spirituality

Inside the Cloister

June 27, 2014

Every now and then when we were children our Mother would exclaim in exasperation, “I should have gone into the convent!” It was always because our behavior had gotten her to the breaking point of frustration. I’m sure every mom reading this can identify with that. Whenever this happened all of us would break out in peals of laughter because Mom didn’t become Catholic until she met and married our Dad. We would say, “But Mom, you couldn’t have done that because you weren’t even Catholic.” Her point was well taken, however, and we immediately amended our conduct.

The rigor of convent/monastery life must be experienced, be lived, to fully appreciate it, yet for those of us called to live in the world but not of the world, the lure of the cloister often beckons our hearts. We are fascinated by the mystery of silent living in prayer and work, and not a little curious about how people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and continents can manage to live under the same roof without becoming dysfunctional as so many families are today. Of course the answer is the integration into the culture and charism of the particular institute without losing the individuality of each member.

In 1999 Bishop Slattery of Tulsa welcomed 13 Benedictine monks from Fontgombault in France to establish a priory in his diocese. In an astonishingly short period of time, the flourishing priory became a full-fledged abbey. This latest video from Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek gives us an insight into the cloister. In the interest of promoting religious vocations I am posting it here.

Also, as is usual since St. Benedict began establishing monasteries, wherever Benedictine monks are flourishing cloistered nuns are sure to follow. In 2005 Bishop Slattery approved the foundation of the Benedictine Sisters of Clear Creek and the Mary Queen of Angels Convent. If anyone has daughters considering contemplative religious life with the Benedictine charism, this convent, which has taken over the grounds where the Clear Creek monks first lived, is worth contacting. They accept applicants up to age 35.

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Friday, June 27th, 2014 religion, spirituality 8 Comments

Corpus Christi Sermon from Fontgombault Abbey

June 19, 2014

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/11/Mrzezyno_Corpus_Christi_procession_2010_B.jpg/640px-Mrzezyno_Corpus_Christi_procession_2010_B.jpg

Corpus Christi Procession in Mrzezyno, Poland, June 3, 2010, courtesy of Wikimedia


Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, observed in most of the world, but not in the USA which transfers it to this coming Sunday. Dom Jean Pateau, Abbot of the French Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault delivered this sermon to the monks and visitors at Mass this morning. Thank God for the internet which makes it possible to read it the same day it was preached.

Tantum ergo sacramentum veneremur cernui.
(Hymn of the feast of Corpus Christi)
 
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
 
My dearly beloved Sons,
 
In the wonderful Sacrament of His Body and of His Blood, Jesus gives Himself as a food and a drink, so that we may abide in Him as He abides in us, so that we may live for Him, and that we may live forever.
 
In the tabernacle, the holy Eucharistic species receive the homage of our worship. Although the Gospel does not mention any adoration of the Blessed Eucharist, it tells us of the first Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the history of mankind.
 
In Bethlehem, whose name means “House of the Bread”, in a poor crib, a place of silence and of peace, Jesus receives the adoration of Mary and Joseph, a few shepherds and the Magi, the wise men from the East, while the angels in Heaven proclaim the glory of God and announce to men the peace which comes from God.
 
Would we not be brought back by every adoration, every Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to the holy stable? Would Jesus perchance have been so deeply moved by the prayer of a few poor people near Him that He would have wanted to be able to receive throughout the ages the poor that we are? The sacramental Presence grants us to be associated with the worship of the inhabitants of the Crib and its visitors.
 
In the school of the shepherds, let us learn how to adore, let us renew our presence near the Blessed Sacrament. The first monstrance was a crib, because there was no room in the inn. What is a crib? What is a child? All this is small, all this is quite devoid of interest. In this place, God hides Himself. Under the figure of a little child, He awaits the shepherds. Today as well, His sacramental presence reaches us under the appearance of a bit of bread.
 
The shepherds receive the invitation from an angel. We too are invited to visit the Lord. We therefore need to be watchful. We need to take the time to encounter Jesus and to allow ourselves to be fascinated by His face. The shepherds live in the fields. They spend day and night watching their flocks. They are contemplative. As soon as the angel has spoken, they do not tarry and start for Bethlehem. They come, they find and they return, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (Lk 2:20). “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
 
Like the shepherds and Mary, let us not tarry but let us go to Jesus. Let us gladly visit our churches, the Bethlehem of our cities. Let us gladly spend time in front of the tabernacle or the monstrance. Jesus, God with us, is awaiting us and breaks the bread of His Word and of His Flesh for us.
Amen, Alleluia.

 

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Thursday, June 19th, 2014 Catholic Church, spirituality 3 Comments

Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests

June 18, 2014

Sermon of St. Martin, c. 1490, unknown Master, Hungarian, Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 89,5 cm Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest*

Sermon of St. Martin, c. 1490, unknown Master, Hungarian, Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 89,5 cm, Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest*

 

Back in 1999 when I spent an hour in Adoration one day, I was contemplating the sad state of orthodoxy in our diocese. The bishop at that time so strongly discouraged the preaching of Church teaching against contraception that any priest who dared speak the truth in the confessional or the pulpit was moved that very week to the opposite side of the diocese, sentenced to a small out of the way parish because of vicious complaints by parishioners.

Liturgical abuse was rampant. No traditional Catholic devotions were encouraged, and at one parish, the pastor forbid his priests to attend the three hour Sunday afternoon Adoration the laity had requested. It was left to the Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers to repose the Blessed Sacrament when it was over at 3:00.

Bizarre doctrines could be heard from many pulpits on any given Sunday, such as, we can argue with God after we’re dead so as to justify our sins. Seminarians were screened so prospects who did not believe in women priests were never accepted. The lighting of the Easter fire was concelebrated with an Episcopalian “priestess” at the church next door in one rural parish, and the event was touted as great “ecumenism” in the diocesan paper. That publication was where I first learned that there were two Jesuses. The Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith. That’s when I found out about the Bultmannian heresy.

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass was forbidden on the grounds that “it would confuse the Protestants and we Catholics had to present a united front to them because we live in the Bible Belt.” However, it was just fine with the bishop for us to drive three hours one way to attend it in nearby dioceses. And it was fine with him that we laity could educate others about the Extraordinary Form, but only because under canon law he couldn’t stop us from doing it. When Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the bishop had no choice but to provide the Traditional Mass, but he picked the most vocally opposed priest to do the job, and we were insulted from the pulpit every Sunday for one reason or another.

Things changed under a new bishop, who is orthodox but inherited a tremendous mess. All these years since that day in Adoration when the Lord inspired me to pray a chaplet for the conversion of priests, I’ve done it quietly and privately off and on. At first it was daily, but I fell prey to discouragement over the years. Sure, things are changing for the better but it’s too slow for me. I thought maybe my prayers weren’t doing any good and prayed that chaplet less and less often. Oh me of little faith!

This week I learned that the very popular pastor of a nearby parish was relieved of his duties a couple of weeks ago for embezzling money for quite some time. That parish was almost dead before he came there, and in the past four years since he has been there, it revived with more and more people joining. Everyone knows that his personableness, enthusiastic preaching and devotion to the suffering played a big part in the revival. This priest was also one of the best confessors I’ve been to which proves that no matter how much a sinner a priest may be, God can still use him to guide us wisely in Confession. Although I am not a parishioner, his loss leaves a big hole in my heart. I did not think about how much he could need my prayers and, for the most part, I rarely hear priests ask for prayers for themselves.

Our priests are always in danger of sinning big. Satan hates them with a vengeance because he knows the Mystical Body of Christ needs them. In Zechariah 13: 7 we read, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand to the little ones.” Indeed, last Sunday when we attended Mass in that parish, we saw that many people were gone – between 1/3 and 1/2 of the congregation. It won’t be until some time in August that a new priest will be assigned to the parish.

I am now resolved to return to praying my “Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests” regularly and want to share it with readers who may find themselves drawn to doing the same.

Explanation of the chaplet

First though, in case anyone is thinking, “How dare you imply that priests need converting?!!!”, I must say that everyone of us needs conversion of heart, priests included. As Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:7, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, and they all slunk off in shame.

To convert our hearts means to repent of our sins and be determined to follow that narrow way to the narrow door (Luke 13: 24). That narrow way is made of God’s instructions to us which we find in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, in obedience to the laws of the Church whether liturgical or canonical, in constant purification of our desires so that Christ becomes the center of our lives in all things.

David cries to God in penitence, “If thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; with burnt-offerings thou wilt not be delighted; a sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 1: 18). “Thou wilt not despise” is a way of saying, “Thou wilt love and cherish and gather to Thyself.”

Moses said to his people, “Now, when thou shalt be touched with the repentance of thy heart – and return to Him – the Lord thy God will have mercy on thee” (Deut. 30: 1-3).

The prophet Joel tells us, “Now, therefore,” saith the Lord, “be converted to Me with all your heart in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, patient, and rich in mercy” (Joel 2: 12).

Second, this chaplet also links the priests directly with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The primary purpose of the priest is to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary to the Father. He stands as an Alter Christus, a mediator in the place of Christ as Christ has ordained, and is the only one who can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confect the Holy Eucharist. He is also the mediator in place of Christ when he administers the other sacraments. Our belief in the Blessed Sacrament is central to the Catholic faith. Without the priest, we would not have the opportunity to receive the great graces from receiving the Holy Eucharist, going to Confession, the Last Rites, etc.

Third, the Blessed Mother holds all priests dearly as her special sons. While we are all sons and daughters of Our Lady by virtue of Christ’s words in John 19: 26-27, the priests are especially dear to her. They are her children in the most danger all the time because without them the Church could not exist. (See the link above.) Satan seeks to destroy the Church any way he can.

When I pray this chaplet I am fully aware that I myself need conversion daily, and it becomes an earnest prayer not only for priests, but also for my own spiritual growth. It has no approval of ecclesiastical authority, just from my pastor at the time, but I have been thinking about seeking approval so that others may have a wide access to it.

Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests

  1. Using the Rosary, begin with the Crucifix and say the Anima Christi.
  1. Offer the next four beads for the welfare of the Holy Father and his intentions: Our Father and three Hail Marys.
  1. On the “Our Father” beads say: O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.
  1. On the “Hail Mary” beads, say: O my Jesus, truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar, I beg Thee, convert Thy priests.
  1. Continue the chaplet through the 5 decades in this manner. At the end say three times: O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.
  1. After saying this say 3 times: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on Thy priests.
  1. Then say 3 times: Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us and for our priests.

*About the art: There are two related panels, painted on both sides, in the Hungarian National Gallery which once were the wings of an altarpiece dedicated to St Martin and St Nicholas. One of the wings represents St Martin and the Beggar (outer side) and the Sermon of St Martin in Albenga (inner side). The other wing depicts St Nicholas and the Daughters of the Nobleman in Pataria (outer side) as well as the scene St. Nicholas Resurrects Three Deads.

The panel represents a legendary scene from the life of St. Martin. The Bishop, having given his clothes to a needy man, celebrates mass in poor, hastily acquired garments. At the elevation of the Host angels descend to cover his bare arms.

The altar table in the sanctuary, shown in great detail, is decorated with a picture within the picture: a horizontally arranged retable with a scene of the Crucifixion. This is of special importance in the history of the development of winged altars in Hungary, for it demonstrates that this early type of retables of which very few examples have survived, was still in use at the end of the fifteenth century. Seen against the embroidered white altar-cloth the shadows are effective. The artist’s representation of the missal is most realistic; also the representation of the mitre and the Gothic style objects made of precious metals, the ciborium between two candlesticks, the chalice and the paten, the latter only just visible under the edge of the communion cloth. Realism was not, however, an end in itself; the painter introduced these details to create an atmosphere of wonder before the legendary scene. The realistic characters are also imbued with piety. The portrait-like features of the male figure kneeling on the right suggest that it was he who commissioned the altarpiece. The painter’s endeavours to represent the interior in perspective, the sharp folds shown almost in relief and the subtle colour effects all place the master of this panel among the finest Hungarian painters active in the late fifteenth century.

-          Courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

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Performance Anxiety and Prayer

June 13, 2014

Old Woman With a Rosary, 1896, Paul Cezanne, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, UK

Old Woman With a Rosary, 1896, Paul Cezanne, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, UK

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” “Do it right the first time.” Did you grow up with these sayings? Are they possibly influencing or controlling your prayer life? Do you then criticize and accuse yourself or give in to despair and run the other way when you even think about starting a Rosary or other prayers?

The merit in these sayings is that they point toward meeting a standard of excellence parents want children to aspire to. The demerit in them is that they can be unreasonably applied and, most of all, direct us to believe that it is solely under our power and control to meet expectations defined by others. They also lead to the belief that there is only one right way to do anything. Thus it contributes to a tendency to make ourselves and our performance the focus of all that we do.

Fear of not meeting expectations leads to performance anxiety such as seen with intelligent students who freeze on every test and fail, or with people who approach even the most mundane tasks in life with trepidation. We may think that some nebulous judge is out there who will criticize and grind us into mincemeat; our stomachs churn and our brains freeze. God is not in the picture at all, yet He is the one without Whom we cannot lift a finger, think a thought, or comprehend the great spiritual mysteries He has revealed to us. The sayings exclude the trust and surrender to God’s will that we must have before starting anything, even as we resolve to do our best.

To this day these sayings occasionally pop into my mind, disturbing the peace of heart God desires for all of us. I have performance anxiety in particular areas of life, worry about whether I will get something done “right”. I catch myself secretly worrying that my prayers aren’t good enough or that I haven’t prayed enough or said the “right” prayers, although my rational mind knows that objectively speaking it is impossible for anybody to be perfect in anything, even prayer, yet we are to strive to be perfect. But who defines perfection? We or God? Of course it is God, and we have Sacred Scripture and Tradition to guide us. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, residing in our soul, is there to guide us, strengthen us, and help us in all that we do, including prayer. We are not alone, ever, in anything.

In his Treatise on Peace of Soul, Dom Lorenzo Scupoli gives excellent advice to those of us who are occasionally troubled about our prayer life:

Strive not to limit yourself to so many prayers, meditation, or readings, neither neglect nor limit your customary devotions. Rather, let your heart be at liberty to stop where it finds its God, having no misgivings about unfinished exercises if He is pleased to communicate Himself to you in the midst of them. Have no scruples in this regard, for the end of your devotion is to enjoy God and as the end is accomplished, the means have no significance for the present. [So, if we are praying the Rosary and we become caught up in the mystery of the Nativity, for instance, it is right to pursue meditation on this and not worry about whether we get all five decades completed. The point is that God is leading us, our eyes are on Him, our heart is with Him, and we are not failing in prayer. St. Teresa of Avila would concur with the good Dom Lorenzo.]

God leads us by the path that He has chosen, and if we oblige ourselves to precise execution of exercises which we fancy, we are imposing imaginary obligations on ourselves; and far from finding God, we are actually running away from Him, pretending to please Him, yet not conforming to His holy will. [In fact, we are obsessively conforming to our own will.]

If you really desire to advance successfully on this path and attain the end to which it leads, seek and desire God alone; and whenever and wherever you find Him, there stop, go no farther. While God dwells with you enjoy His company with the celestial peace of saints; and when His divine majesty pleases to retire, then turn again to the quest of your God in your devout exercises.

We are so blessed as Catholics to have centuries of saints and spiritual directors who have left us sane writings to guide us through the numerous traps our fallen nature and Satan lay for us, especially in our prayer life. In the end, we can do no better than follow these wise words which are practical applications of the many exhortations Jesus Himself gave us in the Gospels.

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Friday, June 13th, 2014 prayers, spirituality 8 Comments

Ending Verbal and Psychological Abuse in the Family

April 29, 2014

Family portrait, 1910, Zinaida Serebriakova, used under fair use principles via Wikipaintings

Family portrait, 1910, Zinaida Serebriakova, used under fair use principles via Wikipaintings

You’ve heard it. Or maybe had it happen to you, cutting “jokes” that mask hostility which the jokester denies when confronted. Sarcastic remarks. Sneers. Put downs. Then there’s ridicule of others, a poison to the spiritual life and serenity of relationships, especially the family. All are ways of abusing, dominating, and bullying. All are ways of controlling others and keeping them in line. All are dramatized in movies, on television and in the theater, presented as clever amusement rather than the soul destroying evil behaviors that they are.

Last night in a conversation with a friend, she revealed that not only did her family behave this way during her childhood and up to the present, but her ex-husband also delivered a steady stream of this kind of abuse among other ways of torturing her and the children. The children perpetuate this abuse amongst themselves and towards her. It doesn’t seem to matter how faithfully all of them attend Mass, the ugly behaviors are right there to eat away at peace and tranquility in the household only hours later. Two other friends have told me similar stories about their families, only they included childhood sexual abuse as well.

Just as virtue is a habit, so vice is also, resulting in behavior patterns that tear others down while failing to build offenders up, even though, in this case, abusers may think tyranny makes them No.1. In fact, a dominant philosophy of abusers is, “The beatings will continue until morale improves, i.e. until I get my way.” While this slogan was presented for satire and an example of how not to manage others when I worked in the corporate world, little did I realize at the time how many people went home to this reality every day of their lives.

What is particularly awful about abuse in the family is that often members grow up thinking that it is normal and that everybody lives this way. Moreover, the abusive ones may keep their evil behind closed doors while in public present an entirely different face, even to the point of carefully erecting a façade of being a righteous Christian.

Where is it written that I can have one standard of behavior at home and a different one everywhere else?  The truth is, people in the work place and casual acquaintances won’t put up with the abuse visited upon family members behind closed doors. In itself that indicts the bully and proves his/her guilt. It proves bullies know what the right way to treat others is and choose not to do so at home. They indulge their predatory behavior against the most vulnerable, those who are trapped with a father or mother, husband or wife or siblings who consistently violate their dignity. The abused are objects to be manipulated, not persons to be respected.

Need I say that deep spiritual and psychological sickness is at the root of it all? Looking closer it is likely that alcohol or drug abuse and/or pornography fuel the already disordered mentality of abusers. What to do? In his discussion on Chapter 66 of the Rule of St. Benedict, Father G. A. Simon writes:

Let the Oblate living in a family know that his true milieu is his family…. The Benedictine spirit is essentially a family spirit. To be faithful to the spirit of the Rule, therefore, the Oblate to whom Providence has entrusted the care of a family should love his home and maintain there that profound union which can come only from supernatural charity, grouping all the souls, so to speak, in one and the same search for God.

This applies to everyone who has a family or lives in a family, even if he or she isn’t an Oblate. It’s an ideal and goal to strive for.

We can say that habitual use of bullying tactics such as cutting and sarcastic remarks, hurtful jokes, and ridicule are designed for division, not union, don’t reflect supernatural charity towards family members, and don’t bind souls together in a search for God. Eradicating this behavior is not easy, especially when it is a product of generations of refinement. Yet with Christ all things are possible.

One of the first places to start is by not leaving our religion in the pew when we leave Mass. Second, practice the Ignatian Particular Examen throughout the day to direct us away from ourselves and toward God. Third, give place to God’s will. Fourth, censor entertainment. What Hollywood and other media present as the norm is designed to point us to division and disruption. Fifth, take the saints as models and study their lives. Sixth, practice The Golden Key. Make it public in the family that ugly behaviors towards one another are forbidden and arrange appropriate consequences for violations. Seventh, watch the company kept and end associations with others that are harmful to family relationships. Eighth, ask others for prayers to overcome the vice of abusiveness and break the cycle of abusiveness passed down through generations. Ninth, study the Holy Family as an example and strive to imitate them. 

Finally, confess sins regularly with a firm purpose of amendment. Ask God for a conversion of morals as St. Benedict urges.

Our families should be our treasures where our hearts reside and children are nurtured. Abusiveness handed down for generations can be stopped with the current one. It’s all a matter of choice, moving out of a comfort zone habitual vice creates, and focusing on God. Those being abused, if they are adults, have to refuse to take it, and stop enabling the abusers. Really, plenty of help is available to correct this poisonous affliction, not the least of which is God’s grace. “Be not afraid” as St. John Paul II said again and again. Although freedom from abusive behavior won’t happen overnight, without a first step and determination it won’t happen at all.

Let us pray today for all families fractured by abuse, that they will have the resolve to start anew on a path of healing and growth in the love of God.

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Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 spirituality 12 Comments

Obtaining Peace of Mind

April 26, 2014

Compassion, Bouguereau, 1897

Compassion, Bouguereau, 1897

Many people I know are enduring some great challenge or other to the point of sleepless nights and nervous exhaustion. Being by nature a Mrs. Fix-it, I would like to take all these trials apart for them, sending these friends off with a cheery “Have a good day”, but such is not to be. In fact, the best I can do apart from listening and giving solid advice is to pray for them and trust that God will help them sort things out. This is probably how our good contemplative monks and nuns approach the many troubles we bring to them. Yet I am constantly tempted to worry excessively about people I care about.

One thing I’ve realized as more distraught souls find me – and I’m not out there looking for them by any means – is that if I don’t keep my own house in order I’ll never be any good to them. I get it that God’s will is for me to be present to them and to point them in practical ways towards solving their earthly problems while helping them come closer to God. I also get it that I’m no good to anybody without constantly working on my own spiritual life, especially maintaining my own peace of mind in the heart of Christ, and that’s wherein lies the challenge. My prayer life and spiritual reading become full of distractions over concerns for others. Mrs. Fix-it just has to intrude on my quiet time with God. Fortunately a very old book of spiritual direction has become an aid.

St. Francis de Sales’ (1567-1622) favorite book was The Spiritual Combat. He carried it around with him and read from it whenever he could snatch a moment here and there from his many duties as bishop of Geneva. The author, Father Lorenzo Scupoli, gives most useful spiritual advice to those of us struggling to live a God-centered life in an increasingly abusive and murderous world and to live rightly loving our neighbor.

Father Scupoli in chapter 25 of his book remarks:

Our peace of mind when lost demands every possible exertion for its recovery. We actually never can lose it or cause it to be disturbed except through our own fault.

True. True. God is teaching me through helping others that I have to depend on His power, grace and mercy for them and never become agitated over not being able to solve their problems for them nor to be impatient with how long it takes them to act. In fact, overstepping my bounds will lead to a dangerous pride and get in the way of them learning the lessons He has in mind for them as He perfects them.

…Our compassion for sinners and sadness at their destruction must be free of vexation and trouble, as it springs from a purely charitable motive….

Making my friends’ trials my own and letting them overpower my God time is not putting God first. If God is not first I become like a man struggling in quicksand. Sooner or later I will go under because I don’t see the rope extended to me to drag me out of the pit.

These trials and events occur at the design of our Master; the severest tribulations of this life bring His will to our aid, so that we can march with a calm and tranquil soul. Any disquiet on our part is displeasing to God. For of whatever nature it may be it is always accompanied by some imperfection, and it always has a tendency towards self-love in one form or another.

Disquiet when we are concerned about friends, family, or the trend of life in general should be an alarm bell calling us to question what is behind the agitation. For myself, I inevitably find that I want more power than I am entitled to. Although I quietly pray for those I want to help and watch for the signs of God’s grace in their lives, I am often stuck in a fantasy of how I think things should be and what I think they should be doing to end their pain. In other words, I think I’m smarter than God. After reflecting on this for awhile, I saw the pitfalls and resolved to change. Now disquiet becomes a trigger for me to pray that God be with them and that they submit to His will, whatever that is.

I am convinced that, if the heart is troubled, the enemy is ever able to strike us, and as much as he wishes. Moreover, in that state we are not capable of discerning the true path to follow, the snares that must be avoided to attain virtue.

You will find it greatly advantageous to preserve a calm mind through all the events in your life. Without it, your pious exercises will be fruitless.

The enemy detests this peace. For he knows that this is the place where the spirit of God dwells, and that God now desires to accomplish great things in us. Consequently he employs his most devilish means to destroy this peace. He suggests various things that apparently are good. It is a trap; you will soon discover that these desires will destroy the peace of your heart.

The devil slithers in under the cover of us desiring to do good to others and disturbs our very necessary time with God. This is the key problem with giving in to our emotions, our feelings of fear and anxiety both for ourselves and on behalf of others. God gave us the capacity to reason and think and He means for that to rule our feelings, not the other way around. Part of our self-discipline is to be able to hold feelings at bay while reasoning things out. If we cannot do this for ourselves with the help of God’s grace, how are we to really help our friends who are in emotional turmoil?

Father Sculpoli goes on to say that even when we discover that the desires we have to do a good are truly from God, we must “deter execution until our eagerness has been mortified.” Preceded by mortification he tells us, our work is more pleasing to God.

Finally he tells us:

Let us raise our hearts to God. Whatever He wills, without exception, should be received with the firm persuasion that every cross He wills to send shall prove an endless source of blessing, a treasure whose value one may not appreciate at the moment.

After pondering this chapter I have concluded that obtaining peace of heart and practicing it faithfully is a prerequisite for helping the many people God puts in my path who have little to no peace of heart. Whereas before I jumped right in to problems without sufficient reflection on the spiritual aspect of a friend’s trials, now I am asking myself how God is blessing them through their pain. In addition to making suggestions and observations that can help them, now I ask myself how God is providing for them in their trials and ask them what they think God wants from them. Doing this helps Mrs. Fix-it to help them better and always to point them to Christ. Most of all, I now can share with them that not knowing exactly what God is doing with them is no cause for disquiet, but rather an invitation to trust in Him and place themselves in His hands while doing all that is reasonable and allowable in His eyes to endure their trials and solve their problems.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, April 26th, 2014 Spiritual reading, spirituality 14 Comments

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 10 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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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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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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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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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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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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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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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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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!

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

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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Friday, January 17th, 2014 spirituality 9 Comments

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