November 2005 Archives

I'm still reading the book and still thinking about the complete argument in an attempt to evaluate it. But I find many of the issues raised interesting. I'm sure Cardinal Dulles would find much to refute in the course of the logic of the book. But this at least trolls an interesting depth.

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

I paid homage to God's grace while championing human freedom. Salvation was not dependent on God's decision to save me, but on my decision to accept him. My righteousness determined my status and destiny. I controlled my destiny. I chose whether I was loved and accepted or hated and rejected. God's love was dependent upon my behavior. Grace was not a gift but a trophy.

I had easily rejected predestination's claim that the trophy was randomly awarded. What good was a trophy if you hadn't earned it? Though I was uncomfortable when the power to save or damn lay solely in God's hands, I had no qualms with suggesting the power lay completely in mine. In retrospect, my defense of human freedom was simply plain, old human pride. I wanted to take credit for my choice to respond to God's grace. I wanted to believe I chose God.

Obviously this is not a matter for proof-texting but for understanding in the overall sense and reading in conformity with the tradition of the Church, and in this case the earliest tradition without the accretions of understanding that resulted as historical contingency shaped a world-view. We must understand the debate on its own terms without the triumphalism of one party or another. These earlier fathers give us a glimpse of that thought before accretions had been crystallized. And even among these earliest Fathers there is a strong measure of debate. In fact, there is a line (said to be overstepped by Origen, amongst others) that the Church definitively teaches we may not cross--that of suggesting the fallen angels shall be reunited with God. However, several great Saints of the Eastern tradition held fast to the idea of universal salvation as some members of the Orthodox community do today.

But what is important here isn't so much the mechanics of salvation and whether everyone is saved. Because even if everyone is saved, we still must work as though they were not because we cannot know that universal salvation is a given and there is much to argue against it.

No, what is really important, as TSO pointed out earlier this morning, is that when I take my eyes off of Christ, I will flounder. His face holds me up, His breath sustains me, His love makes me entire, His grace saves me from eternity to eternity.

When I take my mind off of this reality, I find myself in the untenable position of wrestling with matters that are really beyond me. I can no longer assume the place of the child in this--one of my favorite psalms.

Psalm 131

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

For my own peace of mind it is far better to focus on intense love of God and following His commandments rather than trying to wrap my mind around mysteries within mysteries within mysteries. As I will not know the fullness of the truth until I have achieved the beatific vision (God be willing!), I should not trouble myself with these difficulties, but rather spend my time in the realities I know and understand. As St. Teresa of Avila said, "The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything." Which is not to argue against knowledge, but to admit that there is a time in every person's life where thinking and knowledge fail and obedience and love must prevail to carry the person through until the end. Teresa's dictum comes at the point where words end and the mind has been trained as thoroughly as possible. For some this will be a longer stretch, for some a shorter. In different matters we may think more and longer with greater fruit than in others. When it comes to the mystery of God's will in salvation, I have thought to the end of my own resources and I turn to love--because love holds the gaze of the beloved and it is in that gaze that I am made lovable. It is God's love and grace that makes any person loveable and while that Grace is constantly supplied and bestowed, it is strengthened by knowing from whence it comes, by holding the eye of the Beloved as we move ahead in faith.

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Quotation for the Day


--There is nothing we can do that will make God love us more. There's nothing we can do that will make God love us less.

Philip Yancey What's So Amazing About Grace?

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God's Choice George Weigel

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A few days ago, I obtained (via the kindness of a stranger) a copy of God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church by George Weigel (this on the advice and review of Mr. Blosser at Against the Grain). While I sometimes admire the prose of Mr. Weigel, I have to admit that I do not share his reservations about Pope John Paul II theology. However, despite their obvious disagreements, Mr. Weigel obviously has enormous respect for the late great Pontiff.

The first part of this books is a recounting of the Papacy of John Paul II, on of the longest in history. In this recounting Mr. Weigel analyzes both the person and the writings of John Paul II and what effect they have had and may have on the Church. The analysis is insightful and helpful without being particularly detailed or prolix. Mr. Weigel knew the work and perhaps the person of John Paul II well and it shows in his exposition and analysis.

The book is oddly constructed, starting with the illness, decline, and death of John Paul II and then seguing back into the career and concluding this portion with a view of the great pontiff's funeral. This material comprises about forty percent of the book and sets the backdrop against which he will spell out the reign of Benedict XVI.

Now, I suppose I should start by saying that while I believe the title of this book--that is, Pope Benedict XVI is God's choice-- I can't claim to be overwhelmed with the present pontiff. I bear him no ill will, and I accept the judgment of others (including Mr. Weigel) that our present Pope is in every way suited for the position and conducting himself magnificently. Let's face it, John Paul the Great would be a hard act to follow no matter who took the position. So I start with some reservations about the present pontiff that are sometimes only exacerbated by news reportage. Mr. Weigel starts with no such onus. The portion of the book about the conclave is utterly fascinating--giving a diary of the events surrounding the conclave itself. I was a little uneasy about this material as the conclave is supposed to be absolutely secret and the publishing of this kind of diary, which while not an insiders look, still exploits the rumors and leakages that occurred seems a little problematic. Set that aside for the moment, the account is very interesting. Our present Pope went in with a sizable majority and eventually emerged as Pontiff. Looked at one way, this speaks well for the state of the Church--if those who voted for him did so out of the vision they had of the Church, this bodes well. If they voted out of mundane political reasons, it says nothing whatsoever about the state of the Church (because this has been involved since the beginning) but much about the guidance of the Spirit. We cannot presume to judge the motives of those voting, so either way, it was a manner of leading by the Holy Spirit.

After the tale of the conclave, we get a brief biography and précis of Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's career. Again, Mr. Weigel handles this with some aplomb--it is insightful without being boring and it touches nicely on the points where our present pope might be deemed "controversial." These include his opinions on such matters as liberation theology and the Boff case.

Finally, Mr. Weigel stares into his crystal ball and gives us a view of the agenda and the possible futures of the Church. His guess is as good as any, and far better than my own. This section plays nicely off the section that discusses the state in which John Paul the Great left the church for good and ill.

The book is deftly constructed, mostly well written. (Although I must confess to being taken aback but an absurdly ugly neologism--civilizational. This is the kind of thing that happens when editors dare not touch the work any more because you have become too popular.) While not particularly a Ratzinger partisan, this book helped me to better understand the man and the issues surrounding him and to dispell some of my concerns about our present pontiff. In short, it is an excellent introduction to the new pontificate, supplying background on both the late Pontiff and our present Vicar of Christ, deftly comparing and constrasting the two. (Were I to guess I would say that Mr. Weigel falls at least a little on the "Ratzinger" side of the Wotyla/Ratzinger continuum; whereas I am squarely in the Wotyla side of that continuum.)

For fans and detractors alike, this book may add fuel to the fire. What it does an exemplary job of is showing the state of the Church in the transition between these two pontificates. Pope Benedict XVI has a hard act to follow, and unless God grants him extraordinary longevity, a relatively shorter pontificate in which to exercise his influence. May the Holy Spirit guide and bless him (and us) all along the way.

Highly recommended for all readers.

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Prisoners Awaiting Freedom

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Advent is here, we patiently await the revelation of the Lord and His Kingdom. As we do so it is well to think of what it is like without Him.

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

We too easily mistake our limited choices for authentic freddom. We are like jail inmates glorying in their freedom to choose their dinner vegetable, oblivious to the guard in the corner and the bars on the window. We exult in our supposed freedom, when in truth we are shackled by selfishness and entangled in evil.

This passage, taken out of context from an argument for universal salvation, is relevant even in its isolation from the surrounding text, for we indeed are like jail inmates. People think they have the freedom to do anything they desire. But if desire is our only lead, if right reason through Grace does not guide it, then desire will always stray. Desire is necessary and good. It is the cupid's arrow to the heart of God, drawing each person closer to Him. That is desire guarded by the intellect informed by Grace.

Too often desire is merely untrammeled, unchanneled, undirected. Desire knows there is a destination, but desire itself works in the night, without the light of grace or reason desire thrashes about endlessly. It causes no end of mischief and harm to the soul that does not accept guidance. Desire teaches us that we are the arbiters of what is good and ill. Desire willingly takes on shackles that we might declare our "independence." But no one driven by uninspired desire is independent of anything. C.S. Lewis depicted this beautifully in The Great Divorce where he shows numerous souls inches from the Kingdom of Heaven rejecting it because they cannot give up what they once loved blindly.

God desires us. He gave us desire in imitation of Him. Desire was always meant to be directed to God. With the fall, the compass of desire became disoriented, it no longer pointed true because our first parents had introduced into the equation the new lodestone of self--a lodestone so stron and so proximate that it effectively overrides the "distant" pull of grace. But God is not so easily dismissed, and in the fullness of time, grace can overcome even the obstacle of self if we show so much as a second of a degree of turning. God takes whatever small steps each person is capable of and uses them to redirect the compass, to more effectively assert the predominant direction.

When we glory in our freedom we wind up with the Reign of Terror, the Holocaust, and the Killing Fields. When we glory in God, we wind up with eternal, unending, perfect love and a home within God's heart and kingdom. So contra Milton's Satan: Better to serve in Heaven than to reign in Hell.

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Review: Journey to Carith

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I've posted some exerpts from this book as I have been reading. What I can say is that it is a very nice history of the Discalced Carmelites from the beginning of the Carmelite order up until about 1966 (when the book was first published). As such it misses some things such as Teresa and Therese declared Doctors of the Church and the Beatification of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. But that's all right.

What is most interesting about this seeming history is the depth of spirituality that is exposed. One of the things Rohrback does very well is introduce the people who effected the order for good and for ill. Also he introduces little historical highlights that add to depth of understanding of the history of religion in Europe.

The book is not for everyone as it has a very narrow focus on the development of the Carmelite Order. But if you are a Carmelite or you wish to understand more about the order, there are a great many insights to be gained from reading the book. The emphasis on solitude, for example, is demonstrated by the successive falls that Carmel experienced when solitude was at a minimum.

Another fascinating thing to see unfold is the delicate balance between contemplation and action that defines the Carmelite Order. In Carmelite Spirituality contemplation always feeds action--the desire to spread God's kingdom flows naturally from participating intimately in that kingdom. It makes sense, but it also makes for paradox when you realize how difficult it can be to tread the line between contemplation and action.

In the rule of the Third Order it is explicitly stated that Lay Carmelites are in the world, not cloistered, and so they have a special responsibility to bring the Gospel Good News of hope and salvation. They are called to ministry to save souls, not solely to contemplation. But it is in contemplation that the Carmelite receives the light to bring the good news. Carmelites are called to spread the good news through one-on-one interactions. We are not called to reason people to acceptance of God, but to love people to acceptance of God. Again, in the recently revised rule for Third Order Carmelites, we are likened to sparks of love blown out into the forest to set it ablaze--not with the fire the destroys and consumes, but with the fire that transforms and renews. We more often do this not through force of reason, but through the force of an unforced smile, a welcoming heart.

For the Carmelite, those beautiful "rules of amiability" are the perfect complement to our mission. Time and again we meet Carmelites who achieved heroic sanctity, not through some laborious and arduous trials, but rather through heroic and arduous patience and love. These can only be engendered through contemplation and being in touch with the source of all love.

Sorry--back to the book. If you want to know about the order, the major figures in the order and the major movements in the order, Journey to Carith is an excellent introduction. The author points out that we are in a new era of reform--one that stems from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the second Vatican council. Our own part of the order has recently undergone revision of the rule and a progressive strengthening and tightening of requirements. It is glorious to behold, but difficult for those who were used to Carmel in another way. Journey to Carith shows that an Order is either in reform or in decay--there is no in between. I'd prefer to be in a tide of change rather than a tidepool of comfort. I am grateful to be a Carmelite at this point in time. God has been very, very good to me.

For the book--highly recommended/required reading for all Carmelites, recommended without reservation for those merely interested in understanding the nature of the order. Although I suspect, from outside, it may not be nearly so clear as it is from within.

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From Julie at Happy Catholilc


Liturgy of the Hours instruction

Comes this useful, simple, and PRACTICAL guide to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Highly recommended for those just starting or those who wish to start.

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Fr. Marie-Eugene de l'Enfant Jesus

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Carmina Gaelica

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Carmina Gadelica Vol. 1 Index\

Available for a while elsewhere, here's the compendium at Sacred-Texts.

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The Unmoved Mover

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In some descriptions of God you might hear Him described as "the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause." If I properly understand the latter half of this statement, I can raise no objection. But I have heard the first half too often abused and misconstrued.

Many people say that God cannot be moved, He has no emotion, He is from eternity to eternity. I am not smart enough to argue with those people. But I think they miss something in the argument and in pure reason. Anyone who has any experience of life knows that it is not possible to love without being moved to action. Any love that is unmoved is not really love, but a vague shadow of it. Any parent who has loved a child knows that love means hurting, and longing, and hoping, and praying.

God longs for us. He loved us. He sent us an icon of His love--an icon that shows not the unmoved mover, but the deeply human Jesus Christ weeping--outside of a tomb, over the city of Jerusalem. This is not the unmoved mover. This is the engaged God, the God who loves us. The Icon of God is not the God who examines us with the microscope, but the Father who welcomes the prodigal, the Savior who weeps over our sin and death. Hardly unmoved.

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God Is. . .

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. . .as close as the breath in your lungs

. . .as close as the thoughts circulating in your head

. . .as close as the blood in your veins

. . .as close as your own skin

. . .as close as the shadow that precedes you in the morning

. . .waiting, listening, aching

. . .desiring, waiting, longing

. . .loving, endlessly loving

. . .the center and the source of Joy.

Then today, turn to Him, reach out to Him. Let Him lift you to Him and shower you with kisses. Stop your obstinate toddler strut and take up your bower in the strength of His arms in the quiet shade of His love.

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Continuing Confession

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I found this quite amusing-- (should link to a greeting Card--hope we don't overload the server)

Happy Thanksgiving

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I Confess

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Sometimes a meme becomes pandemic. Suburban Banshee--long may she wail--has tagged me for this.

I confess . . .

. . . that responding to this meme rather frightens me (can't say why.)

. . . I actually enjoy holding hands during the Our Father, largely because it so much forces me out of who I normally am

. . . that at one time I did a bad job of discerning a vocation to the Carthusians (praise God!--Camoldalese would have been another possibility had I been aware of them)

. . . I think some people (including myself) think waaaaaaaay too much sometimes

. . . not particularly liking the prose and poetry of Chesterton and Belloc (love some of his poetry), but really, really liking the person of Chesterton

. . . monastic life and complete solitude hold a real and everpresent appeal (though they do not compare with the joy of the Vocation of Marriage and Family)

. . . to viewing blogs and associated projects as having possibilities as apostolates

. . . to being a far nicer person on-line than I could ever hope to be in person

. . . to liking Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Sponge Bob, and the Fairly OddParents far more than I ought

. . . to being TSO's number one fan and nuisance e-mailer

. . . wishing my blog could be more like Fructus Ventris, Sancta Sanctis, Happy Catholic, and Summa Mamas (but it just ain't gonna happen)

. . . wishing I could do what Tom at Disputations does so well (but then if I did, we wouldn't need Tom, and that would be a terrible shame)

. . . a scrupulous attempt at Orthodoxy which stems from coming from a Protestant background

. . . not really understanding what many traditionalists think or want

. . . not really understanding what most progressives really want

. . . not really understanding why we can't all just get along

. . . to owning no fewer than 41 different Bibles (different translations, different annotations, different assemblies of similar translations, including at least two four column parallel Bibles)

. . . and to having read or studied every one of them

. . . and to still being ignorant of the majority of God's word

. . . being an ardent fan of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Henry James and a whole slew of people who bore most people silly

. . . to having won an award for poetry composed in the manner of Finnegan's Wake (First place--a complete set of the critical edition of the works of James Joyce, commentary by Anthony Burgess on Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses, and a guide to Dublin)

. . . to being a complete tea-totaler, having had in my entire college career three alcoholic drinks

. . . but nevertheless liking the strawberry margarita sorbet at a local ice-cream chain

. . . Carravagio, Monet, Renoir, Dali, Tanguy, and Magritte are my favorite artists

. . . I get an enormous fit of the giggles every time I think that someone actually paid money for most of Robert Motherwell's "art" (that should get a rise out of Erik)

. . . getting a rise out of Erik amuses me far more than it ought

. . . loving the St. Blogs community inordinately for what it consitutes in the real world

. . . having grown tremendously because of my exposure to the many opinions, minds, and persons of the people at St. Blogs.

TMI, I know, but this allows me once again to consider the things I am thankful for.

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God Comes in on Little Cat Feet


Carl Sandburg

THE fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

God is like that too. I go through life randomly oblivious to His Mercy and then suddenly I turn around and am struck between the eyes, and God move on to plan His next stealth mercy-blitz.

This has happened to me recently--one incident has spawned a barrage of incidents of awareness. I would like to say that the statue of the Virgin smiled at me. But it was nothing so fantastic, it was merely the obedience of one servant of the Lord serving the others. It was merely the voice of one person to another. It was "merely" the breath of the Holy Spirit, rising, for a moment, to a howling windstorm and then subsiding. And I am caught "under the torrent of His love." Praise God, who is so good to me. His mercy is everlasting and His patience from age to age. Now if He will only make me a servant of His servants.

A moment of conversion, a glimpse of grace. "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on." The rest of that quatrain is rather more gloomy, something about never being able to coax it back to wipe out a line of it. But why would I want to obliterate a single note, much less a line, of His love song for me? Why would I want to change a single syllable of the sonnet He composes as He shapes me?

Change me, mold me, shape me the way you would have me be. Let your light be my light and my only light.

Oh, how I hope that at last His snares have overcome my wiles!

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Praise God


I have a challenging, arduous, and difficult day ahead as does another person with whom I work. This is a day of opportunity and grace. Please pray that we both can rise to the occasion and become better people through this interaction. This is the possiblity of growth for all involved, and that is always a frightening and difficult time, so prayers would be appreciated. I dread it and embrace it because this is what God has for me today, and all that God provides is provided in perfect love.

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Loyola Press Catholic Classics


Welcome to Loyola Press

Mama T alerted me to this list of reissues of classic Catholic fiction. I went to see what was on the list, and joy of joys, there was Francois Mauriac's Viper's Tangle.

I can't recommend this title enough. When I was in college french class we were forced to read what I thought then a dismal little novel titled Therese Desqueyroux (I wonder what I would think now?); I shied away from Mauriac for a long time. What a shame. I picked up a second-hand copy of Knot of Vipers or, as it is translated here Viper's Tangle and I was bowled over by the power of the story. It is one of those I've read some years ago now and the story sticks with. A wealthy, avaricious, completely self-centered old man makes the end of his life miserable for himself and for his family until Grace intrudes and transforms his life and that of several family members. In this sketchy description, it sounds like nothing at all--but it is a powerful, powerful book. Wonderful reading.

My only request would be that Loyola Press would start up a mailing list to alert us to new titles as they become available. I was unaware that such marvelous works as The Devil's Advocate and Kazantzakis's Saint Francis were once again available. Of course everyone is aware of Helena. But what about Brian Moore's Catholics or Costain's The Silver Chalice. This series along with the publisher devoted exclusively to Robert Hugh Benson and the Ignatius Louis de Wohl series constitutes a marvelous stream of fiction. Support Loyola Press any way you can--but if you read fiction, this is an impressive place to start. As time allows, perhaps I'll delve into some of the other titles they offer. Right now, do yourself a favor and get Tangle of Vipers. I can only hope that a reprinting of Woman of the Pharisees is not far behind. (And some Muriel Spark, please, the lesser known, completely obscure works?)

Oh what a treasure. Another thing to thank God for this thanksgiving day. Daily the blessings He showers on me ar nearly overwhelming.

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More Thankfulness

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I never fail to be impressed at how God's finger always points the way. Even though I am ignorant of it or trying to avoid it, as Omar Khayyam told us,

"The moving finger writes and having writ moves on."

So it is with God, and it is only upon looking back at my life in fits and snatches that I begin to see the patter He has impressed upon it. How thankful I am for His constant intervention that saves me from the disaster of my own free choices. I am filled to overflowing with joy to see in all my life the clear signs of the God who loves us all.

The other day I was conversing with two friends and one of them shared with me a heart-rending and very difficult situation she found herself in. The easiest way out of the situation involved surrender to opposing forces and compromising her own conscience. In the past I had done this for the sake of family peace and for less noble motives. I was there to tell her to hold fast. And suddenly with a stroke of grace I realized that God took even my bad choices and mistakes and turned them to good for someone else. Let it always be so. May God use my own faults as blessings for others.

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Ten Influences meme

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De Civitate Dei: My 10 greatest influences meme

I have been asked to name my ten greatest influences. Outside of God and Family. I will name ten, but I have to concede that order of importance would be a very difficult puzzle to work out. Also, I'm afraid this will probably come as a massive disappointment to all of you reading. But then, that is part of humility. I am judging influential by how they helped me make decisions at critical junctures in my history. Some have pervasive influence, others, the influence of a critical moment. But all have been crucially (and I mean that etymologically) important in my spiritual development to date. In addition, I have also chosen not to include the blessed mother in this list. While she is not God, her constant intercession is the sine qua non of life. Even if I do not show the devotion a son ought, I do love her, respect her, and admire her above all other saints, and above all other people, and above all creation, and above everything except God Himself. Too bad I too infrequently make it known.

1.St. John of the Cross--The Doctor of Spirituality. The high-point of the teaching of prayer. This quiet, gentle, generous man, abused, nearly killed in the political turmoil over simply trying to seek God most effectively--his writing called me to Carmel. His spirit speaks to me almost daily. I am convinced that his intercession wins for me daily visions of God's greatness in my own life. If I were to pick a saint to be almost exactly like, it would be this one. But instead, learning from him, I choose to be the saint God would have me be and thus to serve others--not as a copy but as a new example of the paths of sanctity. John of the Cross is my guide, my intercessor, my spiritual companion.

2.John Paul II--A saint, a genius, a man who could do it all and all well. When his prose did not speak, his poetry hit me between the eyes. His writing was magnificent, but completely back-seat to his example. Is it possible to truly forgive your would-be assassin? Is it possible to acknowledge past wrongs and seek present correction? Yes. His example taught the value of confession.

3. St Teresa of Avila--"God save me from sour-faced saints." "If you think you are having visions, perhaps you would do well to eat more." The utterly practical, utterly delightful, completely joyous nun who looking only to hide herself in God completely transformed an Order, the face of Europe and much of the Church. I am only beginning to appreciate the depth and power of this wonderful woman.

4. St Therese of Lisieux--I started out shying away from her and her legions of saccharine followers wandering with a hand out waiting for a rose. Discovered the iron core hidden behind the flowery prose and the lovely face. A lovely soul to match a lovely person. A tower of strength, a true teacher.

5. Coilin Owen--My Grad-School James Joyce Prof--Who, when I advanced Joyce's theory of the Church quietly said, "Well then, you're not at the end of life yet are you? And who knows then?" Perhaps it was unintentional, but he directed my attention to the eternal things.

6. My Little Sister in Christ, who shall go unnamed here. At a critical point in life simply sat me down and said, "Consider the evidence. And then consider it again." I did so I cannot repay her. She is so little aware of her influence and of the fact that her influence is most strong when it is most gentle.

7. Claude Debussy--The impressionists painted light, Debussy composed it. Without him no Durufle whose Requiem I want played at my own funeral. But more importantly, his symphonic poem, La Mer got me through the last three years of teenage life as at least remotely sane. Without him I cannot say. He taught me the beauty of the solid and the shifting, and that one need not make a nuisance of oneself to be a rebel.

8. Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Giorgio di Chirico and the surrealist school of painters in general--who, whether they intended to or not taught me that life is a great deal more mysterious than we will ever know and what we see hides a great cloud of what we do not see. And what we do not see is often more important in life.

9. James Joyce--A genius and largely a genius because of his pervasive, undeniable Catholicity. He became "agnostic" perhaps even "atheist" toward the end of life, but the Catholic Church so shaped him that He could not escape, and as much as he may have hated it or repudiated it, his short story "The Dead" and the first scene in Ulysses (among others)were instrumental in my journey toward Catholicism.

10. Albert Einstein--"God does not play dice." Science and religion are not at odds. The primacy of conscience in all areas of life (refusal to work on the Manhattan project.)

Again, if I have disappointed, I am most sorry. But it is better you see clearly the flaws before you try to appreciate whatever is given to me to convey. By looking at many of these models, you can see what a broken vessel I am. I'm just glad God sees fit to try to put me back together.

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Thanksgiving--A Little Early


Today I give thanks particularly for all of those who bless me every day with a kind word, a thought, an idea, a revelation. I thank God for those in St.Blogs who conscientiously attempt to live out their vocations as Catholics and who bless me by their example. There are too many to count, but know that God speaks through each of you--therefore, strive to be worthy spokespersons. (Most of you haven't much striving to do--but I've got my eye on the rest, believe me, I'll keep you posted! :-)

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The Virtue of Amiability

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Worth your attention and my retention. Thanks Brandon.

1. To smile until a kindly smile forms readily on one's lips.
2. To repress a sign of impatience at the very start.
3. To add a word of benevolence when giving orders.
4. To reply positively when asked to do a favor.
5. To lend a helping hand to the unfortunate.
6. To please those toward whom one feels repugnance.
7. To study and satisfy the tastes of those with whom one lives.
8. To respect everyone.
9. To avoid complaining.
10. To correct, if one must, with kindness.

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The more I read about Teresa of Avila, the more she becomes my mother. I am a person after her heart, or at least I'm in training, trying to learn to be.

The other day I quoted some swathes of St. Teresa. Now I shall regale you with other related pieces:

from Journey to Carith
Peter-Thomas Rohrbach

[first a repeat]

"My chief fear," she wrote, "is that the sisters should lose the spirit of joy by which the Lord leads them, for I know what a discontented nun is."

In this he [Nicholas Doria--the autocratic first Prior General of the Discalced Carmelites] was diametrically opposed to the mentality of Teresa who wrote: "What my nuns are afraid of is that we shall get some tiresome superiors who will lay heavy and excessive burdens on them. That will lead us nowhere." And when a visitator had written a number of directives for her nuns, she wrote: "Even reading the regulations made me tired, so what would it be if one had to keep them? Believe me, our rule will not stand additions from tiresome people like that: it is quite hard enough to keep as it is." Doria certainly fell into her category of "tiresome people."

This Saint who begged to be delivered from "sour-faced Saints" (one gets the impression that she wouldn't much have cared for Jerome or Margaret-Mary Alacoque) understood the primary place of Joy in being able to follow God.

Joy is not merely the result of following Him, it is the consolation poured out for obedience to Him, which, in turn, makes following Him easier and more desirable. In the Teresian reform and constitutions, there is the perfect blend of joy and discipline. The discipline, in fact, is a source of joy. It is a boundary that helps define the acceptable limits of behavior and the expectations of one who dearly loves the Lord.

We do not have to practice endless self-denying things. It is enough to take ten or fifteen minutes and spend it in prayer. Not in petitions, or intercessions, or any sort of planned, pre-considered prayer, but rather in the conversation with the Lord that results from considering His word to us. Fifteen minutes of Lectio each day is discipline enough. At least for Carmelites, at least as a start. As one is faithful to the time, the desire to increase the time grows dramatically. Fifteen minutes becomes insufficient. But the press of the day will not allow more! It's amazing what the Lord will work when we give Him the opportunity. I did not have enough time for prayer in recent weeks and so I've been visited by a condition that frequently causes me to wake in the night and need to get up and move about for a while. Surprisingly, I do not feel less rested in the morning for all the break in the middle of the night. And what is the thing I do? I pray. Yes, I also write and read and do other things, but I pray in ways that were not possible in the course of the day. If the desire is there, God will find a way to help! It won't always be the same way--but I'm stubborn to the core and have to be convinced to take time out, so the Lord used this means. For others, they will find windows of time mysteriously opening up that somehow never really affect the other tasks of the day.

The simple practice of time alone with God allows us to carry the God of our acquaintance in solitude into ordinary life. We have what St. John of the Cross refers to as "solitude of the heart" and it makes it possible to pray constantly. Elsewhere in the book referenced above is this intriguing reference:

One of his contemporaries recalls that John would frequently scrape his knuckles against the wall while he was conversing with others so that he could keep his attention on the matter at hand and not allow himself to become rapt in prayer.

Oh what a gift--to have to distract myself to keep me OUT of prayer. But that is the gift and consolation incumbent upon solitude of the heart, which is cultivated by the little discipline of daily solitude with God. What perfect joy--to have to distract myself from prayer. I only hope that this longing within me increases immeasurably until it overwhelms all other conflicting desires.

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Cultivating a Listening Heart


Prayer is a conversation.

Say it again, prayer is a conversation.

Now, do you believe that? Ask this harder question: does my prayer life reflect that I believe that?

My guess is that for a vast majority of very good, very pious, very attentive, very orthodox Catholics their prayer life in no way resembles this dictum. It isn't that we don't believe it so much as we don't really know how to act upon it.

To cultivate a listening heart, we must first consider why it is we listen to others. There are many reasons, of course, but let's look at a couple of main ones. We listen to others to learn things. We listen to others to exchange information. And in the most intimate settings, we listen to others to come to love them more.

What qualities are necessary to really listen to someone? Well, it seems that you must believe that whoever it is you are listening to has something worth saying. That is, you respect the speaker. You cannot really listen to anyone whom you believe is just wasting your time or prattling on or repeating what you've already heard a million times, or who is talking about something in which you have no interest or no comprehension.

True listening involves a willingness to lay part of yourself aside for a while. You need to open up and not carry on whatever the agenda of the moment is.

The great Carmelite Saints, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and many others, provide the key in a simple triumvirate of interrelated practices--humility, obedience, and charity (caritas). This is most pronounced in St. Teresa of Avila's Way of Perfection, where she spells these out right at the beginning.

Humility--we must know that we do not know everything and we must be willing to live with that. More, in conversation with God, we must know that we know almost nothing. We must approach God knowing who He is and who we are. St. Catherine of Siena's remedy is sovereign--You are He who is, I am He who is not. This attitude gives rise to tremendous possibilities and opportunities. For example, if we humility truthfully, we will discover that ordinary vocal prayers, things we have memorized from childhood become more than mere recitation. St. Teresa of Avila pointed out that a vocal prayer properly said or thought through can be, in fact, a mental prayer, a moment of meditation or even contemplation. How is that? She tells us to always remember to whom we speak as we pray a mental prayer. In seeing God clearly as we pray the Our Father, we are, in fact, engaging in a mental discipline, a prayer that goes beyond the words to enter into a real conversation. Let's take an analogous situation. Suppose you are in your car and the person ahead of you does something stupid--cuts you off and makes a dangerous turn. Let's suppose you're in a less-than-patient frame of mind that day and you lay on the horn. More often than not, you are not thinking of a person in that other car, but of the car as though it were merely a moving obstacle unpiloted and annoying. Now, let's assume that you are following you neighbor to the hospital and that neighbor is taking their child to the emergency room. You see them do something of the same sort and you see others honk at them. Suddenly you are angry because they are not compassionate and don't understand what is going on. The persons in that car are real, what the car is doing is secondary. More often than not our vocal prayers are conducted in the first scenario--we're all in traffic and making our thoughts known to that car up ahead that seems to be doing the craziest things. But ideally we should be in the second situation. We know that the car up ahead is actually inhabited by people or a Person to whom we owe love and allegiance. When God becomes a Person, we can know and love him intimately, we can say even the simplest, oldest, most rote prayers with a greater spirit of reverence and with a knowledge of the Person to whom we speak.

Let's focus for a moment on two of the attitudes that can cultivate a listening heart. (We'll set aside caritas, the discussion of which would encompass much more than a simple blog entry.)

Humility and obedience. It seems as if these two travel hand-in-hand. Humility--knowing precisely who and what one is in the face of All that is and obedience, submitting to authority. I think we distort both, but if modern American society has a problem with something, I think obedience is the prime place. Our democratic society has lost any real sense of allegiance to hierarchy. We think almost nothing of immediately ascending to the next higher rank in any chain if we're not satisfied with results at the level we occupy. But in the time of St.Teresa of Avila, this was not something one did. One obeyed one's immediate superior even as one worked to change that immediate superior's mind. St. Teresa notes this. She states that the superior is put over us by God and we owe all obedience to his or her will. If we are unsatisfied by our superior, we act in obedience even as we pray and work to change the situation. St. Teresa did this in practice, in an extremely complex and threatening political environment. Even though the Pope himself gave her permission to do certain things, if her confessor didn't, she would not do them.

I'll take an example that has been run into the ground. I often read in St. Blog's and elsewhere that hand-holding during the Our Father is an enormously controversial, emotionally-charged, and salvation-critical issue that we must act exactly according to rite. Let's take an example where the local ordinary, or perhaps even the pastor of a parish, has decided that everyone ought to hold hands during the "Our Father." Now, according to St. Teresa, obedience is ultimately to God, but is acted out in the most immediate of situations. Hence, if the pastor told her to hold hands, she would hold hands, even if the Bishops said something more nebulous. Thus, if we are TOLD to hold hands by the priest, then in obedience we should be holding hands. Now, I pick this issue because it really amounts to a personal preference issue that a lot of people make too much of. How far one can go with this I don't know. If the local priest told us to use leavened bread for the host, it would seem to constitute a violation of a higher sort and then we might need to invoke St. Catherine of Siena. But in most matters obedience merely involves abandoning cherished personal preferences around which we have constructed elaborate scaffoldings of reason and excuse.

That is why obedience is so hard--it involves self-emptying and humility. We must abandon our preferences on any given subject and take up those given us from above. However, obedience is merely the ultimate reality--we don't control when we get sick, when we are born, when we die, or any other of a number of life-affecting events. Viewed through the proper lens, we control nothing, we merely cooperate (or rail against) whatever is happening.

Obedience is difficult. Humility is even worse, particularly in our culture. While we might manage "letter-of-the-law" compliance as we bide our time waiting for change, this nation of rugged individualists has a hard time with humility. Let's face it, humility isn't pleasant. You want to see yourself as kind, and loving, and giving, and understanding, and still strong and independent. Then something happens and you see the reality--I'm small, weak, and self-centered. My chief interest is whatever advances my own interest.

Humility is obtained not through attempting to be humble but through conversation with God and coming to know ourselves as He knows us. That we are small, small children in comparison to Him is not a subject for shame (often incorrectly used as a synonym for humility) but for reality and course correction. That God is all powerful and that the most powerful of us is as nothing is beyond our comprehension without His grace.

Humility expresses itself in obedience and also flows from obedience. As a member of an Order, I learn humility when I submit to the rule of the Order despite what I would like to do myself. In the regular practice of all that the Order requires, I gradually learn humility. God uses my willingness to obey to bestow grace which increases willingness and begins to move me toward humility. As obedience increases, humility grows. As humility grows, obedience increases because in the interplay to the two, love also increases. When you realize who you are and Who God is, only gratitude can flow. With gratitude comes a deeper understanding and a greater love.

The virtues feed one another, just as the vices do. So humility-obedience-love is a virtuous or gracious cycle as opposed to pride-disobedience-indifference is a vicious or sinful cycle.

So, the first step to cultivating a listening heart is obedience to what God asks of us and learning humility. These steps are acts of will informed by grace and understanding. (I can't help you with these latter two--for the one go to God, for the other, Disputations is a helpful beginning.) Only in humility will our prayer life begin to grow. This is because only humility will allow us to recognize that we have our guard up and hence take it down.

A listening heart is a humble heart is a loving heart. The three go together and the three are found in God's heart from which flows the grace that reifies and saves us. Until we are centered there, we are nowhere. Until we find a home in His heart, our own hearts are restless and wandering. Until we make up our minds that we want God more than anything else, we cannot come home.

Believe it or not, even at this length, there is so much more to say, and what I don't know about the matter fills a great many volumes that I have not yet read. My inadequacy to this task is exhilirating because I know that any success there is, is entirely due to Him. Praise God.

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From Christina Rosetti


Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress, and Other Poems

Christina Rossetti

Sound the deep waters:—
Who shall sound that deep?—
Too short the plummet,
And the watchmen sleep.
Some dream of effort
Up a toilsome steep;
Some dream of pasture grounds
For harmless sheep.

White shapes flit to and fro
From mast to mast;
They feel the distant tempest
That nears them fast:
Great rocks are straight ahead,
Great shoals not past;
They shout to one another
Upon the blast.

Oh, soft the streams drop music
Between the hills,
And musical the birds' nests
Beside those rills:
The nests are types of home
Love-hidden from ills,
The nests are types of spirits
Love-music fills.

So dream the sleepers,
Each man in his place;
The lightning shows the smile
Upon each face:
The ship is driving, driving,
It drives apace:
And sleepers smile, and spirits
Bewail their case.

The lightning glares and reddens
Across the skies;
It seems but sunset
To those sleeping eyes.
When did the sun go down
On such a wise?
From such a sunset
When shall day arise?

'Wake,' call the spirits:
But to heedless ears:
They have forgotten sorrows
And hopes and fears;
They have forgotten perils
And smiles and tears;
Their dream has held them long,
Long years and years.

'Wake,' call the spirits again:
But it would take
A louder summons
To bid them awake.
Some dream of pleasure
For another's sake;
Some dream, forgetful
Of a lifelong ache.

One by one slowly,
Ah, how sad and slow!
Wailing and praying
The spirits rise and go:
Clear stainless spirits
White as white as snow;
Pale spirits, wailing
For an overthrow.

One by one flitting,
Like a mournful bird
Whose song is tired at last
For no mate is heard.
The loving voice is silent,
The useless word;
One by one flitting
Sick with hope deferred.

Driving and driving,
The ship drives amain:
While swift from mast to mast
Shapes flit again,
Flit silent as the silence
Where men lie slain;
Their shadow cast upon the sails
Is like a stain.

No voice to call the sleepers,
No hand to raise:
They sleep to death in dreaming,
Of length of days.
Vanity of vanities,
The Preacher says:
Vanity is the end
Of all their ways.

You know how there are some writers, who through no fault of your own you just discover very late on, wishing you'd been aware of them somewhat earlier? Christina Rossetti is like that for me. I'd been aware of the long ballad "Goblin Market" from college years, but that was insufficient for me to want to find more. More's the pity. Well, now I share with you some of the good things I have found in recent reading.

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Beautiful, Touching Story at TSO's

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A New Home


Blog by-the-Sea

Blog-by-the-Sea has moved to other shores. Please stop by and welcome Ms. Polk to her new digs.

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Why I So Dearly Love La Madre


from Journey to Carith
Peter-Thomas Rohrbach

[Quoting St Teresa]

They were saints in their own opinion, but when I got to know them better they frightened me more than all the sinners I had ever met. (referring to a local Church Ladies' Guild)

"Lord deliver us from sour-faced saints," she said. And the nuns of her convents leave us an unforgettable image of the saint playing the mandolin and dancing for her sisters at recreation. "My chief fear," she wrote, "is that the sisters should lose the spirit of joy by which the Lord leads them, for I know what a discontented nun is."

She prays to be delivered from foolish devotions, and she chides superiors who are too rigorous with their charges. On one of her travels she was criticized for eating an expensive partridge when it was served to her, and she looked up surprised and said, "There is a time for partridge and a time for penance."

Even the townspeople began to voice criticisms, and Teresa was publicly denounced from the pulpits in Avila. On one occasion she was attending Mass at St. Thomas' church with her sister, Juana, when the priest berated "nuns who left their convents to go and found new ones." Juana was extremely ingidnant, but when she turned to watch Teresa's reaction she saw that she had a smile on her face.

. . . but a more penetrating insight into her character might perhaps be gained from a phrase she employed so frequently in her writings--"I just laughed to myself."

Teresa was adamant on the point, but she met stern oppostion, especially from her friend Peter Ibanez. He wrote her a memorandum "two sheets long, full of refutations and theology." However, she remained unconvinced, "I replied that I had no wish to make use of theology, and I should not thank him for his learning in this matter if it was going to keep me from following my vocation and being true to the vow of poverty."

But most of all for her deep love of the God-born-Man Jesus Christ, for teaching us that the humanity of Jesus is as important as His divinity and that it is the humanity that bridges us to the divinity, showing that they could coexist.

Teresa was practical, apparently funny, a real talker (and she remained so throughout life) and yet deeply, deeply spiritual. She was an astounding woman and a Saint for all time, one from whom we might learn a great deal today if we were to open our ears to listen.

And apparently, she was stubborn as a mule. (Only a good quality when you're on God's side.)

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Because It Is Alicia


and because it has a spiritual bent, I'll respond to this three-meme.

1. Write three things for which we are grateful to God for in this past liturgical year.
--Linda and Samuel
--the opportunities for growth I've been presented with
--F. and K. and their friendship and love which sustains me.
2. Write three ways in which we hope to improve our relationship with God in this coming liturgical year.
--cultivating productive solitude
--devoting more time to Mary and imitation of her
--instilling greater regularity into the details of my prayer life

I won't pass it on. If you'd like to volunteer in comments, I'd love to see it. If you'd like to take it to your own site, I'd love to know about it. This is a nice meme to spend a little time reflecting on and committing to.

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Mary, Queen and Mother of Carmel


Some of what follows is sheer speculation, thinking out loud. If it conflicts in any way with established doctrine and understanding, it should be disregarded, and I would greatly appreciate a note correcting any such error.

Mary, Queen and mother of Carmel and big sister to the Carmelites and to all contemplatives. From earliest times, Carmelites have viewed Mary as both Queen and Mother and as true Sister and exemplar of the Christian expression of St. Elijah. In a certain way, she is the Mother Superior of the Order, chief among the sisters and brothers--example and guide for the attentive.

Also from earliest times, Carmelites have had a special devotion to Mary. The earliest manifestation of this was in the primitive Oaths and Vows that referred to the Carmelite follower of Mary as Vassal and Fief of Mary--the true property and servant, the one owed protection and special care of the Blessed Virgin. Even today, the Carmelite, with his or her habit of the brown scapular, claims the special attention of Mary. (Which is, in no way to imply favoritism on the part of the Blessed Virgin, it is merely reflective of the origin of the Order and its charism.)

True devotion to Mary does not consist of endless prayers to her but of substantive imitation of her way of life and of obedience to her very few direct words to us.

John 2:1-5

1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;
2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come."
5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Do whatever he tells you. These are the words of the Mother and sister who already has reason to know that what is being done is extraordinary. As she pondered the events of her life in an extended thirty year examen, she came to know who and what Jesus is even before there has been any overt sign. It is at a word from her that the prophetic and salvific mission begins. It is as though the Holy Spirit in both unites them at this unique time and place to initiate the Earthly preaching mission of Jesus. At Mary's word, the every obedient, loyal, and loving Son is released just as He had been bound after the finding in the temple.

One of the chief ways in which devotion to the Blessed Virgin is expressed is through praying the Rosary. In the before times, long ago, the Rosary was a device that led to a kind of extended lectio without the necessity of being able to read. One pondered the mysteries of the life of the Blessed Virgin and of Jesus Christ in the course of praying through the Rosary. In addition, the Rosary was a kind of "replacement" for the Liturgy of the Hours for those who could not read. It became possible through the three sets of mysteries of the Rosary to pray through the 150 psalms of the psalter.

Of the rosary, Pope John Paul the Great, of recent memory, wrote:

from the Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae"

[1] With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer. . .

[3] I have felt drawn to offer a reflection on the Rosary, as a kind of Marian complement to that Letter and an exhortation to contemplate the face of Christ in union with, and at the school of, his Most Holy Mother. To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.

[5][T]he most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in holiness”

[10] The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[15] The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. She is “all-powerful by grace”, to use the bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Blessed Bartolo Longo in his Supplication to Our Lady.This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm in the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it marvellously in the lines sung by Saint Bernard: “Lady, thou art so great and so powerful, that whoever desires grace yet does not turn to thee, would have his desire fly without wings”. When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.

I won't belabor the point. The entire letter is worthy of careful consideration--it may be among the most Carmelite of the Letters of this most famous Third Order Carmelite. The understanding of both the Rosary and of what it teaches, strikes me as profoundly Carmelite. We don't recite the prayers of the Rosary as a rote exercise or as a devotion, we pray the Rosary as a model and a source, a root, as it were, of contemplation. For the Carmelite, any other use of the Rosary falls short of its true potential AND, more importantly, falls short of true devotion to Mary. True devotion to Mary, in the Carmelite tradition, consists in imitating her to the extent possible according to our way of life and our present cultural milieu. Yes, through intercession and prayer, we trust her with all of our concerns, but that falls short of the perfection of devotion, which consists of Imitating her, and in the imitation of Her, gazing on and becoming like Her Son. In a very real way, in her thirty years of meditation upon the mystery of her life and the Incarnation, she bound herself to her Son--as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she already experienced the "spiritual marriage" and "mystical union." In some way that I don't comprehend or presume to explain, it would seem to me that she shared in the sufferings of Christ in His passion AND carried her own weight of suffering (as a Mother losing a beloved child) as well. In the depths of the mystery of the Passion, she seems to play two roles--one in union with the Holy Trinity through the indwelling Holy Spirit and the complete consummate spiritual union, the other as sorrowing mother, observer and witness of the trials, terrors, and horrors, of the Passion. (I hope I don't overstate the case here, forgive me if I have or if I have inadvertently written any error in regard to these deep mysteries. They are truly beyond me, and I hope I do not go beyond what the Holy Catholic Church teaches. Here most of all, I humbly await and accept correction.)

Thus, the Carmelite looking upon the Blessed Virgin sees both contemplative and example. She is Queen and Mother of Carmel. She is the chief protector, guide, and example of the Order. But by virtue of her human birth She is our sister as well as our mother in faith. This is not so odd as it sounds--in many religious order, the Mother Superior, is merely the chief of all the sisters. After her term of office, she returns to the state she had before in the Order. Mary is simply the permanent Mother Superior of all Carmelites.

I hope I've provided some insight into the role and importance of the Blessed Virgin in Carmelite devotion. It explains why a great many Carmelites had difficulty with reciting the Rosary on a regular basis. The common recitation of it does not often lend itself to the depth implied by John Paul the Great in his letter. Too often it is too easy to be carried along on the tide of the familiar and not enter into the depths of what is available in this most wonderful of devotions. Truly prayed, the Rosary should effect a profound change in the pray-er making her or him more like the subject of the devotion and more like Jesus Christ. Too often, the Rosary is a chain of supplication and intercession more than it is an entrance into the depth of the life of Our Savior and His Mother. But, as Saint Teresa of Avila points out, even vocal prayer is raised to the level of mental prayer if we keep in mind always the vastness of great dignity of the One to Whom we speak. And even though we seem to speak to the Blessed Virgin, the Rosary is a continual plea to God through the merciful intercession of the Blessed Virgin. A properly prayed Rosary, faithfully accomplished every day, is as much a gateway to contemplation as faithful following of the Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina. That the latter two along with special devotion to the Blessed Virgin--either in the form of the Rosary or in other special devotions--make up the pillars of the introduction to prayer in Carmel should come as no surprise. That they serve as the gateway to meditation, contemplation, and as God wills, eventual union with God, again should not be the source of any surprise. The Blessed Virgin Mary looks with an eye of special kindness on those who wear her scapular worthily and upon those who invoke her aid in learning to look upon the face of Her son. This is true whether one is Carmelite or not. Carmelite Spirituality merely shows these forth for what they are in a way unique to the Carmelite Order. They are a special gift to the Carmelites and hence to the Church at large--available for anyone who chooses to follow them within the order or outside. The Blessed Mother will not withhold the graces she bestows for the sake of a name.

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You may be sick to death of hearing about Carmel and Carmelites. I rather doubt it as you've put up with it for two or three years now. So I'd like to share something particularly evocative from some recent reading.

from Journey to Carith: The Sources and Story of the Discalced Carmelites
Peter-Thomas Rohrbach

[The passage below is in reference to the Early Hermits living on Mount Carmel (the 13th century or so.]

They were, in the prophetic tradition, witnesses; and their role of witness was accomplishd by manifesting the face of God in their own person. . . .

They were hermits in the Eastern and prophetic sense of the word, and as such were able to coordinate their apostolic enterprises with a life of solitude in a cave or hermitage separated from their brethren. The Elijahan tradition demanded that the hermit, under the inspiration of the Spirit and at the direction of the prior, leave his solitary retreat for the precise apostolic business at hand. It was a freer, more inspired type of eremitism than the hermit's life in other traditions.

The last sentence sounds a bit triumphalist. But let me temper it with the phrasing Father John-Benedict gave it at the retreat. Carmelites are the Church's experts at integrating a life of contemplation and solitude with a community life. That is their contribution to the world of religious orders and to the economy of spirituality. Carmelites are the example for fusing Martha and Mary. In that sense, Lay Carmelites have the potential for a marvelous witness to lay people in all walks of life. We say, in essence, YOU CAN be contemplative and still carry on a "normal" life. We don't say that it is easy, nor that everyone is called to it in the way we are. But we do stand as witnesses that it is possible.

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Pardon My Effusiveness


(There is something in this day that nearly overwhelms me with joy. An awareness of His guiding and abiding presence--what we call in Carmelite terms, a consolation. How unworthy I am to receive it, and how poorly I share it, but welcome to my joy.)

What can I say but thank you?

For the day,
for the hour,
for the rain,
for the sun,
for who I am,
for who I am not,
for those who love me,
for those who hate me,
for your abiding love.

Thank you is not enough,
thank you is only a beginning
thank you doesn't scratch the surface.

You are the Joy of the Day,
You are the Joy of each life,
You are the hidden well of life.
You are Lord.

And thank you that I am not.
I can't find my way home in this darkness,
I can't light the way for others in my own darkness.

But thy Word, O God, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my way.
Everything comes from you and goes back to you.

Thank you.

Thank you for the world to rejoice in.
Thank you for this day's pains and trials.
Thank you for the confidence to know that every step in your light, every movement in your Grace is transforming.
Thank you for the knowledge that transformation is hard,
transformation hurts,
transformation hurts with the hard pains of giving birth.

O, but Lord, thank you for the new life that comes with birth.
Thank you for the new birth despite the pain.
Thank you for leading the way.

Thank you.
Thank you.

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Living Our Vocation

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dedicated to my little sister in Christ, about whom I thought as this idea came to me

Or, the perils of ignoring popular culture.

Coming into work today, I heard this for the zillionth time and thought about it yet again:

Something to be Proud of
Montgomery Gentry

Dad, I wonder if I ever let you down,
If you're ashamed how I turned out?
Well, he lowered his voice, then he raised his brow:
Said: "Let me tell you, right now:

"That's something to be proud of:
"That's a life you can hang your hat on.
"You don't need to make a million:
"Just be thankful to be workin'.
"If you're doing what you're able
"An' putting food there on the table,
"And providing for the family that you love:
"That's something to be proud of.

"And if all you ever really do is the best you can,
"Well, you did it man."

Oddly, I always get a little choked up over the lines about "something to be proud of." Today I gave it a little thought and realized what was trying to poke its head out of the ground.

Too many of us are dissatisfied with where we are in life. I know too many people who want to be something other than what they are--richer, taller, smarter, friendlier, less friendly. They want a career, a home in a different section of town, a new wife, a different wife, obedient kids, smart kids, a new Ferrari--you name it, the human race is expert at discontent.

Let me share with you a moment a list of my own discontents: I didn't beat Mary Shelley to the publishing punch, I haven't published my first novel or first book of poetry, I'm not as wildly popular as Stephen King and Michael Crichton, I'm not as cool and as obscure as James Joyce, I don't have the voice of William Faulkner, I can't express the joy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I am not living on St. John, or better yet my own Carribean island, I didn't achieve sanctity and sainthood at the age of 24, I didn't write the new Summa, I haven't discovered a new form of prayer, I haven't uncovered a new Cahtolic Doctrine, heck, I haven't even been able to come up with a new sin. If I were of a mind to, I could wander around and recite Ecclesiastes all day long, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." "There is nothing new under the sun." And boy is the latter true--particularly when it come to discontents--none of them are new--only new to us.

This discontent is another trend we are called to buck as Christians. Look back at the lyrics. Dad, did I disappoint you because I didn't live up to some expectations? Dad's answer--"You don't need to make a million, just be thankful to be workin'." And more importantly, the advice we all need to hear, "And if all you ever really do is the best you can,/Well, you did it."

God has carefully selected, cultivated, and chosen the time and the circumstances of every event in our lives. He has fashioned us and our lives. This is the crucible of refinement, the cross of the day. I don't sell as many books as Anne Rice. I'm not as popular as Stephen King. Oh well, buck up and get over it--that isn't my crucible.

Our crosses are custom made. We might think of them as orthopedic devices. Only in fitting to them are we made straight. We can only fit them by who we are and where we are in our life's journey.

And so, to quote the Joyce I am not, "a commodius vicus of recirculation brings us back to" rejoicing. Rejoice in this moment, rejoice in who God made you. Take up that cross. More than take it up, conform to it and be transformed into the image God wishes for you. Take your rightful place in the body of Christ and don't fret if it isn't the place you wanted or saw yourself in--that's part of the crucible too.

So, once again, with Saint Paul, all together now, "Rejoice in the lord always. Again, I say, rejoice."

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A Reminder

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Even if you do not need it today, I do, so I will say once again:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Which is not to say I can do all things. Rather it says, I do them all by allying my will with His. He does them in me and I do them through Him. I must cooperate, but it is not my power that gets them done. It is my fervent hope that the trials of this day go a long way to helping a chief cause I cherish. May what I suffer return as love to all of those who need it.

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If you look at Carmel from the outside you probably would not be aware of one of its most open secrets. As an outsider, I was not aware of it. What's more, as an insider it's taken ten or eleven years for it finally to sink in.

What is that secret? Well, the title of this entry gives it away--lectio divina. My block in coming to terms with the importance of Lectio in Carmelite spirituality stems from the fact that Lectio was not "invented" by the Carmelites. Likely it has existed in some form as long as there have been scriptures. I suppose if anyone takes credit for codifying it, it may be the early monastics or St. Benedict. Whoever may have credit for it, the Carmelites do not. As a result I have never seen it as a particularly Carmelite tradition. But I have been woefully mistaken. Lectio Divina holds pride of place as the gateway for contemplation.

And that is why I'm sharing the Carmelite tradition. Not everyone is called to be a Carmelite and to approach scripture in a Carmelite way and to approach prayer with a Carmelite heart. However, I do think it is safe to say that Lectio Divina is a practice which everyone may use profitably to increase the intimacy and immediacy of their prayer life.

In Carmel, Lectio Divina or sacred reading, is seen as the root of any worthwhile mental prayer. One cannot engage in productive discursive meditation if one is ignorant of scriptures. Ignorance of scriptures truly is ignorance of Christ. While we might not come to know and understand fully everything the Church knows and teaches about Jesus simply from reading scripture, the vast majority of what there is to know is centered there and stems from that special revelation.

Lectio Divina is also a practice that has "methods" and a system. Further, it is a method that can be profitably employed by any reader (or, in fact, illiterate people who can memorize) in relatively little time. Ten or fifteen minutes a day is all that it takes to start. The danger (if you wish to think of it that way), dear reader, is that once started it tends to become like any good thing, addictive and consuming. That is, once you discover how simple it is and how utterly rewarding, the length of prayer time tends to increase on its own as you continue the pursuit of it.

Carmelites regard discursive meditation as the gateway to acquired contemplation. The previous sentence probably sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to those not familiar with the precise meanings of the words, so a restatement may be in order. Thinking about holy matters can lead to a greater intimacy with God. Hence, thinking about sacred scripture--not in an academic or distant way, but in a highly personalized way--can open the door that leads to union with God (in God's own time of course.)

How does one "do" lectio? My guess is that there are as many different ways as there are practitioners, but I suspect that all of the ways include certain essentials. After a period of quieting down (if done later in the day) and a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit one takes up scripture and reads. It is perhaps best if one does this according to a preset reading plan such as the Mass readings for the day or a plan to read through an entire book or section of a book. While one can use the time-honored principle of Bible roulette, it is perhaps not conducive to a continued adherence to the discipline of lectio. If one knows where one is going, one is more likely to continue the journey.

After this quieting and prayer one takes up scripture and reads. Generally this is not done as reading a novel or a nonfiction book. Rather, it is done slowly, as though weighing each word, or allowing each word to distill about it an image or a sense. It is better not to tax oneself with too long a reading, for a number of reasons. Reading a lot of scripture will provide too many points from which to begin, too many productive lines of meditation. It may introduce distraction as one flits from one idea to another. Nevertheless, the reader must gauge what is to be read--that will vary from one person to another. Perhaps a single pericope of scripture will suffice. Perhaps the next entry in the plan is dry and so two are entailed. But honestly, once you start to really rejoice in the Lord, there is almost nothing that is too dry. (I will remain agnostic on the question of the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and most of Numbers--as I haven't tried them recently. But as the beginner would do well to start with the Gospels, that's not likely to be a consideration anyway.)

One reads a short section of scripture--savoring it, tasting it, chewing it over. In the words of Father John-Benedict Weber, sucking all of the juices out of it. (Don't worry--scripture is an extremely juicy fruit--even if you think you've gotten everything possible out of it, that is merely for the moment. Were you to return to the same scripture even the next day, you would be surprised at how deeply rewarding renewed meditation on it can be.) An important point to remember: lectio IS NOT Bible Study. This is not the time to be considering the parsing of Greek verbs or the economic relations of Syro-Phoenicians (whatever they may happen to be called at any given point) with other ancient civilizations. In lectio you may fruitfully use all that you have gained from careful study and consideration of the Bible, but this is not the time to learn all of that. For example, it may be very useful in reflecting on Philippians (surely you're not surprised to see reference to that book here!) to recall that this letter was written from confinement, imprisonment awaiting a sentence that, given the tenor of the times, could only be death. That would add depth to what you read. However, lectio is not the time to find that out. One could do lectio on Philippians with very little knowledge of Paul or Paul's life and mission at all. Lectio seeks to draw out of the passage a meaning and a purpose that is intensely personal. Personal, not in the sense of exclusivity--that is, one can share the meaning--but personal in the sense of application. The end of lectio should be not so much a new understanding of the literal meaning of the text, but a new internalization of the text--a new understanding of how the text applies to oneself. As with all productive prayer, lectio should allow the practitioner to enter into a closer relationship with God. As the pray-er begins to internalize and make personal some of the truth present in the Gospel, a new way is forged to approach God.

It would be a very serious mistake to think that lectio is the work of the one praying. As with all prayer, its efficacy stems from the invitation, the grace God provides, that allows us to continue in it effectively. We do not produce the effects of lectio, but rather the Spirit praying within us shows us what we need to see in the course of our meditation.

Now, what form should this meditation take? Again, that is a matter for each person. I found it very helpful to take the course of the Ignatian Retreat over a period of about thirty to forty weeks. What one derives from it are a number of approaches to meditation. One can form images and linger in the scene of scripture. One can hear over and over again a single phrase or word which has changes rung upon it, shifting subtly and becoming progressively richer in meaning. One can begin to see all the strands that connect the whole of revelation and how this incident in a specific place is related to another elsewhere and hence has ramifications for our lives today. The passage may plunge straight to the heart and convict one of sin, error, or fault. The key is to trust the lead of the Holy Spirit. He prays within as one reflects on Scripture. He connects one to the life of the Holy Trinity, and from within that life, one is given what is needed for the time. All stems from our trust and His Grace.

This is merely a brief, unsatisfactory introduction. The method itself is so simple that one merely need take up sacred writ and start. It is in doing that one learns what exactly to do.

I realize on finishing this that I've said remarkably little about Lectio in Carmel. But I think I've said what needs saying--it is central, critical, foundational, necessary. Without lectio a Carmelite cannot reasonably hope to approach the contemplation to which we are called. Not everyone will enter contemplation in this way; nevertheless, it would seem a fine practice for any Catholic who wishes to know God as He knows Himself. That is, after all, what revelation is about.

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The Simple Economy of Trust


Another cause for joy in our lives is the simple economy of trust. That's a fancy way of saying that Jesus Christ is either trustworthy or He is not. There is no middle ground. If Jesus is worthy of trust, then He is worthy of trust in every matter and with everything I have and I am. If He is not worthy of trust, then He is not worth the time I spend in prayer--no matter how little it is.

Sometimes, it seems, I like to play both sides of the street. I work as though everything depended upon my effort and I pray as though everything depended upon my effort. A short way of saying that is that I trust God so long as what He does is within my control. When that fails, so too does trust.

But the marvelous reality, the absolute guarentee stems from who God is and how God is constituted. It's amazing how many things depend upon one essential understanding of God articulated some 800 years ago. This understanding is both counterintuitive and amazingly clear and completely consistent. Moreover, it is one that I speak and hold to with only the smallest impression of the fullness of meaning. I speak, of course, of the simplicity of God. St. Thomas Aquinas taught it as foundational in His great work. It is one of the first matters that he articulates in detail and I do him an injustice even reiterating his thought because I cannot claim to understand it. But boiled down for me, it comes to--God is simple. That is God is comprised of a single, pure essence that is utter immiscible nothing that has any trace of not-God may combine with this essence. We know this--God cannot tolerate sin both for its offense and because what God is does not allow for anything He is not.

The end result of this is that God moves one direction with no trace of movement in another. He cannot go both forward and back, not because He is powerless to do so, but because He does not will to contradict Himself. If this is so, we come back to the main thesis. Either God is completely trustworthy with everything I am, I have, or I can do, or He is not worthy of anything at all.

Time and again, He has shown me His worthiness. Being the frail, weak thing that I am, I ask Him to prove over and over and over again that He truly loves me. I ask for signs of His love and miraculously the come, tumbling over one another, a torrent, a cataract, a deluge. And still I stand, either unimpressed or unaware and say, "If you love me Lord, you will show me."

So I rejoice in His fidelity, His faithfulness to so weak a part of creation, His vast love. His love for me and for each of His children is endless and plays out in endless displays. Having the attention span of a very small child I need constant reassurance, constant reinforcement, constant abiding concern and direction. And I get it. And God waits patiently for me to decide whether or not I will choose to trust Him, Who Alone is worthy of my trust.

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Blessed Maria Crocifissa Curcio


Maria Crocifissa Curcio (1877-1957), biography

Originally a third Order Carmelite, Sr. Maria founded a new group affiliated with the Carmelite Order--the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

It's always good to have examples of people who start at the same starting point and sprint ahead. They give some perspective and some hope.

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Holiness--"A People Set Apart"


1 Peter 2:9-10

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Deuteronomy 14:2

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Holiness. Santification. The call to be apart. In the second reading, in the midst of an array of laws and rules, God pauses for a moment to say why He is granting the gift of the law. And that is something we often forget--the laws of the people of Israel were not arbitrary regulations imposed by an arbitrary God on all of creation. Rather they were a circlet of love, a way of marking His bride for all of time. These laws were a definition, a declaration of His concern and His abiding love. So too, the fulfillment of all laws is a sign for all time of His deep and abiding love. By this fulfillment of law, we are called apart. We are to stand as a chosen people, the somewhat bedraggled bride of the most high. But by His love we are made worthy of love and restored to what we once were.

Holiness is a call to be apart from the people around us. Not apart as in unconcerned or uncaring, but apart as in being distant from their practices. To take another biblical metaphor--modern society is the Canaanites amongst whom we must not marry. Indeed, we are called to destroy them down to the last woman, child, and animal. No, not kill them, not wreak violence upon them except the violence of God's all encompassing love. We are called to break down their society, to demolish the altars of the Molochs and the Baals. To lay the places of their idols to waste.

How do we do this? Holiness. We destroy the molochs and the baals when we refuse to embrace them. We destroy Canaan when we are the people of the Land of Milk and Honey.

I have been reminded twice recently of St. Teresa's famous statement, "Lord, save me from sour-faced saints." If we live our lives as though under restrictive laws and go about with doom and gloom and no hope for sinners on our lips, we will entice no one to live as children of the Most High. No, our proof is to be children of light and joy--in the midst of our trials to love and bring love. In the days of darkness to be a light. Can we be a light if we are in darkness ourselves? Can we light the world if we are of it?

This is what holiness calls us to--separation of kind. We do not give back to the world what it has come to expect. We do not return insult for insult, injury for injury, complaint for complaint. We imitate our Master who endured scourging, and crowning, and spitting, and crowing, and insult, and pain, and suffering, and even relentless, long enduring death, only to rise again and to give life and hope to the whole world. We are His brothers and sisters. We are heirs of the kingdom, and the kingdom is not this present darkness, but the light of life and truth, Jesus Christ.

Holiness calls us apart, not to be isolated and disapproving, but to be of service. A lamp that is only inches from the ground doesn't do much to show the way--but one that is raised up high can spread a pool of light in which many can gather and the journey can begin-- from lesser light to lesser light, until finally all the light is gathered into the one Light, the source of all light, hope, and warmth. As Holy People, God gives us the task of lighting the way for all of those in darkness. To do this, we must be light in that darkness. We will stand apart. We will be peculiar. That is our gift and our privilege.

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File Under "Rejoicing, Reasons for"


And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. Exodus 18:9

Long have I languished in the land of the desert. It is no surprise that the land has long been barren and dry. Sin is a place of innumerable mirages but absolutely no oases. Sin is like stepping off the face of the Earth and walking on the surface of the moon--not only is there no water, but it is cold, and dry, and dusty, and there is no air. And yet, with the bountiful creativity infused in us through by our most generous Father, I have the capacity to set up my easel and paint landscapes of lushness in the midst of pockmarks in emptiness. Every human being has the capacity to see exactly what she or he desires to see when it comes to holding ourselves back from the most important action there is.

But spend a while on this barren moon--feel the intense heat and cold; the waterless waste, try getting real nutrition at the mirage of an oasis. After a while, you'll sense the hollow echo, you'll feel the emptiness of the gestures. When this begins to happen, grace is moving to shake the scales from our eyes that we might see clearly.

In what do we rejoice? I have wandered long and far through the desert. I have served the cruelest, most relentless of all taskmasters--myself. I have been a servant to one alone--me. And the more I serve, the more I wished to be served. The appetite is insatiable.

But sitting at this juncture in history, I know well that I am not bound here. I have been delivered. I have been called out of Egypt and into the holy land. With a surety that fills me completely, I know I can leave. God has redeemed me from slavery--I can choose to depart from the tyrant-taskmaster self. But, as with the people of Israel, as I wander through the trackless desert, the vast wasteland between, I long for the time of rich and varied foods. I will go back to making my bricks without straw. Unless. . .

I take the time to rejoice in God's goodness to me. How many ways has He taken pains to guide me to Himself? How many ways has He told me He loves me? I look into the face of my son and I see a gift so long waited for, so long desired, so gracefully and wantonly given. My Father is profligate in the signs of His love. If I open my eyes, He says He loves me every day. In the people I encounter, in the beauty all around me, in the simple tasks of the day. God gives me rewarding work, He sends me His people--in need and supplying need, "my cup overflows."

Daily, or hourly, if we take a moment, we can see His actions in the things around us. And when we see it, one might hope that our reaction might be as Hopkins's:

" Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."

In that second line, "Ah!" breaks the line and signals an intake of breath, finally I breathe again in His presence. Too long I have held my breath, apparently not trusting that there would be another breath to take (for in my world of sin, the only air is the breath I hold in my lungs). In my small world everything is limited. In God's everything is unlimited. I can turn and gasp and see how the Holy Spirit broods over the bent world, breathing upon it and moving things in the way they should go. I breathe the breath of the Spirit and become a new creation. I am blessed for a moment with a vision of the way things really are. Then I return to what I can see around me--the signs of His presence.

I rejoice and am thankful for these signs. I rejoice when I look how far I have been carried, though long stretches still seem to dominate the vision before me. The Father has brought me long and far, even though, like a small child I will insist on being put down and allowed to do my own thing. And like any small child, my own thing consists of trying to get away from Daddy. And He will allow this for a time before he swoops down upon me with a cry of joy and takes me back into His arms, and the two of us laugh together at the great game.

Rejoice then in the Father who loves us enough to allow us our freedom, but who cares enough always to gather us back in. Look at Him and see a face so beautiful, you will wonder how you could ever look away.

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Important Days


Yesterday was the Feast of All Carmelite Saints, and today, the Feast of all Carmelite souls. Please join me in continuing suffrages for our beloved dead and for those in purgatory most in need of our prayers. May they soon see the light of grace in all its glory, and there interecede for each of us.

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Returned last evening from a short vacation and a day of reflection amongst the Carmelites. It would be hard to convey my sense of blessing at the marvelous provinical delegate we have.

While the retreat was very Carmelite, it might be instructive to share a few of the insights because of the depth they provide for the Carmelite vocation and how it differs from many others. Moreover, it would offer me the chance to reinforce the insights before they completely slip out of my head.

The reflection day theme was "Solitude in the Life and Spirituality of Carmel." True to the title, we spent the day reflecting on being alone with the Alone. Among the important points acquired from this reflection: Solitude is the single ascetical practice enjoined on Carmelites. There is no companion to it, and without solitude one simply is not living a Carmelite life. Solitude should not be taken to mean simple isolation from people. In fact, properly conducted, solitude should bring you into more intimate and prolonged contact with people. Solitude fuels a prayer life which fuels an intimacy with God which fuels an apostolate. Father John-Benedict went to some pains to emphasize that in the Carmelite tradition solitude DID NOT mean reclusion. He pointed out that in some traditions, solitude necessarily came with reclusion, but not so for Carmelites. The Carmelites are the exemplars of the balance bewteen solitude and community. The Carmelite "gift" to the Church is to teach the balance between individual solitude and communal life. Probably the single most important point he had to make was that for the Carmelite contemplation must always end in action for others. That action usually takes the form of some sort of guidance, spiritual companionship, or teaching, although the apostolates need not be limited to these things.

Now for a more personal view of the whole proceedings. I think there are times when every person struggles with his or her vocation. There may be times when people wonder whether or not they are really called as they thought or whether they have been deceiving themselves or misinterpreting signals. If it is not true for everyone, it is certainly true for me and it has been a strong wind in my life of recent date. I have not so much doubted my vocation as doubted what it really meant and what it called me to. I know that I am to be an active contemplative, but what does that boil down to in reality? What does it look like? What does God expect from this odd platypus of a creature?

Well, several things happened in the course of the meeting that shook me down to my foundations and raised me up with a new certainty of my vocation. For one, Father shared the "mission-critical" moment of Jesus's ministry for Carmelites. (This is, of course, from the period of the ministry, not the ultimate redemptive act which stands for all as the center of our being and meaning.) The moment that Father identified as central to the Carmelite charism and meaning was the Transfiguration. This is the single most important moment for Carmelites of the mission life. I can't explain all of the implications and ramifications because I was too busy being bowled over by grace. The central reality of my worship life is that the transfiguration has always spoken to me in ways that I can't fully articulate. It has always struck me as a central and meaningful moment. So much so that I was ready at one point to take on the cumbersome "religious" name of John of the Cross of the Transfiguration. (Fortunately God spared everyone that dyslogial trope.) When Father said this, something resounded within me and said, "Yes, you are where you are because you are called." It's nice to hear confirmation even when you are already committed and solid.

The other thing that spoke to me is Father's insistence that contemplation always ends in action for a Carmelite. I do not know if this is true of all traditions. I would think that it must be, but I leave that puzzle to those more versed in the history of religious traditions. For Carmelites it is central. And I was fascinated by the examples of service that Father indicated--spiritual direction, teaching, counseling, etc. All of these things appeal to me even as I wonder about my capacity for them. Father noted that contemplation fuels the apostolate of any Carmelite.

Fueled by the insights of this brief day, I'm ready to move on. I'm ready to practice more vigorously the discipline of solitude. Physical solitude might be limited, but it will ultimately feed solitude of the Heart, which may be had by anyone in the state of grace at any moment in life.

So, in all, this was one of those checkpoints that served to say, "You've found a direction, hold to it and keep going." Like navigators of long ago, one must steer with the wind and trust God. I do not see land ahead, but reason tells me there must be, even if it is the land I just have sailed from. This does not quell the momentary terrors as I wonder what I'm doing out here all alone and where I'm going. But the sea is vast, and we've all pushed our little ships out. You are all here with me, I simply can't spot you from my vantage point. So I don't know if I lead on or if I simply identify the center of a large group, or I trail badly, or what position I hold in the voyage home. But if leader, may I hold the course courageously and help others find the way; if measure of central tendency, may it inspire us all to continue onwards knowing our true home; if trailer, well, God have mercy on me and move me forward following the lead of all those who have gone before. Whatever it is, I will continue to offer my sufferings and prayers for the continued progress of all in humility, trust, and charity. Thanks for sailing with me--may we all find the journey fair and fast.

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A Short Break

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The provincial delegate of our Region (Most Pure Heart of Mary) will be conducting a day of reflection in a nearby town. We've decided to make a short vacation of it, so I'll be offline for a few days as I collect shark's teeth, photograph the ocean, and generally take in the sights and sounds of the Gulf. There may be one more post this evening, but am not certain.

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Making a Joyful Noise


Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.

2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Below I noted two favorite psalms, although I love most of them. This one is a favorite because it is the primary hook God used to lure me back into the Church. When I was very young I memorized the first verses of this psalm (up to the beginning of verse 3). Years later, as my parents stopped going to Church and I could find no way to go myself, these words kept ringing in my head. Being a Christian, worshipping God, was all about making a joyful noise. And such a joyrful noise would attract all around. Christianity was the invitation to joy. (Or so I thought then. I've come to see that joy is real, but it isn't the central issue. It is rather a side-effect of proper orientation to God.)

So today, as you go about your daily routine, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord and don't be afraid if others hear. That joyful noise can be simply greeting the person who rides up in the elevator with you, carrying a package, holding a baby, smiling. Each of these things reaches out to others and in a celestial synaesthesia, they all result in a heavenly clamor, a joyful noise.

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Psalm 131

1 Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

2 Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.

3 Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and for ever.

from Psalm 139

1O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.

12 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.

13 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

14 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls.

The providential conjunction of these three readings led to what follows. It is important to note that what follows is highly personal and highly individual. No two people will follow exactly the same way. Nevertheless, the path followed by one may be instructive or indicative; it may provide guideposts along the way.

Were I to write of the numerous ways in which I have denied knowledge of self or missed the mark, I'm certain we would fall into the realm of too much information. So I'll confine this story to the points suggested by the readings above and to what I have already made public many times. You've heard all of this before, perhaps out of context, and the contextualization will give you a sense of where the journey is guiding me. The three readings together have made me realize that there is often a wide gap between self-knowledge outside of God (mostly self-delusion) and self-knowledge in Christ (the real self). This gap is not overcome merely by recognizing it, but recognition is the first step toward remedy. Grace and prayer will take anyone the rest of the way. Or so I assume, because I am still on the way.

Psalm 131 has, along with psalm 100, long been a favorite of mine. It has spoken to my soul long before it spoke sufficiently to my intellect to provoke any action on my part. The imagery of being stilled and in the arms of God was intimately appealing, an invitation of the first order, a promise of the life I was meant to live.

The reality is that I do trouble myself with things beyond my
capacity, and I do stir around in things that merely dredge up irreconcilable feelings. I recall that one of the first things I wrote over at Disputations was my deep distrust of St. Thomas Aquinas. I further recall picking at the great Doctor's arguments on the basis of empirical understandings that he could not have had at the time.

What I have gradually come to see is that these are defensive postures. I look upon the greatness of intellect and spirit, and feeling intimidated, I try to find ways where I can challenge the Saint. The reality is that I don't have the capacity to even engage the saint in much of what he writes. I read him and my head spins. Ultimately I come down to a huffish, "Who cares anyway?" This isn't apathy, this is merely self-disgust projected outward upon the object that gave rise to this inner light. There is no shame in not understanding St. Thomas Aquinas. He was one of the great intellects of his time and perhaps of any time. His unique mind gave rise to some of the most intricate reasoning and thought ever composed. And more importantly, he spent his time thinking about the good, the beautiful, and most of all the true. That I cannot engage is not a measure of the Saint, but a measure of me. I am not found wanting in that, I am found different. There are a great many people who are utterly turned off by St. John of the Cross. This isn't a reflection on him, but rather on the capacity of the people approaching him. Again, it is not to say that they are wanting, but rather that they are differently constructed. What the saint has to say isn't meant for them directly. They'll find those truths (if it is necessary for them to do so) in another way.

The long and the short of this argument is that we need to allow ourselves to like what we like and to shy away from what has no appeal. God calls us through these differences. This is one of the reasons there is the enormous array of Saints and one of the reasons I was so appreciative of John Paul the Great's recognition of so many Saints. We are called to be all that we are, but we are never carbon copies of some other Saint, and not all of us are called to Francis, Dominic, or Aquinas.

I have been a long time battling this feeling of insufficiency that came when I recognized that I could not engage Thomas Aquinas. I had always thought of myself as reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-versed, reasonably reasonable. But this showed me that I had grossly overestimated some of my capacities. On the other hand I have also learned that I have grossly underestimated others. I have never seen myself as a particularly kind, considerate, or engaging person. I never viewed myself as sympathetic or overly emotional. The veneer of intellect covered up a vast well of emotion. This I discovered as I was meddling in these things beyond me. I read in various blogs a number of different kinds of argument. For example, there were arguments about how one was required to participate in representative government, there have been ongoing debates about the justness of the War in Iraq, and any number of other subtly reasoned but controversial points. In viewing each of these, I realized that I could follow reason so far. I could read the arguments on each side and found myself assenting to nearly every reasoned line. The argument against the war in Iraq made perfect sense to me. So to does the argument that speaks of its justness. The end result was utter confusion. I reached a place that intellect alone could not provide a solution. In all such cases the solution came from the heart, from thinking about all of the people involved on both sides. Such solutions are tricky and dangerous--doubly dangerous if we do not take care to inform ourselves to the best of our capacity. But for some of us there is no solution in the chain of reason, something more must be added to the mix before the solution can be satisfactory. Part of the end result of this is that I can be perfectly comfortable with people who hold views diametrically opposed to my own. I can sometimes perceive the reason that they follow to get to their endpoint and conclude that the person, differing in opinion though they are, is acting in good faith with all the right intentions. Too often in debates, I perceive that the point is not so much to find the truth as to convince someone else that we are right.

So meddling in things that are beyond me has taught me a great deal about the masks I wear and the image I would like to project. It has also taught me not to be ashamed of the fact that I am ultimately driven more by feeling than by intellect. There are those who would have one feel bad about such an arrangement, but so long as the feelings are as informed as one possibly can do, it seems that they may provide a solution when the intellect alone cannot resolve the perceived difficulty.

This dismantling of self is very painful, but also very productive. I discovered in it abilities that I had long thought were beyond me. I found ways of listening and ways around some of my own obstacles. I found in this dismantling a hint of who I am in Christ.

That is the point of this perhaps overly intimate sharing. And it is the point of the second and third readings above. God alone knows me as I am meant to be known. He alone has the knowledge of who I am and what part I serve in the divine economy. He alone can apprise me of my capacities and my shortcomings; He can augment the one and ameliorate the other. He has known me and had a place for me in the body of Christ from before the time the Psalms were written to tell us. Such knowledge, such a realization when it hits home is overwhelming. When the pyramids were being built, I was known and my place in the Body of Christ was fixed.

The only person who does not know me is me. And as Teresa of Avila points out in the third reading, that is entirely my own fault. God did not strike me blind, deaf, and unfeeling; rather, I struck myself blind. I cannot see because to open my eyes and see is too painful--it involves laying aside too much of what I think about myself.

God alone can assist me in finding the way home. He alone can help to deconstruct the huge barriers I have placed in the way of self-knowledge. The amazing thing is how gentle He is and what mechanisms he uses. At the risk of possible embarrassment of a great many here, I want to say how much the parishioners of St. Blogs have helped me along the path to self-knowledge. First among them, I need to thank Tom at Disputations who effectively dismantled what I thought were reasoned responses and showed them to be emotional reactions with little core of thought. Sometimes it hurt and I was hurt--but that was never his intention--and such momentary smarting made the lesson stick all the more. Tom isn't perfect, and he never laid claim to being, but his desire to know the truth has been immeasurably helpful to me. I have also to thank so many people in St. Blogs who have shown me the many different ways of being a faithful Catholic. They broadened my perspectives and my understanding. Chief among these was Karen Marie Knapp who very gently corrected a statement I made regarding her former Bishop and showed me what charity really meant. But others have helped as well. The vibrancy of the personalities and the deep-felt faith of MamaT, JulieD, and TSO (among others) have been mainstays of my consideration of Catholic life. The quiet reflections of innumerable bloggers, including Quenta Narwenion, Enbrethiel, have all helped. I can't continue to catalog, but every person listed in the left-hand column here has done a part of the work of helping me to come to know myself as God knows me. Admittedly, I am very, very far from the goal--but I have at last realized some part of that ultimate goal in terms that are more than academic.

Many in St.Blogs deny that their work is "spiritually valid" or important. But let me say that every encounter with a believer is important and formative. Every association with someone who prizes Christ above other things is healing. Every word exchanged with someone who, if even for a moment, sets his or her mind on the things above is liberating. In Saint Blogs I encounter God every single day in so many ways that I am often awestruck. Too often I have neglected to convey my deep thanks and appreciation to each person. Please consider this that thank you. Each person has helped me immeasurably. and as I open to grace and see God's motions, will continue to help me. That is what community is about. We help one another to God.

So, what is the conclusion of all of this? I have not yet realized the fullness, or perhaps even a great fraction of what God has in store for me. I suspect that this may be the case for a great many of us. God is present in every interaction of every day--we come to know ourselves not by seeking self-knowledge, which is often delusion, but by seeking Him. It is in searching for Him and loving Him that we become who we are supposed to be. The most wonderful thing about this is that we needn't do anything extraordinary to find Him. We continue in the sacraments, we engage the scriptures, and we pay attention to the arc of the day. God is present always and everywhere. He is ready to show us who we are when we are ready to see it. My eyes are slowly opening (I hope) and I count on His grace to sustain me and to take me where I can do His will to the greatest effect. All of you have been and will continue to be a part of this journey--for that alone I thank God daily. For all of your service to me, I dedicate my fasting, my prayer, and my suffering--to some more each day (you know who you are little sister), but always for those I encounter every day, for those who unwittingly are so instrumental in leading me to Christ.

Joy overwhelms me when I think of how much I have to be grateful for even in this place which is hardly real. How much more so in the interactions of the day. Please continue to pray for me and I will continue to pray for you. Pray that I continue to advance in the knowledge of God and that the knowledge makes of me a person who can serve Him as He deserves.

Thank you and God bless each visitor today.

(KOB--you were much on my mind as I wrote this--I hope it speaks to you little sister--I send it with much affection and with all of my prayers.)

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Joy and Happiness

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"If Christianity does not make a man happy, it will not make him anything at all." William Barclay in his commentary on Philippians.

And I would agree, except that because I do not wish to confuse the two things, I would say "does not make a man joyous, it will not make him anything at all." Joy can bring happiness, but happiness is not the end of joy nor are they full equivalents. Happiness is part of joy--and joy when joy overflows, a kind of happiness accompanies it. But we shouldn't expect so much to be happy as to be joyous.

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The Way of Gratitude

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Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

--Phil 4:8 (KJV)

You knew that in my extended reflections on Philippians, I would eventually come to this verse and I will. But today, I wanted to reflect a little on this verse because I believe that it is a way of gratitude, a way that will tutor us in how to approach the Lord. As The way of gratitude helps to pave the way of Joy.

Let's first note what this passage DOES NOT say. It doesn't say that we are to hide our heads in a hole in the ground and pretend ugly, evil, and terrible things do not exist. It does not imply that we should withdraw to an insular world of airy contemplation of lovely things and refuse to engage the real tragedies and difficulties present in the world. It does not say that we are to pretend that what is ugly is beautiful or that we are to put on some distorting spectacles that reinterpret all events in the lights of the good, true, beautiful and virtuous. As Christians, we are called to be the ultimate realists about the existence of both individual and corporate evils and we are called to try to demolish both.

However, what it does say, is that when we are seeing all of these things around us, we are not to let them become the center of attention. These things are distortions of the reality God wrought--these are signs of the fall and they are not the food for good meditation. They are not to be denied, but they are not to be central to our time with God. Paul was in prison (actually confined to house arrest in Rome) while writing this letter, and while he acknowledges that situation, he does not dwell upon it. Rather his whole letter dwells upon the faith and the love of the people of Philippi. The joy of the letter comes from the contemplation of the faithfulness of a community. In the letter itself, Paul spells out the meaning and the practice of this piece of advice.

There are probably a great many reasons for thinking about the things that Paul suggests. It would seem that they would feed all three of the theological virtues--faith, hope, and charity. But one of the reasons that comes to my mind is that when I think about these things, there is a natural inclination to humility and its consequent expression gratitude. When I see the beautiful--either the work of human hands or the natural world, I am moved. In some strange way I am called beyond myself and caused to realize, not in a negative way, but in a way charged with grace, how small and inconsequential I am in comparison to all of this. And further reflection would show me how small this is compared to all of these wonderful things. And how small all of these wonderful things are compared to the Maker of wonderful things.

Reflection on the good, the true, and the beautiful is one road to personal realism and humility. I can begin to see myself as very small and yet intensely loved. All of this Universe of beauty and truth was made to be enjoyed and appreciated by the one part of creation (we presently know about) capable of doing so. So far as we know, Dolphins do not contemplate great beauty, nor do worms, nor birds, nor trees, nor fish. Only humanity has this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and to discern meaning.

Knowing who we are in the scheme of things is a sovereign remedy to pride. We know who we are in all of creation and how small we are. Then add to that the knowledge that God Himself came and lived and died that we should be redeemed, and we understand that despite our smallness, we are greatly valued. In the right-ordered person, or even in the mostly-not-right-ordered person, the natural destination of such knowledge is intense, life-altering gratitude. God Himself entered my insignificance. God Himself loves me so much that He chooses to make a dwelling-place of my smallness. He fills the space and lights it as nothing else can.

This gratitude naturally begins to flow into deeper and deeper love of God and consequent joy in His presence regardless of our circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that the purpose of the good, the true, the beautiful, the upright, the pure, and the virtuous are to lead us directly to the throne room of God. They are restorative and they are salutary to any spiritual life. It is important to understand that they are not the end in themselves, but the means to the One Thing Necessary. And as means they are meant to be pondered and to be enjoyed. They are goods that God has granted to transform us into beings more like Him. Eventually, with sufficient time and prayer, we are to become beings not just like Him, but of Him. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila refer to this divinization as "union with God." I think it's important to note the this divinization does not mean that we all become little Gods, but that we enter into the life of the Most Holy Trinity in a way that allows us our identity even while we become of the substance of God. In some way I do not presume to understand, we become the simple substance of God. Otherwise there would be no union. What is pure can not mix with what is blended in the spiritual world.

So, for those looking for joy, one good place to start is to see what is around you insofar as it is beautiful, true, and good. Ponder these things, not for themselves but for what they tell us about the God who made both them and us. Humility will blossom, and gratitude will be its natural outpouring. Do keep in mind that this is not the only way to humility, gratitude, or joy; however, it is a way that has worked for many over the centuries.

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Have you ever felt called to a task that you really don't feel fit for? Recently, this has happened to me and it has subtly shifted the course of this blog. (Or perhaps not-so-subtly, depending upon how long and careful a reader you have been). Elsewhere in the blogosphere I had an unfortunate interchange with another blogger. This resulted in a flurry of e-mail on my part and eventually an understanding of where each of us stood. But what alarmed me is the casual snarkiness I allow to creep into my writing. I've noticed it on and off over the past few months and haven't really felt compelled to do anything about it until this momentary crisis opened my eyes to how really bad the problem was.

One result was that it seemed best to do something to change the blog. I wasn't actually certain of what course of action to take, but I knew that I could not continue as I was. You may ask why, and the answer is quite simple. "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matt 12:26. With this warning it is profitable to reconsider words and what they are doing. Now, by idle words, I don't suppose that Jesus meant that every conversation of every day would be scrutinized, but rather that every communication that had at its heart something damaging to another, either directly or indirectly. Nevertheless, caution is indicated. If there had not been idle words, I was tacking awfully close in some of the things I have written and shared.

The problem, however, was two-fold. This blog is auto-didactic. That is, what is written is written because the author needs to learn and internalize some truth or needs to explore the contours of the truth in some way. Words force the thought out of the head and take its formlessness and give it a form. The second problem is that I am going to write something no matter what I am doing and it may as well be something that can help me or others. I cannot not write--that isn't in the programming. Even a day or two off is painful. So, I was going to continue blogging. The question was how to continue without giving offense (a minimal standard) and with giving glory to God (probably not possible from mere words in ether--but better to have a lofty goal and not make it than to fulfill one that calls for nothing from us.)

As noted, Flos Carmeli is auto-didactic. The author learns as he writes for others. This fact gave me the essential piece of the puzzle--the place and the meaning of Flos Carmeli needed to flow from the heart of my vocation as a Lay Carmelite. Great! Now I was ready to go, except for one minor problem. What is my vocation as a lay Carmelite? I can give all the classic textbook answers, but as with many who hear the call, I haven't spent the time to discern the subtleties of the call and what God wishes to offer to anyone through my gifts and my writing (if anything). So the shift you are seeing here is a sea-change in understanding vocation and in seeking to live it out. I've studied Carmelite writers for many years and still I am not certain I understand the fullness of the teaching.

So, by the grace of God, my dear audience, you become the guinea pigs and the sounding board as I walk my road and try to find out what is expected of me, what I can offer anyone, what I can do for God (by His grace, of course). In short, I feel called way above my ability. It is presumptuous of me to give instruction to anyone about almost anything. Yes, I can share a few facts here and there, but in reality, I am not so far along as I would like to be. And I am certainly not so far along that I can feel comfortable trying to tell others how to get there. But remember, at least part of what I do is talk to myself. So you are the lucky (or unfortunate) auditors of what is partially an internal conversation.

I need what I write and I have not found it elsewhere--that is the sole purpose in writing it. If it existed in a form that would fulfill my need, there would be no cause to commit it once again to a medium. There are times when I return to what has been written in a day and discover things that I didn't know were there on first writing. Most of these things are typos and sentences that make no sense. However, some of these things take me by surprise and I recognize that One far beyond me has hitched a ride for a while and guided my hands and mind. I hope the same experience occurs for some of you from time to time. If so, thanks be to God. If not, I pray at least no damage has been done.

So, please continue to journey with me and please continue to pray for me that I can write something worthwhile and in writing learn and in learning become what God wishes me to be. A lot of this is heart learning (my head is filled to the exploding point), and that is the very hardest kind of learning to take root in me. Please bless me with your prayers and please ask that God may bless you through the words He gives me. And let all work to the betterment of every visitor.

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From Catholic Fire, A Needed Prayer


Catholic Fire

Mary Immaculate, you have given yourself to us as our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. You have asked us to pray with confidence, and we will receive great graces. We know your compassion, because you saw your Son suffer and die for us. In your union with his suffering you became the mother of us all.

Mary, my mother, teach me to understand my suffering as you do and to endure it in union with the suffering of Jesus. In your motherly love, calm my fears and increase my trust in God's loving care.

According to God's plan, obtain for me the healing I need. Intercede with your Son that I may have the strength I need to work for God's glory and the salvation of the world.

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We Have Lost a Great and Quirky Writer

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"Perspective on Faith"



Do yourself a favor and head over to read this wonderful reflection and the comments that accompany it. They blessed me for the last two days. Thanks Tom.

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Confronted by Grace

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Sometimes the light of grace makes present some very hard truths that I know I try hard to steer around. The great iceberg of the truth is the ever-present menace to my Titanic of pride.

And it is a shame I should view it with this metaphor because the Truth is the ground of our being. Truth is, in fact a Person. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The truth in love is where we live. But too often I perceive the truth as a threat. It is a threat to my image of self, carefully built up and preserved over the years--but as with any house built on sand subject to the tide (Matt 26-27). Oh, and how painful the day and the moment and the passage of time during which that great but fragile house falls completely to the ground, utterly vanquished, completely demolished--destroyed utterly. What a terrible day when I slink to the mirror and look in it and see the real reflection, the mask removed. How much I am inclined to regard that great moment with fear because it means the death of self.

But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And more importantly I know and trust that unless a grain of wheat should die (John 12:24), it will remain only a single grain, isolated, unfruitful, unproductive, desolate. There can be no growth into the complete organic unity of heaven if I decide to remain an isolated grain, wrapped up in all the devices that I have invented to protect me from the truth and from grace.

For truth is the soil and grace the water and warmth in which a new seed quickens and brings forth life. Planted solidly in the truth, trusting the revelation of Jesus Christ received through the Holy Spirit and nourished by the sacraments, I am given the strength to escape the bondage of self. And the bondage of self is far stronger that the bondage of the one called Legion. He only takes up residence with permission and can be cast out with a word from Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus will not enter where the door is not opened. He will not force open the closed center of self. He will not break down the walls I have built up to get at me, until such time as I ask Him to remove them. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the only thing I can do on my own, the only thing that is not a product of grace and God's help is my own refusal to accept grace, to enter Christ's life, to live in unity with God. In short, all I can do by myself is sin and each sin makes the closed castle of self a little bit darker. I'm put in mind of the image at the beginning of The Interior Castle where St. Teresa of Avila tells us of the Castle environs:

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

Chapter 2
You must note that the light which comes from the palace occupied by the King hardly reaches these first Mansions at all; for, although they are not dark and black, as when the soul is in a state of sin, they are to some extent darkened, so that they cannot be seen (I mean by anyone who is in them); and this not because of anything that is wrong with the room, but rather (I hardly know how to explain myself) because there are so many bad things -- snakes and vipers and poisonous creatures -- which have come in with the soul that they prevent it from seeing the light. It is as if one were to enter a place flooded by sunlight with his eyes so full of dust[37] that he could hardly open them. The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves. This seems to me to be the condition of a soul which, though not in a bad state, is so completely absorbed in things of the world and so deeply immersed, as I have said, in possessions or honours or business, that, although as a matter of fact it would like to gaze at the castle and enjoy its beauty, it is prevented from doing so, and seems quite unable to free itself from all these impediments.

But even these souls, who have started on the way to unity, are better off than those who stay securely fastened inside the kernel of self. For a little earlier in the same chapter St. Teresa has this to say:

For, just as all the streamlets that flow from a clear spring are as clear as the spring itself, so the works of a soul in grace are pleasing in the eyes both of God and of men, since they proceed from this spring of life, in which the soul is as a tree planted. It would give no shade and yield no fruit if it proceeded not thence, for the spring sustains it and prevents it from drying up and causes it to produce good fruit. When the soul, on the other hand, through its own fault, leaves this spring and becomes rooted in a pool of pitch-black, evil-smelling water, it produces nothing but misery and filth.

It should be noted here that it is not the spring, or the brilliant sun which is in the centre of the soul, that loses its splendour and beauty, for they are always within it and nothing can take away their beauty. If a thick black cloth be placed over a crystal in the sunshine, however, it is clear that, although the sun may be shining upon it, its brightness will have no effect upon the crystal.

I am the keeper of my own castle, the guardian of the fortress, the single force within that can say no to the God who also dwells within.

But there is the secret. Whether I like it or not, God dwells inside. I may refuse to look at the light. I can disregard all of his gentle leadings, all of his urgings of love (Hosea 11:4). I can remain ungentled, untamed, unredeemed. I do not have to look at the light.

Even if I do not look, it is there, large and glowing at the center. The rays so dimmed by the huge array of obstacles I have placed in its way as to be nearly undiscernable. Nevertheless, it is there, firmly at the center, waiting for me to turn and with grace uncover and recover it.

Every day I wake and I am confronted by grace again. I have lived another night, I have seen another morning. All is gift. Even in my sinfulness and in my waywardness I cannot but see that all around me is His love, His strength, His fruitfulness, His creativity, His brilliance, His light, His Joy. So long as I can resist the lure of all of these good things, I can remain safe in my dwelling place--alone and away from God. Oh, but what strength it takes to stare so firmly into the mirror when there are so many very good distractions from my own carefully sculpted images. What tremendous force of will it takes to deny God entry.

I suppose that leads to the main point of this long "shaggy dog" story. When confronted by grace (as we are every single day) our greatest recourse is to give in. Confronted by grace we learn to love and the seed is plumped by a little water. Soon the seedcoat will burst open and new life will come forth. Fragile, delicate, evanescent--but it too shall be confronted by grace and so long as we do nothing but surrender, it shall grown toward the light, and like the magic beanstalk it shall grow rapidly. It shall grow toward the light until it enters the light and, in fact, becomes light itself.

But only when there is surrender. Only when we are confronted by Grace and we give in.

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Where is Joy to Be Found?

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Joy is not something that can be willed. We cannot wake up one morning and say, "Today I will be joyful." Joy is the positive organic outgrowth of vibrant faith and life in Jesus.

For those of us who do not lead joyful lives, how can we begin to approach joy? That may not even be the right question because joy is not the goal, but He who gives rise to joy. So let's reorient the question. If we wish to have the joy of the Lord, how do we go about receiving it?

As noted before, joy is not the end, but a kind of side-effect of the end. Prayer seems the most obvious answer to how we become acquainted with the Source of Joy. But perhaps the word prayer needs a little explanation in this context. Perhaps we need a more "active" understanding of prayer. By that, I mean that many seem to think that prayer is often a sitting, standing, or kneeling activity in which the mind is directly engaged in either discursive meditation or recitation of "standard" prayers.

But prayer is not just something we do, it is also a state of being. We can be "in prayer" every waking moment. That, I believe, is what St. Paul meant when he told us to "Pray constantly." Obviously we cannot direct the interior dialogue all day long because there are things in life to which we must apply thought that would interfere with this discursive activity. Being "in prayer" consists of recognizing in the moment God's presence in our lives. It is in the classical terminology, "practicing the presence of God." Now, the term "practicing" is probably difficult and misleading. It sounds as though we can somehow make God appear by practice. The practice--or more appropriately, the discipline--of being aware of God's action in our lives is an "active" form of prayer. It isn't a discursive meditation, it isn't even a recital of vocal prayers. Rather it is a consistent internal reminder--the space of a moment--when we say, "God is here, in this moment too." And then we return to work aware of His presence in what we do.

When we begin this practice, we do well to say a very short prayer of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving flows from a humble heart that knows how much there is to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is an expression of deep gratitude. The expression of thanksgiving, more than anything else gives rise to a very deep feeling of attachment and love. Praise also contains elements of love, but it gives rise more to an exaltation of spirit, a recognition of glory. But thanksgiving is an act of humility that cultivates in its most rarified form true love and true attachment to God. When we realize how naked, alone, and incapable we are, it is a natural human instinct to turn to Someone for comfort, protection, and help. Gratitude teaches us to look to God and to trust Him. It shows us that He has been with us in the past and will continue to be our strength and our support.

Gratitude cultivates love, and love realized takes us out of the shell of self and transports us into eternity. Love is transcendent--it is an act of will and an emotion. It is a recognition of the necessity of the Other. Love is eternal and Love is incarnate. When we love, we live the life of Jesus. It is to be our sign, our banner, our pattern of recognition of one another.

From love flows joy--the serious business of heaven. The assurance of the beloved, the sure knowledge of the truth, the serenity of His presence, the acceptance of His will. All of these are part of joy and yet joy is so much more--encompassing all of this and more.

We will not know joy until we come to love and trust. I am learning these things slowly--far too slowly. But love and joy both come in their own time through God's all-giving grace. I can make small motions toward these, but in the end it is God who grants them in their fullest as we dispose ourselves to receive them.

After all of this it boils down to--where is joy to be found? In gratitude, in grateful acknowledgment of all that God has given me, has shown me, has made of me, has offered me. This is the beginning. It is the small movement of will that disposes us to receive even greater graces. Gratitude--the simple courtesy to say, "Thank you," to the One who loves us.

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The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Joy, here and now and in the life to come, is the serious business of heaven. It is part of the warp and weft of God's creation. When we rejoice in the Lord, we move out of the linear time stream of our lives and dwell for that moment in eternity. Rejoicing allows us to become more fully ourselves. We take one step closer to Jesus Christ.

But we do not rejoice alone. When we turn our attention outward even for a moment, all of heaven rejoices in the glory given to God. And God Himself rejoices over us. The Father welcomes His prodigals home--not with a churlish lecture or a grudging acceptance, but with the joy of one whose love has at last been recognized and accepted.

Joy flows out of love. Joy is the offspring of God's deep and permanent love for us. And in a sense, joy is not an emotion. Joy is not happiness nor contentment. Joy runs deeper and more true. I'm not even certain that joy is a faculty of the natural part of us, but rather true joy is expressed deep in the soul, the supernatural part of us--beyond the intellect and its faculties. It is the heart-deep cry of one who has at last what has been waited for so long.

God's joy springs from the deepest core of the mutual love of the Trinity and stretches out to touch us. God is compelled to joy (if the immovable can be said to be compelled to anything) by His deep and abiding love for us. As Zephaniah tells us, "God takes delight in us." His delight flows out in love which quiets us (Psalm 131).

So today, let us spend some time with Him that we can come to know the joy that exceeds all human aspiration. Let us love Him and see how He rejoices in us.

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Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity

O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, I wish to be a bride for Your Heart; I wish to cover You with glory; I wish to love You...even unto death! But I feel my weakness, and I ask You to "clothe me with Yourself," to identify my soul with all the movements of Your Soul, to overwhelm me, to possess me, to substitute yourself for me that my life may be but a radiance of Your Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior.

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.

O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, "come upon me," and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery. And You, O Father, bend lovingly over Your poor little crature; "cover her with Your shadow," seeing in her only the "Beloved in whom You are well pleased."

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness.

-Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, 21 November 1904

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Rejoicing in God

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1 Peter 1:8

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (RSV)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (NIV)

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (KJV)

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, (NAB)

Although the KJV is a harder, more obscure construction, it rings in my head like the largest bell in the carrillon. For others, other translations will work better. Whichever translation works for you, let it ring in your head and sound in your heart. And as you converse with Him whom you do not see but know to be real, rejoice in the opportunity. Every spare moment spend in a moment of thanks, remembering Him. Every working moment, work for Him. Do the task before you as though through it you could save Him a moment of suffering. Everything you do, start by looking at Him, loving Him, and talking to Him. For your family, for yourself, for your community, for your Church, for your employer, start every endeavor in love, and complete this love with rejoicing in the Person whom you love. Work will not be work; nothing you do will ever be enough if you do it in His presence for Him. You will never be alone.

Rejoice in the God who saves, in the God who loves, in the God who cares enough to tell us over and over and over again that we are His beloved children.

No task begun in sight of Him, continuing in Him, and completed in His joy has gone to waste. None of the things we think of as laborious and time-wasting are so if we are in Him. He is the God among the pots and pans, the teaching and the dirty diapers, the soccer matches and the dance recitals, the bill-paying and the floor scrubbing, the lawn-mowing and the 8 hours of wage-drudgery. He has given us our livelihood and our lives and rejoicing in Him exalts any task.

"Yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. . ." May joy unspeakable be your companion today.

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Request for Information

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There was a rumor making the rounds this weekend at Church. (The leader of the secular Franciscans talked to the Leader of the Lay Carmelites, and they both in turn talked to their groups. The essence it was that Pope John Paul II was to be beatified in June. Now, as far as I know, Pope John Paul II has just had his cause opened this week. Everything I read suggested that there was no way in which they would be prepared to make an pronouncement by the time of the Pope's visit to Poland in June. In the Carmelite group I said this, but there was insistence that the beatification was to occur. However, given a little bit of a language gap, I was wondering if it were possible that Pope Paul VI, for whom a cause had been opened some time ago, might not be beatified.

Is anyone out there able to clarify what exactly is happening? I would appreciate any insight you might have in the matter.

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Blackmask Online : Search Results

A nice listing of the available fiction in a variety of formats. More than you'll find elsewhere.

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Benson and Redeeming History

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from Essays "The Death-Beds of "Bloody Mary" and "Good Queen Bess"
Robert Hugh Benson

" 'BLOODY MARY,' a sour, bigoted heartless, superstitious woman, reigned five years, and failed in everything which she attemptcd. She burned in Smithfield hundreds of sincere godly persons; she went down to her grave, hated by her husband, despised by her servants, loathed her her people, and condemned by God. 'Good Queen Bess' followed her, a generous, stout-hearted strong-minded woman, characteristically English; and reigned forty-five years. Under her wise and beneficent rule her people prospered she was tolerant in religion and severe only to traitors; she went down to her grave after a reign of unparalleled magnificence and success, a virgin queen, secure in the loyalty of her subjects, loved by her friends, in favour with God and man. "

So we can imagine some modern Englishman summing up the reigns of these two half-sisters who ruled England successively in the sixteenth century -- an Englishman better acquainted with history-books than with history, and in love with ideas rather than facts.

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More Benson-From Notre Dame


Robert Hugh Benson

A nice selection of the nonfiction of Robert Hugh Benson

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Another E-Book Offering

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An Introduction to Vulgar Latin - Google Print

When I have little to say otherwise, expect I'll keep you apprised of what's happening in the e-book world. (At least to the extent that I can.)

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I Followed My Own Advice. . .

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Come Rack! Come Rope!

And look what I found! Until recently this was one of the major works I wanted to read that was not available on-line. I'll still probably buy it, but now I can carry it around in my pocket. How wonderful.

Excerpt from the preface:

from Come Rack! Come Rope!
Robert Hugh Benson

Very nearly the whole of this book is sober historical fact; and by far the greater number of the personages named in it once lived and acted in the manner in which I have presented them. My hero and my heroine are fictitious; so also are the parents of my heroine, the father of my hero, one lawyer, one woman, two servants, a farmer and his wife, the landlord of an inn, and a few other entirely negligible characters. But the family of the FitzHerberts passed precisely through the fortunes which I have described; they had their confessors and their one traitor (as I have said). Mr. Anthony Babington plotted, and fell, in the manner that is related; Mary languished in Chartley under Sir Amyas Paulet; was assisted by Mr. Bourgoign; was betrayed by her secretary and Mr. Gifford, and died at Fotheringay; Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam and Mr. Simpson received their vocations, passed through their adventures; were captured at Padley, and died in Derby. Father Campion (from whose speech after torture the title of the book is taken) suffered on the rack and was executed at Tyburn. Mr. Topcliffe tormented the Catholics that fell into his hands; plotted with Mr. Thomas FitzHerbert, and bargained for Padley (which he subsequently lost again) on the terms here drawn out. My Lord Shrewsbury rode about Derbyshire, directed the search for recusants and presided at their deaths; priests of all kinds came and went in disguise; Mr. Owen went about constructing hiding-holes; Mr. Bassett lived defiantly at Langleys, and dabbled a little (I am afraid) in occultism; Mr. Fenton was often to be found in Hathersage—all these things took place as nearly as I have had the power of relating them. Two localities only, I think, are disguised under their names—Booth's Edge and Matstead. Padley, or rather the chapel in which the last mass was said under the circumstances described in this book, remains, to this day, close to Grindleford Station. A Catholic pilgrimage is made there every year; and I have myself once had the honour of preaching on such an occasion, leaning against the wall of the old hall that is immediately beneath the chapel where Mr. Garlick and Mr. Ludlam said their last masses, and were captured. If the book is too sensational, it is no more sensational than life itself was to Derbyshire folk between 1579 and 1588.

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Robert Hugh Benson


Robert Hugh Benson Unabridged

I belong to the Yahoo discussion group on Robert Hugh Benson. The link above will take you to a website devoted to a publisher who is reprinting much, if not all of Benson's oeuvre. Benson is a unique voice in the Catholic world--circulating during part of the same time as Chesterton and Belloc, his tone and his mode are quite different and refreshing. His books range from the science-fictional Lord of the World to the historical Come Rack, Come Rope. Go and take a look and help out these publishers if you're of a mind to. If not, or if you want a sampling first, simply Google Robert Hugh Benson and you'll discover a number of e-texts available for sampling before you buy.

A voice that deserves to be heard today and always. I begin to think that we are experience a "Catholic Renaissance" even if it is in the resurrection of work that has largely fallen from sight.

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The Indwelling God


So, now I move on to a different essay, with different insights.

from Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century
Ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

"Transformation and Divine Union in the Carmelite Tradition"
Sr. Vilma Seelaus, O.C.D.

From profound experience, mystics like Teresa and John of the Cross knew with certitude that God is personally present where we are most ourselves. In fact, the soul's center is God. . . . From the dark closet of his imprisonment, John learned that no time or place or circumstance exists in which God is not present. Event in the worst of circumstances, God is always present as abiding offer.

It should be known that God dwells secretly in all souls and is hidden in their substance, for otherwise they would not last. . . .In some souls he dwells alone, and in others he does not dwell alone. . . . He lives in some as though in his own house, commanding and ruling everything, and in others as though a stranger in a strange house, where he is not permitted to give orders or do anything.

Which begs the question, what dwelling does He find in me? And further, am I content in the place that He finds for Himself, or would I prefer it to be other? Have I shown the greatest Guest into a house in disarray, where one can hardly wind one's way through for all the years of junk and debris that have accumulated? Or have I shown Him into a place so spare and lean and short and narrow that it threatens to crush Him with each heartbeat? Regardless of the accommodation I have made Him, He lives there nevertheless. It makes me rather more inclined to get the house in order when I think of what a poor host I have been.

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I know that I have tried your patience with excerpts from this single essay, but all I can say is that I have found its insights so helpful I cannot resist sharing. However, this will be the last. Once again, I cannot reccommend this book highly enough. While it is about the Carmelite tradition of prayer, its insights (it would seem) can be helpful to anyone in any walk of life interested in prayer.

from Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century
Ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

"Contemplation and the Stream of Consciousness"
Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh

What can we do then about the stream of consciousness? In a sense the response, "Welcome to planet earth" fits the reality of distraction in prayer. Rather than trying to stop the stream of consciousness during our prayer, we can influence it indirectly through love, detachment, and humility, the Christian virtues stressed by our [Carmelite] saints As the love of God grows, God will enter all the more frequently into the stream of consciousness. John teaches that the soul lives where it loves, lives through love in the object of its love (Spiritual Canticle 8.3). Through love the soul spurs itself to seek and find God everywhere, in all the creatures of the summer heat, in the winter snowflakes at our feet, in all things, all events. The impassioned lover will go out from self and become fixed on the loved object. God will go out from self and become fixed on the loved object. God begins to pervade all the pieces, large and small, of the bride-soul's consciousness. Especially does she discover Christ in her neighbor which prompts her to the services of love. In going out ot the Beloved, then, she goes out in freedom from the many entanglements of her attachments and self-interests. The effect left on her consciousness is humility, "her heart of love will not be set on herself or her own satisfaction and gain, but on pleasing God and giving him honor and glory" (Spiritual Canticle 9.5)

In short, do not do violence to prayer by trying to force those things that are so uniquely you out of the picture. Be gentle; let the distractions flow around and always gently, lovingly, return to the center. Yes, you may be distracted for a while about some particularly knotty problem, but when you become aware of it, gently turn the eyes of the soul back to Jesus. Often recommended is a prayer word, or a short prayer, some meaningful reminder to you of Jesus in your life. For example, I prefer, "My Lord and my God." (Despite appearances I have secret sympathies for the monarchists out there.)

But the important part of prayer is to continue despite the swarm of gnats we call thoughts or stream of consciousness. These gnats are who you are and where you are right here and now. They are integral to what you are as a person and God loves them as He loves the entire person. When we share those we are sharing a part of ourselves. We should not be ashamed we do not have the strength to throw them off. Think of small children. For example, my conversations with Sam follow some alien trajectory that always ends up somewhere in Sponge-Bob land or roller coasters no matter where they start. I cherish this deeply because it is so much who he is. So God is with us, cherishing us for our childlike babbling and sharing of so many unrelated things. He will enter in and organize as He sees fit, so long as we continue to approach Him in love.

The most important point is not to let distraction stop you from talking to God. If you want to, make them the topic of conversation some time. But continue to talk, continue to spend time with the Beloved. For, as in any relationship, time spent increases the bond of love and understanding and makes us more amenable to the ways of the One who is Loved.

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A Gentle Reminder/Request

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Because my map is now so far buried under the avalanche of yesterday and today, if you're of a mind to, it would be very nice for you to add your name and location to my map. If not, that's fine too--no pressure. But I wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to had the opportunity.

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The Limits to Language

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I promise not to rant. But I did want to make one small point about my own inadequacies.

"God's covenant love with Israel becomes enfleshed in Jesus whose life and teaching unfold the deep mystery of trinitarian communion. In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites his followers into an intimacy of indwelling just as Father and Son indwell each other in the Holy Spirit."

When I read sentences like these my mind whirls and my thoughts spin off into important things like when the Sponge-Bob Christmas Special is going to start to air. Phrasing like this bounces off my shield of invincible ignorance and slithers to the ground there to thrash around and distract me from other more important things. I don't know why I have this reaction, but honestly these sentences point at something but don't seem to say anything that is particularly relevant to me. It seems a gossamer fabric of high language that forms more a web than a garment. But that is my limitation, not necessarily a comment on the skill of the writer who composed the sentences above.

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The End of Prayer


from Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century
Ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

"Contemplation and the Stream of Consciousness"
Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh

In the seventh dwelling places of The Interior Castle, Martha and Mary join hands together. Action flows into contemplation and contemplation pours over into action. The two are not at odds, the troublesome disassociation ends, "the cavalry at the sight of the waters descended" (Spiritual Canticle 40:5). God is found present, though ever hidden, in all of life's activities and events. And the little streams of memories and plans about our past and future all flow easily into God. The spiritual marriage "is like what we have when a little stream enters the sea, there is no means of separating the two" (Interior Castle 7.2.4)

When we look at the life of St. Teresa of Avila, we can readily see that contemplation cannot help but to flow over into action. St. Teresa established at least 13 foundations throughout Spain. She ran almost every convent she lived in, and she produced a remarkable volume of spiritual guidance and letters. This spilling over into action is not always transparent. In the case of the cloistered, the action is hidden, but very real. For example, St. Thérèse desperately wanted to become a missionary nun in Vietnam. Given her health and other considerations, this was not a possibility, but it did not stop the longing. Indeed, so great was her yearning that it was recognized in elevating her to Patroness of the Missions.

But how can we love God without wanting to serve in some substantive way? How can we embrace our spouse and then say that His children mean nothing to us? It isn't possible. When we join in spiritual marriage, the welfare of all of his children becomes our overriding concern. Time and again in Carmelite writings we are encouraged to pray for all whose souls are endangered that everyone might join the banquet in Heaven.

The end of contemplation, most particularly for a lay person, is substantive action that builds or at least supports the Kingdom here on Earth. Love that does not spill over into action is mere sentiment. Love that does not honor the beloved in honoring His intent is mere illusion and blindness. Love is, above all else, hard-working, endlessly laboring to please the One who is Love.

And when we love, we join in the vast ocean of His love, still ourselves but much more in His image, and inseperable from the vast ocean of mercy that carries every child home.

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Prayer for Help in the Day



I praise You for Your goodness and mercy; I rejoice in Your wisdom; I trust in Your loving kindness. For You made me who I am in strength and in weakness.

My strengths You have given me for service to all, that Your name is glorified and a cause for joy.

My weaknesses You have given me that I might come to rely upon You alone and rejoice and give glory to Your name.

Lord, prosper my strengths to better serve You and bolster my weaknesses that I give Your people no scandal and that I do not languish and fall away.

All of this I ask through You with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.


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Love and Joy


If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

(John 15:10-12)

When we set out on the road to joy, to reveling in the kingdom, what is the path? Where is it marked out for us?

Clearly, these are some simple instructions. If one obeys Jesus one is showing love. If the level of obedience rises above compliance to arrive at something that resembles enthusiasm, that is even stronger evidence of His love.

Now which commands shall we obey. Jesus boils it all down to this--"Love one another as I have loved you." This is the particular synthesis of all of his commandments that is to be the measure of obedience.

The road to Joy is love. Jesus has told us that He has spoken the command of love so that our joy may be complete. And the reality is that we are most joyful when least encased in ourselves. I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "The Windhover." Hopkins tells us:

My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Our hearts spend much time in hiding, but it is in the small wonders of nature that we find ourselves yanked out of self and into the mystery of God. It is when we choose to emerge from self, for however brief a time, that we step into joy. And what better way to emerge from self than to love someone else.

St Therese of Lisieux (among others) taught us that love without works is dead. She wasn't the first. James asks:

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (James 2:15-16)

Love demands a response, an action, a fulfillment. It is in the response of love that we leave ourselves and begin to participate in eternity. There is where we will find joy--not in the dark interior ways, not in the eternal echo-chamber of our own minds, but in service to those around us. For when we serve them, we serve Christ. When we serve them, we love them, and thus we love Christ.

Love is the key to joy. Love is the way out of self. The path is clearly marked and yet so difficult to walk because there are other guidelines. Didn't Jesus remark that if you love those who love you, what have you accomplished? Even the worst criminals do that. The real accomplishment of love is to love those who bear you ill-will, those who despise you. If you can love and serve those who frighten you or anger you, then your service is meaningful and your love is true. If you can love those from whom you expect nothing in return, love is real.

But to give you an example of how difficult this can be, I know that I find myself grumbling inwardly if I hold open a door for someone and they walk through without acknowledgment, without a thank you. What chances I miss to rejoice in being unnoticed, being a real servant. But rather, I want the momentary, transient, fleeting reward of a thank you.

When I look at these kinds of tendencies, I begin to understand the saints who want heaped upon themselves ignominy and ridicule and disfavor when they perform charitable acts. I begin to understand that the way of love seeks completely the other. And it is in the way of love that one finds the only pathway to joy.

Later: Application:What better way to show our love on this All Soul's Day, than to pray for the release of the poor souls in purgatory. Now and throughout the month of November we can show our love in the suffrages we offer those whose imperfections have held them bound away from the beatific vision. How much better can we show love than to act out these spiritual works of mercy?

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To All the Saints. . .


Happy Catholic

From Julie D. at Happy Catholic:
Jean at Catholic Fire is expressing gratitude to her favorite saints for their help on the way by listing them with a few of the traits she admires most. Great idea!

Julie shares her list, and I shall share mine. I'm certain that much of it will surprise no one--but there may be a few surprises.

St Augustine--his real and arduous struggle against the sins of the flesh and his ecstatic love of God.

St. Benedict--level-headedness and clarity, as well as charity in the development of the rule for relilgious life.

St. Catherine of Siena--her determination, her courage, her hard work

Dorothy Day--her sheer grit and determination, her love for the poor, her humility

St. Frances de Sales--his brilliant writing, his pastoral personality

St. Ignatius of Loyola--his missionary zeal, his solid teaching and training in prayer

St. John of the Cross--his poetry, his gentleness, his humor, and his solid, clear teaching.

St. Katherine Drexel--her love for the poor and underprivileged, her life of total self-giving

The Martyrs of Compeigne--their faithful, true and abiding witness to the truth, their prayer for their country, their intercession in bringing about the end of the reign of terror

St. Maximilian Kolbe--his imitation of Christ, his example of love

St. (Blessed?) Nils Stensen--his perfect combination of pastoral ministry as bishop and profound exploration of science. (We have him to thank for the principle of superposition, the principle of original horizontality, his Prodromus--all of which paved the way for the scientific pursuit of paleontology; and Steno's law, or the first law of crystolography [the angles between corresponding faces of a crystal remain constant and characteristic.

St. Paul--his intellect, his will, and his sheer vision and power and his ability to make some of the most complex things simple (and some of the simplest things complex).

St. Teresa of Avila--her down-to-earth humor, her practicality, her rich spirituality.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross--her love for her people, her intellect, and her passion.

St. Teresa Margaret Redi--Her pure and simple love of God, her self-sacrificing service

St. Teresa of the Andes--her pure and abiding love and drive toward God

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta--her joy, her simplicity, her example of service

St. Therese of Lisieux--her strength, her simplicity, her deep love

St. Thomas More--his integrity, his consistency, his nobility, his love of wife and family

My, what a lot of Teresas and derivitives!

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From St. Ephrem the Syrian

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A friend sent this to me and it really spoke, so I share it.

Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

Who will not lament for me, who have renounced the eternal kingdom for the sake of meager pleasures, ignoring the eternal fire?

Having surrendered myself to the passions, I have destroyed the integrity of my soul and become like the unreasoning beasts.

At one time I found myself rich with gifts, but now I have come to love the poverty of the passions. I have become a stranger to the virtues and departed for the distant land of corruption. I am half dead; I have only a tiny remnant of life in me.

Because I am this way by mine own free choice, I cannot even raise mine eyes to the kindhearted Lord.

Lament, O blessed and righteous ones, for me who am caught in the embrace of passions and sin.

Lament, O ascetics, for me who am a glutton and voluptuary.

Lament, O merciful and condescending ones, for me who am hardhearted and cause much grief.

Lament, O God-pleasers, for me who strives to please men (and women).

Lament, O you who have attained meekness, for me who am irritable and wrathful.

Lament, O humble ones, for me who am pompous and arrogant.

Lament, O you who have attained the nonacquisitiveness of the apostles, for me who, burdened by my love for possessions, cling to material things.

Lament, O you who have loved lamentation and hated laughter, for me who have loved laughter and hated lamentation.

Lament, you who contemplate the judgement that will come after death, for me who affirms that I remember the judgement but act to the contrary.

Pray, O saints of God, for my soul which is convulsed by all manner of passions. Inasmuch as you are able, help me, O saints of God.

For I know that if you beseech God, the Lover of mankind, all will be granted to you from the sea of His kindness. And, like our man-befriending God, so also when I, a sinner, beseech you, do not despise my supplication; for I have not the boldness to pray to Him myself because of the multitude of my sins.

Your role is is, O saints, to intercede for sinners; God's role it is to have mercy on those who despair.

O saints of God, pray to the King on behalf of the prisoner. Pray to the Pastor on behalf of the sheep. Pray to Life on behalf of the corpse, that He might lend His hand to aid me and strengthen my humble soul in its feebleness.

So appropriate for All Saints Day.

Note that even as we implore their lamentation, we encourage their joy because, "There is as much joy in heaven over the return of one sinner. . ."

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Christ's Knowledge of Self


speculative catholic: Anne Rice's 'Christ the Lord'

An interesting discussion is occurring in the comments column of this review of Anne Rice's new book. If there are those who understand better what the Church teaches about Christ's knowledge and understanding of self, I'm sure your input would be helpful. If not, go and enjoy the speculation.

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I thought this passage a revelation and an illumination:

from Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century
Ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

"Contemplation and the Stream of Consciousness"
Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh

The human person is created in the image and likeness of the God who goes out, an ecstatic God in eternal Filiation and Spiration, ecstatic in the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit. The human being in its inmost activity is essentially and passionately other-directed, self-losing.

The ecstatic nature of the human person is ultimately rooted in the mystery of the inwardly self-giving Trinity. As Father and Son are for each other in the unity of the Holy Spirit, the human person is always a being for, not a being established in and unto self.

In Carmelite prayer, then, the loving awareness or presence to Christ in faith, in mystery, whether active or passive, is what one seeks to sustain. This is a relationship of love, of friendship, of being for and toward the other.

I'm inclined to think the first two paragraphs have universal relevance. This is for the Christian and the Catholic at large. The third paragraph, being qualified as talking about Carmelite prayer, may seem to be slightly less universal. But while it is a particular charism of the order, I suspect that all are invited, if not necessarily expected to participate in this form of prayer.

This formless form, this waiting and being in presence, is one of the reasons that it is difficult to speak about a Carmelite "method" of prayer. I'm not sure there is a "method," except, as is described here, reaching out to take the hand of a friend and spending time with a friend.

As you read Carmelite sources, you discover means of predisposing yourself to receive and engage in this kind of prayer, but no one ever really tells you much except to spend time in the presence of the one you love. That is the key. ". . . [H]er heart or love will not be set on herself or her own satisfaction and gain, but on please God and giving Him honor and glory."(Spiritual Canticle 9:5 St. John of the Cross).

Note--There is so much good and helpful in this essay that to do it justice, I would have to quote most of it. While I know such things are hard to come by, see if your library can ILL this book. There are other essays also well worth your time. While the subject is Carmelite prayer, I think the teaching has applications for all.

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Blessed Feast of All Saints

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A Chain of Thoughts for All Saints Day

May you find food for thought, prayer, and meditation throughout the day in this selection of offerings from our Carmelite Saints and from others. Thanks Teresa--this post is by way of my comment to you--hoping to send many to profit from your hard work.

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An End to Anger?



Tom has been posting a beautiful series of posts on anger. An excerpt of one of the most recent appears below:

from Disputations

We are, of course, obliged to pray for our enemies, an obligation that would seem to extend to those who aren't our enemies so much as people we flat don't like. It is, I find, a very liberating experience -- animosity and anger being what we're liberated from -- to simply pray that God give them the graces they need to fulfill God's will for them, without reminding God what His will for them is. That is, to pray, "Fill his heart with Your love," without adding, "so that he'll finally stop being such an idjit."

Haloscan appeared to have problems communicating with my browser this morning. I had left the message that follows as a comment in the thread, but I don't know if it ever took. so I take the liberty of posting a response here.

Dear Tom,

Perhaps the best way of avoiding anger--and here I'm talking about the general disseminated anger that is so debilitating--is to cultivate a more immediate response that is not anger.

Often anger emerges from fear. We are angry because it gives us a more "proactive" approach to what we fear. People angry about the liturgy fear the loss of meaning that they perceive. People angry about this or that abuse fear the destruction such abuses may cause. Not all anger stems from fear, but much does.

We turn to the Bible and see that "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment." (1 John 4:18 KJV) Perfect love casts out fear--the same fear that can give rise to this dissipative, poisonous anger. When we look at Jesus in the temple, we can see the difference between His anger and our own. His anger is "zeal for the House of His Father." There is no touch of fear or dread. When His fear was greatest and nearly overwhelming, He poured out His love as drops of blood and was able to do His Father's will in perfect forgiveness, joy, and peace. There is no trace of anger in the passion--though He certainly had cause.

So perhaps if we cultivate this perfect love in prayer, if we spend time with Jesus in the Scriptures, if we learn to trust Him and hold Him up as our example, if, in short we learn to Love Him as perfect Love demands, then anger will become an "also-ran," a secondary recourse, a support from the framework of love--rare, zealous, and perfecting.



I just felt it went with the theme of the day, and the theme on which I hope to rebuild much of my faith and devotion.

God bless and keep everyone who visits here today. And may He bless you especially with the blessings of His Joy, Peace, and Love. May the joy of the Lord be your strength and shield from this day forward.

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Perfect Peace Brings Forth Joy


And who, you may ask, has perfect peace?

Ah, there is an answer:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Isaiah 26:3

Perfect peace blossoms forth from trusting God. From love blossoms trust; from trust unfolds peace; from peace flows joy; and on joy the Kingdom of God is built. We make it real when we love, trust, and rejoice. We emerge from the tomb with Lazarus and put on real life when we learn to rejoice.

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Joy for the Day


A couple of favorite verses to get the day started:

Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. --Nehemiah 8:10, KJV

And, from the prophet who brought you Lamentations and weeping:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11 KJV

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 RSV

All our joy is in the Lord here and now in the eternal present. When we lift ourselves beyond the mere passage of time and join Him, however briefly, then we experience joy.

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Love's Last Letter


Love's Last Letter

If I could wish for one thing, I would wish that under similar circumstances, I would have the strength to write such a letter as the one referenced above. Reminiscent of St. Thomas More's great final letters and admonitions, this is the work of Christopher Love, convicted and executed for opposition to Cromwell's government. An excerpt follows.

from Christopher Love's Last Letter to His Wife

11. Rejoice in my joy. To mourn for me inordinately argues, that you either envy or suspect my happiness. The joy of the Lord is my strength; Oh! Let it be yours also! Dear wife, farewell: I will call thee wife no more: I shall see thy face no more: yet I am not much troubled, for now I am going to meet the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, to whom I shall be eternally married.

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In This Way, We Rejoice


Joy and Rejoice:Bible Verses

A site with references to the Scriptures that instruct us to rejoice, for in the words of C.S. Lewis, "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

When we rejoice, we rejoice in the Lord. When we rejoice, we make present for those who do not already see it, the Kingdom of heaven. Our rejoicing is our evangelism. For joy makes Christianity real to those who suffer. It makes Christianity and the promises of Christ real to those of us in the world.

Let all the world rejoice because of the Savior who gives each one life.

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A Resource for Inspiration

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Rejoice Despite Pain and Sorrow


It's difficult to understand rejoicing. It is particularly difficult when you consider that rejoicing can and should be part of our lives under the most difficult circumstances. St. Paul rejoices from prison. Countless martyrs rejoiced even in the midst of enormous fear of losing their lives. Rejoicing is a prayerful choice, made from the fullness of the heart and directed toward the establishment of the Kingdom here on earth. No sound is more abhorrent to Satan; no attitude more provoking; no discipline (save love) more effective in destroying His power over us and those we love.

from a Sermon by Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

St. Paul too points up joy as a fruit of turning wholeheartedly to the Lord. In his list of the fruits of the Spirit only love is mentioned before joy. In today’s second reading he exhorts the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always. Earlier in this letter he had proposed to all believers to follow Christ who denied himself to fulfill his Father’s will. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God… became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Obviously Paul discerns no inherent conflict between joy and self-denial, even to the point of painful suffering. On the contrary, he obviously considers that those who put into practice his teaching on living for others, on putting concern for God’s honor and service ahead of all other considerations, brings a person to a state of mind and heart that is marked by a quiet, abiding joy.

To avoid any misunderstanding Paul adds the reason for our joy: ‘Rejoice always; the Lord is near.’ He is near as our Savior, to bring us a fuller life, the only true life for it is not fated to end with death but to attain its fullness in the presence of the glory of God. On the night of our Lord’s birth the angels will announce to the shepherds “tidings of great joy for to you is born on this day a Savior, Christ the Lord.” This is the name that sums up the meaning of Jesus’ birth, life death and resurrection. He who brings life, the Savior, is near. He comes to share with us all that we are created for. To assure that we receive what he comes to give, he will teach us the ways that lead to life. More, he will strengthen us as we walk those ways, striving for that purity of life that John the Baptist called for. For our experience shows us daily that it is a great achievement to be truly upright, honest and truthful in all our dealings, fair and considerate with all whether they appreciate us or not.

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Rejoicing in the Lord Here and Now


We are always and everywhere to rejoice in the Lord. That means starting here and now and moving on into eternity. What better time to take the Lord up on His offer of blessings and eternal life? Of rejoicing now to echo in eternity, St. Augustine has this to say:

Excerpt from a Sermon of St. Augustine

Let joy in the Lord win and go on winning, until people take no more joy in the world. Let joy in the Lord always go on growing, and joy in the world always go on shrinking until it is reduced to nothing. I do not mean that we should not rejoice as long as we are in this world, but that even while we do find ourselves in this world, we should already be rejoicing in the Lord.

Someone may argue, “I am in the world; so obviously, if I rejoice, I rejoice where I am”. What of it? Because you are in the world, does it mean that you are not in the Lord? Listen to the same Apostle in the Acts of the Apostles, speaking to the Athenians, and saying about God and about the Lord, our Creator, In him we live, and move, and are. Since he is everywhere, there is nowhere that he is not. Is it not precisely this that he is emphasising to encourage us? The Lord is very near; do not be anxious about anything.

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The Blessed Lady Theotokos


Rejoice for the gift of Christ Jesus that came to us through the most sacred vessel of His Mother, our hope in despair and our constant companion in prayer. O Blessed Theotokos, mother of contemplatives, pray for us who would pray with thee.

from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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