31 August 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations III

Solitariness, silence, purity, and simplicity of heart, do prepare a place for Me to dwell in. Keep yourself, therefore, withdrawn from all creatures, in silence and quietness of heart. Neither vouchsafing to content, nor yet to hearken to the unlawful appetites of your will, the wandering cogitations of your mind, or the vain desires of your heart. For your nature is ever inclined to delight in consolation, and is always occupied, sometimes with outward labour in your body, and sometimes with inward care in your mind, seeking consolation in My creatures, whereby you come to be many and sundry ways distracted. Remember, therefore, to strive with all your force against all your sensual and carnal inclinations, and keep yourself alone, being withdrawn from all creatures, and remaining ever, both in outward solitariness of your body and inward contemplation of your mind, as far as discretion, which must be your guide, and charity to your neighbours will permit you.

29 August 2011

In Honour of the Baptizer

O house of Zachary greeted with a voice
The barren one’s infant leaps in her womb
Reproach removed, thy child doth rejoice
‘Tis the Ark, carrying the Victor over the tomb

Elizabeth, thy husband at the altar of incense
Met with great fear the angel hailed as Gabriel
Zachary, thy prayer has been heard, hence
Your wife bears a son, thinkest thou surreal

Armed with the spirit and power of Elias
His voice in the wilderness will cry for penance
More than a prophet, your son, and pious
Thy disbelief has reduced thee to silence

O priestly voice cut off from the outside world
Hear the inner Voice of God speaking to thee
His plan of salvation is about to be unfurled
Thy son preparing the way for this mystery

At thy house is the blessed who has believed
For three months she will stay with thy wife
She too, although a Virgin, has conceived
And she shall bring forth the Bread of Life

O house of Zachary thy kindred greets thy son
Circumcised before witnesses more than a few
Isaias foretold of this child of God’s creation
The dividing line of Testaments Old and New

What shall he be called, a kinfolk’s name no less
Zachary, the name given to his father the priest
Nay, the pronouncement of angelic lips: Ioannes
His name be, on locusts and honey shall he feast

Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, Zachary speaks
For salvation from our enemies is made present
Ninety-nine may be safe, but one lost He seeks
Whether that be man or woman, rich or peasant

You, my son, prophet of the Appeaser of wrath
Prepare ye the way for heaven to meet earth
From the desert shall you make straight His path
This Child of Spirit presented by Virgin birth

The repentant shall come to thee to be baptized
The Jordan shall hear many confessions of guilt
And now comes to thee prophecies now realized
The Cornerstone on which the house of God is built

I should be baptized by Thee, the precursor pleads
For within Thee there is found not spot or stain
Suffer it be so now, fulfilling all justice’s needs
That which I do My heavenly Father ordain

Thou brood of vipers O Pharisee and Sadducee
Think ye not Abraham an enemy of the Lamb
Faith’s Father longed to hear: “Ecce Agnus Dei”
And see Him Who’ll be sacrificed for thy scam

The Tetrarch’s fear renders the baptizer incarcerated
The femme fatale of Herodias, a promise discussed
Dance for me and I give thee till thy heart is sated
The man of God beheaded because of Herod’s lust

The netherworld where waits Patriarch and Prophet
Ye men of God, let us continue with prayer and fasting
For He Whom thou have preached of, thus have I met
He will soon join us here and take us to life everlasting

The Carthusian Order and Saint John the Baptist

The beautiful artwork for this post is attributed to Jan Provoost, a mid-to-late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Flemish painter. In this piece our Blessed Mother is enthroned beneath a canopy. The Child Jesus is holding a book in His right Hand, perhaps the Sacred Scriptures, while in His left Hand He is holding a Rosary. In the background on the right is a figure enclosed in a garden, symbolizing our Lady’s virginity and chastity. A Carthusian monk is kneeling, apparently to be the recipient of the Rosary. The life of a Carthusian, that of silence and solitude, of both communal and eremitical life, is reflected in the iconography of this painting. The Carthusian is accompanied by Saint John the Baptist, a hermit of the desert. Behind him is the Lamb of God. Also accompanying the Carthusian is Saint Jerome, which symbolizes asceticism.

In the Statutes of the Carthusian Order we read: “One should note that all our hermitages are dedicated in the first place to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, our principal heavenly patrons.”

An example of Carthusian Profession goes like this: “I, Brother ______, promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God, His saints, and the relics belonging to this hermitage, which was built in honor of God, the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, in the presence of Dom ______, Prior.”

For the Carthusian, Saint John the Baptist is a hermit in the desert, a solitary, and one who is focused on God alone.

Also in the Statutes of the Order are these words: “John the Baptist, greater than whom, the Savior tells us, has not risen among those born of women, is another striking example of the safety and value of solitude. Trusting not in the fact that divine prophecy had foretold that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and that he would go before Christ the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah; nor in the fact that his birth had been miraculous, and that his parents were saints, he fled the society of men as something dangerous and chose the security of desert solitude: and, in actual fact, as long as he dwelt alone in the desert, he knew neither danger nor death. Moreover the virtue and merit he attained there are amply attested by his unique call to baptize Christ, and by his acceptance of death for the sake of justice. For, schooled in sanctity in solitude, he, alone of all men, became worthy to wash Christ — Christ Who washes all things clean — and worthy, too, to undergo prison bonds and death itself in the cause of truth.”

And then the Statutes give us something to think about: “And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers, Paul, Anthony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others beyond number, and you will readily agree that for tasting the spiritual savor of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears — nothing is more helpful than solitude.”

Sancte Ioannes Baptista, ora pro nobis!

26 August 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations II

Abstain from all words that are in any way hurtful, backbiting, grudging, unclean, or contentious, as from a mortal sin. Having a special regard to keep yourself from all jesting, lightness, immoderate laughter, and idle words, and be so careful in this behalf, as neither you use them yourself, nor yet hear them of any other, as far as it lies in your power to avoid it. And to the end you may be free from that great vice of backbiting, resolve in your own heart never to speak anything of those who are absent, but such things as you are sure do tend to the edifying of men's souls. Ever have some means at hand to break off that talk by bringing aptly in a discourse of some other matter, before there be any word uttered either in backbiting or dispraising of them.

25 August 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations I

Have as watchful a care as you can over your tongue, and restrain it from all liberty; let it utter nothing but that which is necessary and well thought of before, and in as few words as is possible for you to comprehend the shame, with all modesty and meekness, and without any great noise or loud speaking, flying and cutting off, by all the means you are able, anything that may either occasion or procure you to speak.

24 August 2011

The Word of God is Living and Effectual

For today’s feast of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew, here are words of wisdom by the Cistercian, Baldwin of Forde. He was the archdeacon of Exeter, and in the year 1169 entered the abbey of Forde and six years later became the abbot. After serving as abbot for six years, he became the bishop of Worcester, and then in 1184 he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Behold, how great the power and wisdom contained in the Word of God! The text is highly significant for those seeking Christ, Who is precisely the Word, the Power and Wisdom of God. This Word, from the beginning, is co-eternal with the Father, and in His time was revealed to the Apostles and through them was announced and accepted with humble faith by the people. Wonderful condescension, Christ, God's Word, God in the Heart of the Father, descends to the heart of man, to be formed and to train, according to a New Way. The Apostle to the Galatians explains this when he says: My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you! (Galatians 4:19). When Christ is preached, that is, listening to the Word of God, we are able to believe because faith comes from hearing. Then we can love. Everything is connected: there is no love without faith, and no faith if the Word is not heard. For he who loves believes, and he who believes hears the Word, as the Spirit reveals it interiorly.

This Word of God is living, and the Father has given the power to have life in it, nothing more or less, as the Father has life in Himself. So the Word is not only alive, but it is also life, as He Himself says: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (Saint John 14:6). Since the Word of God is life, it is alive and can give life. For as the Father raises up the dead and gives life, so the Son also gives life to whom He wills. (Saint John 5:21). The word of God gives life when He calls the dead from the grave and says, Lazarus, come out! (Saint John 11:43). When this Word is preached, Christ gives to the preacher's voice, perceived externally, the power to operate within; for the dead become alive again and relive the joy of the children of Abraham. This Word, then, is living in the Heart of the Father, living on the mouth of the preacher, alive in the hearts of those who believe and those who love. And precisely because this Word is so alive, there is no doubt that it is also effective.

The Word of God is effective in its operations, and is effective when it is preached. Indeed it does not return empty, but produces fruit everywhere it is proclaimed; and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword when it is believed and loved. When the Word is spoken, its pierces the heart like sharp arrows, enters as a nail struck with force, reaching and penetrating the secret intimacy of the soul. In fact, this Word is more penetrating than a double-edged sword, because its power of engraving surpasses that of the most tempered blade and its acuteness that of any intelligence. No wisdom human, not any product of intelligence is as fine and thin as it, nor more acute than any sharpness of human wisdom and as ingenious as its reasoning.

With power received from on High the ministers of the Church wield the sword of God's Word as it is written: The two-edged swords in their hands (Psalm 149:6). And also: A sword is in their lips (Psalm 59:8). Will the Word not reach all the ears of those seeking salvation? If the tongue of the wicked, as the prophet says, is a sharp sword (Psalm 57:5), how much more will be the tongue of Peter, because he has the capacity for the unequivocal Word of truth. The Word of God penetrates not only the intelligence, subtlety and insight of man, but it is also able to separate truth from falsehood, good from evil, the honest from the corrupt. The Word of God works in all, taking advantage of grace to carry to completion in the faithful fear, love and every other virtuous seed that God has placed in us. Even more amazing is the fact that it arouses the secrets of hearts, shakes our deepest sensibility with expert force, penetrating even to the division of soul and spirit.

22 August 2011

Regina Mundi Dignissima

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said: “God wills that all His gifts should come to us through Mary.” What, then, should our response be to our Lady? The Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier, offers this answer: “Our response to the advances of our gentle Mother should be one of boundless gratitude, even though, in her humility, she seeks our thanks only that she may unite them with the ceaseless Magnificat she sings to the divine Majesty.”

And there’s that word: “Majesty!” Today the Church celebrates Mary: first, we commemorate liturgically her Queenship and on the traditional calendar her Immaculate Heart is honoured. Although not completely fallen out of use in our modern day, words like “king” or “queen” or “majesty” are not a part of the daily vocabulary for many of us.

The book of Genesis (2:18) tells us that by God’s design, “it is not good for man to be alone.” When God became Man, He desired to experience every facet of man, that is, He made Himself subject to His own laws. Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ saw to it that He would not be alone, but would associate Himself with a suitable helper, one that would be His Mother, and one that He would address in Sacred Scripture with the same title that Adam used to name his helper: “Woman.” Who else could be a “suitable” helper for the God-Man, other than she who is Immaculate?

Saint Bernardine of Siena explains: “Indeed, from the moment Mary consented to the divine maternity, she merited to receive dominion over all creatures, and the scepter of the world was placed in her hands. As many creatures as there are to obey God, so are there to obey Mary. Angels and men, all that is in heaven and on earth, being subject to God, are, by that very fact, subject to His most holy Mother.”

Saint Anselm adds: “Just as God is the Lord of the Universe, because He has by His word created every being in its own nature, so is Mary the Mistress of the world, restoring all things in their primal dignity by the graces she has merited.”

Jesus is the King of kings and His holy Mother is the Queen. But shouldn’t a queen be the wife of the king? The Old Testament symbolizes the reality or actuality of the New. In the New Testament we read: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The Scriptures continue by revealing that this Woman wearing a crown was with Child, and He was to rule all nations (cf. Revelation 12:2, 5). In the Old Testament the psalmist writes: “At Your right stands the queen, clothed with splendour in robes embroidered with pearls set in gold” (Psalm 44 [45]:10).

Most important about what the Old Testament teaches us is that it was the mother of the king, not the wife, who was the queen. In the First Book of Kings, chapter 3, Asa takes over as king of Judah when his father Abijam had died. Asa removed Abijam’s mother from her position as queen mother. In the thirteenth chapter of Jeremiah are these words: “Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Humble yourselves, sit down.’” Also, “We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother” (2 Kings 10:13). One more, “This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother…” (Jeremiah 29:2). There are other examples in the Old Testament which delineate that the mother of the king was the queen.

Perhaps the most important verses in the “symbolism” of the Old Testament and the Davidic kingdom, may “actually” reveal something about the relationship between the King of kings and the Queen Mother in the heavenly Kingdom. These verses are found in the First Book of Kings (cf. 2:12-20). Solomon is the king, and Adonijah asks Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to intercede for him. Adonijah needs a favour from the king and he asks Bathsheba to approach the king because as Adonijah explains: “he cannot deny you anything.” When Bathsheba approaches Solomon, the Scriptures tell us that “the king arose to meet her and bowed to her.” Next, the king “sat down upon his throne, and a throne was set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right hand.” The conversation went like this as Bathsheba spoke: “I desire one small petition of you, do not refuse me.” Then the king said: “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” God made Mary irresistible; He cannot refuse her.

In the Litany of Loreto, our Blessed Mother is invoked as “Queen” thirteen times:

Regina Angelorum – Queen of Angels
Regina Patriacharum – Queen of Patriarchs
Regina Prophetarum – Queen of Prophets
Regina Apostolorum – Queen of Apostles
Regina Martyrum – Queen of Martyrs
Regina Confessorum – Queen of Confessors
Regina Virginum – Queen of Virgins
Regina Sanctorum omnium – Queen of all Saints
Regina sine labe originali concepta – Queen conceived without original sin
Regina in cælum assumpta – Queen assumed into heaven
Regina Sanctissimi Rosarii – Queen of the Most Holy Rosary
Regina familiæ – Queen of the family
Regina Pacis – Queen of Peace

Ora pro nobis – Pray for us!

20 August 2011

A Watchful and Vital Slumber

Here’s an excerpt from a sermon by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs. He describes the snatching away of life’s snares that occurs for a soul in ecstasy. It is ‘the death that does not take away life but makes it better’.

What do you think the beloved will receive in heaven, when now she is favoured with an intimacy so great as to feel herself embraced by the Arms of God, cherished on the Breast of God, guarded by the care and zeal of God lest she be roused from her sleep by anyone till she wakes of her own accord.

Well then, let me explain if I can what this sleep is which the Bridegroom wishes His beloved to enjoy, from which He will not allow her to be awakened under any circumstances, except at her good pleasure. This sleep of the bride, however, is not the tranquil repose of the body that for a time sweetly lulls the fleshly senses, nor that dreaded sleep whose custom is to take life away completely. Farther still is it removed from that deathly sleep by which a man perseveres irrevocably in sin and so dies. It is a slumber which is vital and watchful, which enlightens the heart, drives the heart, drives away death, and communicates eternal life that does not stupefy the mind but transports it. And, I say it with out hesitation, it is a death, for the apostle Paul in praising people still living in the flesh spoke thus: ‘For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God’.

It is not absurd for me to call the bride's ecstasy a death, then, but one that snatches away not life but life's snares, so that one can say ‘We have escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers’. In this life we move about surrounded by traps, but these cause no fear when the soul is drawn out of itself by a thought that is both powerful and holy, provided that it so separates itself and flies away from the mind that it transcends the normal manner and habit of thinking; for a net is spread in vain before the eyes of winged creatures. Why dread wantonness where there is no awareness of life? For since the ecstatic soul is cut off from awareness of life though not from life itself, it must of necessity be cut off from the temptations of life. How good the death that does not take away life but makes it better; good in that the body does not perish but the soul is exalted.

Men alone experience this. But, if I may say so let me die the death of angels that, transcending the memory of things present, I may cast off not only the desire for what are corporeal and inferior but even their images, that I may enjoy pure conversation with those who bear the likeness of purity.

This kind of ecstasy, in my opinion, is alone or principally called contemplation. Not to be gripped during life by material desires is a mark of human virtue; but to gaze without the use of bodily likenesses is the sign of angelic purity. Each, however, is a divine gift, each is a going out of oneself, each a transcending of self, but in one, one goes much farther than in the other.

Consider therefore that the Bride has retired to this solitude, there, overcome by the loveliness of the place, she sweetly sleeps within the Arms of her Bridegroom, in ecstasy of spirit. Hence the maidens are forbidden to waken her until she herself pleases.

18 August 2011

I am content, Lord

Beatified in 1994 by Blessed John Paul II and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, Saint Alberto Hurtado, is affectionately known in Chile as Padre Hurtado. While studying in the Jesuit College in Santiago, he joined the Sodality of Our Lady. Here he took a great interest in the poor as he would spend his Sunday afternoons with the poorest of the poor in the most impoverished neighborhoods.

The year 1917 was a busy time for Saint Alberto. He studied law at the Catholic University, financially supported his mother and younger brother by working afternoons and evenings, while continuing to care for the poor on Sundays. All this delayed his entrance into the Jesuits. He didn’t receive his degree until 1923 because his studies were put on hold due to an obligatory military service.

As a Jesuit priest and teacher he catechized the poor and gave retreats using the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He offered spiritual direction to young men and some of them he accompanied through their formation to becoming priests. He radiated the beauty of the priestly vocation and made it very attractive.

He was an author and in 1941 published, “¿Es Chile un país católico?” (Is Chile a Catholic Country?). This book was considered a scandal among conservative Chilean Catholics. They even went so far as to accuse Padre Hurtado of being a Communist. The book revealed the truths and realities of Chile’s social movement.

He sacrificed himself continually with his involvement with a nationwide Catholic Youth Movement.

His pleas for help were well-received when he proclaimed his love for the poor, especially for the homeless children in Santiago. This led to “El Hogar de Cristo” (Christ’s Home), which provided shelter for children in need of housing and food. The housing for children next led to housing for women. Alberto Hurtado himself at the age of four lost his own father to death.

In 1945 Padre Alberto Hurtado went to the United States to take a look at “Boys Town” and learn how he could make something like this work in his own nation.

The “Asociación Sindical Chilena” (Chilean Trade Union Association) was founded in 1947 by Padre Hurtado. It was a movement which taught and supported Catholic social teachings among the labor unions of his country. To support this movement he wrote “Humanismo Social” (Social Humanism), “El Orden Social Cristiano” (The Christian Social Order), and “Sindicalismo” (Trade Unions) between the years of 1947-1950.

Next for this very busy priest was the founding of the Jesuit periodical, “Mensaje” (Message) in 1951. This periodical taught and explained the doctrine of the Church.

Padre Alberto Hurtado went home to the Lord in August of 1952. His life was cut short by cancer. During his battle with this disease, in his great physical pain he was often heard saying: “I am content, Lord.” His life was, however, very full, and stressed his concern for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the abandoned. He also labored intensely for his social apostolate whose goal was for his government to recognize the dignity of every human person, and therefore, be treated fairly.

With such love for the poor, one can only imagine the heavenly embrace and the powerful intercession of Saint Alberto Hurtado and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as they are perpetually before the Throne of God, pleading for those in this life who have little to nothing.

Sancte Alberte, ora pro nobis!

15 August 2011

Alleluia, alleluia – Assumpta est Maria in cœlum

First Reading, Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab
In the Old Testament the covenant that was kept in the ark was a symbol of God’s presence among His people. The Blessed Virgin Mary carried in her womb not a symbol of God’s presence, but God Himself. Because of this, Mary was the human Ark -- the reality and fulfilment of what the ark of the Old Covenant symbolized. In this, the Book of Revelation, we read about a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. There are two ways to interpret this. First, the woman is the Church which shines with the light of faith under the guidance and protection of the Sun of Justice. The moon represents the changeable things of this world of which the affections of the faithful will rise above; hence, those changeable things will be under our feet. And so, the Church is clothed with Christ, with the changeable things of this world under her feet and is governed by Christ through the twelve stars who are the Apostles. The second way to interpret this is to say that the woman is our Blessed Lady who is clothed with Christ and her crown of twelve stars signifies that she is the Queen of heaven, Queen of the Church, Queen of the Twelve Apostles and Queen of the twelve tribes of Israel. Through this interpretation the Church proclaims that our Blessed Mother was taken to heaven, body and soul to reign as our Queen and Mother. The woman is in pain as she labours to bring forth spiritual children along with Christ in the midst of persecutions and afflictions. The dragon is often identified as the devil or Satan. The seven heads and ten horns represent those who serve the dragon by persecuting the servants of Almighty God. This is alluded to in the Book of Psalms: ‘The kings of the earth rise up and the princes conspire together against the Lord and against His anointed’ (Psalm 2:2). Also, in the Book of Genesis we read as God rebukes the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. And to the woman He said, I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children’ (Genesis 3:15-16). In the heart of Mary and the Church is produced the Word that is persecuted by the enemies and the unbelievers of this world. Saint John the Evangelist, the author of the Book of Revelation, must have reasoned that this woman was our Lady. How could he have not thought this? On the Cross, Christ gave her to him to be his Mother (cf. Saint John 19:27). Additionally, tradition teaches us that after Christ’s Ascension, Saint John and Mary were often in each other’s company. While we can say the woman can be identified as either the Church or Mary, it was Saint Ambrose who taught that Mary is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. This was reiterated by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. The dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. More than likely this is alluding to Lucifer being driven out of heaven bringing with him all the fallen angels who sided with him in rebellion against God. The dragon stood before the woman who was able to flee into the desert to a place prepared for her by God. In the early days of the Church many saints fled to the desert to escape persecution. Saint Jerome points out that it was these types of occurrences that gave rise to the eremitical state of life. In the final verse heaven rejoices in the Church which through her trials and persecutions remained faithful to her Lord and thus was victorious over her enemies.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Saint Paul often makes the comparison between Adam and our Lord. Adam was created into an earthly paradise but his sin corrupted that paradise. Christ came and restored to humanity a Paradise which is not of this world. Paul refers to our Saviour as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. If Jesus is the firstfruits, then it supposes that others will rise after Him. At the general resurrection Christ will present us to His heavenly Father as the fruits of His glorious triumph over sin and death. Since Paul makes the comparison between Adam and Christ, rightfully the comparison can be made between Eve and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of the sin of our first parents, Eve became the mother of the dead. Because of Christ’s victory over sin and death, Mary became the Mother of all the living. Saint Paul writes that all shall be brought to life in proper order; following Christ will be those who belong to Him. In our Blessed Mother is the proof of what Christ has promised. She has been lifted up to her Son, body and soul. Around 380 A.D. Timothy of Jerusalem wrote: ‘The Virgin is immortal because He Who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension’. Additionally, Gregory of Tours in 580 wrote: ‘Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who, we believe, was a Virgin before and after childbirth, was carried to Paradise preceded by the Lord amidst the singing of angelic choirs’. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his work, Meditations and Devotions wrote: ‘Was she [Mary] not nearer to Him than the greatest of the saints before her? Therefore we confidently say that our Lord, having preserved her from sin and the consequences of sin by His Passion, lost no time in pouring out the full merits of that Passion upon her body as well as her soul’. If you think about it, the Church really doesn’t teach anything all that differently about Mary than what the Church teaches about us. Mary was conceived immaculately without the stain of original sin. In Baptism, we are born to a new life in Christ; and in that new birth original sin is washed away. Mary is in heaven, body and soul. Christ promises the same for us. Mary has been granted this grace ahead of time as proof that our Saviour is faithful to what He promises.

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56
In the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this Gospel is a reminder of one important fact when trying to grow in the spiritual life: where there is Mary, there is Jesus. Look for her and you’ll find Him. Come to her and she’ll lead you to Him. In this Gospel are the makings of the first ever Eucharistic procession. Mary, however, the human Tabernacle, does not need to be carried through the hill country leading to Judah; she is able to carry herself, bringing with her our Lord, her Lord and her Son. The house of Zechariah and Elizabeth suddenly becomes a chapel for adoration. Certainly Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the Tabernacle carrying her Lord when she says: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me’? John the Baptist recognizes his Lord as he leaps for joy in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. In Mary’s Magnificat are the eternal words: ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed.’ It is under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the angel Gabriel called her blessed at the Annunciation, that Elizabeth calls her blessed at the Visitation, that Mary proclaims her own blessedness for all generations in the Magnificat. The Venerable Bede asserts that in her eternal blessed state we hold her up to the veneration of both men and angels. Saint Jerome adds that Elizabeth too is blessed, yet the excellency of the Mother of God far surpasses that of Elizabeth and every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the smaller stars. Mary brought our Lord into the world. She gave Him to us. She presented Him to Simeon at the temple; she presents Him to us as our Saviour. She was present for many of the events of His human life; and after His Ascension He called her to Himself to be with Him in heaven. He also calls us to heaven to spend eternity with Him; and if we so choose, Mary can be our tour guide in this life’s journey, to direct us along the path that leads to her Son. In the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus, are the words: ‘She [Mary], by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body’. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians’ (CCC 966).

14 August 2011

Fear not, for Our Blessed Mother is with us

Sacred Scripture asks: “Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” (Song of Songs 6:9).

Sacred Scripture answers: “I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue” (Sirach 24:24-25).

And this Mother’s plea: “Come over to me all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations” (Sirach 24:26-28).

Sacred Scripture also gives us this very familiar passage: “A great sign appeared in heaven – a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1).

“Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place, You and the Ark, which You have sanctified” (Psalm 131:8). Understanding Mary as the Ark of the New and Everlasting Covenant, Saint Robert Bellarmine said: “And who, I ask, could believe that the Ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought Him into the world, had nourished and carried Him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.”

Our Blessed Mother’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul, is a longstanding belief of the Church. It was made “official” by the Church with these words: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus ~ Pope Pius XII).

This is the Virgin who will never listen to the serpent and turn away her hearing of the truth (cf. Genesis 3:1-6 & 2 Timothy 4:4). Instead, she clings to every word which comes forth from the Mouth of God (cf. Matthew 4:4). Because she has been reunited with her Son in eternal glory, and her “abode is in the full assembly of saints” (Sirach 24:16), our own interior life begs us to keep Mary with her Son. As the Most Holy Trinity dwells within the devout human soul, so should the Mystical Rose be permitted to take root and fully blossom in the garden of the soul, whose flowers are the fruit of honor and riches (cf. Sirach 24:23), spreading her sweet fragrance like cinnamon and aromatic balm, and the sweetness of odor like the choicest myrrh (cf. Sirach 24:20).

There’s a beautiful story in the Carthusian tradition which goes like this: The venerable Mother Antonia de Planques, Prioress of Gosnay, had the joy of seeing in her cell one day the Mother of God, carrying in her arms her Divine Son. Our Blessed Lady addressed Mother Antonia with these words from the prophet Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:5). This vision caused Mother Antonia such ecstatic joy that she was rapt above her senses for several days. The rest of her earthly existence was lived out more closely to the life of heaven than that of earth. Let those who desire to gain the graces of the Holy Spirit, seek the flower upon its stem – in other words, let them seek Jesus in Mary.

Regina in cælum assumpta, ora pro nobis!

13 August 2011

Offering Our Lady the Homage of Our Love

A Carthusian monk describes how we should be servants of our Blessed Lady, and the mistakes we make by our indifference. To make his point, the writer shares a couple of stories, first about Martin, the brother of Saint Peter Damian; and then about the Carthusian Prior, Dom Louis Rouvier.

With what docility . . . should the irrational world hasten to serve Mary, in doing the will of the Master Who created it for her, and restored it through her? The earth and the heavens, exclaims the royal Prophet, fire and snow, hail and the stormy winds, mountains and hills, the beasts of the field and the birds of the air: all hymn the glory of the Almighty God (cf. Psalm 148).

What is man’s part in this universal hymn? What note do we add to it? Surrounded by creatures that should serve as instruments for Mary’s glory, do we not frequently use them indifferently, without giving a thought to our heavenly Queen, at the risk of provoking their lamentations (cf. Romans 8:22) by turning them away from their true end, which is to give glory to the Incarnate Word and His Blessed Mother?

And this is not all. Not only do we remain deaf to the voice of creation urging us to gratitude and love, as it did to the ecstatic saint of Assisi, who unlike us heard and understood its language; but how often do we not fling insults in the face of our Queen by rebelling against her claims on us? To obey Mary is to obey God, and to offend her is to be unfaithful to her Son.

One can understand what led the brother of Saint Peter Damian to act as he did. Martin, for such was his name, had had the misfortune to commit a grave fault. Quickly entering into himself, he prostrated himself before our Lady’s altar, and there, grieving for his sin, he uttered the prayer: ‘O my Patroness, mirror of chastity, I have sinned against God and against you. Wretched sinner that I am, I have no longer any hope save by becoming your servant; receive me as such’. Then, loosening his girdle, he placed it around his neck, as the humble badge of his service. At the same time, he laid upon the altar a sum of money which he vowed to pay every year to his heavenly Mistress.

Mary, it is true, does not ask any such ransom of us, or necessarily any external marks of our love. Instead, let us offer her our self, our whole way of life, in a generous and unfailing service. This, at least, we can and should do.

It is related that when Dom Louis Rouvier was installed as Prior of the Charterhouse of Bosserville, his constant desire was to show in some way that he regarded himself in his office simply as our Lady’s vicar, and that he intended to exercise his authority solely in dependence upon her. In the church and refectory, above the prior’s seat, he placed a small statue of our Lady bearing the inscription: Reign over us, O Blessed Virgin, together with your Son. At his instance, also, a picture of our Lady Immaculate was hung on all the cell doors; and at various parts of the monastery he placed prints representing Carthusians at Mary’s feet, offering her the homage of their love.

We, too, should never forget the tremendous honour God has paid us in allowing us to have His Mother as our Queen, and to be reckoned among her servants.

11 August 2011

Look into that Mirror Daily

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi. It was Saint Francis of Assisi who saw in Clare something special, extraordinary – a soul who would be a great witness to the Gospel way of life. She is the co-foundress of the Order of Poor Clares.

Pope Gregory IX came to Assisi in 1228 for the purpose of canonizing Francis, but also made a stop at San Damiano to try and convince Clare to ease up on the strictness of her life of poverty. Even if it was a vow that led to such rigidity, Pope Gregory IX was willing to absolve her from it. But Clare resisted and said to the pope: “Holy Father, I crave for absolution of my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” This impressed the Holy Father and in September of 1228 he granted her the Papal Bull, Privilegium Paupertatis (Privilege of Poverty). Here is that text:

“Gregory Bishop Servant of the Servants of God.
To our beloved daughters in Christ Clare and the other handmaids of Christ dwelling together at the Church of San Damiano in the Diocese of Assisi. Health and Apostolic benediction. It is evident that the desire of consecrating yourselves to God alone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goods and having distributed them among the poor, you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in all things the example of Him Who became poor and Who is the way, the truth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouse is beneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you have subjected to the law of the spirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and Who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shall come Himself to minister to you in eternity when, namely, the right Hand of His consolations shall embrace you in the plenitude of the Beatific Vision. Since, therefore, you have asked for it, we confirm by Apostolic favor your resolution of the loftiest poverty and by the authority of these present letters grant that you may not be constrained by anyone to receive possessions. To no one, therefore, be it allowed to infringe upon this page of our concession or to oppose it with rash temerity. But if anyone shall presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he shall incur the wrath of Almighty God and his Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul.
Given at Perugia on the fifteenth of the Kalends of October in the second year of our Pontificate.”

Since the establishment of Holy Mother Church by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there has never been a so-called “golden age” of the Church. She has always had her problems and challenges. Perhaps the battle that has always existed is, “the way of Christ versus the way of the world.” Secularization is a huge challenge for today’s Christian. The weaknesses of our nature is prone to surrendering to that which is constantly before us; and in our modern day culture, that is secularism. Saint Clare teaches us by her own example that through the grace of Almighty God, we can live for Christ alone and overcome the enemy of our times.

Clare had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. In her letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, Clare writes about how happy it is “to cleave with one’s heart to Him Whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, Whose love inflames our love.” Clare adds that contemplating Jesus “makes us glow with happiness.” He is “the Mirror without spot.” Then she instructs Agnes and us by urging us to “look into that Mirror daily.” If we are to conquer our weaknesses and live for God, daily prayer, and most especially spending time with the Blessed Sacrament are a must.

In sacred art, Saint Clare is often depicted with a ciborium. This not only exhibits Clare’s love for the Eucharist but also proclaims the story in which soldiers scaled the walls of San Damiano during the night. Clare rose from her bed, went to the chapel and grabbed the ciborium, taking our Eucharistic Lord to an open window. The soldiers had already placed a ladder beneath that window to climb and enter through it. Clare raised the Blessed Sacrament which caused the soldiers on the ladder to fall while the rest ran away. This is the power of that “Mirror” which Clare exhorts us to look into daily.

Sancta Clara, ora pro nobis!

10 August 2011

Desiring to be a holocaust for Jesus

Deacons, today we pray especially for you on this, the Feast of Saint Laurence, deacon and martyr.

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word, “diakonia” which means “care” or “service.”

Saint Ambrose describes a deacon as having three characteristics:

First, a deacon having been sacramentally constituted in the service of self-giving, lives his diaconal ministry giving witness to Christ in martyrdom, the service of charity by acceptance of that greater love which is martyrdom.

Second, in virtue of the link which binds him to the bishop, the deacon lives ecclesial communion by specific service to the bishop, beginning with the Eucharist and in reference to the Eucharist.

Third, in virtue of the Sacrament, the deacon devotes himself fully to the service of a constituent charity and not merely to a human or social fellowship, and thus manifests the most characteristic element of the diakonia.

In De Officiis, Saint Ambrose describes a very heartfelt but intense moment between Laurence and Sixtus II, the pope who was being led to execution. Here is the exchange according to the Ambrosian text:

Saint Laurence wept when he saw his bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: “Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy bishop, without your deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's Blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment.”

Sixtus replied: “I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you.”

Saint Ambrose continues his text by telling us that Laurence’s longing for martyrdom was due to his desire to be a holocaust for Jesus Christ.

It has been said that Lawrence was roasted to death on a grid-iron three days after the death of Sixtus.

Sancte Laurenti, ora pro nobis!

09 August 2011

Dwelling in the Shelter of the Rays

“One evening as I entered my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus exposed in the Monstrance under the open sky, as it seemed. At the Feet of Jesus I saw my Confessor, and behind him a great number of the highest ranking ecclesiastics, clothed in vestments the like of which I had never seen except in this vision; and behind them, groups of religious from various Orders; and further still I saw enormous crowds of people, which extended far beyond my vision. I saw the two rays coming out from the Host, as in the image, closely united but not intermingled; and they passed through the hands of my Confessor, and then through the hands of the clergy and from their hands to the people, and then they returned to the Host.”

These words are from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. It would seem to be a marvelous vision of Christ’s Church in Eucharistic Adoration.

Later she wrote: “When I was in church waiting for Confession, I saw the same rays issuing from the Monstrance and spreading throughout the church. This lasted all through the service.” This “service” which she mentions was Eucharistic Adoration followed by Benediction. Saint Faustina continued: “After the Benediction, the rays shone out to both sides and returned again to the Monstrance. Their appearance was bright and transparent like crystal.”

These “rays” were explained by our Lord to Saint Faustina: “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous.” This of course is the Sacrament of Baptism. Our Lord continued: “The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls.” This is the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Most fascinating about these rays is Saint Faustina’s description of them appearing “like crystal.” Saint John the Evangelist’s vision would seem to concur: “And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God, and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). This would appear to be synonymous with the pale ray of Water. Saint John the Evangelist also wrote: “He showed me the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, and the light thereof was like to a precious stone, as to the jasper stone even as crystal” (Revelation 21:10-11). The color of jasper is red, which is harmonious with the Blood of Christ or the Eucharist.

The mercy of Jesus, therefore, flows from His Eucharistic Heart, but also His mercy is to be received by means of the holy city of Jerusalem, signifying the Church, the New Jerusalem. And once again referring to our Savior’s Eucharistic Heart, Saint Faustina also saw these rays during Vespers with a Eucharistic procession for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Jesus spoke to Saint Faustina about three o’clock being the hour of mercy. One of the options that our Lord suggests at this “hour of grace for the whole world” is to be in the chapel adoring the Blessed Sacrament.

The rays of mercy flow from the Heart of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Shouldn’t we adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible? Jesus said to Saint Faustina: “These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter.”

06 August 2011

Wholly Dedicated to Contemplation

Dear readers of Secret Harbour - Portus Secretioris, in remembrance of today’s Feast please offer a prayer for the monks of the Carthusian Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont. Thank you! Here’s a brief meditation on the Transfiguration provided by the Carthusians:

"Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (Mark, 9:2-3).

The Transfiguration of the Lord contains all the constitutive elements of Christian contemplation.

Jesus climbs up a mountain to pray, and He takes Peter, James and John with Him.

Suddenly, as He is praying, He is transfigured. (Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29; Mark 9:2). Before Jesus looked like a man, now He is manifested as God-Man. His Face is still human, but now it now reflects His divinity. His clothes shed intense pure light. Peter, James and John do not see this with their ordinary vision: only their illumined eyes can see the resplendent Glory of the Father (Luke 9:32).

They are awe-struck. Then a cloud comes over and a Voice declares: "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him." With these words, the Transfiguration ends and they go down the mountain again.

The Transfiguration of the Lord allows us to contemplate, not only the Mystery of Jesus, but also our own mystery. Prayer and contemplation, lived in pure faith during this life, are the beginning of our own Transfiguration.

The Carthusian monk is wholly dedicated to contemplation: sustained by the scriptures, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit led into the depths of his heart, the monk experiences in some sort the incomparable Beauty of the Light of God radiating from Christ.

"Beloved, we now are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2).

Purifying Our Spiritual Eyes of Worldly Thoughts

God manifests Himself upon the Mount, on the one hand coming down from His heights, and on the other, raising us up from the depths of abasement, since the Transcendent One takes on mortal nature. Certainly, such a manifest appearance by far transcends the utmost limits of the mind’s grasp, as effectualized by the power of the Divine Spirit.

Thus, the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord is not something that comes to be and then vanishes, nor is it subject to the sensory faculties, although it was contemplated by corporeal eyes for a short while upon an inconsequential mountaintop. But the initiates of the Mystery, the disciples of the Lord at this time passed beyond mere flesh into spirit through a transformation of their senses, effectualized within them by the Spirit, and in such a way that they beheld what, and to what extent, the Divine Spirit had wrought blessedness in them to behold the Ineffable Light.

Those not grasping this point have conjectured that the chosen from among the Apostles beheld the Light of the Transfiguration of the Lord by a sensual and creaturely faculty, and through this they attempt to reduce to a creaturely level not only this Light, the Kingdom and the Glory of God, but also the Power of the Divine Spirit, through Whom it is meet for Divine Mysteries to be revealed. In all likelihood, such persons have not heeded the words of the Apostle Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him. But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

So, with the onset of the eighth day, the Lord, taking Peter, James and John, went up on the Mount to pray. He always prayed alone, withdrawing from everyone, even from the Apostles themselves. In our instance right here and now, having taken only these three, the Lord led them up onto a high mountain by themselves and was transfigured before them, that is to say, before their very eyes.

“What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?” asks the Golden-Mouthed Theologian (Saint John Chrysostom). He answers this by saying: “It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him.” The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Saint Luke 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His Face shone as the sun” (Saint Matthew 17:2). But the Evangelist said this, not in the context that this Light be thought of as subsistent for the senses. Rather, it is to show that Christ-God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses. Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when the Lord was praying. This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occured and was manifest by uniting the mind with God, and that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God. True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind. To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.

We believe that at the Transfiguration He manifested not some other sort of light, but only that which was concealed beneath His fleshly exterior. This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine. It was to show His disciples that which He already was, opening their eyes and bringing them from blindness to sight. For do you not see that eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light?

Thus, this Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit. They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with the deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.

Let us, considering the Mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord, strive to be illumined by this Light ourselves and encourage in ourselves love and striving towards the Unfading Glory and Beauty, purifying our spiritual eyes of worldly thoughts and refraining from perishable and quickly passing delights and beauty which darken the garb of the soul.

- Saint Gregory Palamas -

04 August 2011

Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare Tuum

The Church prays the Nunc Dimittis daily in her Night Prayer or Compline. They are the words of Simeon as he held the Christ Child in his arms at the Presentation in the Temple, the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary:

“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory Thy people Israel.”

Saint Ephraem, in his “Homily on Our Lord,” tells us that Simeon is a priest. Our Blessed Mother, perhaps quite prophetically, passes our Lord from her hands into the hands of a priest. And certainly one can sense the overwhelming immensity of Simeon’s emotions as he holds the Saviour of the world in his hands. This is far too mysterious for the human intellect to fully grasp. To paraphrase Simeon, what he’s saying is: “Okay Lord, take me now, for what I am doing at this moment, nothing else in this life will surpass it.”

At each and every Holy Mass the priest has the incomprehensible privilege of holding the Saviour of the world in his hands on the altar. Please God, may your priests never take for granted the enormity of what they do on the altar!

Today is the Feast of Saint Jean Marie Vianney; he certainly was never nonchalant about the power given to him as a priest. The Curé d’Ars shed many tears of joy during Mass especially when he was holding our Eucharistic Lord in his hands during his thanksgivings and often long adorations. He would say: “To celebrate Mass one ought to be a seraph! I hold our Lord in my hands. I move Him to the right, and He stays there, to the left, and He stays there! To know what the Mass is would be to die. Only in heaven shall we understand the happiness of saying Mass! Alas, my God, how much a priest is to be pitied when he does this as an ordinary thing!”

It was on a Christmas night at Mass as he held the Sacred Host in his hands above the Chalice, and tears were flowing from his eyes when the Holy Curé prayed in his heart: “My God, if I knew that I was to be damned, now that I hold Thee, I would not let Thee go again.”

And how about those of us in the laity? What should our disposition be as the priest holds our Lord in his hands? We will never appreciate our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as “un bain d’amour” (a bath of love), to quote Saint Jean Marie Vianney, until we establish a daily prayer life. The Holy Curé d’Ars referred to prayer as man’s noble task. As servants of God, prayer is not an option, but an absolute necessity. “With God all things are possible” (Saint Matthew 19:26). Saint Jean Marie gives us something to think about: “Saint Catherine of Genoa so hungered for this heavenly Bread that she could not see it in the priest’s hands without feeling as though she were dying of love, so great was her desire to possess it, and she would cry: 'Ah, Lord come into me! My God, come to me, I can bear it no longer! Ah, my God, come, if it please Thee, into my inmost heart; no, my God, I can bear it no longer. Thou art my whole joy, my whole happiness, and the only Food of my soul.’ Happy the Christian who comprehends this. If we understood it even a little, we could only desire life so far as it meant the happiness of making Jesus Christ our daily Bread.”

Do you think anyone would ever consider skipping Mass if they possessed the same love for the Blessed Sacrament as that of Saints Jean Marie Vianney and Catherine of Genoa?

01 August 2011

Performing on Earth the Office of the Citizens of Heaven

Here is a reflection on the Divine Office by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, whose feast the Church celebrates today:

By the Divine Office God is honored, the fury of the enemy is repelled, and the divine mercies are obtained for sinners. But to attain these ends it is necessary to recite the Office in a proper manner: it is necessary to say it carefully and devoutly.

Carefully, by pronouncing the words distinctly; devoutly, that is, with attention, as Cassian teaches: “Let that be considered in the heart which is uttered by the lips.”

“How,” asks Saint Cyprian, “can you expect that God will hear you when you do not hear yourself?” Prayer made with attention is the odoriferous incense that is most agreeable to God, and obtains treasures of grace; but prayer made with voluntary distraction is a fetid smoke that provokes the divine wrath, and merits chastisement. Hence, while we recite the Office, the devil labors strenuously to make us say it with distractions and defects. We should, then, take all possible care to recite it in a proper manner.

It is necessary to enliven our faith, and to consider that in reciting the Divine Office we unite with the angels in praising God. “We begin here upon earth the Office of the inhabitants of heaven,” says Tertullian. We then perform on earth the Office of the citizens of heaven, who unceasingly praise God, and shall praise Him for an eternity. “Hence,” as Saint John Chrysostom remarks, “before we enter the church or take up the breviary we must leave at the door and dismiss all thoughts of the world.”

In reciting the Divine Office we must take care that our affections accompany the sentiments contained in what we read. It is necessary, says Saint Augustine “we must pray when the Psalmist prays, sigh when he sighs, hope when he hopes.” It is useful to renew our attention from time to time; for example, at the beginning of every psalm. We must be careful not to give occasion to mental distractions. How can he who recites the Office in a public place, or in the midst of persons who are jesting and amusing themselves, how, I ask, can he say it with piety and devotion?

Oh! what treasures do they lay up who daily recite the Divine Office with devout attention! Saint John Chrysostom says that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. But, on the other hand, they who say it negligently lose great merits, and have to render a great account to God.