30 September 2010

May the Devil Always Find You Occupied

Today’s post on this Feast of Saint Jerome focuses on a portion of an epistle which Jerome wrote to Saint Rusticus of Narbonne. The letter’s theme is very monastic, although in some parts, monasticism in a primitive sense mentioning occupations like weaving baskets. But Saint Jerome takes this to a very spiritual direction as well, recommending that the Psalter be memorized word for word. While that seems like quite an undertaking in this day and age, considering that the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours is now spread out over a four week period, it was nevertheless quite common among those spiritual giants we now call the early desert Fathers. The epistle’s overall message waves the same banner that monasticism waves today – ora et labora. Here are Saint Jerome’s thoughts.

Others may think what they like and follow each his own inclination. But to me a city is a prison and a desert paradise. Why do we long for the bustle of cities, we who bear the name of Solitary? To fit him for the leadership of the Jewish people, Moses was trained for forty years in the wilderness; and it was not until after these that the shepherd of sheep became a shepherd of men. The apostles were fishers on Lake Gennesaret before they became fishers of men. But at the Lord's call they had forsaken all that they had: father, net, and ship, and bore their cross daily without so much as a rod in their hands.

I say these things that, in case you desire to enter the ranks of the clergy, you may learn what you must afterwards teach, that you may offer a reasonable sacrifice to Christ, that you may not think yourself a finished soldier while still a raw recruit, or suppose yourself a master while you are as yet only a learner. It does not become one of my humble abilities to pass judgment upon the clergy or to speak to the discredit of those who are ministers in the churches. They have their own rank and station and must keep it.

The first point to be considered is whether you ought to live by yourself or in a monastery with others. For my part, I would like you to live in a community so as not to be thrown altogether on your resources. For if you set out upon a road that is new to you without a guide, you are sure to turn aside immediately either to the right or to the left, to lay yourself open to the assaults of error, to go too far or else not far enough, to weary yourself with running too fast or to loiter by the way and fall asleep. In loneliness pride quickly creeps upon a man; if he has fasted for a little while and has seen no one, he fancies himself a person of some note; forgetting who he is, from where he comes, and where he goes, he lets his thoughts riot within and outwardly indulges in rash speech. Contrary to the apostle's wish he judges another man's servants, puts forth his hand to grasp whatever his appetite desires, sleeps as long he pleases, fears no one, does what he likes, fancies everyone inferior to himself, spends more of his time in cities than in his cell, and, while with the brothers he affects to be retiring, rubs shoulders with the crowd in the streets. Do I condemn a solitary life? By no means; in fact I have often commended it. But I wish to see the monastic schools turn out soldiers who have no fear of the rough training of the desert, who have exhibited the spectacle of a holy life for a considerable time, who have made themselves last that they might be first, who have not been overcome by hunger or satiety, whose joy is in poverty, who teach virtue by their appearance.

If you embrace a life consecrated to God, I prefer that you do not live with your mother. You will avoid making her sad by your refusal of her choice foods, or throwing oil on the fire by accepting them. Always keep in your hands and beneath your eyes the Bible, learning the Psalter word for word, praying unceasingly, keeping your mind in an alert state, and not open to vain thoughts. Keep both body and spirit oriented towards the Lord. Control anger with patience; love the knowledge of Scripture and you will no longer love the sins of the flesh. If your mind does not abandon various passions, they will install themselves in your heart and get a hold of you and lead you to more grave faults. Attend to manual labor so that the devil always finds you occupied. If the apostles who had the right to live the Gospel labored with their own hands that they might be accountable to no man, and bestowed relief upon others whose carnal things they had a claim to reap as having sown unto them spiritual things, why do you not provide a supply to meet your needs?

Make creels of reeds or weave baskets out of pliant osiers. Hoe your land; mark out your garden into even plots; and when you have sown your legumes or set your plants bring in the water for irrigation, that you may see with your own eyes the lovely vision of the poet:

Art draws fresh water from the hilltop near
Till the stream plashing down among the rocks
Cools the parched meadows and allays their thirst.

Graft unfruitful stocks with buds and shoots that you may shortly be rewarded for your toil by plucking sweet apples from them. Construct also hives for bees, for to these the proverbs of Solomon send you, and you may learn from these tiny insects how to order a monastery and to discipline a kingdom. Weave nets for catching fish, and transcribe books, that your hands may earn your food and your mind may be satisfied with reading. Always remember that when idle you are at the mercy of your passions. In Egypt the monasteries make it a rule to receive no one who is not willing to work; for they regard labor as necessary not only for the support of the body but also for the salvation of the soul. Do not let your mind stray into harmful thoughts.

29 September 2010

Our Heavenly Consolers

At Matins the Carthusians, on this feast of the Archangels, reflected on the most edifying words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Here’s an excerpt from that discourse:

We celebrate today, dear brethren, the feast of the holy angels. Poor little worm I am, how can I speak about angelic spirits? I believe by faith that they enjoy the intangible presence and vision of God and are flooded with endless happiness in contemplating those things that eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). But can a mere mortal speak of this topic to other mortals? In the first place, I haven’t the faintest idea about these realities; moreover, you are not in a position to hear them.

The words ascend from me, yes, overflowing from the heart, but I had better remain silent, because I lack the adequate concepts for dealing with angels. The heavenly spirits are conspicuous by their admirable dignity and loving regard. It’s obvious that their glory exceeds our poor understanding. We tie ourselves, then, closer to their mercy.

In the Book of Daniel we read a description of the angels before the Throne of God: ‘Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and myriads upon myriads attended Him’ (Daniel 7:10). Do you think it is an unworthy thing for the angels to serve? Consider, then, the Creator, the King of angels, Who came not to be served but to serve and gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Saint Matthew 20:28). None of the angels are scorned as servants when He Whom they serve with inexpressible ardour and felicity preceded them in this same ministry. The psalmist, speaking to God of His Son, said: ‘You have made Him a little less than the angels’ (Psalm 8:6). It was fitting, therefore, that One Who exceeds the angels in dignity, surpassed them in humility. The Son has lowered Himself below the angels, because He wanted to lend an inferior service to theirs, but His is far superior to the angels because He has by inheritance a Name more excellent than theirs.

The angels love us because Christ loved us. As you know brethren, that proverb which says: ‘Whoever loves me, loves my dog’. Are we not, O blessed angels, the little dogs that the Lord surrounds with much affection? Little dogs, desiring to eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their angelic hosts. I used this image, brethren, to increase your confidence in the angels. We must call upon them in our every need with love, every day trying to conciliate their favour, be captivated by their benevolence, asking them to mercifully reveal themselves to us.

Allow me, dear brethren, to offer reasons why the angels are reminders of our poverty. We know that the human soul, endowed with reason and capable of blessedness, is linked by a bond of kinship with the angelic nature. Holy angels, could you ever disdain visiting us, against the precept of charity, even though we are precipitated by an extreme baseness? Are we not all a part of the same family? If you love -- as in fact you do love – the beauty of God’s house, then manifest your zeal to these living stones, and rationalize that we are the only ones that could contribute to the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem.

There are three reasons, brethren, why we are, like ropes that pull at us, from the sky, the pre-eminent love of angels. They come to console us, to visit us, to help us because of God’s love for us. Because of God, the angels visit us, to imitate the infinite mercy of God. Because of us, the angels come to console us, because they have compassion for those who have a certain similarity with them. Because of themselves, finally, the angels rush to our aid, because they hope to recruit among us, men needed to fill the gaps in their ranks. Indeed, the praise that is given to Almighty God, at the end of time, is given both to angels and men. As of now, the angels are celebrating the first fruits of that praise which fills them with the highest delight. But we, men, we are still like infants sucking the milk, even if one day we will make complete and perfect the praise of glory. The angels, therefore, attend to us with eagerness, driven by a desire for the ultimate day.

Consider the angels, dear brethren, and think that there must be at heart, worthiness for their friendship. Do you realize that we must live life in their presence, and not offend the sanctity of their pure gazes? Woe to us if our sin and neglect render us unworthy in the eyes of the angels to receive their visitation and enjoy their company. In that case, all we do is cry and complain like the prophet: ‘My friends and my neighbours have drawn near, and stood against me. And they that were near me stood afar off’ (Psalm 37:12). It would be a shame if those who should protect us with their presence instead left us, when they can defend from the enemy and repel the attacks.

We are in dire need of assistance from the angels my dear friends, thus, beware of offending. What, then, are the virtues that they appreciate and are pleased to see in us? Sobriety, chastity, voluntary poverty, the constant longing for heaven, the prayers of extreme repentance and of vigilant affection. But in priority, these messengers of peace have come to expect from us peace and harmony. What could there be more to rejoice about? When they find peace and harmony between us, which is a prelude and sketch of the heavenly city, they seem to be admiring a New Jerusalem. All parts of the holy city are perfectly welded together. The same compactness must reign in our thoughts and in our conversations; there are divisions among us, but we remain united in one body in Christ Jesus.

28 September 2010

The Honey of Love

This brief reflection is from a fifteenth-century Carthusian monk named, Dom Nicholas Kempf. This piece is from his work titled, ‘De Ostensione Regni Dei’. In the original is the usage of a fancy Latin word, ‘anagogicum’ which translates just as high-brow in English: ‘anagogical’. Anagogical or ‘anagogy’ is a spiritual or mystical meaning/interpretation that is hidden in Sacred Scripture. Nicholas Kempf also makes use of the Latin word, ‘mens’ which literally means mind or intellect. Today ‘mens’ is sometimes translated as ‘spirit’ although that is not completely true. Interestingly, though, medieval writers used ‘mens’ to indicate the most exalted or highest part of the human soul. Blessed John Henry Newman felt that the mystical interpretation was the most important interpretation and today perhaps that interpretation is the least evident. One might say today that prophetically Blessed Newman wrote: ‘It may almost be laid down as an historical fact that the mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together’. Here is the reflection of Dom Nicholas Kempf:

The eye of the mens is illuminated with light to understand the anagogical meaning in Sacred Scripture when the mens reaches upward toward God through an affected, sighing, and longing love. This anagogical meaning lies hidden everywhere in the Scriptures, and it cannot be effectively revealed except to a mens that is cleansed and pure.

This true anagogical meaning converts the gathered flowers into the sweetness of honey, just as the bees are accustomed to do. The blossoms of the Scriptures are gathered by the other meanings of Scripture, but it is through the anagogical meaning that the sweetness of honey is tasted through the affectedness of love.

So too the bees gather flowers and from them are well able to draw out and concentrate nourishment. So too should all Scripture be read in order that the honey of love might be gathered into the wax of Christ’s divinity and humanity – but not only Scripture, for indeed one should look at each creature in order to obtain not merely knowledge of God but also love of God. For every creature is like a picture or letter or trace that point to the Creator.

Thus the apostle says, ‘the invisible things of God are understood through the things that are made; His eternal power and divinity are clearly seen’ (Romans 1:20).

27 September 2010

I could never forget you

It will help you very much for retaining a quiet mind in all adversity, to lay before your eyes the acts and miseries of My life, and evermore to carry within you a lively representation thereof. For if you imprint this in your mind, it will make you think of all things as bittersweet. Therefore, meditate at all times on My torments, and desire at My Hands continually, with sighs and tears, that I may vouchsafe to make a strong and an effectual impression in your heart of My Wounds and Passion, that you may see Me crucified at all times, and in all places, with a heart that suffers with Me; and let that lively representation banish from your soul all other imaginations. If you return in this sort from all outward to inward things, and shall dwell within your own self; if you behold in your heart My grievous torments, and Myself crucified; if you hear Me cry when I was replenished with all sorrow and bitterness, and not relieved with any consolation from My Father: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? – you shall, being inflamed with the virtue of My Passion, have a desire to imitate Me, to suffer for Me, and to serve Me without any comfort at all, in contempt and resignation of yourself.

They that serve Me with this mind, and are united unto Me for mere love only, and continue to be faithful to Me without any other respect but to please Me, and to have My will wholly fulfilled in them, these, I say, are most faithful and most special friends. And in whatever dryness or desolation they may seem to be, and with whatever temptations they seemed to be overwhelmed by, and, as it were, cast off and forsaken by Me, yet in truth they are still Mine, because they fight courageously, at their own charge, for My cause against the whole army of wicked temptations, which continually assault them in the warfare of this world; and will not revolt from My camp, although I sometimes strike and punish them.

But I do not altogether leave them; for seeing they have conquered all their passions, and renounced all their appetites to please Me, and have altogether forsaken themselves, and give themselves only to Me, in being subject only to My will; I must pour Myself into them, and fill, nourish, and possess their souls with My comfort, which is a hundred times better, purer, and sweeter than the worldly pleasure which they have forsaken. They cannot receive this if they seek or accept any foreign comfort that does not proceed from Me, or is not in Me. For My consolation is wonderfully sweet, and bestowed only upon those that will admit Me, and no other. It is also most pure, and therefore cannot be mixed with any consolation that is derived from My creatures. But why do I so often repeat these things to you? Truly I do it to make you more wise, watchful, and circumspect, and to the end that you should not be snared with these corrupt and earthly delights, nor have them cause you to forget Me, seeing I could never forget you, as your salvation depends only on My Providence.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

25 September 2010

A Sacrament of Grace for Souls

Here is one of many works from Carthusian authors on the subject of devotion to the Blessed Mother of God.

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

We see the end of all things which are passing; but the divine commandment made to us in the person of Saint John – to love our Lady – goes beyond all time. ‘I have seen the end of all perfection; Your commandment is exceeding great’ (Psalm 118:96).

The Carthusian author of La Clef du Ciel said: ‘What we see in the homage paid by the Church to the glorious Queen of Heaven is still and always will be the love of Jesus for her. It is her, it is His Soul on fire with the ardour of the Holy Spirit, which secretly touches our hearts, as a musician plucks the strings of his lyre, to the glory of the most noble of all creatures’.

It is the desire of this Son, so tenderly drawn to His Mother, that we should imitate the zeal and devotion that He has shown, in order to give glory to His Blessed Mother. Out of the thirty-three years which were to make up His life on earth, thirty were consecrated to the sanctification of Mary.

Who will reveal to us all that passed in the intimacy of Nazareth – the love of the Mother for the Son – their wonderful union! This uninterrupted union should serve as a model to our zeal. We need have no fear of going beyond our ideal. All the angels and all the blessed in heaven will never equal the love and glory of the first kiss the Child Jesus gave His Mother, for it was the kiss of God. After that we can understand the exclamations of certain of the saints; their enthusiasm. We need never be afraid of honouring our Lady too much; we shall never honour her enough!

23 September 2010

The Blessed Mother and the Entire Celestial Court are Present at Mass

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, or perhaps more affectionately known as Padre Pio, was extraordinary to say the least. Well documented are his numerous Rosaries prayed daily, his countless hours in the Confessional, his ability to read hearts in the Confessional, his gift of bi-location, his daily minuscule caloric intake which doctors have said could not sustain a human being, the very little sleep he needed every night, about three to four hours, and of course the visible stigmata, the Wounds of Jesus which Padre Pio bore for some fifty years.

The extraordinary details of Padre Pio’s life go on and on but perhaps none had more comments or more witnesses than his daily Mass. At Padre Pio’s Mass, Calvary came to San Giovanni Rotondo. His Mass began at five o’clock in the morning. But he did not rise from sleep and go straight to the church to begin the Mass. There was much prayerful preparation before Mass as he would rise from his bed sometimes as early as 12:30 (0:30) but seldom later than 3:30; and he would spend that time in his cell running his fingers through his Rosary beads, which it would be rare to see him not do throughout his long, edifying day.

Introibo ad altare Dei – I will go unto the altar of God (Psalm 42 [43]:4). These words are part of the preparatory prayers of what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Padre Pio climbing the steps to approach the altar was indeed in Persona Christi climbing the hill of Calvary. The great mystery of the Mass would unfold which would last up to three hours.

Tears would run from his eyes sometimes through the entirety of the Mass. At times those tears would be best described as sobbing.

Maria Winowska, author of Le Vrae Visage du Padre Pio, and a witness to Padre Pio’s Mass wrote in her book that the ‘Capuchin’s face which a few moments before had seemed to me jovial and affable was literally transfigured’ and ‘after the Sanctus great drops of sweat poured from his forehead, bathing his face which was distorted with sobs. Here was truly the man of sorrow at grips with the agony’.

During the Consecration the Wounds of the stigmata would bleed and remarkably Padre Pio would, during the elevation, hold our Eucharistic Lord for as long as ten minutes – and at times longer than that. Speaking about the Mass, Padre Alberto D'Apolito, who knew Padre Pio, said: ‘It produced such an impression that time and space between the altar and Calvary disappeared. The Mass of Padre Pio visibly reproduced the Passion of Christ, not only in a mystical form, but also physically, in his body. Waves of emotion made Padre Pio tremble at the altar as if the struggle with invisible persons filled him, time after time, with fear, joy, sadness, anguish, and pain. From the expression on his face, one could follow the mysterious dialogue. Whoever doubted the Real Presence had only to assist at Saint Pio’s Mass’.

After the Consecration, this great saint would sometimes need to lean on the altar, appearing extremely exhausted. But during these periods of rest on the altar he appeared to be engaged in a mysterious conversation.

He had very penetrating eyes which could easily be detected during the Consecration; but throughout the entire Mass he seemed to be looking at a world that no one else present could see. By Padre Pio’s own exhortation he said that the Blessed Mother and the entire celestial court are present at Mass which consumed him with the fire of divine love causing his face to feel like it was burning.

Fittingly, Padre Pio the mystic was canonized by another mystic, Pope John Paul II. Here is part of the Holy Father’s homily:

Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.

Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefiting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the Confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual Confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today.

Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of His Kingdom.

Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask Him.Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the Face of Jesus.

Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Concerning the Mass, Padre Pio said: ‘It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’.

And Padre Pio the spiritual director advises us in this way: ‘The field of battle between God and Satan is the human soul. This is where it takes place every moment of our lives. The soul must give free access to our Lord and be completely fortified by Him with every kind of weapon. His light must illuminate it to fight the darkness of error. We must put on Jesus Christ, His truth and justice, the shield of faith, the word of God to overcome such powerful enemies. To put on Jesus Christ we must die to ourselves. Let us humble ourselves and confess that if God were not our armour and shield, we would be pierced by all kinds of sins. That is why we must live in God by persevering in our practices, and learn to serve Him at our own expense’.

Praising God

All prayer is praise. Even that of the publican beating his breast (cf. Luke 18:13) is a hymn to the greatness of God. His prayer proclaimed God’s merciful goodness, which is the very summit of that greatness. The Love Who raised up mankind after the Fall is the same Love rewarding the soul in the evening of its struggles. To ask God for His help is to proclaim His power. Nevertheless it would appear to be the custom to reserve this title of praise to the hymn of those for whom the combat has ceased, either because they have retired from the fray and have entered into their eternal rest, or because they are joined to the Master in such a way that they have found in Him their place of repose: ‘But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:17). Haying nothing further to fear or to ask for and their transformation being complete, they have now only to live according to that new form which is a participation in the divine life: ‘Giving thanks to God, the Father, Who has made us worthy to be partakers in the lot of the saints in light’ (1 Corinthians 1:12). Their only activity henceforth is to rest in the indescribable joy which is having their being from Him, for Him, by Him and in Him. This joy is their prayer.

‘And everlasting joy shall be upon their heads’ (Isaiah 35:10). They are radiant, and their radiance constitutes their hymn to the One Who is the cause of it. It is the ‘candor lucis æternæ’, the brightness of eternal light (Wisdom 7:26). Blessed are they that dwell in Your house, O Lord; they shall praise You forever and ever (Psalm 83:5), in that place of eternal praise. The Church, the Bride of Christ and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mother of souls and Foster-mother of Christians, has filled its Offices with praise, and the prayer of joy before God is the form it normally takes.

All praise of God not commencing with an avowal of our impotence is less pure and certain. We must say to God: ‘My God, You are beyond anything I can imagine, and beyond anything I can express. Between what I say to You and Your Being there is and always will be an infinite abyss. For to praise is to know, and I only truly know one thing about You, and that is that I know You not. For that reason, I gather up all the power of my being in order to cry to You from the depths of my wretchedness: You are the greatness that exceeds all greatness.’ Such language alone is not altogether unworthy of God.

Our impotence need not, therefore, reduce us to silence. It forces us to express ourselves in two ways, which we can and must adopt according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We can either make use of that speech which is beyond words, by endeavoring to reproduce the simplicity of the Word in the Bosom of the Father Who remains there in Him and completely One with Him, or we can have recourse to an endless multiplicity of ideas, of images and expressions of every kind, that try to reach the Infinite by means of the indefinite, calling on all creation to come to our aid and to join our poor hymn of praise to theirs (cf. Daniel 3:52 ff.).

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

22 September 2010

Enter Into the Kingdom Within

Looking back in all sincerity over our spiritual life, we are surprised, if not disheartened, at our slowness, not to say complete lack of progress. How is it that there has been so much effort with so little to show for it? Why, after so many years, it may be, of a life of asceticism, we must own to the same weaknesses, admit the same faults? Is it not possible that from the very beginning we have missed the essential point of it all, and have been following the wrong road?

For there is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage. In our vain attempts to enter by some other way, it is obvious that we are bound to meet insuperable difficulties. Have we not been rather like a foolish robber who seeks by some ruse to effect an entrance into a place only too well defended? Our Lord says, He that enters not by the door, but climbs up another way is a thief and a robber ~ Saint John 10:1. This one door is Christ: faith in Christ; a faith quickened by love, which by fortifying our heart makes us capable of loving in return with a love which burns more intently and radiates more widely, thus resembling more and more the love of Jesus Himself.

But first of all we must make one thing perfectly clear: any kind of asceticism which has for its sole object the perfecting of self -- an asceticism which is egocentric – is utterly worthless. Such a way of life pays very poor dividends, and the profits it yields are very disappointing. He who sows human seed can only expect to reap a human harvest.

Christian asceticism is based absolutely upon a divine principle, and this same principle inspires and animates it, and guides it to its end. You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength ~ Deuteronomy 6:5. Here we have the summing-up and essence of the Old Law: the New Law has done no more than repeat this first and greatest commandment, making it clearer for all to understand, and promulgating it universally in all its divine simplicity and force. From the very beginning of our spiritual life we must keep our soul set towards this plenitude of love, towards God alone. To act otherwise is to fail to recognise the profound purpose of Christianity; to return to the notion of a self-centred perfection, to that delusive egoism of certain pagan moralists – in a word, to Stoicism, ancient and new – which is so exacting a culture of so miserable a pride.

If only we could convince ourselves once and for all of the truth of the words of our divine Master: Without Me, you can do nothing ~ Saint John 6:5. How changed our whole outlook would be. If only our minds were penetrated with the doctrine of life contained in those few words, we would concentrate on practising, not just one or two virtues, but all without exception, knowing so well that it is God Himself Who must be both the term and source of our actions.

Then, having done all we can, we would remain humble in our progress and confident after our falls. Knowing that of ourselves we can do nothing but that in Christ we can do all things, we should no more be discouraged by our faults than proud of the virtuous acts His grace has made possible.

And not only that: once we are convinced that we are nothing and that God is all, our very weaknesses and failings need no longer be obstacles. Indeed, they are changed into means: they are an occasion for our faith to grow by the exercise of heroic acts, and for our trust to triumph before the manifest rout of all that draws us away from God. The apostle says, Gladly I will glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Once, then, we have learned to trust in God and mistrust our own strength, we shall run like giants in the way of love. More and more will love motivate our actions and purify our intentions, until before long its influence will penetrate every corner of our lives.

And so, if we would be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we must spare no effort until we have arrived at acting solely from motives of faith and love. And since a purely natural principle can never produce supernatural results, we shall never reach our goal unless from the outset we endeavour to act solely from specifically Christian motives. For if, as Saint Paul says, we cannot even pronounce our Lord’s Name, save by His grace, how can we hope, by our own efforts, to arrive at our supernatural end?

We do not deny that, if we are to put our house in order, some effort of will on our part is absolutely necessary; but if we ask ourselves whether the impetus of our will responds more readily and more efficaciously under the influence of faith and grace or when moved solely by reason, we know well the answer. Why not, then, since it is a question of developing our spiritual life, profit as much as we can from the light and strength that the theological virtues can give us? Why not, from the very start, enter straight away into the Kingdom within us, into the intimate friendship of God?

This Kingdom of Christ lies open before us. Not only so, it is our Lord’s express desire that we should make that Kingdom ours. Abide in Me, and I in you ~ Saint John 15:4. Why not respond to His call, and begin to live by faith now, even as Saint Paul tells us: The just man lives by faith ~ Romans 1:17.

~ Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion ~

21 September 2010

Follow Me

Today on this feast of Saint Matthew, the Carthusians at Matins listened to four Lessons concerning this day’s honoured saint written by the fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and theologian, Johannes Tauler. In addition to that, the monks also reflected on four Lessons about Saint Matthew written by Saint Peter Chrysologus. Both sets of Lessons are featured here today at Secret Harbour. First is Tauler followed by Saint Peter Chrysologus:

‘When Jesus departed from Capernaum, He saw a man sitting in the custom house named Matthew; and He said to him: Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him’ (Saint Matthew 9:9).

The Apostle and Evangelist, so holy, which we celebrate today, has become an example for all men. As the Scripture tells us, he became one of the most distinguished friends of God, having been first a great sinner. As soon as the Lord speaks to the heart of Matthew, he immediately abandons everything to follow the Lord. What is condensed here we must do if we want to follow Christ: implement genuine and radical abandonment of everything that is not of God, which has taken possession of man’s heart. For God is a lover of hearts, and does not commune with anything that is external.

The path of the friends of God is totally dark and unknown. Appropriate are the words which speak of Job: ‘A man whose way is hidden, and God has surrounded him with darkness’ (Job 3:23). Man must bear all the reproaches heaped upon him on this rough road, in a self-denying way. Our Lord says everywhere: Follow Me, go through all things. I am He; do not go further; follow Me. If a man were to say: Lord, who are You, that I must follow You through such deep, gloomy, miserable paths? The Lord would reply, I am God and Man, and far more God.

If man is to be thus clothed with this Being, all the forms must of necessity be done away with, those that were ever received by him in all his powers of perception, knowledge, will, work, subjection, sensibility and self-seeking. When Saint Paul saw nothing, he saw God. When Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, God came. All strong rocks are broken here; all on which the mind can rest disappear. Then, when all forms have ceased to exist, in the twinkling of an eye, the man is transformed. The Lord teaches us through Jeremiah: ‘You shall call Me Father and shall not cease to walk after Me’ (Jeremiah 3:19). This means, entering ever further in, ever nearer, so as to sink deeper in an unknown and unnamed abyss; and, above all ways, images and forms, and above all powers, to lose yourself, deny yourself and even un-form yourself.

In this lost condition, nothing is to be seen but a ground which rests upon itself, every one being, one life. It is thus, man may say, that he becomes, unknowing, unloving and senseless. This is not the result of natural qualities, but of the transformation, wrought by the Spirit of God in the created spirit, in the fathomless lost condition of the created spirit, and in his unconditional surrendering. We may say of this, that God knows, loves and gives Himself thus; for man is nothing but a life, a being and action. Those who see in this way, with undue liberty and with false light, are in the most perilous state possible in this life. The way by which we must arrive at the goal, is through the precious life and sufferings of our dear Lord; for He is the Way by which we must go, and He is the Truth which lightens all in this way.

* * * * * * * * * *

From Saint Peter Chrysologus:

Leaving Capernaum Jesus saw a man (Saint Matthew 9:9). He saw with divine Eyes more than with human ones. He saw the man in order not to see the man’s sins. He saw His own work in order to disregard the works of sin. God saw him so that he might see God; Christ saw him so that he might see no longer the places where money was hiding. Christ saw him sitting because weighed down by the burden of greed he was unable to stand up. This unfortunate publican, sitting at the tax booth, was in worse condition than the paralytic lying in bed, suffering from a paralysis of the flesh, but the tax collector from a paralysis of the mind. The paralytic was lying overcome in the flesh; the tax collector was sitting a captive of body and spirit. Jesus encourages the paralytic, saying: ‘Have confidence, your sins are forgiven you’ (Saint Matthew 9:2). He had made up for his sins by his sufferings. To the publican, however, Jesus said: ‘Come, follow Me’ (Saint Matthew 9:9). That is, that by following Him he may repair what he has destroyed by the pursuit of money.

While Jesus was at table in the house of Matthew, the Pharisees challenge the disciples: ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners’? (Saint Matthew 9:11). God is being blamed for turning to humanity, reclining with a sinner, hungering for a penitent, thirsting for sinners to return, receiving dishes of mercy, and taking up the cup of devotion. Brethren, Christ came to the meal; Life came to the feast, that He might make those destined for death, live with Him. The Resurrection lay down so that those who were lying down might rise from the tombs. Forgiveness reclined, that He might lift sinners up to pardon. Divinity came to humanity in order that humanity might come to divinity. The Judge sat at the table of the guilty, so that the guilty might escape conviction. The Doctor came to the sick, to heal them by eating with them. The Good Shepherd lowered His Shoulders to carry back to the fold of salvation the sheep who were lost.

‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners’? (Saint Matthew 9:11). Who is a sinner except the one who denies he is a sinner? He himself, in fact, is the greater sinner who does not even understand that he is a sinner. Who is unrighteous except the one who judges himself righteous? And yet, Pharisee, you have read the words of the psalm: ‘No one is righteous in Your sight’ (Psalm 142:2). As long as we are in a mortal body, and frailty dominates us, even if we overcome sinful actions, we are unable to overcome and escape thoughts that are sinful and unrighteous. Yes, we can overcome the faults and materials to overcome evil in our consciousness, but how can we destroy the sins of ignorance and negligence? Pharisee, confess your sin and you will sit at the table of the Lord. You might have Christ as your Bread, and He the Bread might be broken in forgiveness of your sins. Christ might become your Cup to be poured out in remission of your offences.

Pharisee, eat with sinners in order that you can eat with Christ. Enter with sinners into the feast of your Lord, so that you can be a sinner no more. Enter the house of mercy with the forgiveness of Christ, so that your own righteousness will not be excluded from this house. Recognize Christ, listen to Christ. Listen to your Lord, hear the heavenly Doctor. ‘It is not the healthy who need the Physician, but the sick’ (Saint Matthew 9:12). If you want to be healed, acknowledge your illness. ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ (Saint Matthew 9:13). Christ does not refuse the righteous, but without Him no one on earth is immune from sin. The Lord does not overlook the righteous, but rather He has revealed that all are sinners. Listen to Scripture: ‘The Lord from heaven looks down upon men to see if any are wise or seeking God. All have turned away; all are corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one’ (Psalm 13:2-3). Brethren, let us be sinners by our own admission, so that with Christ’s forgiveness we might be sinners no more.

19 September 2010

Formally Raised to the Altars

‘Acceding to the request of our Brother Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, of many other of our Brothers in the episcopate, and many of the faithful, after consultation with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, by our apostolic authority we declare that the Venerable Servant of God Cardinal John Henry Newman, Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, shall henceforth be invoked as Blessed and that his feast shall be celebrated every year on the ninth of October, in the places and according to the norms established by Church law. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. ~ Pope Benedict XVI

O God,
Who bestowed on the priest
Blessed John Henry Newman
the grace to follow Your kindly light
and find peace in Your Church;
graciously grant that,
through his intercession and example,
we may be led out of the shadows and images
into the fullness of Your truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of theHoly Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

16 September 2010

Death: the Passage to Eternity

Today is the feast of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr. For the Carthusian Order, eight of the twelve Lessons proclaimed at Matins were from the work of Saint Cyprian of Carthage on ‘Mortality’. Here is what the monks reflected on.

Beloved brethren, very many of you have adamant feelings, a firm faith, and a fervent spirit that cannot be moved by worldly enticements; and, like a strong and stable rock, you are able to shatter the turbulent onsets of the world and the raging waves of time, these temptations fail to win your heart and you are not overcome; but I observe some of you who resist with less courage and will not implement the divine power and the invincibility of your heart. Is such behaviour due to weakness of mind or lack of faith? Is love for the world or fragility of life caused by the softness of gender, or even worse, through error from the truth? The matter may not be disguised nor kept in silence. I could not give up in my own inadequacy, and with my full strength, and with a discourse steeped in Scripture, the slothfulness of a luxurious disposition must be restrained, and he who has begun to be already a man of God and of Christ, must be found worthy of God and of Christ.

Beloved, he who wars for God ought to acknowledge himself as one who, placed in the heavenly camp, already hopes for divine things, so that we may have no trembling at the rising of storms and tempests of the world. Remember that the Lord had foretold these events would come and exhorted us with His foreseeing words. He prophesied about wars, famines and plagues, with the intention of strengthening the people of His Church for endurance of things to come; and lest an unexpected and new dread should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the end times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, ‘But when you see all these things come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Saint Luke 21:31).

Beloved, the Kingdom of God is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world. Already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude? Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. It is for him to be unwilling to go to Christ who does not believe that he is about to reign with Him.

We live in hope, and believe in God, certain that Christ suffered for us and rose again. We abide in Christ, and through Him and in Him rising again; so why are we ourselves unwilling to depart from this life? Why do we grieve for our friends when they depart as if they were lost? Christ Himself, our Lord, encourages us and says, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believes in Me, though he die, yet shall live; and whosoever lives and believes in Me shall not die eternally’ (Saint John 11:25-26). If we believe in Christ, let us have faith in His words and promises; and since we shall not die eternally, let us come with a glad security to Christ, with Whom we are both to conquer and to reign forever.

If we should succumb to death, do not forget that we are passing through death to immortality; eternal life cannot follow, unless we depart from this life. That is not an end, but a transition, a journey through time, a passage to eternity. Who would not hasten to better things? Who would not crave to be changed and renewed into the likeness of Christ, and to arrive more quickly to the dignity of heavenly glory? The apostle Paul teaches us, ‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change the body of our humiliation, and conform it to the body of His glory’ (Philippians 3:20-21). Christ the Lord promises that we shall be such, that we may be with Him, and that we may live with Him in eternal mansions, and may rejoice in the heavenly Kingdom, ‘Father, I will that they also whom You have given to Me be with Me where I am, and may see the glory which You have given to Me before the world was made’(Saint John 17:24).

He who is intended to enter the dwelling-place of Christ, the glory of the heavenly Kingdom, ought not to grieve or mourn; but rather, in accordance with the Lord's promise, in accordance with his faith in the truth, to rejoice in his departure and transfer into the afterlife. We know that Enoch was taken up, because he pleased God. The Scripture says in the Book of Genesis, ‘Enoch pleased God; and afterwards he was not found, because God translated him’ (Genesis 5:24). To have been pleasing in the sight of God means to have merited to be translated from the influences of the world. For through Solomon the Holy Spirit teaches that they who please God are more early taken, and are more quickly set free, lest while they are delaying longer in this world they should be polluted with the corruptions of the world. It is written in the Book of Wisdom, ‘He was taken away lest wickedness should change his understanding. For his soul was pleasing to God; wherefore He hastened to take him away from the midst of wickedness’ (Wisdom 4:11, 14).

It is for him to wish to remain long in the world whom the world invites by the enticements of earthly pleasure. Since the world hates the Christian, why do you love that which hates you? Why do you not rather follow Christ, who both redeemed you and loves you? In his first letter, John urges us not to love the world nor follow the desires of the flesh. He writes: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the lust of the world. And the world shall pass away, and the lust thereof; but he who does the will of God abides for ever, even as God abides for ever’ (1 Saint John 2:15-17). My beloved brethren, with a sound mind, with a firm faith, with a robust virtue, let us be prepared for the whole will of God: laying aside the fear of death, let us think on the immortality which follows.

Brethren, we must not lose sight that we have renounced the world, and are now living here as guests and strangers. We welcome the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us from here, and sets us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to Paradise and the Kingdom. What traveller would not hasten to return home? What sailor hastening to return to his friends not eagerly desire a favourable wind, that he might the sooner embrace his loved ones? Our home is heaven. Our fathers are the patriarchs: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our true family? There are a great number of our dear ones awaiting us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, are longing for us, already assured of their own safety, and still solicitous for our salvation. What a great joy to attain to their presence and their embrace! What a pleasure is there in the heavenly kingdom, without fear of death!

15 September 2010

Astronomical are the Sorrows Our Blessed Mother has Accepted

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Church places on the lips of our Blessed Lady these beautiful words from Sacred Scripture: ‘The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways’ (Proverbs 8:22). Almighty God chose Mary from the beginning to be His masterpiece before all other creatures. Dom Louis Rouvier wrote: ‘When coming out, as it were, from His eternal repose, God the adorable Trinity determined on the creation of the universe, His first thought was of the God-man Who would be the crowning point of creation, and then, of her – blessed among women – who would give birth to Him. The rest of creation, angels and man, creatures animate and inanimate, all were ordained solely for Christ and His Mother’ (Le Mois de Marie).

The amount of sorrow our Blessed Mother has accepted on behalf of sinful mankind is astronomical. Saint Bonaventure cries out: ‘It is by your protection, O Blessed Virgin, that the world is preserved; this world that God made from the beginning in concert with you’ (De Laudibus Virginis).

Recall what our Lady said to the children of La Salette: ‘If my people will not submit, I will be obliged to let fall the Arm of my Son. It weighs so heavily upon me that I can no longer bear it. How long have I suffered for you, O my people! If my Son is not to abandon you, I must pray to Him unceasingly’.

At the Cross Jesus said to His Mother, ‘Woman, behold your Son’. And to His beloved disciple He said: ‘Behold your Mother’. Mary’s spiritual Maternity to us all has been declared. It is from her sorrows, from her heart, pierced by a sword, that we were born her spiritual children, delivered into her maternal care, into a life of grace. The sorrowful Passion of her Son, and Mary’s consent due to her perfect conformity to the divine will, is how we were born into this life of grace.

From the Rosary, especially in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we can ask our Lady to reveal her sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to us. And since she prays to her Son unceasingly, count on her being present in Eucharistic Adoration. She adores Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with perfection and she is our teacher on how to adore. Upon your next visit before the Monstrance or Tabernacle, listen very intently in the silence of your heart, and wait for those beautiful words of Jesus, assuring you of Mary’s presence as well, as He says to her: ‘Woman, behold your son/daughter’ – and to you – ‘Son/daughter, behold your Mother’.

These glorious words are found among the writings of the Carthusian Order: ‘When we come to die, our sovereign Judge will ask this question of the angel whose care it has been to bring us to the Judgment Seat, To whom does this soul belong; whose livery does it wear? If the answer is, Mary’s, Jesus will at once say, Then give to My Mother what belongs to her. To give us to Mary is to open heaven to us’.

14 September 2010

Jesus is Everything

Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Among the Lessons reflected upon at Matins by the Carthusian Order is the following piece written by the second-century ecclesiastical writer, Saint Melito of Sardis. It’s an excerpt from his work, ‘De Pascha’.

The law is old, but new is the Gospel; temporary is the figure, eternal the grace. Corruptible the sheep, incorruptible the Lord, Who was slain as a Lamb, but Who was resurrected as God. For although He was led to Sacrifice as a Sheep, yet He was not a sheep; and although He was as a Lamb without Voice, yet indeed He was not a lamb. The one was the model; the Other was found to be the finished product. For God replaced the lamb, and a Man the sheep; but in the Man was Christ, Who contains all things. And so, the sacrifice of the sheep, and the immolation of the lamb, and the writing of the law -- each led to and issued in Christ, for Whose sake everything happened in the ancient law, and even more so in the new Gospel. For indeed the law issued in the Gospel -- the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a Man, and the Man in God. For the One Who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a Lamb, and sacrificed as a Sheep, and buried as a Man, rose up from the dead as God, since He is by nature both God and Man.
He is everything:
when He judges He is law;
when He teaches He is Word;
when He saves He is grace;
as the Giver of life He is Father;
as the begotten He is Son;
when He suffers He is sheep;
when He is buried He is man;
when He rises again He is God.
This is Jesus Christ!

The salvation of the Lord and the truth were prefigured in the people of Israel, and the claims of the Gospel were foretold in the Law of Moses. The people, therefore, became the image of the Church, and the law a symbolic writing. The Gospel became the explanation of the law and its fulfillment, while the Church became the storehouse of truth. Therefore, the figure had value prior to its realization, and the writing was wonderful prior to its interpretation. This is to say that the people had value before the Church came on the scene, and the law was wonderful before the Gospel was brought to light. But when He founded the Church and preached the Gospel, the type lost its value by surrendering its significance to the truth, and the law was fulfilled by surrendering its significance to the Gospel. Just as the figure lost its significance by surrendering its image to that which is true by nature, and as the symbolic writing lost its significance by being illumined through the interpretation, so indeed also the law was fulfilled when the Gospel was brought to light, and the people lost their significance when the Church was founded, and the figure was destroyed when the Lord appeared. For at one time the immolation of the lamb was valuable, but is now without merit because the True Good has appeared in the saving Sacrifice of the Lord.

The Lord, although God, became man and had suffered for the sake of the suffering, was a prisoner for the imprisoned, condemned for the sake of the guilty, and buried for the sake of the buried, rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with Me? Let him stand in opposition to Me. I am the Christ. I am the One Who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled hell under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven; I, He says, am the Christ. Come, all families of men, you who have been oppressed by sin, and receive forgiveness. I am your forgiveness, I am the Passover of your salvation, I am the Lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your Light, I am your Saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your King, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by My Right Hand.

The Lord is the One Who made heaven and earth, and Who in the beginning created man in His Image, Who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, Who became Incarnate in the Virgin, Who was hanged upon a tree, Who was buried in the earth, Who was resurrected from the dead, and Who ascended to the heights of heaven, Who sits at the Right Hand of the Father, Who has authority to judge and to save everything, through Whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end -- an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. He is the Christ. He is the King. He is Jesus. He is the Head. He is the Lord. He is the One Who rose up from the dead. He is the One Who sits at the Right Hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to Whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

13 September 2010

Worthy Men of God

Today Secret Harbour looks at the more recent beatifications of two Carthusian priests: Dom Claude Beguignot and Dom Lazarus Tiersot. They were martyrs. A Carthusian monk tells their story:

On 1 October 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified sixty-four priests martyred in 1794-1795, during the French Revolution. They belonged to fourteen French dioceses and twelve religious Institutes. Two of them, Blessed Claude and Blessed Lazarus, were Carthusians. These priests, for refusing to take the revolutionary oaths opposed to the Church, were in the spring of 1794 forced to embark on two former slave ships anchored at the mouth of the Charente River, at Rochefort. They were massed together in the most appalling conditions and, in addition, treated with brutality by the crew, forced to stand all day and virtually starved. After ten months, all of the sixty-four had died. Their total trust in God is evident in this phrase uttered by one of them: ‘If we are the most unfortunate of men, we are also the happiest of Christians’. The Holy Father said in his homily:

This morning, dear brothers and sisters, we are thinking of the sixty-four French priests who died on the ‘decks of Rochefort’. They experienced a long Calvary for remaining faithful to their faith and to the Church. If they died, it is because they did all they could to affirm their close communion with Pope Pius VI.

There were more priests on the boats than the sixty-four, several hundred, among whom were eight other Carthusians. However, Rome wanted to limit the beatification to those whose individual and holy deaths are attested to in documents.

After his Charterhouse of Bourg-Fontaine was suppressed by the Revolution, Dom Claude Beguignot (born 1736) withdrew to Rouen. April 1793 he was arrested and put on one of the boats. During their ordeal Dom Claude was the one the sick turned to for help. A priest who survived witnessed as follows to the monk’s manifest holiness: ‘The very view of this man inspired the love of mortification. You never tired of hearing him speak of God. He did it so worthily and with such unction’. Dom Claude died 16 July 1794.

Dom Lazarus Tiersot (born 1739), professed and Vicar of the Charterhouse of Our Lady of Fontenay, withdrew to the town of Avallon at the suppression of his monastery. He was arrested in April 1793, and put on one of the boats. ‘He impressed the other priests as a Saint’, says one who survived. He passed away 10 August 1794, having predicted his death.

11 September 2010

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Mercy is the focus of this weekend’s Readings. It would seem that Moses was able to make God change His Mind about blazing up His wrath against His people. But wait a minute -- isn't the will of Almighty God infallible and, therefore, unchangeable? Isn't God the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever? What can we, then, rely on from our Lord if everything He has revealed to us is subject to change? There are quite a few cases in Scripture where God seems to have changed His Mind. First, from a prophetic standpoint, Moses is seen as a figure of Christ, a merciful mediator who saves his people. Secondly, God is the Creator and sometimes He creates circumstances in the lives of His people which give them the opportunity to respond like God fearing/loving people. The same is true with the temptations He allows; these too offer the opportunity for a response likened to Christ's response in the desert when He rejected Satan and all his temptations. Rejection of temptations along with mercifulness and forgiveness are characteristics of the children of God. Our success in these exercises moves us to a closer union with our Lord. In this Reading, God opens the door for Moses to respond to Him with love, mercy and concern for his fellow human beings. Another lesson that can be taken from this Reading is the power of intercessory prayer as in this Reading Moses intercedes for the people of Israel. If God is all-knowing and His Divine will infallible, why is prayer necessary or why is there a need to intercede for others? The bulk of that answer is a mystery and solely relies on faith, which requires no explanations. Jesus prayed, therefore, perhaps a more puzzling question is: Why does God Himself need to pray? For human beings, relationships grow through dialogue -- talking and listening. Through this give-and-take friendships and relationships form, trust increases and love grows. Our relationship with our Lord is also approached with these very same ‘human’ conditions. The Catechism teaches us about the intimate relationship of Moses with God as we read: ‘From this intimacy with the faithful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, Moses drew strength and determination for his intercession’ (CCC 2577). Jesus not only showed us Who He is as God, but His Human Nature also taught us by word and deed what we need to be as human beings. In our faith, trust is also given to our Blessed Mother and the saints to be powerful intercessors for us as we are called to be for each other. The offering of Christ's Body and Blood appeases the wrath of our heavenly Father Who thus has mercy on His children who continue to this very day to make molten calves in the form of material wealth, power, addictions, etc.

Second Reading, 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Saint Paul writes that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. Are there any among us, then, who are unqualified for salvation? In this brief Reading Paul summarizes his life for us. He basically outlines it in this way: Here's what I used to be -- here's what I've become. What I used to be was because of ignorance -- what I've become is because of the abundant grace, mercy and love of God. How many of us have a story to tell? At what point in life did grace, mercy and love overcome our ignorance? There are some who have been devout Christians their whole life -- and thank God for them. There have been enough published conversion stories, however, to be convinced that a great deal of us have walked in Saint Paul's shoes of rebellion. And now that we walk with Christ, perhaps some of us are now waiting for grace, mercy and love to abound in the lives of others we know. Our Christian example is a great tool in helping someone along the way, but unfortunately human weakness desires to know how successful that example is. The truth is it's not our example; it is Christ dwelling in us Who works through us. Fortunately, our Lord's patience immensely outweighs our patience or lack thereof; and our time is not necessarily God's time; and while it's possible to never witness a single conversion, what we don't know and can't comprehend is the deluge of grace, mercy and love that could arrive at the last breath of life. To Him be honour and glory forever!

Gospel, Luke 15:1-32
Families that live in areas which are prone to hurricanes and/or tornadoes quite often have a place of safe haven either in the home or outside of the home that they can go to when such weather extremes threaten their well-being. What man would secure himself in that safe haven without first making sure that every member of his household was present? And even if he should enter the safe haven prematurely but find someone missing, he would certainly go back out to find the missing family member. Even though the threat still awaits them, there is a level of joy when every member of the household is accounted for. What's the difference in value between an old, tarnished quarter and a brand new, lustrous quarter? There is no difference; they're both worth twenty-five cents. In God's Eyes we are each loved equally by Him even though some of us have been caught in the storms of life and have not found the safe haven of our Lord's Sacred Heart and perhaps are more tarnished by sin than others. The condition of the soul, however, should be a personal concern as damaged goods need to be repaired. Henry Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author of over thirty books, who also spent time as a missionary in Latin American countries working with the handicapped, once said: "We are all handicapped; some are more visibly handicapped than others." In all three parables told by Jesus in this Gospel, that which was lost has been found. It would be improper to think that this Gospel is aimed only at those who are not serving the Lord or not walking with Him. Every one of us is a sinner; therefore, every one of us is in need of repentance. When reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son, certainly the father represents our Lord Who runs out to embrace His wayward children who desire to come back to Him. Notice the love that comes from our Lord; He embraces the penitent even before the confession of sin. Perhaps less obvious but still evident though, is that our Lord is also represented by the younger son who haphazardly disperses his father's estate. Christ very freely offers the riches of His Father's Kingdom to each and every one of us regardless of how undeserved we are. The older son in the parable is placed there as a caution to us. He's the one who thought his father's forgiving and receptive attitude towards his younger brother was very unfair. As our Lord tells us, there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. Curiosity might make one wonder how many souls there are in heaven who lived corruptible and immoral lives. To those of us who make every effort to follow the path of our Lord, it's tempting to consider this unfair. Saint Paul, however, asks the question: ‘Who has ever given Him [the Lord] anything so as to deserve return’? (Romans 11:35). Also, in that same letter are the words: ‘As sin reigned through death, grace may reign by way of justice leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 5:21). In life, perhaps there's that someone who always plucks your last nerve. The depths of God's mercy are so unfathomable that it's difficult to understand because it's not always so easy for us to forgive. The Sacrament of Penance is where we can find the Father embracing His child, welcoming him/her back home. There is always hope even to the most hardened of sinners. There is a saying: ‘Saints have a past and sinners have a future’. Someday we will all meet our Lord face-to-Face. He may wish to celebrate a feast because what was once lost has been found; or He may say: ‘You are here with Me always; everything I have is yours’. One scenario is not better than the other. In either case, there is cause for rejoicing!

10 September 2010

Committing Ourselves to Divine Providence

Being unthankful offends Me, as much as fidelity contents Me, and is of all things most grievous to Me because by it they seek to renew the grief of My Passion, and vexations of My Mind, which I endured for them with an unspeakable charity. Therefore, whether it is an outward affliction of your body, or and inward affliction of your mind that happens to you, do not seek external comforts, which are worth nothing, but in all your stress fly unto Me, and make no complaint of your grief to any man, but to Me only. For what greater help can man yield to you other than giving you fair words?

If you have a spiritual Father or Confessor, I do not forbid you to disclose it unto him, but I exhort you to lay open before him the secrets of your heart, and to direct yourself in all respects according to his counsel, without yielding in any way to satisfy the fury of your passion, of labouring for some external comfort, or boasting before others of those vexations which you suffer.

Declare to Me in secret that which you would complain of before men, committing yourself in all things to My Providence, being quiet without any care or perturbation of your mind. Believe Me, you shall find a happy peace in your soul, and great consolation by this course at My Hands, although not such, perhaps, at all times as you would imagine or wish for, yet such as may most of all conform you to My will and pleasure.

If My will be done, it always pleases the faithful soul, more than the receiving of any other benefit, although in truth My will is never but to do that which may be most for her interest.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

09 September 2010

The Continuous Battle Against the Result of the Fall

Between the development of prayer and the elevation of souls, there exists an assured connection, universally admitted, which is essential. In being raised up, the soul arrives at regions untouched by the agitation of transitory things. All movement ceases or grows less. The passions are calmed, the noise of the world, its cares, even our thoughts, fade into the distance, and our attention is concentrated on Him alone Who is silence, repose and the God of peace. We feel invaded by calm, and as it were clothed in the divine immutability, which seems to communicate itself to our whole being. This is where prayer flourishes -- that prayer which is a devout upsurge of love, which draws us towards God, Who is unceasingly inclined towards us. His Spirit enfolds us, penetrates us, descends into our depths, and says: 'My son'. Then, returning from the depths of our being that He turns back to its Source, He answers for us: 'Father'. There is no greater or more profound moment, no higher activity possible.

In a soul praying thus, certain dispositions are necessary, requiring long exercise and sustained effort. Our sensitiveness, distorted as a result of the fall, rebels. It alternates between mad outbreaks and periods of discouragement. It does not want to take up its role of servant; it wants to be its own master, to follow its own caprices. And so it resists. Any opposition infuriates it. The more we try to discipline it, the more it throws off all restraint and goes mad. We have to re-orientate it, restore it to its proper place, which is that of a servant -- useful but submissive. The wrecked harmony of the fine human edifice that God made must be re-established. We do not realize enough that He alone can do this. The absolute necessity for His aid is about the last idea to enter into our heads and persuade us to turn to Him. We spend the whole of our lives trying to sanctify ourselves without His help, and we are convinced that we can manage it of ourselves.

Properly understood and well carried out, prayer restores us to our position as a creature receiving all from the Creator. Without His aid we are not only weak, but completely helpless. Now we see clearly again and unmistakably; we see what we have to do, and we can do it, for God Who is Truth is in us, and He is giving Himself. Until now, we were in our nothingness and were content to remain there. The soul that prays may still be far from perfect, but it is on its way and it will arrive at perfection. It is united with the Source Who will give it that perfection. It will welcome the knowledge of what it should do moment by moment. It follows a way that is sure, for this way is also the end. The soul is both traveling to that end and has at the same time arrived at it. God Himself prays in that soul, leads it to Him, and already gives Himself to it.

Prayer proceeds from union; it seeks it and attains it. God is continually making us ask for what He wants to give us, and He gives what He makes us ask for. Then He inscribes this movement in His Book of Life, the angels record it and, delighted, treasure every single note of it. They seize them before the lips utter them, sometimes barely or badly formed, seeing only the right intention or the frailty which is our excuse. ‘Prayer’, says Saint Augustine, ‘serves the needs of souls, and draws down the help which they seek; delights the angels, infuriates hell, and is to God a sacrifice which cannot but be pleasing to Him. It is the crowning point of religion, the unspoiled praise, the perfect glory and the source of the most assured hope’.

How is it possible to prefer vain discourses, wasted hours, stupid amusements and pointless dreams to such joy, such a treasure and so great an honor? God is there: He awaits us, He calls us; He offers us enlightenment for our mind, strength for our will, unspeakable joys for our sensitive nature, and priceless treasures for ourselves and others. And we turn our backs on Him!

We have our excuse, it is true -- it is His very love, ceaselessly offering itself and apparently eager to give itself. But the gift of oneself appears degrading only to sordid souls. Noble souls know that this love He offers us is the Truth and the Life, and they love to be held by this Love, Who reveals Himself and in doing so gives Himself.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

08 September 2010

Nativity of Mary

Today is the feast of the Nativity of Mary. At Matins the Carthusians listened to great words of wisdom from the Apostolic Exhortation titled: ‘Marialis Cultus’ by His Holiness Pope Paul VI. Here’s what the monks reflected on.

We wish to examine more closely a particular aspect of the relationship between Mary and the liturgy, namely, Mary as a model of the spiritual attitude with which the Church celebrates and lives the divine mysteries. That the Blessed virgin is an exemplar in this field derives from the fact that she is recognized as a most excellent exemplar of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ; that is, of that interior disposition with which the Church, the beloved Spouse, closely associated with her Lord, invokes Christ and through Him worships the eternal Father. Mary is the attentive Virgin, who receives the Word of God with faith, that faith which in her case was the gateway and path to divine Motherhood, for, as Saint Augustine realised, Blessed Mary by believing conceived Him [Jesus] Whom believing she brought forth. In fact, when she received from the angel the answer to her doubt (cf. Saint Luke 1:34-37), full of faith, and conceiving Christ in her mind before conceiving Him in her womb, she said, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me’ (Saint Luke 1:38). It was faith that was for her the cause of blessedness and certainty in the fulfilment of the promise: ‘Blessed is she who believed that the promise made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled’ (Saint Luke 1:45). Similarly, it was faith with which she, who played a part in the Incarnation and was a unique witness to it, thinking back on the events of the infancy of Christ, meditated upon these events in her heart (cf. Saint Luke 2:19,51). The Church also acts in this way, especially in the liturgy, when with faith she listens, accepts, proclaims and venerates the Word of God, distributes it to the faithful as the Bread of Life and in the light of that Word examines the signs of the times and interprets and lives the events of history.

Mary is also the Virgin in prayer. She appears as such in the visit to the mother of the precursor, when she pours out her soul in expressions glorifying God, and expressions of humility, faith and hope. This prayer is the Magnificat (cf. Saint Luke 1:46-55), Mary's prayer par excellence, the song of the messianic times in which there mingles the joy of the ancient and the new Israel. As Saint Irenaeus seems to suggest, it is in Mary's canticle that there was heard once more the rejoicing of Abraham who foresaw the Messiah (cf. Saint John 8:56) and there rang out in prophetic anticipation the voice of the Church: ‘In her exultation Mary prophetically declared in the name of the Church: My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord’. And in fact Mary's hymn has spread far and wide and has become the prayer of the whole Church in all ages. At Cana, Mary appears once more as the Virgin in prayer: when she tactfully told her Son of a temporal need she also obtained an effect of grace, namely, that Jesus, in working the first of His ‘signs’, confirmed His disciples’ faith in Him (cf. Saint John 2:1-12).

Likewise, the last description of Mary's life presents her as praying. The apostles ‘joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers’ (Acts 1:14). We have here the prayerful presence of Mary in the early Church and in the Church throughout all ages, for, having been assumed into heaven, she has not abandoned her mission of intercession and salvation. The title Virgin in prayer also fits the Church, which day by day presents to the Father the needs of her children, praises the Lord unceasingly and intercedes for the salvation of the world. Mary is also the Virgin Mother, she who believing and obeying brought forth on earth the Father's Son. This she did, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. This was a miraculous Motherhood, set up by God as the type and exemplar of the fruitfulness of the Virgin Church, which becomes herself a Mother. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life, children who are conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of God.

The ancient Fathers rightly taught that the Church prolongs in the Sacrament of Baptism the Virginal Motherhood of Mary. Among such references we like to recall that of our illustrious predecessor, Saint Leo the Great, who in a Christmas homily says: ‘The origin which Christ took in the womb of the Virgin He has given to the baptismal font: He has given to water what He had given to His Mother, the power of the Most High and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Saint Luke 1:35), which was responsible for Mary's bringing forth the Saviour, has the same effect, so that water may regenerate the believer’. If we wished to go to liturgical sources, we could quote the beautiful Illatio of the Mozarabic liturgy: ‘The former [Mary] carried Life in her womb; the latter [the Church] bears Life in the waters of baptism. In Mary's members Christ was formed; in the waters of the Church Christ is put on’. Mary is, finally, the Virgin presenting offerings. In the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (cf. Saint Luke 2:22-35), the Church, guided by the Spirit, has detected, over and above the fulfilment of the laws regarding the offering of the firstborn (cf. Exodus 13:11-16) and the purification of the mother (cf. Leviticus 12:6-8), a mystery of salvation related to the history of salvation.

She has noted the continuity of the fundamental offering that the Incarnate Word made to the Father when He entered the world (cf. Hebrews 15:5-7). The Church has seen the universal nature of salvation proclaimed, for Simeon, greeting in the Child the light to enlighten the peoples and the glory of the people Israel (cf. Saint Luke 2:32), recognized in Him the Messiah, the Saviour of all. The Church has understood the prophetic reference to the Passion of Christ: the fact that Simeon's words, which linked in one prophecy the Son as ‘the sign of contradiction’ (Saint Luke 2:34) and the Mother, whose soul would be pierced by a sword (cf. Saint Luke 2:35), came true on Calvary. A mystery of salvation, therefore, that in its various aspects orients the episode of the Presentation in the Temple to the salvific event of the Cross. But the Church herself, in particular from the Middle Ages onwards, has detected in the heart of the Virgin taking her Son to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (cf. Saint Luke 2:22) a desire to make an offering, a desire that exceeds the ordinary meaning of the rite. A witness to this intuition is found in the loving prayer of Saint Bernard: ‘Offer your Son, holy Virgin, and present to the Lord the blessed fruit of your womb. Offer for the reconciliation of us all the holy Victim which is pleasing to God’.

This union of the Mother and the Son in the work of redemption reaches its climax on Calvary, where Christ ‘offered himself as the perfect Sacrifice to God’ (Hebrews 9:14) and where Mary stood by the Cross (cf. Saint John 19:25), suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united herself with a Maternal heart to His Sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth and also was offering to the eternal Father. To perpetuate down the centuries the Sacrifice of the Cross, the divine Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of His death and Resurrection, and entrusted it to His Spouse the Church, which, especially on Sundays, calls the faithful together to celebrate the Passover of the Lord until He comes again. This the Church does in union with the saints in heaven and in particular with the Blessed Virgin, whose burning charity and unshakable faith she imitates.

Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship but is also, clearly, a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians. The faithful at a very early date began to look to Mary and to imitate her in making their lives an act of worship of God and making their worship a commitment of their lives. As early as the fourth century, Saint Ambrose, speaking to the people, expressed the hope that each of them would have the spirit of Mary in order to glory God. May the heart of Mary be in each Christian to proclaim the greatness of the Lord; may her spirit be in everyone to exult in God. But Mary is above all the example of that worship that consists in making one's life an offering to God. This is an ancient and ever new doctrine that each individual can hear again by heeding the Church's teaching, but also by heeding the very voice of the Virgin as she, anticipating in herself the wonderful petition of the Lord's Prayer, ‘Your will be done’ (Saint Matthew 6:10), replied to God's messenger: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me’ (Saint Luke 1:38). And Mary's ‘yes’ is for all Christians a lesson and example of obedience to the will of the Father, which is the, way and means of one's own sanctification.

It is also important to note how the Church expresses in various effective attitudes of devotion the many relationships that bind her to Mary: in profound veneration, when she reflects on the singular dignity of the Virgin who, through the action of the Holy Spirit has become Mother of the Incarnate Word; in burning love, when she considers the spiritual Motherhood of Mary towards all members of the Mystical Body; in trusting invocation; when she experiences the intercession of her advocate and helper; in loving service, when she sees in the humble handmaid of the Lord the Queen of Mercy and the Mother of grace; in zealots imitation, when she contemplates the holiness and virtues of her who is ‘full of grace’ (Saint Luke 1:28); in profound wonder, when she sees in her, as in a faultless model, that which she herself wholly desires and hopes to be; in attentive study, when she recognizes in the associate of the Redeemer, who already shares fully in the fruits of the Paschal Mystery, the prophetic fulfilment of her own future, until the day on which, when she has been purified of every spot and wrinkle (cf. Ephesians 5:27), she will become like a bride arrayed for the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 21:2).

06 September 2010

The Pearl of Great Price

In the Prologue of the book titled, ‘Saint Bruno the Carthusian’ by André Ravier, S. J., is a description of how it all began for Saint Bruno and his companions; how it all began for the Carthusian Order. Here is that story.

On a June morning in 1084, about the time of the feast of Saint John the Baptist, a small, serious-looking group of poorly clothed travellers left the Bishop’s house in Grenoble, led by young Bishop Hugh. They headed north and took the road to Sappey. After passing the last houses of the town they entered the great forest, cleared the Palaquit Pass, and reached the Porte Pass at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,219 metres). From the pass they descended to the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse. But, shortly before they reached Saint-Pierre, they turned left into the Valley of Guiers-Mort. This very narrow valley grew narrower little by little until it was enclosed between two steep cliffs. Only the stream and the path found an exit to the west.

The ‘Gateway’ as this valley was called, was the sole entry from the south. A little beyond that, to the right, an oblong valley called the Wilderness of Chartreuse extended north-northeast about 3 miles (4.8 kilometres). Its lowest point was 2,350 feet (716 metres) above sea level, and the highest was 3,450 feet (1,052 metres). It was nearly enclosed on all sides by towering mountains which, at the Grand Som, reached an altitude of 6,000 feet (1829 metres). Except for the gateway of the valley, there was only one other way to enter. That was by La Ruchère Pass (4,250 feet or 1295 metres) toward the northwest, though the village of La Ruchère itself was accessible only by the dangerous route of the Frou, over two poor paths that were long, difficult, and very risky: one coming from Saint-Laurent of the Wilderness in the west (today called Saint-Laurent-du-Pont), the other from Saint-Pierre d’Entremont in the north. The latter went through the forest of Eparres, the home of wild animals, and up over the Bovinant Pass to an altitude of 5,000 feet (1524 metres). In this wilderness the travellers boldly summoned up their strength at the gateway of the valley and, since they were looking for the wildest place in this wild place, they climbed to the farthest point toward the north, where the wilderness terminated in a gorge that was enclosed by mountains so high that during most of the year the sun scarcely penetrated it. Amid the fallen rocks the strangely shaped trees still reached for the sky, that at least their tops might gain the open air, light, and warmth. Then the little band stopped. They had arrived. Bishop Hugh told his companions they should build their huts here and make their dream of a hermitage a reality. Taking leave of his companions, he went back down to Grenoble with his personal escort.

Seven men stayed in the Wilderness: Master Bruno, the former chancellor and canon of the Church of Rheims; Master Landuino from Lucca in Tuscany, a renowned theologian; Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Dié, both canons of Saint-Ruf; Hugh, ‘whom they called the chaplain because he was the only one of them who functioned as a priest’ (Guigo, Vita S. Hugonis), and two ‘laymen’, Andrew and Guérin, who were lay brothers. These seven had decided to lead an eremitical life in common, and for some time they had been looking for a suitable place to carry out their project. Prompted by the Spirit and knowing surely how well how forests in the Dauphiné were suitable for solitude, Bruno came to Hugh, bishop of Grenoble, to ask for shelter and advice. And Hugh, inspired by a wonderful dream, chose the Wilderness of Chartreuse for Bruno and his companions.

Human wisdom would say the selection was foolish. The harsh climate with heavy snowfalls; the poor soil that required so much labour to provide even meagre nourishment for its inhabitants; the ruggedness of the terrain that made cultivation difficult in the forest; the inaccessibility of the place during a considerable part of the year, so that there was no hope of obtaining help quickly should there be an emergency or fire or illness. Everything was against establishing any sort of permanent dwelling for human beings in the Wilderness of Chartreuse, and especially in this northern end of it. Several times events demonstrated that these fears were well founded. On Saturday, 30 January 1132, an enormous avalanche fell upon all the cells except one and killed six hermits and one novice. They were compelled to go back a mile and a half (2.4 kilometres) toward the south from the end of the Wilderness, where La Grande Chartreuse is located now.

Bruno was more than fifty years old. Several of his companions, notably Landuino, were no longer young. What secret desire impelled them to brave this solitude, whose severity Guigo (the fifth prior of Chartreuse), in his ‘Customs’ (Consuetudines) alludes to twice? What discovery, what pearl of great price could make them live ‘for a long time amid so much snow and such dreadful cold’? (Consuetudines XXVIII).

The mystery of vocation, by which God calls certain people to a purely contemplative life and all-embracing love; the mystery of hidden lives of self-effacement (as it is commonly regarded) with Christ Who effaced Himself; the mystery of the prayer of Christ in the wilderness during the nights of His public life and at Gethsemane, the prayer of Christ that continues in certain privileged souls at every period in the history of the Church; the mystery of being solitary while remaining present to the world, of silence and the light of the Gospel, simplicity, and the glory of God.