31 October 2009

Possessing the Highest Good

On this Vigil of All Saints and as we enter into a rare Sunday celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints, we learn more about the saints and how to be a saint from this Discourse of Saint Anselm’s Proslogion. This particular excerpt has several themes to ponder. First, God is wholly God forever. He is the Supreme Good. In other words, the saints are saints because of God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the saints in heaven receive all goods because they love the one Good, Who is every good. Third, Saint Anselm challenges us to consider our own longings, our own desires; and then he explains that the fulfillment of those desires are to be found in heaven, where the saints dwell. Complete fulfillment or even a partial fulfillment, however, would be without joy, if it weren’t for God, the Source of all joy. Jesus promised a joy that is complete. The key to entering wholly into that joy, as Saint Anselm continues, is to rejoice, a great challenge for us in this highly secularized culture we live in. Finally, as if to expose our own human weaknesses while encouraging us to hand them over to God that He may extract good from them, Saint Anselm demonstrates his impatience in receiving the fulfillment of joy, by praying for his advancement in joy day after day. As mentioned at the start, the saints are saints because of God; and Saint Anselm shows us that becoming a saint begins here and now, by laying up treasures in heaven, that our hearts may be there as well (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

You alone, Lord, You are Who You are, and You are the One Who is. Things that obey the law of change, one thing in the whole and another in the parts, is not altogether what it is. And what begins from non-existence, and can be conceived not to exist, and unless it subsists through something else, returns to non-existence; and what has a past existence, which is no longer, or a future existence, which is not yet, this does not properly and absolutely exist. But You, O Lord, You are what You are because whatever You are at any time, or in any way, You are as a whole and forever. In fact, You are He Who You are, properly and simply; for You have neither a past existence nor a future, but only a present existence; nor can You be conceived as at any time non-existent. But You, O Lord, are Life, and Light, and Wisdom, and Blessedness. And yet You are only One Supreme Good; You are all-sufficient to Yourself, and do not need anything; and You are He Whom all things need for their existence and wellbeing. This Good is You, God the Father; this is Your Word, Your Son. In fact, the Word by which You do express Yourself, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are. Your Word is truthful, as You are truthful, hence, it is Truth itself, just as You are, no other truth than You. And You are of so simple a nature, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are.

This highest good is the one love unique and common to You and to Your Son, that is, the Holy Spirit proceeding from both. For this love is not unequal to You or to Your Son; seeing that You do love Yourself and Him, and He, You and Himself, to the whole extent of Your Being and His. The Holy Spirit cannot differ from You, Father, or from Your Son, since He is the equal of both. Since He is Supreme Simplicity, He can only proceed from the Father and the Son. But what each is, separately, this is the whole Trinity at once, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; seeing that each separately is none other than the supremely simple Unity, and the supremely unitary Simplicity which can neither be multiplied nor varied. Moreover, there is a single necessary Being. Now, this is that single, necessary Being, in which is every good, and a single entire Good, and the only Good. Now, my soul, arise and lift up all your understanding, and conceive, so far as you can, of what character and how great is that Good!

If individual goods are delectable, conceive in earnestness how delectable is that Good which contains the pleasantness of all goods. It is a joy, however, very different from what we have experienced in created objects, as different as the Creator from the creature. If the created life is good, how good is the creative life! If the salvation given is delightful, how delightful is the Salvation which has given all salvation! If wisdom in the knowledge of the created world is lovely, how lovely is the Wisdom which has created all things from nothing! What goods and how great, belong to those who enjoy this Good! Joy is multiplied in the blessed from the blessedness and joy of others. Who shall enjoy this Supreme Good? And what shall belong to him, and what shall not belong to him? Whatever he wishes shall be his, and whatever he shall not wish shall not be his. These goods of body and soul will be such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has the heart of man conceived (cf. Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Why, then, do you wander abroad, small man, in your search for the goods of your soul and your body? Love the One Good in which are all goods, and it suffices; desire the Simple Good which is every good, and it is enough.

What are your longings, my flesh? What do you yearn for, my soul? What fulfills your desires is in heaven. If beauty delights you, there shall the righteous shine forth as the sun (cf. Matthew 13:43). Do you delight in swiftness or endurance, or freedom of body, which no one can withstand? The resurrection of the dead shall be like the angels, because it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44). If it is a long and healthy life that pleases you, in God there is an eternity of health, for the righteous shall live forever (cf. Wisdom 5:16), and the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord (cf. Psalm 36:39). If it is satisfaction of hunger, they shall be satisfied when the glory of the Lord has appeared (cf. Exodus 16:7; Psalm 16:15). Do you want to taste an unspeakable joy? There draw water with joy from the springs of salvation (cf. Isaiah 12:3). If it is melody, there the choirs of angels sing forever before God. If it is chaste delights, in heaven you shall drink from the river of divine delights (cf. Psalm 35:9). If it is wisdom that delights you, the very Wisdom of God will reveal itself to you. Do you want the delights of friendship? There you will love God more than yourself, and others as yourself. God shall love you more than you yourself; for you love Him, and yourself, and others, through Him, and He, Himself and all, through Himself.

Are you looking for harmony? You’ll find it in heaven because the elect will have a single will. If power, you shall have all power to fulfill your will, as God to fulfill His. As God will have power to do what He wills, through Himself, so the blessed will have power, through Him, to do what they will. If honor and riches, God shall make His good and faithful servants rulers over many things (cf. Luke 12:42). In fact, they shall be called sons of God, and share in His divinity; and where His Son shall be, there they shall be also, heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf. Romans 8:17). If true security delights you, undoubtedly they shall be as sure that those goods, or rather that Good, will never and in no way fail them; as they shall be sure that they will not lose it of their own accord; and that God, Who loves them, will not take it away from those who love Him; and that nothing more powerful than God will separate Him from them against His will and theirs.

The possession of the highest Good is accompanied by an indescribable happiness. If you could dive into that ocean of joy, your human heart, so poor, so experienced in pain, even submerged in it, would be filled with delight. Ask your inmost mind whether it could contain its joy over so great a blessedness on its own. Yet assuredly, if any other whom you did love altogether as yourself possessed the same blessedness, your joy would be doubled, because you would rejoice no less for him than for yourself. But, if two, or three, or many more, had the same joy, you would rejoice as much for each one as for yourself, if you did love each as yourself. Thus, in that perfect love of innumerable blessed angels and sainted men, where none shall love another less than himself, every one shall rejoice for each other as for himself.

How shall the human heart contain its joy over its own great good, how shall it contain so many and so great joys? Doubtless, seeing that everyone loves another so far as he rejoices in the other's good, and as, in that perfect felicity, each one should love God beyond compare, more than himself and all the others with him; so he will rejoice beyond reckoning in the felicity of God, more than in his own and that of all the saints with him. The elect shall love God with all their heart, and all their mind, and all their soul. But if all the heart, all the mind, and all the soul will not equal the greatness of this love, how will they be able to support the fullness of their joy? My Lord and my God, You are the hope and joy of my heart. You have promised this happiness for my soul, saying through the Mouth of Your Divine Son: “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

My meditation revealed the existence of an overabundance of joy that fills the heart, soul and mind. It penetrates the whole person and will still remain beyond measure. Not all of that joy shall enter into those who rejoice; but those who rejoice shall wholly enter into that joy. Speak to Your servant in his inmost heart the joy that is prepared for those who enter into Your Kingdom of heaven; Your saints will enjoy those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). My words and thoughts could never conceive how greatly those blessed ones of Yours shall rejoice. They shall rejoice according as they shall love; and they shall love according as they shall know. How far they will know You, Lord, then, and how much they will love You! Hear, O Lord, my voice: If I cannot attain to full joy in this life, may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate upon it; let my tongue speak of it. Let my heart love it; let my mouth talk of it; let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; let my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, Who is the Triune God, blessed forever. Amen.

29 October 2009

Easy to Lose -- A Long and Painful Journey to Regain

As the Solemnity of All Saints approaches, this brief meditation by Abbé Henri de Tourville teaches us about the main ingredient present in all the saints – Simplicity – which consequently is a very challenging grace to possess, because it is “the true way of living” – a way that is very counter-cultural. This meditation closes by touching on the simplistic lives that have been chosen by God for mysticism, and they come from “all sorts of walks of life.”

Perfection is not to be found in playing it safe, but in doing the least harm that we can, having regard to our present state and the difficulties inherent to our natures. It means not straining our abilities, but holding firm to a very unassuming simplicity and rejecting any attempts to become more perfect inwardly or in outward appearance than we really are. The saints were not those who played it safe and obeyed the rules, but the greatest gamblers in the world. They hardly wished to go beyond that ordinary amount of grace which they recognized and could feel without doubt they possessed. Let us share in such simplicity.

Perfection consists in holding fast to the very greatest simplicity. Simplicity is the final word in regards to the true way of living. It is the lesson our Lord teaches us when He proclaims that the Kingdom of heaven is for children and those that are child-like. But as with other virtues exhibited by children, so it is with simplicity; the virtues of children are in accordance to their age, not fruits of a victory obtained by the hard fought effort of the will. It is easy for us to have simplicity in childhood, but is even easier for us to lose it. And once we have lost it, it is only by a long and painful journey in our maturity that we achieve it again.

It happens to some souls to whom God has chosen to extend His grace, that they have a greater experience of the Indwelling of God. The mystery of grace given through mystical experience can never be explained. We only know that it happens to certain souls who can be in all sorts of walks of life.

28 October 2009

Esteem the Catholic Faith Above Everything

Today on this Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, it seems fitting to share an excerpt from the Commonitory of Saint Vincent of Lérins. It is believed to have been written somewhere around the year 434. While the author identifies himself as “Peregrinus,” it was Gennadius of Marseilles who credits it to Vincent of Lérins. This Treatise is sometimes referred to as a Remembrancer, because Vincent’s goal was to provide himself with a principle to identify what is Catholic truth and what is error. Thus, he wrote this Treatise as a handy reference in which he could keep the truth ever fresh on his mind. Scripture, for example has many interpretations. Vincent of Lérins supports the idea that the proper interpretation(s) of Sacred Scripture must be supported by the ancient traditions and the universality of the Church – the deposit of faith, “the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), handed down to us by the apostles, like Simon and Jude, the pillars of faith. All other interpretations contrary, according to this Treatise, are to be rejected.

It is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity and consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we do not depart from those interpretations which were held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if we embrace the definitions and doctrines of almost all the bishops and doctors.

The true and genuine Catholic is one who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ. He esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority of man, above his regard, above his genius, above his eloquence, above his philosophy. Disregarding all these things, he continues steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe only that which the Church has always and universally believed. Whatsoever new and unheard of doctrine he shall find to have been furtively introduced by someone or another, contrary to that of all the saints, this, he will understand, does not pertain to religion, but is permitted as a trial, being instructed especially by the words of the blessed Apostle Paul, who writes thus in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “There must also be divisions, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). This is the reason why God doesn’t immediately eradicate errors, that it may be apparent of each individual, how tenacious and faithful and steadfast he is in his love of the Catholic faith.

But some one will say, shall there, then, be no progress in Christ's Church? Certainly -- all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on the condition that it be real progress, not an alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself; by alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same interpretation. The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.

There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if something new appears, these were already present in the embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress; this is the established and most beautiful order of growth, that the mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would perish or become monstrous, or at least weakened. It behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress. It needs to be consolidated by years, develop over time, and refine by age.

Our Fathers in the past planted in the Church the good seed of faith. It would be most unfair and unseemly if we, their descendants, instead of the authentic truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of weeds. On the contrary, from doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, the wheat of dogma, so that when in the process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, this is cause for joy. There may be changes in shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God's Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties. For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?

If what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, the profane with the sacred, this disorder will spread universally, till at last the Church will have nothing remaining intact, nothing unchanged, nothing sound, nothing unblemished. Where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and shameful errors. May God's mercy avert this wickedness from the minds of His servants; be it rather the frenzy of the ungodly. The Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, and does not appropriate what is another's.

Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practiced with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of divisions, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils -- this, and nothing else -- she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those ancient days only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.

27 October 2009

Doctor Ecstaticus

One of the most prolific writers of the Carthusian Order was Denys van Leeuwen, but perhaps better known simply as Denys the Carthusian. Denys was Belgian and a model Carthusian to say the least. After being educated in theology, philosophy and Sacred Scripture from the University of Cologne, he entered the Carthusian way of life in 1423. The many hours involved daily in praying the Divine Office, saying Mass, and praying Our Lady’s Office, as well as other devotional practices -- all staples of the Carthusian charism – Denys also nearly on a daily basis spent many hours in reciting the Psalter in its entirety. In addition to this, he was no stranger to spiritual reading. A couple of years before his death the list of what he read began to surface. He read nearly every ecclesiastical writer leading up to his time in life. Another monk revealed that Denys also read nearly every summa and most commentaries on Scripture; he was also fond of reading the works of Greek and Arabic philosophers. His favorite writer was Dionysius the Areopagite.

As incredible as all this seems, perhaps more mysterious and even miraculous is how he found the time to write so much himself. Like all Carthusians, he was very fond of our Lady. Here are some of his thoughts concerning our Blessed Mother:

From his work, De Prœconio, one should be convinced that as long as Mary is present in the life of a sinful soul, that soul need not despair:

You are the consolation and the hope of the most guilty of men. He who has recourse to you can never complain of your severity and harshness. To your sons, even to the most ungrateful, you are kindness and tenderness itself; for all, you have the heart of a compassionate and indulgent Mother. Despite your high estate and the exalted privileges which you enjoy in heaven, if the most wretched, the most impure, the most despised of sinners appeals to you for help with a truly contrite and humbled heart, far from disdaining him you welcome him with a Mother’s love. You take him into your arms and, holding him close to your heart, you communicate to him a new warmth and then make his peace with the Judge he fears. How many are the afflicted, the sinners, the utterly abandoned, who rejoice that they have found in you, O Mary most merciful, salvation and life!

In Volume VII of his Opera Omnia, Denys explains why we pray, “Blessed art thou among women,” for Mary is indeed “full of grace.” This particular quote has been posted before on this blog:

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

Also from his Opera Omnia in Volume XXXII, Denys tells the story of a Cistercian’s encounter with our Blessed Mother:

A Cistercian religious had such a great devotion to our Blessed Lady that he would never sit down to table until he had recited on his knees five decades of the Rosary. Now one day, when his relatives had come to see him, and he was about to share their meal in the company of a few friends, he suddenly remembered that he had not fulfilled his customary tribute to his heavenly Mother. Immediately he arose and withdrew from the company. And as he prayed, whom did he see but our Lady herself, clothed with a magnificent cloak studded with Ave Marias, in letters of gold. He was filled with confusion when, with a sweet smile, the lovely apparition said to him: “See all the Aves you have said to me.” Then, with a gesture she threw open her cloak and, showing him the inside, added: “When your Aves have covered this side also, I shall come for you, and take you to my Son’s Kingdom.”

What a marvelous assurance that as we pray the Rosary, our Lady is indeed listening! With all of Denys literary achievements, none of it took precedence over his commitment to prayer. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, in that, if we are committed to prayer, all those other things in our life that we deem as necessary, our Lord, if He also deems it necessary, will see to it that it is accomplished. Finally it should be noted that Denys the Carthusian was quite privileged in receiving ecstasies, many of which involved levitation. Because of this, he has been given the title of Doctor Ecstaticus.

26 October 2009

A Toast to the Apostolic Fathers

These most inspiring, meditative and qualitative words are found in the Introduction to The Fathers of the Church. We are most assuredly built on a Rock, not sand.

The Apostolic Fathers wrote long before the great constitutional revolts of Constantinople and Canterbury from Rome had wrought their seemingly irreparable damage. In these primitive writings, as in a mirror, all Christians whose minds and will and souls are wholly set on the truth and way of life of Jesus Christ will find a dogmatic creed, a moral code, and ecclesiastical constitution and above all an inward character of devotional, supernatural, sacramental life, that is self-authenticating. In the presence of martyrs, saints, scholars simple souls like Pope Clement of Rome, or Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, or Polycarp of Smyrna, or the author of the “Didache,” or the “Shepherd” or the “Letter of Diognetus,” no one will feel inclined to apply such labels as Romanism, or Byzantinism or Protestantism. Men of towering genius, of heroic mould, all in many lands and in different ages. Men of diverse character, education, racial origin and political background, men inclined to defend their own brilliance and original opinions, and men who cherished customs of their own locality, sought and found a common life, a common bond of love, a common source of spiritual strength that would open frontiers and make them members of a single family.

Even those who take pride in the modern mind and contemporary mood will feel little sense of intellectual superiority when they meet the minds of men like Athanasius, Basil or Augustine. It will be still harder to entertain any feeling of moral superiority in the presence of men like Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian of Carthage, or Chrysostom of Constantinople. The Apostolic Fathers included men who were both vigorous in debate and aggressive in tenacity to their convictions.

23 October 2009

Purity of Heart

Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart. This is why we take on loneliness, fasting, vigils, work, nakedness. For this we must practice the reading of the Scriptures, together with all the other virtuous activities, and we do so to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion to keep it pure and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.

It may be that some good and necessary task prevents us from achieving fully all that we set out to do. Let us not on this account give way to sadness or anger or indignation, since it was precisely to repel these, to destroy them in our hearts, that we would have done what in fact we were compelled to omit.

What we gain from fasting does not compensate for what we lose through anger. Our profit from Scriptural reading in no way equals the damage we cause ourselves by showing contempt for a brother. We must always relate our fasting, vigils, withdrawal, and the meditation of Scripture and all these similar things, which are merely effects and consequences of our piety, to the principal end to which we must tend, that is, to this purity of heart which is nothing other than charity.

~ Saint John Cassian ~

22 October 2009

A Carthusian's Reflection on Vigilance

This reflection is based on the Gospel of Luke, thus all Scripture references are from that Gospel. The reflection seems quite appropriate for the times we now live in.

At the start of His public mission Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert (cf. 4:2). Defeated, the tempter withdrew from Him (cf. 4:13). This defeat was repeated at each of the exorcisms carried out by Jesus. But in God’s plan, Satan had his hour, the hour of the final temptation, the hour of the Passion. Then “he entered into Judas, one of the Twelve” (22:3), and succeeded in bringing about the death of Jesus.

Now the disciples also entered into a period of combat. It had been predicted by Jesus: “They will arrest you and persecute you… By your endurance you will gain your souls” (21:12-19).

The Gospel evokes the eschatological temptation, the temptation of the last days, in terrifying, apocalyptical terms: hate, death, anguish, pseudo-messiahs, and cosmic chaos – “The powers of the heavens will be shaken” – before the coming of the Son of Man – “with power and great glory” (21:26-27).

The Church has never, in fact, been lacking in sufferings, and certainly is not without them today. There is no return of Christ, He has not shown Himself, and remains invisible; He does not answer our prayers or our desire (cf. 17:22). So we start to doubt, we no longer have faith, we despair of God (cf. 18:8). Why? Because we have to wait in faith until the very last day. Or else it seems that our prayers are not changing anything; and some of us tend to become drowsy, and to live carelessly, exactly as it happened on the eve of the flood and before the destruction of Sodom; they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building (cf. 17:28).

But there will be a sudden intervention of God in the world and in the lives of each of us: “There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left” (17:36). “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (22:31). Everyone of us is to be sifted like wheat. Everything in us that is merely straw will fly away in the wind; only the grain will remain, that is, if anything remains at all. Our faith itself will be sifted , even perhaps to the point of falling away.

Will the Christian, the solitary, who feels the weight of the absence of God, the long silence of the Lord, this Lord to Whom he is supposed to be speaking, persevere in truly believing? Is it not one our temptations to sink secretly, almost unconsciously, into despair, while continuing to live in a body – in quite a reasonable one, but one that is empty of a soul, one of which the practices and beliefs of what is merely an ideological structure are devoid of value; where there is no real expectation that this will change anything at all in a world in which we are installed at ground level, quite a refined ground, perhaps, but nothing more. As for the irruption of the Other in this closed system, we are too polite, to humble to think that this concerns us personally.

Fortunately Christ has prayed for us (cf. 22:32). His prayer awakes in us a faith in which we pray so as “not to come into the time of trial” (22:40, 46), just as Jesus Himself prayed in His agony of anguish on the Mount of Olives. He has taught us to ask, in the Pater: “Lead us not into temptation” nor to the tempter, there behind the temptation.

All those who have a role of pastor in the Church, and Peter, the first, are to strengthen the faith of their brothers (cf. 22:32). But this is also true, in the communion of the Church, of every Christian whose faith has come victoriously through a time of testing.

21 October 2009

Scala Perfectionis

The following is excerpted from the spiritual classic, “The Ladder of Perfection” by the fourteenth century English mystic Walter Hilton. After studying at the University of Cambridge, Walter Hilton later became a hermit and eventually joined the Augustinians at Thurgarton Priory and there lived out the rest of his years. This particular work of his is addressed to a Carthusian recluse and teaches the soul how to advance in perfection by the removal of sin and earthly thoughts and occupations. It also defines the differences in the lives of ascetics, mystics, contemplatives and actives. It is considered one of the great treatises on contemplation. Walter Hilton was in close touch with the Carthusians and has been mistaken as a Carthusian, though he was not.

I pray that in the calling to which our Lord has called you for His service, that you are contented, stand firm in it, travailing busily with all the powers of your soul; and by the grace of Jesus Christ, to fulfill in true righteousness the state which you have taken in exterior likeness and appearance; and as you have forsaken the world like a dead man, and turned to our Lord bodily in the sight of men, so let your heart be as if dead to all earthly loves and fears, and turned wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ. For you must know that a turning of the body to God, not followed by the heart, is but a figure and likeness of virtues, and not the truth in itself.

I do not say that on the first day you can be turned to Him in your soul through the full mastery of virtue as easily as you can be enclosed with your body in your cell, but you should know that the cause of your bodily enclosure is that you may the better come to spiritual enclosure; and as your body is enclosed from bodily association with men, just so should your heart be enclosed from the fleshly loves and fears of all earthly things.

The contemplative life consists in perfect love and charity, felt inwardly through spiritual virtues, and in a true knowledge and sight of God in spiritual things. This life belongs especially to them who for the love of God forsake all worldly riches, honors, worships and outward businesses, and give themselves entirely, body and soul, to the service of God through spiritual occupation, according to their strength and ability.

It is your duty to be busy night and day in labor of body and spirit, to attain as near as you can to that life by such means as you think best for you. In your prayer you must not aim your heart at a material thing, but your effort must be to draw your thoughts inward from any attention to such things, so that your desire might be as it were bare and naked from all that is earthly, always rising upward into God. You cannot see Him in the body, or imagine Him in a bodily likeness, but you can feel His goodness and His grace when your desire is eased and helped, and as it were strengthened and set free from all carnal thoughts and affections; when it is greatly lifted up by a spiritual power into spiritual savor and delight in God, held still in this for much of your prayer time, so that you have no great thought of any earthly thing, or else the thought harms you only a little. If you pray like this, then you know how to pray well.

For prayer is nothing but a desire of the heart rising into God by its withdrawal of all earthly thoughts; and so it is compared to a fire, which of its own nature leaves the lowness of the earth and always goes up into the air. Just so, when desire in prayer has been touched and set alight by the spiritual fire which is God, it keeps rising naturally to Him from Whom it came.

20 October 2009

Saint Rosaline of Villeneuve

Saint Rosaline was born in 1263. She received the Sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop of Fréjus, and when she did she became surrounded by a supernatural light. She was very young when she made a private vow of virginity.

At only age sixteen her desire was to be a Carthusian nun. Her aunt Jeanne Villeneuve was the Prioress of the Charterhouse of la Celle-Roubaud which was close to the castle where Rosaline lived – she was of southern French nobility. Since the Charterhouse was nearby, Rosaline was quite familiar with the Carthusian way of life. But her aunt’s Charterhouse had no novitiate, therefore, Rosaline entered Saint André de Ramires and was eventually moved to the Charterhouse at Bertaud in the French Alps which was the main Charterhouse for women. In the year 1280 she made her profession.

Her aunt at la Celle-Roubaud was becoming advanced in age, and so, the Superior General of the Carthusian Order permitted Rosaline to enter there and help her. In the year 1288 Rosaline received her virginal consecration. This consecration put her into ecstasy which lasted an entire day. She followed all the practices of her religious community but her soul was united to the Lord. She became very ascetic by sleeping very little and often eating only bread and water. She spent her nights in long hours of prayer and God granted her the gift of reading hearts. When her aunt had died, Rosaline was made Prioress of la Celle-Roubaud which she did for twenty-nine years.

Rosaline died at the age of sixty-six which lead to many miracles through her intercession. In the year 1334, only five years after Rosaline’s death, by the order of Pope John XXII, a pope of the Avignon papacy, her tomb was opened. Her body was completely incorrupt. In 1602 her body was transferred from her crypt to a new chapel.

In 1857 Pope Pius IX authorized her feast for the entire Carthusian Order which is celebrated as a Solemnity by the nuns of the Order.

In art Saint Rosaline is often represented as having roses in her skirt. This is due to an event which occurred in her childhood: As a young child she developed a love for taking care of the poor. She would distribute goods to the poor from her family’s provisions. Someone of the household saw her doing this and alerted Rosaline’s father. One day she filled her skirt with bread to take to the poor only to be stopped by her father who asked her what she was carrying in her skirt. She told him they were roses. Extending her skirt by her father’s insistence, what were revealed were actually roses. This was considered a miracle and thus is often portrayed in works of art.

Lord God, for love of You Saint Rosaline trampled underfoot
the flattering allurements of the world, that she
might adhere only to You. Help us to follow her example
and, turning away from things of earth, find our joy in
sharing Your heavenly gifts.

17 October 2009

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 53:10-11
From a Christian perspective, it’s relatively easy to see Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy of the suffering servant. From that understanding, the words “long life” would translate into “eternal life” as Jesus is the One Who gave His life as an offering for sin, taking our guilt upon Himself. The sufferings of this Servant would have a redemptive value.

This must have been a difficult concept when this message was first proclaimed. The Jews endured much suffering and spent many hours in prayer, pleading to God for relief; and to hear or read that their hope would be fulfilled by yet more suffering must have seemed absurd.

Today, not even all Christians see a value in suffering. Sadly, some believe that suffering is caused by a lack of faith. From a Catholic point of view, our sufferings are united with Christ's in such a way that we can offer them in union with His redemptive work for the salvation of souls.

Second Reading, Hebrews 4:14-16
In the Old Covenant, a sacrifice required a priest and a victim. In the New and Everlasting Covenant, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was both Priest and Victim.

One of the many beauties of our relationship with our Lord is that He was willing to take on our way of life by the most humble means possible, making our ability to relate to Him much easier because we know that He has already endured what we endure. Jesus not only lived those circumstances which tempt us and often lead us to our shortcomings, He also took those shortcomings and failures upon Himself making it considerably easier for us to relate to Him. Knowing that, we can indeed, as the last verse says, "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help."

Gospel, Mark 10:35-45
There’s something very alluring about greatness. Many would love to achieve it or minimally be in the presence of it. Many young adults have spent the night outside of an arena just so they could be one of the first in line to buy tickets to see their favorite rock stars. At Hollywood movie premiers, look how many people line up along the red carpet just to get a glimpse of their favorite movie stars. Nowadays, a small fortune is spent to go to professional sporting events to watch athletes perform seemingly super-human feats. Mostly what’s intriguing about greatness is the power, fame and wealth that goes along with it. All of these forms of greatness, however, are short-lived.

In this Gospel, James and John are looking to achieve greatness. And the greatness they are looking for is not exactly what Jesus had in mind. They want to sit at the right and left of Jesus. Jesus tells them they do not know what they are asking. They are thinking of Jesus as the eventual head of some sort of world government; and by sitting at His right and left they would be considered powerful men, at least by human standards. Their minds at this point haven’t really grasped what greatness is in terms of the Messianic mission.

Take a moment and think of those you would consider to be great Christians. If you were able to interview all of them you might find very different personalities, some married, some single, some ordained ministers, doctors, lawyers and ditch diggers. One common denominator, however, that all of them would be able to share with you is the sufferings they have endured. When you are serious about your walk with the Lord, that walk is an extremely difficult one, with many sufferings. Suffering is an inescapable ingredient for not only being a great Christian but also being human. With God’s grace, our acceptance of this makes us great Christians; and this greatness is quite different, if not opposite, of the type of greatness mentioned earlier. In worldly terms, greatness means being served; in Christian terms, greatness means to serve.

The desire of any great Christian is to follow in the Footsteps of Jesus Who suffered and gave His life as a ransom for many. Great Christians have also given their lives literally. But offering one’s life doesn’t have to mean the death of the body. It could mean death to a way of life: a life of immorality, untrustworthiness, greed and anything else that is contrary to what Jesus taught. It is much easier to give up and surrender to these immoralities since today’s world is flooded with such things. Much of the sufferings that Christians endure are the temptations to give up the good fight and surrender to the ways of the culture. But we don’t have to fight it alone. We have our Lord and each other.

Greatness in a worldly sense is often single-minded and perhaps egotistical. Jesus tells His apostles and us, His devoted followers, that among us it shall not be so. Christianity already has One Holy Trinity and there simply isn’t any room for the trinity of me, myself and I. We are called to be servants and slaves, putting the needs of others before our own. If we allow temptation to pollute our minds, this way of life may not sound so great. But our ultimate greatness cannot be achieved in this life; in fact, it cannot be achieved at all by us. Our ultimate greatness is not something we earn; rather, it is given as a gift by the greatest One of all.

16 October 2009

The Heart that Loves So Much

Our Lord Jesus Christ said to Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque: “Look at this Heart which has loved people so much.”

It is this Heart that we gaze upon in Eucharistic Adoration which is enflamed with an unfathomable love for us. This Most Sacred Heart which has loved so much unfortunately is also an Organ which does not receive what It gives as Jesus also to Saint Marguerite-Marie: “And yet they do not want to love Me in return.”

The Heart of Jesus was rejected for us, suffered for us and died for us. And this Heart even today suffers from rejection and loneliness as chapels and churches are empty as He waits for us in the Tabernacle.

Saint Jean Marie Vianney, the holy priest placed before us as a model in this “Year for Priests” was not silent about the sufferings Jesus continues to endure in the Blessed Sacrament: “The death of Jesus Christ on Calvary was violent and painful, but at least all nature seemed to bear witness to His pain. The least sensible of creatures appeared to be affected by it, and thus wishful to share the Savior’s sufferings. Here there is nothing of this: Jesus is insulted, outraged by a vile nothingness, and all keeps silence; everything appears insensible to His humiliations. May not this God of goodness justly complain, as on the tree of the Cross, that He is forsaken?”

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, stood in place of Pope John Paul II at the Colosseum for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday 2005, due to John Paul's failing health. At the Ninth Station, here is some of the reflection shared by Cardinal Ratzinger: “Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in His own Church? How often is the holy Sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must He enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that He is there! How often is His Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in His Passion. His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of His Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His Heart. We can only call to Him from the depths of our hearts: “Kyrie eleison -- Lord, save us!”

Of course, we can’t really cry out Kyrie eleison until we can understand on a deep personal level our own guilt.

Canonized only a year ago was a young lady from Nobol, Ecuador, named Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán. She may have found great difficulty in discerning her own guilt for neglecting the Heart of Jesus, even though she was remarkably humble. This was a very devout young lady whose constant prayers often became songs. One of her favorites contained the words, “reaching the Heart of Him Who well deserved it.” Her father converted a small room in their house into a chapel as he recognized the extraordinary sanctity of his daughter.

She would often go into ecstasy. One of her experiences of being rapt in the love of Christ came one day following Holy Communion. She saw Jesus standing before her; He removed His Most Sacred Heart from His Bosom and placed It before the lips of Narcisa who in turn kissed It. Saint Ambrose said: “We kiss Christ with the kiss of Communion.” Although never entering religious life, it was revealed after Narcisa’s death that she had made private vows of poverty, perpetual virginity, obedience, enclosure, the eremitical life, fasting on bread and water, daily Communion, Confession, mortification and prayer.

On this Feast of Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, the saint of the Sacred Heart, may we on this Friday, a traditional day of penance, return to truly loving our Savior’s Sacré-Coeur and passionately kissing Him in Holy Communion!

15 October 2009

The Great Thing for Us to Do is to Embrace the Cross

Below are the words of the mystical soul of Saint Teresa of Avila whose Feast the Church celebrates today. Her perspective certainly comes from an advanced spiritual life. She writes that the soul lacks humility and cannot always focus on the Passion of Jesus Christ because of the pain. But our Lord knows this and gives us the opportunity to meditate on His Resurrection, because He is so near to us in the Blessed Sacrament. For Saint Teresa, however, her elevated soul is confident in bearing with joy any trial that comes. Would that we all could have such confidence! Saint Teresa’s confidence comes from her relationship with Jesus as a helpful, never-failing Friend; and it is through Him that all blessings come. For as long as our earthly journey lasts, Saint Teresa teaches us that it is a great thing to have before us the Humanity of Christ and His trials. When Jesus is habitually thought of as our Human Friend, then, as Saint Teresa shares, He is always easy to find at our side. Trials are a part of the life of every human being, and so, with Jesus at our side as our Friend or the Humanity of God, we can follow in His Footsteps, as Saint Teresa advises us to do, by embracing the Cross. The words below are from the autobiography of this gifted Carmelite saint.

When I began to gain some experience of supernatural prayer -- I mean of the Prayer of Quiet -- I tried to put aside everything corporeal, though I dared not lift up my soul, for, being always so wicked. But I thought I was experiencing the presence of God, as proved to be true, and I contrived to remain with Him in a state of recollection. In view of the advantage I was deriving from it and the pleasure it was bringing me, no one could have made me return to meditation on the Humanity -- on the contrary, this really seemed to me a hindrance. O Lord of my soul and my Good, Jesus Christ crucified! Never once do I recall this opinion which I held without a feeling of pain: I believe I was committing an act of high treason, though I committed it in ignorance.

The soul is somewhat lacking in humility and that what it has is so completely disguised and hidden as not to be noticed. Who can there be, like myself, so miserably proud that, when he has labored all his life long over every imaginable kind of penance and prayer and suffered every kind of persecution, he does not count himself very wealthy and very abundantly rewarded if the Lord allows him to stand with Saint John, at the foot of the Cross? I cannot imagine how it can enter anyone's head not to be contented with this; yet I myself was not, and I have lost in every respect where I ought to have gained. It may be that our temperament, or some indisposition, will not always allow us to think of the Passion, because of its painfulness; but what can prevent us from being with Him in His Resurrection Body, since we have Him so near us in the Sacrament, where He is already glorified?

No trial has come to me that I cannot gladly bear when I look at You as You stood before Your judges. With so good a Friend, so good a Captain at our side, Who came forward first of all to suffer, one can bear everything. He helps us; He gives us strength; He never fails; He is a true Friend. I can see clearly, and since that time have always seen, that it is God's will, if we are to please Him and He is to grant us great favors, that this should be done through His most sacred Humanity, in Whom, His Majesty said, He is well pleased. Very, very many times have I learned this by experience: the Lord has told it to me. I have seen clearly that it is by this door that we must enter if we wish His Sovereign Majesty to show us great secrets. Even if you reach the summit of contemplation Your Reverence must seek no other way: that way alone is safe.

It is through this Lord of ours that all blessings come. He will show us the way; we must look at His life -- that is our best pattern. What more do we need than to have at our side so good a Friend, Who will not leave us in trials and tribulations, as earthly friends do? Blessed is he who loves Him in truth and has Him always at his side. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, from whose lips the name of Jesus seems never to have been absent, because He was firmly enshrined in his heart. Since realizing this, I have looked carefully at the lives of a number of saints who were great contemplatives and I find that they followed exactly the same road. Saint Francis, with his stigmata, illustrates this, as does Saint Anthony of Padua with the Divine Infant. Saint Bernard, too, delighted in Christ's Humanity, and so did Saint Catherine of Siena and many others of whom Your Reverence will know better than I. This withdrawal from the corporeal must doubtless be good, since it is advised by such spiritual people, but my belief is that it must be practiced only when the soul is very proficient: until then, it is clear, the Creator must be sought through the creatures.

When God is pleased to suspend all the faculties, as we have seen that He does in the modes of prayer already described, it is clear that, though we may not desire it to be so, this Presence is taken from us. At such a time as that, let this be done. Blessed is such a loss, since it brings with it the enjoyment of more than we seem to have sacrificed; for the soul can then employ itself wholly in loving One Whom the understanding has been striving hard to know. It loves what it has not comprehended and rejoices in that of which it could not have such great fruition save by losing itself, in order, as I say, the better to gain itself. But that we should exert care and skill to accustom ourselves not to endeavor with all our strength to have always before us -- and the Lord grant it be always -- this most sacred Humanity, it is that, I say, which seems to me not to be right. The soul is left, as the phrase has it, in the air; for it has nothing to lean upon, however full it may think itself to be of God. It is a great thing for us, while we live as human beings, to have before us Christ's Humanity.

We are not angels and we have bodies. To want to become angels while we are still on earth, and as much on earth as I was, is ridiculous. As a rule, our thoughts must have something to lean upon, though sometimes the soul may go out from itself and very often may be so full of God that it will need no created thing to assist it in recollection. But this is not very usual: when we are busy, or suffering persecutions or trials, when we cannot get as much quiet as we should like, and at seasons of aridity, we have a very good Friend in Christ. We look at Him as a Man; we think of His moments of weakness and times of trial; and He becomes our Companion. Once we have made a habit of thinking of Him in this way, it becomes very easy to find Him at our side, though there will come times when it is impossible to do either the one thing or the other. For that reason it is advisable to do as I have already said: we must not show ourselves to be striving after spiritual consolations; come what may, the great thing for us to do is to embrace the Cross.

The Lord was deprived of all consolation; they left Him alone in His trials. Let us not leave Him; for His hand will help us to rise more effectually than our own efforts. And He will withdraw Himself when He sees that it is good for us and when He is pleased to draw the soul out of itself. God is well pleased to see a soul humbly taking His Son as Mediator, and yet loving Him so much that, even if His Majesty is pleased to raise it to the highest contemplation, it realizes its unworthiness, and says with Saint Peter: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." I have proved this, for it is in this way that God has led my soul. Others will take another and a shorter road. What I have learned is this: that the entire foundation of prayer must be established in humility, and that, the more a soul abases itself in prayer, the higher God raises it.

I will conclude, then, by saying that, whenever we think of Christ, we should remember with what love He has bestowed all these favors upon us, and how great is the love which God has revealed to us in giving us such a pledge of the love which He bears us; for love begets love. And though we may be only beginners, and very wicked, let us strive ever to bear this in mind and awaken our own love, for, if once the Lord grants us the favor of implanting this love in our hearts, everything will be easy for us and we shall get things done in a very short time and with very little labor. May His Majesty give us this love, since He knows how much we need it, for the sake of the love which He bore us and through His glorious Son, Who revealed it to us at such great cost to Himself. Amen.

14 October 2009

Salve Regina Chanted at La Grande Chartreuse

Dwelling on the Mountain

We must not be slaves either of time or health; we cannot dispose of either as we will! If we thought of acting only when all the conditions were favorable, we would pass our lives doing nothing; or at least we would get out of life very little of what it can give us.

Go ahead! That is a phrase I like so much. Even if everything is far from perfect, we must learn to say it. And things will go ahead, since joy does not come from without or from circumstances. Its principle source is within us.

That is why faith is such a sure source of happiness, even now. The faithful who keep themselves in a state of grace, or who see that they return to it without delay whenever necessary, possess in their souls God Who is infinite Goodness. And it is His presence that keeps them in peace. Troubles and disturbing events will always cause suffering; it is a law of life, and we cannot alter it.

We shall never banish suffering in our life, but we can forbid it entrance to our soul, or at any rate to the higher part of the soul. We are there, as it were, on a mountain, and we regard our troubles as the dweller upon the mountain contemplates the storm sweeping over the plain.

But we do not reach that height all at once; we have to arrive at it by stages. The thousand and one petty annoyances that each day brings are our training. We calmly watch them come and go. To want to avoid them all is impossible; to allow them to upset us is a weakness. There will always be some cloud on the horizon of our lives. But do not let any of these things stop you, or even affect you. In short: Go ahead!

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

13 October 2009

The Carthusian Saints and Blesseds

On this day the Carthusian Order honors their Saints and Blesseds. The Carthusians generally do not make great efforts to bring to the forefront any of their members to be considered for beatification and canonization. One of the Order’s mottos is: “To make saints, not to publicize them.” You might say that even when the earthly journey of a Carthusian has ended, his or her life remains hidden. Saint Bruno himself, for example, has never been formally canonized. Those among the Carthusian Order, however, who have been recognized by the Universal Church as worthy of the title of Blessed or Saint usually served the Church in ways that took them away from their hidden life. In the Middle Ages, for example, many who were elevated to the office of Bishop were chosen from monastic Orders. Today, though, it is highly unlikely that any Carthusian would become a bishop. Their vocation of contemplation and separation from the world is greatly esteemed and fostered by the Universal Church. For those, however, whose sanctity and light has illumined a larger and formal stage, today the Order honors them.

In the Carthusian night Office for this Feast day, the Gospel of Matthew was proclaimed along with a reflection excerpted from what is considered a spiritual masterpiece of Syrian spirituality titled, “Livre de la Perfection” by the seventh century spiritual writer Sahdona.

From the Gospel of Matthew, 6:5-6, 16-21
Since the disciples had gathered around Jesus on the mountain, He told them: "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in synagogues and at the street corners to be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward. But when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you. And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father Who is in secret: and your Father who sees in secret, will repay you. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also."

(My translation)
From “Livre de la Perfection" by Sahdona
To all those who care about their salvation, Christ our hope and our God, has taught us in the Gospel to distance ourselves from the world, waiting for God alone, devoting ourselves to prayer and spiritual contemplation. By His words and His example He has shown that no place is more suitable for both prayer and being fixed on God than a place of solitude, away from traffic and favorable to recollection.

There, in fact, the body quiets itself, because the excitements of the external senses are extinguished while at the same time the soul is no longer agitated by internal impulses. As the worldly tumult subsides, it brightens the spirit, the mind becomes liberated from dark earthly concerns: in short, man emerges purified and freed from all physical and spiritual pollution. The discerning eye of his inner light shines and it is good to know himself, to improve and guide his behavior on the clear path of justice. Under these conditions, the man is rushed into the spiritual heights, he stands before the Lord and perceives something glorious, and feels extremely blessed by the Lord Who created him.

He dwells in God alone due to holy purity of life, and God constantly abides in him, waiting to envelop him with the great remembrance of His own manifestation, to burst from the body and impulses man’s thoughts, until the last day, entering into the clouds of heaven, where his covered face will be uncovered and radiant.

Blessed devotion! Your wonders have manifested themselves since the beginning with Adam, our ancestor, and have grown through all generations and achieved miracles for us. These marvelous effects shine in those wonderful beings who are men of truth, who have been able to contemplate its significance. They have taken flight far away from the world and its distractions in order to quiet themselves, body and soul, withdrawing to the desert; by these means they strive for total peace which is rendered to them, the incredible recollection, infused by the Lord supernaturally.

Our Lord, mighty, victorious and holy, source of all holiness, courage and victory, and Who has not disregarded the toil of fasting! Who among us carnal beings can ignore or dismiss You, weak and sinful as we are, continually stuck in the mud of passions?

No one would dare to say that the adverse passions of the flesh have ever been able to touch the Lord's Body, the Receptacle of perfection, the magnificent Temple of the Divine. Yet, although He did not have the slightest need, the Lord Jesus did not renounce the laborious practice of fasting; in order to better teach the great virtue and holiness that He confers on those who observe it.

Just as He was baptized to teach us in our turn to receive baptism and follow His example, thus He fasted to teach us to fast in His likeness. Every baptized person should feel compelled to fight against evil, as did our Lord, and so to be attached to the weapons of fasting even though we have received the fullness of the Spirit.

We fast according to the will of God, sincerely and wholeheartedly, without altering our fasting obligations to the criteria of Satan. This would occur if fasting hypocritically, being seen by others, in order to please men and receive the reward of vain praise from the people; we would thus be excluded from the divine reward, just as our Lord warned about the Pharisees, blinded, discouraging imitation: When you fast -- He said -- do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.

Behold, rendered wholly perfect by fasting from all evil, hungry and thirsty for the spirit of felicity that comes from God, we will be able to escape the threat of misery and famine in the last days reserved for those who shall be satisfied on earth. We will merit instead the blessing of contentment that Christ Jesus has promised to the hungry in these terms: Blessed are those who hunger, they shall be satisfied.

10 October 2009

Loving Mary as Jesus Loved Her

On Saturdays, the day of the week in which the Church honors Mary, here is a wonderful reflection from Le Mois de Marie Cartusien.

The Son of God was about to die. The Sacred Scriptures were fulfilled, the chalice had been drained to the dregs; all was consummated. Jesus could freely leave this life, which for our sakes he had freely taken up. But Mary, her heart transpierced by a sword, stood by the Cross with the beloved disciple. Seeing the immense void which His death was to create in the soul of His Mother, Jesus said to Saint John: “Behold thy Mother!”

What a gift! The Fathers of the Church have written long dissertations upon it. So profound is it that no human mind can fully penetrate its depth and meaning. Saint John himself, in whom it operated so many miracles of grace, did he realize all that it implied? Does not Jesus seem to say to the son of Zebedee: “Here is My Mother, I entrust her to you. My going is for her the supreme trial; without Me, earth will no longer hold anything for her. And yet, her presence is necessary to my infant Church. I adjure you, be to her another son; be to her a Jesus. Your affection, your tenderness, your filial love will help her to bear her exile. At the Last Supper, I allowed you to rest on My Heart and drink at the very source of divine charity, in order to prepare you for the mission with which I entrust you now. In this, as in all else, more than in all else, be mindful of my word – I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so do you also.”

It was thus that devotion to Mary and love for her was established in the Church. It was, so to speak, a sacrament of grace for souls. The reason for it was obvious: it was that Mary might be loved as Jesus loved her.

The divine commandment made to us in the person of Saint John – to love our Lady – goes beyond all time. The Carthusian author of La Clef du Ciel said: “What we see in the homage paid by the Church to the glorious Queen of Heaven is still and always will be the love of Jesus for her. It is her, it is His Soul on fire with the ardor of the Holy Spirit, which secretly touches our hearts, as a musician plucks the strings of his lyre, to the glory of the most noble of all creatures.”

It is the desire of this Son, so tenderly drawn to His Mother, that we should imitate the zeal and devotion that He has shown, in order to give glory to His Blessed Mother. Out of the thirty-three years which were to make up His life on earth, thirty were consecrated to the sanctification of Mary. “God Who became Man,” says Saint Grignon de Montfort, “found His freedom in being hidden within the womb of Mary. He made His Omnipotence shine forth in letting Himself be carried by the Blessed Virgin. He found His own and His Father’s glory in hiding His splendors from all creatures here below, and revealing them alone to Mary. He glorified His independence and His Majesty in depending upon that sweet Virgin, in His conception, His birth, in His Presentation in the Temple, in His hidden life of thirty years, and even in His death, where she was to be present, in order that He might make with her but one same Sacrifice and be immolated to His Father by her consent, just as Isaac of old was offered to the will of God by Abraham’s consent. Jesus Christ gave more glory to God the Father by His submission to His Mother during those thirty years than He would have given Him in converting the whole world by the working of the most stupendous miracles. Oh how highly we glorify God when, to please Him, we submit ourselves to Mary, after the example of Jesus!” (True Devotion).

“If all our members were transformed into as many tongues,” cries Saint Bernard, “we would still be unable to render worthy praise to Mary.” We need never be afraid of honoring our Lady too much; we shall never honor her enough!

09 October 2009

Intrigued by the Supernatural

The renowned German born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein explained his religious beliefs, as told to the eminent American Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” Baruch de Spinoza was a seventeenth century Dutch philosopher who, although very familiar with Hebrew biblical texts, believed that God was simply a product of philosophy, not a concrete reality, and thus incapable of interpersonal relationships with mankind.

It might be a bit strong to say that Albert Einstein was a full-blown atheist, but fairer to say that he was an agnostic. He was more comfortable with the notion that man is independent and self-governing; instead of the possibility of consequences – punishments, rewards, being held accountable to man’s Creator.

But the Spirit moves as He wills and is perhaps responsible for the unlikely meeting which took place between Albert Einstein and a New York Catholic priest named Father Charles McTague. Oddly enough, what Albert Einstein was interested in learning more about, was the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The popular scientist wanted to grasp how the change of substance in something could occur without any change in appearance or accidents. The Church teaches that Jesus is substantially present -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist without any change in the accidents of bread and wine. When their meeting had concluded, apparently Father McTague had shared enough to keep Einstein interested because he asked the good Father to send him any German-language books on the subject. Father McTague happily complied.

What occurs at Mass at the words of Consecration no human being can fully explain. There aren’t any instruction manuals that offer a movement-by-movement description of how and exactly when the bread and wine substantially change. I remember when my daughter was training for her First Eucharist. Her and other children along with their parents were gathered in the church worship space of our parish. And after Father had said all he intended to say, he asked: “Are there any questions?” My daughter raised her hand and asked: “How does Jesus get into the bread and wine?” Father replied: “Abby, I have no idea, but I would give my life for the belief that it does happen.”

It’s intriguing how many people have read their way into the Catholic Church. Many converts to the faith have testified that by reading early Church documents and the writings of the Fathers, what they found in those writings are the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is especially true of the topic of the Holy Eucharist. But the Holy Spirit does all the work. Knowledge is a very good thing, but it cannot stack up to the gift of faith. No one nor any written words can give one faith – the Holy Spirit is necessary.

We don’t know what the Holy Spirit’s intentions were with Albert Einstein. But our gift of faith might suggest that the very scientific mind of Albert Einstein was interiorly entertaining thoughts of supernatural – miraculous possibilities. Perhaps his credo that God had no concerns for humanity wasn’t etched in stone. What triggered the Holy Spirit’s movement in the life of Albert Einstein? Perhaps someone or more than one person prayed for him. Of course, we can’t know the answers with any certainty but what we can do as a people of faith is never give up on anyone. If Monica had given up, perhaps the Church and the world would never have known Saint Augustine of Hippo.

08 October 2009

The Lord is Mindful of Us

Perhaps no Psalm is more popular and more familiar to Christian hearts and souls than Psalm 23 (Psalm 22 in the Latin Vulgate). Below is the Latin version, followed up by a reflection on that Psalm by Saint Augustine.

Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:
in loco pascuæ, ibi me collocavit.
Super aquam refectionis educavit me;
animam meam convertit.
Deduxit me super semitas justitiæ
propter nomen suum.
Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis,
non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
Virga tua, et baculus tuus,
ipsa me consolata sunt.
Parasti in conspectu meo mensam
adversus eos qui tribulant me;
impinguasti in oleo caput meum:
et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!
Et misericordia tua subsequetur me
omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;
et ut inhabitem in domo Domini
in longitudinem dierum.

The Church speaks to Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is my Shepherd, and I shall lack nothing.

In a place of fresh pasture, leading me to faith, there has He placed me to be nourished. By the water of baptism, whereby they are refreshed who have lost health and strength, has He brought me up.

He has brought me forth in the narrow ways, wherein few walk, of His righteousness; not for my merit’s sake, but for His Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in the midst of this life, which is the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You dwell in my heart by faith; and You are now with me, that after the shadow of death I too may be with You. Your discipline, like a rod for a flock of sheep, and like a staff for children of some size, and growing out of the natural into spiritual life, they have not been grievous to me; rather have they comforted me; because You are mindful of me.

Now after the rod, whereby, whilst a little one, and living the natural life, I was brought up among the flock in the pastures; after that rod, I say, when I began to be under the staff, You have prepared a table in my sight, that I should no more be fed as a babe with milk, but being older should take meat, strengthened against them that trouble me. And Your cup yielding forgetfulness of former vain delights, how excellent is it!

And Your mercy shall follow me all the days of my life -- that is, as long as I live in this mortal life, not Yours, but mine. Now Your mercy shall follow me not here only, but also that I may dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

07 October 2009

Ave Maria... always, always

“They will carry the Crucifix in their right hand and the Rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart” ~ Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.

Human logic suggests that a Man put to death by crucifixion and a string of beads are improbable, and yes, impossible sources to keep humanity from eternal death.

It also seems unlikely by human reasoning, that the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571 would be a victory for Christianity because the Christians sought the help of Mary by praying on those beads.

Our Blessed Lady herself was told at the Annunciation that “no word shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). The battle of Logic versus Faith that wages within each of us must always find Faith as the victor. Not that there’s anything wrong with logic, it is a gift from God given to His human creatures. But interiorly, logic can only walk to the mountain; but faith can climb the mountain.

The Virgin Mother of God didn’t need to comprehend everything that was told to her by Gabriel; after all, logic would say, how could a virgin become pregnant? But faith doesn’t simply walk to the mountain and see a dead end, faith climbs, albeit with much difficulty at times, but climbs nonetheless, in order to reach celestial heights, seeking God in order to say what Mary said: “Fiat!”

“And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His Mouth He taught them” (Matthew 5:1-2). “And going up into a mountain, He called to Him those He desired Himself; and they came to Him” (Mark 3:13). God teaches from the mountain, God calls from the mountain.

“And it came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray; and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God” (Luke 6:12). Jesus climbs a mountain to pray.

Combining these verses teaches something about the life of prayer: it is a dialogue – God calls, go up the mountain where He teaches the human soul; afterwards, the soul can pray, whether that be through words or just marveling in God’s presence.

Our Lady is the quickest and surest path to our Savior. She climbs the mountain with us. She knows where He is. In moments of weakness she takes our hand on that mountain and pulls us up past the more frightening crags. Saint John Berchmans said: “If I love Mary, I am certain of my salvation.” Saint Aloysius along those same lines said: “Servus Mariæ nunquam peribit” – “The servant of Mary will never be lost.”

These prophetic words from Sacred Scripture the Church places on the lips of Mary: “I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the Way and of the Truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. He that hearkens to me shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting” (Ecclesiasticus 24:24-28, 30-31).

Very powerful and faith building words!

On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 5 August 1935, our Blessed Mother told Saint Faustina: “Be courageous. Do not fear apparent obstacles, but fix your gaze upon the Passion of my Son, and in this way you will be victorious” (Diary 449). This statement takes us back to the opening statement of this post from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. In our left hand is the instrument in which we seek the help of our Mother and in our right hand is the means to help us keep our gaze fixed on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beads, the beads, the beads! They are a great means to make our hearts rejoice because as our fingers travel on them, fifty-three times we begin our prayer with the words: “Ave Maria!”

In the Carthusian tradition is the story of a lay-brother named Bruno Lhuillier. He had a great love for the Blessed Mother. “Ave Maria” constantly flowed from his lips. Many of his brother Carthusians, whenever they heard Brother Bruno Lhuillier proclaim those two words in praise of our Lady, they would respond using the same words. One day, one of his brothers, sort of beat him to the punch and was the first to say “Ave Maria.” Brother Lhuillier found great joy in that and responded: “Oh yes – Ave Maria – always, always” (Abbé Berseaux: Le Chartreuse de Bosserville).

06 October 2009

God Chose Bruno, a Man of Eminent Sanctity

For the Solemnity of Saint Bruno, twelve Readings were proclaimed at the Carthusian night Office (Matins). Here are eight of those twelve from the Apostolic Constitution, Umbratilem, by Pope Pius XI.

Reading One
All those, who, according to their rule, lead a life of solitude remote from the din and follies of the world, have chosen the better part, like Mary of Bethany. They contemplate the divine mysteries and the eternal truths, and pour forth ardent and continual prayers to God that His Kingdom may flourish and be daily spread more widely. They also atone for the sins of other men still more than for their own by mortification, prescribed or voluntary. For no more perfect state and rule of life than that can be proposed for men to take up and embrace, if the Lord calls them to it. Moreover, by the inward holiness of those who lead the solitary life in the silence of the cloister and by their most intimate union with God, is kept brightly shining the halo of that holiness which the spotless Bride of Jesus Christ holds up to the admiration and imitation of all. No wonder, then, that ecclesiastical writers of former ages, wishing to explain and extol the power and efficacy of the prayers of these same religious men, liken their prayers to Moses.

Reading Two
While Joshua was engaged in battle with the Amalekites on the plain and Moses on the top of a hill nearby was praying and beseeching God for the victory of his people, it happened that as long as Moses held his hands raised heavenward, the Israelites conquered, but if from weariness he lowered them a little, then the Amalekites overcame the Israelites; wherefore, Aaron and Hur on either side held up his arms until Joshua left the field victorious. This example most aptly symbolizes the effect of the prayers of the religious we have spoken of, since those prayers are borne up by the august Sacrifice of the Altar on one hand, and on the other hand by works of penance, as by two props typified respectively in a certain way, by Aaron and Hur; it being the usual and indeed the principal duty of these solitaries, as we have remarked above, to offer themselves up to God and devote themselves as propitiatory victims and hostages for peace for their own weal and that of the world -- a function which they fulfill in an official way, as it were.

Reading Three
From the earliest times this mode of life, most perfect and at the same time most useful and fruitful for the whole of Christendom more than anyone can conceive, took root. For if we pass over the "Ascetics" who right from the very outset of our religion used to live so austerely, though in their own houses, that Cyprian considered them as "the noblest part of Christ's flock," it is known that many of the faithful in Egypt, persecuted under the Emperor Decius on account of their religion, had fled into the desert parts of the land and had found by experience that the solitary sort of life they led there was most profitable for attaining perfection, they continued that way of living even after peace had been granted to the Church. The number of these anchorites was so immense that there were said to be as many inhabitants in the wilderness as there were citizens in the towns. Some of them went to live far away from all human society, while others, under the leadership of Anthony, began to live in lauras. That was the origin of the common life -- life in community -- which, gradually evolved, organized and ruled by certain definite laws, was quickly propagated throughout all the countries of the East and then spread over Italy, Gaul, and Proconsular Africa, while monasteries rose up on all sides.

Reading Four
The monks, each one in the privacy of his cell, unoccupied with any exterior ministry and having nothing to do with it, should fix their thoughts exclusively on things of heaven, wonderful was the benefit that accrued from it to Christian Society. Nevertheless, in the course of time the institution so pre-eminent, that is called the contemplative life, declined somewhat and lost in vigor. The reason was that, although the monks, as a rule, shunned the care of souls and other exterior ministry, yet they came by degrees to combine the works of active life with their pondering on divine things and their contemplation. They thought that they ought to comply with the earnest request of the bishops and assist in the labors of the secular priests who were not able to cope with the many needs of the faithful, or, that it behoved them to take charge of popular instruction - an object of Charlemagne’s solicitude. Moreover, owing to the widespread disturbances of these times, monasteries had perhaps suffered some harm and had slackened.

Reading Five
Consequently it was highly important for the Church that this most holy form of life, which had been kept unimpaired for so many centuries in monasteries, should be restored to its pristine vigor, so that there should never be lacking men of prayer who, unimpeded by any other care, would be perpetually besieging the Divine Mercy and would thus draw down from heaven benefits of every sort upon men, too neglectful of their salvation. According to his great kindness, God, who is ever attentive to the needs and well-being of His Church, chose BRUNO, a man of eminent sanctity, for the work of bringing the contemplative life back to the glory of its original integrity. To that intent Bruno founded the Carthusian Order, imbued it with his own spirit and provided it with those laws which might efficaciously induce its members to advance speedily along the way of inward sanctity and of the most rigorous penance, to the preclusion of every sort of exterior ministry and office: laws which would also impel them to persevere with steadfast hearts in the same austere and hard life. Through nearly nine hundred years the Carthusians have so well retained the spirit of their Founder, that unlike other religious bodies, their Order has never in so long a space of time needed any reform.

Reading Six
Who can help feeling admiration for these men, shut off completely and for all their lifetime from the society of men in order to give themselves up to a sort of hidden and silent apostolate for the eternal salvation of their fellow-creatures? They live each one in the solitude of his cell all the year round and never leave it for any reason nor under any stress of any need. At fixed hours of the day and night they assemble in the sacred temple, not merely to chant the divine office without modulation, as is the custom in other Orders, but to sing the whole of it with a lively and full voice in lifelike, molded tones -- according to the very ancient Gregorian melodies of their choir books, and with the accompaniment of no musical instrument. How should God who is so merciful, fail to grant the prayers of those most pious brethren who thus raise their voices to Him in behalf of the Church and of sinners who need conversion? Wherefore, just as Bruno never lacked the esteem and benevolence of our predecessor, Urban II, who, having had that very learned and holy man for his master in the school of Rheims, later on, when he was Pope, took him for his counselor and made use of him in that capacity, in like manner the Carthusian Order has continuously enjoyed the special favor of the Apostolic See, commendable as that Order has ever been for the simplicity together with a certain holy rusticity in the way of living of its members. We ourselves bear the Carthusian monks no less good-will and we wish as much as anyone that so valuable an institution should spread and increase.

Reading Seven
For, if ever it was needful that there should be anchorites of that sort in the Church of God it is most especially expedient nowadays when we see so many Christians living without a thought for the things of the next world and utterly regardless of their eternal salvation, giving reign to their desire for earthly pelf and the pleasures of the flesh and adopting and exhibiting publicly as well as in their private lives pagan manners altogether opposed to the Gospel. And there are perhaps some who still deem that the virtues which are misnamed "passive" have long grown obsolete and that the broader and more liberal exercise of active virtues should be substituted for the ancient discipline of the cloister. This opinion our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, refuted, exploded and condemned; and no one can fail to see how harmful and baneful that opinion is to Christian perfection as it is taught and practiced in the Church.

Reading Eight
It is, besides, easy to understand how they who assiduously fulfill the duty of prayer and penance contribute much more to the increase of the Church and the welfare of mankind than those who labor in tilling the Master's field; for unless the former drew down from heaven a shower of divine graces to water the field that is being tilled, the evangelical laborers would reap forsooth from their toil a more scanty crop. It is hardly necessary to say what great hope and expectation the Carthusian monks inspire in us, seeing that since they keep the rule of their Order not only accurately but also with generous ardor, and since that rule easily carries those who observe it to the higher degree of sanctity, it is impossible that those religious should not become and remain powerful pleaders with our most merciful God for all Christendom.

All powerful, eternal God, You prepare dwelling places in heaven for those who renounce this world. We humbly beg of Your boundless clemency that through the intercession of our blessed Father Bruno, Your Confessor, we may faithfully fulfill the vows of our profession, and safely attain those things You have promised to all who persevere in Your friendship. This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.