29 November 2010

The Ideal Form of Virtue

The following is excerpted from Saint Ambrose’s treatise titled, ‘De Virginibus’. It is written for those living the life of virginity, with our Blessed Lady being presented as the perfect model. But this treatise goes far beyond that. It is also a wonderful reflection on the virtues of Mary, offering some gems for one's interior life. And there’s more: this treatise may also add to and enhance one’s meditations on the Holy Rosary, most especially the Joyful Mysteries. As the text itself proclaims, our Blessed Mother's life ‘is an education for all’. As we have now entered into the season of Advent, and the expectation of the Saviour, it seems fitting to re-visit the Annunciation and the important role of Our Lady in salvation history; and Saint Ambrose does that for us here.

Let Mary’s life for you be an image of virginity itself, as from a mirror, the shining model of chastity and the ideal form of virtue. Take, then, the existential life of Mary as an example, as the perfect model, showing you what you need to correct, and keep in you.

Mary was chosen by the Holy Spirit, who is visited by an angel, which is told by the evangelist. Why delay about details? How her parents loved her, strangers praised her, and her worthiness that the Son of God should be born of her.

When the angel entered, he found her at home, in the inner room, without company, that no one could distract her attention or disturb her. In fact, she did not even desire the company of women, who had the companionship of good thoughts. Indeed, she seemed so much less alone when she was alone, for how could she be alone, and how could she be isolated, who had with her so many books, so many archangels, so many prophets?

When the angel salutes Mary, she remains silent, but when addressed she answered. Initially, she feels troubled, but then promises to have done to her the words of the angel.

Scripture depicts Mary as modest towards her neighbours. She became even more humble when she realized she was chosen by God, and immediately goes to her cousin in a mountainous area. She did not go there to see the evidence adduced by the angel, because she had already believed in his prophecy. The sacred text says in fact: ‘Blessed are you who have believed’ (Saint Luke 1:45).

Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months. In such an interval of time, it is not faith that is being sought, but she shows kindness to her cousin. And this was after the child leapt for joy in Elizabeth when greeting the Mother of the Lord. Thus John expressed an affection that exceeds the natural rate. Many miraculous signs came one after another: the barren will give birth, a Virgin conceives, a mute regains his speech; there is the Adoration of the Magi, the expectation of Simeon, the stars gave notice. Mary, who is moved by the angel’s entrance, is not shaken by these miracles. The text says that she kept all these things in her heart (cf. Saint Luke 2:19).

Although the Mother of God, Mary wants to learn the precepts of the Lord God; and she who brought forth God yet desired to know God.

Every year she went to Jerusalem for the Passover with Joseph. Why do you go with him? For a virgin, modesty always accompanies all the virtues. It is so inseparable from virginity, that this cannot exist without that. Thus, Mary did not even go to the temple without the guardian of her modesty.

Mary shines in the true image of virginity. Her life alone is an education for all. There is a proverb which says: ‘If the author does not displease us, let us make trial of the production, that whoever desires the rewards of Mary may imitate the example’. How many virtues shine forth in one Virgin: the confidentiality of modesty, the emblem of faith, the service of devotion, the Virgin within the house, the companion for the ministry, the Mother at the temple.

What a triumph in the heavens, what a great joy of jubilant angels, when she is found worthy of living in heaven, after living a heavenly life in this world. Then Mary, with her timbrel, will stir up choirs of virgins who sing to the Lord, because they have crossed the seas of this world without suffering the storms. Then, each shall rejoice saying: I will go to the altar of God, to God Who makes my youth glad; and, I will offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay vows to the Most High.

Blessed Virgin, I will not hesitate to say that you have access to the true altar of God, for you yourself are the altar in which Christ is daily offered for the redemption of the body, which is the Church.

For if the virgin's body is a temple of God, what is her soul, which, the ashes, as it were, of the body being shaken off, once more uncovered by the hand of the Eternal Priest, exhales the vapour of the divine fire.

Blessed Virgin, you emit a fragrance through divine grace as gardens do through flowers, temples through religion, altars through the priest.

26 November 2010

Consumed by Love

As yesterday was the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I didn’t have the opportunity to post that yesterday was also on the Carthusian calendar the feast of Blessed Béatrice d’Ornacieux. At the very young age of thirteen she joined the Carthusian Order and became a nun of the Order at Parménie where her novice mistress was another well-known Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt.

Béatrice was subject to demonic torments and often was attacked with impure illusions and nightly fantasies which included seeing dangerous animals and hearing frightening sounds. Like anyone would do in these types of occurrences, she pleaded with God to be delivered from these attacks and even asked Him to be taken from this earth. Her prayers received a miraculous response with a Voice that said: “Receive the consolations that I give you and do not refuse the sufferings that I send you.” After that encounter she was able to completely surrender herself to the will of God.

Béatrice was intensely in love with Jesus Christ and lived a life of penance in order to follow Him in His sufferings. In response to her love, Jesus gave her the wonderful gift of possessing an intimate knowledge of Himself but she would, however, later experience the “dark night of the soul” in which she felt completely abandoned by the Lord. This caused her great suffering. After that period of refinement she once again regained full intimate union with Jesus, a union that would never again be interrupted.

In the year 1300, Béatrice was the foundress and Prioress of a new monastery at Eymeu where she continued to live in holiness until her death in 1309.

When the Carthusian Order gave up the monastery at Eymeu, Béatrice’s relics were moved to Parménie. An uprising of the Albigensians caused the nuns to flee Parménie. Shortly after, the monastery was burned down and Béatrice’s relics were lost. In the seventeenth century her relics were found and in the year 1697 pronounced authentic by a Cardinal of that region. Later, in the year 1839 the relics were once again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble and thirty years later in 1869 Pope Pius IX gave permission for her feast to be celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

24 November 2010

Nothing Should Cause You Joy Except God

Prepare yourself to live with the wicked, but with an uncorrupted mind: this is angelic. What glory is there in doing this with the saints? He who loves all will be saved without doubt. But he who is loved by all will not on that score be saved. Just as hatred for you keeps all men from life, so your hatred for them blocks your way. Therefore it is expedient for you to love all men; they too profit from loving you. Prosperity is a snare. The knife that cuts this snare is adversity. A prison for one's love of God is prosperity; the battering-ram for breaking down this prison is adversity. A single fever takes away all the things against which you are fighting, namely, the delights of the five senses. What remains, therefore, but to give thanks to God for the victories granted? (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:57). But you, on the contrary, are looking for something to which you may succumb, hating liberty.

What hope is there if you put yourself not recking into the snares and nets of the enemy, if you not only do not avoid them, but even freely embrace them and expose yourself to them? You flee from these to those; you think these a remedy, those a comfort; you desire them, and do not bear their absence.

Adversity teaches one to desire peace; but in your blindness you desire that which, as long as you love and desire it, is quite impossible, namely, to have peace. In joy receive the truth, as the Lord; bear with a lie peacefully, or else fix the charge. You are unaware that you are bound, and you do not resist your chains, like a dog.

Consider two experiences, filling and voiding. What makes you happier, what you experience by the latter or by the former? The former burdens you with useless things the latter unburdens. Look well at what each profits. To have experienced something, this is to have devoured it all. Nothing further remains to be hoped for. So it is in all sensual things. See, then, what happiness all such things, whether in actuality or in hope, have effected in you; and judge accordingly to future things. Reflect, I say, that pleasures belong to the past, and judge that future ones will too. What you hope for will all pass away. And what have you after them? Love and hope for such a thing as will not pass away.

Absolutely nothing in you or in another should cause you joy, except God. While the shapes and bodily forms, by whose clinging you are soiled, perish -- as do syllables at the appointed beats in God's song -- you are in great distress. For the rust which had accumulated is being, scraped off.

Adversity says to you: ‘You try to get me to go. This, should you strongly wish it, you most certainly cannot prevent; for I cannot stay when the Lord leads the song. I, you see, am a syllable’.

~ Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse ~

22 November 2010

The Fullness of the Life of Christ Within Us

Transforming Union or possessing the fullness of Christ is something most of us will never experience in this lifetime. But certainly we’re familiar with stories of saints and mystics who have been there. But what is this transforming union? Why do so few experience it? Is it available to everyone? A Carthusian writer tackles this subject.

‘My Beloved is mine, and I am His’ (Song of Songs 2:16).

Transforming union is the full development on earth of sanctifying grace, that is, the fullness of the life of Christ within us. Sadly, it is a state which is rarely reached, for it implies a plenitude of love. But, however far we may be from that state, we should know something about it, so as to be able to distinguish what is only transitory in the spiritual life, from that which pertains to its perfection.

There is one last trial, a testing of love, in which the soul, intensely drawn to the One it loves, aspires with its whole being to heavenly union. It is the desire to die, to break the chains of this life. If the Lord inspires this desire in the soul, it is in order to fulfil it, but in an unexpected way, by giving the grace of transforming union.

Sanctifying grace is the free gift of alliance contracted by God with each one of us, in the Church. It consists in the gift of the Holy Spirit Who communicates divine life to us: the knowledge and love which enable us to know and love God in an intimate exchange of personal friendship. He says to each of us, ‘I am calling you and you are My friend’. And His Creator Word establishes us in a sort of equality with Him, of friend to Friend (or, in other words, makes us share in the divine nature). The life of prayer is all about learning to live this friendship. We have to be gradually raised to this dignity, purified, and slowly transformed, until our will is one with the will of the Lord and our heart belongs totally to Him. Love is at the heart of transforming union, it is the substance of it. The phenomena which usually manifest this state are secondary, and in some cases are quite hidden, or even absent.

The life of grace becomes conscious. God is experienced not only as the objects of our acts of faith, hope and love, but as the interior source, the indwelling co-principle, of these acts. The sap of divine life flows in our faculties.

The term ‘spiritual marriage’ is sometimes used to indicate this fusion of two lives: an intimate and stable union, based on the total, mutual gift of love between two persons, a gift with implications of rights and duties. ‘All that is Mine is yours, and all that is yours is Mine’ (Saint John 17:10).

The soul shares in the knowledge of God. It is given a mysterious knowledge, both luminous and obscure, by the love poured into it by the Holy Spirit. Love is itself a form of knowledge that goes further than any knowledge that can be formulated in images or ideas. It plunges into the infinite reality of divine life. The Spirit is the flame of love in the soul, a brightly burning flame.

There is no longer any distance. God communicates Himself to the soul by substantial touches, that is, directly, substance to substance, without passing by the faculties. Plunged into the divine fire, the soul becomes fire. Immersed in the vast sea, the drop of water becomes sea. Traversed by light, the pane of glass becomes light, without however ceasing to be what it is. No image can adequately express the reality. The saints and great mystics of all times have tried to speak of it, but this irruption of infinite life into the tiny space of a human soul is beyond words; do we not however, each one of us, recognize in this, in some obscure way, our deepest desire? How strange. But not so strange really, for our heart is made for You, Lord.

This union is the source of special insights on God and on the mysteries of the faith: sparks from the furnace at the centre, that the intelligence receives by way of intuitive knowledge. The faculties no longer operate in their usual way, which is more or less discursive, but in the mode of the Holy Spirit acting through the gifts of intelligence and wisdom.

In this state, there is an habitual vision of the presence of God in the centre of the soul, which is perceived, without mediation, as the dwelling of God. The higher faculties are drawn passively and imperiously towards the deep centre of the soul where God dwells. They are plunged into this source of life, and emerge from it transformed, to act at the exterior. The activity of the soul flows from this deep centre, the initiative comes from the interior and not from outside, from the Spirit and not from the world. This is why it is so important for the person of prayer to be able to enter into the interior depths of his or her soul, to remain there habitually, and to act from that centre.

The soul often possesses habitually, but with differing degrees of intensity, the vision of the Holy Trinity, or of the divine nature. This is the highest point of spiritual illumination, but paradoxically is sometimes called ‘the Great Darkness’, for in drawing nearer, God reveals Himself to be supreme mystery, and totally different.

Whether this vision concerns the divine Persons or their unique nature, seems to depend on the religious sensitivity of the soul and the path followed. There is an Eastern tradition particularly directed towards experience of the divine nature, without however excluding, or regarding as secondary, loving intimacy with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But at this level of mystical experience, however necessary the concepts of nature and person may be, they are very inadequate with regard to the incandescent reality of the union of God.

The Holy Spirit is in charge of the whole of this transformation. It is the Spirit Who acts in us as the principle of our sanctification. He inclines the soul to these supernatural acts, not by passing through the faculties, from outside, but from inside, from His dwelling in the centre, in the substance of the soul. Thus the Spirit moves the faculties, but in His own particular way, enabling them to attain their objects directly with an assurance and strength beyond their normal possibilities. Paradoxically, there is great liberty in this, for the soul is not moved like a lifeless puppet, but as someone who is free. This is a great mystery. The spiritual acts flow freely from a person transformed in his very substance by the Spirit; and these acts express perfectly the most intimate depths of that person, there where he adheres to God so closely that, with God, he is spirit, and source of life (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:17).

It is easy to say words that mean nothing, or say too much. It has been suggested – and by the mystics sometimes – that the soul breathes the Spirit with the Father and the Son; that it creates the world; that, placed within God’s creative act, it is maintaining all things; that, in a game of love, it gives God to God, since God in all truth has given Himself to the soul… All this is true, but in a sense that in no way diminishes the infinite transcendence of the Lord which is radically beyond our grasp. What is clear is that, by grace, in transforming union, the soul is plunged into a life that is infinitely beyond anything that we can possibly imagine. The fine shell of its little personality becomes perfectly transparent to the marvellous light in which it bathes. The soul is known and it knows. It is loved and it loves: perfectly, beyond anything we can possibly imagine or hope for.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

We set off to seek God, following in the steps of Jesus, on the path of the beatitudes of poverty and purity of heart, by the way of the cross and love, towards the Father. Now at the end, we find Christ again, but the risen Christ. The extraordinary phenomena of the mystical life are an irruption in our world of the life of the resurrection, rays of light from Mount Tabor. If we can come to the Father in all confidence, as sons, it is because of the grace of Christ communicated to us through the Spirit. We are taken up into the life of Christ, we become as it were one person with Him, to constitute what Augustine called ‘the total Christ’. ‘It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20).

When the Word became flesh, He did not eliminate human nature, but raised it, rather, to the fullness of its liberty and perfection; and in the same way, when divine life takes flesh, so to speak, in us – not hypostatically, but by union of grace – our humanity is not eliminated, but radically transformed. It is really our own self that is transformed; myself, with my own features, my character, my feelings, my personal history, my wounds, my limits, my sufferings, my sensitivity… Christ in His glory bears the marks of the nails. The glory He communicates to us is the glory of humanity redeemed, and is all the more luminous because of that. The bread that we offer to be consecrated is the bread of our whole nature. That is why the Eucharist is so important: for there, the Body and Blood of Christ, the living humanity of Christ, touches us, penetrates us, in order to transform us into Himself.

The spiritual person does not become an angel, he or she becomes Christ. And just as so few were able to recognize God in Jesus, so we too often pass by the saints. We look out for the extraordinary and the spectacular, and all we find is something marvellously human, a humanity that is in the likeness of God.

Generally there are not many extraordinary sensory phenomena, and hardly any more ecstasies. The human nature of the mystic is now used to God’s action, and has adapted to it. On the level of the senses, there is no resistance, and the higher faculties have been strengthened in their usual mode of activity.

We are so concerned with the outward show of sanctity, with appearances! Yet the whole life of a monk, and especially of the solitary monk, is on the level of being, where all show is ridiculous comedy. The ‘little’ Thérèse said once: ‘There is no need for appearances, as long as the reality is there. Our Lord died of love on the Cross, and yet look at His agony’.

And all is humility, because humility is born of truth. In this ultimate intimacy with the Lord, the monk knows, he experiences, that all is grace, that all comes from God. He takes stock in his own minute little self in the shadow of the greatness of God, the greatness of infinite Love. He makes no effort to be humble. We do not need light to see daylight.

In the mystic, the struggle between attention to God and contact with the world no longer exists. Throughout the whole development of the life of prayer, we have seen a ligature of the powers of the soul, from the partial withdrawal from the world in the prayer of quietude, up to the point of ecstasy, when all its usual activity in relation to the surrounding world becomes impossible: it has to be Martha or Mary. But from now on, we find Martha and Mary living together in harmony. Interior union with God is not hindered by the activity of Martha, and vice versa.

There are two levels of conscience, simultaneously occupied each with its own object, natural or supernatural, without hampering one another. This is the secret of the activity of the great saints, which is so fruitful spiritually: it flows from the source, without leaving it. Everything in the saints is unity, and they have tremendous strength to act – if God calls them to do so – and to suffer.

The soul is not exempt from temptations and trials, which are usually of short duration; but it is not deeply affected by them. The great peace in the depths of the heart is not troubled, even when the surface is tossed by the storm. ‘My peace I leave with you’ (Saint John 14:27).

Let us not forget that, except for a few moments on Mount Tabor, Christ offered us the humble, hidden image of the Servant. He renounced, precisely, the outward show of glory that so attracts our ambivalent desires. The light of a soul transformed by grace often dwells in a humanity which seems quite ordinary, sometimes even in one that is heavily burdened, always in one that is simple. Christian perfection does not lie in the Greek ideal of an earthly fulfilment of all one’s human potential; its aim is the plenitude of charity, which, in a world marked by sin, can take the form of sacrifice and suffering assumed in a consent of faith, and of which the fulfilment is on the other side of death, in eternal life.

20 November 2010

Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, Universorum Regis

First Reading, 2 Samuel 5:1-3
The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, immediately preceding the Solemnity of All Saints. The revision of the liturgical calendar placed it at the final Sunday in Ordinary Time. In this First Reading we read about the crowning of David as king of Israel. He was God's choice. And it is from his lineage that the Messiah would come. In Saint Matthew's Gospel, Jesus Christ is listed as ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Saint Matthew 1:1). David's kingship has its limitations as he is crowned to be the shepherd and commander of Israel. Jesus Christ's Crown is not a result of victory over flesh and blood, but of victory over the mystery of evil which seeks the ruination of souls. In an incredible act of love God became Man to redeem sinful humanity; and because of our sinful ways, all we could do was crown Him with thorns. Christ's love is not only beyond the means of human expression, but also logically it doesn't make sense: the God-Man Who was crowned with thorns is offering us who continue to crown Him with thorns by our sins, eternal glory. As our Lord says: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways’ (Isaiah 55:8).

Second Reading, Colossians 1:12-20
In this Reading there is a spirit of gratitude to Almighty God for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The ‘holy ones in light’ represents all the supernatural benefits of salvation including God Himself Who is the Source of all benefits. God the Father has delivered us from the adversary and transferred us to the perfect, well-ordered Kingdom of His beloved Son. We have been liberated from a state of guilt. Jesus ‘is the Image of the invisible God’. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: ‘By His revelation, the invisible God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company’ (CCC 142). Saint Thomas Aquinas relates ‘image’ with ‘prototype’ and says that image has three qualities at the same time:
It must have a likeness with the original prototype.
It must be derived from the prototype.
It must belong to the same species as the prototype.
This explanation of ‘image’ delineates that mere likeness alone would not be sufficient. A photograph, for example, is a likeness but it is not an image in the sense that is applied here. By Saint Paul writing that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God, he most certainly means God the Father. Therefore, Christ is the Image of God the Father because He exemplifies the Father. Saint John Damascene explains that image in itself does not demand equality with the original model, but we know that Christ, the Image, is identical and equal to the Father in every way. The only difference is that Jesus is begotten. Saint Paul continues this letter by writing that Christ is ‘the firstborn of all creation’. This is not a reference to being born of the Virgin Mary. Paul's meaning is that Jesus was before all creatures, proceeding from all eternity from the Father. Firstborn, then, as it is applied here is a metaphor for pre-existence before creation. Christ is Supreme, eternal and the final revelation of God because ‘all things were created through Him and for Him’. He is the reason and cause of all things and yet as our Creator He does not distance Himself from us, but instead, He wishes to have communion with us by means of His boundless love. Christ is ‘Head of the Body, the Church’, and yet His Sovereignty over the members does not deter Him from a close and intense union with them. He is ‘the firstborn from the dead’ in the sense that He is the first to rise to a New Life and in His glorious Triumph He is the cause of our resurrection. ‘For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell’. Generally, ‘fullness’ is synonymous with ‘totality’. In this case, however, ‘all the fullness’ more appropriately means ‘all existence’. Being reconciled to God through Christ with those on earth primarily means the human race; but what does Paul mean by reconciliation with those in heaven? Saint John Chrysostom defines those in heaven as angels. This doesn't mean, however, that Christ sacrificed Himself for angels. Angels are totally and unequivocally devoted to the cause and glory of Almighty God. This suggests, then, that before Christ's redeeming Sacrifice, the angels were at enmity with the human race because our sins separated us from God. Christ put an end to this division by restoring us to God's favour ‘through the Blood of His Cross’.

Gospel, Saint Luke 23:35-43
The Solemnity of Christ the King kicks off the final week of Ordinary Time; and perhaps this scene in the Gospel might remind you more of Holy Week than the celebration of Jesus Christ as King. But that's just it! Christ is no ordinary King. It is usually the king's loyal subjects who are dying on the battlefield to save the life of the king. Here, the King is dying for the life of His subjects, who just happen to be sinners and therefore not all that loyal. In the biblical days, mockery aimed at the king could very well mean death for the mocker. Here, mockery is aimed at the King with statements like: ‘He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen One, the Christ of God’ - and – ‘If You are King of the Jews, save Yourself’. In this case, not only will the mockers not be executed, but the King is being executed to save the lives of those who are like these mockers - in other words, sinners. Could Christ have come down from the Cross? Absolutely! Then why didn't He? It was not the nails that held Him to the Cross. Rather, it was His love for humanity collectively and His love for each and every one of us individually. He sacrificed Himself to defeat an enemy that we, left to ourselves, would never be able to overcome - death. Earthly kings have servants; our heavenly King, however, was a Servant. Earthly kings sit on a throne in all their glory - that is until they are overtaken or deceased. Our heavenly King also sits on a Throne, but in eternal glory; and what really makes our heavenly King so special beyond human logic is that He has secured eternal glory for His people, sinners that we are. It seems fitting to reiterate what was written in the First Reading's commentary: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; nor your ways My ways’ (Isaiah 55:8). Who really understands this immeasurable love freely given by Love Himself? A wonderful sense of hope is given to us in this Gospel because Jesus promises Paradise to the repentant criminal. Something else in this scene could also leave one with a sense of hope which perhaps isn't as strong as the former but nevertheless does shed at the very least a dimmer ray of hope. The repentant criminal reminds the reviling criminal – and really all of us - of the condemnation we could be subject to. What does the reviling criminal see when he looks at Jesus after hearing that promise of Paradise given to the repentant criminal? Does He see that Divine Love which cannot be explained by mere words? Does He see hope for himself even after he tempted God? What we do know is that Jesus does not condemn him in this Gospel scene. At the funeral of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Victoria Petrovna, the wife of Brezhnev, traced the Sign of the Cross on her husband's chest as the casket was about to be closed to begin the state funeral service. This was quite remarkable for an empire that embraced the principles of atheistic socialism. But Victoria Petrovna held fast to that virtue of hope. She trusted that a boundless God could produce redemptive grace that also knew no bounds. Original sin dealt us a nasty blow. We want the bad guy to get what he deserves. But the kind of love that we operate with has boundaries on all sides; and we're quite good at deciding for ourselves who should reside within those boundaries. But making God number One in our lives and trying to grow closer to Him by means of persistent efforts at climbing the often rugged terrain of the spiritual mountain could indeed begin to punch holes into those boundary walls. It's quite natural from a human perspective to assume that the criminal pretty much made his reservations for hell by reviling Jesus. On the other hand, what he witnessed in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal may have triggered the beginning of his own conversion. And since Jesus doesn't even so much as lecture this man in this scene, could it be because our Omniscient God could see changes for the better awaiting this man – even if it would come at his last moment of breath?

17 November 2010

Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Here’s an excerpt from Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis by Adam of Eynsham.

Hugh was a canon of Villarbenoit in Dauphine where he had entered as a youth. The potential qualities of saint and scholar were recognized in the boy and fostered by his tutor. With all his longing for holy orders Hugh shrank from promotion. The desire to be a priest was tempered by the sense of utter unworthiness.

At first sight Hugh was in love with the monastery of La Grande Chartreuse in its high solitude of the Dauphine Alps. It was here he would dwell, swiftly his mind was made up. The prior of Villarbenoit on the day he paid a visit to La Grande Chartreuse, taking Hugh with him for company, brought sorrow upon himself. For Hugh seeing the place was filled with rapture and an immediate resolve. Amazing and wonderful was this great monastery in the very heart of the mountains; amazing and wonderful this place, no other than the house of God and gate of heaven. It was the spirit of the place that thrilled him and held him captive.

On that first visit Hugh, young as he was, recognized the powerful charm of the Carthusian life. The solitude that is the essence of the Carthusian rule is tempered by the fact that the life is communal.

Youthful enthusiasm an excellent thing in itself is no evidence of religious vocation. Besides, it is written in the Carthusian constitutions that the severity of the Carthusian life must be set out plainly to all who seek admission. And then he was so young, this canon from the priory of Villarbenoit, and he looked delicate.

During that visit Hugh confided his hopes of becoming a Carthusian to others than the prior, and these so far from shaking their head at the presumption highly approved. They did more, they promised to back him up, urged him to stick to his purpose, did all they could to welcome him to the charterhouse.

Here was a horrible dilemma. That God had called him to the Carthusian life Hugh was convinced ; at the same time how could he resist the prayer of the dear old man who had been to him not only a foster-father but his superior, to whom he had promised obedience? His soul was torn and perplexed. His feelings counseled surrender. Hugh took the vow. While the prior lived he would not leave him.

And then having taken this oath to stay with the canons Hugh realized that it was a mistake, an oath that ought not to have been taken. He had acted in good faith; for the moment it had seemed that it was God's will he should stay at the priory. But it was clear he must not stay.
Once convinced that this oath taken under stress need not be kept, an oath which God did not desire to be kept, Hugh put his affairs at the priory in order and then without saying a word went quietly off to La Grande Chartreuse. He was welcomed joyfully and with the greatest kindness.

For sixteen years did Saint Hugh live at La Grande Chartreuse; the first ten in the uninterrupted solitude his soul desired. Prayer is the chief business: common prayer in the church, private prayer in the quiet of the hermit's cell. What finer life could Hugh, a man of prayer and of study, desire than this steady progress through the years?

With prayer went the training in obedience, poverty and chastity. La Grande Chartreuse trained men to be of strong character, of resolute will. The practice of obedience developed the talent to rule and command the obedience of others. In Hugh the daily exercise in humility produced a courage so robust and fearless that no room was left for subservience to the princes of this world.

The devil has his own methods for projecting evil, and unabashed by failure, aims to reduce the solitary to the mortifying humiliation of confessing partial surrender. In the case of Hugh the Carthusian the devil had no success at all. The torture of an imagination that day and night prompted the flesh to revolt, inviting a rush of wild rebellious feelings, threatening destruction to the health of the soul, had to be endured. Hugh did endure it; but held out stubbornly against any consent of the will to the pictures presented in the mind; refused flatly any recognition of the suggestions that surged so furiously within. They were not his, these vile intrusions of the devil; they did not belong to him, these loathsome pictures of the obscene. He would never receive them or own them. Hugh unflinching held to his course, answering temptation with prayer.

For Hugh came the end of the life of contemplation, of detachment from the world, the life of prayer and study he had set his heart upon. The business of the monastery was in his hands; the employment of servants on the monastery lands; the reception of visitors the procurator was guest master and would himself take guests to their appointed quarters.

Obedience does not come readily or easily to men like the twelfth-century lay brothers; but they rallied to Hugh, the new procurator. They said of him that he brought peace to their souls. Rare characters these lay brothers. Of iron will and gentleness of heart they walked with God and were without fear of man.

Hugh, later, by the order of the bishop of Grenoble became the prior of Witham. Hugh was now forty and prior of Witham, where as yet no priory stood, where everything remained to be done. He at once faced the situation and set about the work. The years of ordered discipline, the fine training in obedience left no room for fretful indulgence in regret or feeling of disappointment ; pride could not whisper a protest against the personal discomfiture, nor self-pity allow a sense of irritation at the depressing environment; for pride in Hugh, the Carthusian, there was none, and of self-pity he was ignorant. Banished from La Grande Chartreuse to this desolate spot in Somerset, the prior of Witham neither hesitated nor looked back.

Far too wise to seek the burden of responsibility shrinking in distress of mind every time it was forced upon him Hugh, once the burden was upon him, would never surrender the responsibility until authority sanctioned release. Good work prospered at Witham, the monastery walls rose steadily. The Carthusian life of prayer deepened with the years. In the few short hours given to sleep by the prior it was said by those who had business to come near him that they often heard him murmur Amen, amen while he slept, as though he were still at prayer.

Five years did Hugh rule Witham charterhouse as prior. The monastery was not completed when he was called to be bishop of Lincoln, but the greater part was built, and of stone that it might endure. He warned the monks against wooden structures that were liable to catch fire. And now, Anno Domini 1186, king Henry knew the man he must have for bishop of Lincoln his friend Dom Hugh, the Carthusian prior of Witham. Every year since the coming of Hugh to England the regard and affection of the king for his Carthusian friend had increased. On a rough crossing from Normandy to England when it seemed that the king and all his ships might be lost Henry had called on the mercy of God to heed the prayers of 'my Carthusian Hugh' in his cell at Witham or chanting the divine office with his brethren, and had come safely to land.

A hermit to rule! Dreadful thought! How could a monk trained to solitude manage the vast diocese of Lincoln? The canons were neither irreligious nor worldly beyond their fellows, but their hearts were dismayed and they trembled in mind at the prospect of this recluse, an austere Carthusian, a stranger to all their ways, coming into their midst. In the end a unanimous vote was given by the canons for the prior of Witham and messengers from the canons were sent to the priory with letters from the king and the archbishop announcing the result of the election, and calling on Hugh to present himself at court in order that a date might be fixed for consecration to the see of Lincoln.

On Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, 1186, was Saint Hugh consecrated, in the chapel of Saint Catherine in Westminster Abbey. All the vestments and ornaments that it was necessary for the bishop to put on, from the miter on his head to the sandals that covered his feet, were at Hugh's request of the simplest and plainest material.

Saint Hugh could command both respect and affection. His clergy loved him and revered him. His displeasure frightened people. Rarely was the bishop moved to anger, but when he saw one of his lay servants ill-treating a child the wrath of Saint Hugh exploded and he soundly cuffed that offending servant. Over and over again he had made it known to his attendants that he would not have children harshly treated or roughly handled, and since neither rebuke nor reprimand were effective, Saint Hugh came down heavily on the man who dared misuse one of God's little ones. In the diocese of Lincoln and in his own cathedral the bishop faced the fury of the anti-Jewish mob; in God's name he demanded an end to the wickedness, and would not be denied. Saint Hugh was most careful that the business of his court should be in every way worthily conducted; since that business was the administration of justice, the justice of God. Heavily the responsibilities of office bore upon him; and the cares and anxieties of his bishopric were at times so oppressive that more than once Saint Hugh begged the pope to let him return to the peace of the Carthusian cloister, to resign his See as other Carthusian bishops had been allowed to do. The Carthusian training and discipline prevailed. Modified the rule must be; the spirit of the sons of Saint Bruno was unquenched in the years when Hugh was bishop of Lincoln. There was no internal relaxation in the crowded hours. In his spare diet which required total abstinence from flesh-meat the only concession was an additional ration of fish. To others the bishop's hospitality supplied a generous table at all times. The hair shirt was retained, the white habit of the order was worn save when occasion demanded the official and ceremonial vestments. The bishop clung with devotion to the daily singing of the divine office.

Becoming ill, Saint Hugh, with fast unbroken, went to church at Dover and there said Mass. It was the last time he was to celebrate the holy mysteries, to offer the holy sacrifice. For two months more the flame of life flickered.

Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, was the anniversary of his consecration as a bishop and Saint Hugh decided that he must now receive the viaticum and be anointed with the oil of the sick. So after making a general confession of all his sins from boyhood the holy Eucharist was brought to him. St Hugh rose up from bed and knelt down to adore his Lord. The sacred Host was placed upon his lips. A short time after he was anointed. Strengthened by the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, Saint Hugh said cheerfully to his attendants: 'Physicians and diseases may now do their worst with me, for I care little for either of them. God Himself has come to me; I trusted to Him and I have received Him. I will hold Him and cleave to Him for ever.'

The clergy were saying Compline when the change in the bishop's countenance told them that the end was near. Saint Hugh made a sign and very tenderly his chaplains lifted the worn-out body and placed it on the ashes above the bare ground. Peacefully and quietly the bishop gave up his soul to God. It was just when they had reached Nunc Dimittis servum tuum Domine that he died, Thursday, November 16, A.D. 1200.

16 November 2010

Attend to a Continual and Internal Conversation

Seek to obtain by prayer whatever is necessary for you, saying: I fly unto You for help; teach me to do Your will, because You are my God. Do not leave me O my God, and do not depart from me; neither despise me Who are the God of my salvation. Incline Yourself to help me, O Lord, the God of my safety. Behold, I desire to return unto You, draw me after You, and never allow me again to be to be separated or withdrawn from You.

Hearken now to which I gave in commandment to one of My servants long ago, and endeavour also to fulfil it. I said unto him:

Use ever silence in thy tongue,
And have compunction in thy mind;
Be humble, courteous, meek, and mild,
If thou in Me wilt comfort find.

The same words in the same form do I speak unto you, having made it in the true measure of a verse, although you shall have less need of a measure to direct you when you come to this perfection. But I do not now deliver it unto you, as framed in measure to please your ears, but as a sovereign medicine to cure your soul. I have comprehended all those things which are necessary for you, briefly in this verse, that you may more easily retain them in your memory, and more often meditate upon them in your mind. For My will is, that you should altogether apply your endeavour to have a holy compunction for your sins, and that leaving all other business aside, you should only attend to a continual and internal conversation, and remaining weaned from all other pleasures, to be recollected into your own self, and so to continue always free from any distraction or perturbation whatsoever. Be silent in your tongue, and pure from filthiness in your heart. Be humble and meek, and remember to show yourself both courteous and gentle in all your behaviour.

~ Alloquia Iesu Christi ad Animam Fidelem, by Lanspergius ~

15 November 2010

Come to Me!

Prayer is the duty of every moment. ‘We ought always to pray’, said our Lord (Saint Luke 18:1). And what He said, He did: therein lay His great power. Action always accompanied His words, and corresponded with them.

We must pray always in order to be on our guard (cf. Saint Matthew 26:41). Our life both of body and soul, our natural and supernatural life, is like a fragile flower. We live surrounded by enemies. Ever since man rejected the light that was meant to show him the way (cf. Saint John 1:5), everything has become for us an obstacle and a danger: we live in the shadow of death (cf. Saint Luke 1.79 & Ps. 106.10).

Instead of pointing to the Creator and leading us to Him, things show only themselves, with the result that we stop at them. The devil, to whom we stupidly gave them when we gave him ourselves, speaks to us through their many voices; his shadow darkens their transparence. Beyond their attractive forms we no longer seek the beauty they reflect, but merely the pleasure and satisfaction they are able to offer us.

But the enemy is not only at our door, he is even more within us. And he is at our door, because he is within us. It is we who have invited him in. In turning towards him, we have turned the whole universe away from God. This is why the world is against us. It is inimical, hostile to us, and not without reason. Through the world and by it, we have let war loose within ourselves and in everything. This is only what one would expect, but it is terrible all the same.

What a profound definition of peace is Saint Augustine's! Above all, in these days, when the world is convulsed to its center, when men and things serve only to kill and destroy, how necessary it is to ponder well these words, the very sound of which is full of the calm they express: Peace is the tranquility of order. Order means that everything is in its proper place. God made men superior to all things (cf. Genesis 2.15), and all things turned to God as to their Source, to receive from Him their being moment by moment, and to thank Him and bless Him. That was the way God acted, and this is His order and His peace. It was this that fundamentally constituted the terrestrial Paradise, and will one day be the heavenly Paradise for those who have understood and taken up again this attitude (Genesis 3 passim).

I remember seeing once a frightened and hunted animal that had lost its way. It rushed through an open gate that led into a garden full of flowers, with what disastrous results can be imagined. This is an image, though a very imperfect one, of a soul when it allows the wild beast of the world to enter into it, ever since our first parents turned away from God and listened to the voice of the tempter. As a consequence, we live in a country occupied by the enemy, and it is our business to drive him out of it; to turn away from him and turn back to God, and so secure our liberty. And we have to do this without any armed or organized forces; with our faculties in disorder, our strength impaired, and surrounded by enemies on all sides or by those who are indifferent to our lot.

No greater helplessness could be imagined, had we not God. And that is why prayer is so necessary, and why our Lord had to tell us so insistently to pray, and to pray always. Hence, too, His saying which can seem so overwhelming: ‘Without Me, you can do nothing’ (Saint John 15.5), as well as His invitation so consoling and comforting: ‘Come to me’ (Saint Matthew 11.28).

Prayer is the soul's response to that invitation. It comes; it makes known its wretchedness, it pleads for help, for light for the mind and strength for the will. It asks for grace to bring its passions under the control of its higher will, and to submit that will to God, Who is order and peace. And God says to the soul: I am and always will be a Father: I love you and await your coming – Come!

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

13 November 2010

A Loving Immersion into God

Today in Italy for the Carthusian Order is the feast of the Dedication of the Monastery Church of Serra San Bruno. At Matins the Gospel of Saint Luke (19:1-10) was proclaimed followed by a reflection from the fourteenth-century mystic, John Ruusbroec. Here is that reflection:

Usually one who has attained perfection of life and offers his entire life and all his activities to the praise and glory of God, directing his mind to God and loving Him above all things, will often be moved by the desire to see, to know, and to experience Who this Bridegroom is, this Christ Who for his sake became a human Being and laboured in love unto death, Who has forgiven him his sins and driven away the devil, Who has given him Himself and His grace and left him His sacraments, and Who has promised him His Kingdom and Himself as his eternal reward, and given bodily sustenance, interior consolation and sweetness, and countless other gifts according to each person’s need. When such a person considers all this, he is moved by an extremely strong desire to see and to know Christ his Bridegroom as He is in himself, for although he knows Christ in His works, this is not enough. He must therefore do as the publican Zacchaeus did when he desired to see Jesus as He was (cf. Saint Luke 19:1-10).

He must run ahead of the crowd, that is, all the multiplicity of the created order, since this makes a person short of stature, and so, unable to see God. He must then climb the tree of faith, which grows downward from above, since its roots are in the Godhead. This tree has twelve branches, which are the twelve articles of the Creed. The lowest of these speak of God’s Humanity and of those things which concern the salvation of our body and soul. The highest branches of this tree speak of the Godhead – of the Trinity of Persons and of the unity of the divine nature. A person must cling to this unity in the highest part of the tree, for it is there that Christ is to pass by with all His gifts. Here comes Jesus, Who sees this person and speaks to him in the light of glory, saying that according to His Divinity He is Infinite, incomprehensible inaccessible, and fathomless, transcending all created light and every finite concept.

This is the highest knowledge of God that a person can acquire in the active life, namely, that he acknowledge in the light of faith that God is incomprehensible and unknowable. In this light Christ says to this person’s desire, ‘Come down quickly, for I must stay at your house today’ (Saint Luke 19:5). This quick descent is nothing other than a desirous and loving immersion into the abyss of the Godhead, where no understanding which requires created light can reach. But where understanding remains without, desire and love enter within. When the soul thus inclines towards God with love and intent above all that it understands, then it abides in God and God in it.

When a soul ascends with desire above the multiplicity of the created order, above the activity of the senses and above all natural light, then it meets Christ in the light of faith; it becomes enlightened and confesses that God is unknowable and incomprehensible. When the soul inclines with desire toward this incomprehensible God, then it meets Christ and is filled with His gifts. When it loves and is at rest above all gifts, above itself, and above all creatures, then it abides in God and God in it. If you possess righteousness in charity, if you have laid down humility as a foundation, and built upon it a dwelling, namely, the virtues which here have been described, and if you have met Christ through faith and through directing your mind and your love to Him, then you abide in God and God in you.

12 November 2010

God Seeks Our Love Because of Our Unworthiness

Here’s more from the vault of Carthusian reflections. While it is seldom a topic of external conversation, at least interiorly the thought has crossed many hearts and minds as to the extent of sacrifice required to grow in intimacy with God, as well as how much suffering will our Lord permit in our life if we truly desire to follow in His Footsteps. For those who set aside time for God every day, such thoughts can become a daily Agony in the Garden. Our human weakness has many questions about the spiritual life, all stemming from our inability to surrender completely and unconditionally. This causes our life with God to lack an ‘ideal’, an inability to conceive a union that is very beautiful. Hope you enjoy these few paragraphs!

At last, I have found my ideal. Now I know where I want to go, and that I shall arrive at my goal. Hitherto, I have groped my way in the darkness; the difficulties I have encountered have wearied and discouraged me. Now I know, and henceforth nothing will hold me back. I will not rest until I have found God in the innermost depths of my heart: ‘I have found Him Who my soul loves; I held Him and I will not let Him go’ (Canticles 3:4). Love will give me wings, for ‘love is as strong as death’ (Canticles 8:6). Difficulties will no longer matter, for ‘I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13).

If I glance over my past life and am truly sincere with myself, I will have to admit that so far my spiritual life has lacked an ideal, and that is the real reason I have made so little progress. I have failed to understand how deeply God loves and seeks souls – souls that will give themselves to Him so that He may give Himself to them. The degree of intimacy to which our Lord calls us will be achieved in the measure of the generosity of our response to grace. His love is without measure, and longs to give itself completely to souls. But souls are afraid, because of the consequence of that intimacy which calls for great sacrifices on our part.

In future, however, I shall be honest with myself. On the one hand, I know that God wants to take full and entire possession of my soul and that He has predestined me to be ‘conformable to the Image of His Son’ (Romans 8:29). He wants me to be His son by adoption. On the other hand, I know also that my unworthiness is no obstacle to His love. Who, indeed, could deem himself worthy? ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves’ (1 Saint John 1:8).

But there is much more than this. It is not in spite of our unworthiness that God seeks our love, but because of it: that He may reveal His glory in us. The more unworthy the material, the more is glory reflected on an artist who fashions a masterpiece out of it. It is this truth that our Lord tried to bring home to men in the parables of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep. There is more joy in heaven, we are told, over one sinner doing penance than over all the just (cf. Saint Luke 15:7). If, then, I have made up my mind to persevere in my ideal, I must be continually acknowledging that, on the one hand, I am nothing and can do nothing of myself, but that, on the other hand, God is all: that He can do all things and wants to do all in me, so that I can make a complete oblation of my life to Him.

09 November 2010

The Interior Temple

On this feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, for a portion of the Lessons proclaimed at Matins, the Carthusians listened to an excerpt from ‘The Life in Christ’ by the fourteenth-century Byzantine writer, Nicholas Cabasilas. Contained in these writings are instructions concerning the house of prayer not built by human hands, that is, the soul of man. It is a reflection on the Gospel story of Jesus casting out those who bought and sold in the Temple.

Virtuous men keep prompt vigilance against the roots of evil and resist it from the outset; guarding their heart for God alone, dedicating it to Him as a temple, a remembrance of God. They know, in fact, that this sacred place should not be exposed to folly. They know that nothing equals the sacred soul that is consecrated to God. It must be very impenetrable to those who sell and buy, and be free from hawkers and moneychangers. For him who prays, this house of prayer must be free from turmoil. Truthfully, the term ‘house of prayer’ was not always present in the temple of Jerusalem where at times no one was praying. Instead, the expression ‘house of prayer’ well suits Christians, who according to the prescription of Saint Paul (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), must be constantly devoted to union with God through constant prayer.

Let us consider this further: The Saviour who repelled other offences by means of words in one case employed both His Tongue and His indignation, Hand and whip alike, giving us occasion to consider how important He regards this matter. It was not so much because He wished to honour that Temple that He did these things, since He foresaw that it would be razed to the ground; rather He did this because He wanted to show how much He desires that each one of the faithful with whom He promised to abide should be freed from anxieties and cares, and at the same time how vehement was His passion and how great the need for constancy and sober reason. Above all, it is the Saviour Himself Who takes the matter in hand. Unless we receive Him within ourselves it is impossible to cast out that which disturbs. It was for these reasons that the Mosaic Law decreed that sacrilege was punishable by death and that the Holy of Holies had to have a veil. Uzzah died because he wanted to support with his unhallowed hand the tottering Ark (cf. 2 Samuel 6:6-7); and Uzziah acquired leprosy from the holy things (cf. 2 Chronicles 26: 16, 19). There are many such things which require that the baptised soul, like a pure and sacred precinct, should be inviolate for the true God. It is important, therefore, that those who live in Christ should keep the soul uncorrupted by worldly cares. Even if something enters the mind which seems to be important, it should not turn aside its reasoning, just as Peter, when he heard the Saviour’s call, paid no heed at all to the things which he had in hand. In fact, anyone who lives in Christ, hears a continuous and constant call by the grace infused from the sacraments.

The grace which dwells in the believer, as Saint Paul teaches, is the Spirit of the Son of God crying in our hearts, ‘Abba! Father’! (Galatians 4:6). In this way they despise all things in order that they may always be able to follow Christ, for as it says, ‘it is not good to forsake the Word of God and to serve tables’ (Acts 6:2). They do this first because for them nothing comes before God, and second, because they expect to find all other things with Him, since He is the dispenser of all good things. Indeed those who first seek the Kingdom of God have a promise from Him Who cannot deceive that all other things will follow (cf. Saint Matthew 6:33). For these reasons the Saviour withdraws from all earthly cares those who cleave to Him. He does not want them to weary themselves with anxiety for the things He has already taken care of for them. If, then, it is harmful to be anxious about these things, what shall we say about being distressed over them? This not only distracts the soul from the remembrance of God, but it also completely obscures the intellect.

08 November 2010

Praise of the Just is Blame for the Unjust

It is a long trial he asks who asks a long life. For the life of man upon earth is a trial. By this alone are you just, that you acknowledge and proclaim you should be damned on account of your sins. If you say you are just, you are a liar (cf. 1 Saint John 2:4), and are condemned by the Lord, the Truth, as being contrary to Him. Say that you are a sinner, so that speaking the truth you may agree with the Lord, the Truth, you who need liberation (cf. Saint John 8:32).

You please yourself because you do not understand that you have nothing good from yourself. From yourself you have nothing but evil. Therefore you owe no thanks to yourself. All evil comes to you from yourself. And so you owe yourself great punishment as penalty. Be such a man as may be praised. For no one but a good man is truly praised (cf. Saint Matthew 19:10). And good he is not, who so wishes to be praised. Therefore he is not praised. When you are charming to your praiser, it is not really to your praiser that you are charming, for it is no longer you who are being praised. So vain are you. When one says: ‘How good, how just he is’, the one who is such is praised, not you who are not such. Rather, you are no little blamed, so bad and so unjust are you. For the praise of the just is blame for the unjust. Therefore blame for you, an unjust man. When, therefore, you applaud the just man's praiser, you are applauding your truest blamer, because you are unjust. For he is not just who thinks himself just. Not even if he be an infant of one day (cf. Job 14:5).

He who rejoices in praise loses the praise. If you love praise, love not the praises meant for a saint; that is, if you wish praise, wish not to be praised. For he cannot truly be praised who wishes praise. He receives praise whose good qualities are vaunted. But he who wishes to be praised is not only void of good, but is moreover full of great and diabolical evil, that is, arrogance. Hence he is not praised. The just man, on the contrary, is always praised, nor is there any blaming him. Blame really is a reproach for evils. But what the just man has not, for it he cannot be reproached. Hence he cannot be blamed. Without exception, all praise of the just is blame for the unjust, and all blame of the wicked is for the just true praise. When someone is praised for good, it profits not the one praised but the praiser.

~ Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse ~

06 November 2010

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, 2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
As we're just a few weeks away from the start of the Advent Season this Reading, although written before the birth of Christ, contains Christian ideals: namely, being a disciple of the Lord at all costs and the belief in the resurrection. Hopefully none of us will ever be put to death because of our faith but even putting aside the fact that these men were about to be martyred, this Reading offers a lesson about how to become instruments of the Almighty by abandoning our ways and embracing His ways. As these men express a belief in being raised from the dead and living forever, they probably have no idea that God has used them to prophesy the coming of Christ. Most likely they are expecting their resurrection to come from the workings of the One Creator God and are clueless to the fact that they are prophesying about what will later be revealed as the Triune God; and the second Person of the Triune God would reveal Himself through the Incarnation and as Man He would destroy death forever; and through Him is the hope of resurrection for all. It is only those who have lived after Christ's Resurrection and those of us who are currently living our earthly existence that can fully appreciate the magnitude of the statements made by these men in this Reading. God's words today can still be heard through the voice of others. Has anyone ever said anything to you that was an answer to a prayer? Has anyone ever been at the right place and the right time whose presence turned your tough situation into a pleasant memory? Have you ever said anything to someone which turned out to be an answer to their prayer? Chances are the answer is yes to all three questions even if you don't recall or were not apprised by the other party that you were an answer to their prayer. It's easy to get caught up in our busy lives and completely miss the workings of God. But these are the kinds of things that God does through us when we simply say yes to Him. Occasionally, spoken words seem to be insignificant for the moment; and then somewhere down the road those words have extraordinary relevance. Frequently reflecting on the Power within us can all the more enrich our spiritual life. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet a prophet? If so, look in a mirror or look at the person sitting next to you at Mass.

Second Reading, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
The human heart bears a tremendous burden. Sacred Scripture tells us that God judges by the heart alone (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). In this Reading, Saint Paul's prayer for us is that our Lord will encourage our hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. In the oldest Catholic translation of Scripture in English, the Douay-Rheims version, the word ‘heart’ or a derivative of it appears there 1,067 times. What an interesting piece of apparatus God has given us in the human heart! It is capable of expressing a mixed bag of emotions. Quite often the battle between good and evil takes place within our own hearts. The human heart has more to it than we can fully comprehend; and because of this its importance can never be underestimated. Why else would God want permission from us to take complete possession of it? When God holds our hearts in the Palm of His Hand so much good can come from it - the impossible becomes very possible. But when the door of the heart is slammed shut, leaving God on the outside, it is capable of concocting unspeakable evils. Prejudices, dislikes, pure hatred and harbouring anger are negative forces that could dwell within our hearts because in our human weakness we find it very difficult to let our Lord be its Master. There is always that part of us that desires to be our own boss. And even when we attempt to let God take charge, the serpent is always there whispering in our ears that what our Lord promises simply isn't true. Cultivating a humble heart will breed sympathy and understanding for one another's weaknesses. Prayer is the best defence against the one who is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (cf. 1 Saint Peter 5:8). May we continue to pray for a complete conversion of our hearts: ‘Iesu, mitis et humilis Corde, fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum’ – (Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine).

Gospel, Luke 20:27-38
It's quite obvious that the Sadducees are attempting to make a complete mockery of Jesus. They are asking Him to teach how multiple marriages will fare in the resurrected state even though the Sadducees have no belief in a resurrection. As Christians, we are able to look beyond the horizons of earthly existence and know perfection is waiting for us even though the meaning of perfection in an eternal state is indecipherable: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard: neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those that love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). What Jesus makes clear, though, is that conjugal love will not exist in the resurrected life. In heaven we will find out and perhaps be downright shocked by how limited and conditional is the love we offer in this world. Married love, creating a new family, love for our children and love for parents is just about the fullest extent of love that human beings can currently comprehend. Does anyone really understand the kind of love that would make Love Himself die to save all of humanity -- past, present, and future? In the sacred bond of married life, considering the elimination of conjugal love in the afterlife right now might seem disappointing because we don't understand how unflawed and beautiful Love is in heaven which is also coupled with an equal inexplicability of how limited the love is we currently share. Our faith and our hope can imaginatively transport us to something better but our imaginations cannot conjure up the infinite reality of God's love. In heaven, our royal priesthood will be exercised in unmarred proficiency as we offer worship, praise and adoration to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity. In Saint John's Gospel Jesus says: ‘The Father and I are One’ (Saint John 10:30). It is this transforming union of God and humanity that so few experience in the here and now but most assuredly all who love God will experience in the hereafter.

05 November 2010


It is our opinion that the imagination should be used only when it is strictly necessary; for it is a purely human function and its use is not therefore substantially prayer. This alone is one reason why it should be kept within bounds.

Any purely human faculty, under the influence of grace, can be raised and used for a supernatural end; but the fact remains that the imagination, like all sense activity, is quickly exhausted and soon tires of its object. To form and keep before one’s mind imaginary pictures is very fatiguing, and it is impossible to keep it up for long. We must, therefore, avoid allowing it to play an important or essential part in our prayer. If we are to obey the Gospel command, our prayer must be simple and continuous.

Nor for that matter can the imagination touch supernatural truths, which can only be apprehended by pure faith. All it can do is to play with the shadows of these realities, which are invisible and can only be the object of the theological virtues. Does that mean that we must banish all images from our prayer? That is not possible. But we do suggest that they should be resorted to only when necessary and not otherwise.

If we are thinking of meditating on the Passion of Our Lord, it is as present in our souls that we must first think of Him. Then, with the help of a Crucifix for example, we may, by using our imagination, dwell on all He suffered for us upon the Cross. But all the time we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus is in our heart. This will not in any way affect the ardour or strength of our feelings of compassion for Our Lord. On the contrary, it is pure faith which gives these feelings their reality and depth; which assures us that just as our sins really made Our Lord suffer in His Passion, so our acts of love have really consoled Him. What an encouragement for a fervent soul to know that it can now, by its love, console Jesus alone in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. And this is not just imagination: it is the sublime reality of faith.

~ Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion ~

04 November 2010

The God-Love That Reveals Himself in Christ Fascinated Her

Dear readers of Secret Harbour, I have received some emails this morning from fellow readers informing me that our Holy Father’s Wednesday General Audience yesterday was devoted to a Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt. Many thanks to those who emailed me about this! Here’s what Pope Benedict had to say:

(Translation by ZENIT)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With Marguerite d'Oingt, of whom I would like to speak to you today, we are introduced to Carthusian spirituality, which is inspired in the evangelical synthesis lived and proposed by Saint Bruno. We do not know her date of birth, although some place it around 1240. Marguerite came from a powerful family of the old nobility of Lyonnais, the Oingt. We know that her mother was also called Marguerite, that she had two brothers -- Giscard and Louis -- and three sisters: Catherine, Elizabeth and Agnes. The latter followed her to the Carthusian monastery, succeeding her as prioress.

We have no information on her childhood, but through her writings we can intuit that she spent it peacefully, in an affectionate family environment. In fact, to express God's unbounded love, she valued images linked to the family, with particular reference to the figures of the father and mother. In one of her meditations she prays thus: ‘Very sweet Lord, when I think of the special graces that You have given me by Your solicitude: first of all, how You took care of me since my childhood, and how You removed me from danger and called me to dedicate myself to Your holy service, and how You provided everything that was necessary for me to eat, drink, dress and wear, and You did so in such a way that I had no occasion to think of these things but of your great mercy’ (Marguerite d'Oingt, Scritti Spirituali, Meditazione V, 100, Cinisello Balsamo, 1997, p. 74).

We always intuit in her meditations that she entered the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins in response to the Lord's call, leaving everything behind and accepting the severe Carthusian Rule, to belong totally to the Lord, to be with Him always. She wrote: ‘Sweet Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of You; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more they are possessed the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but You know, sweet Lord, that if I possessed thousands of worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for Your love; and even if You gave me everything that you possess in heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had You, because You are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of You’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 32, p. 59).

We also have little data on her life in the Carthusian monastery. We know that in 1288 she became its fourth prioress, a post she kept until her death, which took place on 11 February 1310. From her writings, however, we do not deduce particular turns in her spiritual itinerary. She conceives the entirety of life as a journey of purification up to full configuration with Christ. He is the book that is written, which daily influences her heart and life, in particular his saving Passion. In the work ‘Speculum’, referring to herself in the third person, Marguerite stresses that by the Lord's grace ‘she had engraved in her heart the holy life that Jesus Christ, God led on earth, His good examples and His good doctrine. She had placed the sweet Jesus Christ so well in her heart, that it even seemed to her that He was present and that He had a closed book in His Hand, to instruct her’ (ibid., I, 2-3, p. 81). ‘In this book she found written the life that Jesus Christ led on earth, from His birth to His ascension into heaven’ (ibid., I, 12, p. 83). Every day, beginning in the morning, Marguerite dedicated herself to the study of this book. And, when she had looked at it well, she began to read the book in her own conscience, which showed the falsehoods and lies of her own life (cf. ibid., I, 6-7, p. 82); she wrote about herself to help others and to fix more deeply in her heart the grace of the presence of God, that is, to make her life every day marked by confrontation with the words and actions of Jesus, with the Book of His life. And she did this so that Christ's life would be imprinted in her soul in a stable and profound way, until she was able to see the Book in her interior, that is, until contemplating the mystery of God Trinity (cf. Ibid., II, 14-22; III, 23-40, p. 84-90).

Through her writings, Marguerite gives us some traces of her spirituality, enabling us to understand some features of her personality and of her gifts of governance. She was a very learned woman; she usually wrote in Latin, the language of the erudite, but she also wrote in Provençal French, and this too is a rarity: thus her writings are the first of those known to be written in that language. She lived a life rich in mystical experiences, described with simplicity, allowing one to intuit the ineffable mystery of God, stressing the limits of the mind to apprehend it and the inadequacy of the human language to express it. She had a lineal personality, simple, open, of gentle affectivity, great balance and acute discernment, able to enter into the depth of the human spirit, discovering its limits, its ambiguities, but also its aspirations, the soul's tensions toward God. She showed outstanding aptitude for governance, combining her profound mystical spiritual life with service to her sisters and to the community. Significant in this connection is a passage of a letter to her father. She wrote: ‘My sweet father, I let you know that I am very occupied because of the needs of our house, so that it is not possible for me to apply my spirit to good thoughts; in fact, I have so much to do I do not know which way to turn. We have not gathered wheat in the seventh month of the year and our vineyards were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, our church is in such poor conditions that we are obliged to reconstruct it in part’ (ibid., Lettere, III, 14, p. 127).

A Carthusian nun thus describes the figure of Marguerite: ‘Revealed through her work is a fascinating personality, of lively intelligence, oriented to speculation and at the same time favoured by mystical graces: in a word, a holy and wise woman who is able to express with a certain humour an affectivity altogether spiritual’ (Una Monaca Certosina, Certosine, in Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, Rome, 1975, col. 777). In the dynamism of mystical life, Marguerite values the experience of natural affections, purified by grace, as privileged means to understand more profoundly and to second divine action with greater alacrity and ardour. The reason lies in the fact that the human person is created in the Image of God, and because of this is called to build with God a wonderful history of love, allowing Himself to be totally involved in His initiative.

The God-Trinity, the God-Love that reveals Himself in Christ fascinated her, and Marguerite lived a relationship of profound love for the Lord and, in contrast, sees human ingratitude to the point of vileness, to the paradox of the Cross. She says that the Cross of Christ is similar to giving birth. Jesus' pain is compared with that of a mother. She wrote: ‘The mother who carried me in her womb suffered greatly in giving birth to me, during a day or a night, but you, most sweet Lord, were tormented for me not one night or one day, but for more than 30 years!. How bitterly You suffered because of me during your whole life! And when the moment of birth arrived, Your work was so painful that Your holy Sweat became as drops of Blood, which were shed over all Your body to the ground’ (ibid., Meditazione I, 33, p. 59). Evoking the accounts of the Passion, Marguerite contemplated these sorrows with profound compassion. She said: ‘You were placed on the hard bed of the Cross, so that you could not move or turn or wave Your Limbs as a man usually does when suffering great pain, because You were completely stretched and You were pierced with the nails . . . and . . . all Your Muscles and Veins were lacerated. But all these pains . . . were still not sufficient for You, so much so that You desired that Your Side be pierced so cruelly by the lance that Your docile Body should be totally ploughed and torn and Your Blood spurted with such violence that it formed a long path, almost as if it were a current’. Referring to Mary, she said: It was no wonder that the sword that destroyed Your Body also penetrated the heart of your glorious Mother who so wanted to support you . . . because Your love was higher than all other loves’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 36-39.42, p. 60f).

Dear friends, Marguerite d'Oingt invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and of His Mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence. From contemplation of Christ's love for us are born the strength and joy to respond with the same love, placing our life at the service of God and of others. With Marguerite we also say: ‘Sweet Lord, all that You did, for love of me and of the whole human race, leads me to love You, but the remembrance of Your most holy Passion gives unequalled vigour to my power of affection to love You. That is why it seems to me that . . . I have found what I so much desired: not to love anything other than You or in You or for love of You’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 46, p. 62).

At first glance this figure of a medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life, we see that it also affects us and that it would also be the essential aspect of our own existence.

We have heard that Marguerite considered the Lord as a book, she fixed her gaze on the Lord, she considered Him a mirror in which her own conscience also appeared. And from this mirror light entered her soul: She allowed the Word to come in, the life of Christ in her own being and thus she was transformed; her conscience was enlightened, she found criteria, light and was cleansed. It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, His strength and His love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path. Therefore, let us follow holy Marguerite in this look toward Jesus. Let us read the book of His life, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened and cleansed, to learn the true life. Thank you.

02 November 2010

What Must Be Done

In the Carthusian Order, the Office of the Dead is not only prayed on the Commemoration of All Souls, 2 November, which is today, but also on 13 November, which is when the Order prays for all their dearly departed monks or nuns, their families and relatives. Along with the daily praying of the Canonical Office, and the daily offering of the Office of Our Lady, the Office of the Dead is prayed weekly by the Carthusian Fathers in the solitude of their cells, praying for all the departed. On 2 and 13 November and when a member of their monastic community dies, however, the Office of the Dead is prayed in choir in the church. When a relative or family member of a monk or nun dies, the entire community prays Vespers of the Dead for the whole week in the solitude of the cell. The Carthusian Office of the Dead is known as the Agenda which translates as, “what must be done.”

Death in the Carthusian Order maintains the same hiddenness as did life on earth. When a monk or nun dies, he or she is buried on the grounds of the monastery. The grave is marked by a simple wooden cross in the ground without the name of the monk or nun buried there, maintaining their anonymity.

01 November 2010

The Highest Good

On this Solemnity of All Saints the Carthusians at Matins listened to a piece from Saint Anselm's Proslogion. We learn more about the saints and how to be a saint from this Discourse. This particular excerpt has several themes to ponder. First, God is wholly God forever. He is the Supreme Good. In other words, the saints are saints because of God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the saints in heaven receive all goods because they love the one Good, Who is every good. Third, Saint Anselm challenges us to consider our own longings, our own desires; and then he explains that the fulfillment of those desires are to be found in heaven, where the saints dwell. Complete fulfillment or even a partial fulfillment, however, would be without joy, if it weren’t for God, the Source of all joy. Jesus promised a joy that is complete. The key to entering wholly into that joy, as Saint Anselm continues, is to rejoice, a great challenge for us in this highly secularized culture we live in. Finally, as if to expose our own human weaknesses while encouraging us to hand them over to God that He may extract good from them, Saint Anselm demonstrates his impatience in receiving the fulfillment of joy, by praying for his advancement in joy day after day. As mentioned at the start, the saints are saints because of God; and Saint Anselm shows us that becoming a saint begins here and now, by laying up treasures in heaven, that our hearts may be there as well (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

You alone, Lord, You are Who You are, and You are the One Who is. Things that obey the law of change, one thing in the whole and another in the parts, is not altogether what it is. And what begins from non-existence, and can be conceived not to exist, and unless it subsists through something else, returns to non-existence; and what has a past existence, which is no longer, or a future existence, which is not yet, this does not properly and absolutely exist. But You, O Lord, You are what You are because whatever You are at any time, or in any way, You are as a whole and forever. In fact, You are He Who You are, properly and simply; for You have neither a past existence nor a future, but only a present existence; nor can You be conceived as at any time non-existent. But You, O Lord, are Life, and Light, and Wisdom, and Blessedness. And yet You are only One Supreme Good; You are all-sufficient to Yourself, and do not need anything; and You are He Whom all things need for their existence and wellbeing. This Good is You, God the Father; this is Your Word, Your Son. In fact, the Word by which You do express Yourself, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are. Your Word is truthful, as You are truthful, hence, it is Truth itself, just as You are, no other truth than You. And You are of so simple a nature, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are.

This highest good is the one love unique and common to You and to Your Son, that is, the Holy Spirit proceeding from both. For this love is not unequal to You or to Your Son; seeing that You do love Yourself and Him, and He, You and Himself, to the whole extent of Your Being and His. The Holy Spirit cannot differ from You, Father, or from Your Son, since He is the equal of both. Since He is Supreme Simplicity, He can only proceed from the Father and the Son. But what each is, separately, this is the whole Trinity at once, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; seeing that each separately is none other than the supremely simple Unity, and the supremely unitary Simplicity which can neither be multiplied nor varied. Moreover, there is a single necessary Being. Now, this is that single, necessary Being, in which is every good, and a single entire Good, and the only Good. Now, my soul, arise and lift up all your understanding, and conceive, so far as you can, of what character and how great is that Good!

If individual goods are delectable, conceive in earnestness how delectable is that Good which contains the pleasantness of all goods. It is a joy, however, very different from what we have experienced in created objects, as different as the Creator from the creature. If the created life is good, how good is the creative life! If the salvation given is delightful, how delightful is the Salvation which has given all salvation! If wisdom in the knowledge of the created world is lovely, how lovely is the Wisdom which has created all things from nothing! What goods and how great, belong to those who enjoy this Good! Joy is multiplied in the blessed from the blessedness and joy of others. Who shall enjoy this Supreme Good? And what shall belong to him, and what shall not belong to him? Whatever he wishes shall be his, and whatever he shall not wish shall not be his. These goods of body and soul will be such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has the heart of man conceived (cf. Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Why, then, do you wander abroad, small man, in your search for the goods of your soul and your body? Love the One Good in which are all goods, and it suffices; desire the Simple Good which is every good, and it is enough.

What are your longings, my flesh? What do you yearn for, my soul? What fulfills your desires is in heaven. If beauty delights you, there shall the righteous shine forth as the sun (cf. Saint Matthew 13:43). Do you delight in swiftness or endurance, or freedom of body, which no one can withstand? The resurrection of the dead shall be like the angels, because it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44). If it is a long and healthy life that pleases you, in God there is an eternity of health, for the righteous shall live forever (cf. Wisdom 5:16), and the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord (cf. Psalm 36:39). If it is satisfaction of hunger, they shall be satisfied when the glory of the Lord has appeared (cf. Exodus 16:7; Psalm 16:15). Do you want to taste an unspeakable joy? There draw water with joy from the springs of salvation (cf. Isaiah 12:3). If it is melody, there the choirs of angels sing forever before God. If it is chaste delights, in heaven you shall drink from the river of divine delights (cf. Psalm 35:9). If it is wisdom that delights you, the very Wisdom of God will reveal itself to you. Do you want the delights of friendship? There you will love God more than yourself, and others as yourself. God shall love you more than you yourself; for you love Him, and yourself, and others, through Him, and He, Himself and all, through Himself.

Are you looking for harmony? You’ll find it in heaven because the elect will have a single will. If power, you shall have all power to fulfill your will, as God to fulfill His. As God will have power to do what He wills, through Himself, so the blessed will have power, through Him, to do what they will. If honor and riches, God shall make His good and faithful servants rulers over many things (cf. Saint Luke 12:42). In fact, they shall be called sons of God, and share in His divinity; and where His Son shall be, there they shall be also, heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf. Romans 8:17). If true security delights you, undoubtedly they shall be as sure that those goods, or rather that Good, will never and in no way fail them; as they shall be sure that they will not lose it of their own accord; and that God, Who loves them, will not take it away from those who love Him; and that nothing more powerful than God will separate Him from them against His will and theirs.

The possession of the highest Good is accompanied by an indescribable happiness. If you could dive into that ocean of joy, your human heart, so poor, so experienced in pain, even submerged in it, would be filled with delight. Ask your inmost mind whether it could contain its joy over so great a blessedness on its own. Yet assuredly, if any other whom you did love altogether as yourself possessed the same blessedness, your joy would be doubled, because you would rejoice no less for him than for yourself. But, if two, or three, or many more, had the same joy, you would rejoice as much for each one as for yourself, if you did love each as yourself. Thus, in that perfect love of innumerable blessed angels and sainted men, where none shall love another less than himself, every one shall rejoice for each other as for himself.

How shall the human heart contain its joy over its own great good, how shall it contain so many and so great joys? Doubtless, seeing that everyone loves another so far as he rejoices in the other's good, and as, in that perfect felicity, each one should love God beyond compare, more than himself and all the others with him; so he will rejoice beyond reckoning in the felicity of God, more than in his own and that of all the saints with him. The elect shall love God with all their heart, and all their mind, and all their soul. But if all the heart, all the mind, and all the soul will not equal the greatness of this love, how will they be able to support the fullness of their joy? My Lord and my God, You are the hope and joy of my heart. You have promised this happiness for my soul, saying through the Mouth of Your Divine Son: “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Saint John 16:24).

My meditation revealed the existence of an overabundance of joy that fills the heart, soul and mind. It penetrates the whole person and will still remain beyond measure. Not all of that joy shall enter into those who rejoice; but those who rejoice shall wholly enter into that joy. Speak to Your servant in his inmost heart the joy that is prepared for those who enter into Your Kingdom of heaven; Your saints will enjoy those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). My words and thoughts could never conceive how greatly those blessed ones of Yours shall rejoice. They shall rejoice according as they shall love; and they shall love according as they shall know. How far they will know You, Lord, then, and how much they will love You! Hear, O Lord, my voice: If I cannot attain to full joy in this life, may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate upon it; let my tongue speak of it. Let my heart love it; let my mouth talk of it; let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; let my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, Who is the Triune God, blessed forever. Amen.