurred by frequently falling into sin.”

Being “liberated from the evil of venial sins” is “fully attainable only by the gift of love.” For “when disordered inner forces or unsuitable delights of the senses lead” one to a desire to “seek repose somewhere other than in the fount of beatifying blessedness,” then one’s glance turns away “from Him and becomes unfocused.” Venial sins, perhaps somewhat underestimated, do, however, “darken the soul.” When one seeks delights from another source and turns away from the Beloved as if He “were insufficient,” the yearning of such a person would be deservedly slowed down. “The Book of Wisdom employs the figure of a lamenting person to describe someone unable to eradicate his deeply rooted earthly thoughts: ‘For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation pressed down the mind that muses upon many things’” (Wisdom 9:15). The more one ponders the “lower things,” the more “one becomes… distant from heavenly help.” When this occurs, the body weighs down the soul and “thus a constant struggle burdens the spirit.”

When “stained by venial sins,” the tendency is to cower “from the graceful light found in the Bridegroom’s Presence.” To the Beloved, one “would seem to be less attractive because His gaze focuses specifically and solely on the inner beauty.” It is when we conform “through inner beauty of spirit to supercelestial beauty are” our “words acceptable to Him.” Our Lord tells us this when He says: “Your voice is sweet and your face is charming” (Canticle of Canticles 2:14). That is to say, “your voice tastes nothing but heavenly things, and your face is not deformed by a multitude of venial sins or fleshly affections.” And so, “in surging up to that union which is acquired directly by love’s movement, the human spirit’s tendency to avert her glance must first be straightened out.” When this happens, “venial guilt is in no way able to inflict rude harm to the soul, since it is like a drop of water and falls into the fire and instantly congeals and is absorbed by the fire.”

“It is quite reasonable, then, that we should be made to owe a certain penalty when the spirit is less directly oriented toward Him in Whom true happiness is found.” He says to us: “Come to Me you that labor and are burdened down” (Matthew 11:28). Since “you have lived so long in wretchedness and because glory is delayed, you can consider yourselves burdened and slowed down by lugging around the weight of the body’s burden.” It is our Lord Who will refresh us, Who imparts to us “the divine consolations that quiet” our “yearnings.” He tells us: “I am meek and humble of Heart” (Matthew 11:29), “and therefore I stoop down to those who call forth My riches through constant yearning.”

“You shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This is when love’s “yoke will be sweet and the burden light” (Matthew 11:30). “For by its worthiness and joyful attractiveness the yoke of the soul binds the will inwardly.”

With this yoke, “the burden is truly said to be light, because it lifts the spirit from lower things,” and establishes the spirit on a higher level. “The yoke is described as sweet because the one bearing it lives the angelic rather than human life – imperfectly for now, yet fully and felicitously when body and soul separate.”

“Again, the yoke is said to be sweet because it makes the human spirit lead this bitter life with such interior joy and rejoicing that the life of glory begins already in this life, so that the superabundance of the soul’s joy can totally overwhelm and absorb the body’s punishments.” And again, “the burden is also described as light because the richness of the inner soul… keeps winter’s icy hunger or summer’s insistent heat from causing any harm.”

23 January 2009

The Fourth Petition in the Lord's Prayer

In the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” Hugh of Balma teaches, “one asks that, as a result of the favors flowing from Him,” we “might unflinchingly persevere in all things, sustained by His own guidance.”

It is our desire “to be raised on High by an increase of love.” In this way we would be “existing closer to the Source of all happiness,” and eat our “fill of the invigorating Word” which will strengthen us so that we no longer beg “for the wretched delights of lesser things.” It would be easy to once again turn towards things of “fleshly consolation unless” our craving is satisfied “with supercelestial refreshment,” id est, “the Food of love and the Bread of angels, constantly drawing deep draughts from the fountain of eternal beatitude.” Thus, “our daily bread” means we are asking for “increased love, which alone can strengthen the sick, fortify the weak, and satisfy the starving.”

This bread is asked for “daily” for the reason that “the human spirit cannot live a true life for a day, for an hour, not even for an instant, unless constantly bathed by the life-giving drop of dew.” We know that “the soul is the life of bodies,” likewise “love is the life of spirits.”

“Unless an animate body is fed once a day with physical food, it loses its bodily strength and vigor. Likewise, unless a human spirit underway in unitive love reaches out once a day, aspiring to the kiss, … will soon become lukewarm.” The meaning of “aspiring to the kiss” is reaching out to the Beloved. For He calls us as Scripture attests: “Arise, make haste, My love, and come” (Canticle of Canticles 2:10). Hugh of Balma advises us to not keep Him waiting lest we end up saying: “By night I sought Him Whom my soul loves; I sought Him and I found Him not” (ibid. 3:1). Hugh next explains “night” by saying: “To seek by night can mean to ascend through the creatures, or to seek the Beloved in them.” However, “in the anagogic movement, one should cling to the very Fount of goodness without any indirect mirror, affect, or uplifting love.” When we ask for our bread “this day,” this “reference to presentness expresses a single principle of continuity.” We ask “in this present life” for “in the light of eternity the ‘present’ is simple and undivided, and the eternal present begins for those living in love in this present life.” For the love in which the Beloved “is loved in this life is the same love in number as that love with which, in glory’s eternity, one will be united to the One Who makes all things blessed.” Hugh continues, “For the soul who clings to God in love is more truly and more directly fed with living bread than one body is linked to other physical bodies by shared corporality, which acts as a sort of glue or material bonding.” Saint Paul expresses this when he wrote: “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

“The fact that eternity, the Beloved’s Presence, and light begin to shine inwardly already here in this life is confirmed by what the great hierarch, the Apostle Paul, says: “Our dwelling place is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). And so, the Beloved already “spreads over… the loving spirit.” The “body’s inclinations” of “worldly delights” are indeed still a hindrance but “the guiding breath of divine inspiration, wafts divinely transmitted rays which open up the body to receive divine things from on High.” The spirit can turn away from that which is unwelcome and “aspire upward toward divine things.” The spirit then becomes a garden open only to the Beloved, “a garden enclosed,” as told of in Scripture (Canticle of Canticles 4:12). “The Most High” dwells in “the poverty-stricken human spirit,” and He feeds the spirit “with living bread,” id est, “with the consolation of divine joy.”

22 January 2009

The Lord's Prayer: The Third Petition

Next is Hugh of Balma's explanation of the third petition in which he says that it “asks the most Blessed One not to limit” what has now been “perceived of Him, but that He mercifully make it known to all other sinners.”

“Thy will be done” is the third petition. The soul “does not truly love unless” it desires that everyone honors the Beloved, the soul’s great love. The soul asks that what it “experiences mercifully, be made known to other sinners.” In this way, He Who alone should “be worshipped and adored insatiably can, by revealing to sinners their sins… imparting to their spirits the spark of truth and the drop of reason that are found only by attaining Him.” Thus, “every tongue burning with that inner affection… makes it possible for a created spirit to converse with” the “Uncreated Spirit.” These souls will learn that the Beloved “confers on those who love Him and abandon earthly joys gifts far more precious than any they have given up.”

When one confesses that Jesus is in the glory of the Father, “the Father might by yearning love lift up in mercy the one who truly loves Him.” God will establish the loving soul “in the solitude of His Bosom” as He said through the prophet: “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn you, taking pity on you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

To say that “Thy will be done” as it is done in heaven mystically means “let Thy will be done firmly, steadily in motion, adorned with various lights,” so that on earth “Thy will be done in sinners… who are fixed in a region far from the fire whose cleansing burning lightens the soul” that it may “gain a heavenly dwelling-place.” Hugh continues by saying that “just as love is the cause by which the human spirit attains all good things in love, so the absence of love is the cause of all sin.” And so, “the sinner… is farther removed from the lightening presence of ignited love.” The anagogical meaning of guilt and sin can be explained “as an absence of love’s urgency… love’s absence is the occasion for every evil.” This doesn’t mean that it is lacking in the soul but that one’s lack of desire to have the Beloved’s Presence in their life will have them running “aimlessly down false paths” and “into all kinds of misery… It is not wrong to say that the soul deprived of love lacks every good thing, for… evil deeds separate” the soul from God.

21 January 2009

Hugh of Balma: The Second Petition in the Lord's Prayer

Continuing with Hugh of Balma’s mystical reflection on the “Our Father,” next is the second petition which according to Hugh is made so that we “might not turn aside to leap over the boundaries of the rules of truth.”

“The Kingdom of God is established on its lasting Throne in the soul.” In order for this to be so, however, “an ardent force of love” must prevail “in the spirit.” There has to be a dismissal of “the rebellion” of the excessive “inner senses” and by the power of this force of love, “all actions” are to be subjected to “the judgment of reason.” This is necessary in order that there is a striving “by every action to do what” has been “discerned to be more pleasing to the Beloved,” being subjected “entirely to the Beloved, through the light He radiates, recognizing in advance what pleases Him,” and then “carrying it out with discernment.” We “ought not seek” our “own interests,” but rather seek the interests of God. This is how God alone will reign in the soul. “In the end” it is fitting and right that the Creator alone should reside in His creation, the soul, by resting there. Thus, the soul “should be preserved intact under His rule,” and “find sweet refreshment in Him.” The prayer, “Thy Kingdom come” truly occurs when the soul “is seated under the shadow of the Most High.” The soul, “as far as human weakness permits”… “is completely consecrated to God and not at all subject to any creature.” When this is the will of the soul, the Kingdom is truly attained.

15 January 2009

Hugh of Balma: The First Petition in the Lord's Prayer

This is the second post on Hugh of Balma’s anagogical or mystical explanation of the Lord’s Prayer. Let us take a look at the First Petition in this prayer given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Hallowed be Thy Name” is the first petition after “having gained good will” with the three commendations of God which begin this prayer. There are seven petitions total in this prayer: “the first four are requests to obtain something good, while the other three are requests for the removal of something bad.” The first petition of “hallowed be Thy Name” is for the purpose of “possessing the Beloved without contrary delay.” In the mystical sense “holy” means “apart from earth.” Thus “hallowed be Thy Name” means, “let Your wonderful Name be made apart from earth in me.” It’s quite beautiful to want the mystery, the wonder, the awe, the beauty and the love of Almighty God and His heaven to be evident within you – to exercise in this world the beauty of other worldliness.

Hugh of Balma adds: “The soul who lives wickedly, imbued with earthly desires and disfiguring worldly delights, is unable to see in love the serene tranquility of a heart full of joy or to sense anything else.” Such a soul is “being pulled by earthly horses” and is “carnal and not divine,” being compared scripturally to Egypt and what is written by the prophet: “Egypt is man, and not God” (Isaiah 31:3).

“On the other hand, the spirit of a lover can attain something of experiential, divine rejoicing when, fired up… reaches out” quite aware that disentanglement “from earthly affections” has yet to occur but knows that without God the strength to disentangle will be insufficient. Since a soul cannot “firmly possess two opposite things at once, being pulled down lower by the weight of corruptible flesh,” the soul must beg “the Beloved more insistently that He remove it.” Once the Beloved has fulfilled this pleading, “spiritual joy” will lay “bare the bitterness of former joys, and the inner ray of light, even if not revealed in perfect fullness, clearly exposes the… fraud and ugliness” of fleshly or worldly desires. What follows is that the soul will be “lightened by love’s fire and” will be “raised on High on the wings of affection.” Eventually, in astonishment the soul will be able to echo what is written in Sacred Scripture: “Truly You are a hidden God” (Isaiah 45:15). May God’s Name always be deemed as holy. “When the soul’s petition is heard and removed” from carnal desires, “marvelously the bride is presented to the Bridegroom, leaving them alone with each other.”

14 January 2009

Hugh of Balma: The Lord's Prayer

It is prayed at every Mass; it is prayed in the Divine Office; it is prayed in the Rosary. It is prayed countless times privately and/or for personal intentions. It is the Lord’s Prayer. But how often do we attempt to raise our souls to understand the meaning of this prayer given to us by Him Who is Risen? Hugh of Balma, a thirteenth century Carthusian, invites us to examine this prayer through an anagogical lens, id est, a mystical interpretation of this prayer. And certainly our Lord Jesus Christ, the Giver of this prayer, would like nothing more than to elevate our souls and draw us to a more intimate union with Him. This first post looks at what Hugh of Balma refers to as the “three main commendations of the Beloved.”

Most minds when thinking of the word “Father,” as Hugh of Balma conveys, turn to the “literal sense” when a man “engenders a son” biologically. Turning towards “the anagogic sense,” however, means engendering “many sons adoptively, rather than naturally, from the seed of deifying love He has emitted.” He goes on to say that “this seed of deifying love gives perfect nativity to the human spirit.” In other words, this adoptive love is called deifying love because it says to the recipients: I choose you. And coming from Almighty God makes it a perfect choice. As chosen sons and daughters of God, Who “richly radiates life from on High” we can and should offer ourselves to Him because to those Who accept His love, He “mercifully shapes and forms… out of His Fatherly affection – until in the end” when we shall see “Him face to Face.” Hugh closes out this portion of his reflection by saying that “this is the hidden or mystical significance of saying ‘Father’ – for He is the Fountainhead of all life.”

“Next comes ‘Our’ which praises the outward sharing of… enclosed Goodness, as if one were to say, ‘By reason of Your widespread goodness, not only do You pay attention to individuals but You also do all You can to let Your radiance draw all rational spirits to Yourself.’” Thus God does not reach out only to a chosen few who have climbed to elevated levels on the spiritual ladder, for He loves us all equally and desires that even the willfully disobedient will come to know Him, love Him and experience His love. Those who have are the “rational spirits.” Hugh then continues with something we all know by calling God “the Fountain and Source of goodness.” This “is the thrust of ‘Our’ taken in an anagogic … uplifting sense.”

“Who art in heaven” is the next section. Hugh of Balma writes that “here goodwill is gained by reason of a surpassing and lofty dwelling-place.” He continues by sharing that “there are three ways that heaven excels other things: It is continually in motion, it remains steadfast and it is adorned with a variety of constellations shining brightly within it.” Looking at this mystically he says that “the bride,” or the Church, “should adorn herself with this threefold characteristic in the hidden storeroom of her heart as she converses with the Bridegroom in her chamber.” We as the Church are “steadfast” by acknowledging that God, “Who art in heaven,” dwells in us “in the present, potential and essential way” but also He inhabits “the inward bed-chamber of some human spirits,” meaning that He is “truly in Himself.” Id est, the Most Holy Trinity is “a guest Who brings rejoicing and comfort, making” Himself “at home with those who have given other vices and delights” the heave-ho “for the sake of gaining” His “love more effectively.” These human spirits “live in love, set free from hindrances by sighs and bonded to” our Lord “by the adhesive of gentlest love.” The love of these exceptional souls is “as strong in them as death.” These blessed souls are sustained “with affections that cannot be beaten back” because the Source of these affections is “the Beloved.”

In the Lord's Prayer “Our Father Who art in heaven” are the “three main commendations of the Beloved.” First, as “Father” He is praised “as the Origin of complete and spiritual life.” Secondly, in “Our” God “widely diffuses His goodness.” And third, “Who art in heaven” is “the worth of His dwelling-place” and is commended “for so excellent a King would not deign to dwell except where there is a firm abode, or tabernacle, variously and suitably furnished on the inside.

Future posts, God willing, will look at Hugh of Balma’s mystical explanations of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

12 January 2009

The Baptism of the Lord

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.
The depths of the waters are not man’s natural habitat. He cannot breathe there; and if there for too long he will struggle and fight for his natural life. Saint Gregory Nazianzen explains that: “John baptizes, Jesus comes to him perhaps to sanctify the Baptist, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water” (Oratio XXXIX, In Sancta Lumina). The man of sin, the man of eternal death is buried in the depths of the waters by the God Who became Man to restore man to his dignity, to his destiny of eternal life, his Paradise. In this natural struggle below the surface of the waters, man gets a glimpse at the possibility of death, he enters a state of panic, he stares at his own weakness, his own helplessness. The words of Jesus now echo in his heart and soul: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And when those words of our Lord are realized to be truer than true, the words of the psalmist come to the forefront: “Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord” (Psalm 129 [130]:1). For in the depths of the waters man cannot speak, but God hears the cries of the heart and soul, He hears man’s fearful silence.

Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.
In baptism man is freed from his inevitable doom and pulled from the depths of the waters by Jesus Christ through His minister; he rises from the depths with Christ. And it is then that he meets the Most Blessed Trinity: Christ Who saved him from eternal death by pulling him out of the depths to a new life, a life that is eternal; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove unseen by human eyes, but present nevertheless, Who descends upon him who has been saved and seals him as God’s very own; and finally the Voice of the Father, undetected by human ears, but nevertheless speaking those mysterious, incomprehensible words: “This is My beloved” (Matthew 3:17). It is perhaps foretold by the psalmist: "The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty has thundered, the Lord is upon many waters. The Voice of the Lord is in power; the Voice of the Lord in magnificence" (Psalm 28 [29]:3-4). As unfathomable as those words are, let them speak within you every time you reflect on your own baptism, every time you witness a baptism, every time you try to understand your own royal dignity. It is no easier for the psalmist to grasp our filial relationship with our God as he writes: “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You visit him? You have made him a little less than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor; and have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-8). In the Old Testament, there is a story of a baby which perhaps points us to that day of our own glorious baptism. That baby the world would come to know as Moses. As he was floating down the river in a basket he was seen by Pharaoh’s daughter. She took the baby and as the Scripture continues: “She adopted him for a son and called him Moses, saying, ‘Because I took him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10).

Torrentem pertransivit anima nostra.
Christ has saved us, He has defeated the enemy. And for a final reflection on baptism I turn once again to the wisdom of the psalmist: “Our soul has passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul had passed through water insupportable. Blessed be the Lord Who has not given us to be a prey to their teeth. Our soul has been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken and we are delivered. Our help is in the Name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 123 [124]:5-8).

09 January 2009

Why We Must Pray

The reasons for praying are as numerous as they are imperative. They correspond to all our needs without exception, and to all occasions. They are also in accord with the favors we receive in answer to our prayers and to God's rights over His creatures.

Our divine Master's word has explored and lighted up everything, our human world and God's world. He revealed the powerlessness of the first when He said: “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We have read these words often enough, but without penetrating them. We no more understand the “Nothing” than we do the “All”. The nature of our being does not allow us to understand it. We do not look at our tiny being as it actually is in the light of the “All”. We do not compare the hours of our life, so short and transient, with God's changeless eternity. We do not see the place we occupy in the universe as compared to His immensity, which infinitely overflows our tiny universe, and could embrace numberless others, far greater than ours. Above all, we forget that our being is not ours. Moment by moment we receive the tiny drop of being that God designs to give us. The only reason we have it is because He gives it to us; and having received it, immediately it begins to dissolve; it slips through our fingers and is replaced by another which escapes us with the same rapidity. All this being comes from God and returns to Him; it depends upon Him alone. We are like vessels into which He pours that being drop by drop, so as to create a bond of dependence upon Him, whereby His Being is manifested and made known and, when lovingly welcomed, is glorified.

Prayer is this intelligent vessel, which knows, loves, thanks and glorifies. It says, in effect: My God, the present moment and the light by which I am aware of it, comes from You. My mind, which appreciates it; the upward leaping of my heart which responds to that recognition and thanks You for it; the living bond created by this moment -- all is from You. Everything comes from You. All that is within me, all that is not You; all created beings and their movements; my whole being and its activities all is from You. Without You nothing exists; apart from You is just nothingness; apart from Your Being there is merely non- existence.

How this complete dependence, upon which I have so often and so deeply meditated, ought to impress me! I feel that it plunges me into the depths of reality, into truth. Nevertheless, it does not completely express that reality. There was a time when this nothingness rose up in opposition to “Him Who is”. It wanted to be independent of Him; it put itself forward, refused to obey Him and cut itself off from Him. It made war on Him and became His enemy. It destroyed His Image in the heart's citadel where hitherto He had reigned, and usurped His Throne. These are only metaphors, and they do not do justice to the real horror of the plight created by sin; but we must be content with them, as they are all we have. We must remember, however, that they are completely inadequate.

And every day we add to this predicament, already so grave. Every personal sin of ours is an acceptance of this state: we choose it, we love it and prefer it to union with God. We lap up, as it were, these sins like water. We take pleasure in plunging into them as into a stream, the waters of which rise persistently, and in time overwhelm us and carry us away. They toss us about like a straw, and submerge us. Thoughts, feelings, words, really bad acts and innumerable omissions fill our days and nights, and intermingle, more or less consciously, with our every movement, and at all hours. They spoil the purity of our ordinary actions such as eating and drinking; they introduce themselves into our sleep and mix with our waking movements, and with our external acts as with our most intimate thoughts. Because of our fallen state, everything becomes matter and occasion to drag us down further into evil.

~Dom Augustin Guillerand (1877-1945)~

08 January 2009

The Spirit of Prayer

It should not be difficult to withdraw from time to time from our ordinary preoccupations during the day to lift up our hearts to God, in accordance with the Psalmist's words: "It is good for me to adhere to my God" (Psalm 72 [73]:28). I can always turn to Him, and it is not even necessary to express my thoughts in words. An inward glance, an aspiration, is sufficient. And so gradually I will create for myself an interior solitude, where I can always listen to the Voice of the Beloved, as He Himself said: "I will lead her into a desert place apart, and will speak to her heart" (Hosea 2:14). And thus I will strive always more and more faithfully to listen to His Voice speaking to me: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me" (Psalm 84 [85]:9). When difficulties arise I will take refuge near Him: He will be my Light, and with Him I will share my joys. In a word, it is He Who will hold the first place in my heart and be the object of my actions. My life, hitherto centered around myself, will find its center in God alone.

~"The Prayer of Love and Silence" by a Carthusian~

07 January 2009

Our True Country is Paradise

And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country (Matthew 2:12).

We should seek the wisdom of the Church Fathers as part of a regular spiritual reading agenda. They have a way of explaining Scripture so that it is useful for all generations and times. They get to the heart of Scripture passages so that it is not just a bible story, but something that is very real right where we are in the here and now. For the above Scripture verse, for example, Saint Gregory has passed this along through the centuries: "In returning to their own land by another way, the Magi intimate something to us of great importance. Our true country is Paradise, to which, having now come to the knowledge of Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the path we left it. For we left our land by the path of pride, of disobedience, by following after wealth, by eating forbidden food. And so we must return another way: by the way of tears, by the way of obedience, by contempt of the world, by restraining the desires of the flesh" (Homily X in Evang.).

We live in a culture today that has flooded our homes with immorality through the television, the computer and magazines to name only a few. Parents today even have to screen the cartoons their kids watch. It's commonplace to turn on the televsion and see a show with scenes of two unmarried people sharing a bed, or scenes of violence, adultery -- you name it, it's there. But these examples have lost their shock value and reached an alarming degree of acceptance. Our culture now has a high level of desensitization to such things. The human will has been severely weakened.

As Catholic Christians, a way to get off this ill-advised path and to strenghten the will comes through conformity to the will of God, id est, self-abandonment. Don't feel like praying? Pray anyway! Feel like skipping Mass this Sunday? Don't! Well, it's raining, maybe I'll pass on going to Confession. No! Go! These are only a few examples of the temptations we face and how we can conform to God's will doing what we know He would want us to do. And such acts are acts of love, how we show our love for Him.

Every time we pray, every time we make a holy hour, every time we read Scripture, every time we go to Confession, every time we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament should be occurrences that change us. If we are determined to do God's will, then these are also weapons needed to fight the battle, and the armor to resist the enemy's attacks.

We know that Jesus is Lord, thus, as Saint Gregory tells us, we are forbidden to journey on the unsafe roads. Our Lord tells us that the road to Life is narrow and the wide road leads to destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). The road to Paradise is narrow but straight; and turning off on to the side streets is either a Dead End or like a wintry road, Slippery.

Saint Gregory tells us that these side streets contain pride and disobedience. We see such examples in the Church today by not believing or accepting all Church teachings and by not going to Confession. Oddly enough, not going to Confession leads to another of Saint Gregory's examples: forbidden food. The Eucharist is forbidden Food if one has avoided Confession and has mortal sin on the soul. Saint Jean-Marie Vianney certainly didn't mince words when he wrote: "How many have the temerity to approach the holy table with sins hidden and disguised in confession. How many have not that sorrow which the good God wants from them, and preserve a secret willingness to fall back into sin, and do not put forth all their exertions to amend. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they can, or preserve enmity in their hearts even at the holy table. If you have ever been in these dispositions in approaching Holy Communion, you have committed a sacrilege. It attacks the Person of Jesus Christ Himself instead of scorning only His Commandments, like other mortal sins." And anyone with a conscience would not be pleased to hear from this great saint that by receiving Communion unworthily he "crucifies Jesus Christ in his heart."

This is a tough spiritual battle that is being fought and conforming to God's will is the way to stay close to Him so that eventually those destructive side streets will have road blocks.

06 January 2009

Epiphany of the Lord

Even from amid the obscurity in which Christ chose to be born, there could not but flash out upon the world, of which He was the Master, some gleam to light up the birth of the Infant Savior, and to show that, Child though He was, with all the touching helplessness of infancy, yet He was something different from any child of Adam, that God had ever given into the arms of a human mother. He came weak and helpless, an Infant and a Pauper – not even sheltered from the blasts of winter – but nevertheless, He was the Son of God. Accordingly, it is in no way wonderful that many a strange movement and unwonted stir should take place around His very cradle.

God’s power, as it were, burst forth irrepressibly, and flooded that holy eastern land with wonders and with signs. Heaven and earth seemed to be brought closer together than they had ever been since that brief bright day, when God walked with Adam and Eve through the fresh flowers of Paradise. Angels left the calm beatitude of heaven to busy themselves, at God’s behest, about the affairs of men. There had be a song of jubilee, that made the moonlit stillness of the shepherd’s night-watch, tremble with the melodies of angelic choirs.

The mercy of God was wider than the world, however sinful the world was. Though men had forgotten God, God had not forgotten them; and this Jewish Child Who was born to be a Savior, was to be the Savior of not Jew alone, but of Gentile, of every race, and tribe, and tongue, under the broad canopy of the merciful heaven.

There appeared like some strange vision in the streets of Jerusalem three men, whose garb and bearing betokened that they came from some far eastern land. They bore upon them the marks of long travel, but there was something in their bearing that, travel-stained and toil-worn though they were, proclaimed them chiefs of men – and the Scripture gives them the name of kings and they told a wonderful tale: that, in the bosom of their people, had lain for many a century a tradition that One would be born a Savior, and that a star would rise in heaven to announce His coming. And at length the Hand of God sent the long-looked-for star flashing in their eastern skies; and at once, drawn by the inspiring grace of God, they left their homes, and journeyed through many a wild waste place; and the star went before them always till it led them to Jerusalem; and there the one question they had to ask was this: “Where is He that is born,” etc. And the news was brought to Herod; and Herod was troubled in mind. He was king of the Jews, and here was a rumor of some Child he knew not, Who would wrench the scepter from his hand, and leave him crownless. And from this trouble sprang a wicked and crafty design. He would find out this Child, and having found Him, he would, without pity, cut off the young life that threatened to destroy his power. The chief priests and scribes were called together, and the sacred books were opened, and with certain voice they proclaimed that Bethlehem was the place to seek the newly-born King.

And so, three wise kings hastened forward to Bethlehem, and found the Child; and their eyes, lit by faith, pierced beneath the surface, and they recognized in Him the King Who was to rule, the God Who was to be adored, and the Man Who was in the after-time to suffer and to die. The kings have gone to their rest many a long year: we are in their place today. And shall we let the occasion pass without making to the Infant Jesus the offerings for which He stretches out His Hands?

Gold – shall we give gold? Ah! Gold is perishable, and Jesus has chosen to be poor; earthly gold He does not need nor care for. But there is gold He wants. He wants the gold of our heart’s best love. This is a treasure that God has put into every human heart. And the noblest heart that ever beat in human breast, has nothing greater to give man or God than the priceless gold of its affection. And what incense shall we offer to Him Who is our God? What, think you, is the most grateful incense that goes up from this earth to the Throne of God? It is the incense of the prayers of the hearts that love Him. Offer Him this – the prayer of adoration, by which we acknowledge Him as our God, the prayer of petition, by which to supply our wants, the prayer of thanksgiving, by which we show our gratitude for the countless favors He has lavished upon us.

These two gifts shall be offered to God by His elect, both for time and eternity. Love and prayer will be the eternal business of the saints of God.

But here on earth another gift is needed to make us saints: for we have not only a soul, but a body, and a body that, with its depraved senses, makes war against the soul; the body that first corrupts itself, and then extends its corruption to the soul. That body we must save from corruption by the third offering of myrrh, the myrrh of mortification; denying ourselves first what is unlawful, and even in many things denying ourselves what is lawful, that we may keep a firmer hold upon the passions which, unless kept in check, would overrun and lay waste our whole spiritual life.

~Excerpted from a homily by Father Joseph Farrell, ordained a priest in 1865, a Professor in Carlow College, Ireland, where he remained until 1868. He died in the year 1885 at the age of 44~

05 January 2009

Being Bread

Jesus, gentle and humble of Heart,
You are the Bread of Life;
help me to live my life hidden in Your Eucharistic Heart
in the Presence of our Father
united in the love and power of Your Holy Spirit.
Give me a listening heart,
a heart to love You for Your own Sake,
to love You in myself,
and to love You in my brothers and sisters as You have loved.
Consume me in the fire of Your love.
Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and my Mother,
you are the first "house of bread."
Help me to live in perfect love by being:
the bread of Humility and Abandonment to the Father's will;
the bread of Sincerity and Truth,
the bread of Purity of Heart;
the bread of Word and Eucharist;
the bread of Simplicity, Poverty and Littleness;
the bread of Silence and Solitude;
the bread of Prayer and Contemplation;
the bread of Reconciliation and Peace;
the bread of Interior and Joyful Suffering;
the bread of Charity and Desert Hospitality,
broken and offered with Jesus to the merciful Father
and shared for the salvation of the world.
Holy Mary, Lady of Bethlehem, Queen of the Desert,
guide me in the journey of the Spirit that,
together with you,
I may participate in the wedding feast of the Risen Lamb
until at last I may sing an eternal Magnificat of Love and Praise,
face to Face,
before our All-Holy Triune God. Amen.

~A Way of Desert Spirituality, The Plan of Life of the Hermits of Bethlehem
by Father Eugene L. Romano, Founder of the Hermits of Bethlehem, Chester, New Jersey~

03 January 2009


You shall call His Name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

It is the Name which Saint Paul tells us is above all names – JESUS – and at His Name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). Also from Sacred Scripture are these words: “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and magnify Your Name?” (Revelation 15:4).

I’ve just had the great pleasure of praying First Vespers from the Roman Breviary for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, which includes Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s exquisite hymn, “Iesu Dulcis Memoria”. Rather than provide a translation of that hymn here, Vultus Christi has provided a beautiful translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins, so please check that out.

The Name of “Jesus” alone is a great source for prayer. Quite popular in Eastern Christianity is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” There are variations to this prayer including just simply saying the Name of “Jesus”.

But words aren’t even necessary. In Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistle to the Ephesians, he wrote: “It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian] than to talk and not be one. He who possesses the word of Jesus, is truly able to hear even his very silence, that he may be perfect and be recognized by his silence” (Chapter 15).

A great promoter of the Holy Name devotion was Saint Bernardine of Siena. Excerpted from one of his homilies, are these words: “The Name of Jesus is the glory of preachers, because the shining splendor of that Name causes his word to be proclaimed and heard. This Name must be proclaimed, that it may shine out and never be suppressed. And how do you think such an immense, sudden and dazzling light of faith came into the world, if not because Jesus was preached? Was it not through the brilliance and sweet savor of this Name that God called us into His marvelous light? When we have been enlightened, and in that same light behold the light of heaven, rightly may the apostle Paul say to us: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (Sermo 49, De Glorioso Nomine Iesu Christi).

Cheating a little bit and taking a quick peak ahead to the hour of Matins I read the edifying words of Saint Bernard saying that the Name of Jesus is: mel in ore (honey in the mouth), in aure melos (a melody in the ear), and in corde iubilus (joyfulness in the heart).


Mary is God's garden of Paradise, His own unspeakable world, into which His Son entered to do wonderful things, to tend it and to take His delight in it. He created a world for the wayfarer, that is, the one we are living in. He created a second world -- Paradise -- for the Blessed. He created a third for Himself, which He named Mary. She is a world unknown to most mortals here on earth. Even the angels and saints in heaven find her incomprehensible, and are lost in admiration of a God who is so exalted and so far above them, so distant from them, and so enclosed in Mary, His chosen world, that they exclaim: "Holy, holy, holy" unceasingly.

Happy, indeed sublimely happy, is the person to whom the Holy Spirit reveals the secret of Mary, thus imparting to him true knowledge of her. Happy the person to whom the Holy Spirit opens this enclosed garden for him to enter, and to whom the Holy Spirit gives access to this sealed fountain where he can draw water and drink deep draughts of the living waters of grace. That person will find only God and no creature in the most lovable Virgin Mary. But he will find that the infinitely holy and exalted God is at the same time infinitely solicitous for him and understands his weaknesses. There is no place where God can be more present to His creature and more sympathetic to human weakness than in Mary. It was indeed for this very purpose that He came down from heaven. Everywhere else He is the Bread of the strong and the Bread of angels, but living in Mary He is the Bread of children.

Mary was created only for God, and it is unthinkable that she should reserve even one soul for herself. On the contrary she leads every soul straight to God and to union with Him. The more a person joins himself to her, the more effectively she unites him to God. When we say "Mary," she re-echoes "God."

If we wish to go to Him, seeking union with Him, we must use the same means He used in coming down from heaven to assume our human nature and to impart His graces to us. That means was a complete dependence on Mary His Mother, which is true devotion to her.

~"Secret of Mary" by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort~

02 January 2009


For the word of the cross, to those indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to those that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me. And that I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and delivered Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

As Catholics, the Sign of the Cross is something we make often. Perhaps it is so repetitious that it is often a robotic gesture, something that is done without much thought or personal attention. But the Sign of the Cross is also a prayer and should be made with the same care as the most urgent petitions that approach the Throne of grace. The Sign of the Cross expresses the belief in our redemption and our belief in the Most Holy Trinity.

Tertullian, an early Church Father, wrote: "In all our travels and movements, in all our comings and goings, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross" (Liber De Corona Militis). And from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem are these words: "Let us not be ashamed of the cross of our Savior, but rather glory in it. For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, Who was crucified for us, they shudder (Catechesis XIII).

There is more than one way that the Sign of the Cross can be made. In her book, "An Infinity of Little Hours" the author, Nancy Klein Macguire, writes: "They [the Carthusian monks] have their own Carthusian Sign of the Cross: to honor the Trinity, they make the Sign of the Cross with their first two fingers and thumb held together, their gesture describing a uniquely large cross, with their hands brushing the outside of each shoulder." Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians make the Sign of the Cross similar to the Carthusians only the direction is different. In the East they touch the right shoulder first and then the left.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous had the great pleasure of being taught by our Blessed Mother how to make the Sign of the Cross. Father Robert F. McNamara, author of Saints Alive wrote: "Whether in the rosary or at any other time, from the days of the Lourdes apparitions on, Bernadette was noted for the wonderful way she made the Sign of the Cross. One observer at the grotto later wrote, 'If the Sign of the Cross is made in heaven, it can only be made in this manner.' Everybody marveled at the way she crossed herself -- slowly, reverently, 'with majesty.' 'It is important to make it well,' she told one of her fellow novices in the convent. The sisters respected the way she blessed herself, because they knew who had taught her. It was Our Lady herself, during the Lourdes apparitions."

It has also been said that there are those, after witnessing Saint Bernadette make the Sign of the Cross, had a conversion experience. Regardless of what style or tradition one follows, the Sign of the Cross should be made with great reverence, because like genuflecting and bowing, it is yet another way that we pray with the physical body.

01 January 2009

The Glorious and ever Blessed Mother of God

It is certain that if we look around on earth for a type and representation of the best and purest possible affection; if we look for love in its utmost intensity, in its most unselfish simplicity, in its sweetest tenderness, there at once arises to our minds that natural affection which binds the mother to her child. For that pledge of God's love she is ready to sacrifice herself, forgetting every consideration; not only will she sacrifice health and all the pleasures of life, but life itself, if necessary; and we cannot imagine a being more ready to give her existence for another than the mother who sees her child in danger and resolves at once to make herself an oblation for its safety. So remarkable is this affection, that God has beautifully chosen it as the representation of His own love for man. He could not give us any image more complete to show the tenderness of His love for us, than by comparing Himself, not to a father, but to a mother: "Can a mother forget the child of her womb? And even if she should forget it, yet will I not forget thee" (Isaiah 49:15).

This love of the mother, however beautiful, however natural, however commended, and again and again inculcated by the law of God, may become a dangerous affection, inasmuch as it may know no bounds, and possibly absorb all that divine love due to the Creator and Giver of all things. This danger is illustrative of the force and power of the mother's affection for the child.

To only one being on earth -- to only one of God's creatures has it ever been, or ever will be, granted that this love could not be misplaced -- could not become excessive. For, by virtue of the maternity of Mary, she was constituted the Mother of God; and there was no possible danger of her ever carrying the maternal affections, I will not say into excess, but even to the nearest approach of anything that was not pure and perfect, holy and most acceptable. The caresses she lavished upon her Child she lavished upon God. Exercising the right of the mother, she embraced her Child, and it was God she embraced. Every time she administered to Him the nourishment which His infancy was pleased to require, she was giving to the Incarnate God a part of herself, bestowing upon God a gift which no other being was entitled or permitted to confer. Taking the highest, the most pure and perfect standard of human love, she was privileged to exercise it toward her God, so that it was impossible by any effort of her virginal heart to love too much, for she was loving God with all the power of a mother's affection for her child, and was, at the same time, rendering the love which others could only direct to the creature, to her Creator.

Surely, then, my brethren, we have here, referable to the maternity of our dear and blessed Lady, all that constitutes at once, in this earthly love of the mother for her child and divine love of the creature for her God, saintliness in its highest possible perfection.

Her love is perfect, her conformity is rendered eternal and her cooperation with Jesus continual in that constant flow of her kindness to us, in that perpetual representing of our wants to her Divine Son, in her faithful intercession for us all, consistently with her singular prerogative as the Mother of God. Then, beloved brethren, cease not in your affection to her. Mind not more than you do the winds that fly past you, words which you may hear in disparagement of this most beautiful devotion, as if the worship of our Divine Lord suffered from devotion to her. Pray frequently in your necessities to her, in your wants, in your trials, personal or domestic, and feel sure that she will attend to your petitions. Be assured that link that bound Him to her on earth, and continues to unite Him to her in heaven, also binds us to her, so that in Jesus and Mary we have our confidence, our hope, and , in the end, eternal bliss.

~Excerpted from a homily given at Dublin Cathedral by Cardinal Nicholas Patrick Wiseman (1802-1865), first Archbishop of Westminster~