29 January 2011

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Although this Reading is specifically for those who returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile, surely all of us can relate to a figurative captivity, when things aren't going well and the weight of the world seems to rest on our shoulders. The prophet Zephaniah's advice is to seek the Lord. This advice might seem like a bit of a religious cliché but there are many figures in Scripture and history who have found that the Lord is indeed the answer. Stress has a habit of causing temporary amnesia. There's a tendency to forget about God or push Him away and suddenly the only realistic solution is to bear it alone. And certainly the dark side of spirituality is quite satisfied with a "do not involve God" approach. Humility can often be over-dramatized but on a real practical level, having a daily prayer life and involving our Lord in our lives is humility. The Lord says He will leave in our midst a people humble and lowly who shall take refuge in Him. The choice is ours whether or not to be a humble and lowly people, and take refuge in Him. Where can Christ be found? By our choice to seek Him, He is found in the Scriptures, in prayer and Eucharistic adoration; but in the ups and downs of daily life He is often found in others who have also made the choice to seek refuge in Him. It's not necessary to be a prominent figure or reach a certain level educationally to have a meaningful relationship with our Lord. Spiritual blindness causes reliance on physical sight only. When putting the spiritual eyes to work, they will see that God loves us unconditionally and not because of what we have achieved in society. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ left the pasturing of His flock and their spiritual well-being in the hands of fishermen.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
The politics of Saint Paul's day may have been different from what we experience today but the concept of what it means to be "worldly" can easily be discerned during any period of human history. While the individual examples of worldliness may change from age to age, the idea of what it means to be heavenly stays the same because God never changes. That which is heavenly seeks righteousness and justice as well as mercy for those trapped in the frequent deceptions and cruelties of worldliness. Virtually every human being seeks peace and happiness. Unfortunately, many seek it in ways such as material wealth, power, promiscuity, or even the extremes of drug and alcohol abuse. Worldliness dares not to exist beyond the world. In other words, worldliness attempts to dictate what the standard for living will be and offers temptations to promote that the physicality of the here and now is all that really matters, while generally ignoring any spiritual and moral obligations. Sadly today, for example, the world allows a mother-to-be to have a choice as to whether or not a human life ever gets the chance to exist in this world. That "choice" is a deception because quite often an expectant mother is left to feel that terminating her pregnancy is the only choice she has. The world also allows us to decide if someone's physical or mental capabilities are still useful enough to continue to live in the world. If this is the alternative to a Christocentric life, then as Christians we gladly accept the role of being lowly and despised. And we are despised because the cultural standard of living is inconsistent and we are bound to make a few enemies because of it; if not as individuals -- then at least in our ideologies and theologies. Oddly enough, with the exception of those whose minds are diabolical, many people who do not accept the Christian lifestyle at least seem to have some level of respect for it. As a faith-filled Christian, consider the occasions when others have avoided things like cursing or bringing up risqué subjects simply because you were in the same room. That's the Power of Christ working in you and that Power can change the world; and His Power lasts far beyond the physical world. His Power is eternal!

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus is preaching what is traditionally known as the Beatitudes. The word "beatitude" means "supreme blessedness". The mountain can be symbolic of a couple of things. First, the mountain is Christ's pulpit which depicts Him as the Creator because from a mountain one can see all that surrounds it and thus echoes the words from the psalmist under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: "The world is Mine and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 49 [50]:12). Secondly, as disciples of Christ, the mountain is a reminder to us that receiving the promises of the Beatitudes will be an uphill climb. In this Gospel passage Christ's homily is preceded by the words: "He began to teach them, saying. . . “These words are a little more instructive in the ancient texts because they translate as: "And opening His Mouth. . . “These words imply that Jesus was always teaching but the ancient usage chooses to make a distinction between opening His Mouth and/or speaking versus His silence and/or actions. The Beatitudes inform us that we will mourn; we will hunger and thirst for righteousness, be persecuted and insulted. But our faithfulness promises the Kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheritance, satisfaction, mercy, and the privilege of being called children of God. The "poor in spirit" are the lowly in adversity that humbly place their trust in God; and therefore the Kingdom of heaven awaits them. Mourning in the ancient texts seems to imply mourning without complaint. This is a supreme challenge for us. An example of this is displayed to the extreme as our Blessed Mother watches her Son die on the Cross. "Meek" seems to have a similar meaning to "poor in spirit" but focuses on placing our adversity in the Lap of God more than the actual adversity itself. The meek inheriting the land reiterates what is written in the Psalms: "The meek shall inherit the land and shall delight in abundance of peace" (Psalm 36 [37]:11). The "land" is the land of Promise and/or the Kingdom of heaven. The promised comfort for mourning will far exceed the suffering and any joy experienced in this life. Our Lord speaks of this when He says: "Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned to joy" (Saint John 16:20). Hungering and thirsting for righteousness speaks of a longing for the prevalence of God's ways. Mercy, of course, is our willingness to forgive others which promises God's mercy; and His mercy far surpasses humanity's forgiveness. The "clean of heart" is defined in Scripture as those who are not devoted to idols or have not taken their soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to others (cf. Psalm 23 [24]:4). Idols are anything or anyone inhibiting our relationship with our Lord. And for pushing aside all obstacles, we are promised that we will see God. The peacemakers are those who possess inner peace and make efforts to share and spread that peace to a tumultuous world. The martyrs of our faith were certainly no strangers to persecution and insults because of their faith in Christ; it is the reason for their martyrdom. But they all now share in Christ's promise of a great reward in heaven. It's interesting to contrast the ways of God with the way humanity sees things. The sufferings laid out for us in this Gospel, by human standards are all negatives in this sojourn of life; but Christ declares blessed all the victims of these sufferings. And for this reason our faith and trust in God must exceed what we perceive as common sense. Our lives need not be bogged down by our situation -- but instead lifted up because of our trust in revelation.

28 January 2011

The Different Degrees of Charity Constitutes the Different Degrees of Blessedness

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. At Matins the Carthusians listened to these words of wisdom from this liturgical day's highly acclaimed citizen of heaven:

The principle of every good is in this: the law of love is the source of spiritual life. It is a natural and manifest fact that the loving heart is inhabited by what it loves. Whoever loves God possesses Him within. “Who dwells in charity dwells in God and God in him” (1 Saint John 4:16). The nature of love transforms whoever loves into the beloved being. If we love God we will be completely divine. “Whoever is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Without charity, the soul no longer acts: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 Saint John 3:14). If a person possesses all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but lacks charity, that person has no life. For it matters not whether one has the grace of tongues, or the gift of faith, or any other gift such as prophecy; these do not bring life without charity. Even if a dead body should be adorned with gold and precious jewels, it nevertheless remains dead. Charity leads to the observance of the divine commandments. Charity is present if one is occupied with great things; but if one is not so occupied, charity is not present. We see a lover do great and difficult things because of the One loved, and that is why the Lord says, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My word” (Saint John 14:23). Whoever keeps this command and the law of divine love fulfills the whole law. Charity provides protection against adversity. Misfortune cannot harm one who has charity; rather it becomes useful to that person. Misfortune and difficulties seem pleasant to the lover. Charity truly leads to happiness, since eternal blessedness is promised only to those who have charity. For all other things are insufficient without charity. You must note that it is only the different degrees of charity, and not those of any other virtues, which constitute the different degrees of blessedness. Many of the saints were more abstemious than the apostles, but the apostles excel all the other saints in blessedness because of their higher degree of charity.

27 January 2011

Prayer Vigil in Preparation for the Beatification of Pope John Paul II

(From Rome Reports)
Rome is already making preparations to welcome around 2 million pilgrims for the beatification of John Paul II. The Circus Maximus in Rome will host the crowds on the evening of April 30 for a prayer vigil in preparation of the ceremony.

The vigil is just one of the events surrounding the beatification of John Paul II set for May 1.

The site chosen for the vigil, the Circus Maximus, is the largest stadium in Rome and is located right beside Nero's Golden Palace.

During World Youth Day 2000, the site hosted 'The Feast of Divine Mercy', in which more than 300 priests listened to the confession of hundreds of thousands of young people.

26 January 2011

"It Is Important To Make It Well"

For the word of the Cross, to those indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to those that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). With Christ I am nailed to the Cross. And I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me. And that I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and delivered Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

As Catholics, the Sign of the Cross is something we make often. Perhaps it is so repetitious that it is often a robotic gesture, something that is done without much thought or personal attention. But the Sign of the Cross is also a prayer and should be made with the same care as the most urgent petitions that approach the Throne of grace. The Sign of the Cross expresses the belief in our redemption and our belief in the Most Holy Trinity.

Tertullian, an early Church Father, wrote: "In all our travels and movements, in all our comings and goings, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross" (Liber De Corona Militis). And from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem are these words: "Let us not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it. For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, Who was crucified for us, they shudder (Catechesis XIII).

There is more than one way that the Sign of the Cross can be made. In her book, 'An Infinity of Little Hours' the author, Nancy Klein Macguire, writes: "They [the Carthusian monks] have their own Carthusian Sign of the Cross: to honor the Trinity, they make the Sign of the Cross with their first two fingers and thumb held together, their gesture describing a uniquely large cross, with their hands brushing the outside of each shoulder." Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians make the Sign of the Cross similar to the Carthusians only the direction is different. In the East they touch the right shoulder first and then the left.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous had the great pleasure of being taught by our Blessed Mother how to make the Sign of the Cross. Father Robert F. McNamara, author of 'Saints Alive' wrote: "Whether in the Rosary or at any other time, from the days of the Lourdes apparitions on, Bernadette was noted for the wonderful way she made the Sign of the Cross. One observer at the grotto later wrote, 'If the Sign of the Cross is made in heaven, it can only be made in this manner.' Everybody marveled at the way she crossed herself -- slowly, reverently, 'with majesty.'

'It is important to make it well,' she told one of her fellow novices in the convent. The sisters respected the way she blessed herself, because they knew who had taught her. It was Our Lady herself, during the Lourdes apparitions."

It has also been said that there are those, after witnessing Saint Bernadette make the Sign of the Cross, had a conversion experience. Regardless of what style or tradition one follows, the Sign of the Cross should be made with great reverence, because like genuflecting and bowing, it is yet another way that we pray with the physical body.

25 January 2011

God's Benefactions

As you deem whatever good is done you by men to be gifts from God, and believe that the whole thanks should be given to Him, so count whatever good you show men to be God's benefactions, not yours. God, however, makes His gifts great, not on account of themselves, but on account of the men to whom He mercifully imparts them. For by showing mercy to the world He glorified the apostles.

Just as pains felt always cause no more happiness than if they are felt for a moment, so it is with the savors and other things that pertain to the senses of the body.

He who carries a cross seeks not to live long, so that he may soon put it down.

You are having pleasure. You are, therefore, badly off. Why then do you hesitate to withdraw somewhere, even to hard things?

Since the very same fault, or worse, is in your own self, why do you not reprehend in yourself what you reprehend in another?

~ Meditations of Guigo, Prior of the Charterhouse ~

22 January 2011

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 8:23—9:3
This Reading prophesies a day when the Messiah shall be a shining Light, a Joy that abounds; a God-Man Who shall rule with justice and peace, and bring an end to oppression. This prophecy is very much a part of this weekend’s Gospel. Formerly and latterly are the two distinctions to keep in mind from this Reading. Formerly there was degradation; latterly there is glorification. Formerly there was anguish, darkness and gloom; latterly there is light, abundant joy and great rejoicing. And, of course, it is the Messiah Who is the cause of Light, Joy, Rejoicing and Glory. The District of the Gentiles is northwestern Galilee which was inhabited by pagans; and Galilee is where Jesus began His Ministry. Nazareth was in Zebulon and Naphtali was east of Zebulon along the Jordan River. The seaward road was the trade route from Damascus to the Mediterranean which passed through Galilee. It is, therefore, Galilee’s glorification that is prophesied in the opening verse. The day of Midian deals with the defeat of Midian found in the Book of Judges. The full story is too lengthy to highlight here but if you’re interested you’ll find it in chapters seven, eight and nine. Our own lives are full of former and latter occurrences: Sadness and joy, disappointments and accomplishments, sickness and health. The emotional and physical roller coaster, however, is temporary. There will come a day when those temporary let downs will cease forever; while the upbeats, although temporary now, will become eternal. Our current journey requires patient endurance, praise and faithfulness to our Lord.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
This could easily be the Scripture passage selected to open the proceedings of a Christian ecumenical dialogue. Yes indeed there are divisions among us: “I belong to the Catholics,” or “I belong to the Eastern Orthodox,” or “I belong to the Lutherans,” or “I belong to the Anglicans,” etc., etc., etc. As evidenced in this Reading and from what we know today, obviously there’s nothing new under the sun. Realistically, there will always be doctrinal differences that Christian faiths will likely never be able to get past or overlook. But let us not forget what the most important line in this Reading is: “I belong to Christ.” And let us pray that Christians never overlook that comforting and unifying fact. In case you’re curious, it is not known who Chloe is but obviously is known to the Corinthians. Paul, however, doesn’t single out Chloe but instead writes, “Chloe’s people.” Most likely he did this so that Chloe as an individual would not become a possible victim of resentment from the divided Corinthians. Those who claim to belong to Paul are the first converts of Corinth and for that reason probably feel some sort of superiority over the converts who jumped on the Christian bandwagon later. Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew who was a convert to Christianity and who also converted many in Corinth after Paul’s departure. Cephas is Saint Peter and those who claim to belong to him most assuredly felt righteous about their decision because Peter, as we all know, was head of the Church. It is not factually known but many scholars have concluded that Peter paid a visit to Corinth shortly before this letter from Saint Paul. There’s really no evidence to suggest that any faction in Corinth claimed to specifically belong to Christ. Paul probably mentions it in this letter as a subtle hint to these rivals that Christ is the true Center of their faith. Paul writes that Christ did not send him to baptize. This doesn’t mean that he never baptized anyone; nor is he in anyway attempting to de-emphasize baptism. Baptism was a common ministerial function of all the apostles. What Paul is expressing here is that Christ made him an apostle specifically to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saint Paul was guided by the Spirit in his writings as well as in his preaching and did not rely on his own human wisdom or intelligence so that the Cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning. The Latin translates as: “lest the Cross of Christ should be made void.” In other words, never credit anyone’s conversion to human wisdom and know-how; but only to the incomparable Power of God and Christ crucified.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 4:12-23
Saint Matthew begins here by letting his readers know that when Jesus heard John the Baptist had been arrested He withdrew to Galilee. John was now finished with what he was called to do and now it’s time for Jesus to take over. The red carpet has been rolled out and humanity now fervently waits for the Ministry of the King of kings. Saint John Chrysostom, understanding the fulfillment of prophecy here, writes: “Jesus Christ enters more publicly on His mission, and about to occupy the place of His precursor, He chooses Galilee for the first theatre of His ministry, the place assigned by the ancient prophets.” ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ was actually the proper name used in the time of Christ because it was a non-Jewish section of Galilee. Notice that Jesus uses the very same words which were exhorted by Saint John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He may have said this as a comfort for the followers of John who likely had lost hope after his arrest. But Jesus is an assurance to them that the work of the Kingdom goes on because everything John foretold is about to be manifested. Saint Jerome tells us that Christ will not only set out to prove that His ministry is heaven sent, but He will also humble the pride of man; and it is for this reason that He chooses fishermen instead of orators and philosophers. Ancient enemies of Christianity claimed that Christ chose simple, uneducated men to be His apostles because uneducated men could easily be deceived. But as Saint Paul has pointed out, God chose the weak of this world to confound the strong (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27). That is not to say that human wisdom and intelligence is evil. Certainly Pope John Paul II, for example, was extremely intelligent by human standards: he was well-read, educated and fluently spoke several languages. But surely no one can deny that this man’s level of humility afforded him a great deal of heavenly wisdom as well. The battle is between “Pride” and “Humility”. Pride is an attaboy or attagirl, pat yourself on the back arrogance that credits only you for your achievements. Humility understands and embraces the fact that all forms of wisdom and intelligence are gifts from God; or as Christ said: “Without Me you can do nothing” (Saint John 15:5). It may seem a bit strange or unusual to most readers that the first four called by Jesus to apostleship were immediately obedient and dropped everything. You might be inclined to credit it to some sort of divine stare and certainly that’s a possibility; but if you read Saint John’s Gospel (1:35-42) it seems that Peter, Andrew and John were already familiar with Jesus. The closing verse is a summation of Christ’s Ministry in Galilee but in addition to that it is likely intended to create anticipatory emotions leaving us longing for a more detailed account of Christ’s miracles and teachings, in which Saint Matthew will gladly oblige throughout his Gospel.

21 January 2011

Persevere Unto the End

Today is the feast of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr. Among the treasures the Carthusians sometimes reflect on for this feast is an excerpt from Saint Augustine’s “De Virginitate.” Here is that reflection.

The whole Church itself is a virgin espoused unto one Husband, Christ, as Saint Paul says, of how great honor are its members worthy, who guard this even in the flesh itself, which the whole Church guards in the faith? Imitating the mother of her husband, and her Lord, for the Church also is both a mother and a virgin. For whose virgin purity do we consult, if she is not a virgin? Or whose children do we address, if she is not a mother? Mary bore the Head of this Body after the flesh; the Church bears the members of that Body after the Spirit. In both, virginity does not hinder fruitfulness: in both, fruitfulness does not take virginity. Whereas the whole Church is holy both in body and spirit, and yet the whole is not virgin in body but in spirit; how much more holy is it in these members, wherein it is virgin both in body and spirit?

Go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, Whom you think on more richly: hope more happily in Him, Whom you serve more instantly: love Him more ardently, Whom you please more attentively. With loins girded, and lamps burning, wait for the Lord, when He comes from the marriage. You shall bring unto the marriage of the Lamb a new song, which you shall sing on your harps. Not surely such as the whole earth sings, unto which it is said: Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, the whole earth; but such as no one shall be able to utter but you. For there you have seen in the book of Revelation a certain one beloved above others by the Lamb, who desired to lie on His Breast, and who used to drink in, and burst forth, the Word of God above the wonders of heaven.

Wherefore, do this, virgins of God: follow the Lamb, wherever He goes. But first come to Him, Whom you are to follow, and learn, for He is meek and humble of Heart. Come in you lowly wise unto the Lowly, if you love, depart not from Him, lest you fall. For whosoever fears to depart from Him asks and says: Let the foot of pride not come to me. Go on in the way of loftiness with the foot of lowliness; He Himself lifts up those who follow Him in humility, Who thought it not a burden to come down to us in humility. The Lord protects you from committing evil when you hide in the shelter of His protection. Consider the sins you have avoided as possible only by His grace: otherwise you may fool yourself about your justice and begin to act like a Pharisee, without love, full of pride and with ruinous boasting despising the sinners who are humbly beating their breasts.

Beware of concealing that strength of yours which has been tried, so that you may not be puffed up, because you have been able to bear something: but be concerned and pray about that which has not been tried, that you will not be tempted above that which you are able to bear. Believe in secret that some are superior to you, than whom you are openly better. When the good things of others, perhaps unknown to you, are kindly believed by you, your own that are known to you are not lessened by comparison, but strengthened by love: and perhaps as yet are wanting, are by so much the more easily given, by how much they are the more humbly desired.

Let those among your number who persevere be for you an example: but let those who fall increase your fear. Love the virtues and walk on those tracks; mourn over defections, that you be not puffed up. Do not establish your own righteousness; submit yourselves unto God Who justifies you. Pardon the sins of others, pray for your own pardon: future sins shun by vigilance, past sins blot out by confessing. Thus, free from any defect, even the most minor defects, adapt your life to the profession of virginity.

When virgins are adorned with virtues, their lives appear angelic in the eyes of men, their habits resemble those of heaven, their face never shows anger, their eyes are not wandering, their tongues are not unbridled, no petulant laugh, and are dressed modestly. They do not render evil for evil, nor insult for insult, and lastly, they fulfill that love which lays down their life for their brethren. Already you are as such, because that is what you ought to be. But, the measure of your greatness, whosoever of you are so great, is determined by much humbling of yourselves in all things, that you may find grace before God, that He does not resist you because of pride, that He doesn’t humble you because you lifted yourself up, that He doesn’t lead you through straits as being puffed up: although anxiety being unnecessary, because, where Charity glows, humility is not wanting.

Because you have renounced marriage, paternity or maternity, love Him with your whole heart, Who is the fairest among the sons of men. You can devote yourself to Him fully since you are free from the bonds of marriage. Gaze on the Beauty of your Lover: think of Him equal to the Father, made subject also to His Mother: ruling even in the heavens, and serving upon the earth: creating all things, created among all things. That very thing, which in Him the proud mock at, gaze on, how fair it is: with inward eyes gaze on the Wounds of Him hanging, the scars of Him rising again, the Blood of Him dying, the price of him that believes, the gain of Him that redeems. Consider of how great value these are, weigh them in the scales of Charity; and whatever love you could have expended in your marriage, give back to Him.

There is One Who gave you the power to become children of God, O Christian soul, Who seeks your inner beauty, and not a glittery content, but fair conduct. He is not One unto Whom anyone can lie concerning you, and make Him rage through jealousy. See with how great security you love Him, Whom you fear not to offend by false suspicions. Husband and wife love each other, in that they see each other: and what they do not see, they fear between themselves: nor have they sure delight in what is visible, while in what is concealed they usually suspect what is not. You in Him, Whom you see not with the eyes, and behold by faith, neither have what is real to blame, nor fear lest perhaps you offend Him by what is false. If therefore you should owe great love to husbands, Him, for Whose sake you would not have husbands, how greatly ought you to love? Let Him be fixed in your whole heart, Who for you was fixed on the Cross.

19 January 2011

Compunctio Cordis

The heart is not the same as sensitivity, except in its higher stage, that of reason. It is well to distinguish between them. The heart of an animal is sensitive; it has plenty of 'heart' in that sense. But the man who has no other heart, has not a heart at all! With all our knowledge today, we fail to appreciate this. We confuse the very inferior animal impressionability with that sensitivity which is essential to the real man whom only truth and good, justice and beauty can move.

Compunction is that which pierces a man's heart when he remembers and reflects on these great realities, and especially on the greatest of realities - God. It takes on different forms, and can have different causes. The use of the word should be restricted really to the heart's sorrow at the thought or memory of sin, above all of one's own sins. But it can also be applied to lively impressions felt at the sins of others, or at the possibility of committing sin. We feel compunction when we realize the grave consequences sin can have; when we think of our Lord's Passion which blotted out our sins; of the presence within us of God giving Himself and preserving us from evil; of the hope of our future union with Him in our true homeland; or of the pain at seeing our exile, separating us from Him, prolonged.

The effect is the same in any case, except for slight differences which we alone can perceive. That is because the ultimate cause is the same - namely love. Whatever form it takes - regret, desire, hope or joy - compunction is always the fruit of divine love: it is marked by the same characteristics and has, in God's Eyes, the merit of that love. In compunction God sees the love which emanates from His divine Heart communicating itself to our heart, and returning whence it came, enriched by all our heart has loved. True and really supernatural compunction is a very special grace. It can come only with a genuine and rare understanding of God, of His greatness and His beauty, of His love and our relations with Him, and from the joy of a life upheld by these relations. A soul that has received this understanding must possess a transparency that only a long life of loving detachment can obtain for it.

The Fathers of the Church have praised this grace in the highest terms. 'Humble tears of the heart', wrote Saint Jerome, 'you are a queen and all-powerful. You fear not the tribunal of the Judge, and your presence silences those who accuse you. Nothing holds you back or keeps you from having access to the Throne of grace, and never do you turn away with empty hands. The agony you cause the devil is even worse than the pains of hell. You triumph over the Unconquerable One; you bind and force the Hand of the Almighty. Prayer alone can touch Him and, when that prayer is accompanied by tears of compunction, then it is irresistible. Prayer is oil which disposes God to listen; tears of compunction wound Him and oblige Him to act'.

'The angels', says Saint Bernard, 'are deeply moved by our tears of compunction, and by our holy prayers. For them, they are like a wine which intoxicates; they see in them the perfume of a true life assured by divine grace, the savour of the forgiveness of sins; the strong vigor of innocence recovered; the joy of reconciliation with God and the serene peace of a conscience again set in order'.

'It is the fat and abundant holocaust of victims beloved of God', says Saint Gregory. 'The heart's tears sprinkle it with the perfume He prefers before all others'.

And Saint John Climacus: 'Tears lend wings to prayers, which fly straight to the Heart of God'.

Clearly tears of the kind referred to here are not necessarily actual tears, as shallow souls might think. Such souls work up a kind of excitement; their imagination dwells on those things which move them. They are glad when they can call forth tears; they appraise their love by this external, and sometimes childish, sign. What these Fathers are referring to are the genuine tears of the heart, which can easily be smothered by the effort to produce what is merely their external sign. What they have in mind is a wholly internal and spiritual movement which only the Spirit of Love can excite in us, and we must ask Him for it with full confidence and then quietly await it. It is a clear and pure flame, which suddenly leaps up as from a hidden brazier. It lights up the mind and touches the chords of the heart. It moves the soul to its depths, causing a kind of heavenly thrill to pass through it, which lifts it up above itself, so that it exclaims: 'My God', in a way which is altogether new to it. Then the distance separating it from Him Who thus makes Himself known; the memory of its sins which were responsible for that gulf; Jesus on the Cross expiating our sins, with Mary standing at His Feet; hell punishing the sin without relieving it of its debt - all these thoughts suddenly welling up before our eyes, ceasing to be thoughts and become images: all this compresses the soul like a ripe fruit, causing the sweet and intoxicating tears to flow.

These tears, however, are not the end. The soul that weeps looks higher than its own self. It longs to attain the heights and already sees something of what it can and must attain. Nevertheless, it remains enclosed within the circle of its self, enlarged it is true, but still restrained and not destroyed. The Holy Spirit who wants to set it free, prepares the soul for the final rapture, which is its determined end. God wants the soul entire; He wants to free it from itself and from created objects and raise it to Himself. Then the tears, tiny bouquets to cheer us on the way, cease, and the soul tastes in anticipation the joys of heaven. The gift of tears is always a most precious gift. We should desire it, ask for it and prepare ourselves for it. We must desire and ask for it with an assurance, a profound and lively conviction that God wishes to give it to us much more strongly than we can wish for it ourselves. We can be sure that our desire, however exalted we may be, is no more than a tiny spark in the immense desire that God has to grant it to us.

~ Dom Augustin Guillerand ~

17 January 2011

Serenity of Manner and Purity of Soul

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Antony, abbot. The Carthusians, at Matins, reflected on an excerpt from “The Life of Saint Antony” written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Here is that piece.

For nearly twenty years Antony continued training himself in solitude, never going forth, and but seldom seen by any. After this when many were eager and wishful to imitate his discipline, and his acquaintances came and began to cast down and wrench off the door by force, Antony, as from a shrine, came forth initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God. Then for the first time he was seen outside the fort by those who came to see him. And they, when they saw him, wondered at the sight, for he had the same habit of body as before, and was neither fat, like a man without exercise, nor lean from fasting and striving with the demons, but he was just the same as they had known him before his retirement. And again his soul was free from blemish, for it was neither contracted as if by grief, nor relaxed by pleasure, nor possessed by laughter or dejection, for he was not troubled when he beheld the crowd, nor overjoyed at being saluted by so many. But he was altogether even as being guided by reason, and abiding in a natural state.

He persuaded many to embrace the solitary life. And thus it happened in the end that cells arose even in the mountains, and the desert was colonized by monks, who came forth from their own people, and enrolled themselves for the citizenship in the heavens and Antony directed them all as a father. One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words. Wherefore you, as children, carry that which you know to your father; and I as the elder share my knowledge and what experience has taught me with you. Let this especially be the common aim of all, neither to give way having once begun, nor to faint in trouble, nor to say: We have lived in the discipline a long time: but rather as though making a beginning daily let us increase our earnestness. For the whole life of man is very short, measured by the ages to come, wherefore all our time is nothing compared with eternal life.

And in the world everything is sold at its price, and a man exchanges one equivalent for another; but the promise of eternal life is bought for a trifle. For it is written, "The days of our life in them are threescore years and ten, but if they are in strength, fourscore years, and what is more than these is labor and sorrow." Whenever, therefore, we live full fourscore years, or even a hundred in the discipline, not for a hundred years only shall we reign, but instead of a hundred we shall reign for ever and ever. And though we fought on earth, we shall not receive our inheritance on earth, but we have the promises in heaven; and having put off the body which is corrupt, we shall receive it incorrupt. Wherefore, children, let us not faint nor deem that the time is long, or that we are doing something great, "for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward." Nor let us think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it all up, it would be not worthy of comparison with the kingdom of heaven.

Wherefore, children, let us hold fast our discipline, and let us not be careless. For in it the Lord is our fellow-worker, as it is written, "to all that choose the good, God works with them for good." But to avoid being heedless, it is good to consider the word of the Apostle, "I die daily.'' For if we too live as though dying daily, we shall not sin. And the meaning of that saying is, that as we rise day by day we should think that we shall not abide till evening; and again, when about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we shall not rise up. For our life is naturally uncertain, and Providence allots it to us daily. But thus ordering our daily life, we shall neither fall into sin, nor have a lust for anything, nor cherish wrath against any, nor shall we heap up treasure upon earth. But, as though under the daily expectation of death, we shall be without wealth, and shall forgive all things to all men, nor shall we retain at all the desire of women or of any other foul pleasure. But we shall turn from it as past and gone, ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment. For the greater dread and danger of torment ever destroys the ease of pleasure, and reinforces the wavering soul. Since we started down the path of virtue, we tend toward the goal.

And let us strive that wrath rule us not nor lust overcome us, for it is written, "The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God. And lust, when it hath conceived, bears sin, and the sin when it is full grown brings forth death.'' Thus living, let us keep guard carefully, and as it is written, "keep our hearts with all watchfulness." For we have terrible and crafty foes -- the evil spirits -- and against them we wrestle, as the Apostle said: “Not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Great is their number in the air around us, and they are not far from us. Now there are great distinctions among them; and concerning their nature and distinctions much could be said, but such a description is for others of greater powers than we possess. But at this time it is pressing and necessary for us only to know their wiles against ourselves.

If, therefore, the devil himself confesses that his power is gone, we ought utterly to despise both him and his demons; and since the enemy with his hounds has but devices of this sort, we, having got to know their weakness, are able to despise them. Wherefore let us not despond after this fashion, nor let us have a thought of cowardice in our heart, nor frame fears for ourselves, saying, I am afraid lest a demon should come and overthrow me; lest he should lift me up and cast me down; or lest rising against me on a sudden he confound me. Such thoughts let us not have in mind at all, nor let us be sorrowful as though we were perishing; but rather let us be courageous and rejoice always, believing that we are safe. Let us consider in our soul that the Lord is with us, who put the evil spirits to flight and broke their power. Let us consider and lay to heart that while the Lord is with us, our foes can do us no harm. For when they come they approach us in a form corresponding to the state in which they discover us, and adapt their delusions to the condition of mind in which they find us.

While Antony was thus speaking all rejoiced; in some the love of virtue increased, in others carelessness was thrown aside, the self-conceit of others was stopped; and all were persuaded to despise the assaults of the Evil One, and marveled at the grace given to Antony from the Lord for the discerning of spirits. So their cells were in the mountains, like filled with holy bands of men who sang psalms, loved reading, fasted, prayed, rejoiced in the hope of things to come, labored in almsgiving, and preserved love and harmony one with another. And truly it was possible, as it were, to behold a land set by itself, filled with piety and justice. For then there was neither the evil-doer, nor the injured, nor the reproaches of the tax-gatherer: but instead a multitude of ascetics; and the one purpose of them all was to aim at virtue. So that anyone beholding the cells again, and seeing such good order among the monks, would lift up his voice and say, 'How goodly are your dwellings, O Jacob, and your tents, O Israel; as shady glens and as a garden by a river; as tents which the Lord has pitched, and like cedars near waters’. Antony, however, according to his custom, returned alone to his own cell increased his discipline, and sighed daily as he thought of the mansions in Heaven, having his desire fixed on them, and pondering over the shortness of man's life.

Antony’s countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Saviour. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and anyone who did not know him previously, wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Antony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul. For as his soul was free from disturbances, his outward appearance was calm; so from the joy of his soul he possessed a cheerful countenance, and from his bodily movements could be perceived the condition of his soul, as it is written, 'When the heart is merry the countenance is cheerful, but when it is sorrowful it is cast down’. Thus Jacob recognized the counsel Laban had in his heart, and said to his wives, 'The countenance of your father is not as it was yesterday and the day before’. Thus Samuel recognized David, for he had mirthful eyes, and teeth white as milk. Thus Antony was recognized, for he was never disturbed, for his soul was at peace; he was never downcast, for his mind was joyous.

15 January 2011

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
The name "Israel" is used three times in this Reading but the only way to make any sense of this passage is to understand that the first Israel has a different meaning than the remaining two. The first Israel, described here as a servant through whom the Lord will show His glory, clearly is a prophecy about the Messiah. The remaining two speak of the nation of Israel. Most likely the author used the name "Israel" to prophesy the coming of the Messiah because it is through the nation of Israel that He would come. God's initial plan for the servant is to bring back Jacob to Him and have the nation of Israel gathered to Him. The mission here, then, is a spiritual one. There does, however, seem to be a political mission as well which is to restore Israel's exiles. But as we know, Christ did not come for political reasons and perhaps that is prophesied here when the Lord says that the political mission is too little for the servant. God clearly calls His servant to be a light to all nations so that His salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Christ extended that mission to all His disciples when He said: "Teach all nations" (Saint Matthew 28:19). With these words, then, we not only see Christ as the Messiah but also ourselves as the body of Christ included in God's plan of salvation and co-fulfillers of the Messianic prophecy. It is, of course, our Lord's love for us that compelled Him to include us in such an intimate way.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Saint Paul had previously preached to the Corinthians and spent a great deal of time with them but after his departure several divisions began to form among the people of Corinth. Many emotional wounds were inflicted on the population because of these divisions. This letter from Paul was an effort on his part to heal those wounds. There are a few opinions as to who Sosthenes is, but the most accepted thought is that he was a great sufferer for the faith in Corinth; and Saint Paul mentions him here to highlight him as a model to follow. If this opinion is correct, it should be noted that this particular man named Sosthenes of Corinth was once a staunch enemy of Paul and must have had a conversion experience. Other conjectures are that he is the same Sosthenes who was beaten before the tribunal in Gallio (cf. Acts 18:17); or that possibly he was Paul's secretary. In this letter Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are called to unity but that Corinth is not being singled out; this unity of the faith is intended for all those everywhere who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This Reading closes with a familiar greeting from Saint Paul: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of its familiarity it would be easy to pass over this greeting quickly without giving it much consideration but think about how floored you would be if someone said it to you; or consider how much courage it takes for you to say it to someone you've just met.

Gospel, Saint John 1:29-34
Saint John the Baptist, as the prophesied precursor, was given the graces to fulfill that office; and now in this Gospel passage he reveals what he knows: First, Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Secondly, even though Jesus was born after John, He existed before John and ranks ahead of John. Thirdly, John proclaims that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven and remain on Jesus. Fourthly, Jesus is the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And finally, like a good mystery novel, John the Baptist saves the real jaw dropper for last: Jesus is the Son of God. A lamb symbolizes innocence but it cannot be easily determined if John is identifying Jesus as a Victim when he proclaims Christ as the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world. Today, all of us without hesitation could read Victimization into John's statement because we know the fullness of the Jesus story; and that being a Victim was necessary to take away the sin of the world. In Isaiah a cruel destiny is alluded to with the words, "Like a lamb led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7), but whether John the Baptist had this in mind is uncertain. Even though Jesus was born after John, Christ is depicted as existing before John which identifies Jesus as God and Man although the hearers of John's proclamation probably didn't make that connection. When John says, "I did not know Him" most likely he means by physical visualization since John spent about twenty years of his life in the wilderness. John knew Christ was of Divine Origin even before the appearance of the Holy Spirit as a Dove because when Christ came to be baptized, John said to Him: "I ought to be baptized by You" (Saint Matthew 3:14). The Church calls us today to evangelize, to prepare the way for Christ's return. No one in the Church is excused from this mission.

13 January 2011

Become a Living Force for All Mankind

Today the Carthusian Order celebrates the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A portion of what the monks reflected on at Matins is from 'In Sancta Lumina' by Saint Gregory Nazianzen. Here's an exceprt from that.

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in that light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with Him, and rise with Him.

Saint John is baptizing when Jesus approaches. Perhaps He comes to sanctify the one who is baptizing; no doubt He comes to bury sinful humanity in those waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for the sake of mankind and in readiness for us; He Who is Spirit and Flesh comes to start a new creation through the Holy Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests but Jesus insists. Then John says: 'I ought to be baptized by You'. He is the lamp in the presence of the Sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all who are born of woman in the presence of the Firstborn of all creation, John who leapt in his mother Elizabeth's womb in the presence of Him Who was adored in the womb, the precursor and future forerunner in the presence of Him who has already come and is to come again. 'I ought to be baptized by you'; we should also add, 'and for you', for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Saint Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with Him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are torn open. The Spirit comes to Him as an equal, bearing witness to His Godhead. A Voice proclaims to Him from heaven, His place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that long ago announced the end of the flood and thus gives honor to the Body Who is One with God.

Today let us honor Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of His people, for whom His every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, a light shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great Light, bathed in the glory of Him Who is the Light of Paradise. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling Light of the Most Holy Trinity, as now you have received, though not in its fullness, a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the One God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

11 January 2011

Our Liberatrix

Here is more from the treasure chest of Carthusian writings. In addition to Saint Bruno, three other Carthusian saints are mentioned in the opening paragraph: Rosaline, Hugh of Grenoble and Hugh of Lincoln. Outside of the Order, the gift of Saint Bridget and her “Revelations” are also used for this writing.

According to the Annals of the Order, our Lady, bearing in her arms the holy Child, came to reward the soul of Saint Rosaline at her death. She was preceded by Saint Bruno and with him Saint Hugh of Grenoble and Saint Hugh of Lincoln, all three carrying thuribles. When her couch had been incensed, our Lady said to the three saints: “Lead the virginal bride to her heavenly Spouse” (Le Couteulx: Annales, Vol. V). What, we venture to ask will those who have been faithful to the Queen of Heaven find at this divine marriage feast? What are, for the saints in heaven, the fruits of their devotion to their heavenly Queen?

A touching story from the bible gives us a certain glimpse of these mysteries of eternity. After the sons of Jacob had gone down the second time to Egypt with Benjamin, and had paid their respects to the governor of Pharaoh, Joseph had a banquet made ready for them. He himself was served apart, while his brothers are together. When they took the places appointed them, they found themselves in the exact order of age; the eldest in the first place, and so on with the youngest in the last. The portions they received had first been passed by Joseph, the greatest portion being given to Benjamin, exceeding, we are told, that of his brothers by five portions (cf. Genesis 43:15-34).

The allegory intended by this story is very clear. Joseph, the savior of his brethren, is the figure of our divine Lord Who came down to earth to save men. He is not ashamed to serve them with His own Hand (cf. Luke 12:37). All are treated according to their merits (cf. Matthew 16:27). Nevertheless, a special portion would seem to be reserved for the Benjamins. All Christians are sons of Mary, but there are some who have a special claim to the title, having attained to a more intimate union with her. The following comparison of a recent writer will show the truth of this. “It is the duty of every Christian,” says this writer, “to know, love and serve God: in other words, to be devout. There are some, however, to whom the Church gives this title in a different way. Religious, in the eyes of the Church, are persons consecrated to the worship of God in a special manner, by the observance of the evangelical counsels. In the same way, although every just man has Christ as his Spouse, the title Spouse of Christ is, in the sacred liturgy, the singular privilege of virgins, and of virgins dedicated to God by their religious profession” (Père Terrien: La Mère de Dieu et la Mère des hommes).

Similarly, if all men in general belong to Mary as her children, and if the actual measure of this sonship is none other than that of the grace and the supernatural life existing in their souls, religious should, by virtue of their vows, claim a special place in our Lady’s love. In heaven, it will be the lot of these Benjamins of the Mother of men to call her in a special way their Mother. As for Mary, we may well remember how she, as the Mother of Sorrows, felt when she saw her divine Son victorious over death and the tomb. In a similar though lesser way, she will surely experience something of that same joy whenever a fresh soul, passing from purgatory to the delights of Paradise, comes to hail her, their Mother and their Liberatrix.

If such is the joy of Mary at this blessed meeting, what will be that of her children? To be able to say in all truth that she is our Mother, from whom we have received all; who knows us, who looks on us with love, who bears us always in her heart – will this not be a happiness beyond anything we can conceive? And while await this heavenly vision, is not this thought alone enough to give us a foretaste of heaven itself?

To Saint Bridget our Lady once said: “I am the Mother of those who are cradled in the delights of Paradise. Even when little children have no special needs, it is enough for them to look upon the face of their mother to make them feel an increase of joy. Even so, it pleases our Lord to allow those who dwell in the heavenly court to experience a similar contentment in contemplating the beauty of my virtues and the glory of my virginity, although in an incomprehensible way His power has already put them in possession of complete happiness” (Saint Bridget: Revelations, Bk. IV).

Doubtless, devotion to our Blessed Lady should, for those who have consecrated themselves to her, be a devotion full of love. It is said that in heaven the elect will sing the Canticle of Moses (Revelation 15:3, & Exodus 15 passim.). Now it seems that when Jesus, in company with the multitude of the blessed, has ended the hymn of thanksgiving, our Lady, like her forerunner the sister of Moses, will repeat the Canticle of Deliverance, with those who on earth formed her court: Let us sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously magnified; the Lord is my strength and my praise, and He is become salvation to me. He is my God, and I will glorify Him, the God of my Father, and I will exalt Him (Exodus 15:1-2). In Thy mercy, Thou hast been a leader to the people which Thou hast redeemed, and in Thy strength Thou hast carried them to Thy holy habitation (ibid. 15:13). Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Thy inheritance, in Thy most firm habitation which Thou hast made, O Lord – Thy sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy Hands have established. The Lord shall reign forever and ever (ibid. 15:17-18).

And all the angels that stand around the Throne will echo the voice of redeemed humanity, and will repeat in praise of the Most Holy Trinity: Benediction, and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and power and strength to our God, forever and ever. Amen (Revelation 7:12).

08 January 2011

In Baptismate Domini

First Reading, Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7
In the twelfth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel is found the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah concerning the Messiah. In fact, this Reading is used in that chapter to show that Christ has indeed fulfilled it. Generally, whenever the word "nations" is used in most modern translations, the older texts translate as "Gentiles". And so, the Messiah prophesied here shall bring forth justice to the Gentiles; and justice means moral and religious discernment and knowledge of right and wrong which is an attribute of the Messiah. In the older translations of prophecy the interpreters tend to approach the Scriptures with a pre-Messianic mindset, and thus the reader will read that God's plan of salvation will include both Jews and Gentiles. The more modern translations use the word "nations" to express a point of view from the post-Resurrection age to show that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. It is because of Christ's humble humanity that He is called a Servant. "The coastlands will wait for his teaching" in the Latin Vulgate translates as, "The islands shall wait for his law" while the Septuagint translates as, "The Gentiles shall hope in his name." From the verse, "I, the Lord, have called you…" to the end of this Reading seems to be an addition which came later and is probably not from the original author. These closing verses show that the Messiah's mission is ordained by God, in which He will be set as a covenant of the people -- all people, and a Light for the nations -- all nations. Christ healed those who were physically blind but most likely the blindness in this Reading refers to spiritual blindness in which many were imprisoned and in darkness because of a lack of spirituality and an obsession for material wealth. Beyond the interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah, this Reading also invites us as individuals to reflect on our own baptism. In baptism the soul hears the Voice of God saying: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put My Spirit." How faithful have I been to that calling to be a servant of God? How committed am I to pleasing Him? Am I a holy temple in which His Spirit can dwell?

Second Reading, Acts 10:34-38
Cornelius was a centurion who was very devout and believed in Israel's God. Peter's speech is the first recorded address to Gentiles. Peter publicly states that all nations and all peoples who act uprightly are acceptable to God. Observance of the Mosaic Law is not a prerequisite for belonging to God. The Greek is a little unclear as to whether the word that God sent to the Israelites is referring to Jesus Christ, the eternal "Word", or the "word" meaning Christ's teachings and/or the Gospel. Most translations accept it to mean the latter; although the peace proclaimed through Jesus Christ could not have been proclaimed by anyone else because Jesus is the Source of true peace. Peter proclaims Christ as "Lord of all" which is proof of His Divinity. Peter continues by stating that the Jesus story began after the baptism that John preached which is an acceptance of John the Baptist's ministry and a belief that John was part of a divine plan. God anointed Jesus' Human Nature with the graces of the Holy Spirit so that He may begin His public Ministry as the Messiah.

Gospel, Saint Matthew 3:13-17
Do you think you would have a few butterflies in your stomach if you were called to baptize Jesus Christ? What tasks have you done in your life in which you felt overwhelmed and were forced to step out of your comfort zone? Whenever we find ourselves in those uncomfortable situations, it's only natural to paraphrase John the Baptist by saying something like: "Lord, what are You thinking? I can't do this!" In this Gospel, you might be asking yourself why Jesus needs to be baptized. Why does a sinless God-Man and the very Essence of innocence need to be baptized? The Holy Fathers dealt with that question and answered it by stating that Jesus wanted to sanction the baptism and ministry of Saint John the Baptist, to take that opportunity to teach humility among sinners, and lastly to sanctify the waters and give them the virtue of cleansing humanity from their sins by the laver of baptism. John already knows that Jesus is the Messiah and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove is an emblem of Christ's meekness and innocence. The Voice of the Father identifies Jesus as His own beloved Son. At this moment God reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Think about this Gospel the next time you witness a baptism. Human eyes can't detect the Holy Spirit descending upon the newly baptized but it does occur. And human ears can't hear the Voice of the Father saying: "This is My beloved son/daughter, with whom I am well pleased" but Scripture intimates that it does happen. And let's not forget that the newly baptized are now and forever the brother or sister of Jesus Christ and a child of God the Father. Baptism is an investiture for our heroic calling as children of God. And yes, perhaps God does ask us to do things that take us out of our comfort zone; but if we dive deep into this Gospel to seek other interpretations, what might be revealed here is that we're never alone. In fact, it is Christ working through us Who allows only Himself to be immersed into the deep while sparing us by keeping our heads afloat. With deep devotion to Christ, like John the Baptist we can say: "Lord I should be the one doing this, the one who deserves these difficult situations." And Jesus will answer: "Allow Me, the Lord of all." And by following His wishes we allow Him to be the One Who handles the brunt of those uncomfortable circumstances, those moments when we have stepped out into unexplored territory. "God is faithful and will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

07 January 2011

The Heavenly Protectress of the Carthusian Order

Our beloved founder worked strenuously for the glory of her who had chosen him from his childhood to be her apostle and servant. Together with his tender devotion to Mary, his children have also inherited his gratitude, and this is manifested as effectively as is permitted by their apostolate of the hidden life. Let us see what form this takes in the cloister.

After Saint Bruno, our principal exegetes – Denys the Carthusian, Ludolph of Saxony, Lanspergius among others – have held the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which was later to be proclaimed by the Church. And our historian Tromby (Benedetto Tromby: Storia del Patriarcha S. Brunone) even speaks of a manuscript entitled “Cartusia immaculata. . . the immaculate Charterhouse,” which recounts all that Carthusian authors have written in defense of Mary’s most beautiful privilege. For there has always existed in the Order a special zeal to propagate this doctrine, and His Holiness Saint Pius X, in his encyclical on the occasion of the Jubilee of the proclamation of the dogma, did Denys the Carthusian the great honor of borrowing his very words, in declaring the tradition of the Church on this point.

Our Ephemerides (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides Ordinis Cartusiensis) instance two of our Fathers who frequently declared themselves ready to undergo martyrdom to prove their belief in the grace of preservation from the stain of original sin accorded to the Virgin Mother of God. In the seventeenth century Dom Jean Pégon, whose generalate (Dom Jean Pégon was Prior of the Grande Chartreuse and 49th General of the Order from 1649-1675) had borne such exceptional fruit for the Order, had just received the Last Sacraments. Seeing his community gathered around him, he spoke to them of the principal mysteries of the Faith, especially of the Immaculate Conception, to which he had a particular devotion. And during his last illness, leaning on the arm of one of his monks, he used to kneel before the window of his cell, which opened on the side of the sanctuary of the chapel of Notre Dame de Casalibus, and there he would recommend to the heavenly Protectress of our Order all the needs of his religious family.

In the same century, the Charterhouse of Bosserville near Nancy was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and the proclamation of the dogma was solemnly celebrated there in 1854. A very simple but touching act of piety is related in this connection. A lay-brother of the House, Bruno Lhuillier, loved to preserve as long as possible the flowers that had been used for the festival, so dear were they to him because they had served to do honor to his Mother’s triumph.

And what a consolation it is to us, and what a cause for joy, to know that the feast of the Immaculate Conception in our Order dates back as far as the year 1333. It is true that the Statuta Nova of the year 1368 changed the term Conception first adopted to that of Sanctification, and that the General Chapter of 1406 continued to use this word to avoid all controversy. Nevertheless from 1418 onwards, the term Conception once more made its appearance in our liturgy, and was definitely restored in 1470.

If such was the Order’s zeal and fidelity shown in honoring the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, it was no less eager to celebrate that of the Visitation, as soon as the Holy See proposed this feast for the devotion of the faithful. In spite of the difficulties raised in the Church against the celebration of this feast proposed by Urban VI, and finally decreed by Pope Boniface IX, the Carthusians received it at once with holy joy.

The mere site of the titles under which our monasteries have been dedicated or known unfolds to our eyes a whole poem of faith and filial confidence. Out of the 260 or more Houses comprised in Monasticon (Maisons de l’Ordre des Chartreux), more than 120 have the honor of bearing the name of Mary; and under what varied and charming titles! Such are, for instance, the Door, the House, the Castle, the Cloister, the Cell, the Temple, the Court, the Throne, the Burning Bush of Mary. They are her Mountain, her Valley, her Park, her Garden, her Fountain, her Stream, her Gate. Our Lady is represented therein as the Way, the Door, the Peace of Paradise, the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of Mercy, the Court of God the Father, the Altar of Christ, the Lily of the Holy Spirit. None of the mysteries of her life are forgotten. Three Houses are dedicated to her Immaculate Conception; others to her Annunciation, her Visitation, Purification, Compassion, Assumption, Coronation. . . not forgetting the singularly expressive and confiding title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Valley of Josaphat.

What more can we say? Out of about four hundred seals of our Houses that have been recovered, two hundred bear some representation, monogram or legend in Mary’s honor. We can count no less than 168 Carthusian writers, who have composed in Mary’s praise some 335 works in different languages, without reckoning numerous reprints and translations.

And how about many touching incidents do we find in the devotion which so many devoted religious of the Order have shown for the Mother of our Savior. In this little work we shall content ourselves with recalling only the following, culled from the lives of three of our Fathers who have been raised to the altar.

What a delicacy of love and respect we see in the last directions given by Saint Hugh of Lincoln, that after his death his body should be washed, in honor of the church of our blessed Lady where he was to be buried (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Vol. IV).

Saint Stephen, Bishop of Die, formerly Prior of the Charterhouse of Portes, also wished to be laid to rest in the chapel of his cathedral dedicated to the Mother of God. And as he died on 7 September (the year was 1208), many miracles were worked from his tomb from the morrow onwards – the feast of the Nativity of Mary, a feast which he had the happiness of keeping with her, it is hoped, in heaven (Le Vasseur: Ephemerides, Vol. III).

Blessed Nicholas Albergati, Cardinal-Archbishop of Bologna, and formerly a simple monk of the Charterhouse of that city, seeing in 1433 his diocese ravaged by earthquakes and torrential rains, ordered three days of public prayer at the sanctuary of La Guardia, where there was preserved, it is said, the authentic picture of our Lady painted by Saint Luke. The venerated image was carried in procession during these three days to the churches of Bologna, and the scourged ceased (Cavallo: Life of Blessed Nicholas Albergati).

~ Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier ~

04 January 2011

A Wondrous Name

Below are teachings from a series by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem titled the “Mystagogical Catecheses” which is a series of instructions given to new converts to Christianity in Jerusalem during the fourth century. In this particular part of his series, Saint Cyril explains Who Jesus is, and what we believe about Him. Cyril calls the Name of Jesus, “Wondrous”. In our glorious history there have been great promoters of the Holy Name of Jesus. Certainly Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is one among those, as he spoke of it in many of his homilies. Also great promoters of this devotion were Saint Bernardine of Siena and Saint John Capistrano. Today in many of our church buildings are seen the letters representing the Holy Name of Jesus: “IHS”. On this day, 4 January 2011, the Carthusian Order celebrates this “wondrous” feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

We believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God. We say One Lord Jesus Christ, that His Sonship may be Only-begotten: we say One, that you may not profanely diffuse the many names of His action among many sons.

He is called a Door; but do not take the name literally for a thing of wood, but a spiritual, a living Door, discriminating those who enter in.

He is called a Way, not one trodden by feet, but leading to the Father in heaven.

He is called a Sheep, not an irrational one, but the One which through its precious Blood cleanses the world from its sins, which is led before the shearers, and knows when to be silent.

This Sheep again is called a Shepherd, who says, I am the Good Shepherd: a Sheep because of His manhood, a Shepherd because of the loving-kindness of His Godhead.

There is One Lord Jesus Christ, a wondrous Name, indirectly announced beforehand by the Prophets. For Isaiah the Prophet says, Behold, your Saviour comes, having His own reward. Now Jesus in Hebrew is by interpretation Savior. For the Prophetic gift, foreseeing the killing of Him by the Jews, veiled His name, lest from knowing it plainly beforehand they might plot against Him readily. But He was openly called Jesus not by men, but by an Angel, who came not by his own authority, but was sent by the power of God, and said to Joseph, Fear not to take unto you Mary your wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His Name Jesus. And immediately he renders the reason of this name, saying, for He shall save His people from their sins.

Consider how He Who was not yet born could have a people, unless He was in Being before He was born. This also the Prophet says in His person, From the womb of My Mother has He made mention of My Name; because the Angel foretold that He should be called Jesus.

Jesus then means according to the Hebrew Savior, but in Greek The Healer; since He is Physician of souls and bodies, Curer of spirits, curing the blind in body , and leading minds into light, healing the visibly lame, and guiding sinners' steps to repentance, saying to the paralyzed, Sin no more, and, Take up your bed and walk. For since the body was paralyzed for the sin of the soul, He ministered first to the soul that He might extend the healing to the body.

If, therefore, any one is suffering in soul from sins, there is the Physician for him: and if any one here is of little faith, let him say to Him, Help my unbelief. If any is encompassed also with bodily ailments, let him not be faithless, but let him draw near; for to such diseases also Jesus ministers, and let him learn that Jesus is the Christ.

This is Jesus Christ Who came a High-Priest of the good things to come; Who for the bountifulness of His Godhead imparted His own title to us all. For kings among men have their royal style which others may not share, but Jesus Christ being the Son of God gave us the dignity of being called Christians.

If there is any one who formerly believed not, let him now believe; and if any was before a believer, let him receive a greater increase of faith, by believing in our Lord Jesus Christ, and let him understand Whose Name he bears.

You are called a Christian: be tender of the name; let not our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, be blasphemed through you, but rather let your good works shine before men that they who see them may in our Lord Christ Jesus glorify the Father Who is in heaven.

To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen.

03 January 2011

Drinking Deeply of the Source

Across the globe, many Catholic dioceses celebrated the feast of the Epiphany yesterday, while others will do so on its traditional day 6 January. Here is a Carthusian reflection for this glorious feast. Like many Carthusian writings, there are gems here which are more applicable for those called to the contemplative life. But surely each of us can take something of what is shared here and apply it to our own lives.

The birth of our Lord is a renewal of creation. The Fathers of the Church have compared the Infant-God hidden under the triple veil of the maternal womb, of a cave and of night, to a secret seed whence a new Flower will blossom, for the joy of the world. All life, it so happens, is born in secret and is veiled in its beginnings with mystery and silence. And our Lord is Life itself: Ego sum vita… I am Life (Saint John 14:6). We shall never meditate enough on this Name, so rich in its meaning, that God has given to Himself.

The life He communicates to us is not the life of nature but of grace. Nevertheless, the first is the figure of the second, and the latter the fullness of the former. All life is freely given. In a living person life is the first and fundamental gift for which there can be neither preparation nor merit. It is not for nothing that the supernatural life is called grace, for it is life essential: a birth more mysterious, a gift more pure and unmerited, than that of nature, for it is a participation in the divine prerogatives that no created intelligence would have thought possible. We must possess the spirit of grace, the spirit of divine liberality which, when we receive God’s gifts, makes us welcome without hesitation all that He offers us so lavishly, and when we give, constrains us by a consummate generosity to imitate the divine abundance of that living water, sharing it with others, whilst we ourselves drink deeply of the source.

Among the faithful generally, it is by prayer and recollection that grace is diffused. With us, it must do so above all under the form of the interior life. Interior-ness is a characteristic of all life. An inanimate stone has a kind of activity, but it is only on the surface; it only resists shocks from without. Living things, on the other hand, discern and utilize whatever is good for them: an inner sense guides their conduct and growth. The spiritual life is even keener and more powerful still: there is nothing from which it cannot draw profit. The faithful soul finds its good in everything that affects it; a principle more profound than that which governs the life of nature causes it to derive strength and development from its contact with everything. When it is not so with us, when we allow the accidents of life to upset us and turn us from our path, it is surely because our life is not sufficiently interior. We must descend into the depths of our being, remain patient and still and re-find in the solitude where God dwells, that divine intelligence, that mysterious force, thanks to which we are again able to assimilate harmoniously without exception all that happens to us and around us.

As for us, the life of grace, the interior life, is developed under the form of the contemplative life. Perhaps, in order to make this union and fusion of man with his Creator clearer, we should express ourselves more simply, and it would be truer to say in general that we lead a life of union and love. Nonetheless, we rightly speak of it as the contemplative life to denote the ideal of a love essentially direct and disinterested. For contemplation is the act of a soul rapt in admiration in the presence of something more beautiful than itself. Such, indeed, is the nature of admiration, the force of beauty thus contemplated, that it can make us lose ourselves, utterly unconscious of our self. The act of contemplative love is at once the simplest and most direct. Here again we cannot help remarking the continuity of the processes of nature and grace. All life is love, and all life is forgetfulness of self. Life consists in losing oneself so as to gain a higher good. In all nature life can only be perpetuated by the immolation of the individual, sacrificed generation after generation, so that the flame of life it has received may be passed on and continued, undiminished, a living flame.

But it is, above all, in the realm of grace that abnegation is both a necessity and a joy. Qui perdiderit animam suam… he that shall lose his life for Me shall find it (Saint Matthew 10:39). The soul has the power to forget itself more than any other living thing: it has, if it so desire, the absolute limpidity of a mirror. Possessing no longer any form of its own, it reflects all the splendor of the infinite Majesty. To contemplate God thus, in the calm of recollection, is the source of all true wisdom. We are not masters of ourselves, we shall never know true justice or prudence, until by a brave and sincere gesture of welcome, we allow God to fulfill His will in us, and be in us all He wants to be.

May Mary, whose feast it is also, Mary full of grace, the most interior and hidden of virgins, whose soul is lost in pure admiration of the divine Majesty and thus utterly free, teach us to receive Him, and to love and contemplate Him, as she herself does.

01 January 2011

A Reign of Harmony

Below are words taken from homilies on the Dormition of Mary by Germanus of Constantinople. He was the subject of a Wednesday General Audience by Pope Benedict XVI back in April of 2009 at Saint Peter’s Square. In that catechesis, the Holy Father said of Germanus that “he played an important role in the overall history of the controversy over images during the ‘Iconoclastic Crisis’: he was able to resist effectively the pressures of an Iconoclast Emperor, in other words opposed to icons, such as Leo III.” In the excerpt below, Germanus speaks about the material colors of the icons of the Mother of God and how they dazzle us with the representation of her gifts. Also interesting is the patriarch’s remembrance that the temple of Solomon was once looked upon as an earthly representation of heaven; and now our church buildings, our places of worship should be thought of with that same dignity. This thought, perhaps, may bring to many of us a new excitement in our worship, especially during Eucharistic Adoration. Germanus of Constantinople delivers his words in these homilies, not so much as addressing crowds, but more as a personal prayer to our Blessed Mother. And these words are also what the Carthusian monks reflected on at Matins for this day, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Happy New Year everyone!

O Mary, you have given birth to the Word of God the Father, at the end of time, to the One Who is “in the beginning.” Immediately after Him coming into the world, the angels looked down from heaven singing the praises of God born from your womb. Crying out that glory had been added to the heights of heaven, they greeted the earth with the peace which at last had come. Enmity could no longer be called a barrier between angels and men, heaven and earth; there was now a reign of harmony, one mutually complimentary song of praise sung by both angels and men to the Triune God. The Father, Who turns to His only Son bearing witness to your Motherhood without need of a husband, says to Him: “Today I have begotten You.” And again: “From the womb before the morning-star, I have begotten You.”

These are revealing words of the mystery of God. If before He was begotten of you, O Virgin and Mother, how does the Father say to Him: “Today I have begotten You?” It is clear that “today” does not indicate that the existence of the Only-begotten’s divinity is something new, but reveals His bodily presence among men. The words “I have begotten you” show that the Holy Spirit, Who shares the Father’s substance, is also in the Father, the source of divine life and the sharer in His activity. The Spirit is inseparable from the Father, and when He places His home in you, Virgin and Mother, by the Father’s good pleasure, makes His own the activity of His Holy Spirit. That is why, when the Father along with the Spirit, inaugurates the coming-forth of His Son, from you in bodily form, He says to the Son: “Today I have begotten You.” The same is true of these other words: “From the womb, before the morning-star, I have begotten you.” For in our faith we grasp the essence of the eternal deity of the Son, co-Eternal with the Father before all ages, and His taking on natural human flesh, from you, the ever-Virgin.

By “the womb before the morning-star,” the Scripture refers to the birth of light which exists before the heavens, but which has now appeared on earth, in order to show that before all creation, visible and invisible, the Only-begotten was brought forth from the Father without beginning, as light is born of light; and “the womb” here signifies your own body, in order to show that the Only-begotten One also came forth from you in flesh. “Before the morning-star” also refers to the night before that dawning, for day is fittingly referred to as “the morning-star”; and since you brought forth light in the night, “for those who sit in darkness,” Scripture calls the hour of your Child bearing, “before the morning-star.”

O Mother of God, your care is for all people. Even if our eyes are prevented from seeing you, you love to dwell in the midst of us all, and you show yourself in a variety of ways to those who are worthy of you. For the flesh does not stand in the way of the power and activity of your spirit; your spirit “blows where it will” since it is pure and immaterial, an incorrupt and spotless spirit, a companion of the Holy Spirit, the chosen one of God’s Only-begotten. Your virginal body is all-holy, all pure, the dwelling-place of God. It is preserved and supremely glorified.

Who would not admire you for your unwavering care, your unchanging readiness to offer protection, your unsleeping intercession, your uninterrupted concern to save, your steady help, your unshakable patronage? Who does not recognize you as the treasury of delight, the garden free from reproaches, the citadel of safety, the harbor of storm-tossed ships, calm for the distraught, welcome for the exiled, dew for the soul’s dry season, a drop of rain for the parched grass? You are Mother of the Lamb Who is the Shepherd, the recognized patron of all the good.

But it is enough praise, O most admirable one, if we simply admit that we do not have the resources to praise all your gifts. You have received from God your exalted position, as a cause for triumph; therefore you have formed for Him a Christian people from your own flesh, and you have shaped them to be conformed to His divine image and likeness. Your light outshines the sun, your honor is above that of all creation, your excellence before that of the angels. For there is no place that you are not called blessed, no tribe from which fruit has not been borne for God from you. Even the peoples of this world who have not known you will themselves, at an acceptable time, call you blessed, O Virgin.

The angels luxuriate in their heavenly dwellings, but we rejoice to take our leisure in your holy temples. For if the temple of Solomon once represented heaven in an earthly image, will not the temples built in honor of you, who became the living temple of Christ, all the more be rightly celebrated as heaven on earth? The stars speak out with tongues of flame in the heavenly firmament; and the material colors of your icons, O Mother of God, dazzle us with the representation of your gifts.

You have your own proper praise within yourself, in that you were designated Mother of God. You did not inherit the title, “Mother of God,” simply because we heard this with our own ears; nor was it simply that our fathers proclaimed this to us in a tradition of utter truthfulness. Rather, the work you have accomplished in us confirms that you are Mother of God in very fact, literally and without deceit, not by some verbal self-indulgence, but in the way of true faith.