31 May 2011

The Visitation

Saint Luke in his Gospel took great strides to delineate Our Blessed Lady as the New Ark of the New and Everlasting Covenant, the human Tabernacle of the Lord.

Notice some of the scriptural parallels:

In the Old Testament are these words:
‘The cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory of the Lord filled it’ (Exodus 40:32).
And in the New Testament:
‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God’ (Saint Luke 1:35).

In the Old Testament:
‘And David was afraid of the Lord that day, saying: How shall the ark of the Lord come to me’? (2 Samuel 6:9).
In the New Testament:
‘And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me’? (Saint Luke 1:43).

In the Old Testament:
‘And David danced with all his might before the Lord: and David was girded with a linen ephod. And David and all the house of Israel brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord with joyful shouting, and with sound of trumpet’ (2 Samuel 6:14-15).
In the New Testament:
‘Behold as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy’ (Saint Luke 1:44).

In the Old Testament:
‘The ark of the Lord abode in the house of Obededom the Gethite three months’ (2 Samuel 6:11).
In the New Testament:
‘Mary abode with her about three months’ (Saint Luke 1:56).

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica that ‘Mary would not have been a worthy Mother of God if she had ever sinned’, thus we must profess with the Doctor Angelicus: ‘You are wholly beautiful, my love and without blemish’. We are sinners, and so, we can also say with Saint Elizabeth: ‘Whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me’? Nevertheless Our Blessed Lady would like to be invited to our house, not only the house in which we reside where she can guide us in family matters and parenting skills, but also the inner house, the temple of the soul. She brings Jesus with her. There she perpetually sings her Magnificat. And since she stayed in the house of Zachary for three months, we know that when invited, she will always arrive with a charitable heart. Let us permit Our Lady and her divine Son to take up residence at our inner house, where together they can clean this house of all temporal desires, that this house may always be called a ‘house of prayer’ (Saint Matthew 21:13).

Unfathomable Nature

The name Father has thus been revealed to men; the question arises: What is this Father's own Name? Yet surely the name of God has never been unknown. Moses heard it from the bush, Genesis announces it at the beginning of the history of creation, the Law has proclaimed and the prophets extolled it, the history of the world has made mankind familiar with it; even the pagans have worshipped it under a veil of falsehood. Men have never been left in ignorance of the Name of God.

And yet they were, in very truth, in ignorance. For no man knows God unless He confess Him as Father, Father of the Only-begotten Son, and confess also the Son, a Son by no partition or extension or procession, but born of Him, as the Son of the Father, ineffably and incomprehensibly, and retaining the fullness of that Godhead from which and in which He was born as true and infinite and perfect God. This is what the fullness of the Godhead means. If any of these things be lacking, there will not be that fullness which was pleased to dwell in Him. This is the message of the Son, His revelation to men in their ignorance. The Father is glorified through the Son when men recognise that He is the Father of a Son so Divine.

It is the Father to Whom all existence owes its origin. In Christ and through Christ He is the Source of all. In contrast to all else He is self-existent. He does not draw His Being from without, but possesses it from Himself and in Himself. He is infinite, for nothing contains Him and He contains all things; He is eternally unconditioned by space, for He is illimitable; eternally anterior to time, for time is His creation.

Let imagination range to what you may suppose is God's utmost limit, and you will find Him present there; strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His Being will not be circumscribed.

Or again, turn back the pages of history, and you will find Him ever present; should numbers fail to express the antiquity to which you have penetrated, yet God's eternity is not diminished. Engage your intellect to comprehend Him as a whole; He eludes you.

God is everywhere and wholly present wherever He is. Reason, therefore, cannot cope with Him, since no point of contemplation can be found outside Himself and since eternity is eternally His.

This is a true statement of the mystery of that unfathomable nature which is expressed by the Name 'Father:' God invisible, ineffable, infinite. Let us confess by our silence that words cannot describe Him; let sense admit that it is foiled in the attempt to apprehend, and reason in the effort to define. He does not, as men do, receive the power of paternity from an external source. He is unbegotten, everlasting, inherently eternal. To the Son only is He known, for no one knows the Father save the Son and him to whom the Son wills to reveal Him, nor yet the Son save the Father. Each has perfect and complete knowledge of the Other.

Therefore, since no one knows the Father save the Son, let our thoughts of the Father be at one with the thoughts of the Son, the only faithful Witness, Who reveals Him to us.

Listen then to the Unbegotten Father, listen to the Only-begotten Son. Hear His words: The Father is greater than I, and I and the Father are One, and he that has seen Me has seen the Father also , and the Father is in Me and I in the Father, and I went out from the Father, and Who is in the Bosom of the Father, and whatsoever the Father has He has delivered to the Son, and the Son has life in Himself, even as the Father has in Himself. Hear in these words the Son, the Image, the Wisdom, the Power, the Glory of God. Next mark the Holy Spirit proclaiming: Who shall declare His generation? Note the Lord's assurance: No one knows the Son save the Father, neither does any know the Father save the Son and He to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Penetrate into the mystery, plunge into the darkness which shrouds that birth, where you will be alone with God the Unbegotten and God the Only-begotten. Make your start, continue, persevere. I know that you will not reach the goal, but I shall rejoice at your progress. For He who devoutly treads an endless road, though he reach no conclusion, will profit by his exertions.

Reason will fail for want of words, but when it comes to a stand it will be the better for the effort made.

~ Saint Hilary of Poitiers ~

28 May 2011

Dominica Sexta Paschæ

First Reading, Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
You may recall from last weekend's First Reading that Philip is one of the newly ordained deacons. Preaching to the city of Samaria is a further advancement towards the goal of the Church becoming universal. And the text indicates that miraculous events were occurring through the hands of Philip. Peter and John laid hands on the people of Samaria and they received the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ Who, as the Head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among His members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness, and associate them to His Self-offering to the Father and to His intercession for the whole world. Through the Church's sacraments, Christ communicates His Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the members of His Body" (CCC 739). Philip had the advantage of the Samaritans having already been somewhat evangelized by the woman at the well after her life altering conversation with Jesus (cf. John 4:5-42). That Gospel passage concludes by pointing out that many of the Samaritans had come to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. One probable obstacle to overcome was the Samaritan belief that God was to be adored on the mountain of Gerizim while Jews worshipped at Jerusalem (cf. John 4:20). It is not known at the time of Philip's visit if that barrier had yet been torn down. Certainly, if not then, at least eventually the house of universality would begin to be built brick by brick whereby Christians would comply to our Lord's plan of worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth with location being irrelevant (cf. John 4:23). This is quite a miraculous turn of events when considering the previous protocol was that "Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). Jesus began this good work and His example was continued – and is to be continued.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 3:15-18
Human beings do not sit in a classroom to be taught how to love. Love is instinctive because the Law of God, which is His Love, is written on every human heart. At the heart of every human struggle, however, is the human heart. The inner demons try to erase that which has been written by the Finger of God. The ways of God are perfectly harmonious. Angelic choirs resound from the human heart: "I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3). But in moments of weakness comes a voice a bit out of tune: "All these things I will give you. . . " (Matthew 4:9). This is the temptation to lust after this world's goods -- it is the cornerstone of a secular society. And perhaps what makes humanity succumb to it is that in our brokenness, what is laid before us is often more attractive to the senses than that which has not even entered the heart of man – that which God has prepared for those who love Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). Saint Peter commands us to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. With every command is the option to disobey because humanity has been granted the gift of free will. Humanity's free will, indeed, has the power to make Jesus Lord of the heart. And to do so is the only way to fight off that mysterious, alluring whisper which tells us that we are capable by ourselves of being like gods (cf. Genesis 3:5). Nothing can explain the reason for hope more fervently than lives being lived in holiness by those who genuinely bear the Christian name, those who sanctify Christ as Lord in their heart. In Saint Matthew's Gospel our Savior teaches: "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake; for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you untruly, for My sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, for your reward is very great in heaven" (Matthew 5:10-12). Our Lord's Passion is a reminder of the inevitability of our own sufferings and eventual death; His Resurrection is our hope for a new and eternal life in which there is cause for rejoicing here and now -- and forever.

Gospel, John 14:15-21
The connection between love for the Lord and obeying His Commandments is not a new concept from Jesus. In the Old Testament God promises mercy unto many thousands who love Him and keep His Commandments (cf. Deuteronomy 5:10). There is, however, a distinction that perhaps can be made: Jesus taught that loving God and loving neighbor are the greatest Commandments; and the whole Law and the Prophets are dependent upon those two Commandments (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Love, then, is the fulfillment of the Law. All of the "You shall not" warnings in the Ten Commandments deal with either a mistreatment of God or of our fellow human beings; and, of course, abusive behavior is incompatible with love. But in a mysterious way, since God became Man in the Person of Jesus Christ, the compatibility of God and man and their relationship to the Law is now very intimately fused. Jesus offers us an "Advocate". The Greek text uses the word "Parakletos" and the Latin Vulgate defines the Advocate with the word "Paraclitum". Most likely these two ancient words draw you to the word "Paraclete". It has also been translated as: Comforter, Intercessor, Teacher, or Helper. For the Church, the Advocate inwardly keeps the external teachings of Jesus engraved in her heart and soul and guarantees her infallibility. The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit on individuals is not limited strictly in meaning to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. The soul is renewed by grace and thus becomes a dwelling-place for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Saint Thomas Aquinas describes the union of the Advocate with the soul as a mystical union which varies in degree. The Advocate's consolation of the soul includes assistance, advice, protection, intercession, and everything to promote the growth of holiness welling up to eternal life. In this Gospel, the mission of the Advocate appears to be that of an Abider with the apostles after the visible Presence of Jesus ascends to heaven. Our love for the Son draws the Father's love, as well as the Son's response to our love which is perceived by our faith which comes from the Holy Spirit's Indwelling. Consider and reflect upon the remarkable work done by the apostles after the Ascension – and then understand that by living a sacramental life which manifests our love for God and neighbor, promotes that same Power within each of us to be effective and holy disciples.

That Nothing Might Hinder Our Seeking the Lord

O Lord, two lessons have You taught us, Your servants: that You are, and what You are not. We crave a third: to know what You are. How true it is that in adding to our learning, You add to the load we bear. Precisely because that You are and what You are not can neither be disguised nor prove deceptive, our longing to know what You are is all the greater.

Would that we knew not what you are not, and could beguile ourselves with some enticing fancy instead of You, or rather would that we knew what You are and could cling to You in truth and content.

Show Your very Self to us, Lord. You know that our whole longing this day is for Yourself, our love for You is for Your own sake. Have we not forsaken worldliness completely, and this present world almost as fully, that nothing might hinder our seeking You?

~ Isaac of Stella ~

26 May 2011

Saint Philip Neri: A Humble Priest

Today is the feast of Saint Philip Neri. Blessed John Henry Newman had preached a couple of sermons on this great saint at the Birmingham Oratory. Here’s an excerpt:

Let us . . . inquire what Saint Philip's times were, and what place he holds in them; what he was raised up to do, how he did it, and how we, my Fathers of the Oratory, may make his work and his way of doing it a pattern for ourselves in this day. His times were such as the Church has never seen before nor since, and such as the world must last long for her to see again; nor peculiar only in themselves, but involving a singular and most severe trial of the faith and love of her children. It was a time of sifting and peril.

[The] Church . . . though full of divine gifts, the Immaculate Spouse, the Oracle of Truth, the Voice of the Holy Ghost, infallible in matters of faith and morals, whether in the chair of her Supreme Pontiff, or in the unity of her Episcopate, nevertheless was at this time so environed, so implicated, with sin and lawlessness, as to appear in the eyes of the world to be what she was not. Never, as then, were her rulers, some in higher, some in lower degree, so near compromising what can never be compromised; never so near denying in private what they taught in public, and undoing by their lives what they professed with their mouths; never were they so mixed up with vanity, so tempted by pride, so haunted by concupiscence; never breathed they so tainted an atmosphere, or were kissed by such traitorous friends, or were subjected to such sights of shame, or were clad in such blood-stained garments, as in the centuries upon and in which Saint Philip came into the world. Alas, for us, my brethren, the scandal of deeds done in Italy then is borne by us in England now.

It was an age . . . when civilization, powerless as yet to redress the grievances of society at large, gave to princes and to nobles as much to possess as before, and less to suffer; increased their pomp, and diminished their duties and their risks; became the cloak of vices which it did not extirpate, made revenge certain by teaching it to be treacherous, and unbelief venerable by proving it to be ancient. Such were the characteristics of Saint Philip's age; and Florence, his birth-place, presented the most complete exhibition of them -- and next to Florence, Rome, the city of his adoption.

It is not by powerful declamation, or by railing at authorities, that the foundations are laid of religious works. It is not by sudden popularity, or by strong resolves, and demonstrations, or by romantic incidents, or by immediate successes, that undertakings commence which are to last.

The Lord of grace Himself . . . grew up in silence and obscurity, overlooked by the world; and then He triumphed. He was the grain cast into the earth, which, while a man ‘sleeps and rises, night and day, springs up and grows whilst he knoweth not’. He was the mustard seed, ‘which is the least of all seeds, but, when it is grown up, becometh a tree, and shooteth out great branches, so that the birds of the air dwell under its shadow’. He grew up ‘as a tender plant, and as a root out of a thirsty land’; and ‘His look was, as it were, hidden and despised, wherefore we esteemed Him not’. And, when He began to preach, He did not ‘contend nor cry out, nor break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax’; and thus ‘He sent forth judgment unto victory’. So was it in the beginning, so has it been ever since. After the storm, the earthquake and the fire, the calm, soothing whisper of the fragrant air.

St. Philip was a child of . . . the convent of Saint Mark; here he received his first religious instruction, and in after times he used to say, ‘Whatever there was of good in me, when I was young, I owed it to the Fathers of Saint Mark's, in Florence’.

Reverend Father Philip, an old man of sixty, who, they say, is an oracle, not only in Rome, but in the far-off parts of Italy, and of France and Spain, so that many come to him for counsel; indeed he is another Thomas à Kempis, or Tauler. But it required to live in Rome to understand what his influence really was. Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low. He taught poor begging women to use mental prayer; he took out boys to play; he protected orphans. He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers. Cardinals hung about his room, and Popes asked for his miraculous aid in disease, and his ministrations in death. It was his mission to save men, not from, but in, the world. To break the haughtiness of rank, and the fastidiousness of fashion, he gave his penitents public mortifications; to draw the young from the theatres, he opened his Oratory of Sacred Music; to rescue the careless from the Carnival and its excesses, he set out in pilgrimage to the Seven Basilicas. For those who loved reading, he substituted, for the works of chivalry or the hurtful novels of the day, the true romance and the celestial poetry of the Lives of the Saints. He set one of his disciples to write history against the heretics of that age; another to treat of the Notes of the Church; a third, to undertake the Martyrs and Christian Antiquities; for, while in the discourses and devotions of the Oratory, he prescribed the simplicity of the primitive monks, he wished his children, individually and in private, to cultivate all their gifts to the full. He, however, was, after all and in all, their true model, the humble priest, shrinking from every kind of dignity, or post, or office, and living the greater part of day and night in prayer, in his room or upon the housetop.

And when he died, a continued stream of people . . . came to see his body, during the two days that it remained in the church, kissing his bier, touching him with their rosaries or their rings, or taking away portions of his hair, or the flowers which were strewed over him; and, among the crowd, persons of every rank and condition were heard lamenting and extolling one who was so lowly, yet so great.

Would that we, his children of this Oratory, were able -- I do not say individually, but even collectively, nor in some one generation, but even in that whole period during which it is destined to continue here -- would that we were able to do a work such as his! At least we may take what he was for our pattern, whatever be the standard of our powers and the measure of our success. And certainly it is a consolation that thus much we can say in our own behalf, that we have gone about his work in the way most likely to gain his blessing upon us.

My brethren, I do not feel it to be any want of devotion or reverence towards our dear Father, to speak of him as looking out to be taught, or willing to be governed. It is like his most amiable, natural, and unpretending self. He was ever putting himself in the background, and never thought of taking on himself a rule, or seizing on a position, in the Church, or of founding a religious body. He did not ask to be opposed, to be maligned, to be persecuted, but simply to be overlooked, to be despised. Neglect was the badge which he desired for himself and for his own. He took great pleasure in being undervalued. And hence you know, when he became so famous in his old age, and every one was thinking of him mysteriously, and looking at him with awe, and solemnly repeating Father Philip's words and rehearsing Father Philip's deeds, and bringing strangers to see him, it was the most cruel of penances to him, and he was ever behaving himself ridiculously on purpose, and putting them out, from his intense hatred and impatience of being turned into a show.

We have determined, through God's mercy, not to have the praise or the popularity that the world can give, but, according to our Father's own precept, ‘to love to be unknown’. May this spirit ever rule us more and more!

25 May 2011

Bearing His Name always in the mind, in the heart and on the lips

Today at Carthusian Matins:

Life in God is like a precious chain, rich in gold, in which one virtue is closely linked with another, and all are harmonised into one whole. This must be so, since they all constitute one body – namely, they deify a man who sincerely lives by them, as it were enriching him with their connected links. A man is enriched by the faith, and if you will, by the hope and humility, with which he calls on the most sweet Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and he is enriched also by peace and love.

The gift and coming of the Holy Spirit is given to the faithful from God the Father through Christ Jesus and His holy Name, as the most Divine and compassionate Lord Jesus said to the apostles: ‘It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you’ (Saint John 16:7). And, ‘But when the Comforter comes, Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness’ (Saint John 15:26).

Especially those who have wished to embrace the field of divine silence and consecrate themselves to God, having renounced the world to practise hesychasm with wisdom, and to prefer prayer to the Lord above any other work or care, begging His mercy with undaunted hope.

Such men should have, as their constant practice and occupation, the invoking of His most holy and sweet Name, bearing it always in the mind, in the heart and on the lips. They should force themselves in every way possible to live, breathe, sleep and wake, walk, eat and drink with Him and in Him, and shall we say, do all that they have to do.

~ Callistus and Ignatius Xanthopoulos ~

23 May 2011

What a Gift!

A Carthusian monk reflects on the Virgin Mother of God:

The Son of God was about to die. The Sacred Scriptures were fulfilled, the chalice had been drained to the dregs; all was consummated. Jesus could freely leave this life, which for our sakes he had freely taken up. But Mary, her heart transpierced by a sword, stood by the Cross with the beloved disciple. Seeing the immense void which His death was to create in the soul of His Mother, Jesus said to Saint John: “Behold thy Mother!”

What a gift! The Fathers of the Church have written long dissertations upon it. So profound is it that no human mind can fully penetrate its depth and meaning. Saint John himself, in whom it operated so many miracles of grace, did he realize all that it implied? Does not Jesus seem to say to the son of Zebedee: “Here is My Mother, I entrust her to you. My going is for her the supreme trial; without Me, earth will no longer hold anything for her. And yet, her presence is necessary to my infant Church. I adjure you, be to her another son; be to her a Jesus. Your affection, your tenderness, your filial love will help her to bear her exile. At the Last Supper, I allowed you to rest on My Heart and drink at the very source of divine charity, in order to prepare you for the mission with which I entrust you now. In this, as in all else, more than in all else, be mindful of my word – I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so do you also.”

It was thus that devotion to Mary and love for her was established in the Church. It was, so to speak, a sacrament of grace for souls. The reason for it was obvious: it was that Mary might be loved as Jesus loved her.

The divine commandment made to us in the person of Saint John – to love our Lady – goes beyond all time. The Carthusian author of La Clef du Ciel said: “What we see in the homage paid by the Church to the glorious Queen of Heaven is still and always will be the love of Jesus for her. It is her, it is His Soul on fire with the ardor of the Holy Spirit, which secretly touches our hearts, as a musician plucks the strings of his lyre, to the glory of the most noble of all creatures.”

It is the desire of this Son, so tenderly drawn to His Mother, that we should imitate the zeal and devotion that He has shown, in order to give glory to His Blessed Mother. Out of the thirty-three years which were to make up His life on earth, thirty were consecrated to the sanctification of Mary. “God Who became Man,” says Saint Grignon de Montfort, “found His freedom in being hidden within the womb of Mary. He made His Omnipotence shine forth in letting Himself be carried by the Blessed Virgin. He found His own and His Father’s glory in hiding His splendors from all creatures here below, and revealing them alone to Mary. He glorified His independence and His Majesty in depending upon that sweet Virgin, in His conception, His birth, in His Presentation in the Temple, in His hidden life of thirty years, and even in His death, where she was to be present, in order that He might make with her but one same Sacrifice and be immolated to His Father by her consent, just as Isaac of old was offered to the will of God by Abraham’s consent. Jesus Christ gave more glory to God the Father by His submission to His Mother during those thirty years than He would have given Him in converting the whole world by the working of the most stupendous miracles. Oh how highly we glorify God when, to please Him, we submit ourselves to Mary, after the example of Jesus!” (True Devotion).

“If all our members were transformed into as many tongues,” cries Saint Bernard, “we would still be unable to render worthy praise to Mary.” We need never be afraid of honoring our Lady too much; we shall never honor her enough!

21 May 2011

Dominica Quinta Paschæ

First Reading, Acts 6:1-7
When Padre Pio was nearing the end of his life, it saddened many. But the supernaturally gifted Italian Capuchin priest told the faithful that he will be of much more help to them in heaven than he ever could be on earth. Much grief was experienced with the passing of Pope John Paul II. During his ministry as our Holy Father, he called all of us to a new evangelization. Through this evangelization he foresaw what he defined as a new springtime for the Church. As laity, to evangelize does not necessarily mean a preaching of the Word of God in the same sense as the twelve apostles are charged with in this Reading. In very practical terms, to evangelize is to absorb what we are taught from the Word of God and take those lessons out into the world and live out those lessons. For us as laity, therefore, to evangelize is to live our faith by example. Quite often example is more powerful than preaching. It's an interesting spiritual house that the Holy Spirit has built: We have priests (pope, cardinals and bishops included) who are ministers of the Word of God like the apostles; there is the laity who take those lessons of the Word out into the world; and then there are deacons in which Stephen, Philip and the other five mentioned in this Reading are among the first. The diaconate is a ministry that identifies with both priestly and laity experiences. In a sense they serve as the liaison with priests and laypersons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the role of the deacon as one who is involved in pastoral and liturgical ministries, as well as being ministers of social and charitable works (cf. CCC 1571). When we are faithful to our role in evangelization, then most certainly we will continue to witness an increase in the number of disciples, not only in the worldwide Church but also in our little corner of it. We lost a hero in John Paul II but have gained a powerful intercessor before the Throne of God. And with his prayers added to our own commitment to evangelize, we may soon witness a larger than life spreading of the Word of God; and rejoice as the Church's new springtime unfolds under Pope Benedict XVI.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 2:4-9
The first four words of this Reading are striking: "Beloved, come to Him"; and prompts a handful of questions to reflect upon: What means do I use to come to Jesus? What are other ways to come to Him that I've never tried? Do I come to Him often enough? Do I approach Jesus as fervently when things are going well as I do when I'm in trouble? In the Roman Catholic faith there is a treasure trove of devotions at our disposal which can greatly assist us in our approach to Jesus. Virtually all authentic Christocentric devotions are designed to help us meet Jesus at our inner sanctuary. And what a merciful and loving God we serve! We are human beings, and thus when we sin, we reject our Living Stone. But our Cornerstone, Who is chosen and precious in the sight of God, never rejects us. On the contrary, our belief in Him spares us from ever being put to shame; and our gift of holy priesthood endows us with the privilege to offer spiritual sacrifices that are not rejected, but accepted by God through Jesus Christ. We are sinful humanity and because of it we occasionally face the darkness; but with our acceptance of God's merciful love, the Light will always overpower the darkness. "Royal" priesthood has both an earthly and heavenly connotation. Royalty intimates governance, and so, we are called upon to govern our passions on earth and thus we will reign with Christ in heaven.

Gospel, John 14:1-12
When Pope John Paul II went home to the Lord, he left behind a flock of many troubled hearts. His death brought forth an array of concerns about the future of the Church. It is an occasion such as this where we can see how eternal Christ's words are. Our Lord's words of consolation were spoken two thousand years ago and yet they could easily be applied to the concerns of any age in history. Jesus departed to prepare a place for us so that we may be with Him. On 2 April 2005 Jesus Christ came back again to take John Paul II to Himself. And for us, those eternal words of our Lord needed to be heard in our spirit: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." Jesus assures us that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. This is boggling to the human mind. Jesus embodies so many things we've become familiar with in Sacred Scripture – in fact He is the Embodiment of Sacred Scripture – the Word made Flesh. He is the Embodiment of the Torah, the parting of the Red Sea or Gateway to freedom, the Bread of angels, the sacrificial Lamb, the Covenant, the Blood on the doorposts, the Promised Land, the Way, the Truth, the Life and the fulfillment of all the sacred mysteries of the Old Testament. It is perhaps the crux of what separates believers in the Divinity of Jesus from non-believers. In Pope Benedict's book, "Jesus of Nazareth," our Holy Father writes about how recent scholarship has detached Jesus from God and reduces Jesus to an anti-Roman revolutionary Who failed to overthrow the ruling powers. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, who is featured in Pope Benedict's book, also has written a book titled, "A Rabbi Talks with Jesus." Rabbi Neusner imagines having a dialogue with a first century Jew well-versed in the Law of Moses after Rabbi Neusner had listened to our Saviour's teachings on the Torah. The imaginary dialogue goes like this: The Torah expert asks concerning Christ's teachings on the Torah: "What did He [Jesus] leave out?" Rabbi Neusner answers: "Nothing." The Torah expert asks: "Then what did He add?" Rabbi Neusner answers: "Himself." It is reasonable to think that a Man cannot take all of this upon Himself. And let's face it, without faith in Jesus Christ, it would have to be deemed a fantastic notion. In fact, for some branches of monotheism it is considered insulting and scandalous to even consider that God became Man. On the surface that may appear to be an oppressive religious mandate but consider that Jews as well as Christians are taught from the Old Testament that no one can look on the Face of God and live (cf. Exodus 33:20). But in Christ Jesus, God has put on a human Face so that we can not only look upon Him but also Jesus calls each of us to a personal search for His Face. And what radiates from His Face promises to be an experience of Love like never experienced before. Our Redeemer asks us in this Gospel to have faith in Him. Our "yes" to Him doesn't mean abandoning what is reasonable or logical, but with God's help, opens us up to what is transcendent and the belief that with God all things are possible (cf. Matthew 19:26). Death of the faithful promises eternal joy but consequently it often leaves feelings of insecurity to those who still remain. It's amazing in any person's life that after taking into consideration the many years of prayer, years of going to Mass, years of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, years of reading and listening to our Lord's words from Scripture that what Jesus said to Philip then still applies here and now: "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know Me?" Such is our human weakness; and that inner fear or uncertainty we have of what the future holds, paints a vivid picture of the reality of how much we are in need of our Lord. Blessed John Paul II often said and was a living witness to the words, "Do not be afraid." His existence was a photo album of a life that had faith in Jesus Christ. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in Me." Such comforting and eternally rewarding words from our Saviour -- if only we have the faith to believe it.

20 May 2011

Reciting the Divine Office respectfully, attentively, devoutly

After the Sacrifice of the altar the Divine Office is one of the most important functions of my ministry. In making me responsible for this office, the Church wishes that several times a day her minister be present before the throne of his God’s mercies to draw down heavenly blessings on her children, and turn away from above their heads the scourges that the multitude of sins committed on earth call out for all too strongly. She wishes that I perform in her name, and in the name of the Christian people, that I take part here below in what employs the blessed spirits in heaven: Divinum Officium, imitatio coelestis concentus (S. Bonav. De Sexalis Seraph. c.8), that I begin during this life that concert of praises that I shall not cease to repeat in the other, if, as I must hope, I have the happiness to get there.

So I will direct all my attention to acquit myself worthily of this holy and consoling ministry, both as to the manner and as to the order in which I say it. As to the manner, I will direct all my attention to see that it is not an empty din of muddled words said out of obligation; I know well enough what reproaches the Jews merited for not having acquitted this duty of religion in any other way than this. This people honours me with their lips, says the Lord, and their heart is far from me. How many priests deserve this reproach, and as for myself too, do I not have some improvements to make on this score?

The indispensable conditions required for praying as one ought are found in this preparatory prayer that a laudable custom normally prefixes to the recitation of every part of the Divine Office: Aperi Domine os meum ut digne, attente, ac devote recitare valeam hoc officium, etc., namely, respectfully, attentively, devoutly.

Respectfully i.e., without haste, in a modest posture, in a suitable place.

Attentively for without attention there is no true prayer, prayer being a rational worship. To pray without attention is to act purely mechanically.

Devoutly for prayer is homage of the heart even more than it is of the mind, and the words of Our Lady prove that it is in the heart that lies the merit of prayer.

In the recitation of the Office, therefore, it will be very much to the point, indeed indispensable, always to prepare myself, even if only by fervently raising my heart to God.

I will take pains to repulse every distraction that comes up as soon as I notice it, and to avoid them persisting in spite of myself I will make an imperceptible pause at the end of each psalm while saying Gloria Patri, to renew my intention and refocus my attention if it has wandered for a moment. I will fix my mind to the best of my ability on the meaning of the Psalms that I am saying, in such a way as to follow the Psalmist in the various feelings that move him and that my heart may produce the same effect that animated him when he composed those wonderful canticles, Si orat Psalmus orate. Si gemit gemite,.si gratulatur gaudete, si timet timete (5. Aug. in Ps. 30), but when I do notice some involuntary distraction, I will try to accept not to go over it again as has sometimes happened, being satisfied in that case with humbling myself before the Lord, asking pardon of Him from the bottom of my heart, and starting again then with a new fervour to make reparation for past negligence.

So much for the manner in which I will acquit myself in a holy way of that important and consoling function. I will not add anything else save a desire that I might make this prayer on my knees, with uncovered head, as we read that the Venerable Cardinal Bellarmine and several other holy personages never failed to do.

As to the order, I will enter as much as I can into the spirit of the Church and its ancient practice by dividing up my saying of the office, and reciting it at the different times set out for it; if the Venerable Bellarmine, overburdened as he was with so many responsibilities, managed to conform with this edifying practice, it seems to me it should not be impossible for me, especially as I have always wanted to do it and have even made the attempt without difficulty while I was at the seminary.

~ Saint Eugène de Mazenod ~

18 May 2011

O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Maria!

This beautiful prayer comes to us from the mind and heart of a Carthusian monk:

O Lord Jesus, my God, I give You thanks for Your boundless love, and for the favors bestowed upon the Angels and men, and upon the whole world, from the noblest and worthiest of all Your creatures, the most holy Virgin Mary, Your Mother, down to me the most unworthy of all, unfit to appear before You on account of my sins and ingratitude.

Be forever blessed, O infinitely good Jesus, Who has from all eternity chosen Mary, this matchless Virgin, to be Your Mother! You made her wholly Immaculate. You preserved her from all sin. You prepared and possessed her soul, and adorned it with the fullness of all virtues and all graces. You were conceived in her womb; she is Your Mother. You were nourished at her holy breast. You willed that she should be present at Your preaching and at the sufferings of Your Passion and death. You allowed her to take part in our redemption. And now that she has been taken up to Heaven in body and soul, and is crowned with very great glory, You have given her to us to be our advocate, the Queen of mercy, and our Mother. Praise, glory and honor be to You forever for all these benefits! Most sweet Jesus, I offer you the heart of Mary and her merits, and through her I commend myself to Your most kind Heart.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Mary, may I be all yours and you all mine! Keep me, guide me, deliver me, preserve me from all sin, from all harm, from all danger, and remove from me everything that might come between my soul and God.

17 May 2011

Life-changing Gifts Deserve Thanksgiving

“When a person has eaten some delicious food at a banquet, he is careful not to take anything bitter in his mouth immediately after, lest he should lose the sweet flavor of those delicate viands. In like manner, when we have received the precious Body of Jesus Christ, we should take care not to lose its heavenly flavor by turning too soon to the cares and business of the world.” These are the words of Saint John Chrysostom.

We live in a time when priests usually preside at more than one Mass on a Sunday. For parents and their children, in addition to Mass, Sundays also mean softball practice or soccer practice or some other sport. And of course, Sundays also mean getting home in time for the big game. The Sunday liturgical celebration is in danger of becoming something obligatory that we must, therefore, squeeze in between everything else going on in our lives. And yet, the truth is that Mass is the most important thing we do each week. Nothing else we do has more eternal value for our souls. We all see it every week – church-goers heading for the exit right after Holy Communion. Being preoccupied with secular aspirations on a Sunday is not what makes saints.

The quote from Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us to offer a proper thanksgiving when Mass has concluded. It used to be a fairly common practice which today has subsided. For priests and anyone who prays the Divine Office, the breviaries prior to the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours contained prayers that were appropriate Before and After Mass. Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said: “Thanksgiving after Mass has traditionally been greatly esteemed for both the priest and the lay faithful.”

Saint Teresa of Avila instructed her Sisters about what to do after Mass: “Let us detain ourselves lovingly with Jesus and not waste the hour that follows Communion.”

Saint Philip Neri said: “We have to pay proper respect to our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you.” Saint Philip defined the love of God as a “devouring fire.”

How much time should be spent in Thanksgiving has always seemed to depend on the individual. Cardinal Arinze recommends ten minutes. Saint Josemaria Escrivá said: “Do not leave the church almost immediately after receiving the Sacrament. Surely you have nothing so important on that you cannot give our Lord ten minutes to say thanks. Love is repaid with love.” But the Church has had some very extraordinary souls in her history. Those like Padre Pio, Jean Marie Vianney and Louis Marie de Montfort couldn’t be dragged away from Thanksgiving by wild horses. Hours upon hours have been spent in Thanksgiving by these beautiful souls as well as others.

Saint Catherine of Genoa once had a dream that she would not be able to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In this dream she was so grief-stricken by this that she cried uncontrollably. The next morning when she woke up, her face was wet. Thus it was not only in the dream that she shed many tears. Her love was so great for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that she could not bear the thought of not receiving Him in Holy Communion.

Saint Gemma Galgani wrote to her spitiual director these words: “Today I went to Confession and the Confessor said that I must stop receiving Jesus. O my Father, my pen does not want to write more, my hand shakes strongly, I cry.” She also expressed these words to Jesus in Holy Communion: “You are my loving prey just as I am the object of Your immense charity.”

As Saint Josemaria said, these are examples of love repaying love.

What does our Lord Himself say about this? Here’s what our Divine Savior told Saint Faustina: “My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. When I come to a human heart in Communion, My Hands are filled with graces which I want to give to souls. But souls do not pay attention to Me: they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. They do not recognize love. They treat Me as a dead object.”

Our Lord invites us to His house and feeds us with “the living Bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus said: “If any man comes after Me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24). This is a statement about priorities. Is the Lord truly the Center of our lives? Let us consider reintroducing the practice of spending some time in Thanksgiving after Mass. Most disconcerting and heartbreaking are our Redeemer’s words: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:68).

16 May 2011

Our Lady's Poverty

This particular piece from a Carthusian monk focuses on the poverty of the Virgin Mother of God, in order that she may ‘preserve her unique treasure’. Jesus tells us to ‘make to yourselves . . . a treasure in heaven which does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth corrupts. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Saint Luke 12:33-34). The possessions of this world’s goods or the lack thereof, causes much stress in the hearts of humanity. Our fallen nature renders us ‘control freaks’, making it difficult to surrender totally to our Lord and trust in His Providence. Jesus encourages us however, when He said: ‘Fear not, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom’ (ibid. verse 32).

Our annals record the apparition, in the year 1137, of Our Blessed Lady to a simple lay-brother of La Correrie near La Grande Chartreuse, to whom she said, having delivered him from some grievous temptation: ‘Keep on advancing always in the life of perfection. Love the coarse food, the poor clothing allowed you by your Rule, and spend yourself in manual labour’.

These are the counsel of a Mother, herself imbued with a great love for poverty, a virtue of which during the whole of her life she gave a wonderful example.

Daughter of David and the descendant of the kings of Judah, Mary counted it her glory to live hidden from the eyes of men. She heard herself spoken of as a carpenter’s wife, and rejoiced in it, just as her Son was happy to pass for a workman’s son.

Rich in the possession of her divine Son, Mary deprived herself of the goods of this world, in order to preserve her unique treasure. And yet as she was Queen of creation, she knew that she could have been trusted always to make use of created things in a lawful and holy manner. We too, therefore, should remain detached from the vanities of this world, if we would possess Him Who in truth only gives Himself to those who can repeat with the poor man of Assisi: My God, and my All!

The prospect of the unfading crown which will encircle the brows of those who conquer for Christ’s sake should make us generous in our detachment, like those athletes of whom the apostle speaks, who strip themselves of everything in order to fight in the arena (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25). Did not Joshua once see his army put to flight by the enemies of God in punishment for a theft committed by a son of Israel, who had stolen objects vowed to the pagan gods?

Holy Mary, Mother of God: pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

14 May 2011

Dominica Quarta Paschæ

First Reading, Acts 2:14a, 36-41
This is a continuation of last weekend's speech from Peter. Again, it's very tempting to think that the hearers of this message are being read the riot act; but an angry tone delivered among adults usually produces the same in return. But the fact that the hearers "were cut to the heart" intimates something very different. Peter, perhaps in a deeply sad tone, delivered these poignant words. Fortunately, Peter is quick to offer a remedy for such a barbaric series of events in the form of sacramental Baptism. He might very well be wearing on his sleeve his own personal experience of betraying Jesus. Although as disciples of Jesus we are most grateful for our Lord's ocean of mercy, our often feeble minds are not so quick to forget some of the sins committed. The Image of our Lord nailed to the Cross is a vivid reminder of the wages of sin. But our Lord's love for us will not abandon us to live out a life of despair. We are a sacramental Church which produces healing and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this Reading the question, "What are we to do, my brothers?" surely suggests a desire to repent. Much of the childhood and early adult years of Jesus was hidden. What we don't know and is interesting to consider is how many of the hearers of Peter's message grew up with Jesus and maybe played together as kids or were friends as teenagers? How many are a little older and perhaps associated with Joseph and Mary and maybe shared meals together? What drives friendships to utter betrayal? How did "Hosanna!" turn to "Crucify Him!"? Saint Peter makes it clear who the real enemy is: "Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Saint Peter's exhortation to "save yourselves from this corrupt generation" reaches even our ears separated by two thousand years. We've all suffered the consequences for not always being so vigilant. The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said: "Jésus sera en agonie jusqu'à la fin du monde; il ne faut pas dormir pendant ce temps-là" – "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; during this time we must not sleep." When we find that sleep or a lack of vigilance has become habitual, that is also when we will find ourselves very much a part of the corrupt generation. To live a sacramental life is to stay close to the Bosom of Jesus Who envelops us with His Love; and love which freely offers forgiveness is a wounding blow to our adversary.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 2:20b-25
Saint Peter desires that we follow in the Footsteps of our Lord especially when he uses the example of Christ handing Himself over to the One Who judges justly. You can bet that the Church's first pope prays for us unceasingly in heaven. Our commitment to discipleship is an act of handing ourselves over to our Lord and trusting in His Providential care. Our sufferings in which Peter calls us to patient endurance are inevitable. No one will escape suffering. Suffering without patient endurance, however, no matter how minimal or extreme can be a catalyst to sin. Our struggle to be without deceit in our mouths, our struggle to remain silent when insulted and our struggle to offer no threats in the heat of the battle perhaps is caused by unwittingly adhering to the whispers of the tempter which leads to an unbeknownst pulling away from the embrace of Jesus. And because of that human weakness, that elusive ingredient within us that needs to control, or at least is led to believe we're in control, the straying sheep that we are need a means in which we can return to the Shepherd and Guardian of souls. And hopefully the graces received from the frequent reception of that sacrament will help us to remain more intently in the Bosom of our Lord while going astray like sheep becomes a rarity.

Gospel, John 10:1-10
Concerning the sheepfold, the Catechism of the Catholic Church shares these words: "The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. It is also the flock of which God Himself foretold that He would be the Shepherd, and Whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of shepherds, Who gave His life for His sheep" (CCC 754). All three Readings this weekend plead with us to stay close to Jesus. This message would not be necessary if it weren't for our tendency to stray. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God's intention of taking care of His sheep by taking the sheep away from shepherds who feed themselves. The prophecy also reveals that this will occur through a Davidic Prince (cf. Ezekiel 34:1-24). And of course this Prince from the line of David is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The thieves and robbers that our Lord speaks of could refer to the false prophets who preceded Him throughout salvation history; but Jesus is speaking mysteriously in the present tense when He says: "All who came before Me are thieves and robbers." The word "are" is present tense and agrees with the ancient texts, therefore, Christ is most likely referring to the scribes and Pharisees. There's a level of intimacy here that cannot be overlooked. There must be a deep, personal relationship with Jesus in order to recognize His Voice. And one can really get a sense of the personal closeness intended when Jesus says that He calls His own sheep by name. And that intimacy with our Lord rewards us with abundant life. The great opportunity we have in the here and now cannot be overemphasized. Meditating on Sacred Scripture every day enables us to recognize the Voice of the Master. In "The Plan of Life" of the Hermits of Bethlehem who are located in Chester, NJ, using our Blessed Mother as the model, there is a very beautiful passage which applies not only to hermits but anyone who desires to make Sacred Scripture a vibrant part of their life. The passage reads as follows: "Like Mary, the hermit strives to be a servant-bearer of the Word by daily opening oneself to the presence and mystery of the Word (Isaiah 50:4), listening to and pondering the Word (Luke 2:19, 10:39), believing and treasuring the Word (John 17:20), waiting patiently for the Word to take flesh in the heart through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), proclaiming the Word not only by one's speech, but by the very actions and attitudes of one's life (John 2:5), celebrating the Word (Acts 2:46; Luke 4: 17, 18), responding in love to the Word (John 15:23; Mark 3:35), resting in the word (Psalm 62:1-5; Matthew 11:29) surrendering himself in trust that the day-to-day experience is the mysterious revelation of God's plan." And it was our Savior Himself Who said: "Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:28).

13 May 2011

A Sweet Paradise

Today the Carthusians reflected on this at Matins:

When Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if He says only a word, it brings great consolation.

Did not Mary Magdalene rise at once from her weeping when Martha said to her: “The Master is come, and calls for you”? Happy is the hour when Jesus calls one from tears to joy of spirit.

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you?

Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world.

The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace. It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep Him.

~ The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis ~

11 May 2011

The Temple of the Body

O glorious God Who dwells in ineffable silence:
You have built for my renewal a tabernacle of love on earth
where it is Your good pleasure to rest,
a temple made of flesh.
Then you filled it with Your holy Presence
so that worship might be fulfilled in it. . .
an ineffable mystery. . .
In wonder at it angelic beings are submerged in silence,
awed at the dark cloud of this eternal mystery
and at the flood of glory which issues from within this source of glory,
for it receives worship in the sphere of silence.
You have made my nature a sanctuary for Your hiddeness
and a tabernacle for Your Mysteries,
a place where You can dwell,
and a holy temple for Your Divinity.

~ Isaac of Nineveh ~

10 May 2011

Auxilium Christianorum

Sinners as we are, we are exposed to violent and repeated temptations. The more we have sinned, the more power Satan has over us; and as the implacable enemy of our souls, he has no greater wish than to see us one day share in his torments.

To that end , he exercises all his infernal malice in order to encompass our ruin. How can we escape from his wiles without powerful aid?

Ever since Mary crushed the proud head of the accursed serpent beneath her feet, she has, it is certain, a command over him in virtue of which she is able to free her children from danger. This is why she has been given the consoling title of Auxilium Christianorum – Help of Christians.

But can we expect her to use her power on our behalf if we do not call on her? How profitable, then, it is for us to invoke this great Queen frequently, in order to triumph over the temptations of the devil.

~ Dom Louis Rouvier: Novena for Festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary ~

09 May 2011

Blessed Niccolò Albergati

Born in 1375 in Bologna, Italy; it appeared that Niccolò Albergati was going to have a career in Law. He received his Law degrees in Bologna but Divine Providence had other plans for Niccolò. While visiting the Carthusian Charterhouse in Bologna, a storm prevented him from leaving. Because of his delayed departure he decided to sit in on the hour of Matins. This liturgical hour along with Lauds and Vespers are the three hours from the Divine Office which the Carthusians pray in community, except on Sundays and Solemnities when all the hours, except Prime, are prayed in community. Otherwise, all other hours normally are prayed by the monks in the solitude of their cells.

The soon to be a lawyer, Niccolò Albergati, however, became absorbed by the monks' singing of Matins and he was so impressed that he asked if he could stay and enter the community. He made his profession and would be ordained into the priesthood. He was an excellent monk and in 1407 was elected as Prior after twelve years of residing with the Bologna community.

Ten years later came the news that no Carthusian likely wants to hear. Bologna was in need of a bishop and Niccolò was elected by the city magistrates. He did, however, turn it down stating that he would only accept the episcopate if the Reverend Father of the Carthusian Order told him to do so. The Reverend Father of the Order at that time was Dom John Griffenberg who consulted the community at Bologna which felt that Dom Niccolò would be a worthy bishop. Thus he became the Bishop of Bologna but never abandoned his monastic lifestyle even though he was no longer in the cloister. He continued to wear his habit along with the hair shirt and remained faithful to the fasts and abstinences of the Carthusian Order.

In his spiritual life, he was said to have an exemplary interior life and would spend long nights in prayer. The Carthusian Order refers to Blessed Niccolò as a true son of Saint Bruno.

His life as bishop would eventually expand beyond Bologna as two popes would require his service. In 1426 he was made a cardinal. His titular Church was Santa Croce in Rome.

His life in the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church was certainly more visible than most Carthusians would ever experience but Blessed Niccolò never lost his simplicity and humility.

A very trying time in his life would have Niccolò fleeing Bologna and taking refuge with the Carthusians in Florence. The people of Bologna rebelled against him and it was something they would eventually repent of which at the insistence of Pope Eugene IV, returned Niccolò to his duties in the diocese of Bologna.

He died on May 9, 1443 in Siena while accompanying the pope on diplomatic business.

Certainly what we can learn from Blessed Niccolò Albergati is the need and the will to remain faithful to our spiritual life and our commitment of service to the Lord while still having other cares and duties in the world.

Blessed Niccolò Albergati, pray for us!

07 May 2011

Dominica Tertia Paschæ

First Reading, Acts 2:14, 22-33
Saint Peter in this Reading is exercising his office as the Supreme Pontiff. The Gospel verse, "He who hears you, hears Me" (Lc 10, 16) comes to mind here. It's tempting to think that the tone of Peter's voice is quite stern. Here's something to consider, however: The apostle Peter we've grown accustomed to from the Gospels is quite different from the Holy Father Peter heard in this Reading. Peter speaks here with authoritative confidence -- the same confidence which always flowed from our Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously Peter has been given the graces needed to carry out his appointment as the Vicar of Christ, and so by now, after being an apostle of Jesus, learning His teachings, seeing His miracles and having witnessed His Resurrection, there is evidence that Peter has spiritually matured to a lofty degree. Thus it might be a mistake to assume that when Peter "raised his voice" it means that he was harsh. Most likely he "raised his voice" only to be heard. An elevated level of Christian spiritual maturity usually means that one conducts themselves with the compassion and mercy of Christ – although it cannot be ignored that some saints were known to have a short fuse. Most likely Peter's tone is one of heartfelt tenderness even with his use of the blunt words, "you killed" since Peter himself is quite aware of his own thrice denial of Jesus. The more that one is exposed to the Light of Christ, the higher awareness one has of their own sinfulness. The saints were most grateful for that, which is why all of them were very faithful to the Sacrament of our Lord's mercy. Thus Peter knows he has traveled a long, difficult road to reach the point of what intimates to be an exalted spirituality. An important theme in Peter's speech is a bit subdued and could be missed if reflection doesn't accompany the perusing of Peter's address. That theme is -- what has happened to Jesus, from brutality to glory, was a divine plan. Peter says that with the words "set plan and foreknowledge of God" but they are somewhat overshadowed by the words "you killed, using lawless men." But now Peter and the other apostles stand before us as witnesses to Christ's Resurrection. Concerning the Resurrection of our Lord, Peter first points out that David had prophesied it and quotes the king's words from Psalm (15) 16. After quoting David, Peter then proclaims that he and the others are eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of King David's prophecy. Another subtle hint that Peter's speech is one of commiserative fellowship rather than angry judge is his use of the affectionate term, "My brothers." At the Vatican web site you'll find that most public addresses made by popes began with the words: "Dear Brothers and Sisters." There's something both ordinary and extraordinary about these words. First, they are an acknowledgement from these men of God that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord. But also, when these words come specifically from the Vicar of Christ, we also hear Jesus speaking through them and thus it is the Lord Himself saying to us: "You are My brothers and sisters." Peter proclaimed that it was impossible for Christ to be held by death and that is prophesied here by David; but another side to David's prophecy is to understand that Israel's king is also referring to himself and all humanity. Because of Christ, death no longer can hold us as we are called from death to the paths of life, to be filled with joy in our Lord's presence forever.

Second Reading, 1 Peter 1:17-21
Like the First Reading, it is Saint Peter who addresses us; and what he has to say here might seem obvious but it's not terribly difficult to become weighed down by life and all its concerns and thus turn the focus away from God. Basically what Peter says here is that if you address God as Father, then conduct yourself like you are His child. Let your appreciation of the fact that you have been ransomed with the Blood of Christ be evidenced by your actions. Reverence is exemplified early on in scripture when God commands Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground (cf Ex 3, 5). Jesus showed reverence to His heavenly Father by falling flat on the ground to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf Mc 14, 35). Saints Vincent Ferrer, Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, Jean-Marie Vianney and others prayed the Divine Office on their knees. Many who were privileged to attend a private Mass of Pope John Paul II testified that upon entering the pope's private chapel, they would find the Holy Father kneeling before the Tabernacle immersed in deep prayer. And it has been said that Pope Pius IX prayed the entire Divine Office kneeling without any support. These examples of reverence were realizations in the lives of these servants of the Servant that we have been ransomed with His precious Blood. In part, our love for God is expressed by how quickly we repent and reconcile ourselves to our Lord when we fall. It was Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York who once said that to truly mean it when you say, "I love you, Lord" -- the words, "I'm sorry" must immediately follow.

Gospel, Luke 24:13-35
It's not clear if these two men were prevented from recognizing Jesus because our Lord purposely made Himself appear different or if it is because His glorified Body has vastly different features. But since our Lord is not recognized until the breaking of the bread, it would seem that our Redeemer has something to say to all of us. "Jesus drew near and walked with them." This is not all that different from our own experiences in life. If Christ dwells within us, then He is close to us in every person we meet; but like these two men, we often fail to recognize Him in that person -- and in ourselves. No one knows for certain who Cleopas is; Saint Jerome thought him to be a citizen of Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay with him at his house. Saint Jerome also testified that during his day there was a church that existed which was originally thought to be the house of Cleopas. Origen, one of the writers of the early Church, thought Cleopas to be Simon Peter. Other speculations include: the brother of Saint Joseph, or Saint Luke the writer of this Gospel story, or the father of Saint James the Less. Jesus interpreted to them all that was in the Scriptures concerning Him. This must've taken a great deal of time but what a tremendous blessing for these two men to have been given a bible lesson by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus, however, does say to them beforehand: "Oh, how foolish you are!" The lesson for us in that statement is to familiarize ourselves with Sacred Scripture and learn what the prophets say of Him and how those prophecies were fulfilled by Him in the New Testament. Understanding the Old Testament really makes the New Testament come to life. Through the comprehension of Scripture we are able to welcome Jesus Christ into our lives based on what is preordained by divine decree and not by something our imaginations conjure up. The "breaking of bread" was a popular term for the Eucharist during the apostolic times. It cannot be ignored that our Lord is demonstrating something that is strikingly similar to the liturgy: First, there is the breaking open of the Scriptures – the Liturgy of the Word – an explanation of the scriptures follows – the homily – and then the breaking of the bread – the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This Gospel should be an eye opening experience for Catholic Christians who only acknowledge Jesus in their lives for one hour a week. If there is no daily prayer life of any kind, that is, meditation, reflection, spiritual reading or daily reading of scripture, then Jesus will pass by every day and probably will not be recognized. It is only during the breaking of Bread at Sunday Mass that He will be recognized, albeit under the guise of bread and wine. Jesus shows up in our lives every day and takes on many different forms: Sometimes He is the cause of our ability to be in the right place at the right time; sometimes He is the delay that takes us off our schedule because being on schedule would place us right in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance; other times He is found in others who lend a helping hand; and at other times He is even that person who plucks your last nerve especially when having a tendency to be overly impatient. On Sundays we're all standing in line to receive the Eucharist because it is there at Mass that we most recognize our Lord, and it is at Mass that He feeds our souls with His Body and Blood. But Jesus speaks to us daily and He calls us to reflect daily where He works and moves in our lives. If we can identify our Lord under the veil of ordinary bread and wine, then through daily prayer, sacred reading and meditation certainly His Holy Spirit can be detected in other persons, places or things that are a part of our everyday experience, as well as seeing Him within ourselves.

05 May 2011

Standing Near the Promised Reward of God

This brief reflection from Saint Cyprian turned my thoughts toward Blessed John Paul II and the example of his life.

This temporal and brief suffering, how shall it be exchanged for the reward of a bright and eternal honour, when, according to the word of the blessed apostle, 'the Lord shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like to the body of His brightness!' What now must be the vigour, beloved brethren, of your victorious consciousness, what loftiness of your mind, what exultation in feeling, what triumph in your breast, that every one of you stands near to the promised reward of God, are secure from the judgment of God, walk in the mines with a body captive indeed, but with a heart reigning, that you know Christ is present with you, rejoicing in the endurance of His servants, who are ascending by His Footsteps and in His paths to the eternal Kingdoms!

You daily expect with joy the saving day of your departure; and already about to withdraw from the world, you are hastening to the rewards of martyrdom, and to the divine homes, to behold after this darkness of the world the purest Light, and to receive a glory greater than all sufferings and conflicts, as the apostle witnesses, and says, 'The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us'.

04 May 2011

It is enough for me that Jesus is still alive

Today at Matins the Carthusians reflected on these words from Blessed Guerric of Igny:

If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved.

Jesus, my God, is still alive! On hearing it my spirit, which was asleep through timidity, has revived. For the joyful voice of this happy message raises even from death those buried deep in sin. Otherwise, if Christ, coming up from hell, left them there in the depths, there would certainly be no hope for them; their fate would be buried in forgetfulness.

By this token you may clearly know that your soul lives again fully in Christ if it echoes this sentiment: ‘It is enough for me that Jesus is still alive’. How faithful and worthy of a friend of Jesus is that voice, how pure that act of love which says: ‘It is enough for me that Jesus is still alive. If He lives, I live, for my spirit acts through His. Yes, He is my life, my All in all. For what can I lack if Jesus is still alive? While everything else may be taken from me, nothing else matters to me so long as He lives. If He wishes then, let Him take no account of me. It is enough for me that He still lives even if He only lives for Himself’.

When the love of Christ so absorbs all a man's affections that, unmindful and forgetful of himself, he has no feeling for anything but Jesus Christ and what pertains to Him then, I say, love has been made perfect in him.

To a man who so loves, poverty is no burden, he feels no hurt, laughs at insults, disdains misfortunes, considers death as a gain. In fact he does not think in terms of death, knowing that he passes from death to life.

03 May 2011

The Church is One

Today is the feast of Saints Philip and James, apostles of Christ. At the hour of Matins the Carthusians heard a piece from Saint Cyprian of Carthage, ‘On the Unity of the Church’, which is always a good topic, especially on the feasts of apostles. Here is what was read:

The Church is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness, as there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source. Try to separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light. Break a branch from a tree -- when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world. She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her head is one, her source one; and she is one Mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated.

The Bride of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the Kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his Mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. The Lord warns, saying, ‘He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who gathers not with Me scatters’ (Mt 12, 30). He who breaks the peace and the harmony of Christ does so in opposition to Christ; he who gathers elsewhere than in the Church, scatters the Church of Christ. The Lord says, ‘I and the Father are One’ (Io 10, 30); and again it is written of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, ‘And these Three are One” (1 Io 5, 7). And does any one believe that this unity which thus comes from the divine strength and is united in heavenly sacraments, can be divided in the Church, and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? He who does not hold this unity does not hold God’s law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, and is separated from life and salvation.

For the Lord, when He would urge unanimity and peace upon His disciples, said, ‘I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth touching anything that you shall ask, it shall be given you by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am with them’; showing that most is given, not to the multitude, but to the unanimity of those that pray. ‘If’’, He says, ‘two of you shall agree on earth’; He placed agreement first; He has made the harmony which comes from peace a prerequisite; He taught that we should agree firmly and faithfully. But how can he agree with any one who does not agree with the body of the Church itself, and with the universal brotherhood? How can two or three be assembled together in Christ’s Name, who, it is evident, are separated from Christ and from His Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us; and since heresies and schisms have risen subsequently, from their establishment for themselves of diverse places of worship, they have forsaken the Head and Source of the truth. But the Lord speaks concerning His Church, and to those also who are in the Church He speaks, that if they are in agreement, if according to what He commanded and admonished, although only two or three gathered together with unanimity should pray -- though they be only two or three -- they may obtain from the Majesty of God what they ask.

God is One, and Christ is One, and His Church is One, and the faith is One, and the people are joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of harmony. Unity cannot be severed; nor can one body be separated by a division of its structure, nor torn into pieces, nor have its limbs torn. Whatever has proceeded from the womb cannot live and breathe in its detached condition, but loses the substance of health. The Holy Spirit warns us, and says, ‘What man is he that desires to live, and longs for good days? Refrain your tongue from evil, and your lips that they speak no guile. Eschew evil, and do good; seek peace, and ensue it’ (Ps 33, 12). The son of peace ought to seek peace and ensue it. He who knows and loves the bond of charity, ought to refrain his tongue from the evil of dissension. Among His divine commands and salutary teachings, the Lord, when He was now very near to His Passion, added this one, saying, ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you’ (Io 14, 27). He gave this to us as a heritage; He promised all the gifts and rewards of which He spoke through the preservation of peace. If we are fellow-heirs with Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are sons of God, we ought to be peacemakers. ‘Blessed’, says He, ‘are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God’ (Mt 5, 9). It benefits the sons of God to be peacemakers, gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, faithfully linked to one another in the bonds of unanimity.

02 May 2011

Pray for Priests: They Speak in Christ's Name

If there be those here present, my dear brethren, who will not believe that grace is effectual within the Church, because it does little outside of it, to them I do not speak: I speak to those who do not narrow their belief to their experience; I speak to those who admit that grace can make human nature what it is not; and such persons, I think, will feel it, not a cause of jealousy and suspicion, but a great gain, a great mercy, that those are sent to preach to them, to receive their confessions, and to advise them, who can sympathize with their sins, even though they have not known them.

Not a temptation, my brethren, can befall you, but what befalls all those who share your nature, though you may have yielded to it, and they may not have yielded. They can understand you, they can anticipate you, they can interpret you, though they have not kept pace with you in your course. They will be tender to you, they will 'instruct you in the spirit of meekness' (cf Gal 6, 1), as the Apostle says, 'considering themselves lest they also be tempted' (ibid).

Come then unto us, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and ye shall find rest to your souls; come unto us, who now stand to you in Christ’s stead, and who speak in Christ’s Name; for we too, like you, have been saved by Christ’s all-saving Blood. We too, like you, should be lost sinners, unless Christ had had mercy on us, unless His grace had cleansed us, unless His Church had received us, unless His Saints had interceded for us.

Be ye saved, as we have been saved; 'come, listen, all ye that fear God, and we will tell you what He hath done for our souls' (cf Ps 65 [66], 16). Listen to our testimony; behold our joy of heart, and increase it by partaking in it yourselves. Choose that good part which we have chosen; join ye yourselves to our company; it will never repent you, take our word for it, who have a right to speak, it will never repent you to have sought pardon and peace from the Catholic Church; it will never repent you, though you go through trouble, though you have to give up much for her sake. It will never repent you, to have passed from the shadows of sense and time, and the deceptions of human feeling and false reason, to the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

And O, my brethren, when you have taken the great step, and stand in your blessed lot, as sinners reconciled to the Father you had offended, O then forget not those who have been the ministers of your reconciliation; and as they now pray you to make your peace with God, so do you, when reconciled, pray for them, that they may gain the great gift of perseverance, that they may continue to stand in the grace in which they trust they stand now, even till the hour of death, lest, perchance, after they have preached to others, they themselves become reprobate.

~ Blessed John Henry Newman ~