27 February 2010

Second Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Abram, who would later be called Abraham, is known as the “Father of Faith”.

In this Reading, God makes a covenant with Abram which promises descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky as well as a possession of land. Notice the similarities with this Reading and the Annunciation story (Luke 1:26-38). God's covenant with Abram would play a part in the Almighty's Divine plan of what would be many, many years of salvation history leading up to the New and Everlasting Covenant which was proposed to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Both Abram and Mary trusted in the Lord and accepted His will for them. Abram and Mary both ask how their respective covenants will take place and in neither case is the question to be understood as a question of doubt, but merely an inquiry as to how the events will come to light. Both covenants begin with an unlikely birth. Abram's wife Sarai (Sarah) was barren but gave birth to Isaac; and Mary, who of course, was a Virgin, gave birth to Jesus.

The birds of prey which swooped down on the carcasses may have been instigated by the evil one since it is a certainty that God's covenant with Abram would not be in the devil's best interest since it would eventually lead to the salvation of humanity by Christ's Sacrifice.

A trance fell upon Abram which was probably, as termed in mystical theology, an ecstasy in which Abram would have been informed of some of the eventual occurrences in salvation history. A vision of Israel's oppression, being kept in bondage by Egypt may account for the terrifying darkness which enveloped Abram; and more than likely he would've also seen that it would be four hundred years of captivity before the Promised Land is gained.

The flaming torch which passes between the split pieces of the sacrifice is a symbol of the Divinity. Abram also would have passed through it which is a sign that the covenant has been ratified.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:17---4:1
Saint Paul's reference to those who are occupied with earthly things could almost make one believe in our age of secularism that this letter was written recently instead of nearly two thousand years ago. Paul does write, however, that he is in tears for those who are enemies of the Cross of Christ. This is a lesson for us to love and continually pray for those who have chosen similar paths of destruction.

For the season of Lent, this is a great letter to remind ourselves of our commitment and re-commitment to serving Christ. We have so much to look forward to. Our citizenship is in heaven; therefore, our lowly bodies will be changed to conform to Christ's glorified Body. Even now, we are witnesses and living examples of the spiritual transformation that occurs when committed to Christ. Saint Paul is an outstanding example of this; a former enemy of the Cross who would end up shedding tears for those who remained that way; a former persecutor of the Church who would be persecuted for tirelessly laboring for the Church; a man who knew how to hate but his conversion would have him loving even those who arrested and beat him.

Saint Paul's example demonstrates that being fully committed to Christ doesn't guarantee an easy life, but those who carry their cross with Christ have a sense of peace no matter how heavy that cross may become. This letter to the Philippians is a love letter encouraging us all to stand firm in the Lord.

Gospel, Luke 9:28b-36
During Lent we are encouraged to make prayer a primary endeavor which hopefully will lead to a lifelong priority. The Venerable Bede points out that since Christ ascended the mountain both to pray and be Transfigured, it is a lesson to us that we must dwell in heaven by our thoughts and apply our minds to continual prayer. Anyone who is serious about the spiritual life could at any moment have Jesus take them up the spiritual mountain, the higher rungs of the spiritual ladder. The psalmist writes: "Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord; or who shall stand in His holy place?" (Psalm 23 [24]:3).

Saint Peter proclaims: "Master, it is good that we are here." Indeed, but being there could also be spiritually painful for human creatures as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explains: "If sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas! That voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence." This is when love bursts through the boundaries of human love and enters the realm of celestial love.

The figures of Moses and Elijah, who have already traveled the journey of this life, now see what they longed to see in mortal life, a privilege that is given here in this Gospel to Peter, James and John. These three disciples and the mystics of the Church have experienced love at a frightening level -- frightening because it is far beyond the limits of the human experience. It also introduces a different aspect of human suffering beyond the usual physical infirmities and mental stress that we usually associate with suffering; and considering heightened love as a form of suffering while applying it to what the Church teaches about redemptive suffering can take the entire subject to a transfiguring level. On a more comprehensible level, virtually every human person within the age of at least semi-self sufficiency has had some experience with “loving until it hurts”; it most often comes in parental love, spousal love or perhaps being the offspring of a suffering parent.

The figures of Moses and Elijah also represent the Law and the Prophets; and, of course, Jesus is the fulfillment of both. The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds: "Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled Face of Him Whom they sought; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the Face of Christ, crucified and risen" (CCC 2583). Saint Cyril explains that Moses and Elijah conversing with our Lord reveals that Jesus is also the Lord of the Old Testament.

Poor Peter, so overwhelmed, asks to make three tents. The reason he did not know what he was saying is that he was proposing to place Jesus on an equal level with Moses and Elijah. That is to say, he was improperly ranking together the Lord of all with His servants; or another way of putting it is that Peter was mistakenly identifying the Creator and His creation as equals. Peter, of course, was not intentionally doing this; he was just caught up in the moment and scared. Another reason has to do with getting a taste of heaven. Nicholas Kempf in his Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum, wrote: “When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way. So too, after tasting the sweetness of glory, Peter did not know what he was saying.” Thomas à Kempis is quite clear about Christ's singular exaltedness as he writes in the “Imitation of Christ”: “Thou alone the Most Exalted and Most Glorious above all things!”

A Voice is heard from a cloud saying: “This is My chosen Son; listen to Him.” Once again, just like at the Baptism of Jesus, the Father reveals the Son. The text goes on to explain that once the Voice of the Father had spoken, Moses and Elijah had vanished; only Jesus remained. Perhaps this occurred so that there can be no misunderstanding as to which of the three the Father proclaimed to be His Son.

The Transfiguration manifests the Divinity of Jesus. It also provides us with a preview of our glorious future, a future of eternal joy and peace, a future of forever beholding our Lord's Face, a future and eternity in our heavenly homeland.

26 February 2010

Healing the Paralysis of Sin

In today’s Gospel for the Extraordinary Form of Mass (John 5:1-15), on this Ember Friday of the First Week in Lent, Jesus heals a man “that had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity” at a pond called Probatica, or in Hebrew, Bethsaida. Probatica’s meaning is perhaps a bit unusual to modern day thought, as it is said to mean “sheep-gate.” This was apparently a pond in which sheep that were to be sacrificed were washed beforehand. The Hebrew name Bethsaida, however means “fish-pond” but there are Greek transcripts which define the name of Bethsaida as being “a house of mercy.”

Saint John the Evangelist, whose Gospel is believed to have been written about the year 96 or somewhere in that last decade of the first century, was a mystic, and thus, no doubt, was conveying a deeper spiritual meaning in this account than what appears on the surface. Certainly words like sheep-gate, fish-pond, and a house of mercy are intriguing. The case could be made that all three can be linked to the Sacrament of Baptism.

Jesus is the Shepherd, and at baptism we become children of the Father, and consequently our Savior’s sheep. Hence, baptism is the gate in which the sheep enter to be carried in the Arms of the Shepherd (cf. Luke 15:1-10), close to His Bosom, His Sacred Heart, called to an intimate union with Jesus, Who is the Way to the Father, all by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism. And yes, we are sacrificed. We are slaughtered to the life of old and through the waters of baptism, rise up to a new life in Christ.

Jesus is the Fisher of men, a mission He continues through the labors of His Church. Once baptized, we are caught, no longer condemned to swim around aimlessly, lost in the darkness of murky waters. We are pulled out that watery grave to look upon our Fisherman, to be mesmerized by His marvelous Light.

Because of the fall, man built up a wall which separated him from God. It is His loving mercy that has called us back to Him. All the Sacraments are merciful acts instituted by Jesus Himself, and are ministered by Him through His House of Mercy, the Church.

As this Gospel account continues, once Jesus heals the man by saying: “Arise, take up thy bed and walk,” the man meets others who tell him: “It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed.” Those kinds of voices are all around us. Sometimes they are within us; and sadly, sometimes they are us. Lent is a time to put all that aside, in fact, throw it away, never to be looked upon again; to be healed by Jesus through Reconciliation. Alcuin of York, an eighth century English theologian, wrote: “In imitation of this sick man, if we wish to return God thanks for His favors, or enjoy the pleasure of His company, we must fly the crowd of vain and wicked thoughts that continually tempt us; we must avoid the company of the wicked, and fly to the sanctuary, that we may render our hearts worthy temples of that God Who vouchsafes to visit us.”

A wonderful benefit of being healed by the great Physician, and being able to enjoy “the pleasure of His company,” that is, spending time deeply immersed in prayer, is that sin wants no part Jesus. Thus, the closer we get to Him, the more we can experience that “sanctuary,” hidden in His Sacred Heart. Satan indeed may attempt to track us down in our desert, but as Scripture shows, if we’re close to Jesus in the desert, Satan will flee (cf. Matthew 4:1-11).

25 February 2010

Withdrawing to be with God

In today’s Gospel at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Matthew 15:21-28), “Jesus went forth and retired into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.” Notice the word “retired.” Both the Latin and Greek texts translate more literally as “withdrew” or “seceded.” Both “retired” and “withdrew” have inklings that suggest contemplation and perhaps even solitude. These areas of Tyre and Sidon, Joshua in the Old Testament considered to be within the boundaries of the Promised Land. At the time of Jesus, Tyre and Sidon were inhabited by Gentiles, places that Jesus commanded His apostles to avoid.

One option which should be considered as to what our Lord’s purpose for going there was is that He went there to withdraw Himself from the crowds and spend time with His heavenly Father. In other words, since He commanded His apostles to avoid these regions, Jesus Himself wasn’t going there to preach. Of course, as the Gospel account continues, only Divine Providence could have made things work out as they did with Jesus meeting there “a woman of Chanaan.” One can only imagine the unbreakable bond that these moments of Jesus communing with His heavenly Father must’ve been like; and even our wildest imaginational scenarios fall far short of the reality of the intense intimacy of this union. Who could possibly explain the interior life of a Man Who is also the Second Person of our Triune God? He is Man seeking God and yet He is Himself the beatific vision.

But as Man, Jesus teaches us the need to retire, to withdraw ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life and seek intimacy with our God. Saint Luke records for us: “And it came to pass in those days that He [Jesus] went out into a mountain to pray, and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God” (Luke 6:12). There are some wonderful passages in the Gospels where Jesus explicitly is praying, and there are some passages in which He is at least implicitly praying. We must accept, however, that in a very great mystery, Jesus was never out of communication with the Father.

For human beings, our weakness could not sustain the interior life of Jesus, for that superior exchange of divine love would burst our hearts. Some have come close, however. After the death of Saint Philip Neri, it was discovered that he had an enlarged heart which was attributed to a mystical ecstasy. This is the same saint who was well-known for levitating above the altar during holy Mass.

The example of Jesus and the saints teaches us to unceasingly seek a closer, intimate union with God. It must be an act of our free will to seek God, but He decides the pace to which we climb the spiritual ladder; and it is certainly God alone Who decides when we shall arrive at that perfect union with Him for all eternity.

We all go through life with a mountain of worries, desires, dreams, and “what ifs” that may never come. And yet, we struggle so much to set aside time to be with the One Whose design on our life is motivated entirely by love. One doesn’t have to look far to find saints who struggled in life and were constantly having what we might term as “one of those days.” Blessed Teresa of Calcutta had more days like that than most of us would be willing to bear. Her soul was in darkness for many years. But she has talked about days when all she could do was grab her Rosary and pray the prayers while completely unable to meditate on the mysteries; so stressed, that entering into the mysteries of our Lord and His holy Mother was not possible; but she said she found comfort in just being able to say the Paters, Aves, and Glorias.

The saints are good teachers because they learned from the Master. It takes one who is in harmony with heaven to teach by example that the way to combat “one of those days” is not by complaining, screaming, throwing things or taking it out on whoever crosses your path; but instead, turning to the great Comforter like Blessed Teresa did so often by reaching for her Rosary. How often do we turn to God when we feel that we have sunken in too deep and are unable to solve our dilemmas on our own? This is when prayer becomes the last resort. But the saints teach us what Jesus taught them by example in the Gospels: that prayer is the first resort.

24 February 2010

In front of Love, only love (Di fronte all'Amore, soltanto amore)

This beautiful reflection is from an Italian publication of Museo della Certosa, titled, “I Colori del Silenzio.” It’s all about the Carthusian call of staying close to Jesus, thus it’s a splendid pep-talk for us as we continue on our Lenten journey. Many passages in this reflection are references to Saint Bruno's letters and also the Carthusian Statutes.

Called by Christ, Bruno’s child,
inflamed with divine Love, leaves the world in search of eternity.
To become a song of love only for the glory of God,
that’s his life.

The Spirit whispers in him a continued murmuring:
To seek God more ardently, to find Him more quickly,
more fully, to unite to Him.

This is his alliance promise with the Beloved.
He follows in the steps of the first monks of Egypt,
with them, the same desire: constant prayer,
the same life: to hide oneself in God,
the same grace: union with the Beloved.

On the shortest way, through which he hastens,
A light guides his steps, Jesus Christ.
It is He Who nourishes him each day with His Word, a gift of His Heart,
He the One that conforms him to the Mystery of the hidden life
of Nazareth or of the desert of Judah.

Long and hard is the journey to the Promised Land,
dry are the ways which the Spirit leads him.
But one day, the desert is light.
In the profoundness of his heart, of his soul in the center part,
The secret sanctuary opens…
Behold the Source, the Living Water!
Behold his Friend, He waits for him.

O Loving Presence, that transforms him in Presence of love,
And one with You he becomes!
Now, his sole occupation is to love You,
Whether he prays, reads or works, only love You.
To remain secluded in his profound heart, peaceful and unified,
all immersed in You, O Love!
As a bird that planes at the breath of Your grace, Father,
His soul is abandonment in Your Hands.

He already enjoys a bit of Your incomparable splendor.
He already lives of a mystery whose full penetration is reserved
for heaven alone…
This travel towards God, Bruno’s son, lives it
in solitude and silence.
It is his precious part in the Spouse of Christ.

Contempt for the others?
No, the solitude of a heart completely enchanted,
overwhelmed by the beauty of the Beloved.
Love attracts him entirely to Him. How to resist Love?
Refusal to communicate?
No, silence of a life already full of the Word,
Towards which he’s all intended to listening.

The presence of Love is the only Word, beyond all other word.
Why disturb Love?

23 February 2010

Tuesday of the First Week in Lent (Extraordinary Form)

Introit: Psalm 89:1,2
Epistle: Isaias 55:6-11
Gospel: Matthew 21:10-17

Tu es

The Introit is most fitting for Lent. With words like, “Thou hast been our refuge” (Psalm 89:1) and from “eternity and to eternity Thou art God” (Psalm 89:2). It sort of previews Saint Peter’s proclamation: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It intimates the journey that many souls go through: believing that the grass is greener on the other side; that true happiness can be found without God. And then through many failed attempts of finding true joy by our own means, we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit’s conversion process, and we enter the doors of the Church, coming back home like the prodigal son, confessing to the great “I am” that indeed “Thou art!”

Quærite Dominum
The prophet Isaias begins by taking us back to our own experiences of rebellion; of the ‘my way or the highway’ approach to the journey, what we experienced before we found the Truth at the Introit. The voices of heaven bombard our hearts saying: “Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found; call upon Him, while He is near” (Isaias 55:6). Conversion, however, is not a one time deal; it is an ongoing, daily process, thus the choirs of angels continue to sing these words in our hearts, with the hope that in the silence and solitude of our desert we will hear them.

He is bountiful to forgive
We are called home, to seek the Lord’s mercy. His ways are not our ways, for His ways and thoughts are far above our ways. But He calls us to His exaltedness. Through the liturgy He challenges us to raise our hearts to the liturgy of the New Jerusalem. This is why our experience of liturgy should be other worldly. Pope Benedict XVI has been catechizing the flock on the importance of liturgy being sacred since the beginning of his pontificate – and really, even before that as Cardinal Ratzinger.

We cannot serve both God and mammon
In the Gospel Jesus casts out those who were conducting business in the temple. Again we see by Divine Authority the teaching that what goes on in the world, should not take place within the space of worship. We live in the fabric of time but through the liturgy we are given a glimpse of eternity, that one supreme Sacrifice of our Savior re-presented. Jesus said: “My house shall be called the house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). And what is prayer if not the lifting up of our hearts and minds to God? It certainly is not the buying and selling of goods. Jesus also enters the temples of our souls; may He indeed cast out that which is not pleasing to Him.

The High Priest
At Mass we can physically see a priest who is in Persona Christi. As Jesus enters the temple in this Gospel account, it is truly the High Priest, with great solemnity, entering the house of His heavenly Father; and so it is at Mass. In the liturgy, Jesus is both High Priest and Victim.

Jesus the Prophet
The question is raised: “Quis est hic – Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10). It’s a question that perhaps the answer has yet to be fully revealed and will not be until we have arrived at our own experience of what “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The Holy spirit has told us, though, that what Jesus prepares for us has not even entered our hearts (cf. ibid.). In this Gospel account, the question is answered as: “This is Jesus the Prophet” (Matthew 21:11). Indeed He is, but as His own Lips have professed: “Behold, a greater than Jonas here – behold, a greater than Solomon here” (Matthew 12:42).

A great miracle
Saint Jerome hailed the casting out of the moneychangers as one of our Lord’s greatest miracles because Jesus, a poor Man, was able to overturn their tables and throw them out of the temple without any apparent resistance, without any opposition.

Hosanna to the Son of David
According to Saint Augustine, “Hosanna” doesn’t appear to have a specific meaning. It is an interjection of joy, with intimations of affection. What a beautiful thought to dwell on in meditation! Jesus is the source of our joy, and affection relates to an intimate union with Him. We hope and long for this intimacy through constant prayer, which Lent calls us to do. “Hosanna” is of Hebrew origin and thus Saint Jerome believed that it came from Psalm 117:25, “Lord, save me,” since what follows in that Psalm is identical to what follows after the “Hosanna” in Saint Mark’s Gospel: “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” (Mark 11:9). Let our souls, then, shout for joy with many Hosannas, as our souls are the dwelling-place of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Jesus is Lord of the Old and New Testaments
Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “Have you never read: ‘Out of the mouths of infants and of sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?’” (Matthew 21:16). This is a reference to a verse in Psalm 8. The Book of Psalms, an Old Testament book, is clearly a very important book in the Church’s daily life. Verses are taken from it for use at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and it is used most prominently in the Divine Office. Saint John Chrysostom teaches us that with our Redeemer’s frequent use of the Old Testament in His teachings, we ought to read the Old Testament with an eye to Christ.

22 February 2010

Jesus Continues to Suffer

Saint Paul said in concern about receiving the Eucharist unworthily: “Whosoever shall eat this Bread, or drink the Chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and of the Blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that Bread and drink of the Chalice. For he that eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Body of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Not only does avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation bring great harm to our own souls, but our Lord and Savior continues to suffer because of it. In the beautiful Sacrament of the Eucharist Jesus makes Himself very vulnerable. By being substantially present in what looks like bread and wine, He has entrusted Himself to sinners. He wants to feed us but He wants to feed us worthily by feeding souls who are in a state of grace.

Saint Jean-Marie Vianney had strong words about unworthy Holy Communion: “How many have the temerity to approach the holy table with sins hidden and disguised in Confession. How many do not have that sorrow which the good God wants from them, and preserve a secret willingness to fall back into sin, and do not put forth all their exertions to amend. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they can, or preserve enmity in their hearts even at the holy table. If you have ever been in these dispositions in approaching Holy Communion, you have committed a sacrilege.”

Sin of any kind is never good but unworthy Communion inflicts punishment on the Redeemer. The holy Curé d’Ars continues: “It attacks the Person of Jesus Christ Himself, instead of scorning only His Commandments, like other mortal sins. The death of Jesus Christ on Calvary was violent and painful, but at least all of nature seemed to bear witness to His pain. The least sensible of creatures appeared to be affected by it, and thus wishful to share the Savior’s sufferings. Here there is nothing of this: Jesus is insulted, outraged by a vile nothingness, and all keeps silence; everything appears insensible to His humiliations. May not this God of goodness justly complain, as on the tree of the Cross, that He is forsaken? My God, how can a Christian have the heart to go to the holy table with sin in his soul, there to put Jesus Christ to death?”

It is said that nothing in this life pained Saint Jean-Marie Vianney more than unworthy Holy Communion. In fact, he was unable to speak about it without tears. He certainly made great efforts to help souls avoid such a sin by making himself available daily for long hours in the confessional.

On Good Friday of 2005, the Stations of the Cross were conducted at the Colosseum by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II was unable to do it because of his failing health. The Stations were not only carried out by Cardinal Ratzinger that year, but they were also written by him. Here’s what he wrote and proclaimed at the Station where Jesus falls for a third time: “What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in His own Church? How often is the holy Sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must He enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that He is there! How often is His Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in His Passion. His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of His Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His Heart. We can only call to Him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison, Lord, save us.”

What does heaven have to say about this? In 1846 in La Salette, France, two children had a vision of our Blessed Lady. She said to them: “Come to me my dear children. Do not be afraid. I have come to tell you something of great importance.” The two visionaries, Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud, claimed that our Blessed Mother entrusted each of them with a secret. They guarded those secrets for five years, after which they wrote down their secrets for Pope Pius IX. It was several years later when the Holy Father was asked about the secrets of La Salette in a private audience with the Missionaries of La Salette. The Holy Father responded by saying: “You want to know the secrets of La Salette? Here are the secrets of La Salette: if you do not do penance you will die.”

In 1879, one of the two visionaries, Melanie, published her secret in a brochure. Here’s a small piece of what the Mother of God said: “Melanie… woe to those dedicated to God who by their unfaithfulness and their wicked lives are crucifying my Son again.”

As dangerous as all of this sounds, and it is, let us remember that God is merciful; may we show our love for Jesus by visiting Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where He mercifully and lovingly waits for us.

20 February 2010

First Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Deuteronomy 26:4-10
The Israelites are offering their firstfruits and proclaiming the love and mercy of God by contrasting their former nomadic existence with the joy of possessing their own country; a "land flowing with milk and honey." Gratitude for God's abundant love and kindness is the theme to be underscored here.

Lent is a time for serious prayer, reflection and meditation; a time for penance, a time to remind ourselves of the importance of God in our lives. Serious sin makes us like nomads. It separates us from our heavenly Father and from the family of God which we have in the Church. The Sacrament of Penance restores it all. This overwhelming display of our Lord's love and mercy deserves all the gratitude we can muster, especially when considering the times that we're not so loving and not so merciful.

This Reading is symbolic of our Lenten journey. Like the wandering Aramean we are also strangers in a foreign land. The Israelites cried out to the Lord, Who heard their cry and freed them from bondage, guiding them along the way during their Exodus. We have also been freed from our bondage to sin and death by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By becoming Man, we are reminded that our God not only guides us along the way but also experienced our labor, toil and affliction first hand.

At the end of our forty days we rejoice in our Savior's victory at Easter, the day our Lord destroyed that which kept us in bondage. Sundays are not included in the forty days of the Lenten disciplines. Instead they are weekly reminders of the glorious Easter mystery. By His Resurrection Jesus has gained for us, not a land of milk and honey, but a promised new life of eternal joy and peace.

When the journey of this life is traveled faithfully, the light at the end of the tunnel reveals the beatific vision – the unimaginable joy of what eye has not seen nor ear has heard (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9).

Second Reading, Romans 10:8-13
"Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say?" As we begin this Season of Lent, what a marvelous invitation to prayerfully study the pages of Scripture. Pope Benedict XVI called a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in October of 2008. The theme was: "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The Holy Father said he hoped that meeting would help Catholics realize the importance of the bible.

A simple confession of belief in Jesus coupled with a belief in the heart is not a no strings attached, free pass for getting into heaven. Confession with the lips is not simply a belief in the Person of Christ; it's also a belief in everything He taught by word and deed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Name of "Jesus" contains all: God and Man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray "Jesus" is to invoke Him and call Him within us. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the Name of Jesus is invoking and welcoming the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself up for them (cf. CCC 2666).

Thus the profession/heart formula is a practice of faith in daily life. Saint Paul tells us that Jesus enriches "all who call upon Him." That's a thought which would be very difficult to exhaust in meditation.

Gospel, Luke 4:1-13
Certain numbers in Scripture are symbolic. Even when a literal understanding applies, there still is often a symbolic representation as well. Forty is symbolic of a long period of time in which there will be difficulties and temptations to try to overcome; but it also represents a time of preparation to receive graces which will flow from the Hand of God.

Noah was in the ark as rain poured from the heavens for forty days and forty nights (cf. Genesis 7:4---8:6). The Israelites wandered through the desert for forty years to get to the Promised Land. Moses went up the mountain to be with God and was there for forty days and forty nights (cf. Exodus 24:18). There are other examples in Scripture where the number forty is prominent. In this Gospel Jesus spends forty days in the desert. You know the old saying: You can't arrive at Easter Sunday without getting through Good Friday first. A period of struggle followed by a reward would seem to be God's infallible plan for eternal bliss; why else would a Cross, an apparatus used for severe punishment and execution, be a sign of eternal salvation? No pain, no gain may be the universal plan, but it's a plan that man has tried to avoid with great fervor since the fall of humanity.

Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit. Certainly our own baptism fills us with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is led to the desert. The Church, guided by the Spirit, leads us to the desert every year to prepare for Easter. The desert is certainly a very real place but it also can be representative of what has happened to humanity. Man was created in the splendor of glory and dwelled in paradise; but man turned away from God and fell from grace and now that garden of paradise is a barren desert.

One would have to think that this Gospel is recorded solely for our benefit. The devil trying to overcome God with temptations is surely a lesson in futility. The love of God for His people is evidenced here as the God of Paradise and Perfection humbles Himself and enters man's lowly desert and confronts the very distraction which turned man away from His Creator and His God. The outcome of our Lord's visit to the desert finds the devil's strategy and tactics unsuccessful, unlike his encounter in Eden.

Jesus withstanding the temptations of Satan, though, shouldn't come as a surprise to any Christian; therefore, our Lord withstanding the tempter's attacks really isn't the point of this Gospel. What is likely occurring here is that Jesus is identifying the real enemy to us. We have been baptized and are sent to spread the Good News; but belonging to God as His very own children and carrying out His plan for us will certainly bring opposition. Opposition most often comes under the guise of flesh and blood and other forms of created beauty which appeal to our fallen, therefore, weak nature. But Jesus is showing us who is hiding behind flesh and blood, and all those alluring temptations. While the devil can hide from us he can't hide from our Lord and in this Gospel story Jesus exposes the father of lies and brings him out into the open desert.

There are two sides to Lent: on one side it is a time for acknowledging the occasions we have succumbed to enticing ideas and have turned away from God; but on the other side it is a determined resolve to do penance and gracefully remain in the Bosom of our Lord. During these forty days, much like the Israelites, we will journey through the desert together and look forward to the Promised Land of Easter. And like Christ, one should be encouraged to go into the desert alone, a place set aside for personal prayer and silence. While alone in the desert our Lord's garments are wedged between a pair of clasped hands in prayer so that when the tempter arrives, faithful endurance will prevail causing him to depart. Scripture reads: "Resist the devil and he will fly from you" (James 4:7).

Our Holy Father of happy memory, Pope John Paul II, defined Lent as a time for "intense prayer" and for "serious discernment about our lives" and our figurative desert is the place to do both. In Matthew's version of the temptation in the desert, after Satan tempts Jesus to turn a stone into bread, our Lord's response of, "One does not live on bread alone" is continued with "but by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). On a translation note, in Luke's Gospel the Latin Vulgate does include the words which translate as "but by every word of God" even though it is absent from the liturgical text.

The bread that doesn't satisfy is the manna that was given to the Israelites (cf. Exodus 16). It's interesting, though, that in this exchange between our Savior and the devil there are three words which are synonymous with Jesus. He is the "Stone" which the builders rejected (cf. Psalm [117] 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:4; 2:7), He is the "Bread" of life (cf. John 6:35; 6:48), and He is the "Word" of God (cf. John 1:1). And this spiritual diet of Word and Bread are exactly what we receive respectively at Mass from the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

19 February 2010

The Carthusian Example for Lent

In the book, “Saint Bruno the Carthusian” by André Ravier, S. J., there is much revealed about the customs of the Carthusian Order which are useful for the journey during Lent.

In the book is mentioned a formula of vows which was used by the early Carthusians. As the author explains, “There were four or five formulas for blessing the new professiant, and from those the first Carthusians kept the one that was the most scriptural, the most spiritual, showing… their special attachment to the Bible.” In a liturgical season that encourages detachments, the Carthusians, by their example teach us that Sacred Scripture is an attachment to protect and keep ever in our hearts and minds. Here is that formula:

“Lord Jesus Christ, the only Way for anyone to come to the Father, we ask You in Your unfailing love to lead this servant of yours, detached from desires of the flesh, by the way of regular discipline; and, since You were willing to call sinners, saying, ‘Come to Me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest,’ grant that Your invitation will become so strong the he will put down the burden of his sins, taste how good You are, and deserve to receive You as His nourishment. Number him among Your sheep so that he will know You and follow no stranger, that he will not even hear the voice of other shepherds but only Yours, saying, ‘If anyone would serve Me, let Him follow Me.’”

The season of Lent strongly encourages us to detach ourselves from the desires of the flesh, to discipline ourselves, to recognize the burden that weighs heavy upon us because of sin. Arriving at an acknowledgement of that burden, finds us in need of one Sacrament in order that we may deserve to be nourished by another Sacrament. And when one Sacrament lifts the burden, then in the silence of our hearts can be heard the only Voice necessary, saying, “Come to Me.” The author explains that Saint Bruno himself and the first generation of Carthusians desired “absolute purity.” All the saints were loyal to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a sacrament of purity. And since their names are preceded by the word “Saint,” should speak volumes about the reward for such loyalty.

On 9 December 1086, something wonderful occurred for Saint Bruno and his companions: “At Grenoble, Bishop Hugh officially ratified the grant that the landowners of Chartreuse had made two years earlier. Not only did the Carthusians become lawful masters of the land, but the document solemnly reaffirmed the purpose of the hermitage.” Here is partly what is contained in that document, and notice how Lenten it sounds -- the call to come to Christ, to seek the treasures of heaven:

“The grace and mercy of the holy and undivided Trinity has made us aware of the conditions of our salvation. Recalling our human condition and how inevitable sin is in this fragile life, we have judged it good to redeem ourselves from the hands of death, to exchange the goods of this world for those of heaven, to acquire an eternal heritage instead of possessions that will not last.”

Saint Bruno, in a letter to his friend Raoul le Verd, teaches the value of solitude, certainly something that should be sought during Lent in order to grow closer to God. Saint Bruno explains that in solitude we abide within ourselves, “carefully cultivating the seeds of virtue,” and are “nourished happily by the fruits of paradise.” He continues: “Is there anyone who cannot see how beautiful and useful and pleasant it is to dwell in His school under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn divine philosophy, which alone can confer true happiness?” This incredible letter continues in a tone which intimates an examination of conscience: “What is more sound and more beneficial, more innate, more in accord with human nature than to love the good? And what is as good as God? Still more, is there anything else good besides God? So, the holy soul who has any comprehension of this Good, of His incomparable brilliance, splendor, and beauty, burns with the flame of heavenly love and cries out: ‘I thirst for God, the living God. When will I come and see the Face of God?’” (Psalm 41 [42]:3).

During this season of Lent and forevermore, may we thirst for God and experience the burns of heavenly love!

17 February 2010

The Inner-Monk

Saint John Cassian wrote: “Only they can contemplate Christ’s Divinity, with a very pure gaze, who rise up from earthly works, thoughts and passions.” As is said at Mass:
V/: Lift up your hearts.
R/: We lift them up to the Lord.

Our hearts are designed to be living altars from which we exercise our royal priesthood by offering sacrifice and praise to God. Lent not only calls us to these sacrifices and praises, but also to make it a personal mandate. Overcoming the obstacles which keep us from daily prayer, sets us on a long but fruitful journey through which vigilance and remaining spiritually awake could make our very lives a liturgy.

It begins by taking steps that remind us to pray when life’s busy-ness averts our focus away from God. In the monastery, the bell rings, calling the monks to pray the Divine Office. In the Carthusian tradition is the following: “As soon as the bell is heard for the Divine Office, we hasten promptly, because the bell’s voice is like the Voice of God that calls to prayer.” Similar steps can be taken by the laity. For example, there are those who set the alarm on their wristwatch for 3 p.m. or 1500 h. Our Lord taught us through Saint Faustina that this is the hour of mercy. By following that strategy, when the alarm goes off, one could perhaps pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, or if busy, simply take a moment to acknowledge the presence of God in one’s life.

Taking necessary steps sets our hearts in motion towards the divine, towards the goal of keeping our eyes fixed “on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). In the traditional liturgy for Ash Wednesday, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us through Saint Matthew’s Gospel the following: “Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi est cor tuum – For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:21). Hopefully we all have our treasure and hearts set on celestial realms.

The serious pursuit of intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity will meet with difficulties because of our human weaknesses. “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You across the water” (Matthew 14:28). These are the familiar words of Saint Peter, but words that clearly delineate how our own shortcomings make the journey tedious. Peter could have successfully walked across the ocean and embrace Jesus, but he let the storm take his focus off of his Master.

While Lent calls us to “intense prayer” (Pope John Paul II), the Church is very aware of how the sojourn down the straight and narrow path can meet with setbacks. In her liturgies during Lent we see and hear words like, “Between the porch and the altar, the priests, the Lord’s ministers shall weep and shall say: ‘Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people; and close not the mouths that sing to Thee, O Lord.’” Once again in the traditional liturgy for Ash Wednesday is this prayer:

“Grant us, Lord, the grace to begin the Christian’s war of defense with holy fasts:
that as we do battle with the spirits of evil, we may be protected by the help of self-denial.”

And, when we fail in areas of self-denial and fasting, other words like: “Look upon us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies” are in the liturgy to assist us. In Lent it is not our garments we rent but our hearts, that living altar.

Sacred Scripture and the Divine Office are great ways to hear the Voice of God. Saint Bernard said: “Because they are blessed who keep God’s Word, you keep it, so it will come down to the bottom of your soul.”

Sometimes God also calls us into the desert, that is, a place to be alone with God. Jesus said: “When you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6). In solitude, God speaks to the heart. It is then that our hearts truly become a living altar, from which our prayers ascend to Him.

Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine monk said: “A monk is one who gazes at God alone, who ardently desires only God, who has consecrated himself to God and tries hard to give Him an undivided worship; he is in peace with God and becomes a source of peace for others.” There is a monk within each of us. The soul’s desire for God make be rejected by the flesh, but the soul’s longing to have intimacy with God doesn’t disappear. During this penitential season, may we all discover our own inner-monk.

Best wishes on your journey!

16 February 2010

Cleaning the Temple for God

On this day, the eve of Lent, in the wee hours of the morning, the traditional Divine Office did a splendid job of paving the way for us to enter into this penitential season. At Matins, in Psalm 34 [35] King David prays for relief against his persecutors. This prefigures our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the sufferings He would endure from His persecutors. This relief from “testes iniqui – unjust witnesses” is also the prayer of the Church. As individuals, and as a people of God, we enter into Lent having to admit that because we are sinners, we are those persecutors. But the hope for us appears in that same psalm with the words from our Lord: “Salus tua ego sum – I am your salvation.”

Psalm 36 [37] follows and begins with the words: “Noli æmulari in malignantibus, neque zelaveris facientes iniquitatem – Be not emulous of evildoers, nor envy them that work iniquity.” It’s an invitation to turn away from ungodly ways and return to God. The psalm promises that trusting in God, committing our way to His way, that we will “inhabita terram, et pasceris in divitiis eius -- dwell in the land, and… shall be fed with its riches.” Prophetically “the land” is heaven where we shall have the “riches” of eternal joy and will be “fed” at the heavenly banquet.

Psalm 37 [38] follows, which is the third penitential psalm. In it the psalmist confesses: “Iniquitates meæ supergressæ sunt caput meum, et sicut onus grave gravatæ sunt super me -- My iniquities have gone over my head, and as a heavy burden have become heavy upon me.” The psalmist knows where the answer to his troubles is to be found as he begs to God: “Ne discesseris a me – Do not depart from me.” Certainly the psalmist speaks for all devout souls.

The psalmody of Matins concludes with Psalm 38 [39]. It asks the big question: “Et nunc quæ est exspectatio mea? – And now what is my hope?” The question is answered in the form of a question: “Nonne Dominus? – Is it not the Lord?”

At Lauds, always a great psalm for cultivating a penitential heart is Psalm 50 [51], the Miserere, the fourth penitential psalm. It is very familiar to many and perhaps is the most assigned psalm to read for penance following the Sacrament of Confession.

Pope John Paul II referred to Lent as a time for “intense prayer” and surely the images of our Holy Father of happy memory remain etched in our minds, of the occasions he appeared to be in moments of intense prayer with his familiar posture of burying his face into his holy hands. A moment of intense prayer is delineated also at Lauds by the prophet Isaiah as he says: “Sicut pullus hirundinis, sic clamabo; meditabor ut columba. Attenuati sunt oculi mei, suspicientes in excelsum -- I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove; my eyes are weakened looking upward.” This is serious prayer and our salvation is a serious matter. It is because of our weakness that the Church has an annual return to its liturgical seasons. We need to be reminded that God became Man. We need to be reminded that He suffered, died and rose again. We need to be reminded to spend intense times with Him in prayer; and we need to be reminded that we are to wait for Him in hope. The Capitulum at Lauds instructs us with a strong Lenten message: “Nox præcessit, dies autem appropinquavit. Abiiciamus ergo opera tenebrarum, et induamur arma lucis. Sicut in die honeste ambulemus -- The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let us, therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day” (Romans 13:12-13).

At the hour of Prime is the daily prayer/response: “Christe, Fili Dei vivi, miserere nobis – Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.” These are only some of the examples for today’s assigned hours in the Breviarium Romanum which help us to prepare for tomorrow, the beginning of Lent.

Turning to another angle, Saint Caesarius of Arles, in a homily reminds us that our baptism makes us temples of Christ; and that before baptism we were shrines of the devil. He tells us that whenever we sin we harm Christ’s cause. God’s mercy and kindness has made our souls a dwelling-place for Himself. And so, Saint Caesarius of Arles bluntly says: “Noli tuam animam peccatorum sordibus inquinare – Do not pollute your soul with the filth of sin.”

Through the Sacrament of Confession the soul is made clean, making it a fit dwelling-place for the Most Blessed Trinity. In our interior life that inner-temple is also a place for us to deeply immerse ourselves in awestruck silence and holy conversation.

A Blessed and Prayerful Lent to All!

15 February 2010

Ten Ways to See God

What follows is from the Carthusian, Guigo de Ponte, with the help of some of God’s elect. The ten ways to see God are: faith, reason, in figures, in the flesh, the Eucharist, the eye of enlightened love, spiritual imagery, God’s own unimpaired Light, full rapture of spirit, and in heaven’s blessedness. One term that Guigo uses which may require further explanation is, “anagogical clingings.” These are mystical experiences, when the soul ascends to an intimate union with God.

As the Scriptures report copiously, God is seen, or is said to be seen in ten ways.

He may be seen by faith, as Scripture says: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm 97 [98]:3). Saint Bernard agrees, saying: “To have believed is to have seen” (Sermo 70 in Cantica).

God is also seen through the eye of reason – by philosophers – according to Romans, chapter (1:20). Physical speculation, or envisioning seeks God through the mirror of the creatures (cf. Thomas Aquinas, Super libros Sententiarum). By considering the creatures, philosophers understand the Creator. “For God has manifested it unto them,” as the apostle says, “For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:19-20). Scholastic envisioning seeks God through the mirror of the Scriptures.

The patriarchs saw God in figures (cf. Gregory the Great, Moralia), as when Abraham saw Three and worshipped One (cf. Genesis 18:23).

The apostles saw God in the flesh: “We saw His glory, the glory as it were of the Only-begotten of the Father (John 1:14), and “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, and which we have seen with our eyes (1 John 1:1).

God is also seen in the Sacrament of the altar – not only by faith, but also through the flashing affections of the pure in heart. Thus the Lord’s words in Leviticus, “I shall appear in the cloud over the oracle upon the mercy seat” (Leviticus 16:2), have been applied to the Sacrament of the altar, for the Lord appears in this Sacrament in a powerfully sweet and lovely manner.

He can be seen also by the eye of enlightened love through godly ascents and anagogical clingings.

Some see God through spiritual imagery, as did John in the Apocalypse (cf. Revelation 1:12-16).

God is seen fleetingly through His own unimpaired Light. There are those who see God perfectly, as He is, in the beatific Light of heaven.

God, the Light of eternal truth is seen through a complete rapture of spirit, which is how the angels see Him, just as the apostle Paul: “He contemplated God in that overpowering, or rapture, of spirit just as the highest order of angels who contemplate God at closer range than the other angels” (Nicholas of Lyra, Biblia postillata). No one can obtain this vision unless he has died to himself, that is, to his corporal senses. The Divine Light can also bee seen through an incomplete rapture of spirit, in a sudden stabbing intuition of heavenly contemplation. No one can achieve this vision of God without first dying to the world. “He who sees the wisdom that is God dies totally to this life and is no longer bound by love of this life” (Gregory the Great, Moralia). “Let a man divest himself of the world, love eternal things, and embrace God as much as possible – for how much one sees of Him is proportional to how much one dies to the world. Anyone who by keen contemplation would gaze on the brightness of God while in this mortal flesh, must die completely to this life and no longer be bound by love of this life.” (Nicholas of Lyra, Biblia postillata).

And in heaven’s blessedness God is seen truly and perfectly, as He Himself is, by those who are in the realm of the living (cf. Psalm 26 [27]:13 & Psalm 114 [116]:9). Thus 1 John 3 says: Beloved, we are now the children of God and it has not yet appeared what we shall be… but…we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

13 February 2010

Head and Members Produced by Mary

Chosen soul, living image of God and redeemed by the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, God wants you to become holy like Him in this life, and glorious like Him in the next.

It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake must lead you towards that end. What a marvelous transformation is possible! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God!

Chosen soul, how will you bring this about? What steps will you take to reach the high level to which God is calling you? The means of holiness and salvation are known to everybody. These means are: sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to Divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God.

The grace and help of God are absolutely necessary for us to practice all these. A person who corresponds to great graces performs great works, and one who corresponds to lesser graces performs lesser works. The value and high standard of our actions corresponds to the value and perfection of the grace given by God and responded to by the faithful soul. No one can contest these principles.

My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God. Mary alone found grace with God for herself and for every individual person. No patriarch nor prophet nor any other holy person of the Old Law could manage to find this grace. It was Mary who gave existence and life to the Author of all grace, and because of this she is called the “Mother of Grace.”

As Saint Bernard says, “The will of God is manifested to her in Jesus and with Jesus.” God chose her to be the treasurer, the administrator and the dispenser of all His graces, so that all His gifts and graces pass through her hands. According to Saint Bernardine, “She gives the graces of the eternal Father, the virtues of Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to whom she wills.”

Since Mary produced the Head of the elect, Jesus Christ, she must also produce the members of that Head. If anyone, then, wishes to become a member of Jesus Christ, and consequently be filled with grace and truth, he must be formed in Mary through the grace of Jesus Christ, which she possesses with a fullness enabling her to communicate it abundantly to true members of Jesus Christ, her true children.

~ Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort ~

12 February 2010

Serving the Sorrowful Mother

Today on the traditional calendar, the Church honors the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order. These seven men were Florentines who willfully took on a rigorously self-disciplined lifestyle with a special focus on our Blessed Mother. They were given a vision of our Lady, as they were deeply immersed in prayer. This occurred on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was after that vision that the seven felt compelled to live a life of solitude. Their first place of withdrawal didn’t work out due to the many visitors they steadily received from Florence. They moved to Monte Senario, and there they built a hermitage and a church.

They received a visit from a bishop who was grateful and edified by their holiness. The bishop, however, was concerned about their very austere life. No doubt guided by the Holy Spirit, the bishop said to the seven men: “You treat yourselves in a manner bordering on barbarity: and you seem more desirous of dying to time than of living for eternity. Take heed, the enemy of souls often hides himself under the appearance of an angel of light. Hearken to the counsels of your superiors.”

They had another vision of the Mother of God who held in her hand a black religious habit. An angel stood next to her holding a scroll titled, “Servants of Mary.” As per the instructions of our Blessed Lady, these men were to wear black habits and be known as Servites, or the Servants of Mary. She added that they were to follow the rule of Saint Augustine.

Their life was one of incessant meditation on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ while venerating His Holy Mother as the Mother of Sorrows.

In the Carthusian tradition there is this account of devotion to the Mother of Sorrows:
During the last century, Dom Ferdinand Rugieri, a monk of the Grande Chartreuse, moved by a tender devotion to the Sorrows of Mary, had offered himself as a victim to die on the feast of her Compassion. According to the Carthusian rite, this feast was kept on the eve of Palm Sunday. Several months beforehand, he foretold that he would die on that day. The feast of Mary’s Compassion fell in that year on 28 March 1874, and the good Dom Ferdinand Rugieri died as the Fathers were reciting around his bed the last verse of the Stabat Mater:

Quando corpus morietur
Fac ut animæ donetur
Paradisi gloria.

While my body here decays
May my soul thy goodness praise
Safe in Paradise with thee.

11 February 2010

Hodie gloriosa cœli Regina in terris apparuit

On this day in 1858 Saint Bernadette Soubirous received her first visit from the Mother of God. Like today, it was a Thursday which young Bernadette said was “the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.” This is how she described our Blessed Lady: “She has the appearance of a young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She is dressed in a white robe, girdled at the waist with a blue ribbon which flows down all along her robe. She wears upon her head a veil which is also white; this veil gives just a glimpse of her hair and then falls down at the back below her waist. Her feet are bare but covered by the last folds of her robe except at the point where a yellow rose shines upon each of them. She holds on her right arm a Rosary of white beads with a chain of gold shining like the two roses on her feet.”

The Blessed Virgin comes to Bernadette with a Rosary, and the two would pray the Rosary together. Before Bernadette could lift her right hand to her forehead to begin with the Sign of the Cross, our Lady stopped Bernadette by paralyzing her arm. And then our Blessed Lady made the Sign of the Cross; afterward, Bernadette was permitted to do the same.

Something happened there that is very mysterious. Our Blessed Mother apparently taught Bernadette the proper way to make the Sign of the Cross. As Catholics, we make the Sign of the Cross often, but how many times do we make it with great devotion?

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem taught that the Sign of the Cross was a royal Sign which makes devils flee trembling with fear.

It is said that many were converted to the faith simply because they witnessed Bernadette make the Sign of the Cross; and she was taught how to do it properly by our Lady. It’s interesting that when Bernadette became a nun, one of the other sisters asked her what must be done to be assured of going to heaven. Bernadette’s response was: “Make the Sign of the Cross well. That in itself is already a great deal.”

As the first apparition of Our Lady continued, Bernadette alone prayed the Rosary vocally; our Lady passed the beads through her fingers in silence. Our Blessed Mother, however, did speak at the end of each decade by praying the Gloria with Bernadette.

It is a great grace to be able to fully interiorize the Rosary; that is, to mentally pray the Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Gloria, while still being able to enter deeply into the mysteries of the Gospel. A great grace indeed, but our Blessed Lady, of course, was gratia plena – full of grace. Our Lady can assist us in receiving this grace if we ask her to reveal to us the treasures in her Immaculate Heart. Sacred Scripture tell us that: “Maria… conservabat omnia verba hæc, conferens in corde suo – Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

It was on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1858 that the Lady of Bernadette’s visions revealed in Bernadette’s Bigourdan dialect: “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou – I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette had no idea what that meant but was later told that it was a title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was nearly four years earlier on 8 December 1854 that Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

10 February 2010

Holy Peace Only in Solitude

Today is the feast of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict. As Secret Harbor honors this holy woman, it also turns to another holy woman who has been the subject of a few previous posts. Julia Crotta, also known as Sister Nazarena, was a Camaldolese Benedictine recluse. Her story is told by Thomas Matus in the book titled, “Nazarena: an American Anchoress.” Easter was approaching, and for Nazarena, it would be her anniversary, twenty-one years since her call to solitude. And of that call, Nazarena approaching her anniversary wrote: “Now God is making me hear it louder than ever.” At the end of Lent in 1961, she expressed her joy in solitude in a letter to her abbess. She wrote what follows.

My soul finds its place and feels holy peace only in solitude. Whenever I leave it, I feel restless and spiritually unable to breathe. Strange, but true! Perhaps Jesus permits me to feel this way in order to make it absolutely clear that He is calling me and wants me to cling to Him alone in the strictest solitude.

I do so love my religious family – now that everything is settled, I want to pray more and better for you. I always feel ashamed when I offer my poor prayers! But I unite them with the merits of Jesus and thus I hope they will not be altogether useless. I am glad I have no knowledge of any person or event, outside of what is strictly necessary for me to know. Please do me this kindness, that all my mind and soul may be filled with God and souls, without any particular knowledge of them. I shall better avoid distractions if I know nothing about persons or events. In any case I feel I have to do this, whether I want to or not. When the Lord wants certain things, He gives you no rest until He has them!

09 February 2010

No Matter What

“I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer.”

These words were spoken by Pope Benedict XVI on 1 February 2010 to the Bishops of England and Wales during the ad limina visit. “His example,” which the Holy Father spoke of, was that of Cardinal Newman. Urging his bishops to be examples “of dedication to prayer,” however, is not for reasons of being in the spotlight. It is intended to be an irresistible act which sweetly infects all the faithful – flowing from the bishops, to the priests, to the religious, to the deacons, to the laity. This would require all of us to have an unwavering openness to the Holy Spirit.

Other words that could synonymously be used in place of “dedication” are words like – commitment, allegiance, loyalty. Prayer needs to have a “no matter what” ingredient. Humanity has lists of things that fall under “no matter what” – some are necessary and some we create for our own circumstances and enjoyment. Some examples under the necessary category are: No matter what, I have to eat. No matter what, I have to drink. No matter what, I have to sleep. No matter what, I have to take care of my family. And then a there is a slew of self-created occurrences that become “no matter what.” No matter what, I have to watch my favorite shows on television. No matter what, I have to check my emails. No matter what, I have to vacuum the floor today. No matter what, I have to get these ringtones for my cell phone – and the examples could go on for a very long stretch.

Today, scarcely, in our highly secularized culture, prayer seemingly doesn’t fall under the “no matter what” category; and in reality, prayer needs to be considered necessary. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the key which opens God’s heart.” Saint Alphonsus said: “Pray, pray, pray, and you will surely be saved.” And really, try and find anyone whose name is preceded by the word “Saint” or “Blessed” who didn’t think prayer was necessary. Saint Francis de Sales actually used the word “necessary” when he said: “It [prayer] is so useful and necessary that without it we could not come to any good.”

The Church lovingly mandates prayer upon her ordained in the form of the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours. John Henry Cardinal Newman lived during the Victorian age. He was an avid reader, writer, committed to personal prayer and he loved to preach. No matter what, these were mainstays in his life. This is very impressive when considering the length of the Divine Office or mandated prayer in his day. The priests of that time prayed the version of the breviary that existed before the changes in 1911. If you’re unfamiliar with that Psalter Schema, you can find it here. Many priests of that era did not pray the breviary at set times as we are encouraged to do today. In the book, “The Divine Office” by Rev. E. J. Quigley are these words: “The time fixed for the recitation of the entire office of the day is from midnight to the midnight following, and anyone bound to recite the Divine Office does not sin gravely if he has recited carefully the entire office of the day between these limits of time. It should be borne in mind that the substance of the law of recitation is fulfilled if the whole office of the day be recited before midnight, and that the obligation for entire and complete recitation is grave; while the recitation of the hours at set hours of the day is a light obligation.” Thus, most priests usually prayed the entire day’s Office in one or two sittings. The point of all this for this particular post is that the length of the pre-1911 Divine Office, plus other interests which were also in service to God and His will, like those of Cardinal Newman, leave us a marvelous example of loyalty to God and prayer – no matter what.

Hopefully we have men and/or women in our lives who give us good examples, who pray no matter what, and find prayer necessary. If not, certainly we can find such examples in the lives of the saints. God calls each of us to an intimate relationship with Him. This requires a commitment to prayer – no matter what. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave us that example.

08 February 2010

Saint John of Matha

Today on the Traditional Calendar is the feast of Saint John of Matha (1169-1218), Founder of the Order of the Trinitarians. The painting is one of my favorite pieces in religious art. It is titled, “The Mass of Saint John of Matha” by Juan Carreño de Miranda. Tradition tells us that after his ordination to the priesthood, Saint John of Matha experienced a heavenly vision during his first Mass as a priest. This painting, which is at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, depicts that heavenly vision. Take notice of the adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament by the subjects of this painting. Click on the image for a larger look.

06 February 2010

Dominica Quinta per Annum

First Reading, Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
In all three Readings this weekend we see God's call on the lives of individuals: In this Reading, Isaiah; in the Second Reading, Paul; and in the Gospel, Peter. All three individuals imply unworthiness to such a calling. We all have that feeling, don't we? After all, who is worthy of Almighty God? At Mass, we communally express our unworthiness to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

In our own lives we are sometimes in circumstances in which our worthiness is judged by others; and there are times when we sit in the judgment seat and determine the worthiness or unworthiness of others. And, of course, God probably finds our decision making process very amusing. In Scripture, for example, who would ever consider Peter as the ideal choice to be Chief Shepherd of Christ's Church; or who would've chosen Paul, enemy of Christ that he was, to be an apostle? Scripture has many examples of those called by God who seem unworthy by human standards.

In this Reading we find Isaiah being called by God to be a prophet. The opening verse places this Reading in the year that King Uzziah died. Whenever a story starts out like that, it's natural to assume that the death has already occurred. Saint Jerome, however, offers another possibility; he plants the seed in our minds that this could be Isaiah's first successful prediction and King Uzziah wasn't dead until after Isaiah's calling.

Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty Throne. Isaiah's vision of the Lord was probably of the Son, not the Father, as Jesus Himself seems to suggest in John's Gospel when He refers to Himself as the fulfillment of the words spoken by Isaiah; and that Isaiah said those words because he saw the Lord's glory (cf. John 12:38-41).

Seraphim are the first of the nine orders of angels and they cried out: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" The three-peat of the word "holy" has carried on through to our modern day liturgy. It may also be a clue to what is to be revealed much later, that God is One in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

After Isaiah exclaims his unworthiness because of his unclean lips, one of the Seraphim touched his lips with an ember. An ember is a piece of coal which still has a slight glow to it when a fire is smoldering. The Latin version actually uses a word which translates as "coal" but the Septuagint translates as "carbuncle" which is a gem, when held up to sunlight, has the appearance of a glowing coal. Saint Basil interprets the ember to symbolize "the word of God" while Saint Jerome refers to it as "the spirit of prophecy".

In our own hearts and minds we may deem ourselves unworthy of God's call, but this Reading does show us that when God calls us, He will supply the graces necessary to fulfill that call. As loyal and willing servants of the Lord and each other, the abandonment of our will and our submission to God's will moves our hearts to cry out with Isaiah: "Here I am, send me!"

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Saint Paul refers to himself as "one born abnormally"; this is the humility of Paul speaking. The point he is making is that Christ appeared to him; and he judges himself to be the least deserving of such a gift. He doesn't consider himself to be in the same league as Cephas, who is Peter, and the other apostles because he admittedly persecuted the Church. And so, he refers to himself as an abnormal birth because of his self-proclaimed unworthiness and also, unlike the original twelve, Paul was called after Christ's death, Resurrection and Ascension.

He does say, however, that the grace of God working through him has made him toil harder than the others -- harder, not better -- and why not! It's not that Jesus favored Paul over the others or on the flip-side was punishing Paul by making him work harder because of his former days as a persecutor, but when we consider that Paul was indeed a persecutor of the Church, his extra-effort in laboring for Christ gives him much credibility especially when he is preaching the same message as the other apostles; or as Paul puts it, he is handing on that which he received.

Paul acknowledges that God's grace working through him has not been ineffective as he writes in this letter: "So we preach and so you believed." When God calls us and we respond affirmatively to that call, ineffectiveness is not an option; not because we're so pious that we're God's logical choice, but because no matter who we are or what we used to be by our own doing, God's grace is greater than all of that.

Gospel, Luke 5:1-11
Notice that Saint Luke mentions there are two boats; and Jesus got into the one belonging to Simon Peter. And what did Jesus do when He got into Simon's boat? He sat down and began to teach the crowds. This perhaps is a preview of the Chair of Peter or the office of the papacy. Something else to consider is the lake in which the Chair (boat) is on. The plain of Gennesaret, because of its beauty, has been called "the Paradise of Galilee"; and from the word "paradise" we get a sense of eternal beauty or heaven.

Water is a symbol of life and from it the faithful are baptized and given a new life in Christ, a life that is eternal. And so, from this Chair (boat) which rests on these waters of paradise the faithful receive the words of everlasting life.

When Jesus was finished speaking He instructed Simon by saying, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon responds by saying: "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing." After this exchange you can almost visualize Jesus giving Simon a divine stare as if to say: "Do you really doubt Me?" And Simon would then lower his head in embarrassment while mumbling the words, "But at your command I will lower the nets." And, of course, after following Jesus' instructions, so many fish were caught that the nets were tearing. For certain, a life committed to the Lord is a life of abundance.

After all of this, Simon, in astonishment over the amount of fish that were caught, must have felt compelled to somehow explain to his Lord why he questioned His instructions. What he did instead was fall at the knees of Jesus and declare his unworthiness by saying: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." And what does Simon get for his lack of faith and lack of trust in Jesus? -- Promoted to a fisher of men -- certainly not logical by human standards. Scripture does remind us, however, that God does not see as man sees because the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Perhaps what Jesus saw in Simon was a humble heart.

Simon, with divine assistance, caught an abundant and overflowing amount of fish; now, answering Jesus' call to be a fisher of men, he would be destined to find in his net innumerable souls.

05 February 2010

A Witness of Inexhaustible Eloquence

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Agatha who at a very young age devoted herself to God and resisted any temptations to have relationships with men. If fact, one high ranking official had her arrested because she resisted him. His hopes were that Agatha, a professed Christian in a time when Christianity was highly persecuted, would give in for fear of torture and death. But she held firmly to her faith and prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things, You see my heart, You know my desires. Possess alone all that I am. I am Your sheep, make me worthy to overcome the devil.” After being tortured the first time, she received from God a vision of Saint Peter who healed all her wounds. While enduring her final agonizing torture, before she died, she prayed: “Lord, my Creator, You have ever protected me from the cradle; You have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul.” Saint Agatha is often depicted in art as holding her breasts on a platter because it is said that one of the tortures administered to her was having her breasts cut off. At Matins, the Carthusians listened to a brief lesson about Saint Agatha written by Saint Methodius of Sicily. Here is what they heard.

The annual commemoration of Saint Agatha has brought us together; she is a martyr of ancient times who achieved renown in the early Church for her noble victory; she is also well known in modern times, for she continues to triumph through her divine miracles, with which she is daily crowned and beautifully adorned.

Agatha, who invites us to this religious feast is the bride of Christ, the virgin who wore the glow of a pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb's Blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her Divine Lover.

Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of His crimson Blood and also that of her virginity. Saint Agatha thus becomes a witness of inexhaustible eloquence for all generations.

Saint Agatha is truly good, coming forth from her Spouse in Whose goodness she shares, bearing the meaning of her name, Agatha, that is, “good,” given to us as a gift by God Himself, the source of all goodness.

What can be more beneficial than the Highest Good? And who could find something more worthy than a celebration with hymns of praise than Agatha? Agatha means “good” whose goodness fits both her name and her reality. Agatha, whose magnificent achievements delivers a glorious name while at the same time shows us the glorious deeds she accomplished. Agatha, who even by her name draws us, in order that everyone comes eagerly to meet her, and by her example teaches everyone to strive with her, without delay, towards the true “Good” Who is God alone.

04 February 2010

Inexpressible Equals Love

After the great biblical event of the Transfiguration, Peter said to Jesus: “Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses; and one for Elijah: not knowing what he said.” It is the “not knowing what he said” part that the Carthusian, Nicholas Kempf (circa 1415-1497) focuses on here in this brief reflection from his “Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum.” And as that title suggests, Nicholas Kempf explains Peter’s words by using the Old Testament book of the Song of Songs, a book which is often commented on in mystical theology. Here’s what Nicholas Kempf wrote, which has an underlying theme of encouraging us to make efforts to keep advancing closer to God until we make senseless statements and thus become joyfully reduced to silence.

“The Song of Songs is obscure. It indicates that these songs sung between God and a soul chosen as bride and mated and united to God in the human spirit’s chamber, united in the very image of God are utterly mysterious and completely inexpressible. Not even the bride herself is able to express what she has perceived. When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way. So too, after tasting the sweetness of glory, Peter did not know what he was saying.”

03 February 2010

Suffer for My Sheep

On this feast of Saint Blaise, his martyrdom was the theme for the Carthusians at Matins. Here is the short lesson from Saint Augustine that was proclaimed to the monks.

The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His own life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Consider how the Lord served, and see what kind of servants He bids us to be. He gave His own life as a ransom for many; He ransomed us.

But who among us is able to ransom anyone? We have been redeemed through His Blood and we were ransomed from death by His death and His humility; and we who lay prostrate were raised up by His humiliation. And yet we, too, have a duty to contribute our meager offerings to His members, for we have become His members. He is the Head; we are the body.

In his letter, the apostle John exhorts us to follow the example of the Lord. Christ said: Whoever wishes to be the greater among you will be your servant, just as the Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give His own life as ransom for many (Matthew 20:27-28). Thus this is the model that the apostle advises us to follow when he says: Christ laid down His life for us; so we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16).

After His Resurrection our Lord asked: Peter, do you love me? And Peter replied: I do love You. The question and the answer were repeated three times. And each time the Lord added: Feed My sheep. In other words, if you want to show that you love Me, then feed My sheep. What will you give Me if you love Me, since you look for everything to come from Me? Now you know what you are to do if you love Me: Feed My sheep. Thus we have the same question and answer once, twice, three times. Do you love Me? I do love You. Feed My sheep. Three times Peter had denied in fear; three times he confessed out of love. By his replies and his profession of love, Peter condemned and wiped out his former fear. And so the Lord, after entrusting His sheep to him for the third time, immediately added: When you were a young man, you would gird yourself and go wherever you wished. But when you are old, another will gird you and take you where you do not wish to go. This He spoke signifying by what death he was about to glorify God (John 21:19). Thus He foretold Peter's own sufferings and crucifixion.

By this the Lord suggested that feed My sheep meant suffer for My sheep.

02 February 2010

Profoundly Adoring Christ's Mystery

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Jesus certainly desired to grasp firmly His Humanity by taking our humanity upon Himself and willfully accepting all the joys and sorrows associated with being human with the exception of committing sin, but nevertheless would take our sins upon Himself. His most holy Mother, attuned to the will of God in an extraordinary way, in a sense makes this decision for Jesus, since He is but an Infant. Speaking in terms of His Divine Person and Nature, circumcision is completely unnecessary for Him.

The exegete, Nicholas of Lyra suggests that circumcision is how Jesus manifests the reality of His Humanity. He also explains that as God, Jesus instituted circumcision, and therefore undergoing this process Himself, demonstrates His approval of it; and for our Lady and Saint Joseph, this was necessary according to the law which they knew so well. There is a mysterious level of humility here as well: as an Infant, He is incapable of making decisions, but as God he accepts upon Himself a procedure that is unnecessary – in other words, He makes Himself subject to His own law.

Our Blessed Lady also accepts upon herself the ritual of Purification, which for her is unnecessary. Saint Lawrence Justinian in a homily on the Purification points out that Mary was raised above the law by extraordinary grace, but her humility subjected her to it.

The poverty of the Holy Family is intimated in the Gospel account of the Presentation because turtledoves and pigeons was the offering of the economically poorer classes.

Simeon, thought to be a Jewish priest, witnesses first hand the embodiment of the consolation of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon holds Jesus, given to him by His holy Mother. At Mass, a priest holds Him at the altar, given to him by the power of ordination and the words of Consecration through holy Mother Church.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis, which the Church prays during her Night Prayer, there is an air of “it doesn’t get any better than this” in that prayer, considering that Simeon was now prepared to die. But it did get better than that. Simeon was able to hold Jesus and see Him; but through the Eucharist we get to receive Him into our souls. Still, there is much we can learn from Simeon’s disposition: if he was prepared to die at the sight of Jesus, how much joy should we have in receiving Him? If Simeon had the opportunity to stand in line waiting to receive Holy Communion, the wait would probably have made him antsy with anticipation. Are we? Jesus offers us Himself, our salvation, the Light and the glory of the Church. Isn’t this our highlight of the day or week?

It is fitting on this day to read at least some of the words of Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem. He was a seventh-century Patriarch of Jerusalem, but before his hierarchal appointment, he was a monk of great simplicity and he was also a theologian. He was born in Damascus and thus was of Arabian descent, but was often referred to as a Sophist because of his skills with the Greek language. Here is a piece of his homily which perhaps starts out by suggesting an interior dispostion in that we “run to Christ.”

We all run to Christ, we who sincerely and profoundly adore His mystery; we set out towards Him full of joy, carrying lighted candles, as a symbol of His divine splendor.

Thanks to Him all creation is radiant; in truth it is inundated by an eternal light which dissipates the shadows of evil and makes the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of His eternal light. But let these lighted candles be especially the symbol of the eternal splendor with which we wish to prepare ourselves for our meeting with Christ. Indeed, just as His Mother, the most pure Virgin, carried Him in her arms, Who is the true light, and showed Him to all who find themselves in darkness, so may we also, who hold in our hands this light that is visible to all, and who are illuminated by its shining, hasten to go to meet Him, Who is the true light.

The Dayspring from on High has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through Him. The light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, has come. All together we come to Christ, to let ourselves be clothed with His splendor and, together with the old man Simeon, welcome Him, the eternal living light. With him we exult with joy and sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, Father of light, Who sent us the true light to lead us out of darkness and make us luminous.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which He prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God Incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have mentally received Him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in His honor.