30 January 2010

The Mystery of Septuagesima

For many monastic communities as well as those who attend the Extraordinary Form of Mass, this evening at First Vespers will begin the time of Septuagesima. It is a Latin term which means “seventieth” signifying seventy days until Easter, although that is not literally true. The time of Septuagesima is intended to be a time of preparation for the season of Lent. Without Septuagesima, it is difficult for us creatures and our weaknesses, to dive into a period of mourning and penance beginning with Ash Wednesday; a time of preparation seems fitting. During this time of preparation, at Mass purple vestments are worn and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is absent; at Matins the Te Deum is not said unless there is a feast. The scriptural Readings or Lessons at Matins are from the beginning of the book Genesis, recalling man’s fall from grace. The “alleluia” is omitted from both Mass and Office. The Benedictine priest and abbot of Abbaye de Solesmes, Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger (1805-1875), explains this preparatory period in detail in “The Liturgical Year.” Here’s an excerpt.

The Season, upon which we are now entering, is expressive of several profound mysteries. But these mysteries belong not only to the three weeks, which are preparatory to Lent; they continue throughout the whole period of time, which separates us from the great Feast of Easter. The number seven is the basis of all these mysteries. Let us listen to Saint Augustine, who thus gives us the clue to the whole of our Season’s mysteries. “There are two times, one which is now, and is spent in the temptations and tribulations of this life; the other which shall be then, and shall be spent in eternal security and joy. In figure of these, we celebrate two periods: the time ‘before Easter’ and the time ‘after Easter.’ That which is ‘before Easter,’ signifies the sorrow of this present life; that which is ‘after Easter,’ the blessedness of our future state. Hence it is, that we spend the first in fasting and prayer; and in the second, we give up our fasting, and give ourselves to praise.”

The Church, the interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures, often speaks to us of two places, which correspond with these two times of Saint Augustine. These two places are Babylon and Jerusalem. Babylon is the image of this world of sin, in the midst whereof the Christian has to spend his years of probation; Jerusalem is the heavenly country, where he is to repose after all his trials. The people of Israel, whose whole history is but one great type of the human race, was banished from Jerusalem and kept in bondage in Babylon.

Now, this captivity, which kept the Israelites’ exiles from Zion, lasted seventy years; and it is to express this mystery that the Church fixed the number of Seventy for the days of expiation. It is true, there are but sixty-three days between Septuagesima and Easter; but the Church, according to the style so continually used in the Sacred Scriptures, uses the round number instead of the literal and precise one.

After the Septuagesima of mourning, we shall have the bright Easter with its Seven weeks of gladness, foreshadowing the happiness and bliss of Heaven. After having fasted with our Jesus, and suffered with Him, the day will come when we shall rise together with Him, and our hearts shall follow Him to the highest heavens, and then after a brief interval, we shall feel descending upon us the Holy Spirit, with His Seven Gifts. The celebration of all these wondrous joys will take us Seven weeks, as the great Liturgists observe in their interpretation of the Rites of the Church: the seven joyous weeks from Easter to Pentecost will not be too long for the future glad Mysteries, which, after all, will be but figures of a still gladder future, the future of eternity.

Having heard these sweet whisperings of hope, let us now bravely face the realities brought before us by our dear Mother the Church. We are sojourners upon this earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots our ruin. If we love our country, if we long to return to it, we must be proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives. She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river’s bank, till the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem. There must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage, or we shall deserve to be slaves forever.

These are the sentiments wherewith the Church would inspire us, during the penitential Season, which we are now beginning. She wishes us to reflect on the dangers that beset us, dangers which arise from our own selves, and from creatures. During the rest of the year, she loves to hear us chant the song of heaven, the sweet Alleluia! -- but now, she bids us close our lips to this word of joy, because we are in Babylon. Let us keep our glad hymn for the day of His return. We are sinners, and have but too often held fellowship with the world of God’s enemies; let us become purified by repentance.

29 January 2010

Avoiding Shipwrecks

We’re familiar with the Gospel accounts of when Jesus stepped into a boat and His disciples followed; and then a great storm arose which caused the disciples to be fearful, while through it all Jesus slept. And finally the disciples woke Him up and He calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-40, & Luke 8:22-25). Saint Augustine splendidly applies these Gospel accounts to the storms of life which we all face from time-to-time. Here’s what he wrote.

Have you received an insult, it is the wind: are you provoked to anger, it is the buffeting of the waves. As the wind rises, and the waves mount up, your ship is in peril; your heart is buffeted by waves, your soul is endangered. Swift on the insult you are eager for revenge: and lo you are revenged, and yielding to a new disaster, you are shipwrecked. And why? Because in you Christ sleeps. What does this mean: in you Christ sleeps? It means you have forgotten Christ. Then awaken Christ, bring Him to mind; let Christ keep watch in you: look upon Him.

What was it you desired? To be revenged. Has it gone from your memory what He said while they crucified Him: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). He Who was sleeping in your heart sought not to be revenged. Awaken Him, remember Him. Remembrance of Him is remembrance of His words: and to remember Him is to obey Him. And should Christ awaken in you, you will say to yourself: What kind of man am I that I should seek to be revenged? Who am I that I should utter threats against another?

It may be that I shall die before I can be revenged. And when breathing my last, on fire with anger, thirsting for revenge, I go forth from this body, He shall not receive me Who desired no revenge: He shall not receive me Who said: Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:37-38). Therefore shall I bridle my anger, and return to the peace of my heart. Christ commanded the sea, and there came a great calm.

28 January 2010


The principle of every good is in this: the law of love is the source of spiritual life. It is a natural and manifest fact that the loving heart is inhabited by what it loves. Whoever loves God possesses Him within. “Who dwells in charity dwells in God and God in him” (1 John 4:16). The nature of love transforms whoever loves into the beloved being. If we love God we will be completely divine. “Whoever is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Without charity, the soul no longer acts: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). If a person possesses all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but lacks charity, that person has no life. For it matters not whether one has the grace of tongues, or the gift of faith, or any other gift such as prophecy; these do not bring life without charity. Even if a dead body should be adorned with gold and precious jewels, it nevertheless remains dead. Charity leads to the observance of the divine commandments. Charity is present if one is occupied with great things; but if one is not so occupied, charity is not present. We see a lover do great and difficult things because of the One loved, and that is why the Lord says, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My word” (John 14:23). Whoever keeps this command and the law of divine love fulfills the whole law. Charity provides protection against adversity. Misfortune cannot harm one who has charity; rather it becomes useful to that person. Misfortune and difficulties seem pleasant to the lover. Charity truly leads to happiness, since eternal blessedness is promised only to those who have charity. For all other things are insufficient without charity. You must note that it is only the different degrees of charity, and not those of any other virtues, which constitute the different degrees of blessedness. Many of the saints were more abstemious than the apostles, but the apostles excel all the other saints in blessedness because of their higher degree of charity.

~Saint Thomas Aquinas~

27 January 2010

Victory is at Hand

Dom Maurice Chauncy, writer of “The Passion and Martyrdom of the Holy English Carthusian Fathers,” was a sixteenth-century English Carthusian monk. In 1535 and again in 1537 many Carthusians of England refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, which swore allegiance to the king and the Church of England. Not taking the oath meant indictment for treason. Saint Thomas More, for example, was executed for treason. Among the Carthusian martyrs were: John Houghton, Augustine Webster, Robert Lawrence, Humphrey Middlemore, William Exmewe, Sebastian Newdigate, John Rochester, James Walworth, Thomas Green, Richard Beere, Thomas Johnson, John Davy, Robert Salte, Walter Peerson, Thomas Scriven, Thomas Reeding, William Greenwood, and William Horne. These men were from the London Charterhouse, with the exception of John Houghton (House of the Salutation), Augustine Webster (House of the Visitation), and Robert Lawrence (Beauvale, Nottinghamshire). All of them courageously walked in the Footsteps of Jesus. It is said that Dom Maurice Chauncy, who took the Oath of Supremacy, was distressed by his personal decision, and thus authored a number of books which told the story of his valiant Carthusian brothers. Here is a portion of what is written in the aforementioned book.

Now the wicked rejoice. Now the enemies of Christ exult. They boast that they have got their way, seeing the men delivered into their hands for whose innocent blood they longed with a thirst unquenchable. Seizing their prey with cruel joy like savage lions, they conducted them to the usual prison quarters of the city, preceded by an emblem which betokened condemnation. Who can count all the miseries and wrongs, all the scornful taunts that those gentle lambs suffered from the savage wolves? Who can describe all the mockeries and reproaches, the insults and affronts, the pains and tribulations which those holy men endured in those five days at the hands of bitter foes, malicious enemies of all truth and virtue, persecutors of them, persecutors of holy religion? The foes exult in their victims’ capture and sufferings as victors exult when they divide the spoils; they rage against them as a hungry wolf against the gentle lamb held fast in his jaws. How madly they rush like savage dogs, spitting all their venom at saints of the Lord! They treat them as wild beasts might. Whatever gratified their inexhaustible and uncontrollable malice they were allowed, as still they are allowed, to do. There was no one to hinder them.

Meanwhile the prisoners were gentle, meek and patient, following the great example of Him Who, like a sheep before her shearer, opened not His Mouth. When they were reviled, they reviled not again; when they suffered they threatened not. In the face of all their wrongs they were silent, as if deaf and dumb. They did not open their lips except perchance to pray for their persecutors and to thank God for their persecutions. In the depth of their hearts they remembered and dwelt upon the thought how the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be, and how those who suffer for righteousness’ sake are declared blessed by the eternal truth of God’s Word which, schooling sufferers to endure, says, “By your patience ye shall win your souls.” Brave wrestlers for Christ! Unvanquished champions in God’s cause! Quit yourselves like men and let your heart be comforted. Now your sufferings are cruel and undeserved, but a day shall come when it will be a joy to remember them. It is not the first time that you have suffered for Christ. Be comforted therefore and be strong. You have known sufferings more grievous, and of these too God will grant an end. Be brave, be staunch; rejoice, exult and clap your hands. Clap your hands, I say, as victors, for your victory is at hand.

Five days hence shall be your Easter, when you will pass from this distressful misery to an eternal feast, when you will quit this vale of woe and exile bound for everlasting happiness in the heavenly home where after your bitter fare you shall find a splendid and choice supper prepared for you. Fight therefore, fight on like brave soldiers; faint not, be not discouraged, but find consolation in these words – the time of your eternal consolation and reward is at hand.

26 January 2010

The Heart's Debt

Here is an intimate, historical look into the Carthusian Order and their closeness to our Blessed Mother. It is Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier who shares with us such beautiful anecdotes.

Our beloved founder worked strenuously for the glory of her who had chosen him from his childhood to be her apostle and servant. Together with his tender devotion to Mary, his children have also inherited his gratitude, and this is manifested as effectively as is permitted by their apostolate of the hidden life. Let us see what form this takes in the cloister.

After Saint Bruno, our principal exegetes – Denys the Carthusian, Ludolph of Saxony, Lanspergius among others – have held the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which was later to be proclaimed by the Church. And our historian Tromby (Benedetto Tromby: Storia del Patriarcha S. Brunone) even speaks of a manuscript entitled “Cartusia immaculata. . . the immaculate Charterhouse,” which recounts all that Carthusian authors have written in defense of Mary’s most beautiful privilege. For there has always existed in the Order a special zeal to propagate this doctrine, and His Holiness Saint Pius X, in his encyclical on the occasion of the Jubilee of the proclamation of the dogma, did Denys the Carthusian the great honor of borrowing his very words, in declaring the tradition of the Church on this point.

Our Ephemerides (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides Ordinis Cartusiensis) instance two of our Fathers who frequently declared themselves ready to undergo martyrdom to prove their belief in the grace of preservation from the stain of original sin accorded to the Virgin Mother of God. In the seventeenth century Dom Jean Pégon, whose generalate (Dom Jean Pégon was Prior of the Grande Chartreuse and 49th General of the Order from 1649-1675) had borne such exceptional fruit for the Order, had just received the Last Sacraments. Seeing his community gathered around him, he spoke to them of the principal mysteries of the Faith, especially of the Immaculate Conception, to which he had a particular devotion. And during his last illness, leaning on the arm of one of his monks, he used to kneel before the window of his cell, which opened on the side of the sanctuary of the chapel of Notre Dame de Casalibus, and there he would recommend to the heavenly Protectress of our Order all the needs of his religious family.

In the same century, the Charterhouse of Bosserville near Nancy was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the proclamation of the dogma was solemnly celebrated there in 1854. A very simple but touching act of piety is related in this connection. A lay-brother of the House, Bruno Lhuillier, loved to preserve as long as possible the flowers that had been used for the festival, so dear were they to him because they had served to do honor to his Mother’s triumph.

And what a consolation it is to us, and what a cause for joy, to know that the feast of the Immaculate Conception in our Order dates back as far as the year 1333. It is true that the Statuta Nova of the year 1368 changed the term Conception first adopted to that of Sanctification, and that the General Chapter of 1406 continued to use this word to avoid all controversy. Nevertheless from 1418 onwards, the term Conception once more made its appearance in our liturgy, and was definitely restored in 1470.

If such was the Order’s zeal and fidelity shown in honoring the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, it was no less eager to celebrate that of the Visitation, as soon as the Holy See proposed this feast for the devotion of the faithful. In spite of the difficulties raised in the Church against the celebration of this feast proposed by Urban VI, and finally decreed by Pope Boniface IX, the Carthusians received it at once with holy joy.

The mere site of the titles under which our monasteries have been dedicated or known unfolds to our eyes a whole poem of faith and filial confidence. Out of the 260 or more Houses comprised in Monasticon (Maisons de l’Ordre des Chartreux), more than 120 have the honor of bearing the name of Mary; and under what varied and charming titles! Such are, for instance, the Door, the House, the Castle, the Cloister, the Cell, the Temple, the Court, the Throne, the Burning Bush of Mary. They are her Mountain, her Valley, her Park, her Garden, her Fountain, her Stream, her Gate. Our Lady is represented therein as the Way, the Door, the Peace of Paradise, the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of Mercy, the Court of God the Father, the Altar of Christ, the Lily of the Holy Spirit. None of the mysteries of her life are forgotten. Three Houses are dedicated to her Immaculate Conception; others to her Annunciation, her Visitation, Purification, Compassion, Assumption, Coronation. . . not forgetting the singularly expressive and confiding title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Valley of Josaphat.

What more can we say? Out of about four hundred seals of our Houses that have been recovered, two hundred bear some representation, monogram or legend in Mary’s honor. We can count no less than 168 Carthusian writers, who have composed in Mary’s praise some 335 works in different languages, without reckoning numerous reprints and translations.

And how about many touching incidents do we find in the devotion which so many devoted religious of the Order have shown for the Mother of our Savior. In this little work we shall content ourselves with recalling only the following, culled from the lives of three of our Fathers who have been raised to the altar.

What a delicacy of love and respect we see in the last directions given by Saint Hugh of Lincoln, that after his death his body should be washed, in honor of the church of our blessed Lady where he was to be buried (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Vol. IV).

Saint Stephen, Bishop of Die, formerly Prior of the Charterhouse of Portes, also wished to be laid to rest in the chapel of his cathedral dedicated to the Mother of God. And as he died on 7 September (the year was 1208), many miracles were worked from his tomb from the morrow onwards – the feast of the Nativity of Mary, a feast which he had the happiness of keeping with her, it is hoped, in heaven (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Vol. III).

Blessed Nicholas Albergati, Cardinal-Archbishop of Bologna, and formerly a simple monk of the Charterhouse of that city, seeing in 1433 his diocese ravaged by earthquakes and torrential rains, ordered three days of public prayer at the sanctuary of La Guardia, where there was preserved, it is said, the authentic picture of our Lady painted by Saint Luke. The venerated image was carried in procession during these three days to the churches of Bologna, and the scourged ceased (Cavallo: Life of Blessed Nicholas Albergati).

25 January 2010

An Admirable Radicality

From Lucien Regnault, a monk of the Abbey of Solesmes, came the book titled, “The Day-to-Day Life of the Desert Fathers in Fourth Century Egypt,” a self-explanatory title. Towards the conclusion of the book, the author writes about a modern-day fascination with the Desert Fathers, even though the culture in which we live seems to have distanced itself from God. Lucien Regnault borrows some thoughts from Pope John Paul II in order to address the interest in the lifestyle of the Desert Fathers in a day which seems consumed with material wealth. The Holy Father alludes to “the secrets hidden in the heart of man.” This is very intriguing. What has God placed on our hearts that we have yet to fully discover or even have no inkling whatsoever? Today’s interest in fasting, asceticism, deep prayer, as well as other practices, may stem from pride, when considering the climate of our culture -- a desire to be noticed in a radical lifestyle. But what must also be considered is something every human being deep down knows but may run away from for their entire earthly journey; and what that something is Saint Augustine said it best: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Here’s the paragraph from the book.

Today’s fascination with the hermits of the past is all the more surprising when we observe how our times are so far removed from the mores and spirit of the first anchorites. Yet perhaps the new generations are more inclined than preceding ones to appreciate the Desert Fathers, envy them, indeed even to seek from them the human and Christian values which are not much honored these days: solitude and silence, asceticism and contemplation, interiority and self-giving, spiritual paternity and obedience, renunciation and humility. To all those who painfully feel the emptiness of an existence devoted entirely to the quest for material well-being and ephemeral pleasures, the elders of the desert are blunt reminders of the conditions for true happiness. As John Paul II has said, “The message of these enthusiasts for God rings out today, more up-to-date than ever, for these formidable athletes of the faith were witnesses of an admirable radicality in the search for the Kingdom, of a unique mastery for penetrating the secrets hidden in the heart of man.” They encourage and help us “rediscover in the hubbub of modern civilization creative solitudes where we can walk in the search for truth without masks, alibis or lies” (Homily at the Coptic liturgy, August 14, 1988, at the church of Saint Mary Major).

23 January 2010

The Saturday Salutation

Here’s another short piece from Carthusian history which focuses on one special monk named Emmanuel Garcia. It is another edifying story of the Carthusian’s love for our Blessed Lady.

In the last century, Dom Emmanuel Garcia, a monk of the Charterhouse of Porta Cœli, near Valencia in Spain, conceived as a distinctive mark of his wholly filial love of our Lady, a great desire to do special honor to her Immaculate Conception. Before entering the Charterhouse, he had established a confraternity by the name of the Saturday Salutation, which is still flourishing (this was written in 1910). Later, he was for some time organist in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the shadow of which he had long desired to live, because it was there that our Lady had said: I am the Immaculate Conception.

After entering the Carthusian Order, he made his solitary and contemplative life a homage to the most pure Virgin that might be called unceasing. One day, as he was being told of the martyrdom of one of the Carthusians in Ruremonde – an aged religious who had been killed in the cloister on his way to the church, leaning on his stick (as he himself was obliged to do) – he was asked what he would have done in similar circumstances. With a transport of love and admiration he replied: “I would have said to my assailants, ‘Do with me as you will, but first let me cry: A thousand times we salute thee, O Mary Immaculate: monstra te esse matrem. . . show thyself a Mother’” (This was the Saturday Salutation).

O Mary, when we, too, come to die, may your name be likewise on our lips.

21 January 2010

Follow the Lamb Wherever He Goes

Today on this feast of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr, the Carthusians at the hour of Matins listened to twelve Readings, eight of which were excerpts from Saint Augustine’s “De Virginitate.” Here is what was proclaimed to the monks from Saint Augustine.

The whole Church itself is a virgin espoused unto one Husband, Christ, as Saint Paul says, of how great honor are its members worthy, who guard this even in the flesh itself, which the whole Church guards in the faith? Imitating the mother of her husband, and her Lord, for the Church also is both a mother and a virgin. For whose virgin purity do we consult, if she is not a virgin? Or whose children do we address, if she is not a mother? Mary bore the Head of this Body after the flesh; the Church bears the members of that Body after the Spirit. In both, virginity does not hinder fruitfulness: in both, fruitfulness does not take virginity. Whereas the whole Church is holy both in body and spirit, and yet the whole is not virgin in body but in spirit; how much more holy is it in these members, wherein it is virgin both in body and spirit?

Go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, Whom you think on more richly: hope more happily in Him, Whom you serve more instantly: love Him more ardently, Whom you please more attentively. With loins girded, and lamps burning, wait for the Lord, when He comes from the marriage. You shall bring unto the marriage of the Lamb a new song, which you shall sing on your harps. Not surely such as the whole earth sings, unto which it is said: Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, the whole earth; but such as no one shall be able to utter but you. For there you have seen in the book of Revelation a certain one beloved above others by the Lamb, who desired to lie on His Breast, and who used to drink in, and burst forth, the Word of God above the wonders of heaven.

Wherefore, do this, virgins of God: follow the Lamb, wherever He goes. But first come to Him, Whom you are to follow, and learn, for He is meek and humble of Heart. Come in you lowly wise unto the Lowly, if you love, depart not from Him, lest you fall. For whosoever fears to depart from Him asks and says: Let the foot of pride not come to me. Go on in the way of loftiness with the foot of lowliness; He Himself lifts up those who follow Him in humility, Who thought it not a burden to come down to us in humility. The Lord protects you from committing evil when you hide in the shelter of His protection. Consider the sins you have avoided as possible only by His grace: otherwise you may fool yourself about your justice and begin to act like a Pharisee, without love, full of pride and with ruinous boasting despising the sinners who are humbly beating their breasts.

Beware of concealing that strength of yours which has been tried, so that you may not be puffed up, because you have been able to bear something: but be concerned and pray about that which has not been tried, that you will not be tempted above that which you are able to bear. Believe in secret that some are superior to you, than whom you are openly better. When the good things of others, perhaps unknown to you, are kindly believed by you, your own that are known to you are not lessened by comparison, but strengthened by love: and perhaps as yet are wanting, are by so much the more easily given, by how much they are the more humbly desired.

Let those among your number who persevere be for you an example: but let those who fall increase your fear. Love the virtues and walk on those tracks; mourn over defections, that you be not puffed up. Do not establish your own righteousness; submit yourselves unto God Who justifies you. Pardon the sins of others, pray for your own pardon: future sins shun by vigilance, past sins blot out by confessing. Thus, free from any defect, even the most minor defects, adapt your life to the profession of virginity.

When virgins are adorned with virtues, their lives appear angelic in the eyes of men, their habits resemble those of heaven, their face never shows anger, their eyes are not wandering, their tongues are not unbridled, no petulant laugh, and are dressed modestly. They do not render evil for evil, nor insult for insult, and lastly, they fulfill that love which lays down their life for their brethren. Already you are as such, because that is what you ought to be. But, the measure of your greatness, whosoever of you are so great, is determined by much humbling of yourselves in all things, that you may find grace before God, that He does not resist you because of pride, that He doesn’t humble you because you lifted yourself up, that He doesn’t lead you through straits as being puffed up: although anxiety being unnecessary, because, where Charity glows, humility is not wanting.

Because you have renounced marriage, paternity or maternity, love Him with your whole heart, Who is the fairest among the sons of men. You can devote yourself to Him fully since you are free from the bonds of marriage. Gaze on the Beauty of your Lover: think of Him equal to the Father, made subject also to His Mother: ruling even in the heavens, and serving upon the earth: creating all things, created among all things. That very thing, which in Him the proud mock at, gaze on, how fair it is: with inward eyes gaze on the Wounds of Him hanging, the scars of Him rising again, the Blood of Him dying, the price of him that believes, the gain of Him that redeems. Consider of how great value these are, weigh them in the scales of Charity; and whatever love you could have expended in your marriage, give back to Him.

There is One Who gave you the power to become children of God, O Christian soul, Who seeks your inner beauty, and not a glittery content, but fair conduct. He is not One unto Whom anyone can lie concerning you, and make Him rage through jealousy. See with how great security you love Him, Whom you fear not to offend by false suspicions. Husband and wife love each other, in that they see each other: and what they do not see, they fear between themselves: nor have they sure delight in what is visible, while in what is concealed they usually suspect what is not. You in Him, Whom you see not with the eyes, and behold by faith, neither have what is real to blame, nor fear lest perhaps you offend Him by what is false. If therefore you should owe great love to husbands, Him, for Whose sake you would not have husbands, how greatly ought you to love? Let Him be fixed in your whole heart, Who for you was fixed on the Cross.

20 January 2010

God's Descent to the Soul

Have you ever met, or perhaps you are that person who spends hours upon hours in prayer; a person that wild horses couldn’t drag away from Eucharistic Adoration; a person who after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass remains in the church building completely absorbed in thanksgiving? Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska here attempts to describe that special union with God but admits that she “must be silent, for” she “cannot describe what the soul experiences.” Interesting that the greatest unions with God are reduced to silence, for silence is God’s language. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “It is better to be silent and be, than speaking without being. He who so truly possesses the Word of Jesus can hear even His very silence.” Saint Augustine wrote: “In the House of God, feasting is without end. Choirs of angels give an eternal concert in the Face of God and the Eternal Presence communicates a joy that is never diminished. Something of that everlasting and perpetual rejoicing reaches the ears of our heart; something that is a marvel of harmony and sweetness, provided the voices of the world are hushed.” These are only a few in a rather impressive list of those who have attained Wisdom beyond understanding. Why did they seek it? Perhaps it is because they discovered what Dom Augustin Guillerand also discovered when he wrote: “Where are we to find happiness? In God alone!” Here’s what Saint Faustina wrote in her diary.

My communion with the Lord is now purely spiritual. My soul is touched by God and wholly absorbs itself in Him, even to the complete forgetfulness of self. Permeated by God to its very depths, it drowns in His beauty; it completely dissolves in Him -- I am at loss to describe this, because in writing I am making use of the senses; but there, in that union, the senses are not active; there is a merging of God and the soul; and the life of God to which the soul is admitted is so great that the human tongue cannot express it.

When the soul returns to its habitual form of life, it then sees that this life is all darkness and mist and dreamlike confusion, and infant’s swaddling clothes. In such moments the soul only receives from God, for of itself it does nothing; it does not make even the slightest effort; all in her is wrought by God. But when the soul returns to its ordinary state, it sees that it is not within its power to continue in this union.

These moments are short, but their effects are lasting. The soul cannot remain long in this state; or else it would be forcibly freed of the bonds of the body forever. Even as it is, it is sustained by a miracle of God. God allows the soul to know in a clear way how much He loves it, as though it were the only object of His delight. The soul recognizes this clearly and without a veil, so to speak. It reaches out for God with all its might, but it feels like a baby; it knows that this is not within its power. Therefore, God descends to the soul and unites it to Himself in a way that… here, I must be silent, for I cannot describe what the soul experiences.

It is a strange thing that although the soul which experiences this union with God cannot find words and expressions to describe it, nevertheless, when it meets a similar soul, the two understand each other extraordinarily well in regard to these matters, even though they speak but little with each other. A soul united with God in this way easily recognizes a similar soul, even if the latter has not revealed its interior life to it, but merely speaks in an ordinary way. It is a kind of spiritual kinship. Souls united with God in this way are few, fewer than we think.

19 January 2010

It is the Duty of Every Christian to be Devout

Here is more from the treasure chest of Carthusian writings. In addition to Saint Bruno, three other Carthusian saints are mentioned in the opening paragraph: Rosaline, Hugh of Grenoble and Hugh of Lincoln. Outside of the Order, the gift of Saint Bridget and her “Revelations” are also used for this writing.

According to the Annals of the Order, our Lady, bearing in her arms the holy Child, came to reward the soul of Saint Rosaline at her death. She was preceded by Saint Bruno and with him Saint Hugh of Grenoble and Saint Hugh of Lincoln, all three carrying thuribles. When her couch had been incensed, our Lady said to the three saints: “Lead the virginal bride to her heavenly Spouse” (Le Couteulx: Annales, Vol. V). What, we venture to ask will those who have been faithful to the Queen of Heaven find at this divine marriage feast? What are, for the saints in heaven, the fruits of their devotion to their heavenly Queen?

A touching story from the bible gives us a certain glimpse of these mysteries of eternity. After the sons of Jacob had gone down the second time to Egypt with Benjamin, and had paid their respects to the governor of Pharaoh, Joseph had a banquet made ready for them. He himself was served apart, while his brothers are together. When they took the places appointed them, they found themselves in the exact order of age; the eldest in the first place, and so on with the youngest in the last. The portions they received had first been passed by Joseph, the greatest portion being given to Benjamin, exceeding, we are told, that of his brothers by five portions (cf. Genesis 43:15-34).

The allegory intended by this story is very clear. Joseph, the savior of his brethren, is the figure of our divine Lord Who came down to earth to save men. He is not ashamed to serve them with His own Hand (cf. Luke 12:37). All are treated according to their merits (cf. Matthew 16:27). Nevertheless, a special portion would seem to be reserved for the Benjamins. All Christians are sons of Mary, but there are some who have a special claim to the title, having attained to a more intimate union with her. The following comparison of a recent writer will show the truth of this. “It is the duty of every Christian,” says this writer, “to know, love and serve God: in other words, to be devout. There are some, however, to whom the Church gives this title in a different way. Religious, in the eyes of the Church, are persons consecrated to the worship of God in a special manner, by the observance of the evangelical counsels. In the same way, although every just man has Christ as his Spouse, the title Spouse of Christ is, in the sacred liturgy, the singular privilege of virgins, and of virgins dedicated to God by their religious profession” (Père Terrien: La Mère de Dieu et la Mère des hommes).

Similarly, if all men in general belong to Mary as her children, and if the actual measure of this sonship is none other than that of the grace and the supernatural life existing in their souls, religious should, by virtue of their vows, claim a special place in our Lady’s love. In heaven, it will be the lot of these Benjamins of the Mother of men to call her in a special way their Mother. As for Mary, we may well remember how she, as the Mother of Sorrows, felt when she saw her divine Son victorious over death and the tomb. In a similar though lesser way, she will surely experience something of that same joy whenever a fresh soul, passing from purgatory to the delights of Paradise, comes to hail her, their Mother and their Liberatrix.

If such is the joy of Mary at this blessed meeting, what will be that of her children? To be able to say in all truth that she is our Mother, from whom we have received all; who knows us, who looks on us with love, who bears us always in her heart – will this not be a happiness beyond anything we can conceive? And while await this heavenly vision, is not this thought alone enough to give us a foretaste of heaven itself?

To Saint Bridget our Lady once said: “I am the Mother of those who are cradled in the delights of Paradise. Even when little children have no special needs, it is enough for them to look upon the face of their mother to make them feel an increase of joy. Even so, it pleases our Lord to allow those who dwell in the heavenly court to experience a similar contentment in contemplating the beauty of my virtues and the glory of my virginity, although in an incomprehensible way His power has already put them in possession of complete happiness” (Saint Bridget: Revelations, Bk. IV).

Doubtless, devotion to our Blessed Lady should, for those who have consecrated themselves to her, be a devotion full of love. It is said that in heaven the elect will sing the Canticle of Moses (Apoc. 15:3, & Exodus 15 passim.). Now it seems that when Jesus, in company with the multitude of the blessed, has ended the hymn of thanksgiving, our Lady, like her forerunner the sister of Moses, will repeat the Canticle of Deliverance, with those who on earth formed her court: Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified; the Lord is my strength and my praise, and He is become salvation to me. He is my God, and I will glorify Him, the God of my Father, and I will exalt Him (Exodus 15:1-2). In Thy mercy, Thou hast been a leader to the people which Thou hast redeemed, and in Thy strength Thou hast carried them to Thy holy habitation (ibid. 15:13). Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thy inheritance, in Thy most firm habitation which Thou hast made, O Lord – Thy sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy Hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever (ibid. 15:17-18).

And all the angels that stand around the Throne will echo the voice of redeemed humanity, and will repeat in praise of the Most Holy Trinity: Benediction, and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and strength to our God, forever and ever. Amen (Apoc. 7:12).

18 January 2010

Entering More Perfectly into the Dispositions of Jesus Christ

The following is excerpted from a 1903 treatise on the Little Office of Our Lady. It was written by Ethelred L. Taunton, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster. This particular portion of the treatise focuses on the importance of praying the Divine Office/Little Office properly. For those who pray the Office, this will either confirm you in what you already do, or perhaps it will cause you to consider some changes in how the Office is prayed.

The idea of the Office is that of a public prayer of the Church. Holy Church has surrounded the recitation of her public prayer with a minute code of rules and ceremonies, all of which are eminently calculated to help our soul retain or regain the thought of God’s presence. In reciting the Office we should endeavor to make use of the ceremonial she has ordained; and let these forms do the work for which they are intended. Bowing the head and the body, signing ourselves with the Cross, standing up, sitting down, kneeling, are all ceremonies full of life and meaning to those who use them intelligently; while those who neglect them, or carry them out carelessly, are missing a great means of entering more perfectly into the dispositions of Jesus Christ.

The Carthusians, who say the Little Office every day, recite it in their cells; but strictly carry out all the choir ceremonial. They know that they do not say it alone. For when the bell rings the whole Charterhouse turns into a great choir and the monks in the sight of the angels commence to praise Him Whose Mother was Mary.

There is a point to which special attention ought to be drawn; and that is, that the first idea of the Office is that is should be sung. It is a choral Office. Saint Augustine said to God Himself in his Confession: “Ah, Lord, how I was stirred to joy and I wept in hymns and songs of Your Church that sounded sweetly. The voices flowed into my ears, and truth was molten into my heart, and thereby the affection of piety and of love was made hot in me, and tears ran out of my eyes.”

God does not want fine singing but prayerful singing: not singing which tickles the ear, but that which raises up the soul; singing which will not remind us, by earthly music, of the passing joys of this world, but rather a kind of unearthly music like that which is ever resounding through the heavenly courts.

There is a beautiful story, told in the annals of a certain monastery, where the monks, all old men, sang as best their quavering uncertain voices would let them. But once, when some high feast came round, they bethought themselves of getting the services of a skillful singer to chant the Magnificat in honor of the solemnity. He came, his voice wondrously beautiful, clear and pure, and round in tone, like a flute, soared upwards and, ringing around the vaulted roof of the old minster, enchanted the hearers. That night, as the abbot lay in bed, a great light as of many suns filled his cell, and in the midst thereof a vision of one stood before him. It was the Mother of God, Mary ever blissful.

“Why,” she said, “have you on this high festival omitted my song, the Magnificat?”

“Lady,” said the abbot, “it was sung today, and in strains sweeter than we have ever heard before.”

“I heard it not,” said the vision. “No sound came from the minster at Evensong, and my ears missed the music they are accustomed to hear daily from you and your brothers. That singer sang for himself and not for me; so his song could not rise to my throne, but fell back earthwards again.”

16 January 2010

The Hill of Incense

Once again in the Secret Harbor we turn to the writings of the Carthusian, Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier. In this particular piece he makes use of the wisdom of other Carthusians: Denys, a prolific writer in the Order, and Dom Le Masson who indirectly quotes from Saint Francis de Sales in a portion of what he shares here. There is also an introduction to a very pious Carthusian lay-brother, Bruno Lhuillier, who was mentioned briefly in a previous post. The writings of Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier that have been shared here at Secret Harbor tend to be like teaching tools for those within the Carthusian Order. Today’s topic is learning how to contemplate while being active; and our Lady, of course, did it to perfection. The “hill of incense,” which Dom Rouvier quotes from Canticles, signifies Calvary, where we “make ourselves fit to draw nearer to infinite Holiness.” The hill of incense is where the faithful pour forth their prayers and learn from Jesus and His Mother how to live more of a life of self-denial and practice asceticism at least to some degree.

The practice of self-denial is indispensable in the contemplative life. Those alone can aspire to union with God who have crucified the old man, with its concupiscence (cf. Romans 6:6 & Colossians 3:5). Nevertheless, it is not our end. We purify ourselves by self-denial, only in order to make ourselves fit to draw nearer to infinite Holiness. We have to go to the mountain of myrrh, but it is in order to climb later the hill of incense (cf. Canticles 4:6). The foundation of our Carthusian life must be prayer – prayer of the heart, and vocal prayer. “Regular observance,” says the Prologue to our Statutes, “by ordering the external man, ought to make us seek God more zealously, find Him more readily, and enjoy Him more fully.” Thus the carta of the General Chapter of 1893, in treating of the training of choir-novices, expressly required that they should be formed to the interior life, maintaining that, without the spirit of prayer, possessed at least to some extent, fidelity to the Rule and the practice of the solitary life would be like a body without a soul.

The same principle should inspire the life of the Brothers. Carthusian lay-brothers have to sanctify themselves more by prayer than by work. They are true religious, vowed in consequence to the work of their perfection, and obliged by vow always to attend to God by prayer and love. “We do not wish,” say the Brothers’ Statutes, “that the Brothers should be so occupied with external duties that they should neglect the fulfillment of their spiritual exercises at the times these are due” (Statuta Ordinis Cartusiensis, II Pars I, 3). Here again, Mary should be our model. “The Blessed Virgin,” says our Denys, “made continuous progress in the contemplative life, and the external work she was obliged to undertake in no way hindered her contemplation. If, however, her union with God was interrupted for a moment for some good cause outside of herself, she at once returned to it with a fervor always more intense” (Denys: On the dignity of the Mother of God, Bk. I, XXV).

“The Mother of God,” writes Dom Le Masson in his turn, “practiced to a degree of absolute perfection what has been said of the choice of the better part, in seeking always the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42). Never has anyone reconciled the exercises of the contemplative and active lives as she did. Saint Francis de Sales says, not without a touch of humor, that he could have reconciled the two sisters, Martha and Mary, by arranging that the one should take the place of the other for a little while, and thus they would relieve each other in turn. But our Blessed Lady harmonized both so perfectly that the need for action never deterred her from contemplation, nor did her contemplation ever hinder her from such action as she was called upon to practice through charity, or by the duties of her state” (Dom Le Masson: Subjects for Meditation, ch. II).

“Mary was a creature,” continues Dom Le Masson, “in whom there was nothing human except her body. Sin had never entered into her soul, neither in origin nor in act. Her soul had communicated to her body that purity with which it had been endowed when it came from the Hand of God. She was like a flame, tending ever upwards, and bound to this poor earth only as a fire is dependent upon the wood which nourishes it, and so long as that ‘matter’ remained to hold her back. Her contemplation was like a sun which blinds us with its brightness. We should rejoice with her in her perfections and in her grace, but while we contemplate the workings of God’s grace in her soul, we must honor the divine vocation which has called us to the part of Mary (cf. Luke 10:42). We must ask her help that we may follow it as she did, so as to bring our actions into harmony with the application of our mind to God, if not with the perfection of her fulfillment, at least in the degree of our capacity.”

If this ideal is too high for our frailty, let us consider a model more on our level, and see how one of Mary’s servants reconciled his devotion and his work in his life as a Carthusian lay-brother. Brother Bruno Lhuillier of the Charterhouse of Bosserville, possessed the gift of piety to a very marked degree. For him, this consisted in conversing with God whenever possible, and in loving Him always. He led on earth – that is, with his body – the life which, in heaven, comprises the beatitude of the Blessed. All unconsciously, he would enter into a state of contemplation wholly angelic; as, for example, when he recited the prolonged Sanctus as the bell tolled before the Consecration at the conventual Mass. And he would repeat that same Sanctus often during the day, always with the same result. Another custom of his was to repeat again and again the words Ave Maria. He would say that that was all he was fit for, and this he certainly did to perfection. For indeed, it was the Holy Spirit Who prayed in him, as Saint Paul says, with unspeakable groanings (Romans 8:26).

Let us follow in the steps of this very loving son of our heavenly Mother, by being exact in the accomplishment of the spiritual exercises prescribed by our Rule. We should make our occupations a continual prayer, by our purity of intention and by the practice of ejaculatory prayers. We should profit by all that happens to raise to God our hearts which, purified more and more as they make contact with infinite Holiness, will daily become more united to Him Whose love should be our mainstay in our exile here below, and our joy in the life to come.

14 January 2010

A Seed of Glory and Eternal Life in the Holy Priest's Flesh

There’s nothing like a good story about Saint Jean-Marie Vianney to get those uplifting juices flowing again when you’re feeling as dry as the desert. The Holy Curé was so close to Jesus that when he said: “I can do no more,” it kind of takes you to the Crucifixion and the words of Jesus: “Consummatum est -- It is consummated.” Clearly the Curé d’Ars strived to let his light shine, the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity to be manifested exteriorly, touching the lives of others. This great saint continually decreased while Jesus increased (cf. John 3:30).

One day when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, Monsieur Vianney stood contemplating it with an ecstatic smile. One of his companions, surprising him in this attitude, turned his eyes instinctively towards the tabernacle as though he expected to see something. He saw nothing, but the expression on Monsieur Vianney’s face had struck him so much that he said: “I believe the time will come when the Curé of Ars will live only by the Eucharist.”

He was living by it already. The grace which flowed so abundantly from that Sacrament into his soul always protected him against sin, nourished in him the most magnificent virtues, and guided him without falling to the life of glory.

On Friday, July 29, 1859, having, as usual, spent sixteen or seventeen hours in the confessional, the Holy Curé came home worn out. He sank on to a chair, saying: “I can do no more.” Then he went to bed never to rise from it again. Fear of God’s judgments had been his dominate idea and despair his temptation; nevertheless, he was desirous of death, and looked forward to it with all his heart. “It is the union of the soul with the Sovereign Good,” he said. And he passed his last days in perfect serenity. “I should not have believed,” he delighted in repeating, “that it was so sweet to die.”

On the Tuesday evening he himself asked for the Sacraments. He wept at hearing the bell which announced that Jesus was leaving the tabernacle to come and visit him, and he wept afresh on seeing Him enter.

On Thursday, August 4, at two o’clock in the morning, he ceased to breathe, at the moment when the Abbé Monnin, who was saying the prayers for the commendation of the soul, pronounced these words: “May the holy angels of God come forth to meet him, and bring him into the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.” Indeed they brought him there: the Church has given us the certainty of it by the decree of canonization of 1925.

And now the Eucharist will finish its work at the day of the blessed resurrection, for it has planted a seed of glory and eternal life in the holy priest’s flesh. “Oh how beautiful will be the Day of Resurrection,” he sometimes used to say; “those beautiful souls will be seen coming from heaven like glorious suns, to unite themselves to the bodies they animated on earth. The more those bodies have been mortified, the more they will shine like diamonds.”

13 January 2010

The Enthronement of the Messiah

On this day, 13 January, the Carthusian Order, other monastic communities, as well as the Extraordinary Form Mass goers celebrate liturgically the Baptism of the Lord. Below are some brief thoughts about baptism by a Carthusian monk. We have to be careful how we understand this piece: the deliverer of this reflection is by no means trying to suggest that Jesus didn’t know Who He was. It is designed, rather, so that we the reader look at this from a human perspective, that is, the Humanity of Jesus and how His example should be followed. Jesus was at prayer waiting on the Father: so should we be a people of prayer, trusting in God’s time. We have received the Holy Spirit in baptism, and the Father has proclaimed His love for His son/daughter. Sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have a purpose/mission in this life. And certainly, as God’s property, expect the evil one to try and take you away from the Lord. Jesus experienced all of this because His full commitment to humanity demands it, and as Jesus embraced what happens to humanity by taking it upon Himself, He has the divine authority to teach us what to do about it.

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. And a Voice came from heaven, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You’” (Luke 3:21-22).

At the inauguration of His public mission, Jesus is in prayer, turned towards the Father, waiting. He has just taken part in the baptism of repentance given by John, which was an invitation to purification and humility: “Those who humble themselves. . .” It is then that the Spirit descends upon Him, and from heaven the Voice of the Father is heard: You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” This verse from the psalm (2:7) signifies the enthronement of the Messiah. Thus the Father manifests to Jesus Who He is, His fundamental identity as Son, and His mission to the people of God as Messiah.

It is in humble prayer that He is given the light to know Who He is, the Son in the presence of the Father, and what the Father wants of Him; and it is in prayer that He receives the power of the Spirit in order to bring His Sonship to fulfillment, in His obedience to the Father.

The adventure has begun. . . Filled with the Holy Spirit, and led by this same Spirit, He is, immediately after, to be tempted by the devil in the desert for forty days. “If You are the Son of God. . . You must make the most of it! Make use of Your spiritual powers in order to satisfy Your hunger, to stun the crowd with marvelous acts, to force Your Father to manifest His love for You.” No!

* Man does not live by bread alone.
* Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.
* Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

12 January 2010

Simplicity Leads to Intimacy

Here are more reflections by a Carthusian monk on a subject they know very well – Prayer.

God would not be infinite Goodness and Wisdom if, seeking and even demanding our love, He had not at the same time made it possible for us to enter into this intimacy with Himself. The means He has provided, and of which we can be absolutely certain, to enter into immediate contact with Him, are the theological virtues and the gifts which accompany them.

By faith we adhere to the truth of the divine life offered to us. By charity this life becomes ours. By hope we are certain, with the help of grace, to live this life more and more, and finally to possess it forever in eternity.

This is the essence of all true and real prayer. Instead of frittering away our time of prayer on various points; instead of philosophizing about God, multiplying acts of the intellect, of the will and the imagination, in order to conjure up pictures of what we are thinking about, how much simpler it is to go to God directly in our hearts. Seek Him in simplicity of heart (Wisdom 1:1). It is our Lord Himself Who gives us the invitation. Be ye simple as doves (Matthew 10:16). Man is a complex being, but it would be a pity if he introduced his complications into his relations with God. God, on the contrary, is simplicity itself. The more complicated we are, therefore, the farther we stray from Him; the simpler we are, on the other hand, the closer we come to Him.

We have seen that God, our Father, is present in us. When a child wants to talk to his father he does not make use of a manual of etiquette or a code of manners: he speaks in a simple and unaffected way, without formality; and we must do the same with our heavenly Father. He Himself said: Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). A mother never grows tired of hearing her little one say: “Mother, I love you.” It is the same with God. The more childlike our prayer, the more it is pleasing to Him. After all it was He Who chose for Himself the Name of Father. It is the Holy Spirit Who cries in us: Abba, Pater (Galatians 4:6). It is the Holy Spirit also Who places on our lips the inspired words of Scripture and of other liturgical texts.

Our prayer, then, must be quite simple – as simple as possible. All we have to do is to place ourselves on our knees, and with complete sincerity make our acts of faith, hope and love. There is no method of prayer more certain, more elevated, and more salutary than this.

11 January 2010

Intimacy with God

A Carthusian offers some thoughts on intimacy with God: how to attain it, and how to keep it by learning how to guard the heart. The first part begins by recognizing God in creation.

A few years ago I had a brush with the Almighty in what may seem like a small and insignificant occurrence, but to me it was very personal. I was sitting on the steps outside in the front of my house. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a bit more than a gentle breeze. For whatever reason, I turned my glance to the grass. All the blades of grass were moving in the same direction with the breeze – that is, all the blades of grass except one. It was very strange and unexplainable, but a single blade of grass remained completely still while the rest moved with the breeze. I remember thinking as I continued to stare at it that I am the only person on the planet that knew this was occurring at this moment on my front lawn. God showed me something that He showed to no one else. I thanked Him for that moment of intimacy.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if any one hears My Voice and opens the door,
I will come into him and eat with him,
and he with Me.
He who has an ear, let him hear
what the Spirit says to the churches.
~ Revelation 3:20,22~

God is so close to us, around us, in us. The wind that caresses our face, the bird that sings, the mountain touching the heavens, an exquisite flower among the rocks, the immense sky, silence that trembles in its fullness, a smile, a look of love – all speak of the Creator, leaving everywhere the marks of His passage. And ourselves: He is the source of our being and is more intimate with us than we are with our own souls. But He is not an impersonal force. He has a Name. His Name is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is communion in knowledge and love, the gift of His infinite Self. He seeks our response. He desires our love freely given, because it is not love unless it is free.

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

The perfection of the human person resides in union with God by means of continual prayer. Pray always (Luke 18:1), in all seasons (Ephesians 6:18), without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17); these recommendations are embedded in Scripture and should be taken literally. We are not always able to engage in specific acts of prayer without interruption because this is physically and psychologically impossible. This means that we must strive for an approximate state or a permanent disposition of heart, which, in a certain way, beyond the acts that flow more or less frequently from it, can be called by the name of prayer: the perpetual remembrance of God, the mysterious habit of the heart that is manifest as a form of virtual prayer and constant contemplation, the expression of a love that always tends towards the beloved without distraction even when it must attend to something else.

The origin of [hurtful] thoughts lies in the passions, our attachments and the working of the powers of darkness. This disregarding of thoughts is effected by guarding the heart, called vigilance, a state in which the soul is wide awake, balanced, present to itself and God; vigilant and alert so as not to be taken by surprise by the wiles of the enemy. Guarding the heart assures the intelligent practice of discernment of spirits.

One of the better ways to combat thoughts and enter the perpetual remembrance of God is meditation in the ancient sense, that is, rumination, often on a text from Scripture, that will help to root a spiritual idea of beneficial attitude in the soul.

09 January 2010

In Baptismate Domini

Nicholas Cabasilas is the author of this post on Baptism. He was a fourteenth-century Byzantine theologian and mystic born in Thessalonica. This piece is from his work, “De Vita in Christo,” which, after reading it, might convince anyone that they really do not reflect enough on the meaning of their own baptism. In this excerpt is mentioned a practice which continues to this day in Eastern Christendom, that of being bathed in the waters of baptism, followed by the anointing with chrism, and then Holy Communion, regardless of age.

We cannot lift ourselves up to God by our means, thus He came down to meet us. We were not looking for Him but He wanted us. The sheep did not seek the Shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the Master of the house. It was He Who came to the earth and retrieved His own image. He came to where the sheep were straying and lifted them up.

God made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but instead bending heaven down to us. As the prophet said: “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (Psalm 17:10).

Through these sacred Mysteries as through windows the Sun of Justice enters this dark world. He puts to death the life which accords with this world and stirs that heavenly light so that the world can be conquered. The Light of the world overcomes this world which He affirms when He says: “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christ introduces the abiding and immortal life into a mortal body.

When the sunlight enters a house, the lamp no longer attracts the light of onlookers, but the brightness of the sunlight overcomes it and dims it. In the same way, as in this life when the brightness of the life to come enters through the Mysteries and dwells in our souls, it overcomes the life of the flesh and the beauty of this world and conceals their brightness. This is the life which is in the Spirit, which overcomes every desire of the flesh in accordance with Paul’s words, “walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

This is the way the Lord traced by coming to us, this gate He opened by entering into the world. When He returned to the Father, Jesus did not want to close it behind Him, but from Him He comes through it to sojourn among men, or rather, He is constantly present with us and, in fulfillment of those promises, is with us forever.

Thus, as the patriarch said, “this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). Not only the angels descend to the earth by it, but even the very Lord of the angels Himself.

Accordingly, the Savior as He submitted Himself to undergo the baptism of John, opened up heaven and showed that this is the means by which we shall see the heavenly place. Indeed, the words in which He declared that he who has not been baptized will not be able to enter into life, intimates that this washing is some sort of entrance and gate.

To be baptized is to be born according to Christ and to receive our very being and nature, having previously been nothing. This we can learn from many sources. It is the first of the Mysteries into which we are initiated, and before the others this Mystery introduces Christians into the new life. Then, we may learn this from the very names we call it; and from the ceremonies which we employ and the words which we sing. This, then, is the order which we follow: First we are washed, then, when we have been anointed with chrism, we approach the sacred altar.

This is clear proof that baptism is the beginning of new life, that Christ Himself, Who endured all things for our sake, considered it necessary to be baptized and underwent this before all else. As for the names, what else could they imply? We call it birth, new birth, new creation and seal; and in addition baptism, clothing, anointing, charisma, illumination and washing. All these names signify the same reality: the beginning of being for those who are in accordance with God, and so live. Birth, then appears to signify nothing more than this.

New birth and new creation means that the baptized, who were formerly lost, have found a second birth. When a sculptor restores the shape of a statue, he refashions its image.

This is precisely the work of baptism in us; it engraves an image and imparts a form to our souls by conforming them to the death and Resurrection of the Savior. Thus, it is called a “seal” since it conforms us to the royal image of Christ and to His blessed form.

Since the form clothes the material and puts an end to its formlessness, we also call the Mystery “clothing” and “baptism”. This is what Saint Paul declares when he applies it to the terms “clothing” and “seal”. At one time he speaks of Christ being engraved and formed on Christians, at other times as being wrapped around them like a garment. He speaks of the initiate as having been clothed and plunged into water, writing to the Galatians, “my little children, with who I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (4:19), and “as many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27).

On the day of baptism God will recognize His own, as according to the words of Saint Paul, “having come to know God, or rather, to be known by God” (Galatians 4:9). On this day our new name is pronounced, as though then we were properly known, for to be known by God is to become truly known. And so, the psalmist said of those who have no part in this life: “I will not make mention of their names upon my lips” (Psalm 15:4).

Those who remove themselves away from this light are unknown and unseen. Apart from light nothing is visible to the eyes of those who can see, nor is known to God those who have not received light from above. The reason is this: unless it becomes apparent to Him by the light, it entirely lacks true existence. This is in accordance with Scripture which says that the Lord knows those who are His (cf. Numbers 16:5). Again of the foolish virgins He says that He knows them not (cf. Matthew 25:12).

Baptism is called a gift because it is a birth. What might a person contribute to his own birth? As in the case of physical birth we do not even contribute the desire for all the blessings derived from baptism. We wish for the things we are able to conceive in our minds, but these blessings “the heart of man has not conceived” (1 Corinthians 2:9), and no one can conceive them without experiencing them. When we think of the possibility of freedom and kingship, we think in terms of a happy life which human thoughts can grasp. But this is entirely different, greater than both our thought and our desire.

Baptism is called “anointing” because those who are initiated, it engraves Christ Who was anointed for us. It is a “seal” which imprints the Savior Himself. As the anointing is actually applied to the whole form of the body of him who is anointed, so it imprints on him the Anointed One and displays His form and is truly a sealing.

By what has been said it has been shown that the seal has the same effect as the birth, just as the clothing and the plunging effect the same as the sealing. Since the free gift, the illumination, and the washing have the same effect as the new creation and the birth, it is evident that all the nomenclature of baptism signifies one thing: the baptismal washing is our birth and the beginning of our life in Christ.

08 January 2010

The Chosen Myrrh

Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier’s reflection on the chosen myrrh, who is our Blessed Mother, was clearly, according to the way it was written, never intended to scale the walls of Carthusian monasteries and reach the outside world. He offers some thoughts on living the Carthusian life, and on a couple of occasions refers to their Rule, thus giving readers outside of the Order some insight into their charism. We also get to meet in this writing a Carthusian nun, Mother Anne Griffon, who one would deduce from what is shared here, was a mystic and a visionary. You’ll see the Latin words, “Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei,” which is from the Latin Vulgate and more specifically, Psalm 45, verse 5, which translates as: “The stream of the river makes glad the city of God.” This is a splendid reflection on our Lady. The picture used for this post depicts the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.

One of the principal aims of our Order is to form followers of our crucified Lord, who will carry the cross after Him, in order to fill up, as Saint Paul says, for themselves and for the Church, what is wanting of the sufferings of Christ (cf. Colossians 1:24). In our Constitutions all has been ordained to the end that the cross destined for the sons of Saint Bruno should be borne by them in a perfect manner, and with unflinching constancy. “The man who gives himself to prayer,” says Saint Teresa, “offers himself to our Lord to carry His cross.” She who entered most deeply in union with Him has become the Queen of martyrs. Thus the Church places on Mary’s lips the inspired words: I yielded a sweet odor like the choicest myrrh (cf. Ecclesiasticus 24:20). May our souls, too, and our whole lives be impregnated with this divine fragrance emanating from the Wounds of our crucified Savior.

The cross of the Carthusian serves a double purpose, according as it affects the soul or the body. It is in other words spiritual or material, and is called humility or austerity. Let us see how, following in Mary’s steps, we can offer to our Savior this double martyrdom imposed by our Rule.

Mary’s humility has only been surpassed by that of the Heart of Jesus. No saint can compare with our heavenly Mother in this fundamental virtue. Singularly favored, as she was, by heaven, Mary looked on herself as a mere nothing. “Take it for certain,” she said to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, “that in the Temple I regarded myself as the lowest of all creatures, and as unworthy as you yourself to be the Mother of the Redeemer.” This humility was the heavenly spikenard which ravished the Most High, and drew the Word of God into the womb of Mary. At the very moment when she was humbling herself in her prayer, not daring to aspire even to the favor of serving the privileged creature who was to give birth to the Savior, the archangel Gabriel came to propose to her that she herself should be the Mother of the Redeemer.

One of our nuns, Mother Anne Griffon, the venerable Prioress of Gosnay in Artois, had wonderful lights on the abyss of humility which caused the graces of the Most High to flow so abundantly into the soul of the Immaculate Virgin. Through these revelations, we may learn to preserve deep in our hearts the knowledge of our own insufficiency in this respect.

On the feast of Saint Anne, as during the Mass the nuns were singing the Responsory, Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei, the venerable Mother saw Saint Anne under the figure of the city of God, thus depicted because she bore in her womb the Tabernacle of God (cf. Psalm 131:5). God dwelt in Mary by sanctifying grace from the moment of her conception. The stream of the river represented the torrent of graces drawn down upon the mother and the daughter by their mutual humility.

On the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the venerable Mother saw in contemplation the Blessed Trinity and all the heavenly court rejoicing in the birth of this unique creature, sanctified and full of grace from the first moment of her existence, and immediately endowed with the use of reason, so that she might be aware that she owed all these graces to her Creator.

On other occasions, our Lady appeared to the venerable Mother as when, after her Presentation in the Temple, she humbled herself more profoundly before the adorable Trinity than ever angels or saints have done or will do. And again, in the mystery of the Purification, seeking how to humble herself, as did her Son when He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). Again, co-operating in the Redemption at the foot of the cross, as she suffered for us to an extent equaled by no other creature; at her death, so transformed in God that she seemed to be identified with Him, yet stripping herself of all this glory in order to attribute it all to its divine Author; crowned in heaven with such splendor that we would be tempted to adore her, were we not conscious of the Majesty of the Son. Again, so great that God alone comprehends her, yet ceaselessly offering to Him all she has received from Him, interceding with the divine Goodness that He might bestow on all the elect a share in her glory as the Mother of Jesus and thus the Mother of men – a Mother whom we must imitate by profoundly humbling ourselves, as she did, in the presence of the divine Majesty, esteeming ourselves as nothing.

We must love, then, humility in all its forms, if we would be true religious, and be content with the hidden life which shelters us from the vanities of this world, and with the lowly position we occupy in the House of God. Let us find pleasure in the apparently humble and commonplace actions which fill our days. Mary herself avowed to a holy religious that she experienced great joy in seeing him every Saturday sweeping the convent cloister for love of her. We should also accept with a fervent heart the practices of respect and humility imposed on us by our Rule, whether it be towards the Fathers of the cloister or to our superiors (Statuta Ordinis Cartusiensis, II Pars, ch. XVIII, I); we should lose none of these opportunities to practice virtue. Above all, we should fulfill with exact fidelity the act of humility prescribed to us when we are admonished for some fault (ibid., ch. XVIII, 20).

We have already treated of austerity, the second form of our Carthusian cross, when meditating on the vow of poverty; we need not, therefore, repeat it here. Let it suffice to recall that according to the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, wisdom is seldom found in those who live in luxury (cf. Job 28:13), and it hardly becomes the members of a thorn-crowned Head to garland themselves with roses.

It is for us, then, to practice renunciation or self-denial, and to use the sword of immolation whenever grace inspires us to do so. In the matter of the mind, our Lady would have us renounce our ideas, our opinions, our plans, our own judgment; in that of the heart, our desires, our affections, our tastes and our repugnances. As for the senses, we must renounce our ease, all forms of self-gratification and satisfaction; and in the matter of the will, all over-eagerness and our natural vivacity. Such, and no less, is the extent of the renunciation we are called upon to practice.

07 January 2010

Forgetting Ourselves

In this short post, Dom Augustin Guillerand teaches on the subject of Prayer. In this reflection are the Latin words: Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor… These are words which are from the Divine Office, and more specifically, the hour of Terce. Augustin Guillerand is reflecting most especially on the words which translate as:

Let flesh and heart and lips and mind
Sound forth our witness to mankind
And love light up our mortal frame
Till others catch the living flame.

Always begin with an act of the presence of God. This is an act of faith in Divine Love: living, present, loving, looking at us, coming to our aid, keeping us ever aware of His action. We must look at Him as we would at a Father, and speak to Him accordingly. So long as we have not retracted that act – that is, so long as we have not made a contrary act or one that would imply anything to the contrary – the force of our act of faith at the beginning of our prayer persists, and every time we put away a disturbing thought we renew it.

Our greatest obstacle is when we look at ourselves. We want to know what we are doing, how we stand; but we must do just the opposite. We must make the effort to forget ourselves.

Then, too, we must not be afraid to do all our spiritual exercises with our whole being. Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor… God wants our faith in His love to be a full and virile act. Never mind if it does not move the emotions: that is God’s part. But if it does, so much the better.

06 January 2010

The Light Which Knows No Setting

In part, what is proclaimed in the Readings at the Carthusian Night Office for the feast of the Epiphany are bits and pieces from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium”. Here is what the monks heard and reflected upon.

Christ instituted the new covenant, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new people of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God.

That messianic people has Christ for its Head, Who was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and now, having won a Name which is above all names, reigns in glory in heaven. The state of this people is that of the dignity and freedom of the sons of God. Thus, the messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

Israel according to the flesh, which wandered as an exile in the desert, was already called the Church of God. So likewise the new Israel which while living in this present age goes in search of a future and abiding city is called the Church of Christ. For He has bought it for Himself with His Blood, has filled it with His Spirit and provided it with those means which befit it as a visible and social union. God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the Author of salvation and the Source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible Sacrament of this saving unity. While it transcends all limits of time and confines of race, the Church is destined to extend to all regions of the earth and so enters into the history of mankind. Moving forward through trial and tribulation, the Church is strengthened by the power of God's grace, which was promised to her by the Lord, so that in the weakness of the flesh she may not waver from perfect fidelity, but remain a Bride worthy of her Lord, and moved by the Holy Spirit may never cease to renew herself, until through the Cross she arrives at the light which knows no setting.

It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, making them citizens of a Kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature. All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members. Since the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world the Church or people of God in establishing that Kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them. The Church in this is mindful that she must bring together the nations for that King to Whom they were given as an inheritance, and to Whose city they bring gifts and offerings.

05 January 2010

Arriving at Perfection

Dwell within the cell of your soul. This cell is a well in which there is earth as well as water. In the earth we recognize our own poverty: we see that we are not. We see that our being is from God. O ineffable blazing charity! I see next that as we discover the earth we get to the living water, the very core of the knowledge of God’s true and gentle will which desires nothing else but that we be made holy. So let us enter into the depths of this well. For if we dwell there, we will necessarily come to know both ourselves and God’s goodness. In recognizing that we are nothing we humble ourselves.

This is the cell of true self-knowledge, and there you will find knowledge of God’s goodness in you. This cell is really two rooms in one, and while you are in the one you must at the same time be in the other; otherwise your soul would end up either in confusion or presumption. For if you stayed in self-knowledge, spiritual confusion would be the result. And if you stayed only in knowledge of God, you would end up in presumption. So the one has to be seasoned by the other, and the two made to be one. When this is accomplished you will arrive at perfection. Here is why: From knowledge of yourself you will gain hatred for your selfish sensuality, and because of that hatred you will be a judge. You will mount the bench of your conscience and demand an account of yourself, letting no sin pass without doing it justice. From this knowledge issues the spring of humility.

In the knowledge of God you will discover the fire of divine charity, where you will find your pleasure on the cross with the spotless Lamb, searching out God’s honor and the salvation of souls in continual and humble prayer.

~ Saint Catherine of Siena ~

04 January 2010

Rapt in Admiration of the Divine Majesty

Across the Catholic globe, many celebrated the feast of the Epiphany yesterday, while others will do so two days from now on 6 January. Here is a Carthusian reflection for this glorious feast. Like many Carthusian writings, there are gems here which are more relatable for those called to the contemplative life. But each of us can take something of what is shared here and apply it to our own lives.

The birth of our Lord is a renewal of creation. The Fathers of the Church have compared the Infant-God hidden under the triple veil of the maternal womb, of a cave and of night, to a secret seed whence a new Flower will blossom, for the joy of the world. All life, it so happens, is born in secret and is veiled in its beginnings with mystery and silence. And our Lord is Life itself: Ego sum vita… I am Life (John 14:6). We shall never meditate enough on this name, so rich in its meaning, that God has given to Himself.

The life He communicates to us is not the life of nature but of grace. Nevertheless, the first is the figure of the second, and the latter the fullness of the former. All life is freely given. In a living person life is the first and fundamental gift for which there can be neither preparation nor merit. It is not for nothing that the supernatural life is called grace, for it is life essential: a birth more mysterious, a gift more pure and unmerited, than that of nature, for it is a participation in the divine prerogatives that no created intelligence would have thought possible. We must possess the spirit of grace, the spirit of divine liberality which, when we receive God’s gifts, makes us welcome without hesitation all that He offers us so lavishly, and when we give, constrains us by a consummate generosity to imitate the divine abundance of that living water, sharing it with others, whilst we ourselves drink deeply of the source.

Among the faithful generally, it is by prayer and recollection that grace is diffused. With us, it must do so above all under the form of the interior life. Interior-ness is a characteristic of all life. An inanimate stone has a kind of activity, but it is only on the surface; it only resists shocks from without. Living things, on the other hand, discern and utilize whatever is good for them: an inner sense guides their conduct and growth. The spiritual life is even keener and more powerful still: there is nothing from which it cannot draw profit. The faithful soul finds its good in everything that affects it; a principle more profound than that which governs the life of nature causes it to derive strength and development from its contact with everything. When it is not so with us, when we allow the accidents of life to upset us and turn us from our path, it is surely because our life is not sufficiently interior. We must descend into the depths of our being, remain patient and still and re-find in the solitude where God dwells, that divine intelligence, that mysterious force, thanks to which we are again able to assimilate harmoniously without exception all that happens to us and around us.

As for us, the life of grace, the interior life, is developed under the form of the contemplative life. Perhaps, in order to make this union and fusion of man with his Creator clearer, we should express ourselves more simply, and it would be truer to say in general that we lead a life of union and love. Nonetheless, we rightly speak of it as the contemplative life to denote the ideal of a love essentially direct and disinterested. For contemplation is the act of a soul rapt in admiration in the presence of something more beautiful than itself. Such, indeed, is the nature of admiration, the force of beauty thus contemplated, that it can make us lose ourselves, utterly unconscious of our self. The act of contemplative love is at once the simplest and most direct. Here again we cannot help remarking the continuity of the processes of nature and grace. All life is love, and all life is forgetfulness of self. Life consists in losing oneself so as to gain a higher good. In all nature life can only be perpetuated by the immolation of the individual, sacrificed generation after generation, so that the flame of life it has received may be passed on and continued, undiminished, a living flame.

But it is, above all, in the realm of grace that abnegation is both a necessity and a joy. Qui perdiderit animam suam… he that shall lose his life for Me shall find it (Matthew 10:39). The soul has the power to forget itself more than any other living thing: it has, if it so desire, the absolute limpidity of a mirror. Possessing no longer any form of its own, it reflects all the splendor of the infinite Majesty. To contemplate God thus, in the calm of recollection, is the source of all true wisdom. We are not masters of ourselves, we shall never know true justice or prudence, until by a brave and sincere gesture of welcome, we allow God to fulfill His will in us, and be in us all He wants to be.

May Mary, whose feast it is also, Mary full of grace, the most interior and hidden of virgins, whose soul is lost in pure admiration of the divine Majesty and thus utterly free, teach us to receive Him, and to love and contemplate Him, as she herself does.