19 October 2011

Stand Firm in the Lord's Calling

The following is excerpted from the spiritual classic, “The Ladder of Perfection” by the fourteenth century English mystic Walter Hilton. After studying at the University of Cambridge, Walter Hilton later became a hermit and eventually joined the Augustinians at Thurgarton Priory and there lived out the rest of his years. This particular work of his is addressed to a Carthusian recluse and teaches the soul how to advance in perfection by the removal of sin and earthly thoughts and occupations. It also defines the differences in the lives of ascetics, mystics, contemplatives and actives. It is considered one of the great treatises on contemplation. Walter Hilton was in close touch with the Carthusians and has been mistaken as a Carthusian, though he was not.

I pray that in the calling to which our Lord has called you for His service, that you are contented, stand firm in it, travailing busily with all the powers of your soul; and by the grace of Jesus Christ, to fulfill in true righteousness the state which you have taken in exterior likeness and appearance; and as you have forsaken the world like a dead man, and turned to our Lord bodily in the sight of men, so let your heart be as if dead to all earthly loves and fears, and turned wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ. For you must know that a turning of the body to God, not followed by the heart, is but a figure and likeness of virtues, and not the truth in itself.

I do not say that on the first day you can be turned to Him in your soul through the full mastery of virtue as easily as you can be enclosed with your body in your cell, but you should know that the cause of your bodily enclosure is that you may the better come to spiritual enclosure; and as your body is enclosed from bodily association with men, just so should your heart be enclosed from the fleshly loves and fears of all earthly things.

The contemplative life consists in perfect love and charity, felt inwardly through spiritual virtues, and in a true knowledge and sight of God in spiritual things. This life belongs especially to them who for the love of God forsake all worldly riches, honors, worships and outward businesses, and give themselves entirely, body and soul, to the service of God through spiritual occupation, according to their strength and ability.

It is your duty to be busy night and day in labor of body and spirit, to attain as near as you can to that life by such means as you think best for you. In your prayer you must not aim your heart at a material thing, but your effort must be to draw your thoughts inward from any attention to such things, so that your desire might be as it were bare and naked from all that is earthly, always rising upward into God. You cannot see Him in the body, or imagine Him in a bodily likeness, but you can feel His goodness and His grace when your desire is eased and helped, and as it were strengthened and set free from all carnal thoughts and affections; when it is greatly lifted up by a spiritual power into spiritual savor and delight in God, held still in this for much of your prayer time, so that you have no great thought of any earthly thing, or else the thought harms you only a little. If you pray like this, then you know how to pray well.

For prayer is nothing but a desire of the heart rising into God by its withdrawal of all earthly thoughts; and so it is compared to a fire, which of its own nature leaves the lowness of the earth and always goes up into the air. Just so, when desire in prayer has been touched and set alight by the spiritual fire which is God, it keeps rising naturally to Him from Whom it came.

14 October 2011

A Deeper Fruition of what We Seem to have Lost

Today is the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila. From the Divine Office, at Matins, the Carthusians listened to this great Saint in her own words. Here’s what the monks heard.

In the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer -- I speak of the prayer of quiet -- I laboured to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects; but I did not dare to lift up my soul, for that I saw would be presumption in me, who was always so wicked. I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God: this was true, and I contrived to be in a state of recollection before Him. This method of prayer is full of sweetness, if God helps us in it, and the joy of it is great. And so, because I was conscious of the profit and delight which this way furnished me, no one could have brought me back to the contemplation of the Humanity of Christ; for that seemed to me to be a real hindrance to prayer. O Lord of my soul, and my Good! Jesus Christ crucified! I never think of this opinion, which I then held, without pain; I believe it was an act of high treason, though done in ignorance.

The first consideration is this: there is a little absence of humility -- so secret and so hidden, that we do not observe it. Who is there so proud and wretched as I, that, even after labouring all his life in penances and prayers and persecutions, can possibly imagine himself not to be exceedingly rich, most abundantly rewarded, when our Lord permits him to stand with Saint John at the foot of the Cross? I know not into whose head it could have entered to be not satisfied with this, unless it be mine, which has gone wrong in every way where it should have gone right onwards. Then, if our constitution -- or perhaps sickness -- will not permit us always to think of His Passion, because it is so painful, who is to hinder us from thinking of Him risen from the grave, seeing that we have Him so near us in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is glorified?

No trial befalls me that is not easy to bear, when I think of You standing before those who judged You. With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails, He is the true Friend. I see clearly, and since then have always seen, that if we are to please God, and if He is to give us His great graces, everything must pass through the Hands of His most Sacred Humanity, in Whom His Majesty said that He is well pleased. I know this by repeated experience: our Lord has told it me. I have seen clearly that this is the door by which we are to enter, if we would have His supreme Majesty reveal to us His great secrets. So, then, I would have you seek no other way, even if you have arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe.

Our Lord is He by Whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more could we want than so good a Friend at our side, Who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him! Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him deep down in his heart. After I had heard this of some great Saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. Saint Francis with the stigmata proves it, Saint Antony of Padua with the Infant Jesus; Saint Bernard rejoiced in the Humanity of Christ; so did Saint Catherine of Siena, and many others, who knew better than I do. This withdrawing from bodily objects must no doubt be good, seeing that it is recommended by persons who are so spiritual; but, in my opinion, it ought to be done only when the soul has made very great progress; for until then it is clear that the Creator must be sought for through His creatures.

When God suspends all the powers of the soul – by some means of prayer -- it is clear that, whether we wish it or not, this presence of the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is withdrawn. Be it so, then, the loss is a blessed one, because it takes place in order that we may have a deeper fruition of what we seem to have lost; for at that moment the whole soul is occupied in loving Him Whom the understanding has toiled to know; and it loves what it has not comprehended, and rejoices in what it could not have rejoiced in so well, if it had not lost itself, in order, as I am saying, to gain itself the more. But that we should carefully and laboriously accustom ourselves not to strive with all our might to have always -- and please God it be always -- the most Sacred Humanity before our eyes -- this, I say, is what seems to me not to be right: it is making the soul, as they say, to walk in the air; for it has nothing to rest on, however full of God it may think itself to be. It is a great matter for us to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh.

We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth, and so much on the earth as I was, is an act of folly. In general, our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go forth out of itself now and then, or it may be very often so full of God as to be in need of no created thing by the help of which it may recollect itself. But this is not so common a case; for when we have many things to do, when we are persecuted and in trouble, when we cannot have much rest, and when we have our seasons of dryness, Christ is our best Friend; for we regard Him as Man, and behold Him faint and in trouble, and He is our Companion; and when we shall have accustomed ourselves in this way, it is very easy to find Him near us, although there will be occasions from time to time when we can do neither the one nor the other. We must not show ourselves as labouring after spiritual consolations; come what may, to embrace the Cross is the great thing.

The Lord of all consolation was Himself forsaken: they left Him alone in His sorrows. Do not let us forsake Him; for His Hand will help us to rise more than any efforts we can make; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees it to be expedient for us, and when He pleases will also draw the soul forth out of itself. God is greatly pleased when He beholds a soul in its humility making His Son a Mediator between itself and Him, and yet loving Him so much as to confess its own unworthiness, even when He would raise it up to the highest contemplation, and saying with Saint Peter: ‘Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (Saint Luke 5:8). I know this by experience: it was thus that God directed my soul. Others may walk by another and a shorter road. What I have understood of the matter is this: that the whole foundation of prayer must be laid in humility, and that the more a soul humbles itself in prayer, the more God lifts it up.

I come, then, to this conclusion: whenever we think of Christ, we should remind ourselves of the love that made Him bestow so many graces upon us, and also how great that love is which our Lord God has shown us, in giving us such a pledge of the love He bears us; for love draws forth love. And though we are only at the very beginning, and exceedingly wicked, yet let us always labour to keep this in view, and stir ourselves up to love; for if once our Lord grants us this grace, of having this love imprinted in our hearts, everything will be easy, and we shall do great things in a very short time, and with very little labour. May His Majesty give us that love -- He knows the great need we have of it -- for the sake of that love which He bore us, and of His glorious Son, to Whom it cost so much to make it known to us! Amen.

13 October 2011

Their Faces are Uncovered and Radiant

Today, the Carthusians honour all those of their Order who are now heavenly intercessors, residents of Paradise – the Saints and the Blessed. At Matins, the monks had proclaimed to them a very familiar teaching of our Lord from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. This was followed by an excerpt from what is considered a spiritual masterpiece in Syrian spirituality titled: ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by the seventh-century writer and martyr, Sahdona. Here are both the Gospel from Saint Matthew and the excerpt from Sahdona’s masterpiece.

From the Gospel of Matthew, 6:5-6, 16-21
Since the disciples had gathered around Jesus on the mountain, He told them: ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in synagogues and at the street corners to be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward. But when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you. And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father Who is in secret: and your Father Who sees in secret, will repay you. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also’.

(My translation)
From ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by Sahdona
To all those who care about their salvation, Christ our hope and our God, has taught us in the Gospel to distance ourselves from the world, waiting for God alone, devoting ourselves to prayer and spiritual contemplation. By His words and His example He has shown that no place is more suitable for both prayer and being fixed on God than a place of solitude, away from traffic and favorable to recollection.

There, in fact, the body quiets itself, because the excitements of the external senses are extinguished while at the same time the soul is no longer agitated by internal impulses. As the worldly tumult subsides, it brightens the spirit; the mind becomes liberated from dark earthly concerns: in short, man emerges purified and freed from all physical and spiritual pollution. The discerning eye of his inner light shines and it is good to know himself, to improve and guide his behavior on the clear path of justice. Under these conditions, the man is rushed into the spiritual heights, he stands before the Lord and perceives something glorious, and feels extremely blessed by the Lord Who created him.

He dwells in God alone due to holy purity of life, and God constantly abides in him, waiting to envelop him with the great remembrance of His own manifestation, to burst from the body and impulses man’s thoughts, until the last day, entering into the clouds of heaven, where his covered face will be uncovered and radiant.

Blessed devotion! Your wonders have manifested themselves since the beginning with Adam, our ancestor, and have grown through all generations and achieved miracles for us. These marvelous effects shine in those wonderful beings who are men of truth, who have been able to contemplate its significance. They have taken flight far away from the world and its distractions in order to quiet themselves, body and soul, withdrawing to the desert; by these means they strive for total peace which is rendered to them, the incredible recollection, infused by the Lord supernaturally.

Our Lord, mighty, victorious and holy, source of all holiness, courage and victory, and Who has not disregarded the toil of fasting! Who among us carnal beings can ignore or dismiss You, weak and sinful as we are, continually stuck in the mud of passions?

No one would dare to say that the adverse passions of the flesh have ever been able to touch the Lord's Body, the Receptacle of perfection, the magnificent Temple of the Divine. Yet, although He did not have the slightest need, the Lord Jesus did not renounce the laborious practice of fasting; in order to better teach the great virtue and holiness that He confers on those who observe it.

Just as He was baptized to teach us in our turn to receive baptism and follow His example, thus He fasted to teach us to fast in His likeness. Every baptized person should feel compelled to fight against evil, as did our Lord, and so to be attached to the weapons of fasting even though we have received the fullness of the Spirit.

We fast according to the will of God, sincerely and wholeheartedly, without altering our fasting obligations to the criteria of Satan. This would occur if fasting hypocritically, being seen by others, in order to please men and receive the reward of vain praise from the people; we would thus be excluded from the divine reward, just as our Lord warned about the Pharisees, blinded, discouraging imitation: When you fast -- He said -- do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.

Behold, rendered wholly perfect by fasting from all evil, hungry and thirsty for the spirit of felicity that comes from God, we will be able to escape the threat of misery and famine in the last days reserved for those who shall be satisfied on earth. We will merit instead the blessing of contentment that Christ Jesus has promised to the hungry in these terms: Blessed are those who hunger, they shall be satisfied.

12 October 2011


Dear readers of Secret Harbour,

If you would like to watch the video of the Holy Father celebrating Vespers with the Carthusian community of Serra San Bruno, go to: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20111009_vespri-serra-san-bruno_it.html and then click on the word "Video".

11 October 2011

Captus ab Uno

As many of you already know, this past Sunday Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Vespers with the Carthusian community of Serra San Bruno. Here is the Holy Father's homily:

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Dear Carthusian Brothers, Brothers and Sisters,I thank the Lord who has brought me to this place of faith and prayer, the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno. In renewing my grateful greeting to Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace, I address this Carthusian Community, each one of its members, with deep affection, starting with the Prior, Fr Jacques Dupont, whom I warmly thank for his words, while I ask him to communicate my grateful thoughts and my blessing to the Minister General and to the Nuns of the Order.I am first of all eager to stress that this Visit comes in continuity with certain signs of strong communion between the Apostolic See and the Carthusian Order, which became apparent in the past century. In 1924, Pope Pius XI issued an Apostolic Constitution with which he approved the Statutes of the Order, revised in the light of the Code of Canon Law. In May 1984, Blessed John Paul ii addressed a special letter to the Minister General, on the occasion of the ninth centenary of the foundation by St Bruno of the first community at the Chartreuse [Charterhouse] near Grenoble. On 5 October that same year my beloved Predecessor came here and the memory of his passing between these walls is still vivid.Today I come to you in the wake of these events, past but ever timely, and I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church’s unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression “captus ab Uno”, ascribed to St Bruno: “grasped by the One”, by God, “Unus potens per omnia”, as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a vital sap that comes from God.“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp the eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage... with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historical Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknown to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.The monk, in leaving all, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in the searching of a whole life. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door for him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that special state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery to which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has recalled us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life even to our mortal bodies (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.I have come here for this reason, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno! To tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church. Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated to his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are unusually close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.

07 October 2011

Oh Oui - Ave Maria - Toujours, Toujours

‘They will carry the Crucifix in their right hand and the Rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart’ ~ Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.

Human logic suggests that a Man put to death by crucifixion and a string of beads are improbable, and yes, impossible sources to keep humanity from eternal death.

It also seems unlikely by human reasoning, that the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571 would be a victory for Christianity because the Christians sought the help of our Blessed Mother by praying on those beads.

Our Blessed Lady herself was told at the Annunciation that ‘no word shall be impossible with God’ (Saint Luke 1:37). The battle of Logic versus Faith that wages within each of us must always find Faith as the victor. Not that there’s anything wrong with logic, it is a gift from God given to His human creatures. But interiorly, logic can only walk to the mountain; but faith can climb the mountain.

The Virgin Mother of God didn’t need to comprehend everything that was told to her by the archangel Gabriel; after all, logic would say, how could a virgin be with child? But faith doesn’t simply walk to the mountain and see a dead end; faith climbs, albeit with much difficulty at times, but climbs nevertheless, in order to reach celestial heights, seeking God in order to say what Mary said: ‘Fiat’!

‘And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His Mouth He taught them’ (Saint Matthew 5:1-2). ‘And going up into a mountain, He called to Him those He desired Himself; and they came to Him’ (Saint Mark 3:13). God teaches from the mountain, God calls from the mountain.

‘And it came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray; and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God’ (Saint Luke 6:12). Jesus climbs a mountain to pray.

These verses teach us something about the life of prayer: it is a dialogue – God calls, go up the mountain where He offers the words of everlasting life to the human soul; afterwards, the soul can pray, whether that be through words or just resting in the warmth of His marvelous Light.

Our Lady is the quickest and surest path to our Saviour. She climbs the mountain with us. She knows where He is. In moments of weakness she takes our hand on that mountain and pulls us up past the more frightening crags. Saint John Berchmans said: ‘If I love Mary, I am certain of my salvation’. Saint Aloysius along those same lines said: ‘Servus Mariæ nunquam peribit’ – ‘The servant of Mary will never be lost’.

These prophetic words from Sacred Scripture the Church places on the lips of Mary: ‘I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the Way and of the Truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. He that hearkens to me shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting’ (Ecclesiasticus 24:24-28, 30-31).

Very powerful and faith building words!

On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 5 August 1935, our Blessed Mother told Saint Faustina: ‘Be courageous. Do not fear apparent obstacles, but fix your gaze upon the Passion of my Son, and in this way you will be victorious’ (Diary 449). This statement takes us back to the opening statement of this post from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. In our left hand is the instrument in which we seek the help of our Mother and in our right hand is the means to help us keep our gaze fixed on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beads, the beads, the beads! They are a great means to make our hearts rejoice because as our fingers travel on them, fifty-three times we begin our prayer with the words: ‘Ave Maria’!

In the Carthusian tradition is the story of a lay-brother named Bruno Lhuillier. He had a great love for the Blessed Mother. ‘Ave Maria’ constantly flowed from his lips. Many of his brother Carthusians, whenever they heard Brother Bruno Lhuillier proclaim those two words in praise of our Lady, they would respond using the same words. One day, one of his brothers, sort of beat him to the punch and was the first to say ‘Ave Maria’. Brother Lhuillier found great joy in that and responded: ‘Oh yes – Ave Maria – always, always’ (Abbé Berseaux: Le Chartreuse de Bosserville).

06 October 2011


From the Museo della Certosa is the Italian publication titled, ‘I Colori del Silenzio’. And in that publication is a loving tribute to Holy Father Bruno. It is shared here at Secret Harbour, on this day where around the world the Carthusian Order celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Bruno.

There are lives, my God, which may be approached only with respect, holy grounds where your mystery shines. No one can contemplate them without being enlightened by you, no one can find them without being inflamed by Your Spirit.

6 October 1101, Sunday, at the Hermitage of Santa Maria della Torre in Calabria, Italy there were some monks, and in the midst of them a man laid down. Tears were in their eyes and choking cries in their voices. The guide of their souls, their father . . . had reached the time of his birth into eternity. This man is you, Bruno. In this instant, your whole life, more than seventy years, is in your heart, the final offering to the Father.

Behold your first years in Cologne, where you were born, your departure for Rheims in France, that great and celebrated school of theology, your scholarly enlightened intuitions, and your appointment as canon of that church. The face of Archbishop Gervais, his decision of promoting you, at the early age of twenty-eight, to master of the most celebrated school of this time; students from all over Europe flocked together to listen to you, as your fame continually increased; then came the archbishop’s death in July 1067.

Behold the newly elected Manasse, his greed, his rages, the first discords, the increasing disorder, the scandals, while the Church reforms herself thanks to the Holy Father, Gregory VII; your sufferings, and the firm decision to voice your displeasure of the papal Legate. In the final months of 1076 came the retaliations of Manasse, depriving you of all your charges and goods – leading to the way of exile, a long and painful fight which lasted four years. At last the decision of the Pope: to depose, to dismiss the bishop from his See, while all eyes looked upon you to be the successor. But . . . in the silence of your heart, suddenly, another Heart! Your exile was the first stage of a long interior pilgrimage.

Behold the call of Christ: to leave everything so as to follow Him, to resume the way of the first fathers of the desert; the astonishment of all, the admiration for you, the light of Rheims, who was already fifty-five years old; then Sèche-Fontaine, the first attempt at solitary life with two other monks, but soon they defected and you searched for a second hermitage.

Behold your new companions: Landuin, two men named Stephen, and Hugh; these four were clerics, and with them were Andrew and Guérin, the first lay brothers. Their faces are still now in your heart, your brothers so beloved. And all seven were united as the flames of the archangels before the Almighty. You asked Hugh, the holy Bishop of Grenoble, for a place to live, hidden in God. Hugh of Grenoble was a friend of your heart. He helped you immediately without reservation; he had a dream about seven stars that guided him into the desert of Chartreuse to glorify God.

On June 1084, nearing the feast of Saint John the Baptist, you arrived at the place foreseen in the dream, to begin a great adventure still unknown. Behold your monastery, lost in the mountains, the first years, the ascetic struggle, the peace of the Spirit. Such fire in your souls, such love in your hearts! You, Bruno, already possessed pure praise and cries of amazement: ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas!’ (O the Goodness! O the Goodness!).

Six years of toils, six years of joy; God, God, God always, only God, together with your brothers! Then, unexpectedly, the trial . . . In the first months of 1090 a courier of the Pope arrived with this message: Urban II, a former student of yours, calls you to his service at his side. The sun sets, it is night. Leaving everything, abandoning all, again, undoubtedly forever, your solitude in God, that blessed solitude, your companions of life, your friends. But in your heart, the ‘yes’, which is your love for God and for the Church. But the tempest overwhelms your brothers, the bewilderment takes them, and they disperse. To be without you, the master, the star of the journey: How could they? This way is so difficult. Everything collapses. Everything! Your heart is on the cross. It is the hour of your passion. Has the beautiful adventure reached its end? ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by! Yet, not my will, but Yours be done’. The sky opens, a new day is born. Your brothers again gather in the desert guided by Landuin. Your soul is suffering less, Bruno, at the hour of departure.

Behold Rome, the holy city, the heart of Christianity! But Rome is threatened. Shortly after your arrival, the Emperor Enrico IV and his protected, the antipope Clement III, launched their troops towards it. Urban II and his court fled to the south, near the land of the Norman allies. And still another trial: the Holy Father offers you the archbishopric of Reggio Calabria. What were you to do, Bruno? This is such a difficult time for the Church, as a brilliant future opens up for you – a counsellor for the Pope, a trustworthy man, admired by all. But in your soul still resounds the call, continuous, powerful, captivating, even stronger in the splendour of this court: Only God! Only God! To be His, completely His, only His, together with other brothers! Only God! Your heart, a cry of love for Him! Father, will You forget Your son? It is You Who has sown the cry in him . . . Bruno, the Lord responds, Urban II blesses your vocation: yes, you may resume your solitary life. ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas! My life and my all, my beloved forever’. (Autumn of 1090).

Your heart would like to return to Chartreuse, to find your brothers. But the Pope asks you to stay in these lands and you accept his words as those of Christ. But where to dwell? A friend of the Holy Father, and soon to be your friend, Count Ruggero, offers you a vast desert territory. Behold your hermitage, Santa Maria della Torre, in the woods of the Serre, and the arrival of new companions, and later others, and yet more, up to thirty-three new sons. Nearby the hermitage stands the monastery of Saint Stephen where the lay brothers lead more a life in community; Landuin guides them, your faithful friend.

Eleven more years, eleven years of hard work and asceticism, eleven years of light and joy in praise, here, in this rich land of monks and hermits, whose history is blessed with their presence. And so, that your joy may be complete, Bruno, one day found the happiness of a visit: Landuin, who brings with him the love of your first sons, and their fidelity. ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas’! -- so as to accept this friend of yours in this land that fills your heart, with an embrace and a gaze.

The autumn of life nears the end and your eyes rise towards eternity. Two years have passed since Urban II left this world; a year later, on his return journey, Landuin dies professing the faith in the prisons of the antipope; three months before that, in June, Ruggero died. Bruno, heaven calls you. Now . . .

The breath becomes briefer, perspiration bathes you, with your last brothers, you proclaim your faith, a hymn to the Trinity. The instant is near, time opens. Bruno, look at this grand light, so immense: ‘My Lord and my God’.

‘It is Me My friend, come! Enter into My Heart. Come! Come’.

‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas’!
Bruno, stay with us!

‘I will remain in your hearts’.

Everything stood still. Silence freezes us in its density. Fire has consumed the last twigs, the flame has vanished. Bruno . . . your face is so beautiful, illuminated by peace; and your eyes, open towards heaven, are overflowing with an infinite tenderness. A hand closes them in the ultimate sleep. Your life is hidden in Him, for all eternity. Fullness of joy! Ocean of love!

But your light still shines in our hearts and in your two letters, for your friend Raoul and your brothers of Chartreuse, who will bear witness forever to your mystery. You are so present in them, your profound humanity, finesse, your sweetness and goodness, your harmony throughout, your wisdom, all tenderness and humility, spiritual joy, simplicity -- Bruno, all-burning with your love of God, and the God-Love in you.

Yes, you are alive forever. And, like a planted seed, from you will rise a tree where different birds will make their nests. Are you not seeing it in the Eyes of God?

A life-flame of prayer still consumes itself roundabout you, Bruno; it burns in this place from where now you fly towards heaven, so as to make descend from there a great light of melody and love. Together with the first, behold all your sons and daughters, throughout the centuries, until this day and even further, all of us who, invisibly are around you on this 6 October, in this instant of your great birth, Bruno . . .

01 October 2011

What fire! What sweetness!

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote and spoke words which were nothing short of spectacular expressions of love. If we visually learned how to suffer by watching the life and papacy of John Paul II, then certainly those lessons on how to suffer can also be read in the words of the Little Flower. She was a Victim Soul of Divine Love. Her intimacy with Christ was mystical, as evidenced in her words, and the love she received as well as the love she returned was beyond human capacity. She had no personal desires – that is to say, she only wanted what God wanted. She completely gave herself to Him. Read her words below and see if you don’t find within yourself a mixture of amazement, wonder, and holy perplexity.

It is so sweet to call God, 'Our Father’! . . . I cannot well see what more I shall have in Heaven than I have now; I shall see God, it is true, but, as to being with Him, I am that already even on earth.

A few days after the oblation of myself to God's Merciful Love, I was in the choir, beginning the Way of the Cross, when I felt myself suddenly wounded by a dart of fire so ardent that I thought I should die. I do not know how to explain this transport; there is no comparison to describe the intensity of that flame. It seemed as though an invisible force plunged me wholly into fire. . . . But oh! What fire! What sweetness!

I have had several transports of love, and one in particular during my Novitiate, when I remained for a whole week far removed from this world. It seemed as though a veil were thrown over all earthly things. But, I was not then consumed by a real fire. I was able to bear those transports of love without expecting to see the ties that bound me to earth give way; whilst, on the day of which I now speak, one minute -- one second -- more and my soul must have been set free. Alas! I found myself again on earth, and dryness at once returned to my heart.

In this world there is no fruitfulness without suffering -- either physical pain, secret sorrow, or trials known sometimes only to God. When good thoughts and generous resolutions have sprung up in our souls through reading the lives of the Saints, we ought not to content ourselves, as in the case of profane books, with paying a certain tribute of admiration to the genius of their authors -- we should rather consider the price which, doubtless, they have paid for that supernatural good they have produced.

During my postulancy it cost me a great deal to perform certain exterior penances, customary in our convents, but I never yielded to these repugnances; it seemed to me that the image of my Crucified Lord looked at me with beseeching Eyes, and begged these sacrifices.

Our Lord's Will fills my heart to the brim, and hence, if aught else is added, it cannot penetrate to any depth, but, like oil on the surface of limpid waters, glides easily across. If my heart were not already brimming over, and must be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness that alternate so rapidly, then indeed would it be flooded by a wave of bitter pain; but these quick-succeeding changes scarcely ruffle the surface of my soul, and in its depths there reigns a peace that nothing can disturb.

Were it not for this trial, which is impossible to understand, I think I should die of joy at the prospect of soon leaving this earth.

I desire neither death nor life. Were Our Lord to offer me my choice, I would not choose. I only will what He wills; it is what He does that I love. I do not fear the last struggle, nor any pains -- however great -- my illness may bring. God has always been my help. He has led me by the hand from my earliest childhood, and on Him I rely. My agony may reach the furthest limits, but I am convinced He will never forsake me.

I am besieged by the devil. I do not see him, but I feel him; he torments me and holds me with a grip of iron, that I may not find one crumb of comfort; he augments my woes, that I may be driven to despair . . . And I cannot pray. I can only look at Our Blessed Lady and say: 'Jesus’! How needful is that prayer we use at Compline: 'Procul recedant somnia et noctium phantasmata'! ('Free us from the phantoms of the night'). Something mysterious is happening within me. I am not suffering for myself, but for some other soul, and Satan is angry.

Oh, how I love Our Blessed Lady! Had I been a Priest, how I would have sung her praises! She is spoken of as unapproachable, whereas she should be represented as easy of imitation… She is more Mother than Queen. I have heard it said that her splendour eclipses that of all the Saints as the rising sun makes all the stars disappear. It sounds so strange. That a Mother should take away the glory of her children! I think quite the reverse. I believe that she will greatly increase the splendour of the elect . . . Our Mother Mary! Oh! How simple her life must have been!

I know that just at this moment Our Lord has such a longing for a tiny bunch of grapes -- which no one will give Him -- that He will perforce have to come and steal it . . . I do not ask anything; this would be to stray from my path of self-surrender. I only beseech Our Lady to remind her Jesus of the title of Thief, which He takes to Himself in the Gospels, so that He may not forget to come and carry me away.

It is my dearest wish ever to bend beneath the weight of God's gifts, acknowledging that all comes from Him.

I shall die soon. I do not say that it will be in a few months, but in two or three years at most; I know it because of what is taking place in my soul.

This is my secret: I never reprimand you without first invoking Our Blessed Lady, and asking her to inspire me as to what will be most for your good, and I am often astonished myself at the things I teach you. At such times I feel that I make no mistake, and that it is Jesus Who speaks by my lips.

Some notes from a concert far away have just reached my ears, and have made me think that soon I shall be listening to the wondrous melodies of Paradise. The thought, however, gave me but a moment's joy -- one hope alone makes my heart beat fast: the Love that I shall receive and the Love I shall be able to give!

I feel that my mission is soon to begin -- my mission to make others love God as I love Him . . . to each soul my little way . . . I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth. From the very heart of the Beatific Vision, the Angels keep watch over us. No, there can be no rest for me until the end of the world. But when the Angel shall have said: 'Time is no more'! Then I shall rest, then I shall be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete.

What draws me to my Heavenly Home is the summons of my Lord, together with the hope that at length I shall love Him as my heart desires, and shall be able to make Him loved by a multitude of souls who will bless Him throughout eternity.

I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in Heaven; my desire is to continue my work for the Church and for souls. I ask this of God, and I am convinced He will hear my prayer. You see that if I quit the battlefield so soon, it is not from a selfish desire of repose. For a long time now, suffering has been my Heaven here upon earth, and I can hardly conceive how I shall become acclimatized to a land where joy is unmixed with sorrow. Jesus will certainly have to work a complete change in my soul -- else I could never support the ecstasies of Paradise.

When I suffer much, when something painful or disagreeable happens to me, instead of a melancholy look, I answer by a smile. At first I did not always succeed, but now it has become a habit which I am glad to have acquired.

O my God! How good Thou art to the little Victim of Thy Merciful Love! Now, even when Thou joinest these bodily pains to those of my soul, I cannot bring myself to say: 'The anguish of death hath encompassed me'. I rather cry out in my gratitude: 'I have gone down into the valley of the shadow of death, but I fear no evil, because Thou, O Lord, art with me'.

And Thérèse’s last words on earth as she gazed at her Crucifix were:Oh! . . . I love Him! . . . My God, I . . . love . . . Thee!

30 September 2011

Learn the Psalter Word for Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 September 2011

Feast of the Archangels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 September 2011

Converting Gathered Flowers into the Sweetness of Honey

This brief reflection is from a fifteenth-century Carthusian monk named, Dom Nicholas Kempf. This piece is from his work titled, ‘De Ostensione Regni Dei’. In this reflection he writes about the anagogical or mystical translation of Sacred Scripture. Nicholas Kempf also makes use of the Latin word, ‘mens’ which literally means mind or intellect. Today ‘mens’ is sometimes translated as ‘spirit’ although that is not completely true. Interestingly, though, medieval writers used ‘mens’ to indicate the most exalted or highest part of the human soul. Blessed John Henry Newman felt that the mystical interpretation was the most important interpretation and today perhaps that interpretation is the least discussed or reflected on. One might say today that it was prophetic when Blessed Newman wrote: ‘It may almost be laid down as an historical fact that the mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together’. Here is the reflection of Dom Nicholas Kempf:

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

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

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

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

21 September 2011

Saint Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * * *

From Saint Peter Chrysologus:

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

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

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

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

16 September 2011

Death: the Passage to Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 September 2011

Our Lady of Sorrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 September 2011

Per Signum Crucis de Inimicis Nostris Libera Nos

Today at Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Carthusians listened to Saint Leo the Great's De Passione Domini and Sulla Pasqua from Saint Melito of Sardis. Beginning with Saint Leo, here are excerpts from both:

Before being betrayed, the Lord had told them, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself” (John 12:32). I assume fully the cause of mankind and nature and I will reinstate perfectly what was lost. Through Me all languor will be destroyed and all wounds will be cured.

When Jesus suffered His terrible Passion in our nature, the upheaval of the universe revealed that the Lord, once lifted up, really draws all things to Himself. While the Creator hung from the gallows, the whole creation groaned, experiencing with Him the piercing of the nails to the Cross. Nothing was estranged from this torture: the heavens and earth were united to the sufferings of the Savior, breaking stones, opening graves, freeing prisoners from the underworld, hiding the sun beneath the horror of darkness. The world had to give this witness to its Creator, as if the death of its Author, would end up being the same fate of the universe.

O wondrous power of the Cross! O ineffable glory of the Passion that embodies the tribunal of the Lord, the judgment of the world and the power of the Crucified. You have indeed drawn everything Yourself, Lord, and while You stretched out Your Hands all day towards the people who did not believe and scoffed at You, You desired the whole world to witness and proclaim Your Majesty.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, when in execration for the crime committed by the Jews, all the elements of creation uttered a single sentence: Darkened, the lights in the sky, the day became night, the earth was shaken by an unusual earthquake.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, because the veil of the temple was torn by removing the Holy of holies from the eyes of the unworthy high priests. Thus the symbol that signified the presence of God was replaced by the Truth of that presence, the prophecy gave way to the real event and the law has found fulfillment in the Gospel.

You have drawn everything to Yourself, Lord. Your Cross is the source of every blessing, the cause of all grace. Through You is given to the faithful strength in suffering, glory in humiliation, life in death. You are the True Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. (cf. John 1:29).

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

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

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

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

13 September 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations V

Be stout and circumspect, to vanquish and purge your soul of any imperfection, although it be never so little, for the least sin that offends Me ought not to seem small in your eyes, if you perfectly love Me. Call to mind the love that you carry towards Me, which made you to contemn and forsake, for the love of Me, your parents, your brethren, your sisters, your riches, your honour, and whatsoever else that seems delightful in this present world; and to conclude even yourself, that is, your flourishing youth, and most pleasant years; how does it come, then, now to pass that you are vanquished with a most light temptation, and a vile notion of concupiscence?

You know best yourself how weak and negligent you are for the most part, and how hardly you are drawn to overcome vice, to beware of those snares which may endanger your soul, to fly the occasions and provocations of sin, to renounce your own will, and to mend the imperfections of your heart. Renew, therefore, your constant determination, resolving to persecute all vice in yourself, and to have nothing remain within you that is contrary to My will, for any worldly gain whatsoever. Do not neglect to do all those things which please Me, and follow that course of life which I require at your hands, with all care and diligence.

08 September 2011

The Glorious Day that was to Usher in the Redeemer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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