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.