30 September 2011

Learn the Psalter Word for Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 September 2011

Feast of the Archangels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 September 2011

Converting Gathered Flowers into the Sweetness of Honey

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

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

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

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

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

21 September 2011

Saint Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * * *

From Saint Peter Chrysologus:

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

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

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

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

16 September 2011

Death: the Passage to Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 September 2011

Our Lady of Sorrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 September 2011

Per Signum Crucis de Inimicis Nostris Libera Nos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 September 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations V

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

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

08 September 2011

The Glorious Day that was to Usher in the Redeemer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 September 2011

Si oblitus fuero tui, Ierusalem

A Commentary on the Psalms by Saint Bruno:

"How lovely is Your dwelling place. My soul longs to enter the courts of the Lord," the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.

The psalmist tells us why he longs to enter the courts of the Lord: "Blessed are those who dwell in Your house," the heavenly Jerusalem, O Lord, God of all heavenly powers, my King and my God. It is as if he said: "Who would not wish to enter Your courts, since You are God, the Creator, Lord of powers, King, and since all who dwell in Your house are blessed?" Court and house are the same thing to him. When he says "blessed" he means that they are possessed of as great a blessedness as it is possible to conceive. So it follows that they are blessed because "they will praise You with loving devotion, world without end," that is "for eternity." They would not praise Him for eternity, if they were not blessed for eternity.

No man can attain this blessedness of himself, even though he has hope, faith and charity. But "that man is blessed" whom You help to climb the ladder to blessedness which he has set up in his heart. That is to say: the only man that can be said to be likely to attain blessedness is he who, once he has set his heart on climbing to blessedness by the many steps of virtue and good works, receives help from Your grace. No man can, of himself, ascend to such heights; as the Lord says, "No one has ascended into heaven except the Son of man Who is in heaven."

I say that "he has set up the ladder" because he is living now in this vale of tears of tribulation, compared with that other life which may be called a mountain and full of joy in comparison with this present one.

Since the Lord said, "Blessed are they whose strength is in You," one might ask, "Will God's help be forthcoming?" To which we reply: "Help from God is there for the blessed." For the Lawgiver, Christ Himself Who gave us the law, gives and will go on giving His blessings, the innumerable gifts of grace, by which He blesses His own. This means He will raise them up to blessedness. As they make the ascent, they will, by His blessings, mount from strenght to strength. In time to come, in the heavenly Sion, Christ Himself, the God of gods, will deify those who are His own. To put it another way: the God of gods, the divine Trinity, will be seen in a spiritual way among those who dwell in Sion; or, yet again, by the light of the intellect they will see among themselves God, Whom here they cannot see; for God will be All in all.

06 September 2011

Lanspergius the Carthusian - Short Meditations IV

Think ill of no man, and although he seems to you to be wicked, yet believe that he has been suffered to fall by some secret and hidden Providence of Mine, for the attaining of greater humility in himself, and procuring of greater profit to his soul. And you ought neither to judge nor yet despise him, but lament rather your own ingratitude towards Me, because only My grace upholds you, as it were, violently against your will; and think that without it you should fall into greater and more heinous sins than any other. Therefore say to yourself: If this man had received so much grace as I have done, he would have served God a great deal more devoutly, and have been more thankful to Him, than I have been. Believe also that as soon as I look upon him with My mercy, he will presently repent and amend; or else, that he is already reformed and made more holy than those who despise him. Therefore, ascribe your ill-conceit of him to your own fault and rash judgment, and reprehend yourself sharply because you have thought amiss of your neighbour, and done him wrong.

03 September 2011

Contemplating the Substance of Eternity

On this feast of Saint Gregory the Great, at Matins the Carthusians listened to a lengthy reading from ‘Moralia in Iob’ written by this day’s honoured saint. Here is a piece of what was proclaimed in the hallowed Charterhouses.

The human soul, because of the sin of the first of mankind was banished from the joys of paradise, lost the light of the invisible, and poured itself out entirely in the love of the visible, and was darkened to interior contemplation, in proportion as it was dissipated without, to the deformity of itself. From there it comes to pass that it knows nothing, saving the things that it acquaints itself with by the palpable touch, so to say, of the bodily eyes. For man, who, had he been willing to have kept the commandments, would even in his flesh have been a spiritual being, but by sinning was rendered even in carnal soul, so as to imagine such things only as he derives to the soul through the images of bodily substances. For the body is the property of heaven, earth, water, animals, and all the visible things, which he unceasingly beholds; and while the delighted mind wholly precipitates itself into these, it loses the fineness of the inward sense; and whereas it is now no longer able to erect itself to things on High, it willingly lies prostrate in its weakness in things below.

But when with marvellous efforts it strives to rise up from material things, it is great indeed, if the soul, thrusting aside the bodily form, be brought to the knowledge of itself, so as to think of itself without a bodily figure, and by thus thinking of itself to prepare itself a pathway to contemplate the substance of Eternity. Now in this way it shows itself to its own eyes as a kind of ladder, whereby in ascending from outward things to pass into itself, it strives to penetrate God. For when the mind abandons bodily images, entering into itself, it mounts up to no mean height; for though the soul is incorporeal, yet because she is incorporated with the body, she is known by that property of hers, which is confined within the local bounds of the flesh. And whereas she forgets things known, acquaints herself with such that are unknown, remembers what has been consigned to oblivion, passes from sadness to joy, finding serenity, she herself shows by her own diversity in herself, how widely she is removed from the Substance of the eternal Essence of God. All these fluctuations indicate that the nature of the soul is very different from the substance of God, always equal to itself, present everywhere, invisible and incomprehensible, and is by the longing mind discerned without seeing, heard without uncertainty, taken in without motion, touched without bodily substance, held without locality.

And so because the mind is carried away into unaccustomed ground, when it pries into the Essence of the divine, it is rightly said: There stood one whose countenance I knew not ~ Job 4:16. And it is well said, it stood still; for every created thing, in that it is made out of nothing, and of itself tends to nothing, has not the property to stand, but to run to an end. But a creature endowed with reason, by this very circumstance, that it is created after the image of its Creator, is fixed that it should not pass into nothing. No irrational creature is ever fixed, but only, so long as, by the service of its appearing, is completing the form and fashion of the universe, it is delayed in passing away. For though heaven and earth abide now and forever, still they are at this present time of themselves hastening on to nothing, yet for the use of those, whom they serve, until they are renewed and recreated in a better state.

To ‘stand’ then is the attribute of the Creator alone, through Whom all things pass away, but Himself never passing away, and in Whom some things are held fast, that they should not pass away. Thus our Saviour, because of the fixed state of His Divine Nature could not be comprehended by the human mind, He showed this to us as it were in passing, by coming to us, by being created, born, died, buried, by rising again, and returning to the heavenly realms. This is well-expressed in the Gospel by the enlightening of the blind man. The Lord heard him screaming as He was passing, but he recovered when He stopped. Jesus passes as a man, but stops according to His Divine Nature which is everywhere. The Gospel states that Jesus, in passing, heard the cries of our blindness, because as a man He has compassion on our misery. But when He stops, He gives sight to the blind, because through His unchanging divinity, He illuminates the darkness of our infirmities. It is well then that, after it has been said: Then a spirit passed before my face but I could not discern the form thereof ~ Job 4:15-16.

02 September 2011

If You Love Truth Be a Lover of Silence

Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remains in continual silence. Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within.

If you love truth be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you with God Himself. More than all things love silence, it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe.

In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent and then there is born something which draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this something which is born of silence.

If only you will practice this, untold light will dawn upon you as a consequence. After a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.

~Saint Isaac of Syria~