31 December 2009

He's captured me, forever I'm in chains

The poem below was written by a beautiful Carmelite soul – Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. She wrote it for Christmas – the Christmas of 1903 to be exact. Appearing in this poem four times are the Latin words: “Amo Christum” (I love Christ), which was the motto of Dijon Carmel, where Elizabeth entered religious life. “Amo Christum” was inscribed on the crossbeams of the crucifixes given to the Sisters at their profession. Elizabeth is hailed as the “Saint of the Divine Indwelling” and this poem certainly reflects that.

There is this One Who knows all mysteries
And Who embraced them from all Eternity
And this same One… the Father’s Word He is
Splendor, that Word, of His Divinity

See that One come with Love’s excess
With charity so urgent
Say: Son of the Father’s tenderness
God gives us Him on this great day

O Word may lifelong now
I listen to You
So possessed by You
That how to love be all I know
Amo Christum

In me, a house that God is living at
This Jesus Christ, Divine Adorer there
Takes me to souls, as to the Father
That being the double movement of His prayer
Co-Savior with my Master here

Whose call to me still drives me on
For this I ought to disappear
I’m lost in Him, with Him as one
One Word of Life, with You
For always and above
Your virgin host anew
All shining forth with love
Amo Christum

His sanctuary, He rests in me
There is the peace one looks for and attains
In silence, and in deepest mystery
He’s captured me, forever I’m in chains

Ah, to Your every word to cling
Calm in the faith I’m anchored to
Adoring You, through everything
As one who only lives by You

Beneath Your splendent Light
O Word, by night and day
May I be now, outright
To Your great love, a prey
Amo Christum

Mother of God, tell me your mystery
Oh how your earthly life was spent
The way, right from the time of ‘Fiat’
How you’d be buried in adoration, Mary

Say how, in a peace, a silence, you
What mystery could enter in
To deeps that none but you could do
Bearing the guilt of God within

Secure in God’s embrace
Keep me, I ask
In me, His imprint may He place
For wholly Love is He
Amo Christum

30 December 2009

O Truly Incarnate Wisdom!

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in this homily extracted from a Christmas sermon, speaks of things that might surprise you at first. He says, “Let the mouths of others praise you” when we have been taught not to seek the praises of men. Saint Bernard tells us to “hide the gifts and graces” we have received when we have been taught to let our light shine. The great saint is not suggesting that we ignore what we have been taught, but instead is laying out for us the message and example of Jesus as an Infant. It’s an interesting piece of his sermon – I hope you like it.

Christ is born in a stable, and lies in a manger. Yet is He not the same that said, "The earth is mine and the fullness thereof?" Why, then, did He choose a stable? Plainly that He might reprove the glory of the world, that He might condemn its empty pride. The Infant Jesus is silent. He does not extol Himself; He does not proclaim His own power and greatness, and behold, an angel announces His birth, a multitude of the heavenly host praise and glorify the new-born King.

You that would follow Christ do in like manner imitate His example. Hide the gifts and graces you have received. Love to be unknown. Let the mouths of others praise you, but keep your own lips closed. His Tongue has not spoken, and, behold, every where He is proclaimed, preached, made known. These infantine members will not be silent; they have another kind of language: in all of them the judgment of the world is reproved, subverted, and set at naught.

What man with intelligence, being free to choose, would not prefer a full-grown, robust body rather than that of an infant? O Divine Wisdom! You are manifested by Your preference for what was hidden and abject. O truly Incarnate Wisdom, veiled in the flesh! This is nevertheless what was long ago prophesied by Isaiah: "The child will know how to refuse evil and choose good." The pleasures of the body are the evil which He refuses; affliction is the good He selects. And assuredly, He that makes His choice is a wise Child, a wise Infant. He is the eternal Word of God, for the Word was made flesh, infirm flesh, tender flesh, the feeble, helpless flesh of an Infant, incapable of its own nature of any good work, feeling a repugnance to labor and hardships. Truly the Word was made flesh, and in flesh dwelt amongst us.

When in the beginning the Word was with God, He dwelt in light inaccessible, and there was none that could bear that light. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor? The carnal man of His own nature perceives not those things which are of the Spirit of God; but now he can perceive them though still carnal, for the Word was made flesh. Since man, on account of the flesh, could understand nothing but what was of the flesh, behold, the Word was made flesh that man might be able even by the flesh to hear and understand the things of the Spirit. O man, behold that wisdom which was heretofore hidden is shown forth to you! It is now drawn forth from its hiding place, and is laid open to you, and it penetrates into the very perceptions of your nature.

29 December 2009

The True Marks and Qualities of the Elect

The words below are excerpted from a homily by the fourteenth-century German Dominican theologian and mystic, Johannes Tauler. In this particular sermon, he reflects on Christmas and how we as God’s human creation ought to respond to our Lord’s love. And we do this by exhibiting the qualities of true children of God which have been demonstrated to us by the example of Jesus Christ. Johannes Tauler makes use of the wisdom of Saint Augustine, Dionysius, and Saint Anselm in this homily.

Dear children, God has wrought a great wonder, and manifested the greatness of His love towards us, in that He has looked down upon us, who were His enemies, aliens and far off from Him, with such mercy as to give us power to become His sons and children; therefore it behooves us not to show ourselves ungrateful for such kindness, but to put on the true marks and qualities of the elect, beloved children of God.

He who would be a son of our Father in Heaven must be a stranger among the children of this world, and must have an earnest mind and a single eye, with a heart inclined towards God. Now such a one is made a son of God when he is born again in God, and this takes place with every fresh revelation of God to his soul. A man is born of the Spirit when he permits God's work to be wrought in his soul; yet it is not this which makes the soul to be perfectly blessed, but that revelation makes the soul to follow after Him Who has revealed Himself to her, and in Whom she is born anew, with love and praise.

The beloved children of God renounce themselves, and hence they do right without effort, and mount up to the highest point of goodness; while he who will not let go of himself, but does right by labor and toil, will never reach the highest that he might. Men who live on the outside of things are a great hindrance in the way of goodness by their many idle words. Therefore those who wish to foster the inner life of their souls, are in great danger of receiving hurt from things which are said without thought, especially when many are together. He who repents of what he has said as soon as the words are out of his mouth, is one of the careless speakers. He only is a good son who has cast off his old sins and evil habits; for without this it is impossible that he should be created anew in Christ Jesus.

It is a mark of the children of God that they see their own little faults and shortcomings to be great sins. We must let all things be to us merely the supply of our wants, and possess them in their nothingness. The great work and aim of the beloved children of God is to shun all sin, deadly or trifling, that they may not grieve God's spirit; for they know, as Saint Augustine says, that for the smallest habitual sin which is not punished and laid aside in this present life, they will have to suffer more than all the pains of this world. Hence Anselm says, that he would rather die, and that this world should be destroyed, than commit one sin a day knowingly. And Augustine says: "The soul is created eternal, and therefore she cannot rest but in God."

Dionysius says: "To be converted to the truth means nothing else but a turning from the love of created things, and a coming into union with the uncreated Highest Good. And in one who is thus converted there is a joy beyond conception, and his understanding is unclouded and not perverted by the love of earthly things, and is mirrored in his conscience, in the mirror of God's Mind. Love is the noblest of all virtues, for it makes man divine, and makes God man."

A certain teacher has said that if a man will give his heart and life to God, God will give him in return greater gifts than if he were to suffer death over again for him.

Now that man shall attain unto the Highest Good who is ready to descend into the lowest depths of poverty. And this comes to pass when he is cast into utter wretchedness and forsaken of all creatures and all comfort. And let him ask help of none; let him be as knowing nothing, and as though he had never been anything but a fool; let him have none to take compassion on him, even so much as to give him a cup of cold water to drink; yet let him never forget God in his heart, and never shrink from God's searching Eye of judgment, though he knows not what its verdict will be; but with a cheerful and thankful spirit yield himself up to suffer whatever God shall appoint unto him, and to fulfill according to his power, by the grace of God, all His holy will to the utmost that he can discern it, and never complain of his distresses but to God alone with entire and humble resignation, praying that he may be strong to endure all his sufferings according to the will of God. Dear children, what glorious sons of God would such men be! What wonders would God work through them to the magnifying of His glory! These are the true and righteous men who trust in God, and cleave to Him in spirit and in truth! That we may thus become His sons, may God help us by His grace! Amen.

28 December 2009

Martyrs for the Church, not sons of the synagogue

This short reflection from Saint Peter Chrysologus explains that the mystery of the slaughter of Holy Innocents is far too complicated for human understanding. But it is Christ’s love for His Church which mysteriously permits such a horrific act by Herod. It is our loving Lord granting them His victory.

Brothers, our human understanding cannot explain the mystery of the Virgin birth. What nature does not possess comes from the Creator, not from nature; it is the Holy Spirit’s work that flesh is unable to comprehend. When there is no evidence of human involvement, that is a sign of God’s action. Where there is nothing with which we are familiar here on earth, everything then is ordained by heaven. What does not come from the world cannot be understood by the wise of this world.

When conception preserves the virginity of the Mother, and in giving birth she remains a Virgin, this is not human involvement and thus is generated by the divine. God walks where no trace of human traffic can be found; custom loses its force when miracles are accomplished. Such signs show no respect for customs, uniqueness does not admit of a precedent, as revealed by little children fighting divine battles.

The whole cohort that arose alongside its King was eager to die before its King rather than die with Him. But what do we say about the fact that the King Himself, Who ought to have stood fast, fled at the warning of His Father? This fleeing is a sign of the most intimate kind of love, it is not a sign of cowardly fear. If Christ had stood fast, the synagogue would have them as sons, and the Church would not have them as martyrs.

26 December 2009

Stephen Could See that Christ was Alive

Today the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Saint Augustine received relics of Saint Stephen in the year 424 for his church in Hippo. This homily by Saint Augustine is dated somewhere between 400 to 420.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of our Lord; today we are celebrating the birthday of His servant. We celebrated Christmas as the day on which the Lord was pleased to be born; the birthday we are celebrating of His servant is the one on which he was crowned. We celebrate the birth of the Lord where He received the robe of flesh; we celebrate His servant’s birthday as the day in which he threw aside the garment of his flesh. What we celebrated on the Lord’s birthday was His becoming like us; what we are celebrating on His servant’s birthday is his becoming as close as possible to Christ. Just as Christ, by being born was joined to Stephen, so Stephen by dying was joined to Christ.

The reason the Church marks the days of the birth and the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with equal devotion, is that each of them is a salutary medicine for us, because He was born in order that we might be born again, and He died that we live forever. The martyrs, however, carrying original sin in birth, came to the fight against evil, and with death they passed over to the most incontestable of goods, putting an end to all sin. If the reward of the bliss didn't comfort them as they faced persecution, when would they ever have endured those various torments of martyrdom? If blessed Stephen, facing that shower of stones, had not thought about the rewards to come, how could he have borne that terrible hailstorm? But he was bearing in mind the instruction of the One Whose presence he could observe in heaven; and reaching out to Him with the most ardent love, he longed to leave his flesh behind as soon as possible, and fly off to Him. He was not afraid to die because he could see that Christ was alive, though he knew He had been slain for his sake; thus he was in a hurry to die for Him, in order to live with Him.

As to what the most blessed martyr saw as he engaged in that final agonizing contest, he could see Jesus standing. The reason He was standing, and not sitting, is that standing up above, and watching from above His soldier battling below, He was supplying him with invincible strength, so that he shouldn’t fall. Blessed indeed the man to whom the heavens lay open! But who opened the heavens? The One about Whom it says in the Apocalypse: “Who opens and nobody shuts; shuts, and nobody opens” (Revelation 3:7). When Adam was thrown out of Paradise, after that first and abominable sin, heaven was shut against the human race; after the Passion of Christ, the thief was the first to enter. Then later on Stephen saw heaven opened. Why should we be surprised? What he saw in faith, he indicated in faith, and took violently by storm.

25 December 2009

This Day is Born to You a Savior

Felix dies Nativitatis
Merry Christmas - Glædelig Jul - Veselé Vánoce - Vrolijk Kerstfeest - Häid Jõule - Hyvää Joulua - Joyeux Noël - Fröhliche Weihnachten - Boldog Karácsonyt - Gleðileg Jól - Nollaig Shona - Buon Natale - Il-milied It-tajjeb - God Jul - Wesołych Świąt - Feliz Natal - Un Crăciun Fericit - C Pождеством Xристовом - Nollaig Chridheil - Vesele Vanoce - Feliz Navidad - Noeliniz Kutlu Olsun

24 December 2009

Preparing to Receive the Light

In the Divine Office and Our Lady’s Office, the antiphon sort of paves the way or prepares our Christological understanding of the Psalms or Canticles which are about to be sung or recited. Today is the final day for us to prepare ourselves to welcome the Light of the world. Advent is really a penitential season and one of the ways to prepare or welcome the Light is to willingly expose our own darkness in the Sacrament of Confession.

For those who pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the season of Advent closes at the hour of None; and there a most fitting antiphon for closing Advent and preparing for Christmas appears: “Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum – Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Your word.” It was Mary’s “yes” to God, yes to welcoming the Word of God as a Baby. This is a beautiful thought to close out Advent and begin Christmas.

Christmas begins with Vespers on Christmas Eve. The first antiphon at Vespers of Our Lady is: “O admirabile commercium: Creator generis humani, animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine, largitus est nobis suam Deitatem – O marvelous intercourse! The Creator of mankind, taking a body with a living soul, vouchsafed to be born of a Virgin, and becoming man without man’s concurrence, bestowed upon us His Deity.” And so this momentous day of eternal value begins: the Light enters the world through a Virgin. And certainly this antiphon is reflected in the words of the Psalm which follows: “Ex utero ante luciferum genui te -- From the womb before the daystar have I begotten You” (Psalm 109:3).

The second antiphon is: “Quando natus es ineffabiliter ex Virgine, tunc impletæ sunt Scripturæ: sicut pluvia in vellus descendisti, ut salvum faceres genus humanum: te laudamus, Deus noster – When You were born of a Virgin, after an ineffable manner, then were the Scriptures fulfilled: You came like rain upon the fleece, that You might save mankind: we praise You, our God.” We praise God for coming to us as a Baby in order that He might experience all the circumstances that are part of being human; and in doing so, He will save mankind. In the Psalm which follows, we pray the words: “Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat: et humilia respicit in cælo et in terra – Who is like unto the Lord our God, Who dwells on High: and regards the things that are lowly in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 112:5-6).

The third antiphon is: “Rubum, quem viderat Moyses incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam laudabilem virginitatem: Dei Genetrix, intercede pro nobis – In the bush which Moses saw unconsumed, we acknowledge your admirable virginity preserved: Mother of God, intercede for us.” An Old Testament story is given to us to show us the prefigurement of Mary and her spotless, Immaculate self. She is the “domum Domini -- house of the Lord” which is mentioned in Psalm 121 that follows this antiphon. He Who cannot be contained, chose to be contained in her. He Who is spotless, dwelled in a spotless “house”.

The fourth antiphon is: “Germinavit radix Iesse, orta est stella Iacob: Virgo peperit Salvatorem: te laudamus, Deus noster – The root of Jesse has budded, a star has risen out of Jacob; a Virgin has borne the Savior: we praise You, our God.” This antiphon is soaked with Christmas images: the root of Jesse, David’s father, from that lineage the Savior would come, born of a Virgin. Psalm 126 follows with these words: “Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: in vanum laboraverunt qui ædificant eam – Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 126 :1). God built the house in which He would dwell before entering into the world. He built it in order that this house would be a fitting dwelling-place for Him, one that is Immaculate. Mary is the new Ark of the Lord.

The fifth antiphon is: “Ecce, Maria genuit nobis Salvatorem, quem Ioannes videns exclamavit, dicens: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce, qui tollit peccati mundi, alleluia – Behold, Mary has borne us the Savior, Who John beholding, exclaimed, Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world, alleluia.” Christmas celebrates the birth of the Savior and in this antiphon we learn something of His future as the Lamb of God Who will take away our sins, the Light overcoming the darkness. Psalm 147 follows in which “Jerusalem” mystically represents the Church: “He has blessed the children within you, He has made peace within your borders” (Psalm 147:1-2).

The final antiphon appearing in Vespers of Our Lady for Christmastide is the antiphon for the Magnificat: “Magnum hereditatis mysterium: templum Dei factus est uterus nescientis virum: non est pollutus ex ea carnem assumens; omnes gentes venient, dicentes: Gloria tibi, Domine – A great mystery of inheritance: the womb of one that knew not man has become the temple of God; taking flesh of her He was not defiled; all nations shall come saying, Glory be to You, Lord.”

As mentioned in yesterday’s post on Secret Harbor, let us all try to catch something of these immense thoughts. Let us prepare well to receive our Savior!

23 December 2009

Catching Something of an Immense Thought

Leading up to Christmas day, our Blessed Lady said something early in her gestation, while visiting Elizabeth – the Magnificat – which the Church prays every evening at Vespers. Dom Augustin Guillerand reflects on that prayer. The photo is a beautiful wintry scene at La Grande Chartreuse.

Magnificat… How can one magnify God? He is infinite greatness, and one cannot add to the infinite. One cannot alter and enlarge the limits of Someone Who has no limits.

One must not be surprised at these apparent contradictions when we speak of God. Our human language comes from something created; it is made to express things that are circumscribed. In face of the infinite, our stutterings tremble like human shoulders bent under an impossible load.

Yet our Lady uses this vehicle which we find so inadequate. Her thought is far vaster than the words that convey it.

Try hard to catch something of that immense thought.

And perhaps trying to catch something of an immense thought must also be applied to God as a Baby in a manger. Surely our thoughts must be far vaster than, “You shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger” (Luke 2:12). As we spiritually travel to Bethlehem to see that Infant, as Dom Augustin Guillerand continues with his reflection, that Child from heaven we must never turn our gaze away from. Here are more of Dom Augustin’s thoughts.

In the midst of all horrors, atrocities and crimes which are being committed in the world, God sees only His Son. He gave Him to the world: an immense, infinite proof of His love. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The Word passes down the centuries, radiating light and love. He was the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world, inviting everyone to come and be united to Him. He gave them power to become children of God. God sees only this well-beloved Son, and those who in receiving Him become His living image, His reproduction. The world exists for no other purpose than this.

God does not force us to come to Him, for then love would not be the true motive. There must be a loving response on our part. Some accept Him, and then God loves them in His Son. United to Him, they become one with Him, and the Father looks upon them both with a single regard of delight. Others refuse Him, and God seems to leave them to themselves, to what they have chosen, to follow their own way, as if He no longer looked upon them: but only as long as their refusal is obstinate and persistent, for He calls to everyone again and again.

Indeed, at Christmas God calls each of us to the stable at Bethlehem, that we may accept His offering of love, the gift of His only Son; and God, then, will love us in Jesus and look upon His Son and us with a single regard of delight.

22 December 2009

The Mystery of Bethlehem

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reflects on the birth of our Savior. He speaks of it as an “everlasting today” which “has come down into the fleeting today of the world.” Regardless of the conditions of our worldly “today,” our Lord has made it possible for us to live in an everlasting, peaceful “today”. Christ’s Light, Love and Truth has not been held prisoner in a moment of time but has spread through the centuries; and our Holy Father lists some examples of saints who have received our Savior’s gifts.

In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God Himself, God from God, became man. To Him the Father says: "You are My Son". God’s everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today. God is so great that He can become small. God is so powerful that He can make Himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless Child, so that we can love Him. God is so good that He can give up His divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find Him, so that His goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are My Son, this day I have begotten You". God has become one of us, so that we can be with Him and become like Him. As a sign, He chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know Him. And on every child shines something of the splendor of that "today", of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield -- it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.

Light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great Light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown His glory -- the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The Light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them". Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up -- charity towards others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of Light, Love and Truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the Saints -- from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God Who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with His own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.

Among Christians, the word "peace" has taken on a very particular meaning: it has become a word to designate communion in the Eucharist. There Christ’s peace is present. In all the places where the Eucharist is celebrated, a great network of peace spreads through the world. The communities gathered around the Eucharist make up a kingdom of peace as wide as the world itself. When we celebrate the Eucharist we find ourselves in Bethlehem, in the "house of bread". Christ gives Himself to us and, in doing so, gives us His peace. He gives it to us so that we can carry the light of peace within and give it to others. He gives it to us so that we can become peacemakers and builders of peace in the world. And so we pray: Lord, fulfill your promise! Where there is conflict, give birth to peace! Where there is hatred, make love spring up! Where darkness prevails, let light shine! Make us heralds of your peace! Amen.

21 December 2009

Rapt with Astonishment

This is a homily that was given on Christmas day by Father Patrick O’Keefe, of the Archdiocese of Cashel, Ireland. Father O’Keefe was the author of the popularly esteemed, “Moral Discourses” published in 1879. This homily takes us right to the stable in Bethlehem, to see the Christ-Child, and encourages us to try and comprehend as much as possible the meaning of Christmas through the eyes of poor, humble shepherds. Interesting that we’re in a similar moral climate, which is described here, as we await the Second Coming of our Savior.

Immediately after the fall of our first parents, God, in His infinite mercy, promised a Redeemer, by Whose merits man should be saved from sin and the eternal punishments due to it, and also restored to his primitive right the Kingdom of heaven. But this promise God chose not to fulfill for 4,000 years. This He did in order that all mankind might become more sensible of their misery, and that they might more ardently desire the coming of the Redeemer. During those years many a sigh and prayer was offered up for the coming of the Messiah. The ancient patriarchs and prophets prayed that the heavens would open and let down the Just One, and that the earth would open and bud forth the Savior.

But at length the plenitude of time had come, the seventy weeks of years foretold by the prophet Daniel had elapsed, the royal scepter had passed away from the House of Judah, and tidings of great joy were brought to all the people, the heavens opened and flowed with honey, the long expected Messiah came, and He was born as an Infant in the stable of Bethlehem.

And it came to pass that when… Mary’s days were accomplished… at midnight she brought forth her first-born Son, wrapt Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. And this Child was Jesus Christ, our Savior. Thus on Christmas night, the long-expected Messiah, the Redeemer of us all, was born. And forthwith the heavens burst forth with joyous strain, and the angels sang with loud celestial voices.

Shepherds went over with haste to Bethlehem, and there they found Mary and Joseph, with the Infant Savior wrapt in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. Oh who can tell the feelings of those humble shepherds as they looked and gazed upon the newborn Babe? How His little cry thrilled through their ears, and touched their hearts to tenderest emotion! How overjoyed they must have felt as they thought that He at last had come Who was to release them from the slavery of sin and the torments of hell, and Who was to make them partakers of the joys and glories of heaven! Oh what deep feelings of homage and confidence, and gratitude and love they must have felt on that occasion! How their souls were rapt with astonishment at actually seeing the Word made Flesh, the immense God of heaven narrowed within the compass of a little Babe!

But observe the striking features in the circumstances of His birth. He is born in the depth of the winter, in the middle of the night, in a cold, comfortless stable, and appears first of all, if we except His Mother and Saint Joseph, to humble, poor shepherds. Did these circumstances happen by mere chance, or was there a meaning in them? Why is He not born in someone of the gorgeous palaces of the earth, in the midst of riches and comforts? Why did our Lord select a stable as the place of His birth? It was in order to confound the pride of the world. It was in order to cure the haughty and the proud-hearted. It was in order to reduce the honors and distinctions of this world to naught. It was in order to lessen the boasting of the high-born, and to make humility at once appear honorable and beautiful, by leading the way in His own Royal Person. He was born in poverty in order to teach us detachment from the things of the world. He honored poor shepherds with His first interview.

Let us ask of Jesus today to give us grace to learn the great lesson which He has come to teach, to be meek and humble of heart. Let us ask of Him today, as a birthday present, the grace whereby we may carry on vigorously the great work of our salvation which He has so lovingly begun, that we may renounce all pride, and vanity, and self-seeking, that we may seek Him Who through His ministers forgives the sinner in the tribunal of Confession, that we may adore and worthily receive Him Who resides in the Blessed Sacrament, Who was born as a sweet little Babe at Bethlehem, and Whose birth is celebrated with universal joy throughout all Christendom today. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David!”

18 December 2009

The Virgin's Fecundity, the Mother's Integrity, the Offspring's Dignity

Here’s a gem from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and is very appropriate for this time of the year.

In Mary there is something more wonderful still: it is the union of fecundity with virginity. Since the beginning of the world it had not been heard that a woman was at once a virgin and a mother. And if you consider of whom she is the Mother, how great will be your admiration of her exalted dignity! Do you feel as if you can never sufficiently praise it? Do you not judge, and rightly, that she who has the God-man for her Son is exalted in greatness above all the choirs of angels? Did not Mary confidently call the God and Lord of Angels her Son, saying: "Son, why have You done so to us?" (Luke 2:48). Which of the angels would have presumed thus to speak? It is sufficient for them and something great, that while by nature they are spirits by grace they are made and called angels, as David says: "Who makes his angels spirits" (Psalm 103:4). In confidently calling God her Son, Mary acknowledges herself Mother of that Majesty Whom those angels serve with reverential awe.

Neither does God disdain to be called what He vouchsafed to be. For the Evangelist adds shortly after, "And He was subject to them" (Luke 2:51). Who was subject? God, to man. God to Whom the angels are subject. God, Whom the powers and principalities obey, was subject to Mary. And not only to Mary, but to Joseph also, for Mary’s sake. Consider, then, and choose which you will most admire, the gracious condescension of the Son, or the surpassing dignity of the Mother. Both are amazing; both are miraculous. That a God should obey a woman is humility without example; that a woman should command the Son of God is a dignity without parallel. In the praise of virgins we hear that wonderful verse: "They shall follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Revelation 14:4). But what praise, do you think, is worthy of her who leads the way before Him? Learn, O man, to obey; learn, O earth, to be subject; learn, O dust, to be submissive. The Evangelist, speaking of your Creator, says: "He was subject to them," that is, of course, to Mary and Joseph.

Blush, O dust and ashes, and be ashamed to be proud. God humbles Himself, and do you exalt yourself? God submits to man, and do you desire to domineer over your fellow-man? In so doing you prefer yourself to your Creator. Would that when such thoughts assail me, God would vouchsafe to make me the same reproach as to His Apostle : "Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things that are of God” (Matthew 16:23). As often as I seek distinction among men, so often do I dispute the pre-eminence with my God, and then assuredly I savor not the things that are of God, since of Him it is said: "He was subject to them." If, O man, you disdain to imitate the example of your fellow-man, you cannot find it degrading to follow that of your Maker. If you cannot follow Him "wherever He goes," at least follow Him in the most safe road of humility, for, from this straight path should even virgins deviate they will not "follow the Lamb wherever He goes." The Lamb is followed by the innocent soul and by the once sin-stained but now humble and repentant soul; by the proud virgin, likewise, He is followed, but assuredly not "wherever He goes." The penitent cannot rise to the purity of the Lamb without spot, the proud soul cannot descend to the meekness of Him Who, not before His shearers only, but even before His executioners, was dumb and opened not His Mouth. It is safer for the sinner to follow in humility than to be proud in virginity, because the sinner by his humility makes satisfaction for, and purges away his impurity, whereas, the purity of the other is polluted by pride.

Happy was Mary in whom neither humility nor virginity was wanting. O glorious virginity, which fecundity honored, but did not contaminate. O singular humility, that a fruitful virginity elevated but did not destroy. O incomparable fecundity, in which virginity was associated with humility. Which of them is not wonderful, incomparable, unique? In pondering them, we are at a loss to decide which is the more worthy of admiration: the Virgin’s fecundity, the Mother’s integrity, or the adorable dignity of her offspring; or, again, that in such sublime elevation she still preserves her humility. Can we be surprised that God, Who is wonderful in His saints, should also show Himself wonderful in His Mother? Admire, you who are married, and reverence her integrity in corruptible flesh! You sacred virgins, behold with astonishment this fruitful Virgin! Let all Christians imitate the humility of the Mother of God! O holy angels, honor the Mother of your King! He is at once our King and yours, the Redeemer of our race, Who replenishes your city. To Him Who with you is so glorious, with us so humble, be rendered for ages without end, both by us and by you, the reverence due to His dignity and the honor and glory worthy of His infinite condescension. Amen. Amen.

17 December 2009

Creating a Replica of the Cave at Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 December 2009

Piety Focused on Christ Crucified

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Blessed Guglielmo da Fenoglio. His name in English most often appears as William of Fenoli or William of Fenol. An English-language publication on Carthusian saints written by a Carthusian monk shares the following about Blessed William:

William was born in the early twelfth century, in the township of Monferrato, in the diocese of Alba, in Northern Italy. His family was no doubt an ordinary, but very devout family. He was drawn to solitude and did in fact become a hermit. We may think that his life of prayer as a hermit deeply united him to God. However, a woman of ill repute came to disturb him in his hermitage. He was able to resist her temptations, but afterwards he realized that he needed the protection of a cloister.

So he took the road to the nearby Charterhouse of our Lady of Cazotto, Asti, and asked to be admitted as a brother. As Brother William, he became an outstanding member of the community. He faithfully followed the observance of the Rule. He looked upon his superiors only with the eyes of faith and was always disposed to obey them immediately. The virtue by which he shone the most was that of simplicity. “If the eminent practice of virtue is admirable when joined to the splendor of doctrine, better still is its charm when it has for its company the ingenuity, the candor, the simplicity of soul. This simplicity must serve as the supreme wisdom especially for those called to live in the obscurity of the cloister” (Statement of the Postulator). How well Saint Bruno’s words to the lay brothers of the Grande Chartreuse apply to William:

“As regards you lay monks, brothers so close to my heart, I have only this to say: My soul glorifies the Lord, since I can perceive the glories of His mercy toward you from the account of your beloved Father and Prior, who boasts a great deal about you and rejoices over you. I share in this joy, since God in His power never ceases to inscribe on your hearts, however little education you may have, not only love, but understanding, of His holy law. For you show by your lives what it is you really love, and what you know. That is to say, when you are careful and zealous to observe a genuine obedience, conceived not only as the carrying out of God’s commands, but as the original key to the spiritual life and its final stamp of authenticity, demanding as it does deep humility and outstanding patience, as well as sincere love for the Lord and our brothers, then it is clear that you are gathering with relish no less than the most delectable and life-giving fruits of Holy Scripture.”

His simplicity of heart was a great preparation for contemplation. His piety focused on Christ crucified and he could not think of the Passion of our Lord without becoming deeply afflicted. And so, freed from all fear and earthly plans, his only desire was for Eternity, preparing himself for it with constancy until his death, which occurred around the year 1200.

He was buried in the cloister cemetery of the Charterhouse, but God let it emphatically be known that He wanted him to be buried at the gatehouse, outside the enclosure, so that the faithful could come to pilgrimage to his tomb. It is this popular veneration century after century, with accompanying miracles, which are the proof of the sanctity of this humble brother of whom we know so little. Pope Saint Pius V authorized the transfer of his relics in 1568, and Pope Blessed Pius IX authorized in 1862 the veneration of Brother William, whose body was still incorrupt.

15 December 2009

Cultivating Our Spiritual Second-Sight

There is a strong sense from this past Sunday's Gospel in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of Mass that there is an expectation, a longing for a Messiah. We know that liturgically that expectation will be fulfilled in ten days when we celebrate God entering the world as a baby. This brief reflection below is from Dom Augustin Guillerand as he explains the meaning of the Incarnation and how we should apply that to our own life.

Instead of attempting to free ourselves from the things of the senses, or abstracting from them, we should try to probe deeper into them; not stopping at their external appearance, which changes, but seeking what is hidden deep in their substance: their being, in a word. For God is Being. And thus we shall find Him beneath the veil of the senses.

This is the meaning of the Incarnation. God became tangible, in order to teach us to find Him in all that we touch and see and feel; for we are necessarily bound to the senses in this life. Jesus did not do away with these external contacts; what He taught us is not to stop at them. He taught us to find His Father in everything: in the flowers, in the lilies of the field, in the birds, in sorrow – in everything, because everything comes from His love, and must return to it. Ut dum visibiliter Deum cognoscimus, per hunc in invisibilium amorem rapiamur – In Him we see our God made visible, and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see (Preface of Christmas).

We must endeavor, therefore, to cultivate this spiritual “second-sight”. It is the secret of the saints, for whom this world is not an obstacle between their souls and God, but a living image, a resplendent mirror of His goodness and beauty. It is this great Reality, so utterly beyond our conception, that the Incarnation made possible: that by loving and imitating Jesus incarnate, we love and imitate God Himself.

12 December 2009

Third Sunday of Advent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Zephaniah 3:14-18a

The prophet Zephaniah whose name means "the watchman of the Lord" or "the hidden of the Lord" is offering something a little different from what most of his prophecies contain. Much of what is written from Zephaniah deals with punishments for idolatry and the destruction of nations. This Reading turns away from an atmosphere of condemnation and invites us to shout for joy, sing joyfully, be glad and exult and not be discouraged.

Today, much like the time this Reading was written, there are many things that could tempt us to be just the opposite. Zephaniah proclaims: "The Lord has removed the judgment against you." In the Septuagint the word "judgment" is translated to mean "iniquities." This prophecy also tells us that the Lord will renew us in His love. The Latin translates to mean "the Lord will be silent in His love." This is an interesting translation because the silence means that the Lord will no longer accuse us.

As we journey towards Christmas this Reading tells us that the King of Israel, the Lord, will be in our midst. Christmas is coming of which we celebrate God clothing Himself in Flesh. Shout for joy, sing joyfully indeed! Jesus has washed away our iniquities and turned away our enemies which are sin and death. Trust is so important in our spiritual life. As we continue to live in this valley of tears, if we trust in the Lord, our joy can never be taken away.

Second Reading, Philippians 4:4-7

The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as "Gaudete" Sunday, a Latin word meaning "Rejoice." Before the revision of the Mass the Introit was "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always). This Reading from Saint Paul was always included on Gaudete Sunday.

The final verse is a most comforting way to close by assuring us that God's peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. These last two verses really make a case for the harmonious relationship between prayer and peace. Through constant prayer we remain close to our Lord Who is our eternal Peace. And when embraced in His Peace there is no anxiety. Instead, rejoicing becomes a way of life.

This was the secret to Saint Paul's endurance; this was the secret known by so many of the great saints. In relationship to the season of Advent, there is cause for rejoicing. Quickly approaching is the day that eternal Joy and Peace was born of the Virgin Mary.

Gospel, Luke 3:10-18

In this Gospel you could almost say that John the Baptist is a figure of the Church; or at least he is doing what the Church is charged with: Preaching, evangelizing and doing the Lord's work. He begins by saying: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Charity is at the heart of all evangelizing and more specifically this verse is directed at charitable works towards the poor. The Church today is deeply involved with this mission with projects like food and clothing drives at local parishes, feeding the poor at soup kitchens as well as Religious Orders that are called to be on the front lines like Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Saint Basil points out that charity to the poor is frequently recommended in Scripture as a powerful method of redeeming sin and reconciling us to Divine Mercy. Along those same lines Saint John Chrysostom refers to the poor as physicians, and their hands are an ointment for our wounds.

John the Baptist next aims his preaching at tax collectors and soldiers who had reputations of conducting themselves in ways that were less than ethical. Evangelizing and proclaiming the way of the Lord sometimes unfortunately, means pointing out what is not proper. Today, our culture has its own laundry list of things that are not in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. But even this uncomfortable duty of pointing these things out is done with charity. It is not done in a way of judgment, but instead it is done out of Christ-like love and concern for those who are heading down an ill-advised path.

All were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. Wouldn't it be wonderful if others thought the same about us? John is not the Christ and neither are we but we have a similar role. We are voices. Saint Augustine says: "John was a voice, but in the beginning was the Word. Take away the Word and what is a voice? When it conveys no meaning, it is just an empty sound." John, in humility, was quick to point out that He is not the Christ but a voice in the wilderness crying out: "Prepare the way of the Lord." And "preparing the way" means to make zealous and humble efforts to proclaim Jesus Christ as the conqueror of the world and the joy of our hearts and souls with the hope that others will also accept Him and invite Him to possess their hearts and souls. And a humble effort means first to acknowledge our own failings.

Saint Bernard actually spoke of not two, but a three-fold coming of Christ. The first is His birth; another is the final coming at the end of time; and the remaining one is hidden. The hidden coming is Christ dwelling within us. It is this indwelling that we are deputed to exhibit to a world that desperately needs Him.

Trusting in Her Tenderness

Most Holy Mother of Guadalupe,
who have shown your love
and your tenderness to the peoples of the American continent,

fill with joy and hope all the peoples and families of the world.
We entrust to you,
who go before us and guide us on our journey of faith
towards the eternal Homeland,
the joys, the plans, the anxieties
and the desires of all families.

O Mary,
to you we turn, trusting in your tenderness as Mother.
Do not ignore the prayers we address to you
for the whole world's families
in this crucial period in history; instead,
welcome us all in your heart as
Mother and guide us on our way towards the heavenly Homeland.


Pope Benedict XVI

11 December 2009

The Lord Finds Rest in the Hearts of the Meek

The words below are excerpted from “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” by Saint John Climacus. Saint John was a late sixth-century, early-to-mid-seventh-century hermit who early in his life left the world for solitude near Mount Sinai, where at the foot of that mountain he lived in a hermitage, studied the Christian virtues, the lives of the saints and lived a life of penance with mortifications. Late in his life the monks at Sinai wanted John Climacus to be their abbot to which he agreed. He did this for about four years before retiring to his hermitage. In this particular excerpt you’ll see the name of Paul the Simple. If you’re unfamiliar with him, Paul was a disciple of Saint Anthony of the desert. Paul searched for Anthony because he wanted to become a monk after he discovered that his wife was unfaithful to him. Under the tutelage of Anthony, Paul would eventually receive miraculous graces, one of which he successfully performed an exorcism on a demonic spirit that not even Saint Anthony was able to exorcise.

Meekness is the precursor of all humility, as the light of dawn comes before the sun. Listen to the Lord, our Light, with the order these virtues enter into the soul: “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of Heart” (Matthew 11:29). Thus, before gazing at the sun of humility we must let the light of meekness flow over us. The true order of these virtues teaches us that we cannot contemplate the sun until we have first become accustomed to the light.

Meekness is a consistent mind amid honor or dishonor. Meekness prays for a neighbor quietly and sincerely however troublesome he may be. Meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger that breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved. Meekness is the bulwark of patience, the door, indeed the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment. For it is said: “The Lord will teach His ways to the meek (Psalm 24:9). Meekness earns pardon for our sins and gives confidence to our prayers. Meekness makes a place for the Holy Spirit Who has spoken through Isaiah: “To whom shall I look if not the meek and the peaceful?” (Isaiah 66:2).

Meekness reinforces obedience, is a guide for brotherly love, curbs impulsiveness, appeases anger, is a source for joy and is the imitation of Christ. Meekness is a characteristic of the angels, it shackles demons, and is a shield against bitterness. The Lord finds rest in the hearts of the meek while the turbulent spirit is the home of the devil. According to the Gospel, the meek shall inherit the earth (cf. Matthew 5:4), indeed, rule over it; and the bad-tempered shall be carried off as a booty from their land.

The meek soul is a throne of simplicity but a wrathful mind is a creator of evil. A gentle soul will make a place for wise words since the “Lord will guide the meek in judgment” (Psalm 24:9), or rather, in discretion. The upright soul is the companion of humility while an evil one is the daughter of pride. The meek souls shall be filled with wisdom while the angry mind will cohabit with darkness and ignorance.

If you wish to draw the Lord to you, approach Him as disciples to a Master, in all simplicity, without duplicity, but openly and honestly. He wants the souls that come to Him to be simple and pure. You will never see simplicity separated from humility.

The evil man is a false prophet. He imagines that from words he can catch thoughts, and from outward appearances the truth of the heart.

I have seen good souls turn to evil by the example of evil people, and it amazed me that they could so quickly shed their natural simplicity and innocence. It is as easy for the honest to lapse as it is difficult for evildoers to change for the better. But a genuine turning away from the world for a life of obedience and silence has wonderfully healed wounds that seemed incurable.

If knowledge can cause most people to become vain, then perhaps a lack of learning contributes to humility. Paul the Simple was a shining example to us. He was the measure of blessed simplicity, and no one has ever seen or heard, or could see so much progress in so short of a time.

A simple monk is a rational and obedient animal. He lays his burden on his superior; and like the animal who never answers back to the master who yokes him, so the upright soul does not talk back to his superior. Instead he follows where he is directed to go to the utmost sacrifice for God.

“It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom” (Matthew 19:23). It is also too hard for the foolishly wise to enter simplicity. A lapse often saves the clever man, bringing him salvation and innocence in spite of himself.

Fight to escape from your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

10 December 2009

A Virtuous Woman

Many changes occurred in the Roman Breviary during the 1900’s starting at 1911. The feast of the Immaculate Conception used to be celebrated with an Octave. This permission first began with Pope Clement IX when he granted this favor to France, and later that permission was extended to the universal Church by Pope Innocent XII, although not privileged -- meaning that other feasts were also celebrated within those eight days. This lasted until changes were made in 1955. For that eight day period, in the early twentieth-century Roman Breviary, most of those days at the hour of Matins for the Second Nocturn contained extracts from “Ineffabilis Deus,” the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX in December of 1854 which declared that “in the first instance of her conception,” Mary “was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” In fact, also in that Apostolic Constitution, the Holy Father wrote: “Moreover, Our said Predecessors with great joy ordained that the Feast of the said Conception should be observed as of the same rank as that of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and appointed that it should be kept with an Octave throughout the whole Church.” Well, those days may be gone but some interesting reflections were contained in the Breviary during those eight days at the hour of Matins in the Third Nocturn. Today would have been Day Three within the Octave and what was in the Roman Breviary is this Homily from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Rejoice, father Adam, and you even more mother Eve, you who are the source of all, and the ruin of all, and the unhappy cause of their ruin before you gave them birth. Be comforted both in your Daughter, and such a Daughter; but chiefly you, O woman, of whom the first evil came, and who has cast your slur upon all women. The time has come for the slur to be taken away, and for the man to have nothing to say against the woman. At first, when he unwisely began to make an excuse, he did not scruple to throw the blame upon her, saying: The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. Wherefore, O Eve, betake yourself to Mother Mary, betake yourself to your Daughter; let the Daughter answer for the mother; let her take away her mother's reproach; let her make up to her father for her mother's fault for if man is fallen by means of a woman, it is by means of Woman that he is raised up again.

What did you say, O Adam? The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. These are wrathful words, by which you would rather magnify than diminish your offence. Nevertheless, Wisdom has defeated your malice. God asked you that He might find in you an occasion of pardon, but, in that He did not find it, He has sought and found it in the Treasure of His own mercy. One woman answers for another; the wise for the foolish; the lowly for the proud; for her that gave to you from the tree of death, another that gives to you to taste from the tree of life; for her that brought you the bitter food of sin, another that gives you from the sweet fruits of righteousness. Wherefore accuse the woman no more, but speak in thanksgiving, and say: Lord, the Woman whom You have given to me, she has given to me from the tree of life, and I have eaten; and it is in my mouth sweeter than honey, for thereby You have quickened me. Behold, it was for this that the angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin, to the most admirable of women, a Woman more wonderful than all women, the restorer of those that went before, and the one that quickens those that come after her.

Is it not of this your Daughter, O Adam, that God spoke of when He said to the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the Woman? And if you will still doubt that He speaks of Mary, hear what follows: She shall bruise your head. Who won this conquest but Mary? She brought to nothing all the wiles of Satan, whether for the pollution of her body or the injury of her soul. Was it not of her that Solomon spoke of when he said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? He had read that God had promised that the enemy, who had prevailed by means of a woman, was by a Woman to be overthrown, and he believed. But he wondered greatly, and said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? That is to say: If our salvation, and the bringing back of that which is lost, and the final triumph over the enemy, is in the hands of a Woman, it must be that a virtuous Woman has been found, prepared to work in that matter.

09 December 2009

The Immaculate Virgin's Example of Meekness

“Meek among mankind” is how our Blessed Lady is described in the praises of her evening Office. Everything that Mary is comes from God and reflects God as in a mirror. And like us, she is a creature which should make her example compelling to meditate upon and deeply immerse ourselves in. Meekness is the topic of this Carthusian monk's reflection and is most appropriate for the season of Advent as well as for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception which the Church celebrated yesterday.

Virgo singularis, inter omnes mitis (Virgin all excelling, meek among mankind)… It is thus that Mary is described in the hymn we say every day (Ave Maris Stella, Vespers of Our Lady), and it is concerning her meekness that I would meditate with you for a few moments.

The Gospel tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth; but it also reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and that the violent shall bear it away (cf. Matthew 11:12). The paradox disappears when we realize that in this spiritual warfare we must be meek towards others, but violent in the unhesitating promptitude with which we answer the call of divine love. It is exactly the opposite of what the unspiritual man does. He is brutal towards others, but interiorly without any zeal for justice or passion for truth. The violence of the spiritual man is inseparable from his meekness, which is quickly lost if he does not know how to meet with a categorical refusal the lie which hides itself in all excuses or softness towards oneself. To dismiss all interior discussion with a Yes or No, that resoluteness which our Lord recommends to us, is the very first condition that must be fulfilled if the soul is to disentangle itself and be given the marvelous grace of meekness.

This virtue which distinguished our Blessed Lady among all women, cannot but be a most necessary virtue. Note first that Mary’s meekness is, as it were, a reflection of God’s. Mary is, indeed, a pure mirror, so free from all shadow of self, that the divine Essence finds its perfection fully reflected in her humility. That is why the Immaculate Virgin can be an object of contemplation, since her purity so mirrors that of God that we see Him, Who is Pure Act in her.

For meekness is a disposition truly divine. Violence proceeds from an authority conscious of its weakness. God has no need to break us in order to impose His will; His meekness is only another name for His all-powerfulness. Mary, on the other hand, is all-obedient, and it is in her total abandonment that she comes very close to God’s omnipotence. To abandon all pretensions to self-love without a struggle; to consent quietly to all that is asked of us: it is this that makes us resemble Mary, and allows us to partake of her graciousness and power. For God refuses us nothing – provided we abandon ourselves to Him with all our heart.

Meekness towards creatures is the result of patience and of respect for them. It has been said of meekness that it is the crown of the Christian virtues: indeed almost more than a virtue. It is, indeed, a unique grace, which penetrates one’s whole being, and influences one’s whole conduct; it even extends its influence to beings lower than man, to things inanimate. A meek person does even the simplest things in a different way from those who are not meek. Wisdom is meek; so too is understanding, since one must necessarily respect an object if one is to understand it. What is more, meekness implies sympathy; it wrests their secret from beings who would withdraw into themselves in face of impulsiveness as they would from violence. Meekness is both virginal and maternal; without it the approach to souls can never be deep or effective.

We have said that meekness is the fruit of patience and of respect – of patience above all. A soul will not be meek unless it is firmly resolved repeatedly to forgo its rights, and to suffer continuously, at times cruelly. On the other hand, it is true that meekness disarms our adversaries, and robs suffering of its venom. Our suffering, for the most part, comes from revolt, from a want of adaptability and abandonment.

It is true that we must do violence to ourselves if we would cease to be violent; but in a manner more general and profound, the respect and patience which, in imitation of Mary and even of God Himself, we must acquire in our relations with others, we have need of also towards ourselves. We need much patience with our own soul, to say nothing of the body. All the natural energy in the world will not enable us to change to any appreciable degree the character, unsatisfactory as it is in general, which our nature and upbringing have provided for us (cf. Matthew 6:27). But anyone who recognizes himself frankly for what he is, who by that fact alone is freed from the temptation to criticize others, and who in spite of his self-knowledge does not omit to renew his effort every day, keeping his eyes fixed on God, persevering for God’s sake alone and counting solely on His bounty – such a one, I say, does more than grow better; he leaves and abandons himself to God, to Whom such loving humility gives more glory than all success. Each one of us must respect his soul, remembering that it comes from God and belongs lovingly to Him; welcoming the action of the Holy Spirit in it, whatever form that action may take. The soul is so delicate that only God can handle it.

Let us, then, beg our Blessed Lady something of her meekness. It is she who shields us for God, and makes us chaste in the highest sense: that is to say, free from all resistance, awaiting the coming of our Spouse.

07 December 2009

The Example of Saint John the Baptist

Saint Gregory, Pope and Doctor of the Church gave a homily at the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist during Advent. This particular part extracted from it is about John the Baptist. It kind of prods us to examine who we are and what we do to prepare the way for Jesus: Am I a voice that precedes the Word or am I a voice which proudly attempts to overpower the Word? Do I try to make crooked paths straight? If I use my gifts well, do I take credit for them or am I prepared to proclaim that there is “One mightier than I?” Do I really try to get out of the way of myself and let Christ increase in my life? These and other questions are intimated for self-examination of conscience.

John the Baptist, being asked who he was, replied saying: “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” who is called a “voice” by the prophet, because he preceded the Word. What the voice was to cry is made plain: “Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.” Everyone that preaches true faith and good works, what does he do but prepare the way of the Lord so that He may come into the hearts of hearers, and may make straight the path for God, forming right dispositions within them by the words of exhortations, so that this power of pardon may enter in there, and the light of truth shine there.

“Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low.” What is here meant by valleys unless the humble, and by the hills and mountains the proud? At the Coming of the Redeemer, therefore, the valleys shall be filled, the mountains and hills brought low, according to His Word: “Everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

As water falls away from the mountain, so the words of truth forsake the mind of the proud. But springs well up in the vales because the minds of the humble accept the words of prophecy. We already behold, we already look upon the valleys abounding in corn, because the mouths of those who are mild and gentle and who seem to the world contemptible, are now filled with the food of truth.

Because they had seen that he was endowed with rare holiness, the people began to believe that John the Baptist was that high and solid mountain of which it had been written: “And it came to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord, shall be prepared in the top of the mountains.” For they began to think that he was the Christ, as the Gospel relates. But unless that same John was a valley in himself, he would not have been filled with the Holy Spirit; who, that he might show who he truly was, said: “There comes One mightier than I, the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”

“He must increase but I must decrease.” Here we must ask in what manner Christ increased, and in what manner John decreased. In the minds of the people Christ increased, because He came to be acknowledged for that which He was; and John was decreased because he ceased to be thought that which he was not. John did not change, but remained steadfast in holiness, because he remained humble in his heart, while many in like circumstances have fallen away because in their vanity they had become blown up through some vain notion.

“The crooked ways shall be made straight and the rough ways plain.” Crooked ways become straight when the hearts of sinners, twisted by evil, conform to the way of righteousness. And rough ways are changed to smooth when cruel and wrathful men turn to the mildness of clemency, through the infusion of heavenly grace.

“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Since all flesh means every man, and in this life every man cannot see the salvation God, which is Christ, where then does the prophet in this sentence turn his prophetic vision unless towards the day of the last judgment? Then, with opened eyes, in the presence of the adoring angels, and of the apostles seated there, Christ will appear upon His Throne of Majesty, and all, the elect and the reprobate, shall behold Him; the elect that they may without end enjoy the possession of their reward, the reprobate to grieve forever in the torment of retribution.

05 December 2009

Chosen from the Boundless Crowd of Humanity

These wonderful thoughts about our Blessed Lady come from a monk, ascetic and writer of the Carthusian Order named, Ioannes Iustus Lanspergius. This is the Latinized name of John Gerecht of Landsberg. His name, however, most often appears simply as “Lanspergius.” He lived in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. He was born in Bavaria, Germany. He joined the Carthusian Order at twenty years of age after studying philosophy at the University of Cologne. After spending ten years in Cologne he was made Prior of the Charterhouse of Cantave. Along with his duties as Prior, he gave himself completely to God in prayer, asceticism, mysticism and writing. In this post, Lanspergius plunges deeper into Sacred Scripture, most specifically the scene of the Annunciation. We can see the mind of a contemplative at work in how this is written.

The good and gracious Creator became intolerant in seeing man fall into the abyss. Overcome by inexpressible mercy, He sent an angel, chosen among the most worthy, the archangel Gabriel – to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.

The angel came into the house which was inhabited by the parents of the future Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin, who had now returned from the temple, and was betrothed to Saint Joseph.

The angel then appeared to the Virgin. And what a Virgin! A Virgin in body and having the pure soul of an angel; a Virgin whose beauty is so bright, that the King of heaven, the Son of the Most High, would have her for His Mother, choosing her from the boundless crowd of humanity.

The angel came to greet the Virgin and bring a message from God – an unheard of message – no words of this kind had ever been brought to the earth until that day.

It is written that the angel came to her. But where did He enter? Mary had withdrawn to her father’s residence, sitting in her small bedroom, totally absorbed in entreating God to free humanity. She was immersed in divine contemplation and was completely suspended in God as her spirit remained closely united to Him constantly, due to the extraordinary purity of her heart. For as often as she wished, she could move towards the Almighty through contemplation.

And so, there she sat, earnestly beseeching the Lord to send into the land the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. The angel enters into the room where Mary is devoted only to God, by herself, absorbed. Gabriel turns with the utmost respect towards her who is about to become the Mother of God, and greets her: Hail, full of grace.

Hail, full of grace. You are free from every stain, even the slightest shadow. You’re so perfectly beautiful and Immaculate that nothing in you has ever displeased God.

Grace has invaded you and you possess it completely. The Lord is with you, in you the Trinity dwells, and not in an ordinary manner, but in a special way. The Lord is pleased with you, He created you and enjoys dwelling in you always, enamored by your beauty. He has completely enveloped you, protecting you from the invasion of the enemy. The Lord is always with you, He strengthens you, surrounds you with His grace which will never abandon you.

Almighty God has prepared in you a worthy and adequate dwelling for His Son, Who wished to be born in your lap.

Blessed are you among women, among all creatures. The sweetness of God you have received with so many blessings that the Omnipotent Creator decreed to be your Son. The Immense One desired to be born like a child, thanks to you.

Blessed are you among women, you who enjoy the honor of virginity and are the Mother of the Almighty.

Unique among all women you have conceived without the stain of sin and without suffering. This conception made you even more pure and more holy.

You have favor with God. I know that your bewilderment and your fear are not from defects, but are the fragrant flowers of your virtues. With certainty you have found favor with God, appreciated and likened unto Him beyond measure.

Your eminent virtues, your continuous prayer, and the fire of your love has asked for and obtained His grace.

Blessed are you, Mary, for you have received not the grace of men, but of God.

04 December 2009

Advent: the Expectation of the Eternal

Now that we’ve entered into the season of Advent and a new liturgical year, if you haven’t read this already, here are some of our Holy Father’s words he spoke when he kicked off the Advent season for the Church with First Vespers. His homily speaks of presence, that is, the presence of the Lord – “to contemplate the Lord present.” For those with a monastic heart, most appealing are Pope Benedict’s words about pausing “in silence to understand a presence.” He also spoke of keeping “an interior journal” every time one gets a glimpse of our Lord’s love. Monastic hearts are listeners, and our Holy Father reminds us that our Lord “speaks to us in many ways,” and also important in that relationship, “He always listens to us.” As Advent is the “expectation of the eternal,” it is thus a period of “an interiorized joy.” Here is an excerpt of Pope Benedict’s homily.

The meaning of the expression "advent"… includes that of visitatio, which simply and specifically means "visit"; in this case it is a question of a visit from God: He enters my life and wishes to speak to me. In our daily lives we all experience having little time for the Lord and also little time for ourselves. We end by being absorbed in "doing". Is it not true that activities often absorb us and that society with its multiple interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we devote a lot of time to entertainment and to various kinds of amusement? At times we get carried away. Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention He has for each one of us. How often does God give us a glimpse of His love! To keep, as it were, an "interior journal" of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord present. Should not the certainty of His presence help us see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to consider the whole of our life as a "visit", as a way in which He can come to us and become close to us in every situation?

Dear brothers and sisters, let us experience intensely the present in which we already receive the gifts of the Lord, let us live it focused on the future, a future charged with hope. In this manner Christian Advent becomes an opportunity to reawaken within ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah Who was expected for long centuries and was born in poverty, in Bethlehem. In coming among us, He brought us and continues to offer us the gift of His love and His salvation. Present among us, He speaks to us in many ways: in Sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in the whole of the creation whose aspect changes according to whether Christ is behind it or whether He is obscured by the fog of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future. We in turn may speak to Him, presenting to Him the suffering that afflicts us, our impatience, the questions that well up in our hearts. We may be sure that He always listens to us! And if Jesus is present, there is no longer any time that lacks meaning or is empty. If He is present, we may continue to hope, even when others can no longer assure us of any support, even when the present becomes trying.

Dear friends, Advent is the season of the presence and expectation of the eternal. For this very reason, it is in a particular way a period of joy, an interiorized joy that no suffering can diminish. It is joy in the fact that God made Himself a Child. This joy, invisibly present within us, encourages us to journey on with confidence. A model and support of this deep joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom we were given the Infant Jesus. May she, a faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace of living this liturgical season alert and hardworking, while we wait. Amen!

03 December 2009

Sinful, Deserving Punishment... and yet a Temple of God

This piece comes from the heart and mind of Guigo de Ponte and his work titled, “De Contemplatione.” Guigo de Ponte was a monk of Chartreuse and this thirteenth-century writing in its original was in Latin. The English translation was done by Dennis D. Martin, a teacher of historical theology and Church history. This particular work was not widely known or distributed. It was, however, influential to another Carthusian writer, Ludolph of Saxony, as well as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Three names are mentioned in this piece, two of whom are well-known, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and Saint Anthony, while the other perhaps is not so familiar to many, Hugh of Saint Victor. Hugh was a theologian, philosopher and a writer on Christian mysticism. He was the author of several influential works in the twelfth century. This post from the writings of Guigo de Ponte focuses on the human soul, her contemplative and active natures, and that she is a temple of God, even though she is sinful.

A soul which truly has both the contemplative and the active is not unjustly called a temple of God, a royal court, angelic, divine, the bride of Christ, and similar things. Saint Anthony was such a person.

Discipline is especially pertinent to the active life, and, as Hugh of Saint Victor says, “Discipline of God consists of three things, namely in commandments, in temptations, and in afflictions. In commandments God tests your obedience, in temptation he tests your steadiness, and in afflictions he tests your patience.”

Then too the godly spirit herself, shut off from exterior concerns and thoughts and adorned inwardly with holy virtues, is a temple of God, a royal court, a nuptial chamber, and a regal and fragrant apartment.

Because she invisibly receives the good wine poured into her, the wine of divine graces flowing into her from on High, she is beyond doubt also a wine cellar: The King brought me into His wine cellar (Song of Songs 2:4), that is, He gives the grace of returning to one’s heart (cf. Isaiah 46:8) so that one’s inward ears might hear what the Lord God will speak within me, for He will speak peace to His people and to those who are converted to the heart (Psalm 84 [85]:9).

Yet the godly spirit is called a temple of God or wine cellar and the like, not out of arrogance or presumption but because of the unspeakable dignity of the heavenly King. Far from diminishing that dignity, God’s application of these names to man actually highlights God’s glory.

To keep from becoming proud, the faithful soul should always remain aware of and keep in view what she is in her own right, using discipline to own up to these lowly things even while she renders to God the things of God (cf. Matthew 22:21) that God has given her. For just as the tent of Kedar (cf. Song of Songs 1:4 [5]), as far as she is concerned, is sinful, weak, muddy, given to vices, deserving the punishment of eternal damnation, subject to countless traps, so also by grace of divine dignity and of her divine espousal she is a light in the Lord, justified by faith, strong, clean, and virtuous in the Lord Who frees and rescues our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from the fall (cf. Psalm 114:8 [116:8]).

She should faithfully and constantly offer all these things, both the good and the bad, to the Creator through worthy consideration. As Bernard says of the human person, “How lowly! How sublime! A tent of Kedar yet also a sanctuary of God, a terrestrial habitation yet a celestial palace, a house of clay yet also a royal apartment, a mortal body yet a temple of light, a source of contempt to the proud yet also a bride of Christ” (Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo XXVII).

Thus the godly spirit is the temple of God, the daughter of the Prince; she is not only a dark wine cellar but a well-lit chamber. For in this stage a certain divine light reflects back to her and in its brilliance she sees well enough to walk in that state, to walk in the midst of her gloom, indeed, sometimes, to step beyond her gloominess until in that reflected light she can see the Supreme and Eternal Light (cf. Psalm 35:10 [36:9]).

02 December 2009

When Eternity is at Stake

This reflection was written by the Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier. It really allows us to take a peak into some Carthusian gems concerning our Blessed Lady. There is some namedropping in this writing which gives us a rare opportunity to read about some Carthusians who have had personal experiences with our Blessed Mother. Unless we were in the Order, these are monks that otherwise we probably would never hear of. Most likely, Dom Louis Rouvier’s intention was that this was to be shared only with his own and other Carthusian Houses. But his thoughts here have found their way outside of monastery walls. There is one name, however, that is mentioned who has some accolades outside of the Order, and that is Dom Henry Kalkar. He was also a writer in the Carthusian Order and was the Prior of several Charterhouses in Germany. He died at 80 years of age in the year 1408 where he was serving as Prior of Cologne. Dom Louis Rouvier, in this writing, also shares some Carthusian prayer customs. The main theme of this reflection is death, and how a strong devotion to our Lady doesn’t come to full fruition until that most mysterious moment of transition from this life into eternity.

“In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth; in me is hope of all life and virtue” (Ecclesiasticus 24:25). These words the Church puts on the lips of our Lady in her Office that we say every day. It is at death and only at death that devotion to Mary receives its final fruit. Thus it is particularly with this moment in view that we address to the Queen of Heaven our most ardent entreaties. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us… now… and at the hour of our death.

In our Carthusian liturgy, five times a day, in the hymn of her Office, the… religious repeat to the most powerful Protectress of the dying, the words:

Per tuum, Virgo Filium,
Per Partem, per Paracletum,
Adsis prœsens ab obitum,
Nostrum muni exitum.

O Virgin, by your Son,
By the Father, and the Holy Spirit
Receive our last breath
And protect us at our departure from this world.

What has been her response to a plea made to her name of all that is dearest to her heart?

In this prayer, so frequently renewed, is largely the secret of the interior peace which most always surrounds the death of a Carthusian. Often enough in the course of the ages, God has revealed by exterior signs the efficacy of this assiduous recourse to her who is called Consoler of the Afflicted (Litany of Our Lady).

First, there is the incident recorded in our annals of the professed monk of the Charterhouse of Vallis Christi in Spain, Dom Giles de Bidon, who had the happiness of leading two Moslems to the Christian faith. As he lay dying, a third follower of the Prophet, whom he had tried in vain to convert, entered his cell. The good monk earnestly recommended him to our Blessed Lady, who at that moment had appeared to him to announce his approaching death. Suddenly, touched by grace, the follower of the Prophet asked for baptism, and Dom Giles breathed his last breath in a rapture of gratitude for the supreme consolation granted him (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume II).

Dom James Saline of the Charterhouse of Porta Cœli, near Valencia, loved to address his Mother often with this greeting: Salve, Sancta Parens (Introit of the Mass of Our Lady). Now, three days before he died, it being a Wednesday, when the community had gathered around him to assist him with their prayer, he said: “Do not be anxious, dear Fathers, I shall not die until next Saturday when you are singing the Salve, Sancta Parens.” And so it came about. At the Introit of the conventual Mass, it being the Mass of Our Lady, as the first words of the Introit were being sung, the soul of the Father took flight (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume III).

Dom Cyril Abendaño, a monk of Vallis Christi, after receiving the Last Sacraments, was transported in spirit, as he himself related after coming out of his rapture, to the Spring called Ribas, which gushes forth at the foot of a mountain, at the summit of which is found a grotto where there is a statue of the Madonna. “Our Lady of the Grotto,” he said, “purify me in the fountain.” At that, he came to himself, filled, as he said, with heavenly consolations. And as he lay dying, he had the strength to sing the Salve Regina, and the prayer Sub tuum præsidium (We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God). His last prayer was: “O Maria, absque peccati originalis labe concepta… O Mary, conceived without sin.”

O most beloved Mother of the Carthusians, continue to grant to the sons of Saint Bruno your assistance at the hour when their eternity is at stake. Extend to all the Houses of the Order the favor which you declared to a novice of the Charterhouse of Montrieux. “I promise,” you told him, “the religious of this House that they will all enjoy in their last moments the perfect purity of conscience, and that they will fall asleep with tranquility and in peace” (Molin: Historia Cartusiana, Volume I). For all our brethren still suffering in exile, we address to you, O heavenly Mother, this prayer which you yourself taught to one of your most devout servants, Dom Henry Kalkar: “O Queen of virgins, surpassing Tabernacle of the august Trinity, Mirror of the angels, Ladder of saints, and sure Refuge of sinners – behold our distress, O loving Mother, and pray for us now and in the hour of our death. Amen” (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Volume IV).