30 August 2010

Our Lord's Special Friends

Oh, if you had once come into that wine-cellar, out of doubt you would even with a certain thirstiness, more earnestly desire to be there and more often. But no man can enter into it, saving such as desire Me above all things, love Me above all things, esteem Me above all things, and make account of Me as All in all. For he that finds no other consolation but in Me, and not only that, but he that desires affliction so much in this world that he takes himself to be wronged, when I send him any consolation at all, and does as willingly accept it at My Hands, when I leave his soul barren without any comfort, as when I replenish it with My consolation, to whom all joy without Me is a torment, having his mind wholly fixed upon Me, and his desire only bent to serve Me. Such men as these are, I say, My special friends, at whole door do I freely knock, and willingly enter; these are the men to whom I gladly offer myself, and impart my secrets. These men I am wont to visit in sundry days, as seems fitting in My judgment, by stirring them up in such a manner as is agreeable for the devotion and love which they bear Me.

Sometimes I present Myself to the eyes of their souls, wounded, naked, and tormented in all My members, and that they may find greater comfort in the love they bear Me, I show them My Wounds, to the end that they may touch them, bathe them, cleanse them, kiss them, and embrace them. And although their devotion in this behalf may seem ridiculous to worldly men, because they don’t know what it means, yet it is most acceptable to Me, and most profitable to them. For then I begin to forget all the pains which I have suffered, and also all the faults which such a spouse of Mine has committed against Me, and do wholly bend Myself to comfort her with My Spirit, and to lighten her with My grace.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

28 August 2010

The Word of God is All in all

Today on this feast of Saint Augustine, the Carthusians at the hour of Matins listened to this great saint’s words from his ‘Sermo CXX’. Here are those words.

Saint John begins his Gospel with these words: ‘In the beginning was the Word’ (Saint John 1:1). The evangelist saw it, and rising above the whole creation, mountains, air, the heavens, the stars, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, all Angels, and Archangels, transcending all; he saw the Word that was in the beginning and he drank. He saw above every creature, he drank in from the Lord's Breast. Of all the disciples, the evangelist was the beloved of Jesus; insomuch that he lay on His Breast at supper. There was this secret: that from there might be drunk in, what in the Gospel was to be poured forth. Happy are they who hear and understand. Of the next degree of blessedness are they who though they do not understand, yet believe. For how great a thing it is to see this Word of God. Who can explain it in human words?

Lift up your hearts, my brethren; lift them up as best you can; reject whatsoever occurs to you from the idea of any body. If the Word of God occurs to you under the idea of the light of this sun, expand, extend how you will; set no bounds in your thought to that light; it is nothing compared to the Word of God. Whatsoever of this sort the mind conceives, is less in one part than in the whole. Conceive the Word of God as Whole everywhere. Understand what I say; because of my stress of time I am limiting myself as much as I can for your sakes. Understand what I say.

This light from heaven, which is called the sun, when it comes forth, it enlightens the earth, rules over the day, develops forms, distinguishes colours. A great blessing it is, a great gift of God to all mortal men; let His works magnify Him. If the sun is so beautiful, how much more beautiful is the sun's Maker? And yet look, brethren; the sun pours its rays through the whole earth; penetrates open places, the closed resist it; it sends its light through windows; but can it also do so through a wall? To the Word of God all is open; from the Word of God nothing is hid.

Observe another difference, how far from the Creator is the creature, especially the bodily creature. When the sun is in the East, it is not in the West. Its light indeed sheds from that vast body and reaches even to the West; but itself is not there. When it begins to set, then it will be there. When it rises, it is in the East; when it sets it is in the West. By these operations, it has given name to those quarters. Because it is in the East when it rises at the East, it is called the Rising Sun; because it is at the West when it sets at the West, it is called the Setting Sun. At night it is nowhere seen. Is this true of the Word of God? When He is in the East, is He not in the West; or when He is in the West, is He not in the East? Does He ever leave the earth, and go under or behind the earth? He is All in all.

Who can in words explain this? By what means of proof shall I establish to you what I say? I am speaking as a man, and it is to men that I speak; I am speaking as one weak, to men weaker am I speaking. And yet, my brethren, I am bold to say that I do in some sort see what I am saying to you, though ‘through a glass’, or ‘darkly’, I do in some way understand even within my heart a word touching this thing. But it seeks to go forth to you, and finds no vehicle. The vehicle of the word is the sound of the voice. What I am saying within my own self I seek to say to you, and words fail. For I wish to speak of the Word of God. How great a Word, what kind of Word? ‘All things were made by Him’ (Saint John 1:3).

Return with me, O human infirmity, return, I say. Let us comprehend these human things if we can. We are men, I who speak, I am a man, and to men I speak, and utter the sound of my voice. I convey the sound of my voice to men's ears, and by the sound of my voice I somehow through the ear lay up understanding also in the heart. Let us then study on the way human speech is produced. But if we have not the ability to comprehend even this, in respect of the Word of God what are we? You are listening to me; I am speaking a word. If any one goes out from us, and is asked outside what is being done here, he answers, ‘The Bishop is speaking a word’. I am speaking a word of the Word. But what a word, of what a Word? A mortal word, of the Word Immortal; a changeable word, of the Word Unchangeable; a passing word of the Word Eternal.

Nevertheless, consider my word. For I have told you already, the Word of God is Whole everywhere. See, I am speaking a word to you; what I say reaches to all. Now that what I am saying might come to you all, did you divide what I say? If I were to feed you, to wish to fill not your minds, but your bodies, and to set loaves before you to be satisfied; would you not divide my loaves among you? Could my loaves come to every one of you? If they came to one only, the rest would have none. But now see, I am speaking, and you all receive. Not only do all receive, but all receive it whole. It comes whole to all, to each whole. O the marvels of my word! What then is the Word of God?

Hear again. I have spoken; what I have spoken, has gone forth to you, and has not gone away from me. It has reached you, and has not been separated from me. Before I spoke, I had it, and you had not; I spoke, and you began to have, and I lost nothing. O the marvel of my word! What then is the Word of God? From little things form conjectures of things great. Consider earthly things, praise the heavenly. I am a creature, you are creatures; and such great miracles are done with my word in my heart, in my mouth, in my voice, in your ears, in your hearts. What then is the Creator? O Lord, hear us. Make us, for that which You have made us. Make us good.

26 August 2010

Offering Mary Our Service

A Carthusian monk describes how we should be servants of our Blessed Lady, and the mistakes we make by our indifference. To make his point, the writer shares a couple of stories, first about Martin, the brother of Saint Peter Damian; and then about the Carthusian Prior, Dom Louis Rouvier.

With what docility . . . should the irrational world hasten to serve Mary, in doing the will of the Master Who created it for her, and restored it through her? The earth and the heavens, exclaims the royal Prophet, fire and snow, hail and the stormy winds, mountains and hills, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air: all hymn the glory of the Almighty God (cf. Psalm 148).

What is man’s part in this universal hymn? What note do we add to it? Surrounded by creatures that should serve as instruments for Mary’s glory, do we not frequently use them indifferently, without giving a thought to our heavenly Queen, at the risk of provoking their lamentations (cf. Romans 8:22) by turning them away from their true end, which is to give glory to the Incarnate Word and His Blessed Mother?

And this is not all. Not only do we remain deaf to the voice of creation urging us to gratitude and love, as it did to the ecstatic saint of Assisi, who unlike us heard and understood its language; but how often do we not fling insults in the face of our Queen by rebelling against her claims on us? To obey Mary is to obey God, and to offend her is to be unfaithful to her Son.

One can understand what led the brother of Saint Peter Damian to act as he did. Martin, for such was his name, had had the misfortune to commit a grave fault. Quickly entering into himself, he prostrated himself before our Lady’s altar, and there, grieving for his sin, he uttered the prayer: ‘O my Patroness, mirror of chastity, I have sinned against God and against you. Wretched sinner that I am, I have no longer any hope save by becoming your servant; receive me as such’. Then, loosening his girdle, he placed it around his neck, as the humble badge of his service. At the same time, he laid upon the altar a sum of money which he vowed to pay every year to his heavenly Mistress.

Mary, it is true, does not ask any such ransom of us, or necessarily any external marks of our love. Instead, let us offer her our self, our whole way of life, in a generous and unfailing service. This, at least, we can and should do.

It is related that when Dom Louis Rouvier was installed as Prior of the Charterhouse of Bosserville, his constant desire was to show in some way that he regarded himself in his office simply as our Lady’s vicar, and that he intended to exercise his authority solely in dependence upon her. In the church and refectory, above the prior’s seat, he placed a small statue of our Lady bearing the inscription: Reign over us, O Blessed Virgin, together with your Son. At his instance, also, a picture of our Lady Immaculate was hung on all the cell doors; and at various parts of the monastery he placed prints representing Carthusians at Mary’s feet, offering her the homage of their love.

We, too, should never forget the tremendous honour God has paid us in allowing us to have His Mother as our Queen, and to be reckoned among her servants.

25 August 2010

Getting Out of the Way of Ourselves

There are no sterile prayers, there are only dried-up souls. The prayer of a dried-up soul is not a prayer; it is not a raising up of the mind to God. Such a soul is not living in God’s presence, on His heights. It remains preoccupied with itself, and may well die in that state. Only the lips mutter words, which could be prayers; or the arms are outstretched in a gesture which could be mistaken for one intended for God. But there is nothing of spiritual depth accompanying these external manifestations, which are deceptive. ‘With their lips [they] glorify Me, but their heart is far from Me’ (Isaiah 29:13).

Nothing displeases God more than such a deception. Elsewhere He calls it ‘absolutely execrable’, and that I understand. This particular lie destroys human integrity; it gives to the body and soul that are substantially one, two divergent movements. By it we are debased lower than our real selves. Saint Augustine compared it to the lowing of cattle, but even that is an understatement. A lowing or bellowing is the cry of a beast; prayer which is feigned is the word of a being divided in himself and reduced to a dried-up shell: it is not the prayer of a man.

The prayer of a proud man is not much better. Such was the prayer of the Pharisee in the Temple (cf. Saint Luke 18:10). He was not looking at God, he was looking at himself, and he expected God to do the same. The condemnation of the meek and humble Saviour of this ‘other’ is well known. It showed all too clearly what our Lord thought of such an attitude, which the commentators on the Gospel do not always make enough of. Our Lord's words were devastating: ‘I say to you: this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other’ (Saint Luke 18:14). The prayer of the Pharisee followed the line of his thought. He assumed a place of preference on earth, and seemed to think he would occupy the same in heaven. The contrast between himself and the publican, the only representative of the human race present, showed up his superiority. Jesus took up the comparison but, with one word, turned the tables on the proud Pharisee. But what a word! He is now simply one who knew not how to achieve his being by freeing himself from himself and entering into the truth of God. You thought you were rich and had need of nothing, and knew not that you were wretched and miserable, poor and blind and naked (cf. Revelation 3:17).

Yet humility is not diffidence. On the contrary, it is the very opposite. Humility is so fine a combination that it is not easy to define it exactly. Perhaps the best definition of it is that it is the same as truth. Humility is an equation; it is a just relationship, perceived, accepted and loved of the reality. And that reality is that God is essential Being, whereas we exist only in Him. The soul that keeps in this place, that is, remains in the presence of Being Himself, in order that the latter may communicate His own life to it and thus cause it to be, is true and consequently humble.

Since the fall, the truth is that man no longer lives in God's presence; he has turned away from Him, and only God can turn him back. The prayer of a diffident soul speaks only half that truth. It forgets the other half, so important and so comforting. Such a soul, says Saint James, is ‘like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind’ (Saint James 1:6). God cannot impress His likeness upon it; it is not the perfect mirror in which He can reproduce and so give birth to His Son in us. What we must do when we pray is to place ourselves at our Lord's Feet, and like children say: ‘Our Father’.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand~

24 August 2010

The Word of God

For today’s feast of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew, the Carthusians at the hour of Matins listened to some words of wisdom by the Cistercian, Baldwin of Forde. He was the archdeacon of Exeter, and in the year 1169 entered the abbey of Forde and six years later became the abbot. After serving as abbot for six years, he became the bishop of Worcester, and then in 1184 he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here’s an excerpt from Matins.

The Word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Behold, how great the power and wisdom contained in the Word of God! The text is highly significant for those seeking Christ, Who is precisely the Word, the Power and Wisdom of God. This Word, from the beginning, is co-eternal with the Father, and in His time was revealed to the Apostles and through them was announced and accepted with humble faith by the people. Wonderful condescension, Christ, God's Word, God in the Heart of the Father, descends to the heart of man, to be formed and to train, according to a New Way. The Apostle to the Galatians explains this when he says: My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you! (Galatians 4:19). When Christ is preached, that is, listening to the Word of God, we are able to believe because faith comes from hearing. Then we can love. Everything is connected: there is no love without faith, and no faith if the Word is not heard. For he who loves believes, and he who believes hears the Word, as the Spirit reveals it interiorly.

This Word of God is living, and the Father has given the power to have life in it, nothing more or less, as the Father has life in Himself. So the Word is not only alive, but it is also life, as He Himself says: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (Saint John 14:6). Since the Word of God is life, it is alive and can give life. For as the Father raises up the dead and gives life, so the Son also gives life to whom He wills. (Saint John 5:21). The word of God gives life when He calls the dead from the grave and says, Lazarus, come out! (Saint John 11:43). When this Word is preached, Christ gives to the preacher's voice, perceived externally, the power to operate within; for the dead become alive again and relive the joy of the children of Abraham. This Word, then, is living in the Heart of the Father, living on the mouth of the preacher, alive in the hearts of those who believe and those who love. And precisely because this Word is so alive, there is no doubt that it is also effective.

The Word of God is effective in its operations, and is effective when it is preached. Indeed it does not return empty, but produces fruit everywhere it is proclaimed; and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword when it is believed and loved. When the Word is spoken, its pierces the heart like sharp arrows, enters as a nail struck with force, reaching and penetrating the secret intimacy of the soul. In fact, this Word is more penetrating than a double-edged sword, because its power of engraving surpasses that of the most tempered blade and its acuteness that of any intelligence. No wisdom human, not any product of intelligence is as fine and thin as it, nor more acute than any sharpness of human wisdom and as ingenious as its reasoning.

With power received from on High the ministers of the Church wield the sword of God's Word as it is written: The two-edged swords in their hands (Psalm 149:6). And also: A sword is in their lips (Psalm 59:8). Will the Word not reach all the ears of those seeking salvation? If the tongue of the wicked, as the prophet says, is a sharp sword (Psalm 57:5), how much more will be the tongue of Peter, because he has the capacity for the unequivocal Word of truth. The Word of God penetrates not only the intelligence, subtlety and insight of man, but it is also able to separate truth from falsehood, good from evil, the honest from the corrupt. The Word of God works in all, taking advantage of grace to carry to completion in the faithful fear, love and every other virtuous seed that God has placed in us. Even more amazing is the fact that it arouses the secrets of hearts, shakes our deepest sensibility with expert force, penetrating even to the division of soul and spirit.

23 August 2010

In Search of Contemplation

How much it would please Me if you had a certain and firm truth in Me, and were as willing to be with Me as I am desirous to be with you, seeing all My delight consists in being with the children of men (cf. Proverbs 8:31). So should the fortitude of your mind be daily augmented, and the true sweetness of your soul continually increased. But this trust in Me can never be without a distrust in yourself, and both of these graces are only obtained by poverty of spirit, which is a most precious jewel.

But I know well-enough what holds you from attaining this virtue; your heart is overlaid with the love of this world, and by that means infected with such an extreme coldness, as it makes you loathe and abhor the Word of God, which is the Food of your soul. But if you desire to increase in virtue, and to strengthen your mind with the following of that course, you must receive the Word of God greedily, digest it perfectly, and still retain the nourishment of that within you.

The reason, therefore, that you cannot thirst after My justice is because you are already filled with the cold meats of conversation and vanity, and that is also the cause of why these things delight you, which favour neither piety nor devotion. Simplicity of heart is loathsome to you, and the exercise of holy meditations you account as time lost. Your mind being laden with the cares of this world cannot ascend to Me. For although you raise it by force for awhile, yet it presently falls down again into her earthly cogitations; so as your soul being distracted, your heart inconstant, your mind wavering, and your desires ensnared with the love of worldly pleasure: you are troubled when you are awake, and not quiet when you are asleep.

And when you lie in this misery, then you complain that you are dry and barren, without my consolations. If this did happen to you by means of My Providence, and not by your own negligence, there is no reason why the wanting of this sensible grace of Mine should molest your soul. But seeing your own sloth and negligence as the cause of why you lie languishing in this barren dryness – if you desire My consolation – if you wish for My coming – if you long to be united with Me, you must forsake all those vanities that please you without Me, and only study to serve Me, endeavouring continually to perform those things which agree best with My liking, and are most pleasing to Me. And making this your chief care, you must labour with all your force and might to see My will, as near as you can, in all creatures fulfilled. Moreover, in doing so, let your whole study be to content Me, and to rely only on Me. So shall you find My presence more often with you, and by it your spirit shall be, as it were, made drunk with joy; your conscience shall be comforted, you heart quieted, and you shall then possess the perfect rest of most sweet contemplation.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

20 August 2010

Let Me Die the Death of Angels

Here’s an excerpt from a sermon by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs. He describes the snatching away of life’s snares that occurs for a soul in ecstasy. It is ‘the death that does not take away life but makes it better’.

What do you think the beloved will receive in heaven, when now she is favoured with an intimacy so great as to feel herself embraced by the Arms of God, cherished on the Breast of God, guarded by the care and zeal of God lest she be roused from her sleep by anyone till she wakes of her own accord.

Well then, let me explain if I can what this sleep is which the Bridegroom wishes His beloved to enjoy, from which He will not allow her to be awakened under any circumstances, except at her good pleasure. This sleep of the bride, however, is not the tranquil repose of the body that for a time sweetly lulls the fleshly senses, nor that dreaded sleep whose custom is to take life away completely. Farther still is it removed from that deathly sleep by which a man perseveres irrevocably in sin and so dies. It is a slumber which is vital and watchful, which enlightens the heart, drives the heart, drives away death, and communicates eternal life that does not stupefy the mind but transports it. And, I say it with out hesitation, it is a death, for the apostle Paul in praising people still living in the flesh spoke thus: ‘For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God’.

It is not absurd for me to call the bride's ecstasy a death, then, but one that snatches away not life but life's snares, so that one can say ‘We have escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers’. In this life we move about surrounded by traps, but these cause no fear when the soul is drawn out of itself by a thought that is both powerful and holy, provided that it so separates itself and flies away from the mind that it transcends the normal manner and habit of thinking; for a net is spread in vain before the eyes of winged creatures. Why dread wantonness where there is no awareness of life? For since the ecstatic soul is cut off from awareness of life though not from life itself, it must of necessity be cut off from the temptations of life. How good the death that does not take away life but makes it better; good in that the body does not perish but the soul is exalted.

Men alone experience this. But, if I may say so let me die the death of angels that, transcending the memory of things present, I may cast off not only the desire for what are corporeal and inferior but even their images, that I may enjoy pure conversation with those who bear the likeness of purity.

This kind of ecstasy, in my opinion, is alone or principally called contemplation. Not to be gripped during life by material desires is a mark of human virtue; but to gaze without the use of bodily likenesses is the sign of angelic purity. Each, however, is a divine gift, each is a going out of oneself, each a transcending of self, but in one, one goes much farther than in the other.

Consider therefore that the Bride has retired to this solitude, there, overcome by the loveliness of the place, she sweetly sleeps within the Arms of her Bridegroom, in ecstasy of spirit. Hence the maidens are forbidden to waken her until she herself pleases.

18 August 2010

The Soul: the True Temple, the Sacred Sanctuary

This piece from the Carthusian, Dom Augustin Guillerand, teaches us where the true temple is: the human soul. This great Carthusian author, however, in the final paragraph, says something about what the physical temple should be like, that is, the parishes we worship at for Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, etc. Does your parish exhibit the beauty that is suggested here?

We have to accustom ourselves to pray in all places as at all times. The real place to pray in is the soul, for God dwells there. If we would obey our Lord's counsel, when we pray we should enter into the chamber of our soul, close the door and speak to the Father Whose loving Eyes seek ever our own (cf. Saint Matthew 6:6). This inner chamber of our soul is the true temple, the sacred sanctuary, and we carry it with us and can at any time either remain there or quickly return to it should we have been obliged to leave it.

And we must make it a really spotless and beautiful place. Its true beauty, of course, is our Lord's presence. In it He should be able to feel at home, and He is at home if He sees His own features there. These features are His perfections, and when they are reflected in the soul, they are called virtues. The soul that possesses them is beautiful with His beauty; it is ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ (Saint Matthew 5:48). The ‘as’ here does not mean ‘as much’; it does not imply equality but resemblance. By the virtues we are re-formed in God's Image, and in the Image of His divine Son, Who came to reveal His Father's features to us, by practicing the virtues.

In this reserved sanctuary -- a new heaven and Kingdom of God -- solitude and silence must reign. God is alone with Himself. The divine Persons do not affect this solitude, they constitute it. The Love Who is their animating force encloses them against all that is not Himself. The City of God is immense, but enclosed. God alone occupies it, and He is All in all. The soul that prays must reproduce this solitude: it must be filled by it to the exclusion of all else. The very colloquy which follows is a kind of silence.

Speech and silence are not opposed: they do not exclude one another. What is opposed to silence is not speech but words: that is, multiplicity. We confuse the silence of Being with the silence of ‘nothingness’, which knows neither how to speak nor how to be silent. All that it can do is to become agitated, and then it dissembles. And it does this by its superficial movements reflecting the nothingness within it. Lip service which has no deep thought to support it; physical postures; facial expressions with no corresponding reality or that flatly deceive -- such is the language of ‘nothingness’.

And that is why it is garrulous. It says little in many words; or it uses words that do not say what it thinks. God needed only one Word to express Himself fully, and it is toward that unity of the Word that we tend when we are alone with God. He has become all, and we tell Him so -- what more can we say? It is the silence of the soul recollected in itself and occupied with Him Whom it finds there. It is the silence of those long nights that Jesus passed on the mountain side during His prayer to God. It was the silence of Gethsemane or of Calvary, broken only by a few words for us.

Churches are places for prayer in common. They must reproduce God's features and those of souls which need the body to express themselves. They must offer to the body lines that run upward toward heaven or fade away in the mystery of a semi-darkness. They must isolate the building from the world and its noises, and for a central point around which everything tends to draw the soul's powers, to concentrate and unify them and evoke our love. They must reveal beauties which are altogether beyond us; they must give us a peace which does not come from created things but draws us above them. They must create a great harmony of the natural and the supernatural, in which He Who has made both matter and spirit is revealed. His presence shines through and His love draws us. We must breathe Him through the very pores of our being, just as we breathe the air. A place of worship which does not evoke this response, and the soul that on entering it does not respond to that appeal, are not true to themselves and deceive others.

17 August 2010

Our Lord's Desire for Your Soul

Alas, My beloved, alas My spouse; I stand desiring you, and waiting for you; I wish that you would return to Me with all your heart, and forsaking all vanities, apply yourself wholly to devotion, and give yourself daily to humility; that I might then vouchsafe to talk with you in more familiar sort, and rejoice your mind with far better and purer delights than those you have lain drowned.

I do not require a multitude of works by your hands, but a chaste, faithful and pure heart, which may seek to please Me, and not delight itself. I desire a sincere love and a fervent devotion, that is, a ready and forward will to honour and obey Me, and a sincere and pure intention in performing the things that I command. I wish that your heart should be clear and free of any other love, and if you would present it to Me in this way, I would endow you with greater consolations and far more excellent blessings, than you either dare to presume to desire or are able to conceive.

I am a husband that is bashful, and therefore will never come to you, when I see you busied with other matters altogether vain and unprofitable. When I come I must find you alone, for I stand knocking at your door, being very weak and quaking for cold, even in the same form that I carried, when I was unloosed from the pillar where I was bound, scourged and wounded for your sake. And this I do, that I may make an impression of Myself in your mind, wounded as I was, and that you, embracing Me with the arms of your love, I may unite you unto Me, and inflame you with My Wounds, that still burn with the fervent heat of that charity which I bear towards you.

Oh, if you would love Me as you ought to do, would you not both quickly draw Me into your heart, and also before I came, with a most desirous will, attend and long for My coming; and would you not then clothe the naked, and offer fire to warm him that is cold, that you might be worthy to receive again the chaste embracing of My love, and to enjoy the sweet taste of My Spirit?

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

16 August 2010

Drawing Mary's Soul and Ours Together

My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up ~ Canticle of Canticles 4:12

To be a contemplative is to be receptive of the divine Word; to possess Him spiritually, and to live a life of union with Him. Our Blessed Lady is in truth the model for all contemplatives. She is the Mother of Truth as she is of Fair Love. Our part is to imitate her as faithful and generous children.

The various symbols that illustrate for us the mystery of Mary’s mission – Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, a Fountain sealed, Mirror of Justice, Ark of the Covenant – are at the same time symbols of the soul that loves and possesses God in an interior solitude. Mary’s virtues, the gifts she reveals and that radiate from her, are the essential virtues, the very conditions and special marks of the contemplative life.

According to the hymn we sing at Vespers on all her feasts, Mary is distinguished by her graciousness among women – among so many virgins and mothers on whom God has also bestowed the grace of gentleness, yet whose very gentleness is at the same time their power and strength. But all that is both Virginal and Maternal Mary, the second and spiritual Eve, possesses to an exceptional degree.

We are told that gentleness is the summing-up of all Christian virtues: it consists, above all, of patience and kindness; of respect and love for souls, indeed for all animate being; since one who is gentle is gentle towards all living things. And this, because in its root it derives from harmony with the will of God under all its forms, a tender acquiescence in all that is. It is also the primary requisite for all who long to clarify and liberate their inward vision. There is no contemplative life without infinite patience; light only penetrates souls at rest. Tranquillity is the first disposition necessary, then, if the depths of the soul are to become translucent. The art of contemplating divine truths is the art of remaining still.

Gentleness is the quality of a forgiving and loving soul, and is inseparable from true intellectual insight. When the mind is purified and sees all beings in their proper light, it cannot but be confident and loving. Saint John of the Cross has remarked with great insistence how essential kindness is for all interior progress. Our vocation is truly virginal and a mirror of Mary’s. She had no need to condemn the world; it was the world that broke its strength against her graciousness. So, too, with the contemplative. Our mission is not to judge men, but to live with God.

Another of Our Lady’s virtues which dazzles us, and which was pre-eminent in her, is her purity. Mary is, as it were, the very incarnation of purity, which in turn is so intimately bound up with the gift of wisdom that one can call it the indispensable virtue of the contemplative. It is not merely a question of avoiding the sins of the flesh, but of a delicacy of spirit which shields and reserves itself for the highest joys. To be pure is to know how to establish and maintain solitude of soul for God alone; to reconstruct our Garden of Eden interiorly. We know how Mary is prefigured in the earthly paradise, a sacred reserve inaccessible to the world; a place of delights without blemish or discord, prepared for the new Adam. Such is the contemplative soul: an enclosed garden where one has the joy of receiving directly the divine life in a stillness comparable to that which doubtless reigned at the dawn of the world. Neither thing nor person must come between the soul and God; nothing but that chaste liberty of the dawn of recreation. Then a new creation takes place, and is renewed throughout time: the generation of the Son of God in us.

What conclusions can we deduce from these brief reflections on the resemblance which draws Mary’s soul and ours together? We shall make the resolution to close our minds to all alien preoccupations, and by our recollection drink deeply of the innermost springs of our being. Like Mary, we shall reserve ourselves for joys not of this world, holding on to those joys through all our sufferings, all our separations, all our fears, till they attain their plenitude and enfold our whole being with their consoling peace, bringing us at last to that eternal felicity which we shall know to be the only true joy, when the shadow of this world shall have passed away.

~ Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion~

14 August 2010

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

‘The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory’ (Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950).

Dear readers, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared as an infallible dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, but the belief in Mary's Assumption dates back to the early days of the Church. A very ancient writer, Modestus of Jerusalem asserts: ‘As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Saviour and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by Him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with Him Who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to Himself in a way known only to Him’. There have been many writings from the saints on the subject: John Damascene, Germanus of Constantinople, Anthony of Padua, Albert the Great, Bernardine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales, to name only some. The Assumption is not explicitly found in Sacred Scripture but it is there implicitly. Here are some examples: ‘Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place: You and the Ark, which You have sanctified’ (Psalm 132:8). ‘The Queen takes her place at Your right Hand’ (Psalm 45:10). ‘Who is she that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh, and frankincense, and of all the powders of the perfumer?’ (Songs 3:6). ‘Who is this that comes up from the desert, flowing with delights, leaning upon her beloved?’ (Songs 8:5). Perhaps one of the most convincing and prophetic passages in the Old Testament is found in the First Book of Kings, supporting the Catholic belief that Jesus is the King of kings, Mary His Mother is the Queen who is with Him in His eternal Kingdom, interceding on our behalf: ‘Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. There is one small favour I would ask of you, she said. Do not refuse me. Ask it my mother, the king said to her, for I will not refuse you’ (1 Kings 2:19-20).

First Reading, Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
In the Old Testament the covenant that was kept in the ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. The Blessed Virgin Mary carried in her womb not a symbol of God’s presence, but God Himself. Because of this, Mary was the human Ark -- the reality and fulfilment of what the ark of the Old Covenant symbolized. In this, the Book of Revelation, we read about a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. There are two ways to interpret this. First, the woman is the Church which shines with the light of faith under the guidance and protection of the Sun of Justice. The moon represents the changeable things of this world of which the affections of the faithful will rise above; hence, those changeable things will be under our feet. And so, the Church is clothed with Christ, with the changeable things of this world under her feet and is governed by Christ through the twelve stars who are the Apostles. The second way to interpret this is to say that the woman is our Blessed Lady who is clothed with Christ and her crown of twelve stars signifies that she is the Queen of heaven, Queen of the Church, Queen of the Twelve Apostles and Queen of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through this interpretation the Church proclaims that our Blessed Mother was taken to heaven, body and soul to reign as our Queen and Mother. The woman is in pain as she labours to bring forth spiritual children along with Christ in the midst of persecutions and afflictions. The dragon is often identified as the devil or Satan. The seven heads and ten horns represent those who serve the dragon by persecuting the servants of Almighty God. This is alluded to in the Book of Psalms: ‘The kings of the earth rise up and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed’ (Psalm 2:2). Also, in the Book of Genesis we read as God rebukes the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. And to the woman He said, I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children’ (Genesis 3:15-16). In the heart of Mary and the Church is produced the Word that is persecuted by the enemies and the unbelievers of this world. Saint John the Evangelist, the author of the Book of Revelation, must have reasoned that this woman was our Lady. How could he have not thought this? On the Cross, Christ gave her to him to be his Mother (cf. Saint John 19:27). Additionally, tradition teaches us that after Christ’s Ascension, Saint John and Mary were often in each other’s company. While we can say the woman can be identified as either the Church or Mary, it was Saint Ambrose who taught that Mary is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. This was reiterated by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. More than likely this is alluding to Lucifer being driven out of heaven bringing with him all the fallen angels who sided with him in rebellion against God. The dragon stood before the woman who was able to flee into the desert to a place prepared for her by God. In the early days of the Church many saints fled to the desert to escape persecution. Saint Jerome points out that it was these types of occurrences that gave rise to the eremitical state of life. In the final verse heaven rejoices in the Church which through her trials and persecutions remained faithful to her Lord and thus was victorious over her enemies.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Saint Paul often makes the comparison between Adam and our Lord. Adam was created into an earthly paradise but his sin corrupted that paradise. Christ came and restored to humanity a Paradise which is not of this world. Paul refers to our Saviour as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. If Jesus is the firstfruits, then it supposes that others will rise after Him. At the general resurrection Christ will present us to His heavenly Father as the fruits of His glorious triumph over sin and death. Since Paul makes the comparison between Adam and Christ, rightfully the comparison can be made between Eve and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of the sin of our first parents, Eve became the mother of the dead. Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death, Mary became the Mother of all the living. Saint Paul writes that all shall be brought to life in proper order; following Christ will be those who belong to Him. In our Blessed Mother is the proof of what Christ has promised. She has been lifted up to her Son, body and soul. Around 380 A.D. Timothy of Jerusalem wrote: ‘The Virgin is immortal because He Who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension’. Additionally, Gregory of Tours in 580 wrote: ‘Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who, we believe, was a Virgin before and after childbirth, was carried to Paradise preceded by the Lord amidst the singing of angelic choirs’. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his work, Meditations and Devotions wrote: ‘Was she [Mary] not nearer to Him than the greatest of the saints before her? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul’. If you think about it, the Church really doesn’t teach anything all that differently about Mary than what the Church teaches about us. Mary was conceived immaculately without the stain of original sin. In Baptism, we are born to a new life in Christ; and in that new birth original sin is washed away. Mary is in heaven, body and soul. Christ promises the same for us. Mary has been granted this grace ahead of time as proof that our Saviour is faithful to what He promises.

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56
With this weekend’s Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this Gospel is a reminder of one important fact when trying to grow in the spiritual life: where there is Mary, there is Jesus. Look for her and you’ll find Him. Come to her and she’ll lead you to Him. In this Gospel are the makings of the first ever Eucharistic procession. Mary, however, the human Tabernacle, does not need to be carried through the hill country leading to Judah; she is able to carry herself, bringing with her our Lord, her Lord and her Son. The house of Zechariah and Elizabeth suddenly becomes a chapel for adoration. Certainly Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the Tabernacle carrying her Lord when she says: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me’? John the Baptist recognizes his Lord as he leaps for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. In Mary’s Magnificat are the eternal words: ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed.’ It is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the angel Gabriel called her blessed at the Annunciation, that Elizabeth calls her blessed at the Visitation, that Mary proclaims her own blessedness for all generations in the Magnificat. The Venerable Bede asserts that in her eternal blessed state we hold her up to the veneration of both men and angels. Saint Jerome adds that Elizabeth too is blessed, yet the excellency of the Mother of God far surpasses that of Elizabeth and every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the smaller stars. Mary brought our Lord into the world. She gave Him to us. She presented Him to Simeon at the temple; she presents Him to us as our Saviour. She was present for many of the events of His human life; and after His Ascension He called her to Himself to be with Him in heaven. He also calls us to heaven to spend eternity with Him; and if we so choose, Mary can be our tour guide in this life’s journey, to direct us along the path that leads to her Son. In the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, are the words: ‘She [Mary], by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body’. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians’ (CCC 966).

13 August 2010

Our Love-Reign Medicine

Wherever you are, whatever you do, or wherever you go, My Eye is never off of you, looking and searching out all your acts, all your motions, and all the secret intentions of your heart. And if any time I find in any of these the least unfaithfulness to Me, Who am most faithful, I am justly offended and angry. For I suffered not only with all patience, but even with all willingness, many affronts, reproaches, grief, and torments for your sake.

O My most beloved, to pass over in silence all the pains and torments I endured, tell me, I pray you, what man would have suffered so many and such great disgraces for his friend as I did for you? And yet I endured them when you were My enemy, when you had done no good at all, when did neither love nor know Me; before you were born I loved you, and suffered these grievous and innumerable torments for you.

Why then will you turn away yourself from Me? Why do you seek quietness without Me? You are sickly, and yet will wander abroad. If I forsake you, who will receive you? Who can cure you?

Alas, My beloved, how far you are deceived! Wherever you turn your eyes, or upon whatever you fix your mind, yet you shall find no peace, no joy, or any rest, but in Me only. Your senses deceive you, and they who seem to love you abuse you, and you also deceive yourself, when you refuse a love-reign medicine that would help you, and receive rank poison, which will kill you.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

10 August 2010

Desiring to be a Holocaust for Christ

Beloved Deacons, today we pray for you on this, the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr.

The word 'deacon' is derived from the Greek word, 'diakonia' which means 'care' or 'service'.

Saint Ambrose describes a deacon as having three characteristics:

First, a deacon having been sacramentally constituted in the service of self-giving, lives his diaconal ministry giving witness to Christ in martyrdom, the service of charity by acceptance of that greater love which is martyrdom.

Second, in virtue of the link which binds him to the bishop, the deacon lives ecclesial communion by specific service to the bishop, beginning with the Eucharist and in reference to the Eucharist.

Third, in virtue of the Sacrament, the deacon devotes himself fully to the service of a constituent charity and not merely to a human or social fellowship, and thus manifests the most characteristic element of the diakonia.

In De Officiis, Saint Ambrose describes a very heartfelt but intense moment between Lawrence and Sixtus II, the pope who was being led to execution. Here is the exchange according to the Ambrosian text:

Saint Lawrence wept when he saw his bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: 'Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy bishop, without your deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's Blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment'.

Sixtus replied: 'I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you'.

Saint Ambrose continues his text by telling us that Lawrence’s longing for martyrdom was due to his desire to be a holocaust for Jesus Christ.

It has been said that Lawrence was roasted to death on a grid-iron three days after the death of Sixtus.

Being an Example to Others

In the library of Secret Harbour is the treatise titled: ‘Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem’ by Johannes Justus von Landsberg, a German-born Carthusian monk and ascetical writer. He is perhaps best known by the Latin name of Lanspergius. As the title suggests, the treatise was written in Latin and was first published in the year 1610. It is written in such a way that it seems as if Our Lord Himself had written it. Certainly it comes to us from a soul that was very close to Christ. Any disciple of Jesus should certainly feel called to an examination of one’s own walk with Our Saviour. Much of this will be shared here at Secret Harbour. Here is the first instalment.

You should be an example to others, and your life an instruction to those that go astray. The sweet favour of your good conversation ought to be a wholesome medicine for the curing of such as are weakened with the infection of sin, and your words as a consuming fire, to inflame the hearts of those that hear them.

But now you are yourself so corrupted with the desire of childish vanities, so busied with a multitude of unprofitable matters, and so subject to many hurtful passions, as you are distracted in your soul, and have very much polluted it with filthiness, as it is possessed with wandering thoughts and vain imaginations. Self-love reigns in you and until you mortify that, you can never enter into My chamber, or be a partaker of My delights. Thus you, who ought to teach others, stand now in need of being taught yourself.

I write this not to an end that I intend to reject you, but because I would let you know how far you have erred, and I am desirous that you should understand your own loss and danger; and I do not only allure you, but I also urge you forward to return from there, home again unto Me.

09 August 2010

Our Heavenly Mother's Unconditional Love for Us

A Carthusian monk, with the help of Saint Bonaventure, describes the power of Mary’s name and how evil fears her.

Mary protects us by renewing our courage. Little by little, she will weaken those evil inclinations left in our nature by sin, those instincts which are stepping-stones to further sin. Above all, she will curb the audacity of our enemies. They cannot endure her presence, and the mere invocation of her name is enough to put them to flight. ‘The powers of darkness’, says Saint Bonaventure, ‘melt away like wax in the warmth of the fire, when they meet anyone who keeps Mary in remembrance and is in the habit of calling on her, and is zealous in imitating her’.

But should we unhappily presume on our liberty to tear ourselves for a moment from her arms and stretch out our hands to Satan, our heavenly Mother would still come to our aid, by preventing this cruel tyrant from exercising over us the power into which our fault has betrayed us, and by forcing him to give us time to gain our pardon.

In a touching allegory Holy Scripture describes this manifestation of Mary’s mercy. The sons of Respha had been delivered up to the Gabaonites, who crucified them. By their bodies, keeping untiring watch to defend their remains from the birds of the air by day and from the beasts of the field by night, was their mother. Nor did she leave them until king David had them taken down from the cross, and had them buried with the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son. Such is the image of Mary, watching over fallen souls, in order to prevent hell from completing the work of their destruction, and ceaselessly drawing upon them the cleansing waters of sorrow and repentance: donec stilleret eos aqua de cælo . . . until there fall upon them dew from heaven.

07 August 2010

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Wisdom 18:6-9
To understand this Reading more fully, it would be helpful to go back to the Book of Exodus and peruse the passages found in Chapter 4, verses 22-31, and Chapter 11 verse 4 all the way through verse 14 of chapter 12. While this Reading basically reflects on these verses from Exodus, Wisdom is certainly not to be outdone in providing information as to what these events mean for the future of God's people. These events, although very real in the lives of the Israelites, were as Wisdom teaches us, symbolic -- leading to a divine reality. It was at night that the Israelites watched and waited for the Lord to pass over their houses as their doorposts were sprinkled with the blood of slaughtered lambs. The prophets watched and waited for the coming of the Lamb of God Whose Blood would save His people. Those passages in Exodus tell us that not only were the Israelites required to slaughter the lamb, but they also had to eat it. The reality of this symbolism came to us at the Last Supper and has continued at each and every Mass whereby we consume the Lamb of God's precious Body and Blood. The prophets of the Old Testament watched and waited for the reality or fulfilment. With all this mentioning of symbolism, however, it's important to note that it is only intended as a reference to the rituals of the Old Covenant that would find their fulfilment in the New and Everlasting Covenant. As God's people crossed over from the Old Covenant to the New, there was no rupture. For example, in the Old Covenant ritual of sacrificing a lamb and then eating the lamb, the people of Israel did not eat a symbol of the lamb that was sacrificed, but rather they ate the actual lamb. In the New and Everlasting Covenant, Christ is our sacrificial Lamb; and what we partake of at Communion is not a symbol of the Lamb but instead the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Sacrificial Lamb Who is Jesus Christ. Keeping watch is still very much a part of our Christian tradition. While the prophets watched for the coming of the Messiah, today monastics, hermits, coenobites and those who adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the wee hours of the night keep vigil, waiting and longing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Our Lord asks the question: ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth’? (Saint Luke 18:8). Our Savior continues: ‘Watch, therefore; you know not when the Lord of the house is coming. May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping’ (Saint Mark 13:35-36). It's interesting to parallel the first born of the Egyptians being killed with the events at the Garden of Gethsemane leading to Christ's sacrificial act of love. Jesus asked His apostles to keep watch, but they fell asleep. Unlike the Israelites of the Exodus story, the apostles were unable to keep vigil. But in this case it was not the first born of the Egyptians to lose their lives so that the Israelites may be freed from their bondage; instead it was the first born of God Who would be sacrificed so that we may be freed from the bondage of sin and death. But it is the mysterious ways of the Lord that challenge our broken nature. The death of the first born among the Egyptians satisfies a very human desire and longing for revenge – the bad guys got what they deserved. With the crucifixion of Jesus, however, the good Guy is slaughtered so that the heirs of the fall from paradise may have life eternal. In the unseen world, however, the ultimate bad guy, the devil, really had to take it on the chin because Christ broke the stranglehold of death. While being awake and at prayer in the middle of the night is not realistic for most of us, we can still keep watch by fixing our eyes on heaven and staying focused on eternal riches. If our treasure is in heaven, there also will our hearts be (cf. Saint Matthew 6:21).

Second Reading, Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
For the human will, faith is the glue that holds everything together. No matter what happens to us in this life, our faith holds firm the belief of a revealed but absent end as well as a future with a new beginning in eternity. There are some biblical examples of faith in this Reading. It is faith that the saints held fast to that has led us to honor them. Let's not forget the Virgin Mary's leap of faith that brought about the radical change in her life which made her the Mother of God. Her leap of faith also changed our lives radically. ‘Yes’ or ‘so be it’ are appropriate synonyms for ‘faith’. Our Lady said yes; Noah said yes; Abraham said yes; Moses said yes; Peter said yes; Paul said yes; all the saints said yes. They all said: Yes, I will do what You ask of me Lord. Yes I believe in You and I trust You; so be it, so be it, so be it! This Reading reveals that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac -- even though God promised descendants from Isaac -- because Abraham was committed to a personal faith that believed God would somehow be able to raise Isaac from the dead. Therefore, Abraham said yes. He didn't try to apply logic and figure out how descendants could possibly come from Isaac if he was about to be sacrificed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Abraham, because he was strong in faith, became the father of all who believe (cf. CCC 146). The Catechism goes on to add that from God we have received the grace of believing in His Son Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (cf. CCC 147). Faith is a gift from the Almighty. It is faith that leads us to our church doors on Sunday. Sometimes it's good to sit back and reflect on the week that just passed. Consider the times you exercised your faith. It's good to do this because so often we use our faith without realizing it. What did you do this past week that required faith? What decisions did you make that required a leap of faith? When you wake up, for example, you have no idea what surprises are waiting for you that could disrupt what you already had planned for that day. Without even realizing it, our day begins with us exercising our faith because we're confident that God will get us through the bumpy road that may lie ahead. We depend on God for so many things and we trust in Him for so many things and yet it is not often in our recollections. All the money in the world can't buy fruits and vegetables if God doesn't first command the seed to grow. By faith this truth is known but seldom, if ever, acknowledged. In the Church's Night Prayer (Compline) we read from Psalm 4: ‘As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O Lord, bring security to my dwelling’ (Psalm 4:9). The thought of not being under God's watchful and loving Eyes is rarely ever considered – it doesn't really occupy the human mind unless one is faced with something that is life threatening. It is quite common in the Christian East to pray the ‘Jesus Prayer’. A simplified version of this is to pray the Name of ‘Jesus’ through the rhythm of one's breathing pattern. This not only thwarts off evil because of the powerful Name of Jesus but also is a reminder that God is responsible for each breath we take. If the Almighty turned away His gaze from us for one millisecond, we would cease to exist. Jesus, because He is God, is the only independent Being that has ever walked the earth. In His Human Nature, however, He exercised dependency on the Father to teach us how much we need God.

Gospel, Saint Luke 12:32-48
The words ‘gird your loins’ are familiar to the ancient East. It was their practice to gird up their long garments when they were about to get down to business. And so, what Jesus is saying here is to be ready for His return. In other words, when He returns, will He find us in a state of grace, labouring for the Kingdom, or will He find us drunk, a metaphor for living according to one's own design and not accepting or living out the dignity of a child of God. Both Saint Gregory and Saint Thomas Aquinas explain the watches as such: The first watch is childhood, the beginning of our existence. The second watch is adulthood, and the third watch is referring to old age. Realistically, being prepared for our Saviour’s Second Coming is only part of the story. As a result of our own death, we could meet our Lord face-to-Face before His literal Second Coming. And like the Second Coming, when our time of death will occur is a mystery; therefore, always being prepared is the key. The Catechism explains: ‘Everyone is called to enter the Kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this Messianic Kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus' word. This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ. To welcome Jesus' word is to welcome the Kingdom itself. The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the little flock of those whom Jesus came to gather around Him, the flock whose Shepherd He is. They form Jesus' true family. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with His own. Vigilance is custody of the heart. The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch. This petition takes on all its dramatic meaning in relation to the last temptation of our earthly battle; it asks for final perseverance’ (CCC 543, 764, 2849). Saint Paul is a marvellous example of a heart that was formerly unprepared, and then after his conversion he used every ounce of his strength to prepare the hearts of others. And after his conversion, he had many things happen to him that could easily have convinced him to give up the good fight. Instead his lamp was always shining brightly, prepared to welcome his Master. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians he writes: ‘We do not lose heart, because our inner being is renewed each day even though our body is being destroyed at the same time. The present burden of our trial is light enough, and earns for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is transitory; what is unseen lasts forever’ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Saint Paul points out that the present burden of our trial is light enough; therefore, by fixing our gaze on the unseen we are not running away from the culture -- instead we're bringing heaven's point of view to the culture.

06 August 2010

Only a Purified Mind Contemplates True Beauty

On this feast of the Transfiguration, here are some illumining words from Saint Gregory Palamas.

God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit.

Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, the disciples of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light.

Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

So, with the onset of the eighth day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves. In our instance right here and now, having taken only these three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes.

“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Saint John Chrysostom). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Saint Luke 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His Face shone as the sun” (Saint Matthew 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses. Rather, it is to show that Christ-God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when the Lord was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.

We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. It was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light?

Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.

Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul.

05 August 2010

When I Say ‘Jesus Christ’

When I call upon the Name of Jesus Christ, in prayer, this is the faith that I profess:

God Incarnate in the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth, in Whom the ultimate subject is the divine Person of the Word of God.

Jesus Christ, the immediate presence of the invisible God in our world of space and time.

The Son, the radiant Image of the Father, eternally engendered by the Father, and Source, with Him, of the Spirit. He is the manifestation of the Father with a human Face, in human history.

A Face that is fully human: the Son accepted the total reality of our human condition – except for sin – with all its finitude, its limits, its succession in time, its subjection to suffering and death. This was the first Sacrifice of Love.

A Face of poverty and, on the human level, of impotence in presence of the forces of destruction and evil, respecting their autonomy and their liberty of action.

A Face of absolute faith and trust in the Father and in His will for the eternal happiness of all humanity.

A Face of love and forgiveness freely bestowed, to the point of sacrificing His life for us in total gift.

The promise of eternal life through a sharing of grace in the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Promise realised first of all in Jesus, by His Resurrection from the dead on Easter morning.

Promise realised, in faith, in each of those who believe, by the gift of His Spirit; pledge already here on earth of the divine life of knowledge and love; power within us for living and for acting in the Image of Christ; the bond uniting humankind to form the Church, the Body of Christ, whose sacramental actions are the actions of Christ in the Spirit.

Promise fulfilled in our souls when they come face-to-Face with God in the plenitude of light, at the moment of death, or after a purification; and fulfilled for the totality of our humanity at the end of time; at the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ, when God will be all in all.

When I say Jesus Christ, I proclaim all this.

~ Interior Prayer: Carthusian Novice Conferences ~

04 August 2010

Intimacy with God

I am not afraid of tiring myself or of displeasing the One I seek in these extravagant efforts of my unsatisfied mind. I have not said enough as to the extent to which the soul that prays must believe in the love of the God to Whom it prays. Yes: prayer is like speaking face-to-Face with God. God and the soul are on the same level: they occupy the same inner chamber. They are like Father and son, the Spouse and His bride, like Friend and friend. The soul's colloquy with God must, then, have one essential characteristic -- intimacy, an intimacy born of the closest family ties. The child sees and loves with the light and love of the Father; he sees what the Father sees. He does not see all that the Father sees, but he sees all that the Father enables him to see. He is happy in that union accorded him by the Father, by which the Father makes him His son, for this union is truly the communication of His own divine life.

This unshakable confidence in the God Who is Love, in the Father giving Himself to souls, is all-powerful. ‘If you shall have faith . . . and shall say to this mountain: Take up and cast yourself into the sea, it shall be done’ ~ Saint Matthew 21:21. ‘They that trust in Him shall understand the truth, and they that are familiar in love shall rest in Him’ ~ Wisdom 3:9. ‘Be of good heart . . . your faith has made you whole’ ~ Saint Matthew 9:22. These are actual assurances from the Spirit of Love; they are beyond question and leave no room for doubt.

This confidence goes very far: it must allow no trial, no delay to affect it. ‘Although He should kill me’, says Job, ‘I will trust in Him’ ~ Job 13:15. It must hold the difficult golden mean between presumption, which would suppress all human effort, and doubt, which, having made the effort, does not really believe in the all-powerfulness of the God Who is Love or in the love of the all-powerful God.

The ardent love of the poor sinner to whom Jesus said: ‘Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much’ ~ Saint Luke 7:47; that collective prayer which He assures us is all-powerful with his Father ~ cf. Saint Matthew 18:19; those works of mercy which undoubtedly call down the divine blessing on those who perform them ~ cf. Saint Matthew 25:40; the generous pardon extended to those who have offended against us ~ cf. Saint Matthew 7:22 -- this is what the Holy Spirit is glad to find in the souls of those who appeal to His love. So too, is the conversion of heart which restores us once more to the favour of the good God ~ cf. Psalm 50:14; the recognition of our plight which suffices to keep us in the light and truth ~ cf. Psalm 50:5; the asking again and again, which is evidence of our determined confidence ~ cf. Saint Matthew 21:22; our patience in times of trial and our solicitude for the divine glory ~ cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31 -- it is in such human voices as these that God recognizes His own Voice and responds to it.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

03 August 2010

Being Exact in the Accomplishment of Spiritual Exercises

This interesting piece from a Carthusian writer perhaps offers us a lesson to be learned, following the example of the Carthusian lay-brothers . . . not becoming overwhelmed or having our duties dictate the direction of our lives.

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 tend 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 fulfilment of their spiritual exercises at the times these are due’. 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 fervour always more intense’.

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.

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.