26 February 2009

Lent: The Example of Saint Paul

Now that we have entered into the Season of Lent, it’s no secret that the Church calls us to pray. In fact, Pope John Paul II called Lent a time for “intense prayer” and an opportunity for all Christians “to prepare for Easter by serious discernment about their lives” (Message of His Holiness John Paul II for Lent 2003).

In this, The Year of Saint Paul, there is much to be learned from this great saint on the life of prayer.

God is all that matters! The domain of faith is not the domain of human wisdom, but the power and wisdom of God; and this is foolishness, weakness and scandal for human beings (1 Corinthians 1). And certainly we are witnessing in our culture today that loyalists to God are perceived as weak and foolish as evidenced by the rampant secularism that pervades our government and media. But our enemy is not the President, Vice-President, Congress, the Supreme Court, MSNBC, CNN or anyone else. The real battle lies elsewhere. For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh, but against the spirits of evil. Only spiritual weapons are effective: the strength of God, the shield of faith, the sword of the spirit, prayer, truth (Ephesians 6:10-20). So, at the heart of Paul’s apostolic activities is that which links him directly to God: prayer.

Paul is ardent that he wants prayer to be continual.

Pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Philippians 4:6).

Paul learned how to pray with the psalms. Supported by the remembrance of favors already received, his faith anticipates the answer to his prayer with thanksgiving.

The Church, like Saint Paul, prays the Psalms every day in the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is not part of your prayer life, the Season of Lent would be a great time to give it a try; and along with daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours is also a wonderful way to enter into the daily life of the Church.

Paul’s supplication is the fruit of his contemplation, in which he discovers its deepest object: in the midst of innumerable difficulties, the progress of the Word of God in the heart of Christians, and through them, and by them also, its progress in the world.

Prayer is a combat. It is a battle, because it is an activity of giving birth. “My little children,” Paul says to the Galatians, “you for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). Thus, there is suffering in prayer because in authentic Christianity, loving God also means loving neighbor; and the hearts of all Christians committed to a life of prayer cry out for those they know have distanced themselves from God. Certainly, there are parents, for example, who feel this suffering very intensely because their child, who was raised in the faith, now in adulthood, has decided to leave the Church. Saint Paul teaches us that prayer is always the strongest weapon to remedy such suffering in the midst of, what is perhaps the closest thing to unconditional love on earth, that of mother or father for their child.

It is love that gives life, and prayer is the language of love. Prayer is at the heart of the combat for Christ. The apostolic Church repeats Paul’s cry to us every day: “Join me in earnest prayer to God” (Romans 15:30).

This combat of prayer is not easy. It demands… a determination to take upon ourselves the whole weight of the burdens of our brothers: sharing, for example, through an interior experience in the depths of our heart, in their sin, their lack of faith, their inability to love. By our acceptance, may it be transformed into supplication. “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).

Continual prayer does consist of a continuous formulation of explicit prayers. Before all, it is a question of being: the reality of our hidden life with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). It is the Spirit Who has been poured forth into our hearts, and is dwelling there. The Spirit makes us children of God. Through Him we cry “Abba, Father”: explicitly sometimes, but more often, and better, implicitly, to the extent that we are living in the presence of God and according to the Spirit, that is, in accordance with our being as children of God in Christ.

The Spirit is the bond of love, is the ever-flowing, ever fresh, wellspring of prayer. Prayer is more than human words; it is the movement towards God of the knowledge and love that God alone, finally, awakens in our hearts.

Let us remember the beautiful image of what our Christian life lived together in the Spirit of Christ could be: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

This is certainly a paradisal image. To see its fulfillment, it requires action on the part of every Christian. In our human weakness, however, we are susceptible to becoming discouraged by our lack of understanding of the ways of God. Saint Paul was not living in a fantasy land when he wrote that image from Colossians. He, better than most, understands the difficulties of the spiritual life. He has experienced the thorns of trying to establish intimacy with the Trinity: “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to our Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Then there is the other thorn, in Paul’s heart this time. Chapters 9, 10 and 11 in the letter to the Romans gives us a moving example of a prayer-contemplation-supplication, grappling with the destination of the Jewish people, a mystery that caused Paul so much sorrow: “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh… (Romans 9:3). He goes over and over the enigma, trying to understand.

We all have situations that have occurred or are occurring that just doesn’t make sense. Why does God allow this? Has He abandoned me? Do I have sins that are unforgivable? Am I being punished for my sins? These and other questions ramble through our minds. Saint Paul doesn’t answer the “Why’s” but he does teach us something about abandonment and committing our trust to God: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!... For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33, 36).

The last word of supplication is abandon, in adoration.

(Nota bene: All words in bold font are taken from the book, "Interior Prayer")

25 February 2009

Our Savior's Precious Blood Must Be Applied

Jesus Christ shed His precious Blood on Calvary, in order to wash out the sins of the world. But, though He thus shed His Blood, still He arranged that this Blood, so shed, should be applied by the priest to the soul of each individual and applied by means of the Sacrament of Penance, as when the sinner makes his confession. It was after the shedding on Calvary, not before it, that Christ instituted confession, and this is an irresistible argument to prove that Christ meant that confession was necessary, in order to apply His precious Blood and thereby to get sins forgiven. The best medicine in the apothecary’s shop will not cure unless it be applied. If Christ’s Blood, as shed on Calvary, were alone sufficient to forgive sin, should not Christ Himself know it; and, knowing it, how could He, Who was Truth itself, utter the lie when giving the commission to His Apostles: “Whose sins you retain, they are retained!”

The Church has, at all times, preached and practiced the doctrine of confession. Saint Clement, a disciple of Saint Peter, taught in the first century, the necessity of confession, in order to get the forgiveness of sins. Here are his words: “Saint Peter taught that we must reveal, even the bad thoughts, to the priests.”

Tertullian taught the necessity of confession in the second century. He said: “Several fail to tell their sins, because they are more concerned about their honor than about their salvation… What is better, to conceal your sins and be damned, or to make them known and be saved?”

Origen, in the third century, taught: “If we are sorry for our sins, and if we confess them not only to God, but also to those who have a remedy for them, then they shall be forgiven us.”

Saint Ambrose, in the fourth century, writes: “But, they say, we show reverence to the Lord by reserving to Him alone the power of forgiving sins.”

Now, no one can more grievously offend Him than they who would annul His commands and throw upon Him the duty given to themselves. For, since the Lord Jesus Himself has said in His Gospel: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Who is it that honors Him the more, he that obeys His commands, or he that resists them?

Our confession must be sincere. We must confess our sins just as they really are, without adding anything to them, or subtracting anything from them. What is doubtful should be told as doubtful; what is certain, told as certain; what is grievous, told as grievous. Saint Gregory says: “If you excuse yourself, God will accuse you; if you accuse yourself, God will excuse you.”

Our confession must be simple. By this is meant that we must confine ourselves at confession exclusively to our sins. The names of persons who may be implicated in our sins, or who may have given us scandal, must, on no account, be mentioned. Charity strictly requires this.

Let us, then, my brethren, make good use of confession. Let us not be kept from it by sloth, nor by fear, nor by false shame. It is an awful thing to go to sleep at night in a state of mortal sin. It is easier to confess to one individual, tied up by all the laws of secrecy, human and divine, than to have to confess before the whole world hereafter.

Why should you be ashamed to confess your sins? Why not take the shame off yourself and put it upon Satan? When the devil is tempting the sinner to fall, he takes away the shame from him; but when he is going to make a confession, the devil hastily gives back the shame. Let no one be ashamed, then. The power of forgiving sin has not been given by God to an angel, or to a saint, but to man, frail human creature, tempted and subject to fall like every one else; and therefore, disposed to feel compassion for the sinner, and to be full of mercy. Saint Peter, the chief and head of the priesthood, was permitted to fall into terrible sin, in order to teach a lesson to all. Saint Augustine cries out: “He who hears your sins is a sinner like you, and perhaps a greater… Why, then, do you fear, O sinner, to confess to man and a sinner?"

In the Sacrament of Penance Jesus remains as a Physician, inviting all who are laboring against temptations and heavily laden with sin to come and He will refresh and heal them.

Wherever there is a confession made, there is Jesus present, silently and invisibly, saying to the confessor: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.”

Excerpted from a homily given by Reverend Patrick O'Keeffe, of the Archdiocese of Cashel, Ireland.
His homily is taken from "Discourses from the Pulpit" published in 1891.

24 February 2009

Embracing Our Lady's Poverty During Lent

The Church’s liturgical seasons are not something that merely shows up every year. On the contrary, they are doors that we are called to enter into and fully embrace what awaits us on the other side of those doors. In last year’s Message for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI shared his thoughts on almsgiving, defining it as “an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods.” A detachment to worldly goods coupled with intense prayer leads to total dependency on God. On this day, the Eve of the Season of Lent, there’s a wonderful story in the Carthusian tradition about our Lady and her poverty. Here’s an excerpt:

Dom Louis Rouvier places this conversation with the contemplative soul on the lips of our beloved Mother.

“My dear son,” she says, “I voluntarily embraced a life of poverty with all my heart, and I observed it faithfully during the whole of my life. I came into the world a child of poor parents. During the eleven years I spent in the Temple, I lived in the greatest poverty. Being obliged to take a husband to veil the mystery of the Incarnation, I made choice of a man who was virtuous but poor. We lived by the work of our hands, and when I brought my divine Son into the world, I experienced all the rigors of dire need. Rejected in the town because we had no means, we took refuge in an abandoned stable, which we shared with the beasts of the field. It was in this poor abode that I gave birth to the Son of the eternal God. To cover Him I had only poor swaddling bands. It was this that caused Saint Cyprian to say: ‘The dwelling-place is a stable, the Mother has a little hay for her bed, the Child a manger for a cradle’” (Dom Louis Rouvier: Journal de Mai).

“Dear Mother,” the monk replied, “I am deeply moved at the consideration of what you had to suffer from a poverty so extreme. It is some consolation to know that your need must have been relieved by the presents offered by the Magi to your divine Son.”

“Why feel this compassion,” continued the Mother of God, “for my poverty, which was a joy to me? Do you not know that my Son has said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3) and ‘Woe to you that are rich?’ (Luke 6:24). Besides, you are mistaken in thinking that I used the rich offerings of the Magi to relieve my poverty. No, no! My poverty was voluntary, and I would not have exchanged it for all the riches in the world. Listen to what my devout servant Saint Bonaventure has to say about it: ‘And what do you think Mary did with all the gold that the Magi brought? Did she buy houses, lands or vineyards? Indeed, no! One who loves poverty has no attachment to such things. Mary gave all these treasures to Saint Joseph to distribute to the poor. Thus when came to the Temple for her Purification, she had not the wherewithal to buy a lamb, but only a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’ (cf. Luke 2:24). This, indeed, was so, and that is the use I made of these rich presents. I remained in my poverty and went on living as the poor do, in the company with my divine Son, Who continued the practice of this virtue so perfectly that He had nowhere to lay His head (cf. Matthew 8:20).

What an example for us! Rich in the possession of her divine Son, Mary deprived herself of the goods of this world, in order to preserve her unique treasure. We, too, therefore, should remain detached from the vanities of this world, if we would possess Him Who in truth only gives Himself to those who can repeat with the poor man of Assisi: ‘My God, and my All!’

~Excerpted from "Le Mois de Marie" by Dom Louis Rouvier~

23 February 2009

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

Today, the Church remembers the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, one of the early Church Fathers and bishop of Smyrna. His martyrdom occurred around the year 155. He was burned to death and a letter from the Church at Smyrna describes Polycarp’s martyrdom as miraculous. The fire is described as (my translation of the Latin in quotation marks) “like the sail of a ship filled with the wind around the body” of Saint Polycarp. With this martyr’s body surrounded by flames, “the flesh did not appear to be burning, but as bread being baked or like gold and silver being purified in a furnace.” Coming from the fire was a “fragrant smell” which “smelled like precious spices.”

Here is Saint Polycarp’s prayer in the fire:
Domine Deus omnipotens, Pater dilecti ac benedicti Filii tui Iesu Christi, per quem tui notitiam accepimus, Deus angelorum, et virtutum et universæ creaturæ totiusque generis iustorum in conspectu tuo viventium; benedico tibi, quoniam me hac die atque hac hora dignatus es, ut in numero martyrum acciperem partem calicis Christi tui ad resurrectionem in vitam æternam animæ et corporis in incorruptione per Spiritum Sanctum; inter quos utinam suscipiar hodie coram te tamquam sacrificium pingue et acceptum, quemadmodum præparasti et mihi præmonstrasti et nunc adimplevisti, Deus, mendacii nescius ac verax. Quapropter de omnibus te laudo, tibi benedico, te glorifico per sempiternum et cælestem pontificem Iesum Christum, dilectum tuum Filium, per quem tibi, cum ipso et Spiritu Sancto, gloria et nunc et in futura sæcula. Amen.

(My translation)
Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your Beloved and Blessed Son Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received knowledge of You, the God of angels, and of powers, and of all creation, the whole race of the just who live in Your sight; I praise You, for You have considered me worthy of this day and hour, to be among the number of Your martyrs, to have a share in the cup of Your Christ to the resurrection of everlasting life, in soul and body into incorruptibility by means of the Holy Spirit; among whom would that I be accepted today in the Presence of You as a rich and pleasing sacrifice, according to the way You have prepared and revealed to me, and now have fulfilled, ever-truthful God, in Whom there is no falsehood. Wherefore I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You through the eternal and heavenly High Priest Jesus Christ, Your Beloved Son, to Whom and You, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory now and to the coming ages. Amen.

The Lectio Brevis at Lauds this morning comes to life in the context of Saint Polycarp’s experience in the burning flames:

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (translated from the Latin)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we also may be able to comfort them who are in all distress, by the exhortation by means of which we are also exhorted by God; for as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also by Christ does our comfort abound.


20 February 2009

Saint Augustine: "Officium vestrum in desiderio sit"

“Let your duty be in desire.” These wonderful words come to us from Saint Augustine. We cannot see what has been promised by our Lord therefore, “Tota vita Christiani boni sanctum desiderium est” – “The whole life of a good Christian is a holy desire.” He continues by telling us that the desire or longing for the promise to come to fruition makes us capable, so that when the promise is fulfilled and we are able to see it, then shall we be satisfied.

Recall the words of Saint Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard; neither has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Thus, as Saint Augustine tells us, our lives as Christians must be driven by a desire to receive our Savior’s promises.

When adoring the Blessed Sacrament, faith tells us that what looks like a piece of bread is not a thing but a Person – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Coupled with that faith, though, is a desire to be like Him and see Him as He is (cf. 1 John 2). This desire, as Saint John’s First Epistle continues, sanctifies us (ibid. verse 3).

Saint Augustine then teaches that by God’s delay in fulfilling our desire, the soul is expanded and its capacity increased. Of course, this would mean that there must be a complete commitment to serving our Lord; for how dangerous it would be to increase the soul’s capacity if our desire was to fill it with the things of this world. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Tantum autem nos exercet sanctum desiderium, quantum desideria nostra amputaverimus ab amore sæculi” – “But only are we exercised by holy desire, in as much as we cut off our longings for the love of the world.”

And so, the soul’s capacity is expanded by God when we cast out temporal desires and replace them with holy desires. For example, if we look at the vocation of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, it’s hard to imagine that her very difficult living conditions were driven by a longing for this world’s goods. Of course not! It would be ridiculous to even entertain such thoughts. No, it was as she said: “Jesus is my God, Jesus is my Spouse, Jesus is my Life, Jesus is my only Love, Jesus is my All in All; Jesus is my Everything.”

Concluding with Saint Augustine, he teaches us: “Extendamus nos in eum, ut, cum venerit, impleat” – “Let us stretch ourselves towards Him, that when He comes, He may fill us.”

19 February 2009

Saint Ambrose: "Audi quomodo te Christus, excitet"

In today’s Officium Lectiones from Liturgia Horarum, Saint Ambrose instructs us on speaking only of the things of God. He says: “Lingua tua loquatur iudicium, lex Dei tui in corde sit tuo” – “Let your tongue speak justice, and let God’s law be in your heart.”

Each new day of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours begins with the words: “Domine, labia mea aperies. Et os meum annutiabit laudem tuam” – “Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim Your praise.” Scripture says: “Aperi os tuum, et comede quæcumque ego do tibi” – “Open your mouth and eat what I give you” (Ezekiel 2:8). Prophetically this would be the Eucharist; but interiorly it means surrendering to God and allowing Him to fill us with the words that we are to speak. This is what we pray for at the beginning of the Divine Office at the Invitatory.

But Saint Ambrose takes it a step beyond that – beyond when we drag ourselves out of bed to begin praying the Church’s daily prayer or some other form of prayer: The great saint says, “Audi quomodo te Christus, excitet” -- “Hear how Christ awakens you.” Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Who has never missed even the most seemingly insignificant and boring occurrences in our life, because if He averts His holy stare from us for even a millisecond, we would cease to exist, is responsible for each new day’s awakening. This is God reaching out to us. This requires a response from us, even before entering a chapel or living room (depending on one’s state in life) to pray the Divine Office or Rosary or another form of prayer.

Many of us likely begin our first thoughts of the new day with the burdensome schedule that lies ahead at the workplace; or perhaps students are feeling a little uneasy about the exam that awaits them at school; and of course, those who lay their life on the line for our safety: soldiers, police officers, employees of the fire department, etc. -- surely they have the occasional worry when they get out of bed, if they will return to that bed at day’s end. Life can be a heavy load but He Who awakens us will be with us for every moment of it. Saint Ambrose says, “Hear.” This suggests an interior moment at our awakening, a time, however long or brief, to not only accept and acknowledge God’s Presence, but desire God’s Presence in our new day. This surely would be evidence of God’s law being in one’s heart.

Venerable Andrea Beltrami wrote: “Wherever I may be I will often think of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I will fill my thoughts with the holy tabernacle even when I happen to wake up at night adoring Him from where I am, calling to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament…” Waking up and adoring Jesus – what a beautiful way to begin efforts to keep God always at the Center of our life.

17 February 2009

Our Lady of Ephesus

It is said to be the house that Saint John the Evangelist had built for the Blessed Virgin Mary to live out her remaining time before her Assumption into heaven. It is located just a little over five and a half miles from the city of Ephesus in Turkey. Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been among its many visitors. Pope John Paul II, in fact, proclaimed it to be a place of pilgrimage for Christians. But Christians aren’t its only visitors – Muslims, who also esteem Mary, come to this holy place.

Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick, the subject of a previous post, had visions concerning what happened to our Blessed Mother after our Lord’s Ascension. She saw our Blessed Lady and Saint John leaving Jerusalem together before the persecution of Christians began. The paths which led to our Lady’s house near Ephesus, Blessed Anna described as “a very lonely place but has… caves where several Christian families and friends of Mary already lived.” She described our Lady’s house in Ephesus as a stone house on a mountain which Saint John built. After living there for three years, she wanted to return to Jerusalem and thus was escorted there by Saint John and Saint Peter. She became very ill in Jerusalem and her death seemed imminent. A sepulcher was prepared for her in Jerusalem, but when what was to be her final resting place was finished, the Holy Mother of God recovered from her illness and returned to Ephesus.

Behind Mary’s house are twelve Stations of the Cross which, according to Blessed Anna, the Virgin Mary herself did the measurements. The visionary has also passed on that each station was made of stone containing Hebrew letters. “These stations were all in little hollows, except the Station of Mount Calvary which was on a hill.” And finally, “the Station of the Holy Sepulcher was in a little cave over this hill.” There are many other visions from Blessed Anna concerning the house and the Stations of the Cross. Mary chose a life of stillness in this house where she lived with a young maidservant who went to get food whenever it was needed, although the amount of food our Lady ate was very little.

Blessed Anna’s description of Mary’s death is vivid. She said that as our Lady was nearing death she was on her couch with her head resting on a round cushion. The apostles who were present held a religious service in the front of the house. It was Saint Peter who was wearing vestments at the altar with the others standing behind him. New arrivals greeted those who were already there at the house with a holy embrace and then had their feet washed. After the foot washing the newcomers then approached the Blessed Mother “and greeted her with reverence.” Our Lady, knowing the end was near and only able to “say a few words” said her farewell to all who were present. “Peter gave her Holy Communion” and like our dear Lord “she died after the ninth hour.” And, “Matthew and Andrew then followed Mary's Way of the Cross until the last Station, half an hour's journey from the house, which was the cave representing the Holy Sepulcher.” They made it larger suitable for Mary’s final resting place. They also built a door so that the sepulcher could be closed off.

Women prepared our Lady’s body for burial. They brought clothes and spices to embalm her body. Saint Peter did the anointing. Blessed Anna also adds the detail that on our Lady’s “breast was laid a wreath of red, white and sky-blue flowers.” Her body was then carried to the cave where she was laid to rest.

Saint Thomas the apostle was sad and in tears because he arrived late and was unable to pay his respects. He was taken to the sepulcher and this is what Blessed Anna shares: “When they came to the cave they prostrated themselves. Thomas and his friends walked impatiently to the door. Saint John followed them. Two of them went inside after removing the bushes at the entrance of the cave and they kneeled down in front of the grave. John neared the coffin of which a part was protruding from the grave and unlacing its ties he opened the lid. When they all approached the coffin they were stunned in amazement: Mary's corpse was not in the shroud. But the shroud had remained intact. After this event the mouth of the cave containing the grave was closed and the house was turned into a chapel.”

14 February 2009

A Glimpse at Purgatory

Does Purgatory really exist? The answer is yes and the Church has soul-witness accounts. Here is one such account:

Saint Catherine of Genoa
In this great saint’s Treatise on Purgatory she tells us much of her experience of what purgatory is like. Here is an excerpt from that treatise:

The souls who are in Purgatory cannot, as I understand, choose but be there, and this is by God's ordinance Who therein has done justly. They cannot turn their thoughts back to themselves, nor can they say, "Such sins I have committed for which I deserve to be here", nor, "I would that I had not committed them for then I would go now to Paradise", nor, "That one will leave sooner than I", nor, "I will leave sooner than he". They can have neither of themselves nor of others any memory, whether of good or evil, whence they would have greater pain than they suffer ordinarily. So happy are they to be within God's ordinance, and that He should do all which pleases Him, as it pleases Him that in their greatest pain they cannot think of themselves. They see only the working of the divine goodness, which leads man to itself mercifully… Being in that fire of Purgatory, they are within the divine ordinance, which is pure charity, and in nothing can they depart thence for they are deprived of the power to sin as of the power to merit.

I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the time be accomplished the one wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does not lessen but only the time for which pain is endured. As for will: never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with God's ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united. But, on the other hand, they endure a pain so extreme that no tongue can be found to tell it, nor could the mind understand its least pang if God by special grace did not show so much. Which least pang God of His grace showed to this Soul, but with her tongue she cannot say what it is. This sight which the Lord revealed to me has never since left my mind and I will tell what I can of it.

All the pains of Purgatory arise from original or actual sin. God created the soul pure, simple and clean of all stain of sin, with a certain beatific instinct towards Himself whence original sin, which the soul finds in itself, draws it away, and when actual is added to original sin the soul is drawn yet further away. The further it departs from its beatific instinct, the more malignant it becomes because it corresponds less to God. When therefore a soul has come near to the pure and clear state in which it was created, its beatific instinct discovers itself and grows unceasingly, so impetuously and with such fierce charity that any hindrance seems to this soul a thing past bearing. The more it sees, the more extreme is its pain. Because the souls in Purgatory are without the guilt of sin, there is no hindrance between them and God except their pain, which holds them back so that they cannot reach perfection. Guilt it is which makes the will of the damned in Hell malignant, on whom God does not bestow His goodness and who remain therefore in desperate ill will, opposed to the will of God.

When I look at God, I see no gate to Paradise, and yet because God is all mercy he who wills enters there. God stands before us with open arms to receive us into His glory. But well I see the divine essence to be of such purity, greater far than can be imagined, that the soul in which there is even the least note of imperfection would rather cast itself into a thousand Hells than find itself thus stained in the presence of the Divine Majesty. Therefore the soul, understanding that Purgatory has been ordained to take away those stains, casts itself therein, and seems to itself to have found great mercy in that it can rid itself there of the impediment which is the stain of sin. I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love.

So intimate with God are the souls in Purgatory and so changed to His will, that in all things they are content with His most holy ordinance. And if a soul were brought to see God when it had still a trifle of which to purge itself, a great injury would be done it. For since pure love and supreme justice could not brook that stained soul, and to bear with its presence would not befit God, it would suffer a torment worse than ten purgatories. To see God when full satisfaction had not yet been made Him, even if the time of purgation lacked but the twinkling of an eye, would be unbearable to that soul. It would sooner go to a thousand hells, to rid itself of the little rust still clinging to it, than stand in the divine presence when it was not yet wholly cleansed.

Finally and in conclusion, let us understand that God Who is best and greatest causes all that is of man to be lost, and that Purgatory cleanses it away.

12 February 2009

The Prayer of Quiet

What is this prayer of quiet? It may be described as dominantly a peace experience which seems produced in the soul rather than the resultant of its own activity. It is a period in which repeated acts of mental activity come to an end. But it is far from inactivity. It is possible for the soul to analyze this peace experience while it is going on, but it does not like to do so. Such an analysis shows that it is dominantly an intense abiding love of God. In the period of acts, ardent flames of love burst out, shoot up toward heaven. But in the peace experience flaming ceases; and the fire of charity settles down to a constant glowing… Love is not the only activity in the prayer of quiet, though it has a tendency to dominate the focal region of consciousness. There is also a subconscious intellectual realization of the Presence of God. He is very near, certainly He does not seem far away. And then from time-to-time there are likely to take place more or less dim flashes of a quasi-perceptual seeing of the Divine Immensity, but through a glass, as it were, and in a dark manner. All muscular activity ceases of its own accord and the body may remain motionless in whatever position it may have been when the mind was inducted into the prayer of quiet.

The prayer of quiet has a tendency to remain as a beautiful peace experience long after one has finished the period allotted to prayer. In fact it may abide with the soul the whole day long… Several of our collaborators have actually attained a habitual all-day life of prayer that goes on day after day without cessation.

Thus a lay woman writes as follows:
“For many years mental prayer has consisted in placing myself in God’s Presence in silent adoration and love. All external duties in the day are done as acts of perfect love which do not interfere with His Presence within me.”

The following is a young man’s description of his ordinary period of mental prayer:
“Sometimes when praying in a place where there may be external distractions I begin my prayer by saying to God, ‘I love You,’ a few times. After this I remain in a very peaceful and loving contact with God. I strive to remove all thoughts from my mind and simply rest in this peaceful state of love. Usually I do not need to say, ‘I love You’ at the beginning of prayer but simply enter into the aforesaid prayer. Also, often during this prayer I find any movement, even the moving of the lips in vocal prayer, undesirable and requiring an effort.”

One is not always capable of entering into the prayer of quiet even after God has made it relatively habitual. Mental sorrow or physical pain may make it necessary to return to acts and aspirations.

Thus a nun writes of her difficulties of attaining to perfect recollection in prayer:
“In times of peace my usual form of prayer is simply allowing myself to be penetrated by the Divine Presence – a simple reflection sufficing to recollect me, for example, ‘quoniam tu solus sanctus’ or ‘tomorrow eternity’ or a psalm verse or thought from current liturgy or office. Most often I experience the silence of receptivity. In times of trial my prayer often consists of: acts of resignation; thanking our Lord for the suffering and begging help; lifting up my soul with all its misery to be purified. In times of illness or fatigue there may be nothing more than simple endurance of the time allotted for mental prayer.”

It is in mental prayer that we see God, as well as He can be seen in this life: as through a glass and in a dark manner. All men are called to this vision of God. He who would heed the call of God to live with Him in union of mind and heart, “let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him decline from evil and do good: let him seek after peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:10-11). “Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow” (Luke 9:23) Christ.

~Excerpted from “The Life of Man with God” by Thomas Verner Moore, Carthusian~

10 February 2009

Rediscovering Silence

Not long ago I was listening to a radio talk show program in which the guests were two psychologists speaking about classical music. One of them said that in his opinion the reason for a decline in the popularity of classical music is because of our modern day culture’s fear of silence. If we truly do have a fear of silence then it is no wonder why morality is moving downward on the slippery slope. To fear silence is to no longer be in touch with our spiritual selves.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI taught on the subject of silence by using the example of Saint Joseph who maintained an interior silence “interwoven with constant prayer.” The Holy Father went on to say: “Let us allow ourselves to be infected by the silence of Saint Joseph. We need it very much, in a world that is often too noisy.”

During a 1998 pastoral visit to Turin, our Holy Father of happy memory, Pope John Paul II spoke on the Holy Shroud of Turin with these words: “The Shroud is an image of silence. There is a tragic silence of incommunicability, which finds its greatest expression in death, and there is the silence of fruitfulness, which belongs to whoever refrains from being heard outwardly in order to delve to the roots of truth and life. The Shroud expresses not only the silence of death but also the courageous and fruitful silence of triumph over the transitory, through total immersion in God's eternal present. It thus offers a moving confirmation of the fact that the merciful omnipotence of our God is not restrained by any power of evil, but knows instead how to make the very power of evil contribute to good. Our age needs to rediscover the fruitfulness of silence, in order to overcome the dissipation of sounds, images and chatter that too often prevent the Voice of God from being heard.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on contemplative prayer states: “Contemplative prayer is silence, the ‘symbol of the world to come’ or ‘silent love.’ Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to the ‘outer’ man, the Father speaks to us His incarnate Word, Who suffered, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus” (2717).

In Sacred Scripture are these beautiful words: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My Voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with Me. He who has an ear let him hear…” (Revelation 3:20, 22). Scripture may suggest, though, that the knock is likely a gentle knock or a tap, not something that could be heard in a noisy atmosphere: “Behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small Voice” (1 Kings 19:12).

A farmer visited daily the chapel of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. Around noontime every day he would show up and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Being curious, the Curé d’Ars finally asked the farmer about his daily visits. And speaking about the Blessed Sacrament the farmer said: “I look at Him and He looks at me.” This is the look of love. It is love for the Redeemer that would compel anyone to visit the Blessed Sacrament daily; and they who do so are granted the gaze of a greater love. No words are necessary.

Whether visiting the Blessed Sacrament or just having an interior moment, if it is necessary to have any words spoken, perhaps most fitting is a word often found in Sacred Scripture: “BEHOLD!”

09 February 2009

Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick

On this day, February 9 in 1824, Anna Katharina Emmerick, a mystic, stigmatist and visionary died. She was an Augustinian nun who on October 3, 2004 was beatified by Pope John Paul II. It’s no surprise that someone with such supernatural gifts would be scrutinized and investigated. An Episcopal Commission conducted an investigation and concluded that her sanctity was genuine. Many of her visions are published in the book: “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Her account of Jesus in the Garden of Olives is one that when read by the Victorian poet and Catholic convert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, he could not stop crying.

Here is part of her vision:
He [Jesus] said to the three Apostles: “Stay you here and watch with Me. Pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” Jesus went a few steps to the left, down a hill, and concealed Himself beneath a rock, into a grotto about six feet deep, while the Apostles remained in a species of hollow above. The earth sank gradually the further you entered this grotto, and the plants which were hanging from the rock screened its interior like a curtain from persons outside.

His sorrow and anguish of soul continued to increase, and He was trembling all over when He entered the grotto to pray… but the awful visions pursued Him even there, and became more and more clear and distinct. Alas, this small cavern appeared to contain the awful picture of all the sins which had been or were to be committed from the fall of Adam to the end of the world, and the punishment which they deserved. It was here, on Mount Olivet, that Adam and Eve took refuge when driven out of Paradise to wander homeless on earth, and they had wept and bewailed themselves in this very grotto.

He [Jesus] fell on His Face, overwhelmed with unspeakable sorrow, and all the sins of the world displayed themselves before Him… He took them all upon Himself, and in His prayer offered His own Person to the justice of His Heavenly Father, in payment for so awful a debt. But Satan, who was enthroned amid all these horrors, and even filled with diabolical joy at the sight of them, let loose his fury against Jesus, and displayed before the Eyes of His Soul increasing awful visions, at the same time addressing His adorable Humanity in words such as these: “Takest Thou even this sin upon Thyself? Art Thou willing to bear its penalty? Art Thou prepared to satisfy for all these sins?”

And now a long ray of light, like a luminous path in the air, descended from Heaven; it was a procession of angels who came up to Jesus and strengthened and reinvigorated Him… That adorable Heart, which was so filled with the most perfect love for God and man, was flooded with anguish, and overwhelmed beneath the weight of so many abominable crimes. He [Satan] reproached Him [Jesus] with the faults of His disciples, the scandals which they had caused, and the disturbances which He had occasioned in the world by giving up ancient customs… he reproached Jesus for having been the cause of the massacre of the Innocents, as well as of the sufferings of His parents in Egypt, with not having saved John the Baptist from death, with having brought disunion into families, protected men of despicable character, refused to cure various sick persons… for it was hidden from him that Jesus was the Son of God, and he tempted Him only as the most just of men.

This story continues in much greater detail but from this snippet we can certainly see how much our dear Lord endured for us and how diabolical the enemy is.

06 February 2009

Marthe Robin: Living on Love Alone

On March 13, 1902 at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure in southeastern France, a baby girl was born named Marthe Louise Robin. She would become a victim soul for Christ in a most severe way. She offered her sufferings to our dear Lord and was most desirous to share in His Passion and death. In October of 1930 she received the Wounds of our Lord’s Passion, the stigmata. From that point on, every Friday, she experienced the most severe pains of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. This was preceded at the very young age of twenty-six by paralysis.

I am the Bread of Life; he that comes to Me shall not hunger (John 6:35).

Author Jim Gallagher writes: “For the next 53 years Marthe's only food was the Holy Eucharist. Once a week her spiritual father brought her the Sacred Host. On more than one occasion both he and other visiting priests, saw the Host apparently leap from their hands and fly directly to her mouth. Even a bishop testified that he saw it apparently dissolve once it passed her lips. Her Holy Communion was weekly. Once she had received Jesus she went immediately into ecstasy and then began her weekly re-living of Christ's Passion and crucifixion. The stigmata and the scourging, the crowning with thorns appeared on her body. The whole crucifixion seemed to be re-enacted on this little countrywoman and from the moment of Christ's death on the Cross she too appeared dead. Thus she would remain until 'called back' to life under obedience by her spiritual father on the Sunday.”

The Son of Man has no where to lay His Head (Luke 9:58).

In addition to not eating any food other than the Eucharist, she also did not sleep.

Author and priest Henri Nouwen tells Marthe’s story this way: “Marthe Robin is one of the most impressive examples of God’s hidden Presence in our world. She was born in 1902. At sixteen she fell ill, and her illness, for which the doctors could find no explanation, grew worse and worse. Slowly but surely she became aware that God was calling her to a life in which she would be linked in a special way to the suffering of Jesus. When she was 23, she wrote an ‘act of abandonment’. In it she gave to the God of love all that she had: ‘I belong to You without any reservation, forever. O Beloved of my soul! It is You only Whom I want, and for Your love I renounce all.’ When she was 26 her legs became totally paralyzed, and soon afterwards her arms. From then on she did not eat, drink, or sleep. From 1928 to her death in 1981 she took no food other than weekly Holy Communion. When I first heard about this it sounded to me like a pious fairy tale, but now that I’ve talked to a lot of people who knew Marthe Robin personally, I realize that God can achieve a great deal more in a human being than we who are of little faith are prepared to believe possible. The total ‘abstinence’ of Marthe is one of the ways in which Jesus showed His love to her. In September 1930 Jesus appeared to Marthe and asked her, ‘Do you wish to become as I am?’ She replied , ‘Yes’ and soon afterwards she received the Wounds of Jesus in her hands, feet and side. She also received the crown of thorns. From that time on, week by week Marthe began suffering fully into the Passion of Jesus. Her suffering with Jesus was so intense that tears of blood flowed from her eyes and the marks of invisible thorns appeared across her head. Every Friday she entered so fully into the death of Jesus that only on Saturday did she come to herself again; and until Sunday and Monday she remained in a state of total exhaustion. As the years passed her suffering grew deeper. In the beginning she suffered with Jesus, but little by little she became the suffering Jesus.”

Ave Maria

Marthe Robin had a great love for our Blessed Mother and was particularly fond of the Rosary. It was the words of Saint Louis de Montfort which nurtured her love for the Virgin Mother of God: “When the Holy Spirit, her Spouse, finds Mary in a soul, He flies into that soul, and enters it fully, and communicates to it most abundantly.”

During a great deal of her life in which she was bedridden she met thousands upon thousands of people who visited her in her small room. She ended each visit, which averaged about ten minutes, with a prayer. In addition to the personal visits she received a steady stream of letters even though she was completely blind by the age of thirty-eight. She died on February 6, 1981 at the age of 78. She left us her writings and her insights which were written down by her spiritual director, Père Georges Finet. Her funeral was attended by thousands including six bishops and more than two-hundred priests.

04 February 2009

Blessed Lanuin

Blessed Lanuin, a companion of Saint Bruno, who faithfully followed the Carthusian founder even to his deathbed where Lanuin succeeded him as Prior in Calabria. Like Saint Bruno, Blessed Lanuin was of German heritage. He went with Saint Bruno to Rome when Pope Urban II asked Bruno to be a papal adviser. With Saint Bruno and a few others, they kept their monastic/semi-eremitic lifestyle as much as they possibly could while in Rome. The friendship between Saint Bruno and Blessed Lanuin was very close and they were mentioned together on a couple of occasions: Count Roger of Calabria had a deed for a monastery in the names of Bruno and Lanuin. And in 1098 a papal bull contained the words, “To our very dear and honorable sons, Bruno and Lanuin.” On October 6, 1101 Saint Bruno died and Blessed Lanuin, with the rousing approval of Pope Paschal II, was elected Bruno’s successor as Prior. Lanuin was a holy man and was entrusted with many things which included the responsibility given by Pope Paschal II to reform the monasteries of other Religious Orders in the region.

The Holy Father’s letter to Lanuin included these words:
The sanctity, the sincerity and the religious zeal of which you
have given proof in the reform of churches and monasteries,
urges us strongly to regard you in high esteem and to render
acts of thanksgiving to the Almighty. We, then, are moved by
your piety and to confide fully to your fervor, we exhort and
oblige you to take to your charge the care of monasteries belonging
to our jurisdiction, which are in your vicinity. Examine
that in these there would be nothing contrary to the monastic
discipline and enforce to reform all abuses with great moderation
and discretion.

The many responsibilities entrusted to Blessed Lanuin did not, however, obstruct his wonderful gift of contemplation. His true place was the silence of his desert. He lived nearly nineteen years after the death of Saint Bruno. He died on April, 11, 1120 and was buried in Saint Bruno’s tomb. His reputation for holiness continues even today and is especially celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

From the Carthusian diurnal:
Lord God, You called Lanuin to be one of
Saint Bruno’s companions in solitude.
Through the merits of these our first fathers
may we also reach the eternal glory of heaven.

02 February 2009

Hugh of Balma: The Last Petition

Continuing with Hugh of Balma’s mystical explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, he now offers his reflections on the seventh and final petition: “But deliver us from evil” in which the human spirit “asks to be freed from arousal and inclination toward sin.”

Although we continue “to aspire to a more intimate union” with the Beloved, “nevertheless the human spirit’s earthly body and the hostility of the flesh may sidetrack the spirit from aiming toward the heavens above.”

Stooping to shameful things could make the spirit “contemptible in the Eyes of the Bridegroom.” Thus we ask “to be set free from such things… so as to “not incur the darkening that would render” us “less desirable in” the “Beloved’s Eyes.”

And so, the human spirit “ought to open the eye of understanding inwardly” in order to “cling with all ardor of love to the spiritual Father and aspire to His dwelling-place.” Because of His desire to “share Himself” He created us in “His Image” and marked us “with the Image of the entire Trinity.” He created us to “depend solely on Him in the obedience of ignited love.”

“The efficacy of love will accomplish several things by means of repeated sighings.” When the soul is infused, we gain “by way of the flesh the corruptions” which frequently cause us to “fall back toward lower things.” When “the lower powers… become obedient, the spirit is partly re-formed and” our “original harmony reigns again in the flesh.” This victory which comes from on High, “gives the Bridegroom the praise He deserves, since it is He Who sends “fire into the spirit and dew into the flesh, extinguishing the flesh’s disfiguring punishment of the soul.” Once again “possessing the Bridegroom under the impact of having been set free, walking in the light,” we can pray with the psalmist: “O God, my God, toward You do I watch at the break of day; for You my soul has thirsted” (Psalm 62:2 [63:1]). “Since the soul is now freed from sins… in more ardent affections” we begin “to hold eager vigil at His door, seeking… to quiet the flesh and to make what has always been hostile to the spirit agree to its thoughts and wishes.”

“Noble knowledge is hidden in the Scriptures.” Hugh of Balma then follows that up with these closing thoughts: “Let no one be unsure about how the entire text of the Old and New Testaments can, with love leading the way and light accompanying, be explained according to the anagogic path and applied to the conversations and colloquies of the bride and Bridegroom. For not only Scripture, but indeed all creatures, whatever they may be… can be most strictly applied to this same purpose, since they possess hidden in themselves this very wisdom.”