spirituality

God Is Not a Vending Machine

April 3, 3014

Prayer Before Meal, before 1740, Chardin, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon, Musee du Louvre, Paris

Prayer Before Meal, before 1740, Chardin, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon, Musee du Louvre, Paris

From the time many of us raised in Christian homes were small, we were taught to pray. Pray for others, pray for what we want/need, pray in thanksgiving and adoration. Often, when we reach adulthood, the prayers of petition become our main reason for praying if our faith has not matured.

I remember as a child that my Mother would say in frustration, “You kids have a terrible case of the ‘gimmes’”. What we wanted was either not in the budget or it was something our parents deemed bad for us. As kids we weren’t aware of how much we were doing this, or that we were looking at our parents as some kind of vending machine that would drop out whatever we asked for.

Fast-forwarding to today, I can say that it was a hard learning for me to not view God as a vending machine. Perhaps it was because in all my years outside the Church I forgot how to really pray. Time apart from God will do that. When I look back on all the frivolous things I prayed for, I hang my head in shame.  Even in praying for things that were not frivolous I lacked the one thing necessary that we were all taught as children in our family – a spirit of submission to the will of God.

The God-As-Vending-Machine mentality is a result of what psychologists call “magical thinking”. We, unknowingly, think that if we make this or that novena, say x number of rosaries, give money to the poor, fast, etc. that we are automatically going to get what we want. Just put the money in, press the right button, and out pops the answer to our prayers. When we think this way we are assuming we have some kind of power over God that can force Him to give us what we want if we only jump through all the hoops out there. After all, it worked for Saint So-and-so, so why not us?

If we’re approaching God in this way we are doomed to disappointment. We are not considering what Jesus told us in Matt. 5:8, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” To rightly know what to ask for, we first must do a thorough housecleaning on our desires. In Mark 7: 20-23 Jesus talks about that clean heart:

What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.

Saint So-and-so received answers to his prayers because he had a clean heart and asked for what he wanted in that spirit. Does it not follow, then, that if we are asking God for this, that, and the other material thing and at the same time we are doing nothing to curb our greed, our tongue, our lust, we are not in a disposition to receive what we’re asking for? God will never give us anything that will hurt us, no matter how many rosaries we pray. He will always, though, give us what we need. Sometimes that gift is the withholding of something we’re asking for chiefly because we are not ready to receive it, or in receiving it we would veer from the path He desires for us.

I am reminded of a married couple who were in deep trouble with their relationship. The man thought that if he gave thousands of dollars to this and that charity, if he made this and that novena and prayed the rosary with his family, that everything would magically get better because he was doing all the right things. Except that he wasn’t. He did not want to admit his drinking problem and he did not want to view his wife as anything other than a servant rather than as a partner whose views deserved due consideration. He did not view his great income as “family money” for the support and sustenance of his wife and children but rather as his to spend however he wanted on himself. Finally, because he refused to submit to God creating a clean heart in him, he lost his family.

One time I got very angry with God because He wasn’t giving me what I wanted. “Why aren’t you helping me?” I yelled. It took a few years before I got the understanding. It was, “Because you’re not doing what I want you to do.” Obvious now but not then. I was consumed with getting what I wanted and it most definitely wouldn’t have been good for me nor for the people God had in mind for me to help one day.

The Germans have a saying, “We grow too soon old and too late smart.” In our prayer life our disposition must always be, “Thy will be done.” It is never a problem to ask for something as long as we are not so attached to getting what we want that we get angry with God for not giving it to us. Moreover, as we seek, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to clean our hearts from all the attitudes Jesus condemned, we become more sensitive to what we should ask for, both on our behalf and our neighbor’s behalf. When the self-centeredness clears out, the peace of Christ moves in and we learn to recognize all the gifts God is giving us without our even asking for them. We become “smart” in what to ask for, and are able to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit regardless of our circumstances. With the psalmist we can say,

A clean heart create in me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. (Ps. 51:10)

We can save ourselves a lot of grief if we learn what we need to know early and don’t become “too late smart.”

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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 prayers, spirituality 8 Comments

The Silence of Christ

March 26, 2013

Crown of Thorns, 1520-25, Lucas, Cranach the Elder (b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar), Oil and tempera on limewood, Private collection

Crown of Thorns, 1520-25, Lucas, Cranach the Elder (b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar), Oil and tempera on limewood, Private collection

Bossuet, in his Meditations for Lent, wrote:

Few people like to suffer, and to suffer in silence in the sight of God alone. And if it is rare to find those who like to suffer, it is still rarer to find those who suffer without trying to tell the world of it.

This comment isn’t just for Lent, but for all the times of our lives. I don’t think Bossuet was trying to be funny here, but really, the second half of the second sentence really is funny because it so perfectly describes our human nature. There is a reason for that marvelous Yiddish word, “kvetch”.

Who among us can truthfully say that we have never whined or complained to anyone who will listen about things that pain us most deeply? It is at those times we are trapped inside our own little world, maybe throwing tantrums over the injustices or ill fortunes of life, and wanting somebody to take pity on us and rescue us. While grieving over certain losses is normal and it is healthy to let someone care for us until we get back on our psychological feet, when we let our suffering control our lives to the point that it consumes our outlook and relationships with others, we are in trouble. Why? Because we are looking everywhere but to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus endured a thousand injuries, insults, and indignities from all manner of persons. He was falsely accused by his cruel enemies, the scribes and the Pharisees. They said He was a blasphemer, a rebel, a breaker of the law, and a disturber of the peace, that He had contempt for the Roman taxes, and finally, that He was misleading the people with His new doctrine.

And we get bent out of shape when somebody makes the slightest false accusation against us! But Jesus made no attempt to defend Himself. He bore the blows of the Jews and their accusations in His illegal midnight trial, the scourging and crowning with thorns all without a word. While the sadistic Roman soldiers spit on Him and struck Him viciously, He was silent. And when the hedonistic Herod, a slippery piece of work, tried to get Jesus to speak, He remained silent. He didn’t try to get out of fulfilling the purpose the Father sent Him here to accomplish.

We, too, have a purpose in our suffering: to share in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of souls. Our suffering with this purpose keeps us focused not on ourselves but on eternal life which we will spend with God and our whole, huge, joyful and loving family of saints and angels.

Bossuet writes:

…[O]ur souls are tested and marvelously improved when, by a truly Christian generosity, we are able to rise up above all that troubles and opposes us, and, like Jesus, we keep a profound silence, even when there is something to speak about, whether for our justification against an unjust accusation, or amid a raging tempest of trouble. A truly generous soul must defend itself with silence, which will be its calm and peace amid the storm. Jesus will send an interior sweetness into the depths of the hearts of those who, by a little courage, reject and abandon the help of creatures for the sake of His love.

In our sufferings and contradictions, let us not look to secondary causes. We must not pander to our self-love by a vain search for someone to blame for our sufferings. We must instead lift our sights to heaven to see that it is God Himself who has allowed these things to happen to us, and that they will be for the sake of our salvation if we know how to profit from them.

Suffering in this life is not optional, but our interior attitude towards it is. Let us imitate the silence of Jesus as a way to strengthen our character, build virtue, and enjoy an ever closer relationship with Christ.

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Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 Spiritual reading, spirituality, suffering 3 Comments

Mortification, Penance, Suffering Seen through the Holy Spirit

March 8, 2014

Flower Sellers of London, Gustave Dore, Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Flower Sellers of London, Gustave Dore, Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Comprehending the value of the Cross, of suffering, of willful mortification and penance is impossible with the human eye alone. We need the light of the Holy Spirit to live through that which is visited upon us just as Jesus was seized and killed by worldly powers. In the eyes of the world he was just a man, one certainly with extraordinary power to heal both hearts and bodies, but in the end, just someone who could be killed to be gotten out of the way.

To the world, suffering makes no sense. It is a mystery. Mortification and penance make no sense. The world cannot conceive the hidden meaning and value of suffering and so it vainly seeks to end it by purely earthly means – this program and that, but oddly enough only creating more suffering. When by the grace of the Holy Spirit and with a generous heart charity seizes us, we can not only accept that which is beyond our control, but also choose to take advantage of all the many instances we find daily to deny ourselves and follow in the footsteps of the Lord.

In Meditation #97 of Divine Intimacy Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene writes:

The spirit of mortification has more than a purely physical aspect of mortification; it also includes renunciation of the ego, the will, and the understanding.

Is not the renunciation of understanding one of the most difficult challenges we face? We all want immediate certainty about our earthly endeavors. We want to know why things go wrong and we want to know why certain things are happening to us.  Really bad things may be going on and we want to create an alternate reality to dodge the emotional pain because we don’t understand. We can’t bear not to “get it” when we are apparently in the dark. We are impatient with God. We become afraid. Sometimes we actually run away through drugs, booze, affairs, and fantasies because we don’t want to have to deal with realities we don’t understand or know how to deal with. With our ego life is all about us; with our will life is all about getting what we want, with our understanding life is all about getting rid of uncertainty and taking control.  

The spirit of mortification is really complete when, above all, we seek to mortify self-love in all its many manifestations…. There is little value in imposing corporal mortifications on ourselves if we then refuse to yield our opinion in order to accommodate ourselves to others, if we cannot be reconciled with our enemies, or bear an injury and a cutting word with calmness, or hold back a sharp answer…. As long as mortification does not strike at our pride it remains at the halfway mark and never reaches its goal.

I will add to the specifics above, without understanding the need to mortify self-love and doing it, we cause immense pain to others, especially those close to us. This is how abuse of all kinds is passed down in families, how some people decide to kill themselves rather than to take the hand God is extending to them, how generations end up poisoned with hateful behavior patterns.

Without the spirit of mortification, we gain nothing and give no spiritual goods to others because we just go through the motions on the outside but have not rent our hearts on the inside (Joel 2: 13). We are fakes.

The true spirit of mortification embraces, in the first place, all the occasions for physical or moral suffering permitted by Divine Providence. The sufferings attendant on illness or fatigue; the efforts required by the performance of our duties or by a life of intense labor; the privations imposed by the state of poverty – all are excellent physical penances. If we sincerely desire to be guided by Divine Providence in everything, we will not try to avoid them, or even to lighten them, but will accept wholeheartedly whatever God offers us. It would be absurd to refuse a single one of those providential opportunities for suffering and to look for voluntary mortifications of our own choice….

It is exactly the same in the moral order. Do we not sometimes try to avoid a person whom we do not like, but with whom the Lord has brought us into contact? Do we look for every means of avoiding a humiliation or an act of obedience which is painful to nature? If we do, we are running away from the best opportunities for sacrificing ourselves and for mortifying our self-love; even if we substitute other mortifications, they will not be as effective as those which God Himself has prepared for us. In the mortification offered to us by Divine Providence, there is nothing of our own will or liking; they strike us just where we need it the most, and where, by voluntary mortification, we could never reach.

So much suffering in this world is going to waste because too many people do not see the supernatural  value of suffering, of renunciation of the ego, self-will, and understanding. Too many people are not willing to “let go and let God” as the various Anonymous organizations teach. Too many people are in misery because they do not know God and no one is drawing them to Him.

This Lent, let us consider our mortifications to be not only for our own spiritual development and formation in Christ, but offer them up for those who do not know God, that He will manifest Himself to them in love through us and others.

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R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, March 8th, 2014 spirituality, suffering Comments Off

Misery Is a Choice

March 6, 2014

Potter Working Thrower, Wikimedia

Potter Working Thrower, Wikimedia

Do you know people who are truly miserable? I am not speaking here of that great percentage of the world who live in poverty and disease, in war-torn countries, victims of natural disasters that destroy lives completely, or where people face a choice of convert to this or that religion or die. I am also not speaking of sexually and physically abused children nor of those who have been trafficked for financial gain of others, nor of the many other evils in the world. That temporal misery is forced upon persons by outside powers for evil and selfish purposes. I am speaking of misery of heart and soul – an invisible misery that manifests itself outwardly most particularly by sins of the tongue, angry outbursts, rash judgment, destruction of property and/or relationships. The kind of internal churning misery that repels others and perpetuates itself both in oneself and in others in our lives with whom we interact.

We all know the constant complainer, the super-critic who is pleased about nothing, the selfish controller of others who continually resorts to manipulation to get what he or she wants. We all know our share of Chicken Littles for whom the sky is falling almost every day. Their lives are full of constant drama, singularly joyless. And who has not known active alcoholics and others addicts of all types? They live in a continual torment and spinning of fears, often using addiction as a way not to face the demons inside themselves. Maybe, just maybe, we can apply these descriptions to ourselves at one time or another in our lives.

Now that we are beginning Lent, a time when we put extra effort into growing closer to God and giving deep consideration to the passion and death of Christ as the great act of our redemption, perhaps we can look at our internal misery index. Perhaps we can face the fact that we may be stuck in the past, chained to events that still affect our choices today, and resolve with the help of Jesus to step out in trust and change something about ourselves that makes us miserable. The fact that we can change the way we look at things, the way we perceive others, means that misery is a choice.

In every case, if we challenge ourselves, we will see that the root of our misery is some form of selfishness. Others have failed us. Others have betrayed us. Others have truly wished us dead, or at least gone or living like a toothless tiger. We have been slighted, disrespected, ridiculed, bullied and even hated for no good reason. When we get down to it, each of us can own up to the fact regarding ourselves that it is all about me and how I see myself. Who am I really? Who defines who I am? The answer to that is…well, later.

A recently convicted and sentenced prison lifer told his adult daughter that he could understand if the Christians he knew didn’t want to have anything to do with him. After all, Christians don’t associate with criminals. When she told me that I said, “We are all criminals in the eyes of God because we are all sinners. Every Confession line is full of repeat offenders. Christians of all people ought to understand criminals.” And, in fact, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for having dinner with tax collectors and sinners, to which He replied, “They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill.  Go then and learn what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners” (Matt. 9: 11-12). If we mean to imitate Jesus, we will not shrink from a criminal who seeks healing relationships.

I bring up this example because although we are all criminals, we are much more. Grasping this one point and considering it over time can help us overcome misery we create for ourselves. That point is:

We were each created by God out of love. We are His children, broken by the effects of Original Sin, but loved so greatly that Jesus died for us. No generalities here. Each one of us is loved by God individually. Our sins hurt us and hurt others, but Jesus in His mercy heals us if we turn to Him. By turning away from ourselves and seeking a relationship with Him, we gain a perspective that allows us to make choices that lead us to joy and not misery. As the best Father, God wants us to be happy with Him forever. We find out who we really are only in relationship with God.

 Of course, having a relationship with God means getting to know Him. Getting to know someone takes time, peace and quiet, listening, studying his actions. What better place to start than with the New Testament where we have the words and actions of Christ to light the way? But that gets us into knowing about Jesus. We can’t stop there. We need to spend time with Him in front of the Blessed Sacrament or at least in quiet prayer thinking about what He taught us and asking to know Him better. The amount of time we give to these two things is relative to our internal misery index. More time with Jesus means less misery because we are focusing on Him and not stuck in our own self-centeredness. We will reduce the number of criminal actions (sins) against God and our neighbor by doing this, and instead bring the healing love of Christ to others. We reduce misery in our hearts by conversion.

We also need to get to know Mother Mary better. She always points the way to Jesus and can help us to reflect Him to others. Once we begin to experience more joy in these relationships with God and the Blessed Mother, we cannot keep it to ourselves. Joy is one of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit and the more selfishness we get out of the way, the easier it is for the joy in us to come out naturally and brighten other people’s lives as well as our own.

As we consider the season of Lent, let’s look at our misery index. What permanent changes do we want to make to become more like Jesus? What choices do we need to make to let more joy into our lives? Who is God placing in our lives to help us? Are we making the best use of Confession?

St. Benedict tells us, “Prefer nothing to Christ. In all things glorify God.” St. Paul wrote: “All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17).

We are all a work in progress, the Great Potter shaping us in love. Let us surrender to Him, let go of the past, live in the present moment, and look to the future of everlasting life and joy.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, March 6th, 2014 joy, spirituality 8 Comments

The Cockle in Our Lives

February 10, 2014

Kiss of Judas, Fecamp Psalter, French Miniaturist, c. 1180, The Hague

Kiss of Judas, Fecamp Psalter, French Miniaturist, c. 1180, The Hague

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany in the Extraordinary Form is the parable of the man who sowed good seed in his field, but his enemy came in at night and sowed cockle seed over it. Now what kind of person would do such a thing? The farmer’s crop not only provided his living, others needed it for survival too, and future crops depended on the seed. The malicious act of a hateful heart would hurt many.

This is exactly what Satan is about. Create as much pain and suffering as possible in ways that have far reaching effects. Discourage all kindness. Choke the light of Christ out from the midst of God’s children. Seize their water and make them shrivel and die, all the while masquerading as one of the authentic stalks of grain until the very last minute when the reality of being a fake naturally emerges.

Cockle and wheat look alike when growing until the heads mature. At harvest the cockle is uprooted, bound and burned. The wheat is harvested and stored in the barn, protected from the elements, safe. We can see the obvious spiritual reference to the Last Judgment here, but let’s back up a bit and consider the time of the two growing along side each other. If we identify ourselves with the wheat, what is God showing us here of how we are to live in this very imperfect world? Why not just rip up the cockle wherever it appears so that it can’t hurt any of the wheat?

We see here the permissive will of God in action. He isn’t allowing the cockle to grow alongside the wheat because it is good, but to save the wheat. Does this not seem contradictory, allowing something evil to exist along side the good to save what is good? Yet this situation is little different from Judas staying close to Christ and the other Apostles, who knew Judas was a thief and must have scratched their heads wondering why Jesus didn’t kick him out of the group. Not until the traitorous kiss in the Garden of Olives, did Judas appear to all exactly what he was, and to the bitter end threw away the chance for mercy.

Jesus kept Judas near him and treated him with love. Clearly this is what Jesus expects of us. By allowing us to suffer the effects of those committed to evil, Christ shows us how to grow in charity, to learn to forgive, to return good for evil, to suffer injustice for the love of God, to show how to bear wrongs patiently. And while cockle can never be turned into wheat, those committed to evil ways can be converted to the Lord through kindness and good example if they so will.

It isn’t easy, of course, to navigate the entrenched evil about us. It’s quite exhausting to control our reactions to all the traps laid to ensnare us into the ways of Satan. We do no great thing by living in peace with people who are good, kind, and seeking God as we ought to be doing. We all prefer those who love peace just as we do. But, as Thomas à Kempis tells us in Book II, 3,2 of the Imitation of Christ,

it takes great virtue to live in peace with obstinate, perverse, intractable people whose ideas are not like our own.

The cockle in our lives challenges us to love perfectly, returning good for evil. We can live among the wicked without scorning them since they are God’s creation and Jesus died for them the same as He did for us, and without being influenced by them. If, as martyrs by blood or by full submission to the will of God, we are able to open the hearts of our persecutors who test us relentlessly, and make it possible by our actions for them to accept God’s grace, we have followed well in the footsteps of our Master. Deo gratias for the cockle in our lives and let us look forward to being carried into the barn.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Monday, February 10th, 2014 conversion, spirituality 2 Comments

Why Not Be a Saint?

February 5, 2014

Rooster with pearls by unknown Flemish goldsmith, c.1570s

Rooster with pearls by unknown Flemish goldsmith, c.1570s

Sermon written (but, alas, never preached owing to a winter storm) for Mass at Christendom College on 
the Feast of St. Agnes, January 21st, 2014 by the Rt. Rev. Philip Anderson, Abbot of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. In the hope that these words will reach the young adults who, during the March for Life days, missed hearing a holy challenge by the act of God, I offer Abbot Anderson’s sermon so that many more than the original intended audience may find it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . . It is like a merchant looking for fine pearls (Mt. 13: 44-46).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Dear students of this beautiful college having a most beautiful name,

This image of the precious pearl is quite remarkable.  The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides described the ultimate reality, being, as something “complete on every side, like the mass of a rounded sphere, equally poised from the center in every direction”.  This sounds like a metaphysical pearl.  But the reality indicated by Our Lord in the parable we have heard in the Gospel is beyond the ken of philosophy.  It has to do with a spiritual state of the human person, in which all the contradictions, misunderstandings, sins, lies, and multitudinous other ‘rough’ edges of life are molded at last into the supernatural, white harmony that is the life of Paradise in the beatific vision of the elect.

But, of course, we have to seek the precious pearl already in this life here below, even before we touch the shores of Heaven some day, by the grace of God.  You, as students, many of whom, if not all, are Catholic Christians, must know that your studies are not an end in themselves but a means of attaining to that perfection Our Lord spoke of: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). The precious pearl you thus seek represents a certain moral and spiritual completeness that is an outstanding fulfillment of human life.  “Perfectus” in Latin is defined by the scholastic philosophers as cui nihil deest – that to which nothing is lacking.

One way of accurately describing this pearl, this perfection of human life, which lacks nothing, would be to call it a certain fullness of the theological virtue of charity, that is to say of the love of God and of our fellow human beings because of the love of God. Charity is the queen of the virtues and all the others go wherever she goes. 

St. Agnes, St. Bartholomew and St. Cecelia with an unknown Dominican, 1485-1510, artist unknown, color on wood, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

St. Agnes, St. Bartholomew and St. Cecelia with an unknown Dominican, 1485-1510, artist unknown, color on wood, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

For St. Agnes, whose feast we celebrate on this day, the precious pearl was about holding on to her charity and her faith, despite the gruesome reality of bloody martyrdom to which she was subjected.  She is one of the great witnesses of the Faith, who found very quickly in her life the ineffable pearl, becoming herself a beautiful pearl in the sight of God.

In the monastic tradition there is a very terse description of perfection, an adage, which goes back to the earliest centuries of the Christian faith: “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” That sums it up.  Indeed, in preferring nothing to the love of Christ, we love God, since Christ is God, a divine Person.  This perfect preference also recognizes the great mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Redemption, inseparable from the second Person of the Trinity (and where there is one Person, the other Two are always there as well).  This love of Christ includes our neighbor, as our neighbor is either already a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church in its broadest sense, or is ordered to that Body, destined, we hope, to have a place in it.

And so you must – especially those of you who are students, who hold in a way the future of the Church in your hands – you must aim at something great, high, noble and beautiful in this life, while always recognizing that any greatness that might fill our lives comes from God alone.  You must choose something like a pearl, something like a star, something worth pursuing to the end.  Why not?  You have but one life: why not live it to the utmost, why not push to the outer reaches of what is most excellent in human life?  

Why not be a saint?

Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.  Amen.

Dear Readers, if you know Catholic college students, will you please send them a link to this post? Thank you and God bless you.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 Catholic Church, spirituality 2 Comments

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

February 4, 2014

My Ignatius Study Bible and the “Gospels in a Year” adventure at Flocknote  are exciting tools to help me know the Lord all the better. If you aren’t signed up yet, try it out. I’m loving it.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Some weeks back our study for the day was Matt. 8:1-13. I wanted to write about it then but didn’t get to it. Then the same passages came up for the Gospel of the Third Sunday after Epiphany a couple of weeks ago and again, the story kept tugging at me. The image of the leper is so touching I can’t get it out of my mind, as he is the symbol of the sin-sick soul we hear about in the beautiful American Spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead”. This is a beautiful tale of faith.

Matt. 8:1: When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him;

Jesus always withdrew to the high place, a mountain, to pray to His Father.  Mountains symbolize the dwelling place of God. This is where Moses and the prophets often conversed with God, and where God gave commands and instructions to them. After dealing with the crowds, Jesus went to the heights for peace and quiet and to “recharge his batteries” if you will. Our mountains are the quiet places we go when we want to pray – the Adoration chapel or church, the home altar, a chair in the back yard, on the porch, or on the balcony, a peaceful place in the woods, anywhere we can be alone with God. Before we undertake any great work, a conversation with the Father will give us strength just as it did Christ.

Although this event occurred early in Jesus’s ministry, still many people knew somebody whom Jesus had healed. He was swamped with crowds wherever he showed up. Everyone in the vicinity who was sick or maimed, possessed by a demon or otherwise hurting wanted Jesus to make them well. Today Jesus is so easily accessible we don’t have to try to find Him in the midst of crowds or worry about missing His passing. We can go to Him any time we want in the Sacrament of Penance. We can nip in to the parish churches we pass as we go about our daily activities. He is always there to give us His healing grace and still today works miracles for those whom He will. If you read the “favors granted” notebooks in the back of most Adoration chapels you will find many testimonies of miracles Jesus worked for those who came to pray when they were in hopeless situations. Some are really amazing. Maybe you personally know somebody this happened to. Jesus came to open the gates of heaven for us and to heal our wounded nature. But if we don’t turn to Him, if we don’t show up, we prevent ourselves from encountering Him. He hasn’t forgotten us or stopped loving us. We are the ones who fail to remember Him, fail to turn to Him in faith.

Matt. 8:2: and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

The poor leper was “unclean” under Mosaic law. He was forced to wear rent garments and keep his head bare, both a sign of mourning, and a covering over his mouth. Everywhere he went he had to call out “Unclean, unclean” so that people could steer clear of him. He was not permitted to live inside the camp or city, but only outside and with other lepers. Only God could cure the leper.

My heart goes out to the suffering of this poor man, but rejoices also in his great faith. Here is a person whose life was changed overnight on the day he was declared unclean by the priest. No more business. No more sharing meals with friends. No more taking care of his family. No more worshipping with the assembly. Not only the leper suffered from his leprosy, but many others did, too, just as many others suffer from all our sinful acts even if we think no one is aware of them.

I can see him full of resolution that day, making a bee line for Jesus. Nobody would stop him, no one would touch him lest they, too, be made unclean. As the crowd hurriedly parts the leper falls at the feet of Jesus. Only Jesus did not shrink back. Only Jesus was not afraid of him.

I think the “knelt before Him” was probably a bit more than just a simple kneel like we do at church. I think he probably bowed his head to the ground before straightening up and declaring by his words that Jesus was God and if He willed, He could cleanse him. This would be the posture of a man seeking a favor from a king, common in the East.

When we kneel before Jesus in the confessional we express the same faith the leper had. Jesus can make us clean if He wills, and He does will it when we are truly repentant. Nothing we have done is outside the will of God to forgive if we are truly sorry and if we have a firm determination to amend our lives. Mentally, we can bow before the Lord when asking for healing from the effects of sin, a posture of the heart.

Matt. 8:3: And He stretched out His hand and touched him saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

By touching the leper Jesus showed His divine authority. He was above the Mosaic law. Nothing could make Him unclean in his all-pure holiness. All the Jews who saw it must have been totally shocked. Probably none of them were thinking at the time of Is. 61: 1-3 that the Messiah had come and was right there in front of them. But everyone would have known what it meant to that leper to be cleansed and would have seen the testimony of his joy.

Matt. 8:4: And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.”

The priest is the one who declared the miracle of cleansing from leprosy, just as the priest declares our cleansing in confession. Jesus is the one who forgives our sins, but He has appointed the priests to be His intermediaries.

The admonition to say nothing to anyone always seemed odd to me. Here is a huge crowd who just witnessed a miracle in front of their very eyes. Whether or not the leper spread the news that Jesus had cleansed him, certainly that crowd must have blabbed it far and wide. I know various commenters give several reasons for the admonition, among which is the desire of Christ to stave off the hatred of the Pharisees too early in His ministry. It could also be simply an instruction to get to the priest without stopping to declare what Jesus had done to anyone else. Under Mosaic law, only the priest could officially declare the leper clean.

When I think of what was restored to that leper…in effect he went from having barely nothing to having everything. His free association with everyone, his family, his ability to make a living and provide for them, his admittance to religious observances as a member of the community, joy in living; he went from being looked down on to walking freely with his head held up. Jesus released him from a prison without bars to a full-fledged member of society.

This is what Jesus will do for each of us. This event is parallel to us being restored to what we were created to be when we have placed ourselves at the feet of the Lord and renounced our willful slavery to sin. The leper didn’t choose to be unclean, though, while we choose it every time. He was excluded from the family of his fellow Jews by law; we exclude ourselves from the family of God by our perverted choices.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves,

  • Are we honestly seeking liberation from sin? Do we hate it as much as the leper hated his leprosy?
  • Are we willing to be honest with ourselves about our willful sinning and our bad choices that make us ever sicker spiritually?
  • What will it take for us to run to the feet of Jesus and beg Him to make us clean?

Jesus is the true “Balm in Gilead”. None other but Him. He is just waiting for us to ask Him to make us clean.

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Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 sacraments, spirituality 1 Comment

Mother of the Living Gospel

January 31, 2014

Immaculate Conception, Shiaffino, 1762, Genoa

Immaculate Conception, Schiaffino, 1762, Genoa

Occasionally at this blog I write about the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and about being a Benedictine Oblate.  Being attached to the Clear Creek Abbey, I am naturally interested in the abbot’s sermons, which always inspire and edify me. Today I bring you the December 8, 2013 sermon by Right Reverend Philip Anderson, abbot of Clear Creek, with his permission. Of Mary we can never hear or read too much, especially with the insights of a contemplative monk of some 30+ years.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

My very dear sons:

Listen to how Holy Mother Church speaks about the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Immaculate Conception.  “Thou art all fair, Mary, and the stain of original stain is not in thee” (first antiphon of Lauds).  “Thy garments are white as snow, and thy face is as the sun” (second antiphon).  This is the language of a nobler love, the expression of an admiration that stretches beyond the common human measure. We find here a model for our own prayers to Mary.

“Thou art all fair.” Not just fair, but entirely so.  This is not of earth, but of the perfection of Heaven.  This is not the passing beauty that today is and tomorrow already begins to wither.  Sin is the hidden principle of all that is ugly, for it introduces death into the world.  The Blessed Virgin passed through death in order to be more like her Son, but death had no rights over her.  Its hideous blackness was not able to tarnish in the least her perfect comeliness. Nothing evil is allowed to touch this immaculate whiteness.

“Thy garments are white as snow.”  Even those things that are not part of Mary’s own being are immaculate: her very clothes.  This could not have been the case during Our Lady’s earthly pilgrimage.  She must have washed clothes like everyone else.  But in the sight of God, now in Heaven, her garments are entirely woven of light by the Holy Ghost.  No imperfection could blemish even these exterior adornments.  Not only are the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin spotless, but her clothes, being of a fabric not of this world, possess a whiteness not of this creation: they are as white as the snow of Paradise.

“Thy face is as the sun.”  Now the human face is the mirror of the soul.  This soul is immaculate, having never been marred by sin.  If the splendor of that face had not been hidden on earth, it would have blinded the bystanders.  Mary’s face is a perfect icon, resembling very closely the Face of Christ Himself, Who had no other earthly parent but the Immaculate one. But this face is also a most humble icon that does not seek admirers, but rather redirects the gaze of onlookers toward the Creator. Our Lady’s face now radiates immaculate brightness in Heaven, even though it remains veiled to us. When will we be allowed to contemplate it?

What else does the holy liturgy sing to us about the Immaculate Virgin? Mary is the new and perfect Judith, who has slain Holofernes, that is to say the devil, not with a sword, but with her immaculate foot.  She is the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of the people of God (third antiphon).  How truly do the words of the Canticle of Canticles ring true in her: “She cometh forth as the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array” (6:9). Victory belongs to God, in His Son, Christ the King, but it pleases the Father to perfect this victory through the humility of His handmaid, who thus plays her own very real role in the battle between Heaven and hell.

“Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth” (fourth antiphon).  At the moment of the Visitation, Saint Elizabeth echoed the voice of Holy Scripture, when she recognized the unique vocation of her young cousin as being the most blessed of women.  Mary is truly the new Eve, who, as Saint Irenæus says, unties the knot that Eve tied upon us all.  Its enemies have said that the Catholic Church puts Mary on a pedestal, while humiliating all other women.  The simple fact is that in Mary, Virgin and Mother, the calling of women is ennobled as in no other religious creed or culture.  She is not jealous of her glory, but shares it with whomever would flock to her side. In Mary is most perfectly expressed what it means to be a woman.

“Draw us, O Virgin Immaculate; we will run after thee to the fragrance of thy ointments” (fifth antiphon).  In its praise of the Immaculate Virgin, the Church wants to encourage us to action.  It has us pray to Mary in such a way as to make us understand that we can really join her side of the great battle and participate somehow in her immaculate grace.  This is what transforms homes and towns and entire nations.  It is goodness, the Good, that draws us, sets us to work for the building of the Kingdom of Heaven.  God alone is good, as the Savior taught us, but if God is absolute goodness, the fountain of goodness, Mary is the first pool of goodness into which the waters of grace, issued from the fountain, are gathered, and from which they flow down upon the world.  Taking inspiration from the Immaculate Virgin, the Church will go forward with dauntless courage to effectuate this new evangelization that the Holy Father is calling for with such energy. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation he writes:

We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community. Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church”. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness. Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn. (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 289)

But Our Lady does not merely draw us to action here below.  Above all she draws us to a life that is beyond the horizons of this world, the one we hope for, even when we have difficulty believing and hoping.  She draws us to prayer and to a deepening relationship with God, through Christ and His Church.  And when a soul has really sensed something of the incomparable fragrance of these heavenly things, it begins not only to walk, but to run.  Our blessed father Saint Benedict says something similar, referring to the path of monastic life in the prologue to his Holy Rule:

But if anything be somewhat strictly laid down, according to the dictates of equity, for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not therefore fly in dismay from the way of salvation, whose beginning cannot but be narrow.  But as we go forward in our life and faith, we shall with hearts enlarged and unspeakable sweetness of love run in the way of God’s commandments.

May Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, Mother of God, teach us all, monks and laity alike, to run in her immaculate tracks this race to the Kingdom.  Amen. Alleluia.

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Friday, January 31st, 2014 Blessed Virgin, spirituality 2 Comments

St. Benedict on Humility and Disinterestedness

January 17, 2014

Carefully stacking a Dry Sandstone Wall, one piece at a time: this wall will be 8 ft. tall and over 100 ft. long. Photo by permission of the Abbot.

Clear Creek Abbey – Carefully stacking a Dry Sandstone Wall, one piece at a time: this wall will be 8 ft. tall and over 100 ft. long. Photo used with permission of the Abbot.

The year 1875 marked the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict, whose Rule I am bound to follow by my choice of becoming an Oblate. Now, another 125 + years later, not a day goes by that I do not marvel at the wisdom of this “Father of Western Monasticism” and how it applies to my life today. Moreover, by the grace of God I can see how He has arranged my life to make it possible to follow this Rule without complications. Not that the road is easy – just that the path is not hidden. The barbed-wire fences and hedgerows along the way keep me from wandering beyond the point where I would lose direction. That is, in fact, one purpose of having a rule in the first place.

In Chapter 57 St. Benedict writes:

If there are craftsmen in the monastery, let them practice their crafts with all humility, provided the Abbot has given permission. But if any one of them becomes conceited over his skill in his craft, because he seems to be conferring a benefit on the monastery, let him be taken from his craft and no longer exercise it unless, after he has humbled himself, the Abbot again gives him permission.

Abbots, like parents, have special graces granted by God to fulfill their duties of guiding and protecting the spiritual and temporal life of the family. In the case of the monastery, the community is supposed to be self-sufficient under the direction of the abbot. The talents of the various members are to be applied, according to the discretion of the abbot, in the service of the daily upkeep of the household.

In a monastery we have a gathering of multiple talents, just as we observe in families and in secular society. Painters, carpenters, artists, bakers, cooks, musicians, writers, farmers, etc. each have gifts needed to support the community. As a society, we cannot be self-sufficient without the gifts of all the members. As a family, we cannot do well if everyone doesn’t pitch in to do his/her job to make the house run smoothly and peacefully.

Here’s what Father G. A. Simon wrote about this part of the rule:

It naturally happened that the production surpassed the needs of the house. St. Benedict sees nothing wrong in drawing profit from that production. But what he is anxious about is that the success in a trade or an art and the consideration of the gains which the monastery draws from it do not lead the workman or the artist into temptation. They are to work by the order and under the good pleasure of the Abbot. They are to work also “in all humility.” As the monk’s soul is worth more than the money he earns or the advantages he brings, it is preferable to take him away from his work rather than let him succumb to vainglory….

It is a very frequent temptation that prompts us to glorify ourselves over what we produce, whether the concern is with science, with art, or even with manual labors. We attribute to ourselves an importance which we have not, and this vanity, at first more or less conscious, may end by encumbering our spirit and may prevent our soaring towards God. We are pleased with ourselves, we are somebody, we admire ourselves.

As lay people, many of us without spiritual directors, we must take great caution in the exercise of our talents so that we do all for the honor and glory of God. In fact, one of the mottoes of the Benedictines is “that in all things God may be glorified.” If we make that our starting point, we can consciously admit prior to exercising our talent, that it came from God, that we received grace from God to develop it, that His grace gives us the physical and mental power to accomplish it, and that the purpose is to glorify Him and not ourselves. This means that God can take away what He has given us any time He wants and we have to be ready for that to happen through humility and disinterestedness. We might also add detachment to this duo and make it a trio.

There is nothing like aging to bring this point home. But we can also tell from life circumstances that God may be asking us to put down something and take up something else. It may be through reverses in health, reverses in finances, losses of one sort or another that we see God setting up the barbed wire fences and hedgerows, but at the same time introducing us to fellow travelers on whom we can lean and to whom we may give a gift we didn’t even know we had. This is why I appreciate the Holy Rule of St. Benedict so much and the life circumstances God has gifted me with.  It helps me focus on the really important things like the development of virtue, seeking God’s will, obedience to Him, and always looking and listening for Him.

The other benefit of living the Rule is the understanding of community and our part in it.  ”No Man is an Island” is the theme of Meditation XVII by the English Renaissance poet John Donne. St. Benedict would have appreciated Donne’s words. Our highly individualistic society would have us stamp out any sense of connectedness, of authentic generosity towards others, of extending ourselves personally for the good of our neighbor and instead make a god of our government or some athlete or movie star rather than looking to the One, True God who created us in this time and place that we may help one another reach heaven. Today’s world would have us glorify ourselves and we can see the worthlessness of it all when we realize that we can’t take an Oscar or a Nobel Prize into the next world with us, not even that little sports trophy we’re so proud of.

This chapter of the Rule makes me ask myself:

  • What talents is God asking me to use for my local community today?
  • Do I trust that He will take care of my needs when I give away to others what He has given to me?
  • If I make a profit from my talents, who does God want me to share it with?
  • Am I keeping in mind with every undertaking, “that in all things God be glorified”?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Friday, January 17th, 2014 spirituality 9 Comments

The Most Beautiful Mother

December 11, 2013

Icon, Schutzmantel Madonna, Ukrainian

Icon, Schutzmantel Madonna, Ukrainian

 

Throughout the liturgical year we celebrate many different feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All relate to a particular event in her life, such as her birthday, the Annunciation, or presentation in the temple; or an attribute, such as Our Lady of Sorrows, or the Immaculate Conception; or her status, such as Queen of Heaven; or a particular apparition when Jesus sent His mother to us for a specific purpose, such as Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Akita, or Our Lady of Guadalupe. When we start counting all these particular feasts we see that not one month of the year passes without celebrating a greater or lesser feast of the Mother of God, and sometimes two or three. Each one reminds us of something about her that we can dig into deeper and profit from spiritually. But is that enough to advance in holiness?

We can know a great deal about the Blessed Mother from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, but is she a real person to us, someone who looks after us individually as a mother, someone with whom we have a personal relationship, someone we can count on in a time of need? Do we really understand the maternal ties she has with each of us, and how much she desires that we individually profit from her Son’s redemption of us and all creation? Do we see ourselves as true children of Mary?

If we accept Mary as our Mother, the gift that Jesus gave us at the foot of the cross, we agree to let her shape us according to the will of God. We agree to treat her as our Mother, turning to her when we feel vulnerable. Jesus willed this. He wanted to share her with us all. He is not the selfish son of privilege who keeps the best for himself while handing His castoffs to His entourage and shrugging off their troubles and misery. Instead, He wants us to live with Him sharing all that He has, and the one thing more precious than all that He created and has is His Mother.

We love the Mother of Jesus because He loves her, and because she, more than anyone else in creation, is worthy of our love and can teach us how to love Him the way He desires to be loved. She is the best teacher of how to follow in His footsteps because she alone has done it perfectly, and in her perfection of charity desires that we all become as much like Him as we possibly can; He who is one with the Father and the Spirit and who wants not one person to be lost forever in darkness and misery.

We are intended for an eternity of divine union with God and each other. Because of our human frailty and limited intellect we cannot imagine except in a limited way, how much God desires that union with us, nor how much the Blessed Mother and all the saints in heaven desire it for us. Various writers describe this desire as “burning”. St. Paul describes it in Heb. 12:29 as “Our God is a consuming fire.” Let us just accept the fact that our Mother wants what God wants for us, and she is determined to help us get it. She has already set the example, and if we reach out to her, she will lead us to her Son.

In Meditation #6 of Divine Intimacy, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene writes:

The two essential conditions for achieving divine union are found in the fullness in Mary. The first condition, which is a negative one, is that there be nothing in the soul’s will which is contrary to the divine will; that is, no attachment which would cause it to be subject to a creature, so that this creature would rule in its heart in any way, or impel it to act for love of this same creature; all such attachments must be eliminated.

The second condition, which is positive and constructive, and is the consequence of the first, is that the human will be moved in all and through all, only by the will of God. This was realized so perfectly in the most pure soul of Mary Immaculate that she never had even the faintest shadow of an attachment to a creature; in her soul there was never any impression of a creature which could move her to act; she was so completely seized by divine love that she could act only under the inspiration and motion of the Holy Spirit.

Thus we see Mary as the most pure spouse of the Holy Spirit, not only in relation to her divine maternity, but also in relation to her whole life in which she was moved only by His impulse.

Lest we think Our Lady had it easy because she didn’t suffer from concupiscence and the powerful draw of the world, let’s consider that she was still a human being subject to our physical aches, pains, exhaustions, and annoyances. Mary had to sweep out the house every day, take Jesus to the market to buy their food, and then cook it in the courtyard. No doubt she had to kill a few bugs that had made their way into the Holy Family’s house.

She had to draw water from the town well and tote it back to the house. Some days she had to do the laundry and schlep it up the outside steps of her house to hang it on the roof where probably a bird or two left droppings occasionally on her clean clothes which she then had to clean again. She had to change stinky diapers, weave cloth for the family’s clothes and sew them.

Mary had to deal with her neighbors who shared the courtyard with her and no doubt there were occasions when she wanted some quiet instead of hearing about the kind of petty annoyances we all face every day.  There must have been times when she looked after Jesus and His noisy, rambunctious playmates so other mothers could get some things done without having to worry about their children.

The Holy Family didn’t have heating or air-conditioning so were hot in summer and cold in winter. There was no electricity or gadgets that make life so easy for us today. When they traveled to Jerusalem to worship at the temple she had to get everybody ready for the three day trip over the mountains. And let’s not forget that they were devout Jews who prayed the psalms throughout the day and night at specified times.

Through all the daily grind she lived an ordinary life on the outside and a life of recollection on the inside. At the foot of the cross she resembled the mother of every criminal publicly shamed and executed, while on the inside, full of grief and agony, she again gave God the biggest “Fiat” of a lifetime in full surrender to His will. Years later, after nurturing the apostles in their fulfillment of Christ’s command to “go forth and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19), Mary had the joy of seeing her Son once again when He came to escort her to heaven.

When we reach out to seize Mary’s hands and ask her to teach us how to follow Jesus, we are not grasping for some syrupy sweet porcelain doll-like creature who minced her way across the streets and roads of Galilee and Judea where the dust and filth of the earth never soiled her garment. We are grasping for the hands of the greatest Mama Grizzly ever, who means to protect us under her mantle from the snares of the devil and of whom Satan is rightly terrified in the sight of the pure glory and power of God shining through her being. She is the most beautiful Mother because she is the great mulier fortis clothed in the sun, who by the grace of Jesus Christ belongs to us and we to her, in the perfection of charity. Is this real enough? It is for me.

HT to Christian at Smaller Manhattans who posted on the Schutzmantel Madonna. Those images and the meditation in Divine Intimacy for December 8 inspired this post.

Schutzmantel Madonna, German origin

Schutzmantel Madonna, German origin

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 art, Blessed Virgin, Catholic Church, spirituality 4 Comments

Sabbath Moments

December 7, 2013

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

Welcome to Colleen’s Saturday meme hosted by her at Thoughts on Grace. She always picks beautiful, seasonal themes for her blog, and all very peaceful so go there and enjoy. Enjoy and join us.

Peaceful is a good word for Advent. I think of how the Jewish people were longing for the promised Redeemer, and how the very devout among them prayed so sincerely for His coming. Whatever their expectations, they were waiting patiently and quietly, fulfilling their daily duties that God had called them to do. Unlike the Zealots who were fomenting insurrection against Rome, the Jews like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Mary and Joseph, peacefully prayed with faith that the Father would keep His promise.

Mary knew that she was carrying the Savior, Emmanuel, “God with Us” in her womb, but she didn’t fully understand what that would lead to. She went about her daily duties in the house at Nazareth with kindness towards others and recollection in her heart. She took one day at a time and was not anxious for the morrow (Matt. 6:34).

It’s impossible for me to think about the Virgin Mary without thinking of her perfect “Fiat”, “Thy will be done.” Especially in Advent when I know the many little things she had to do to prepare for the Baby that would be the light of the world.

In meditation #6 of Divine Intimacy, Father Gabriel writes:

God’s will is also marked out for me by the circumstances of my life, whether important or not, down to the smallest detail, health or sickness, poverty or wealth, aridity or interior consolation, success or failure, misfortunes, losses, and struggles.  From time to time, God asks me to fulfill special tasks of charity, patience, activity, or renouncement, detachment, submission, generosity, sacrifice. But everything is permitted by God, all is ordered by Him for my sanctification, “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom. 8:28); “everything is a grace!” (T.C.J. NV).

As I think about this, my mind is drawn to the Christians of the Central African Republic who are in the midst of what appears to be another genocide perpetrated by the muslims. I think also of the Christians in the Middle East – Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq. Their Advent is far from peaceful. They are just trying to stay alive. They are refugees; hungry, thirsty, tired, and grieving. Their images are etched in my heart.

The circumstances of their lives cannot be more opposite to mine. Worse yet, in earthly terms, I can do nothing to help them, nothing to stop the hate and violence they suffer, nothing to stop the loss of life. Only in spiritual terms can I help to strengthen them in their passion and suffering. I can give the peace of my Advent for them. All the little things I must do in my daily life, whether routine or extra as I prepare to visit family over the holidays, I can give to Jesus with submission for their sake, praying that they will know that God is working for their sanctification. Whether I like to do these little things, or whether I feel like groaning at the effort required, I can ask Him to bring them peace in their hearts as they endure such terrible tribulation. This I must do in blind faith that it will make a difference, even though I will never in this life see the benefits for them.

For whom will you offer your peaceful Advent?

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Saturday, December 7th, 2013 Sabbath Moments, spirituality 7 Comments

Sabbath Moments

November 30, 2013

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

Welcome to the meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace.

Friendship

This week we were invited to join the home schooling family across the street for Thanksgiving cheer. Because I had already planned our dinner we agreed to come over for dessert. Being with others who are God oriented is quite peaceful as well as fun, even with 6 kids all doing their kid stuff. Most of all, the conversation and joking lead to some great laughs. Laughter is part of God’s gift to man. No other creature on earth can do it.

We got onto the subject of unwelcome telemarketing calls and how to get off somebody’s list. Roger and I are on both the federal and state no-call lists, but the brazen fraudsters all ignore it. Calls from all over the USA ring our phone for some credit card scam. Lately it’s been many calls from some medic alert people on some kind of scam. Roger and I believe that the elderly are being targeted because it’s impossible to keep oneself out of any database and the elderly are the easiest to scam. However, the homeschooling family is targeted for other scams. Most of the time neither of our families pick up the phone if we don’t know who the caller is, but occasionally somebody gets by us. For those cases we discussed some great lines to use if an actual human being is on the other end of the line and not a robot. Maybe you’ll enjoy these, too.

“Hello, caller, you’re on the air. The subject today is defrauding senior citizens.”

“Sherwood Forest, Maid Marian [Friar Tuck, Robin Hood] speaking.”

“Dexter Academy of Arts and Sciences. Please go ahead.” When the family member is asked for, the answer is, “I’m sorry, he no longer is employed here.”

The dessert was good, too. All in all, we had an enjoyable Thanksgiving with great fellowship.

Meditating on the Rule of St. Benedict

This week the subject was Chapter 47 on the Work of God, i.e. the Divine Office and how it should be celebrated. Somehow I keep forgetting what we were taught as children: before we pray we are to place ourselves in the presence of God. I think our worldly responsibilities and distractions get us into bad habits of praying just to get it over with and go on to something else. St. Benedict knew that this failing was all too common so to emphasize the importance of our dispositions when we pray he wrote:

And no one shall presume to sing or read unless he can fulfill that office in such a way as to edify the hearers. Let this function be performed with humility, gravity, and reverence, and by him whom the Abbot has appointed.

Perhaps to overcome my failings in this regard I should recall the dignity and solemnity with which the monks at Clear Creek in Oklahoma assemble and pray the Divine Office. I am always edified by them. First, each enters in silence after having been called to prayer by the monastery bell. No sound of shoes clop-clopping on the cement floor. Whatever they may have been doing before the Hour to be chanted, and whatever work clothes they may have been wearing, all appear in their habits quietly with deep recollection. After a few moments of silence the Abbot signals the beginning of the Hour.

The posture during the Office varies according to the rubrics, but one thing always impresses me: the grave bow during the singing of the “Gloria Patri”. At high Mass on Sundays I always bow during the “Gloria Patri” as part of the “Asperges me” before the Mass begins. It makes a huge difference in my disposition for the rest of the Mass.

Leonard Doyle translates Father G. A. Simon’s commentary on this section:

St. Benedict wants the liturgical Office to edify….This anxiety to edify contributes to the liturgy’s character of apostolate. And so in general, whether we take part in the office by assisting at it, or as “officers” of the choir or as celebrant, we should contribute by our deportment to that dignity of the Work of God which surrounds it as with an atmosphere of piety. Nothing so elevates the soul, nothing so invites it to prayer as an office well celebrated, in which all, assisting and officiating, seem permeated with the grandeur of the holy task they are fulfilling.

But this should be not merely an attitude. St. Benedict has already said to us, “Let our mind be in harmony with our voice.” Here our holy Father specifies the dispositions which should assure that concordance of the exterior with the inmost soul. The first is humility which consists in the secret sentiment of the unworthiness of one’s person in face of the divine majesty; the second is a certain gravity, inspired by the awareness that one is fulfilling a divine work; and the third is religious fear in seeing oneself engaged in actions which demand a holiness and a perfection we do not have. This, moreover, is what the Church makes us ask for in the preparatory prayer: “that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office.”

I’ve read this passage several times this week and realize how far short I fall. Part of the reason is that I do not pray the office aloud nor in common with others, something I wish could be possible. But then, I should work even harder to do it well.

In monasteries and convents an Hour of the Divine Office always precedes the celebration of the conventual Mass, making the dispositions taken on for the Office carry through the Mass. I think that pastors would help the prayer life of their people by acquainting them with this part of the Holy Rule and applying it to the behavior, body postures, and disposition we ought to have at Mass as well. Quiet and recollection prior to beginning the Holy Sacrifice would draw down many more graces upon those gathered than the chatter that goes on before Mass in many parishes I’ve attended. If people assisted at Mass with the humility, gravity, and reverence called for by St. Benedict, and if priests took it seriously as well, all of us would be better armed for the battles with the principalities and powers St. Paul warns us about. In addition, the church itself would be in our minds the sacred space that it is, the space that when we enter it we are elevated into the courts of the Lord, leaving the courts of mammon behind.

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Saturday, November 30th, 2013 Sabbath Moments, spirituality 2 Comments

Thanksgiving – Prelude to Christmas

November 28, 2013

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25566 Painting in Cathedral of St. Augustine, First Thanksgiving

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/25566
Painting in Cathedral of St. Augustine, First Thanksgiving

 

Taylor Marshall has an interesting article on the first Thanksgivings – that’s right, it’s plural – in what is now the United States of America, but back then was termed the “New World” in European eyes. You’ll want to read Six Interesting Catholic Thanksgiving Facts You Need to Know. Even before I read his article I was meditating on the relationship this national holiday has with Christ’s birth. If Christ had not become man and died for our sins, we still would have much to be thankful for, but we would not have the greatest of all things to celebrate, our redemption.

It was Christ who gave us the great Thanksgiving at the Last Supper, and it is the Church that He founded upon Peter that continues to re-present to the Father that great Thanksgiving first celebrated before Christ’s agony, arrest, illegal trial, passion, death and resurrection. So it was, then, that the first Thanksgiving on the soil of the New World occurred on September 8, 1565 when the Timucuan Indians and the Spanish settlers held a great feast and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in St. Augustine, Florida in thanksgiving for God’s blessings upon them.

We are days away from the beginning of Advent when the Church anticipates with eagerness the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “…Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Is.7:14). While we are walking with the Chosen People in darkness toward the Light by way of our sacred liturgy, we know in these days that Emmanuel, “God with Us” has already come and redeemed the world. He remains with us wherever two are three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20), and in every tabernacle all over this earth. The thankfulness we have on Thanksgiving Day for the fullness of the harvest is the same thankfulness we have for the Father sending His Son in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) to bring us the fullness of grace and eternal life in Him (Ps. 84). It is all thankfulness for the goodness and mercy of God upon this afflicted human race. If we look at Thanksgiving in any other way we do not know who we are – children of God and all of what that means.

In this world’s feast we share our food with others, an earthly analogy to the Mass where Jesus shares the heavenly food of His Body and Blood with all present. The one comes but once a year, the other, every hour of every day. If we carry this spirit of gratitude with us all the way through Advent we arrive at the night when we commemorate Christ’s birth with great joy and feasting, when we give gifts to others out of love for our Savior, and when we bring Him gifts, too.

The spirit of true gratitude engenders in us the desire to give from our hearts, not as a duty but as a privilege to love. What then are we thankful for, and what shall we present to the Baby in the manger on Christmas? How will we wrap our gifts to the Christ Child? We have all of Advent to prepare.

A few things I am grateful for and what I will give to Jesus on Christmas as presents to Him:

  • Life and the chance for eternal joy. I will wrap my self-will in little, purposeful acts of self denial throughout Advent, for without surrendering my will to God my life is in vain.
  • My still-functioning brain and body. I will wrap them in acts of kindness to others and more attentive participation in the sacred liturgy.
  • My imperfect self with all my sins. I will wrap them in His Precious Blood to fulfill the desire of His Sacred Heart to work in me.

How will you carry your spirit of thankfulness from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day? What will you give to the Baby Jesus that night?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, November 28th, 2013 Catholic Church, liturgy, spirituality Comments Off

Sabbath Moments

November 16, 2013

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

Welcome to Colleen’s meme hosted at Thoughts on Grace. Please join us.

This week I’m working on getting back into the groove of participating in Sabbath Moments. Sometimes life events throw us off our mark and we can get pretty scattered instead of focused. In the past month a couple of friends have needed quite a bit of attention. Please pray for them in their need.

Civic adventure

For 9 years, since I became disabled, we’ve been receiving help with light housework from the county office on aging. Several weeks ago we were told that they were going to stop our service because they added a financial means test and we are over their very low numbers. The newspaper ran an article after we went to our state rep for our county and we will be working with him to see if we can correct the situation since many seniors are getting kicked out of the service we all need.

When this service started 12 years ago, those founding it knew they were going to run out of money but  did nothing to make it sustainable. It is tax supported and they think they will be able to raise taxes to keep it going. Not happening. Hubby and I are now up to our necks helping our rep address this issue and to determine what can be done to make the program sustainable. I’ve spent a lot of Sabbath Moments praying about this situation and putting it in the hands of God.

I thought I was finished with activism of any kind, but the good Lord has other plans, it seems. This is a situation that is affecting many seniors negatively and we can’t wait for Somebody Else to step up because he is just a figment of the imagination.

God’s way of giving grace in our vocations

In Meditation #76 of Divine Intimacy Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. talks about religious, priestly, and consecrated in the world vocations. I think what he says also applies to all the baptized, including those called to married life.

There is nothing static about vocation, not even on God’s part, because, adapting Himself to our nature, He calls us in a progressive way. If we are faithful to His first invitation, others, increasingly pressing and definite, will follow, which will bind us more and more to our divine Master.

Basically, there is but one call to the priesthood, the religious life, or consecration to God in the world; but God, through the various circumstances of life, and especially, through new occasions for sacrifice, repeats this invitation more precisely, more definitely, each time letting the soul see how far the gift of self must be extended in order to reach the plenitude of its consecration.  If the soul is faithful, and answers these progressive calls generously, God will continue to send new invitations, which will open up wider and more luminous horizons, until the soul lives its consecration in a perpetual renewal of fervor and love.

This meditation reminds me of St. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians: All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col. 3:17).  Really, this old lady would just love to lie around and loaf, goof off, and let concupiscence take over instead of running off to meetings, helping a friend in prison, or otherwise becoming involved in other people’s lives. But if I am to extend the gift of self and live as an authentic Christian, I don’t get to decide what God’s invitation is at this time, I only get to decide to accept it. Then when I am drowning in stuff I never wanted to do in the first place, I get to make acts of faith, hope, and love and curb my selfish willfulness. Again, as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta showed us, it’s not about feelings, it’s about directing our actions by our will to the things God asks of us.

The truth is, there will be no end to His invitations until death when we will get our final invitation if we have given of ourselves as He has asked, “Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). And just in case we try to fool ourselves that we are able to do anything He asks of our own power and start to think how great and wonderful we are, He proves to us through our own weaknesses of body, mind, and spirit that He is the one who bestows the power upon us to do what He wants and who opens the doors to accomplishing His will.

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

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Saturday, November 16th, 2013 Sabbath Moments, spirituality 9 Comments

Pillar of Cloud

November 12, 2013

Portrait of John Henry Newman by John Everett Millais, 1881 via Wikipedia

Portrait of John Henry Newman
by John Everett Millais, 1881 via Wikipedia

Lead, Kindly Light

“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
 I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

This profound poem by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was written in 1833, a plea for docility to God’s will at a time when he was frustrated by not being able to get back to England and to his work after a sojourn in Italy. Its original title was “Pillar of the Cloud” with a fourth verse added by someone else later.

Various composers through the 1800s set it to melodies suitable for traditional congregational singing, but in the 21st century something new happened that elevated this poem beyond the usual church service to something even more compelling to a meditative listener, and this is exactly what sacred music should do – make the words and music inseparable as a cry of the heart to God.

"He led them by a pillar of cloud", illustration from a Bible card published between 1896 and 1913 by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikipedia

“He led them by a pillar of cloud”, illustration from a Bible card published between 1896 and 1913 by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikipedia

It was prior to his entering into full communion with the Catholic Church that Newman already, unbeknownst to him well on his way to embracing the entirety of Catholicism, wrote this poem. This fact is important to understand along with his situation when the poem was written if we are to appreciate fully the irony of God working in our lives.

Newman had fallen seriously ill in Italy and was burning intensely to get back home to continue his work at the time. Who among us has not felt that kind of burning?  In his own words he wrote:

Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, “I have a work to do in England.” I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, Lead, Kindly Light, which have since become so well known.

How often are we single-mindedly pursuing ends we have defined for ourselves, even considering them as holy purposes, assuming that what we are focusing on is within God’s will for us at this exact time? Blind to the loving roadblocks God places before us and not understanding what He is doing with us, we itch to get moving towards our goal, deceiving ourselves into believing that we are ready and that what we seek to do is what He desires for us.

Look at Newman, a great saint and gift to all seekers of the Truth. This is what I love about the saints – their humanity, their imperfectness, yet desiring above all to spend themselves for God and needing to conform themselves to the will of God.

First he becomes deathly ill while in Italy. God is saying, “Slow down, stop, listen to Me. I want to prepare you for My intentions, the salvation of many souls. I have work for you, indeed, but you are not yet ready.”

But Newman does not see the gift of his illness. God persists by delaying him for three weeks at Palermo. Then when he gets on the ship to Marseilles the poor man is stuck in the middle of the sea for a week going nowhere. At this point Newman turns and looks at God and makes a full act of submission. He sees that he is like the Israelites in the desert led by the pillar of cloud and out of this reflection he composes what has become a pillar of cloud for many Christians. Moreover, that pillar eventually led him, a devout and committed Anglican clergyman, into the Catholic Church with one of the greatest and most inspiring conversion stories of recent times to come out of England.

The full irony of this is that Newman had no idea at the time that he was leaving words of peace and consolation to many who are just like him. He did not know that in the frantic madness and ungodly pursuits of the coming centuries one of his great gifts to Christians would be a heartfelt poem of submissiveness to the will of God, a reminder to reorient ourselves to our Maker. He did not know that God’s plan for him was to lead him to Catholicism and that he was to be a formidable witness for the Faith. He simply poured out his heart to God and the Lord used him and his gift for his time and ours, and probably ages to come.

Newman also does not leave us on earth amidst our woes. The eschatological dimension of the final four lines remind us of our final destination. All we need do is follow that pillar of cloud fearlessly even though we cannot see what is in it just as Newman could not, and we arrive at the purpose for which we were created. As humans, we need constant reminding of it in as many ways as possible.

Let us stop and listen for a few minutes amidst the fracturing demands of the day. Invite the children and the grandchildren to hear this prayer. Consider its meaning for ourselves and our family, our friends walking with us on the way of salvation. Let us ask ourselves once again, are we watching for God’s intentions in our lives? Are we seeking His will? Are we looking fearlessly at the Pillar and willing to follow it docilely no matter where it takes us?

The embedded video is the premiere on April 5, 2012 of Dan Forrest’s composition, commissioned by the Tennessee Tech’s University Chorale conducted by Dr. Craig Zamer.  That it was the second premier of music set to this poem in six months, a composition by British composer Alex Patterson having debuted at St. Barnabas Cathedral on December 11, 2011, attests to the continuing inspiration of  Newman’s words.

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 Catholic culture, conversion, spirituality 4 Comments

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