30 April 2010

The Heart of Jesus is the Book of Divine Love

This reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus was written by Dom Peter van Blommeveen who was Prior of the Carthusian charterhouse in Cologne from 1506 to 1536. He was born in Leyden, the Netherlands. His Latin name has appeared as Petrus Blœmenvenna or Petrus Leydensis. He was a mystic and ascetic who published several works in defence of the Roman Catholic Church, as he lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation. Here is his Carthusian-centred reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

Eat this book . . . and I did eat it; and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. ~ Ezekiel 3:1, 3

‘Go forth, daughters of Zion, and see (the King). . . in the day of the joy of His Heart’ (Canticle of Canticles 3:11). Carthusian soul, daughter of contemplation, come out of yourself, and behold Jesus crowned in the day of the joy of His Heart. The heart rejoices when its desires are fulfilled. And what does the Heart of Jesus desire? It desires our salvation, and finds Its happiness therein.

Our Lord has given us many proofs of the truth of His Resurrection in order to increase our faith and kindle our love. One of these is His having appeared to the disciples bearing the scars of His five Wounds. By this He has made known to us His love. See, He said, My Feet, My Hands and My Side; read in My Wounds, learn and understand how great is My love for you.

This mystic book -- which is no other than Jesus Himself -- is printed with the most precious Blood of God, and the types employed are the Saviour’s Wounds. Now Jesus gives the perusal of this book especially to His Carthusians. He wishes us to be the servants of His private apartments, and the interpreters of His most secret thoughts. He would have us Carthusians always in His presence, and chiefly occupied in reading this book of the Saviour’s Wounds.

Yes! Read Jesus, relish this reading; and in each of the five Wounds read the incentive to and the means of leading a new life.

The scars of our Redeemer's Feet tell us to trample underfoot all that is human and earthly, so that we may love only those things which He loves.

The Wounds of the Hands of Jesus show us how He has acted. With one hand He took up obedience, and with the other patience. He worked for our salvation, ‘becoming obedient unto death; even to the death of the Cross’ (Philippians 2:8).

In the Wound of the Side, which leads us to the Heart of Jesus, and is the outward representation of the Wound of that Heart, read the love of Jesus, a love that can never be surpassed by any other love. It is only in beholding this Wound of the Heart that you will realize the great love of God for you, and see how much Jesus has loved you, since He has given His life for us poor sinners.

Jesus risen shows to us this mortal Wound of His Heart. You who read there, profit thereby, and love Jesus with all your heart.

29 April 2010

What Our Lord Says about Prayer

Today is the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena. In her ‘Dialogue’ Our Lord reveals some interesting things about prayer: the devil’s disruption of it, that he places himself on the tongues of individuals for the purpose of chattering, to prevent the beauty of silence and the soul’s immersion in prayer, how perseverance in prayer acquires every virtue, how the strength of the Sacrament of the Eucharist depends on us, and how a soul can become inebriated by means of a Spiritual Communion. Our Lord also speaks about praying the Psalms which intimates the Divine Office, and how vocal prayers alone are not sufficient. What is revealed here by Our Lord to Saint Catherine might give one cause to reflect on the ways of the world today: how uncomfortable silence has become to our society, the many words spoken on the political platform which seem to say to little, the noise of advanced technology, etc. This ‘Dialogue’ may even say something to us about own life of prayer. Here’s what Our Lord told Saint Catherine:

How is a lively faith to be recognized? By perseverance in virtue, and by the fact that the soul never turns back for anything, whatever it be, nor rises from holy prayer, for any reason except for obedience or charity’s sake. For no other reason ought she to leave off prayer, for, during the time ordained for prayer, the devil is wont to arrive in the soul, causing much more conflict and trouble than when the soul is not occupied in prayer. This he does in order that holy prayer may become tedious to the soul, tempting her often with these words: ‘This prayer avails you nothing, for you need attend to nothing except your vocal prayers.’ He acts thus in order that, becoming wearied and confused in mind, she may abandon the exercise of prayer, which is a weapon with which the soul can defend herself from every adversary, if grasped with the hand of love, by the arm of free choice in the light of the Holy Faith.

Know, dearest daughter, how, by humble, continual, and faithful prayer, the soul acquires, with time and perseverance, every virtue. Wherefore should she persevere and never abandon prayer, either through the illusion of the devil or her own fragility, that is to say, either on account of any thought or movement coming from her own body, or of the words of any creature. The devil often places himself upon the tongues of creatures, causing them to chatter nonsensically, with the purpose of preventing the prayer of the soul. All of this she should pass by, by means of the virtue of perseverance. Oh, how sweet and pleasant to that soul and to Me is holy prayer, made in the house of knowledge of self and of Me, opening the eye of the intellect to the light of faith, and the affections to the abundance of My charity, which was made visible to you, through My visible only-begotten Son, Who showed it to you with His Blood! This Blood inebriates the soul and clothes her with the fire of divine charity, giving her the food of the Sacrament [which is placed in the tavern of the mystical body of the Holy Church] that is to say, the food of the Body and Blood of My Son, wholly God and wholly man, administered to you by the hand of My vicar, who holds the key of the Blood. This food strengthens little or much, according to the desire of the recipient, whether he receives sacramentally or virtually. He receives sacramentally when he actually communicates with the Blessed Sacrament. He receives virtually when he communicates, both by desire of communion, and by contemplation of the Blood of Christ crucified, communicating, as it were, sacramentally, with the affection of love, which is to be tasted in the Blood which, as the soul sees, was shed through love. On seeing this, the soul becomes inebriated, and blazes with holy desire and satisfies herself, becoming full of love for Me and for her neighbour. Where can this be acquired? In the house of self-knowledge with holy prayer, where imperfections are lost, even as Peter and the disciples, while they remained in watching and prayer, lost their imperfection and acquired perfection. By what means is this acquired? By perseverance seasoned with the most holy faith.

But do not think that the soul receives such ardour and nourishment from prayer, if she prays only vocally, as do many souls whose prayers are rather words than love. Such as these give heed to nothing except to completing Psalms and saying many Paternosters. And when they have once completed their appointed tale, they do not appear to think of anything further, but seem to place devout attention and love in merely vocal recitation, which the soul is not required to do, for, in doing only this, she bears but little fruit, which pleases Me but little. But if you ask Me, whether the soul should abandon vocal prayer, since it does not seem to all that they are called to mental prayer, I should reply ‘No’. The soul should advance by degrees, and I know well that, just as the soul is at first imperfect and afterwards perfect, so also is it with her prayer. She should nevertheless continue in vocal prayer, while she is yet imperfect, so as not to fall into idleness. But she should not say her vocal prayers without joining them to mental prayer, that is to say, that while she is reciting, she should endeavour to elevate her mind in My love, with the consideration of her own defects and of the Blood of My only-begotten Son, wherein she finds the breadth of My charity and the remission of her sins. I do not wish the soul to consider her sins, either in general or in particular, without also remembering the Blood and the broadness of My mercy, for fear that otherwise she should be brought to confusion. And together with confusion would come the devil, who has caused it, under colour of contrition and displeasure of sin, and so she would arrive at eternal damnation, not only on account of her confusion, but also through the despair which would come to her, because she did not seize the arm of My mercy. This is one of the subtle devices with which the devil deludes My servants, and, in order to escape from his deceit, and to be pleasing to Me, you must enlarge your hearts and affections in My boundless mercy, with true humility. You know that the pride of the devil cannot resist the humble mind, nor can any confusion of spirit be greater than the broadness of My good mercy, if the soul will only truly hope therein. The moment she feels her mind disposed by My visitation, she should abandon vocal prayer; then, My visitation past, if there be time, she can resume the vocal prayers which she had resolved to say, but if she has not time to complete them, she ought not on that account to be troubled or suffer annoyance and confusion of mind; of course provided that it were not the Divine Office which clerics and religious are bound and obliged to say under penalty of offending Me, for, they must, until death, say their Office. But if they, at the hour appointed for saying it, should feel their minds drawn and raised by desire, they should so arrange as to say it before or after My visitation, so that the debt of rendering the office be not omitted. But, in any other case, vocal prayer should be immediately abandoned for the said cause. Vocal prayer, made in the way that I have told you, will enable the soul to arrive at perfection, and therefore she should not abandon it, but use it in the way that I have told you.

28 April 2010

Qualities of Divine Love

Today is the feast of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. He is well-known for his devotion to Our Blessed Lady and perhaps comes to mind more than any saint by the reading or hearing of two words: God Alone. He writes of Our Lord as Incarnate Wisdom but Wisdom needed a home from a woman of our race – the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here’s a poem he wrote on God alone:

What ill or evil, Lord, can harm
This joyous heart that You alone can charm?
I love You more with every breath,
So how can I fear life or death?
To love You, Father, is to live and sing
The songs the angels sing their King.
God alone in every cell of me!
God alone! For all eternity!

‘Totus tuus’ (I am all yours) are two Latin words which also turn one’s thoughts to Saint Louis-Marie as they are from his work, ‘True Devotion to Mary’: and these two words were the apostolic motto of Pope John Paul II, who was deeply influenced by the writings of Saint Louis-Marie.

Here is something excerpted from one of the homilies of Saint Louis-Marie in which he borrows from the infallibility of Sacred Scripture and the wisdom of the saints:

Everyone claims that he loves God (Saint Gregory). However, nothing is more rare. ‘Do not be deceived, brothers’ (1 Corinthians 6:9). Among the metals are gold and silver. Charity is gold.

True charity is full of action as a fire. It is a seed that germinates, a root that sprouts, water that flows, a fire that burns: ‘never is the love of God idle. If it is a great love, it will always be active; if there is no action it does not exist’ (Saint Gregory).

All virtues operate through the commandment of charity, ‘faith which operates through charity’ (Galatians 5:6).

‘Love is as strong as death . . . O unsurpassable virtue of charity, that overcomes the invincible’ (Saint Bernard).

When we love God, we imitate Him in His love which, according to Richard of St. Victor: is a love which never tires; a love which is never the first to break off; a love which is not deterred by our rebelliousness.

‘The frigid heart cannot understand the burning speech of love . . . the language of love is foreign to one who does not love and is just booming brass and tinkling cymbals’ (Saint Bernard).

It lasts through eternity – it is infinite like God. ‘The measure of our love of God is to love Him without measure’ (Saint Bernard).

There are three sorts of love: that of a mercenary; that of a slave; that of a child. Mercenaries are greedy, slaves are fearful, sons are loving. Each has his own law: mercenaries are impelled by cupidity; slaves are moved by fear, sons are inspired by love. All seek what is proper to them.

It is by a show of deeds that charity is proven. ‘Simon, do you love Me? . . . Feed . . . feed . . .’ (John 21:15). ‘It is your own selves that you should be testing’ (2 Corinthians 13:5).

‘We do not love by word or lips’ (1 John 3:18), but by deeds and truth. See the cloud of witnesses (cf. Hebrews 12:1) . . . they have drunk of the chalice of the Lord and have made friends of God. We do not live in love without there being sorrow . . . roses are gathered among thorns. Love with all one’s heart: that is, courageously in spite of obstacles. Love with all one’s mind: that is, with every thought, supremely and discreetly, for love is discerning. Love with all one’s soul: that is, totally without reservation, deeply without hypocrisy for love is tender. Love with all one’s strength: that is, courageously, doing all, abandoning all, suffering all for God, for love is powerful.

When we do not love God, even if we perform marvels, it is a waste of life’s precious time. ‘Life is lost, if God is not loved’ (Saint Augustine).

‘Through and with charity you will become capable of possessing blessedness, but without it you will never see God. Charity is the summit of all the virtues, it contains the promise of the Kingdom and is the supreme reward of the saints in heaven’ (Saint Augustine).

‘Become a lover and experience what I tell you. Be a person of desires, be a hungry person, be a pilgrim in the solitudes of love, be a thirsty person seeking the waters of your eternal home. Be warm as the sun and you will understand what I say, for if I speak to a cold person, he will not understand my message’ (Saint Augustine).

26 April 2010

More Solitude than the Carthusians

‘The desert experience is something everyone can know and, in fact, must have, to one degree or another. It is not desertion. The irony is that people who are surrounded by noise and constantly active are the ones who feel deserted. It is in solitude that the soul can listen and be alone with God. It is in solitude that we are least alone. The Church has always known that the desert experience, inner peace, quiet prayer, silence, contemplation are essential components of a devout Christian’s spiritual life. They are needed though unfortunately too often neglected in our Liturgies. They are essential in our private prayer. And they are the principal features of the contemplative life’.

These words were written on the Feast of the Assumption in the year 1977 by His Excellency Frank J. Rodimer, the now Bishop Emeritus of Paterson, New Jersey. Bishop Rodimer in that same year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary canonically erected the Hermits of Bethlehem in Chester, New Jersey in the diocese of Paterson as a Laura of Consecrated Hermits of Diocesan Right.

The Founder of the Hermits of Bethlehem is Father Eugene L. Romano. Father Romano was ordained a priest in 1957 in the Diocese of Paterson. In the Code of Canon Law, Code 603 states that in the life of a hermit, he/she is ‘devoted to the praise of God and the salvation of the world’. The Ratio Vivendi for the Hermits of Bethlehem is to live ‘with the Trinity in the Heart of Jesus’. Into the silence and solitude of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the hermit enters to quiet himself/herself and ‘to learn what it is to be loved and cherished by God’.

Father Romano closes the Preface of The Plan of Life of the Hermits of Bethlehem with these words: ‘The hermit looks to Mary, Queen of the Desert and Mother of the Incarnate Word, to guide him in the journey of the Spirit in a continued Magnificat of praise of the Triune God, that together with her, he will participate in the wedding feast of the Risen Lamb. Through Mary’s Immaculate Heart and her example of selfless love the hermit seeks to live and share Christ’s infinitely deep desire for the salvation of all’.

In a way of life that has more solitude than the Carthusian Order, the Hermits of Bethlehem gather as a community only for:

~ Daily Eucharist
~ Solemn Vespers on Saturday Evening
~ Solemn Vespers on the Vigil of Solemnities
~ Lauds on Sundays and Solemnities
~ A common meal on Sundays and Solemnities

All other forms of prayer, meals and labour are done in solitude. Their daily Horarium looks like this:

Pre-dawn: Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, One hour of Eucharistic Adoration

Dawn: Lectio Divina (prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture)

Morning: Angelus, Lauds (Morning Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (20 minutes of silent prayer after Holy Communion), Breakfast

Midday: Angelus, Dinner, Leisure, Daytime Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, Twenty minutes of contemplative prayer

Afternoon: Solitary work

Evening: One hour of Eucharistic Adoration, Vespers (Evening Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Salve Regina is chanted, Angelus, Optional light collation, Leisure time in solitude, Lectio Divina

Night: Examination of conscience, Compline (Night Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours, Salve Regina is chanted, Nightly silence

For each hermit there is also a weekly Day of Reclusion which begins after the final blessing of Mass and the hermit is given some blessed bread, is anointed with oil, and then begins a day of fasting and complete solitude. The hermit is exempt from all labour on this day and spends his/her time in prayer and sacred reading.

24 April 2010

Movements of the Human Heart

In the Gospel we’ll hear at this weekend’s liturgy (Saint John 10:27-30), Jesus says: ‘My sheep hear My Voice’. Every word in this Gospel passage is spoken by Jesus. When read slowly and meditatively, there is an encompassing sense of intimacy that cannot be expressed in words; and Jesus desires to have that intimacy with each and every one of us.

We are His sheep who hear His Voice and follow Him. Through prayer, sacred reading and charitable works it becomes vividly clear that if we so desire, Our Lord’s love will consume us; and He assures us that no one can take us away from Him. Christ's enfolding and loving embrace offers comfort in times of trial and also carries us into eternal life.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Saint Matthew 18:10-14) is a reassuring reminder that Jesus wishes all to be saved and desires not to lose any of His sheep. At Mass the Voice of Jesus is heard in the Liturgy of the Word; and the Word of God, the Bread of Life, nourishes our souls as Our Lord makes Himself present to us truly, really and substantially in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Anyone who lives in the Middle East might have a clearer understanding of what Jesus means when He says: ‘My sheep hear My Voice; I know them, and they follow Me’. Many of us have never witnessed a shepherd and his sheep interact.

Father Benedict Groeschel, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, as well as an author, psychologist, and well-known EWTN personality, once shared a story of his visit to the Holy Land in which he watched shepherds work with their sheep. He said that there were a bunch of sheep walking around, along with three shepherds. He said that the shepherds split up and each walked into a different direction, and then made a whistling sound with their mouths. The sheep, which were all bunched together, then began to divide and walk towards the direction of their own particular shepherd; each of them recognized their own shepherd’s whistle and followed him.

It is the human heart that hears the Voice of the Chief Shepherd. And He speaks to the heart in the silence and stillness of meditation and contemplation. The human heart is a living altar from which He Who sacrificed Himself, rests -- a Sacrifice which enabled Him to fulfil His own words: ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (Saint John 10:28). When we are able to remain in His Presence through prayer, Adoration and most especially in partaking of His Most Precious Body and Blood, then we have the necessary weapons to feel His Presence even in the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. And when we can do that, our very lives become a liturgy.

23 April 2010

The Soul in the Heart of Jesus

This writing on the Sacred Heart of Jesus is from the Carthusian, Dom Nicholas Kempf, born at Strasburg, Austria in 1393. To him, contemplation was virtually everything. In fact, to make that very point, he would tell a common Carthusian anecdote which goes like this:

‘The Carthusians have made no effort to extol the saints and spiritually mature men in their midst. Thus a certain Prior of this Order always taught that one should avoid all ostentation, citing the words of the prophet: I keep things to myself. When he died a grace of healing began to work many miracles, and this caused people to flock to that monastery, disrupting the accustomed repose of the brethren. Pondering the problem, the new Prior went to his predecessor’s grave and commanded him by virtue of holy obedience to work no more miracles – because they were disturbing the brethren. He told the dead man that he ought to observe in death what he had always taught in life: I keep things to myself. He worked no more miracles after that and thus the flood of people flowed away. That this Order has always remained in good monastic observance is due in no small part to its having fled the favours and praises of men that arise from sanctity’s signs and miracles’.

Dom Nicholas Kempf told this anecdote to stress his belief that not even miracles should disrupt monastic contemplation. Here is his reflection on the Sacred Heart:

He that abides in Me, and I in him. . . ~ Saint John 15:5

‘Arise (O soul) My love, My beautiful one, and come, My dove’ (Canticle of Canticles 2:13, 14). Arise that is to say, raise yourself up more and more, My love, by perfect charity, a virtue which united to holy prudence, makes you beautiful in My sight. And come, My dove. Come with an upright intention that seeks not itself, but only My honour and My love. Come, ‘my dove’, do not hover about at random, but come ‘in the clefts of the Rock, in the hollow places of the wall’ (Canticle of Canticles 2:14) of dry stones.

The Rock is Jesus Christ Himself; the holes therein are His Wounds, some of them large and others small, but very numerous. The wall spoken of here (maceria) is an enclosure or wall of dry stones, erected for the protection of the vines. This stone wall, without cement, is a symbol of Christ. He is composed of a Body and a Soul. His Soul has all its faculties, His Body all its organs; but there is not mingled with them a mortar made of earth and mire, for in Christ there is no attachment to earthly things. This mystical wall shields the Vine, that is the holy Church, from the attacks of evil spirits. The Tower of Babel was built with cement, but the new and heavenly Jerusalem is built simply with square stones. As to this cavern, or hollow place in the symbolic wall (caverna maceriœ), it is the opening in our Lord's Side.

The soul that would rise and ascend to its well-Beloved when pursued by the kites, vultures and other birds of prey, figures of evil spirits, should fly away as a timid dove, and take refuge in the Clefts in the Rock, namely in the Wounds of Jesus Christ, and above all in the hollow place, that is to say, in the Wound in the Side of Jesus and in His Heart. There she has nothing more to dread. If she builds her nest in the Heart of Jesus, if she there deposits her good works, there finds shelter, there rests and takes her sleep, the spirits of evil will never attempt to set their snares for her. They dare not draw near to the Wounds and the Heart of Jesus. That is why Saint Augustine exclaims in his Manual: ‘In all my afflictions, I have found no remedy more efficacious than the Wounds of Jesus. In these Wounds I sleep in peace and repose without fear. A soldier has opened for me the Side of Jesus; I have entered there, and there I take my rest’.

O my Beloved Jesus, how You have loved me! You have consented to have innumerable holes dug in this hard Rock which is Your Body -- holes in the depths of which I can hide myself. Indeed more, You have opened to me Your Heart, that I may enter there at will. And so that I may be able more securely to come to You through Your Passion and Your Wounds, You stretch out Your Arms and hasten to meet me, always ready to receive me as the hen gathers her little ones under her wings. You desire me to come. You give me this invitation: Veni, amica mea, soul that art My love, come, O dove, enter into My Wounds and into the hollow of My Heart. By this way you can without difficulty come unto Me, not by any other.

22 April 2010

He Offered Pastoral Care for the Founders of the Carthusian Order

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Saint Hugo of Grenoble. He is also referred to as Hugo of Châteauneuf. In art, he is sometimes depicted as a Carthusian even though he wasn’t; he was Benedictine. He was the Bishop of Grenoble for a remarkable fifty-two years. For the Carthusian spirit, Saint Hugo is perhaps best known for receiving Saint Bruno and his six companions and making available to them, the mountainous area near Grenoble where now stands La Grande Chartreuse, the motherhouse of the Carthusian Order.

Father, through Saint Hugo you manifested the
Church's pastoral care for our first founders.
Through his intercession may our Order continue to flourish.

At the hour of Matins, four of the Readings proclaimed were from Saint Thomas Aquinas concerning shepherds, and of course Saint Hugo shepherded Grenoble’s flock for a long time. Here’s what was proclaimed to the monks:

Christ states the office of a good shepherd. That Christ is a Shepherd is clear enough, for as a flock is led and fed by the shepherd, so the faithful are nourished by Christ with spiritual Food, and even with His own Body and Blood: and the letter of Saint Peter says, ‘For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls’ (1 Peter 2:25); The prophet proclaims: ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd’ (Isaiah 40:11). To distinguish Himself from the evil shepherd and the thief, Jesus states that He is the Good Shepherd. The adjective ‘good’ indicates that Christ fulfils His task with the same seriousness like a soldier is called good who fulfils his service. But since Christ had said that the shepherd enters by the door, and here He says that He is the Shepherd, and before He said He was the Door, then He must enter through Himself. And He does enter through Himself, because He manifests Himself and through Himself knows the Father. We, however, enter through Him, because it is by Him that we are led to happiness.

Note that only He is the Door, because no one else is the true light, but only shares in the Light: John the Baptist, ; ‘was not the light, but came to bear witness to the Light’ (John 1:8). But we read of Christ that ‘He was the True Light, which enlightens every man’ (John 1:9). No one else refers to himself as a door; Christ reserved this for Himself. But being a Shepherd He did share with others, and conferred it on His members: for Peter was a shepherd, and the other apostles were shepherds, as well as all good bishops: ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart’ (Jeremiah 3:15). Although the Church's rulers, who are her children, are all shepherds, yet He expressly says, I am the Good Shepherd, in order to emphasize the virtue of charity. For no one is a good shepherd unless he has become one with Christ by love, and has become a member of the True Shepherd.

The office of a good shepherd is charity; thus He says, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It should be noted that there is a difference between a good shepherd and an evil one: the good shepherd is intent upon the welfare of the flock, but the evil one is intent upon his own. This difference is touched upon by Ezekiel (34:2): ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep’? Therefore, one who uses the flock only to feed himself is not a good shepherd. From this it follows that an evil shepherd, even over animals, is not willing to sustain any loss for the flock, since he does not intend the welfare of the flock, but his own. But a good shepherd, even over animals, endures many things for the flock whose welfare he has at heart. Thus Jacob said in Genesis (31:40): ‘By day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night’.

However, when dealing with mere animals it is not necessary that a good shepherd expose himself to death for the safety of the flock. But because the spiritual safety of the human flock outweighs the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the safety of the flock the spiritual shepherd ought to suffer the loss of his bodily life for the safety of the flock. This is what our Lord says, the good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his bodily life, for the sheep, the sheep who are his by authority and charity. Both are required, for they must belong to Him and he must love them; the first without the second is not enough. Furthermore, Christ has given us an example of this teaching: ‘He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’ (1 John 3:16).

21 April 2010

The Prayer of Jesus on Earth

Jesus’ prayer on earth, the prayer of His humanity, addressed to the Father, is described to us in the Synoptic Gospels as inseparable from all the most important moments of His life: baptism, the temptation in the desert, the call of the apostles, the confession of Peter, the Transfiguration, the Mount of Olives, and the Cross. At every step along the way of His mysterious destiny as the Servant, Jesus prays. He prays to the Father in simplicity and trust, sometimes with tears, always with love. He has taught us how to pray, and what to ask for: the coming of the Father’s Kingdom, Pater Noster. . .

Prayer in secret (Matthew 6:5-8)
In secret: Jesus wants our prayer to be pure, for God alone; not the hypocritical ostentation of those ‘who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others’. Seen by others, not by God. The y have already received their reward.

‘But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you’.

In secret: ‘Secret’ implies something that is separated, set aside, (from the Latin secernere), a place apart, in solitude, in the depths of the heart, beyond the sound of words, in silence, alone with the Father, in the silence of the Father. For the Father is there, in that secret place, He sees in secret. Only the Father!

Note that the Gospels always show us Jesus on His own when He is praying. In solitude, He can assume the meaning of His own unique existence in the presence of the Father.

Prayer in the communion of the Church
And yet: ‘If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am there among them’ (Matthew 18:19-20).

There is also a time for praying together, and for gathering together as the Church. This is not an ordinary gathering, but meeting together in the Name of Jesus, a union that is operated by the Word of Jesus and in His Spirit of love. The Jesus is there in the midst of us, and the Father will answer our prayer.

~ Interior Prayer – Carthusian Novice Conferences~

20 April 2010

Responding to the Call of Christ

This brief reflection is packed with all sorts of goodies. It was written by a twentieth-century French Carthusian of La Grande Chartreuse, Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion. He would later become the Procurator General for the Carthusian Order in Rome.

(My translation from Italian)
Our Lord tells us that the Kingdom of God is within us (cf. Luke 17:21); and not just within us, but in the very depths of our being. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him; and We will come to him and make Our home with him ~ John 14:23.

We, unfortunately, too often forget these truths. There are, of course, many faithful souls who endeavour to lead honest lives, and strive to attain to a certain ideal of moral virtue. But few know how to live a life of real faith, sustained by hope and aflame with the love of God, in order to participate fully in the life that Jesus longs to communicate. We are surrounded and enfolded by divine love; we have all that is required to begin immediately a life of sublime intimacy with God, but we lack the will to live the supernatural life. We know the principles: the way lies open before us. It would be a failure on our part not to commit to it.

We should admit that the children of this world are more astute in their generation than the children of light ~ Luke 16:8. We have, indeed, received an infinite treasure, but we do not appreciate its true worth; and the very fact of our ignorance of its value does not allow us to make the good use of it that we should. Was it not our unmindfulness that Our Lord had in mind when He spoke of the parable of the wasted talent, which the foolish servant hid in the ground unnecessarily (cf. Matthew 25:18)?

Yet Jesus, rather than offer us the treasure of His intimate love, He instead solicits us so insistently that He almost forces us to accept it. He acts towards us in much the same way as we read in the Gospel of the poor wretches who had no choice but to accept the invitation to the royal banquet: Compel them to come in ~ Luke 14:23. We hear the same call, and from this point forward our prayer will be that of the Church: Increase in us, O Lord, faith, hope and charity ~ Collect for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

But we must not be satisfied with a few acts of piety at the beginning and in the course of the day: these practices do not constitute a life. The word life denotes a persevering, constant activity: and Our Lord wants to be our life. I am the Life ~ John 11:25. And so we must adhere to God incessantly. Jesus not only asks us to do those acts or formulas of piety and devotion, but also He asks us at every moment, with all our strength and our whole soul, to begin here on earth our eternal life. We must respond to the call of Christ, to breathe the pure air of the light of truth and eternal love.

19 April 2010

The Interior Master

This beautiful reflection is excerpted from ‘The Call of Silent Love’, written by a Carthusian monk.

The Spiritual Life
What is the spiritual life? It is not the life of a disincarnate spirit. It is the life of the Spirit of God incarnated in the life of a human person, according to all the capacity of his or her being because ‘the body [also] is for the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 6:13). We are spiritual persons, in the Christian sense of the word, in the measure that we live according to the Spirit and that the Spirit lives in us. ‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not truly belong to Him (Romans 8:9). I will even say that we are according to how we live in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables us to live the life of God. And God is Reality: the one true reality and the whole of reality. To have a spiritual life does not restrict our field of vision to a part of reality. It enlarges it to embrace the whole of reality in all its dimensions.

More often, we are terribly myopic. We live at the most superficial level of our being. We act as if our ordinary conscious life were our only life. We reduce it even more to conscious life conceptualised by our cultural conventions, excluding everything that is not quantifiable or contained within a rationalist agenda. History, art, the wisdom of millennia of so many other civilisations, show us that there is infinitely more in the human person and in reality. To take one example, not the most important, but one that is familiar today, depth psychology has shown us that we also have in us a preconscious and unconscious life, more extensive than and as powerful as conscious life. Its structure, its law and logic, are completely different from those of conscious life. Similarly there is a spiritual life in us. Not constituted at another level below unconscious life, but encompassing the entire being of the person, conscious and unconscious. It is more extensive than everyday human life and it opens onto the immense spaces of divine life. It too has its structures and its laws, very mysterious to us. However, the experience of spiritual people across the centuries has given birth to a certain empirical knowledge of the laws of this life. And above all, the Spirit of Christ is our guide, and gives us some light.

The spiritual life ought to be the congenital milieu of the life of the monk – of every person, for that matter, because it is none other than the milieu of faith. This life ought to give us the perspective by which we establish priorities according to the rule of eternity. These judgments ought to be made in the light of the Spirit. Its logic ought to be the logic of the Spirit, that is to say, the logic of Love that directs the saints and sometimes makes them so disconcerting for us. Too often we judge according to the criteria of the short-sighted and self-absorbed world.

The Folly of Faith
Our eyes receive images of things reversed: the ceiling is on the bottom and the floor is on the top. It is thanks to a further operation that the image is put right and that we see the ceiling up and the floor down. In the same way, faith reverses the images of reality with which reason presents us. It is the poor who are happy. Death is the door to life. To lose life through love is to save it. We have to become used to making the constant readjustment. Otherwise we see the floor on top and the ceiling on the bottom. We are fooled by the collective illusion of an unbelieving, materialist world, centred on little me. ‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength’ (1 Corinthians 1:25). ‘We are fools for the sake of Christ’, says Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 4:10). Let us become fools with that sort of folly (1 Corinthians 3:18). All of our wisdom is based on the folly of the Cross which turns human wisdom upside down (1 Corinthians 1 and 2). Perhaps we talk too much about the wise equilibrium of our life. We forget that humanly speaking you have to be a fool to embrace it! ‘I came to bring fire to the earth’ (Luke 12:49).

Driven by the Spirit
Remember that the Spirit ‘drove’ Christ into the desert (Mark 1:12). ‘And the Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan’ (Luke 4:1-2). The Statutes tell us that it is with spiritual arms that He conquered the devil and his temptations (Statutes 0. 2. 10). It cannot be otherwise for us who must follow Him. The measure of testing in solitude is the work of the Spirit. The temptations of the desert can be overcome only with the arms of the Spirit (see Ephesians 6:10-17).

Certainly natural wisdom is inadequate at the beginning of a monastic vocation – and in the middle and at the end! Only the light of the Spirit can make faith penetrating enough. Only the Spirit of Love is able to sensitise us to the attraction of God and give to our love the necessary strength and intensity effectively to prefer Christ to everything, and to follow Him into the desert.

The Interior Master
‘Living in the school of the Holy Spirit’, our founding Fathers little by little discovered the form of our life. For ‘school’, read ‘master’. We have already recalled the necessity of being led by the Spirit – God alone knows where He will lead us to live and to ‘savour the things of the Spirit’ (Statutes 4. 33. 2).

The text of Saint Paul to which this phrase refers is in Romans 8:5: ‘Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit’. But it is the Vulgate that probably inspired the redactors of the Statutes: spiritualia sapiunt. They taste what is spiritual. Taste implies direct experience, a certain fruition of that which is spiritual, of that which comes from God through the Spirit. This Teacher does not teach through exterior words. He lives in us (2 Timothy 1:14), in the temple of our body (1 Corinthians 6:19), in our inmost heart (Galatians 4:6). From there He leads us into the fullness of truth (John 16:13), He guides us, consoles us, illumines us, sets us aflame with His love (Romans 5:5). ‘But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge (1 John 2:20).

We have come to the Charterhouse to seek God. But only the Spirit can search the ‘depths of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10). It is the Spirit Who reveals the hidden and mysterious wisdom of God that Saint Paul promises to Christian adults, wisdom completely different from that of the world.

To enter into the depths of the heart signifies the way through which consciousness is freed from its idols, stripped of its layers of the dead skin of egotism, pride and illusion, and descends to the centre of its being in humility, truth and, finally, love, to find the place of God; the place where springs the pure water of the creative Love of God. ‘Here [in solitude and silence] is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen . . . Here God rewards His athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world does not know, and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Statutes 1. 6. 16). The joy of love ‘has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5).

‘Thus, with the Lord’s help, we may be enabled to attain to the perfection of love – which is the aim of our Profession and of the whole of monastic life – and through it, to obtain beatitude eternal’ (Statutes 0. 1. 4).

17 April 2010

Inviting Our Lady to Lectio Divina

‘I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God Who is speaking, and in praying, responds to Him with trusting openness of heart. If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church -- I am convinced of it -- a new spiritual springtime’.

These words were spoken on 16 September 2005 from Castel Gandolfo by Pope Benedict XVI. Lectio divina is not just for monks and cloistered religious; it is for everyone. The Word of God is food.

Our Blessed Mother, like any loving mother takes great care in feeding her children. She leads us to her Eucharistic Son and she is the storehouse, so to speak, for Sacred Scripture. In fact, Scripture tells us that she keeps these things pondering them in her heart (cf. Saint Luke 2:19). The Heart of Our Lady is Immaculate and it is our spiritual pantry.

The word ‘pantry’, where food is stored, comes from the French word ‘paneterie’, meaning ‘bread room’. How appropriate is the word ‘bread’ when considering the Virgin Mother of God who delivered into the world the Bread of Life. Thinking of the Word of God or Sacred Scripture as food and Mary’s heart as a pantry becomes more intelligible when taking a glance at Guigo the Carthusian’s definition of ‘lectio divina’:

‘Reading, as it were, puts the food into the mouth. Meditation chews it and breaks it up. Prayer extracts its flavor. Contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes’.

From the Heart of Our Lady comes the food and because of her maternal goodness, she puts it into the mouth. We chew on it and consider its vitalness. And can the flavor of the Word of God be any sweeter, any more savoury, knowing that Our Blessed Mother intercedes for us – she who is closer to the Heart of Jesus than anyone!

16 April 2010

The Heart of Jesus Cannot Refuse Anything

This reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus was written by the Carthusian Dom Heinrich Arnoldi, who was Prior of the monastery at Basel, Switzerland until his death in the year 1487. In his handbook on mystical theology, he placed these astonishing words on the Lips of Jesus: ‘If the devout soul does what she can, namely, if she desires Me with all her innermost heart and spares no labour for love of Me. . . then at the time and place I choose, I will snatch her away in spiritual ecstasy’ (De modo perveniendi ad veram et perfectam Dei et proximi dilectionem). Like most Carthusian writings on mystical theology, Dom Heinrich Arnoldi follows the pattern of giving your all out of love for God, but also recognizes man’s weaknesses, thus relying on God’s grace to make something of oneself that one cannot do on his own. That pattern is evident in this piece on the Sacred Heart as he places words on the Lips of Jesus which suggest that our Divine Saviour cannot refuse us. If we jump ahead from the fifteenth century to the twentieth, Jesus Himself told Saint Faustina concerning the Hour of Mercy: ‘In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion’ (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska #1320). Here’s Dom Heinrich Arnoldi’s reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

'Has He not also, with Him, given us all things'? ~ Romans 8:32

Behold and see, says our Lord Jesus Christ, what a painful position I am in upon the Cross. My Arms are extended in order to be always able to receive and embrace you each time you come to Me. My Feet are nailed, that you may know that I cannot, will not be parted from you. My Hands, since they are pierced through and through, show you that it would be impossible for them, even when closed, to withhold the favours you desire from Me. But understand that it is not the nails that fasten Me to the Cross and keep me there, but My love. I have loved you from all eternity, and will love you eternally if on your side you never cease to love Me. I will never forget you. Deeply, carefully, and lovingly have I written you in the Wounds of My Feet and Hands. I have even gone further. As though I were not satisfied with this, I have had My Side pierced by a soldier's spear in order to open wide for you the entrance to My Heart, and to show you how great was the love which led Me to die for you.

Lastly, desiring more easily to attract and keep you close to Me by the bonds of love, I have caused Blood and Water to flow from My Side after death -- Blood to pay your ransom, Water to wash away your sins. In this way, by virtue of the Sacraments contained in this Blood and this Water, I have set you free and renewed your innocence.

15 April 2010

Carthusian Nuns

Not much coverage has been given on Secret Harbour to the Nuns of the Carthusian Order. It’s time these holy women of God receive the gratitude they deserve for their life of prayer on behalf of humanity. There are three variations of Carthusian women of God: Cloister Nuns, Converse Nuns, and Donate Sisters. The information below is from a Carthusian vocational brochure (except the photos).

In 1084, Bruno and six of his companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the Alps and established themselves there. Other hermitages were founded in imitation of the one at Chartreuse. In the twelfth century, the nuns of Prébayon in Provence decided to adopt the Carthusian rule of life. Such was the origin of the Carthusian Order. (Beginning of the Statutes)

Harmony in Diversity
Ever since its origin, our Order, like a body whose members have different functions, finds its unity in various modes of living the same ideal.

The ‘cloister nuns’ are called to seek God in the solitude of their cell. Ordinarily, they leave their cell only to go to the Church.

The ‘converse nuns’ are also called to seek God in their own form of solitude and recollection, which allows them at the same time to provide by their work for the needs of the house, which have been especially entrusted to their care. In this way the cloister nuns can devote their time more freely to the silence of the cell where, in prayer and work, they accept the austerity that such silence demands.

Among us, there are not only cloister and converse sisters, but also ‘donate sisters’. These latter have joined the solitude of the Charterhouse in order to consecrate their whole life to God but without taking vows, and in a manner best adapted to the needs of each one. In main lines their life resembles that of the converse nuns and in what follows we will use only the expressions ‘cloister’ and ‘converse nuns’.

Cloister and converse nuns express in two complementary ways the richness of our life totally dedicated to God in solitude.

At the Heart of the Night
Our monastic day begins at midnight with a prayer to Our Lady. At the end of this prayer, there is some time to prepare oneself for the Office in the church.

At the sound of the bell we hasten to church for the night Office. A time of singular importance in the Carthusian liturgy, the night vigils (Matins and Lauds) are a clear sign of the orientation of our life, for through them is expressed the watchful expectation of the Saviour, and the prayer that the dawn of resurrection may rise over the darkness of the world.

When they celebrate the Divine Office, the nuns are the voice and heart of the Church which, through them, presents to the Father in Jesus, praise, supplication, adoration and humble request for pardon.

In order to allow each one to respond to her own grace, the converse sisters have the freedom to choose among the diverse forms of liturgical prayer. During the Eucharist and the Offices in church, they may participate completely in the chant and psalmody, or partially, or pray silently.

The vigils which include the morning praise (Lauds) last between two to three hours. Then the nun returns to her cell. As she does each time she enters her cell, she entrusts to Our Lady the time of solitude which is given to her; then she sleeps until 6:30.

Morning Praise in the Secret of the Cell
At 7:00 a.m. we are called to prayer. A prayer of thanksgiving for the wonders of creation and for the Resurrection of Our Lord Who takes us with Him, the Office of Prime is recited by each nun in her cell. At the sound of the bell, all pray together at the same time, thereby making the monastery one single praise to the glory of God.

According to their orientation, the converse nuns can recite the same Office of psalms as the cloister nuns, or an Office composed of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, which sums up, in itself, all prayer and links her to a long monastic tradition. All these various forms have the value of public prayer of the Church. Through the Carthusian Order, the Church entrusts the nun with a true ministry.

Next, a time of silent prayer follows. The Carthusian nun tries to offer God a simple heart and purified spirit, and to fix her thoughts and affections on Him. If she is faithful to this day after day, there will be born in her, from that very silence, something that will draw her on to still greater silence. And in this silence she will be graced not just with serving God, but with cleaving to Him.

Celebration of the Eucharist
This cleaving of the nun to Christ is re-enforced in the celebration of the Eucharist to which the sound of the bell invites us at 8:15.

The conventual liturgy is chanted for the most part. Our own rendition of Gregorian chant is an element of the patrimony of our Order which we have kept from the beginning because it fosters interiority and spiritual sobriety. The rite of our liturgy was adapted to the directives of the Second Vatican Council.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the centre and high point of our life, the manna for our spiritual journey in the desert, which brings us through Christ to the Father. The desert is the cell to which we return after Mass.

Alone with God
From the Office of Terce until Vespers at 4:00 pm the cloister nuns usually do not leave their cells. And the converse nuns, when their duties do not call them to be outside the cell, always return to it ‘as to a very sure and tranquil haven’. Both cloister nuns and converse nuns, once within, the door being closed and all care and preoccupations left behind, abide peacefully under the gaze of God and pray to the Father in secret.

Our Lord made Himself the foremost and most vivid example of our vocation when He retired alone to the desert and gave Himself to prayer. In the same way, just as His Passion was approaching, He left even His Apostles to pray alone.

The journey, however, is long, and the way dry and barren, that must be traveled to attain the fount of water, the land of promise.

Our solitude, like Jesus’, is not only that of the body and heart, but also of all that could be an obstacle to our face to Face encounter with God. That is why we seek to content ourselves with what is strictly necessary, preferring to follow Christ in His poverty, and by this poverty to be enriched. We keep abstinence once a week, on Fridays or on the eve of liturgical feasts to prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord.

Alone with God, alone for God, the longer the nun has lived in her cell, the more gladly she dwells there. She can say with Saint Bruno: What benefits and divine exultation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know. (Letter of Saint Bruno to his friend Raoul)

For the nun has formed the habit of a tranquil listening of the heart, which allows God to enter through all its doors and passages.

Lectio Divina
God speaks to us in the Bible, and that is why the nun meditates assiduously on sacred Scripture until it becomes part of her very being. By lectio divina, or reading prayerfully the Word of God in Scripture, she enters into communion with Christ, and Christ in turn reveals to her the Father.

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our dwelling place with him. (John 14:23)

Like Mary who carefully preserved in her heart all her memories and constantly reflected on them, the nun immerses herself in the Word of God to listen to what the Spirit wants to tell her at that moment.

The converse nun dedicates a half hour to lectio divina in cell after Terce; this enables her to live on the Word of God throughout the whole day.

From Terce to Sext the cloister nun devotes herself to lectio divina, silent prayer, study or/and manual work, inside her cell.

For a year and a half novices study biblical and monastic writings; doctrinal and moral theology come after. These studies proceed at a rate adapted to the needs of each one. They lay the foundations for a fruitful reading of the Word of God. The solitary does not read to keep pace with all the latest trends, but to nourish her faith in tranquility and to sustain her life of prayer. Wisely ordered reading gives the mind greater stability, and provides a foundation for contemplation.

The body also participates: work
The converse nuns work in an obedience. We call ‘obedience’ the duty entrusted to a nun and, by extension, the place where she accomplishes it. For example, if a nun has the responsibility of cooking, both cooking and the kitchen where she cooks are her obedience.

In order to allow them to better live their vocation, the work of the converse nuns is distributed in such a way that each one works alone, as far as this is possible. Whether it is washing the dishes or peeling vegetables, picking fruit or tending the garden, this work becomes an expression of their union with the Son of God in His love for the Father and for all men.

At 11:45 the Office of Sext ends the morning and makes it a praise to God. The converse nun returns to the cell where she recites Sext, takes her meal, enjoys a period of relaxation, and then recites None, all within the solitude of the cell.

We find our meal in the food hatch, which is an opening in the wall near the door that opens onto the cloister. The food hatch allows each solitary some link with her community without her having to leave the cell or interrupt silence.

The sisterly bonds in the Charterhouse are thoroughly imbued with the silence of God. Actually, these ties of love are all the stronger to the degree the aspiration of each nun to recollection is more fully respected. For my sister as for myself, solitude is a sacrament of the encounter with God. Accordingly, the more I love my sister in God, the more I respect her life of solitude and silence.

The rest-time which follows the meal we almost always spend in cell: either outside in the garden (tending to it, or walking and watching nature), or inside (doing some light work). As Saint Bruno and the early monks state: ‘If the bow is kept continually taut, it looses its resilience and becomes less fit for its works’.

1:45 p.m.: The bell invites us anew to psalmody with reverence for God. It is the Office of None, a prayer we usually recite alone in cell yet in solidarity: since Our Lord has called us to represent all of creation when we come before Him, in our prayer we intercede for all and give thanks.

The work-time that follows can also be lived in thanksgiving if we accompany Jesus in His humble and hidden life in Nazareth, where He performed His duties in uninterrupted union with the Father.

The converse nuns leave cell at 2 p.m. to resume working in their obediences and so praise God in His works and consecrate the world to the glory of its Creator.

The cloister nuns work in cell in a variety of occupations: bookbinding, sewing, weaving, typing, small-scale woodworking, making icons, etc. All their talents can find expression.

Work, which is a service uniting us to the Christ Who came not to be served but to serve, has always been regarded in the monastic tradition as a very efficacious means of progressing towards perfect charity...

Evening Praise
4:00 p.m.: The bell summons us to Vespers. On passing through the door of the church, we enter into the dwelling place of God, and also into a time of prayer which marks the end of the day. The evening prayers of praise are celebrated as the decline of the day invites the soul to a ‘spiritual sabbath’.

Conscious of our responsibility, we put ourselves at peace, in openness to God alone.

The converse nun can participate in the praises in the church or she can let them rise from her heart in the silence of cell. Any work that follows remains imbued with that spirit of praise. Once her work is finished, the nun returns to cell where she consecrates herself to silent prayer like the cloister nun.

After the meal (or collation if it is a day on which we are observing a fast) we have a period of free time at our disposal. Spiritual reading precedes Compline.

Our day begins with Mary and concludes with her Office. The filial love of the Carthusian for the Virgin can be expressed by the recitation of her Office. This Office is a participation in the Virgin’s thanksgiving for redemption.

A Communion
Solitary life, whether in cell or in the obedience, protects and nourishes in our hearts the fire of divine love. This love unites us as members of the same body.

This is a permanent reality, but we express it more visibly on Sundays and Solemnities. On those days gatherings are more frequent: the offices of Terce, Sext, and None are sung in Church; we have a meal together in refectory after Sext.

In addition, we come together for a colloquium. This latter is a friendly meeting in which, beginning with a text of Scripture, we have rather deep exchanges and we try to incorporate the fruit of these discussions into our lives.

Once a week we have another sisterly exchange in the form of a walk called spatiamentum lasting about three hours, during the course of which each one is able to talk in turn with the others. These walks deepen our mutual affection and favor the interior life in solitude.

Near each of our monasteries is a hermitage sheltering a monk who shares in our liturgical life. The ‘vicar’, as he is called, is deputed by the General Chapter of the monks to serve as a ‘chaplain’ for the nuns. He therefore celebrates the Eucharist and administers the other sacraments.

The communion we share does not embrace merely the members of the same Charterhouse, but all the sons and daughters of Saint Bruno. It even extends to the Church in both her visible and invisible dimension.

14 April 2010

The Wounds of Unfathomable Love

This reflection comes to us from the fourteenth-century mystic and Byzantine theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas. He shows that Christ’s love for humanity knows no bounds.

Two things are revealed about him who loves and prevails: one, that he in every possible way does good to the object of his love; the other, that he is willing, if need be, to endure terrible things for him and suffer pain. Of the two the latter would seem to be a far greater proof of friendship than the former. Yet it was not possible for God since He is incapable of suffering harm. Since He loves man it was possible for Him to confer benefits on him, yet it was not possible at all for the divine nature to suffer blows. While His affection was exceeding great, yet the sign by which He might make it plain was not available.

It was necessary, then, that the greatness of His love should not remain hidden, but that He should give proof of the greatest love and by loving display the utmost measure of love. Thus He devised this self-emptying and carried it out, and made the instrument, that is, Christ’s human nature, by which He might be able to endure terrible things and to suffer pain. When He had thus proved that He indeed loves exceedingly, by the things which He endured, He turned man towards Himself, who had fled from the Good One because he believed himself to be the object of hate.

But this is the most astounding thing of all: not only did He endure the most terrible pains and die from His Wounds, but also He came to life afterwards and raised up His Body from corruption. He still retained those Wounds. He bears the scars upon His Body and with them appears to the eyes of the angels; He regards them as an ornament and rejoices to show how He suffered terrible things. He saw fit to cherish them because of His affection for man, because by means of them He found him who was lost, and by being wounded He laid hold on him whom He loved.

What could be equal to that affection? What has a man ever loved so greatly? Who has ever been seized by such a mania of love for anything beautiful whatever, so that because of it he not only willingly allows himself to be wounded by the object of his love without swerving from his affection towards the ungrateful one, but even prizes the very wounds? Though these prove that He not only loves us but also that He greatly honours us, yet it belongs to the greatest honour that He is not ashamed even of the infirmities of our nature, but is seated on His royal Throne with the scars He acquired from human weakness.

While He so highly esteemed our nature He yet did not neglect us individually. He calls us to His own Crown; He has set us free from slavery and made us children. He has opened heaven to all and has shown us the way. Not content with this, He Himself leads the way and sustains us and encourages us when we slacken.

13 April 2010

The Path of Life lies open before you

This reflection was written by a Carthusian monk at Nuremberg in the fifteenth-century. It’s evident by the way this is written that this monk’s interior life was well-ordered. May this edifying writing give aid to our interior life as well!

‘Be unto me a house of refuge’ ~ Psalm 30:3.

O Lord Jesus Christ, inexhaustible Fountain of love and of grace, I praise and thank You for the Wound of Your most holy Side, received after Your death; for then, O Saint of saints, was Your right Side so deeply pierced by the soldier's spear, that the point of the iron penetrated through Your Breast even to the midst of Your tender Heart, and from this large Wound began to flow for us the healing stream of Blood and Water which fertilizes the earth and saves the world. O beneficent and wonderful shedding of Blood from the Side of Jesus slumbering on the Cross in the sleep of death for the redemption of the human race! O most pure and sweet stream of Water, coming from our Saviour’s Breast to wash away all our stains!

Moses, in the desert, struck the rock, and there came out a refreshing water intended simply for the use and comfort of the people of Israel and their flocks; but when the fearless soldier Longinus with his sturdy hand struck the Rock with the spear, that is to say, when he cleft the right Side of Christ, there came out, then and evermore, a mysterious fountain of Water and of Blood from which our chaste Mother, the Holy Catholic Church, draws her saving Sacraments. Eve was called the mother of all the living, and was formed from a rib of her husband, Adam. The Holy Church militant is called the Mother of all who are living by faith, and she is formed from the Side of Christ her Spouse.

O great, precious and loving Wound of my Saviour, you are deeper than all the others, and opened so wide that the faithful can enter in! O Wound from which flow unlimited and endless blessings, Wound of the Side inflicted the last, but become nevertheless the most celebrated! Whosoever drinks deeply from the holy and Divine source of this Wound, or takes even a few drops, will forget all his ills, will be set free from the thirst for fleeting and vile pleasures, will be inflamed with the love of eternal and heavenly things, and filled with the unutterable sweetness of the Holy Spirit. Then will flow into his soul ‘a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting’ (Saint John 4:14).

Enter, O my soul, enter into the right Side of Your crucified Lord. Enter through this blessed Wound into the centre of the all-loving Heart of Jesus, pierced through and through out of love for you. Take your rest in the clefts of the Rock sheltered from the tempests of the world. Enter into your God! Covered with herbage and fragrant flowers, the path of Life lies open before you. This is the Way of salvation, the Bridge leading to Heaven.

The Heart of Jesus is the City of refuge in which we are safe from the pursuit of the enemy. It is the City of refuge which defends us from the wrath of an angry Judge. This Heart is the inexhaustible fountain of the Oil of mercy for truly penitent sinners. This Heart is the source of the Divine River springing up in the midst of Paradise to water the surface of the earth, to quench the thirst of the dry and barren human heart, to wash away sin, to extinguish the unholy fires of concupiscence, to regulate the flights of the imagination and to allay the fierceness of anger. Draw near then and take the draught of love from this Fountain of the Saviour, in order that you may no longer live to yourself, but in Him Who was crucified for you. Give your heart to Him, for He has opened His Heart to you. Give not your heart to the world, but to Christ your Lord. Give it not to vain worldly wisdom, but to the eternal Wisdom. Where can you rest more peacefully, dwell more securely, or sleep more sweetly than in the Wounds of Christ crucified for you?

O all-glorious and most amiable Jesus, Creator of the mysterious and invisible world of grace, Guest of loving hearts, crucified Example of souls crushed under the weight of the cross, You Who contain all the riches and all the gifts of Heaven; Jesus our King, Saviour of the faithful, Who has willed that Your Holy Side should be opened by the point of a ruthless lance, I humbly and fervently beseech You to open to me the Doors of Your mercy, and suffer me to enter through the large Wound of Your adorable and most Holy Side, into Your infinitely loving Heart, so that my heart may be united to Your Heart by an indissoluble bond of love. Wound my heart with Your love. Let the soldier's spear penetrate my breast. Let my heart be opened to You alone and closed to the world and the devil. Protect my heart, and arm it against the assaults of its enemies by the sign of Your holy Cross. Amen.

10 April 2010

Dominica in Octava Paschæ

First Reading, Acts 5:12-16
Solomon’s portico was outside of the temple area and was open to all walks of life: Jew and Gentile, the repentant and unrepentant. It was a large place, therefore, suitable for crowds. It’s not likely that these gatherings would have been allowed by the temple priests if Solomon’s portico was within the temple area.

Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. Jesus healed many of the infirmed with the imposition of His Hands. In His Name the apostles are carrying on with His healing ministry. These are the beginnings of the Church and as the text reads, great numbers of men and women were added to the Church’s numbers. That statement rings true every year at the Easter Vigil.

There is great faith seen here as those who were sick believed that even Peter’s shadow could heal them. In Saint John’s Gospel (14:12) Jesus says: ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, he that believes in Me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do’. Perhaps in this Reading we are seeing at least a partial fulfillment of what Jesus had foretold.

Saint Augustine uses this Reading to turn our focus to the communion of saints in heaven. He points out that if Peter could heal the sick by casting his shadow over them, how much more help to us is Peter and all the saints now that they are permanent citizens of heaven.

Second Reading, Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
In this, the Second Reading, we read from what is probably the most perplexing book in all of Sacred Scripture. It was believed to have been written by Saint John, the apostle of Jesus Christ, at least according to some of the early Church Fathers. Some of the other Fathers, however, have denied this; hence the author of the Book of Revelation is not definitively known. It was written in Greek on the island of Patmos where Saint John was exiled.

The first verse sums up what is inevitable if we are to truly be disciples of Christ – distress -- in other words, the cross. This is a shared calling or experience when faithfully proclaiming the glory of God in word and deed which is ultimately giving testimony to Jesus.

What is witnessed by the author occurred on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. A voice as loud as a trumpet is heard which signifies that something of great importance is about to be revealed. There are some writings which suggest that the voice is not that of the Lord but instead Saint John the Baptist who proclaimed himself as a voice crying in the wilderness.

The seven gold lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia. In the midst of the lampstands is one like a son of man who is either a representative of our Lord, such as an angel, or Jesus Christ Himself. Being in the midst of the lampstands delineates Christ’s watchful Eye over the Church. The ankle-length robe and gold sash are the garments of a priest, and in this case our High Priest, Jesus Christ.

The message proclaimed here, ‘Do not be afraid’, is an assurance that regardless of how heavy the cross becomes, Christ is always in the midst of His Church, enlightening, protecting and sanctifying her. Christ is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega. As God, Christ is always alive; as Man He once died on the Cross for the salvation of humanity, but triumphed over sin and death by rising from the dead. He holds the keys to death and has power over all things as God and Man.

That trumpet must always be vibrating in our souls, constantly reminding us that even though many of the things which we are privy to in this life can become extremely depressing and discouraging, that heavenly trumpet enchants the soul with the message that our Lord did not die and rise in vain, our Blessed Mother was not pierced with a sword in vain, holy men and women were not persecuted in vain, nor did the martyrs spill their blood in vain; and we do not defend Holy Mother Church in vain – our dear Lord and Savior is still very much in charge.

Gospel, John 20:19-31
Exactly how Jesus was able to appear in the midst of His disciples when the doors were locked cannot be comprehended. It does show, however, that Jesus is not limited to the laws of time and space; and for this reason it is an act of faith to accept the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. For if Jesus is capable of walking through locked doors He is certainly capable of veiling Himself under the species of bread and wine.

Jesus shows His disciples His Hands and His Side so that they can verify that the risen Body in which He appears to them is the same Body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of His Passion (cf. CCC 645).

Jesus breathes on His disciples; from this hour onward, the mission of Christ and the Spirit becomes the mission of the Church: ‘As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.’ Christ gives His apostles the power to forgive sins when He says: ‘Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’. The apostles at this moment are given some portion of the gifts of the Spirit. It is at Pentecost when a deluge of spiritual gifts and graces is poured out.

Saint Gregory the Great points out that the unbelief of Thomas is of greater advantage to the strengthening of our faith, than the ready belief of the rest of the apostles. For when he proceeded to touch the Wounds of Christ, Thomas is aiding us in laying aside our own lack of faith. Thomas puts to rest our own lack of faith when he says: ‘My Lord and my God’! This is such a great Divine mystery! Thomas is able to touch the physical Wounds of Jesus and yet let us not forget that Jesus first appeared to them by penetrating a locked door which means that Jesus was also able to withdraw at will from His physicality.

Jesus said to Thomas: ‘Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’. This verse is aimed at all future Christians, including us. We are counted among the blessed because we have not seen these events occur but we believe in their authenticity. However, it must be said that if you’ve been to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, you’ve been to the Passion. The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ which occurred in a moment of time was so great, so unfathomable, so transforming for humanity, that the laws of time and space are unable to contain it. On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, it is a very great mercy of God, and an unthinkable privilege for us to be at Calvary each and every Mass, and yet be spared of its horrific visuals.

There are many things about Christ that will always remain a mystery but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out: ‘Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels. Almost nothing is said about His hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of His public life is not recounted. What is written in the Gospels was set down there so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name’ (CCC 514). Let us not allow curiosity to consume us or let what is unknown about Jesus torture us, but instead let us spend time in stillness adoring Jesus, seeking His Face where He remains hidden -- in the tabernacle of our soul.

Jesus Rests on the Silent and Humble Heart

‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of acquisition: that you may declare His virtues, Who has called you out of darkness into His admirable Light: who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy’ (1 Saint Peter 2:9-10).

On today, Saturday, which the Church traditionally sets aside to honour the Virgin Mother of God, and since this day is also the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, it seems fitting to reflect on two holy women: Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, the chosen messenger of Divine Mercy, and of course, the most blessed among all women (cf. Saint Luke 1:28), the Virgin Mary, the house that Wisdom built (cf. Proverbs 9:1), through whom our Divine Saviour chose to enter into this world, and through whom He continues to dispense His graces.

Saint Faustina saw those admirable rays of Light illuminating from our dear Lord’s Most Sacred Heart. Saint John the Evangelist, in his visions of the Apocalypse saw the Virgin Mary clothed with this admirable Light, the Sun of Justice (cf. Revelation 12:1).

Through the meeting of these two women of God, a remarkable grace was given from Jesus, through His Holy Mother, to Saint Faustina. Here’s what she recorded in her diary:

‘I saw her [Mary] today. . . She said to me: My daughter, strive after silence and humility, so that Jesus, Who dwells in your heart continuously, may be able to rest. Adore Him in your heart; do not go out from your inmost being. My daughter, I shall obtain for you the grace of an interior life which will be such that, without ever leaving that interior life, you will be able to carry out all your external duties with even greater care. Dwell with Him continuously in your own heart. He will be your strength. Communicate with creatures in so far as is necessary and is required by your duties. You are a dwelling place pleasing to the living God; in you He dwells continuously with love and delight. And the living presence of God, which you experience in a more vivid and distinct way, will confirm you, my daughter, in the things I have told you.

Our Blessed Lady instructs Saint Faustina to speak only when necessary. In the Statutes of the Carthusian Order are these words:

‘The fruit that silence brings is known to him who has experienced it. In the early stages of our Carthusian life we may find silence a burden; however, if we are faithful, there will gradually be born within us of our silence itself something, that will draw us on to still greater silence. To attain this, our rule is not to speak to one another without the President’s permission. Love for our brothers should show itself firstly in respect for their solitude; should we have permission to speak about some matter, let us do so as briefly as possible’.

The grace of a most blessed interior life was granted to Saint Faustina. While we tend to think of graces such as these to be reserved for only a few, let us reflect, though, on the fifteen promises of our Blessed Mother to those who faithfully pray the Rosary:

1. Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces.
2. I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.
3. The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell, it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.
4. It will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of people from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
5. The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary, shall not perish.
6. Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying himself to the consideration of its Sacred Mysteries shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice, he shall not perish by an unprovided death; if he be just, he shall remain in the grace of God, and become worthy of eternal life.
7. Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the Sacraments of the Church.
8. Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plentitude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the Saints in Paradise.
9. I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.
10. The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.
11. You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.
12. All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.
13. I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.
14. All who recite the Rosary are my children, and brothers and sisters of my only Son, Jesus Christ.
15. Devotion of my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.

09 April 2010

Come to the Mountain

Undecim discipuli abierunt in Galilæam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus, et videntes eum adoraverunt – The eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them, and seeing Him they adored’ (Saint Matthew 28:16-17).

Quite often a mountain is symbolic of problems, obstacles to overcome: ‘If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain move from here to there, and it shall move’ (Saint Matthew 17:20).

But throughout Sacred Scripture a mountain is also where man encounters Almighty God. It was at a mountain that Abraham built an altar and called upon the Name of the Lord (cf. Genesis 12:8). Interiorly, for a people of prayer, the altar of sacrifice has already been built – it is the human heart – its stoniness has been removed and replaced with a natural heart, infused with the Holy Spirit (cf. Ezekiel 36:26-27).

When the king of Sodom and the king Gomorrah were overthrown, those that remained fled to the mountain (cf. Genesis 14:10). Thus the mountain is a place of refuge. A place of refuge can be a church building or chapel where Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament waits for those seeking divine intimacy. But Jesus tells us that our room is also a place where we can go and pray to our Father in secret (cf. Matthew 6:6). There’s really no distinction as to what room one can use: the Latin word used is cubiculum which can mean bedroom, living room – any room. Wherever one chooses exteriorly to seek the Lord, one hopes to enter into that inner refuge, that interior sanctuary, where God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are hidden, are in secret. In fact, a fifteenth-century reflection from a Carthusian monk at Nuremberg refers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the City of Refuge, an ‘inexhaustible fountain of love and grace’.

Lot was told to flee to the mountain, that he may be spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Genesis 19:17). Again, the mountain is depicted as a place of safety, security, a place of refuge. Interiorly it is where heart enters into Heart.

On the mountain, the inner Tabernacle, where one encounters the living God, one also listens in silence for gentle whispers, movements which only the heart can translate. Whispers which have answers, whispers that encourage, whispers that teach. Moses encounters God on the mountain. Moses received instructions from God on the mountain. Moses received the Law on the mountain. Jesus taught on the Mount of Beatitudes. Three apostles prostrated themselves on the Mountain of Transfiguration, where there appeared to them the Law and the Prophets, and He Who is Lord of the Law and the fulfilment of prophecy. And let us not forget that Jesus Himself would go to the mountain to pray, delineating that very great mystery of the perpetual communion of the Most Holy Trinity.

Scripture asks: ‘Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord’ (Psalm 23 [24]:3). Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised in His holy mountain (cf. Psalm 47 [48]:2).

‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. . . and He will teach us His ways and we will walk in His paths’ (Isaiah 2:3). May our Blessed Lady, our Lord’s chosen dwelling-place before entering into the world, teach us to keep the Word in our hearts, pondering Him always (cf. Saint Luke 2:19).

08 April 2010

Eating the Fruits of Paradise with Joy

The apostle Philip is instructed by an angel to take ‘the desert route’ (Acts 8:26). There is an Ethiopian man, an authoritative man who has charge over the queen’s treasures. He comes to Jerusalem to adore. The Spirit instructs Philip to go to that man. This man of Ethiopia is reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He was reading aloud what is proclaimed on Good Friday: ‘As a sheep He was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb without a voice before his shearer, He was silent and opened not His Mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).

‘The desert route’, in the sense of a time of prayer in silence and solitude can be dry, bring unwanted distractions and temptations, but it can also produce many fruits. At the time that Saint Bruno wrote a letter to his friend Raoul le Verd, he was living in the wilderness of Calabria, and as Saint Bruno describes, it was ‘far removed from habitation’. The holy Founder of the Carthusian Order continued with words which perhaps describe all things undesirable about the desert spiritual life: ‘I stand as a beggar before the mercy of God, praying that He will heal all the infirmities of my soul’. Indeed our weaknesses can be a bit daunting in the spiritual life. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; thus, the desert journey begins by watching and praying that one enters not into temptation (cf. Saint Matthew 26:41).

Ah, it is the willing spirit of Saint Bruno which wrote in that same letter: ‘What benefits and divine exaltation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know. For here men of strong will can enter into themselves and remain there as much as they like, diligently cultivating the seeds of virtue and eating the fruits of Paradise with joy. Here they can acquire the eye that wounds the Bridegroom with love’.

To wound Jesus with the eye of love, that eye must be fixed on our Saviour’s Wounds of love – His Passion – which became the words that entered into the apostle Philip’s ears on his desert route. Saint Bruno, in Calabria, was not without his share of the external beauties of God’s creation. In his letter to Raoul he describes mild temperatures, healthy air, mountains, fragrant meadows, flowery fields, an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams, verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees. In our human weakness, such beauty could easily distract one from the pursuit of our Lord. But Saint Bruno writes: ‘Why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine’.

Saint Bruno sought not the fruits of trees but the fruits of Paradise. Are we prepared to describe ourselves as a people of true insight having other delights? Forming an opinion based on today’s culture, the answer would have to be – no. But change begins with us, with the force of the Spirit leading the way.

The Ethiopian man had the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ explained to him by Philip and was baptized, and he left there rejoicing. From a human perspective, it sounds macabre to rejoice in the brutal beating and crucifixion of a Man, but ‘not as man sees does God see’ (1 Samuel 16:7). That is certainly evident in the fact that the second day of the Sacred Triduum is called Good Friday. In one Man’s Passion and death is both the judgment and mercy of God, that very same mercy which Saint Bruno stood as a beggar. The Carthusian Order has produced many writings over the centuries on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a wounded Heart, a Heart that was pierced for love of humanity.

If the Lord looks into the human heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7), then grace-filled hearts in the spiritual desert come to the Cross and keep their gazed riveted on the crucified Lord, entering into the Sanctuary of His most Sacred Heart, free from all danger, for evil dares not to enter into this Heart. In this Heart man can truly have a heart-to-Heart!