Carmelite: February 2004 Archives

Q. So who is called to this union with God anyhow?

A. You are.

Q. What do you mean me? That stuff is for the Saints.

A. And by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ you are among them.

Q. Yes, I'm one of the saints but I'm not one of the Saints. I can't do what they did.

A. True, you cannot because you are you and they are who they were. But you can't get around the call to the kingdom. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads unto salvation." The strait gate and narrow way are Jesus Christ Himself. Contemplation of God is the road to union. Contemplative prayer opens the gate--the way is open to all, but few choose to follow it.

Q. But I can't be a contemplative, I'm too busy.

A. Yes, you can. You need to decide to do so and then lean completely on grace. We are nothing of ourselves, what we do we do through Jesus Christ.

Q. Okay, back to union with God. Why is this so important?

A. Precisely because it is what God has ordained as your destiny. Either in this life or in the next you will be in union or not. And not being in union is like being perpetually unmade and at sixes and sevens with all around you. We call it Hell. Heaven is divine union where the body of Christ functions as a body.

Q. Yes. But isn't union with God something only special people can do?

A. No. It will happen to the faithful who die in God's grace. Some of these lived the life while on Earth. Some will come to live it only after a time of conforming to God's will--a place called purgatory. But all who die in His good grace will get there, one way or another.

Q. Well, I can just wait and let my firends and family pray me out of purgatory.

A. Yes, you could do that. But think of what you are missing now. You could be living in heaven itself while on Earth. You could know how deeply and completely God loves you. You could be the instrument of salvation of thousands of lost souls. You could be the teacher of many who lack any substance whatsoever in thier lives. Union is not a thing to fear and avoid, but a destiny to be pursued relentlessly. "As a deer panteth after running streams, my heart panteth after thee O my God."

Q. Okay. But isn't it a lot of hard work and difficult thinking?

A. Not at all. Is it hard work and difficult thinking to talk to your son or daughter. Is it hard work to meet a friend for coffee and listen to her pour out her heart about her current trials and afflictions? God longs for this from you. He loves you as though you alone were the whole Earth and his desire for you is more fierce than Satan's and more fervent. The difference is that He loves you enough to ask you to come home by your own will. Satan will gladly drag you wherever he'd like you to go.

Q. How do I start?

A. In two words--shut up. Longer, "Be still and know that I am God." And yet more, go to prayer with the expectation that the Lord will communicate as He sees fit, and say it to him, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Fifteen minutes a day--ten minutes to start--go and wait upon the word of God. Don't expect miracles--it didn't take a week for you to become so mired in the world as you are, it won't take a week to escape from its trappings.

Q. But how do I know it is working?

A. You don't. But it is. Remain faithful to your meeting time and if nothing else happens, simply offer up the time in love and quiet. At the end of it say a short prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

Q. What if I get distracted?

A. Ah, a question for another time. Right now, don't worry about it. Go and wait. Send out love and love will return.

(By the way--I'm in the same place as a great many in St. Blogs--no further along, and perhaps even trailing a lot of you. What I report here I do not report from the fullness of my own experience--I report it from the depth of the experiences of the saints. So do not be disheartened and above all else do not dare to compare yourself with another--the heart cannot be the lungs, the hand cannot be the feet. Rejoice in what the Lord has granted you and live it to the fullest. Aspire like St. Thérèse to return to God empty handed, having given out and passed back all the graces you have been granted. God will see the lowliness of your estate and rejoice in the love you have shared with all.)

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think about this:

We are called not merely to forgive those people who feel that it is their right to jump ahead in line; who pull amazing traffic stunts like turning in front of you in order to get the parking space you waited ten minutes for; who practically shove you out of the way to get to the melon (pair of shoes; bargain book; last copy of Richard of St. Victor; fit it to your own nightmare scenario) that you had your eyes on. No, we don't merely forgive them by strength of will, but if we are truly detached, we don't even notice the intrusion, or if noticed, we welcome it as a blessing from God to remind us of our place in the world.

Oh, I'm not there yet--but I've see the landscape mapped out by those who went before me, and sometimes I'm not so keen to get there. But then I remember the God who loves me, and what would I not do for the God I love. So, I'm willing when He wants me to do so. I know the trail is long and winding. But I also know that He doesn't call us simply to say--"Not good enough." He calls us because we are His children and as with any good father, he wants us to sit for a while on His knee and just be hugged and know we are loved. And He wants us to return that love.

So, I'm willing. But I'm not there yet. And no, I didn't get Richard of St. Victor, but I'm not as royally ticked as I might normally be. It is after all all in God's will.

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St. John of the Cross in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (book II, chapter 6 to be precise) tells us that faith is the dark night of the intellect. It took me a great many readings to begin to understand what St. John meant by this statement. Faith accepts and integrates in a supernatural way what the intellect can only assent to.

For example, we know by faith that Jesus is fully human and fully God. We know this only by faith because, while the intellect may parse the sentence and be able to make a comprehensible statement of the individual words, the statement itself is not resolvable within the intellect. We can make all sorts of tortured analogies and metaphors, but the intellect "knows" that what is 100% one thing cannot be 100% something else. It is inconceivable that something might be 100% dog and 100% cat at the same time. So too, it is not possible to apprehend with mere intellectual prowess the means by which the truth is accomplished in Jesus. Nevertheless, we know it is. We know this by faith--the intellect assents to it, and thus seems to know it--but if we really grappled with the statement with mind alone we would not be able to resolve it. In the darkness of faith we assent and know this as part of the reality around us. It is truer than many things that we can prove, and more a part of our world. (For example how many people care about Euclid's hypothesis of parallel lines and points extraneous to them? How relevant is that for the majority of us.)

In the end, it is not what we know. We start by knowing, but eventually the understanding must be darkened because it is constantly looking for explanations and God will choose to perfect us in faith, where the understanding is rooted so deep that we have no need of proofs. The proofs are the breathing we do every day.

So, when wrassling with theological imponderables or Christological controversies, take heart. It little matters what the outcome, so long as the will continues to follow and seek out God, because our imperfect understandings will be perfected in the Dark Night of Faith.

(Yes, I know this is a horrific thought to the Jesuits and Domincans among us, but both St. Ignatius and St. Dominic eventually testify to its truthfulness. St. John of the Cross didn't come up with anything new, he simply stated it for all to see and read.)

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Heaven Is Not Customizable

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Or Why Purgatory, the Dark Night, and Union With God Are Necessary

Yep. That's it, in one sentence. Heaven isn't customizable. When we get there our preferences in anything simply will not matter, nor I suspect will an awful lot of the preferences we had here on Earth. Latin Mass v. vernacular, holding hands v. not holding hands, chanted Mass v. spoken Mass, egg salad or tuna, white shoes after labor day (sorry to scandlize y'all) or not--none of these will be options--whatever is there is there and is right.

The reason for all the way stations before heaven--however they may undertaken, is that Heaven is one-size-fits-all. That is, the great joy of heaven will not be in our individuality, which will still be celebrated, but celebrated within the coherent whole of heaven. We will not become one mass organism all exactly the same, but we will worship and rejoice in our ability to fit in rather in those things that make us distinct. We will delight in making our distinctiveness blend with and support those around us. We will rejoice in worshipping God not in private prayer or as completely separate isolated pockets, but as a community in which there is no choice one way or another. As they say, in Heaven it's God's way or the highway.

So, the dark night of the soul--as I understand it now, and that is quite imperfectly is purgatory here on Earth. We pass through those cleansing fires that root out all traces of our rebellion of our need to define ourselves with nose-rings, belly-button piercings, and boxer-shorts with little pink hearts on them. We stand naked in spirit before the Lord and we are gradually molded to "fit in" to the spirit of Heaven.

The sooner we can choose to let go of those preferences on Earth, the easier it shall be for us when it comes time for the purification that precedes entry into heaven. A lucky few might get through the whole course while still on Earth and go directly to heaven. What a truly awe-inspiring thought. But so long as we insist upon our own ways--no matter what those ways are--we are not humble enough to cross the threshhold. Neither should we hold to the ways of any man here on earth , but only choose the Way of the One Man who came to save us all. Only in this is there the proper orientation that begins to fit us into heaven. Detachment from insistence upon our own and acceptance of what is around us. Thus in the comments below, I point out that I love the symbolism of holding hands during the Our Father. On the other hand, it little matters what I love. What matters is that I take pains not to scandalize my brothers and sisters--that my thought takes in those outside of me before it considers my own preference. In a place where this is custom, I conform to custom gladly. Where it is not, I conform to what is right and proper there, again rejoicing in the Lord and His people.

This is one of the reasons why I think that, while they have their hearts in the right place, those who think that worship arrangements should be by democratic vote are so far off. This creates a church of chaos here on Earth and it does not mirror the perfection of heaven. Heaven is not run by vote, nor does it offer options to those who "don't quite fit in." Those that need something else in heaven suffer from a sin called pride and its motto is, "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven."

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from The Hidden Life--"Before the Face of God II"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

"Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever." With these solemn words, the priest ends the eucharistic prayer at the center of which is the mysterious event of the consecration. These words at the same time encapsulate the prayer of the church: honor and glory to the triune God through, with, and in Christ. Although the words are directed to the Father, all glorification of the Father is at the same time glorification of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the prayer extols the majesty that the Father imparts to the Son and that both impart to the Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity.

All praise of God is through, with, and in Christ. Through him, because only through Christ does humanity have access to the Father and because his existence as God-man and his work of salvation are the fullest glorification of the Father; with him, because all authentic prayer is the fruit of union with Christ and at the same time buttresses this union, and because in honoring the Son one honors the Father and vice versa; in him, because the praying church is Christ himself, with every individual praying member as a part of his Mystical Body, and because the Father is in the Son and the Son the reflection of the Father, who makes his majesty visible. The dual meanings of through, with, and in clearly express the God-man's mediation.

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from The Hidden Life, "Before the Face of God"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Carmelites can repay God's love by their everyday lives in no other way than by carrying out their daily duties faithfully in every respect all the little sacrifices that a regimen structured day after day in all its details demands of an active spirit; all the self- control that living in close proximity with different kinds of people continually requires and that is achieved with a loving smile; letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love. Finally, crowning this is the personal sacrifice that the Lord may impose on the individual soul. This is the "little way," a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms which are daily placed before the Almighty perhaps a silent, life-long martyrdom that no one suspects and that is at the same time a source of deep peace and hearty joyousness and a fountain of grace that bubbles over everything we do not know where it goes, and the people whom it reaches do not know from where it comes.

What more need be said?

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The Meaning of Prayer in Work


from The Hidden Life
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

But we have the Savior not only in the form of reports of witnesses to his life. He is present to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. The hours of adoration before the Highest Good and the listening for the voice of the eucharistic God are simultaneously "meditation on the Law of the Lord" and "watching in prayer." But the highest level is reached "when the Law is deep within our hearts" (Ps 40:8), when we are so united with the triune God whose temple we are, that his Spirit rules all we do or do not do. Then it does not mean we are forsaking the Lord when we do the work that obedience requires of us. Work is unavoidable as long as we are subject to nature's laws and to the necessities of life. And, following the word and example of the apostle Paul, our holy Rule commands us to earn our bread by the work of our hands. But for us this work is always merely a means and must never be an end in itself. To stand before the face of God continues to be the real content of our lives.

How then do we pray always? We do so when we have invited God to be with us always, when we have reached a level of unity with Him, when we have surrendered everything to Him.

Praying always is something like a marriage of long duration where it is sufficient to be present together. You needn't jabber each other's ears off with protestations of your love and devotion. Your presence together speaks volumes that no words can speak.

However, that comfortable marriage comes only after years of work and of saying the things that must be said and of doing the things that must be done. One does not achieve unity by ignoring one another--nor by simple toleration. There is always a growth in love fostered by the blessings of the Holy Trinity present at the heart of the sacrament of matrimony.

So too, the union with God doesn't just happen. You must take what pains you can to express your love to God, and perhaps more importantly, (and much more difficult), you must allow God to love you. In this grace alone works to open you up to the love of God--an active, invigorating, growing love. You cannot perceive it by trying to do so.

The only way to receive this love is to be obedient to God's commandments and rely upon His Grace, present powerfully in the sacraments, but also present in "the sacrament of the present moment." We live only in the present, and it is only in the present that we can experience God. God's love is eternal, but its expression is in time, in each moment of each day. Every breath is a gift, everything that comes to us in a moment is a love-letter. We need to refocus our vision to find God in the gift of the moment, and open our wills to accept that grace.

Only in this way is it possible to grow in love. His grace opens us up to His grace. The best we can manage is to not get in the way. And so, when we are in a hurry and stuck in the world's largest parking lot, regard that as a moment from the Lord, the gift of the present moment and thank Him for it. No matter what happens, resolve, with His help, to accept it and to converse with Him about it. In this way, you grow toward that union that requires no conversation to complete it because it is a continual conversation in itself. Like those grown old together in marriage, words become unnecessary because there is a communion and communication of being. Much more so then with our Beloved Father, Spouse, and Comforter. All Earthly marriage is a reflection of the true Divine marriage of God to the individual Soul. All that is good in marriage is expressed in this Union and because God is simple in Good, the Divine Union, unlike the human state, can have no shadow of evil in it. It is pure, holy, and good--the transcendant and encompassing marriage. Moreover, it is a gift, waiting for anyone who is willing to open it. God invites us to come and partake,

And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let him that heareth say, "Come." And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the Water of Life freely. (Rev 22: 17).

And more, the message is repeated and repeated throughout the Bible and probably most profoundly accented in the Song of Songs.

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up nor awake my love, until he please." (Song 8:2-4)

Of enormous interest is that this image suggests at once marital union and the embrace of a father supporting the head of the smallest infant. The other day T.S. O'Rama was commenting on the need for us to become little children. And I would say amen to that--very little children indeed. For little children are simple, they accept what comes to them and, in their way are thankful for it. So too we must learn to be thankful for what comes to us from God who holds us tenderly as a Father holds an only child that he has waited years and years to see. His embrace at once protects, strengthens, and comforts us. He is at once Father and Mother to us combining the very best of both human roles to be truly our All in All.

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Entering the Dark Night

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I haven't even begun to, and I won't make any pretensions of the sort. I have read much about it, but from experience have no inkling. Although I may have started understanding in a more profound way. All these fine thoughts and sentiments must be crucified and go the way of all flesh until what I desire is entirely and only what God desires for me. Even desiring Him is of my own making and so that desire must be transformed into His desire for me. That is, presently my longing is MY longing. In that dark night, MY longing for Him will be transformed into Jesus's longing on the cross. There will no longer be an I but it will be God within me speaking back to God. I will truly become His servant because I will have become His house. He will dwell in me in a substantial way for all to see. Assuming of course I will to stay the course.

But I ask, and not rhetorically, what other course is there? Where else is there to go? You, Lord, have the words of eternal life--only in you may I be transformed in such a way as to enter eternal life.

All of these are intellectual recognitions. So with the grace of God I must start up again that slippery slope of Mount Carmel, relying entirely on grace, and more on the pull of love that wishes me up that slope. I cannot detach from things around me by my own will. Even the notion of detachment, of leaving behind, of moving upward becomes in its own way an attachment. So I must look at the Father with the intensity of love that I have for the son He gave me and receive that love back. I must dwell in His love and take the elevator to the Father--the elevator of His loving embrace. Because I know for certain that He desires all of His children to ask and to be invited into the circle of His arms. They are open for us all, and His great heart aches and bleeds so long as there is a single one of us outside that loving embrace.

Look at your children and realize the intensity of what is there in your heart and turn that gaze to your Father, loving Him beyond the limits you thought possible. Ask and it shall be answered, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened. Or better yet, the Father awaits the return of the prodigal, watching with careful eye for any sign of his return. And as we make the slightest turn, He bounds out from his palace from the greatness of His throneroom to embrace us and bring us home.

And so I hope I see a sign of turning, and I pray this heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh for Him to do with as He wills. I start by wanting to give all to the Father all the intensity of who am I and what I am capable of doing and feeling, I will to be His. And next, I wait and fast and pray. I thank God for the season almost upon us. Perhaps this awakening or partial awakening is a small indication of what He wants for me this Lent. Please pray for me.

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Crucifixion of the Intellect


from My Only Friend Is Darkness
Barbara Dent

The cleverer the intellect and the more fragile the sense of security, the more we are tempted to rationalize until a tangle of interdependent concepts about the spiritual life and our position in it is formed. Its purpose is to protect the psyche from pain and shock. Unfortunately, it also impedes the Spirit's free penetration of the same psyche, so that divine wisdom and will cannot be implanted deep down where the springs of action have their source. A pallisade of intellectual idols is in the way. . .

The roots of bad and imperfect habits can be uncovered only by means of the passive purifications. The vice-like hold of the intellect upon its possessions has to be broken, and breaking hurts. Yet the Spirit, though implacable, is also tender and healing.

We have and hold nothing. Everything that is "ours" is loaned to us for this brief time on Earth. In a sense, these things we have comprise the toolkit God has given us to approach Him. We must use each implement wisely. However, even with the most careful and adept use, because of the twisting that occurs because of original sin those tools do not effectively bring us within arm's reach of God. And we are darting, slippery creatures, like minnows in the shallows when it comes to truly entering God's embrace.

Some of us fool ourselves that we relax and wait upon the Lord. But the signs of our lives show that the best we do is touch the hem of His garment and back away. We may believe, but we don't really want to be embraced because that embrace will rob us of . . . what? We don't really know, but we do know that we are not ready to make the commitment.

Those who are inclined to think deep thoughts and to consider studiously all aspects of any question have a particularly serious barricade up in the presence of the Lord. To whom much is given, much is expected in return. But the much expected isn't necessarily the fruits of the mind. Rather, it is escaping that comforting ivory tower (all in God's time) to total abandonment in God's loving embrace. And it isn't something we can do ourselves. Only God can effect this change in us. We must be willing to leave, but the barricade effectively keeps us in as well as keeping God out. Our ideas about God, about Jesus, about the spiritual life are as effective at sealing us off as they are at bringing us close.

The intellect can lead us to the throne-room, but ultimately it is the heart that makes us children. And we must let God break down our misconceptions, our notions of what should happen and how things should go. We must let God love us to eternity. If we permit, He will draw us to Him and He will help us to go. We cannot go to Him unless we go as children, thus the necessity of dismantling the intellectual apparatus that has served as a conveyance, but now serves merely as a barrier. If we allow it, God will perfect the intellect with the wisdom only He can give.

Frankly, while I know this to be true in my heart, I can't even begin to imagine what it is really about. I am not that far along in my own journey. But I have seen it time and again in the great saints. I see the total abandonment to love that transforms ordinary men and women into Saints. And I want that. However, to get there, I know that I must even abandon wanting that great union and closeness and I must desire only what God desires for me. He must be my soul love. [I see my original misspelling in review and retain it as a meaningful inspiration] Aquinas has shown God is simple. And what is simple cannot endure union with what is duple or triple. "You cannot serve God and mammon." Equally, you cannot serve God and your own notion of God. So I must abandon all of those things--and here again, I cannot do it myself. I must fling myself headlong into His love. I must be carried where He wills me to be carried by currents unknown to me. The prospect is frightening and exhilirating in turns. And yet it is the call of this life on earth. To be God's alone, to have no idols, to have nothing between me and Him. And so I follow the path marked out by so many saints before and I attempt to do the little that my will can encompass. I try to abandon myself to love knowing that only in that abandonment is there transformation. "Unless a grain of wheat should fall. . ."

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Opening the Door to God

from My Only Friend is Darkness Barbara Dent

God is busy forming the Son in us in all his completeness, though tailored to our individuality, and we cannot expect his passion and death will be omitted. How can we know what secret attractions, desires, attachmentts are binding us there in the hidden fastnesses of our hearts? We do not know, so we cannot ask to be delivered from them in any specific way of our own choice, but must leave the Spirit to work it out for us.

In short, we are not captains of our own ships or masters of our own fates. We don't even know ourselves well enough to clean house, how can we hope to know God without His help? Day by day He comes to us, almost in supplication. Here is the Father of the prodigal son humbly tapping at the door to our heart and asking for permission to come in. Here is the Lord of the Universe who could, if He so desired take away everything, deprive us of our last breath, and do other things more terrible and wonderful than we can contemplate, asking us to acknowledge our love for Him.

And we do love Him. Passionately. However, there are a few things in the way. For example, we like to read more than we like to pray. We like to run and jog more than we like to pray. We like to eat more than we like to pray. Let's face it, for some of us, we'd rather clean the commode than face our loving Father in prayer.

Nevertheless, to the last day of our lives, to the last second of the last day, He knocks. He humbly begs entry, and he tries the door to see if we at least left it unlocked.

Make an effort to clear a path. Move the debris out of the way so at least the door can swing open a little. Ask for light to see and courage and strength to do what becomes necessary in the light. Turn the key, ask God to come in. Though we are too weak to move this mound of stuff ourselves, surely if we desire it, He can and will move it. He wants us so desperately. To Him we are each an only child--the singular love of His life. He lavishes upon us every possible gift to make this clear. Now pray for a clear eye to see His hand in all that we are and all that is around us. Pray for clear vision to see Him in each day and thank Him for His presence.

Most of us have not yet approached the dark night, though we like to talk of it as though it was near. We know that the dark night means His love. We dread it even as we desire it. We do not think we can stand it, and we are right, because it is only through His strength that we can begin to undergo the purifications that will bring us to Him in this Life, in serenity, joy, peace, and love.

So, while we long for that dark night that means a closer union with God, let us prepare the way, if only feebly by muttering when he knocks, "Come in. Come in and be master of this house. Come in and make it clean, well-ordered, your own abode. Come in and love me, finally I am ready. Come in."

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Lift your mind to God today in several moments that you do not ordinarily do so. As you're doing the worst task of the day, thank and praise Him. As you are enjoying the extraordinary beauty of the full moon in the morning, thank and praise Him. As you are shivering and contemplating spring, thank and praise Him. As you are starting the car, thank and praise Him.

A short and simple prayer will do--"I love you Lord, my strength."

Or a longer more traditional one, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Or one of your own derived from the scripture.

Or one of your own derived from your heart.

Let your heart and mind reach out and touch Him, if only for a moment, a reminder that He is right there next to you, above you and below you, in front of you and behind you--within you.

Praise the Lord and thank Him in the traffic snarl you hate, in the broken appliances, dirty diapers, and tasks of ordinary life.

You'd be surprised at how much better your day goes when you go through it with your closest most intimate friend, ally, and comforter.

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A First and Last Word on Detachment

I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death. (Phillippians 3:8-9a, 10)

And in this is nearly all the doctrine of the great Carmelite mystics. "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus," that is, nothing in the world is as worthy of our attention as Jesus Christ--thus every moment spent outside of Jesus Christ is a loss--even if it is a participation in very good things.

"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them so much rubbish. . ." Because of His preeminent place in the universe everything else is tarnished and weary. Paul at one time was a wealthy citizen of Jerusalem, well known, apparently well connected. But when he became a Christian he lost all of this. And the loss was as nothing--as a mere casting off of outer soiled rags. In fact, other translations have much stronger words than merely rubbish. But Paul is not proposing here some sort of dualism. Everything is brought into focus by the central point of attention--Christ Jesus.

". . .that I may gain Christ and be found in him to know him and the power of his resurrection . . ." There is purpose here in casting off outer things. We do not rid ourselves of them because they are evil. We rid ourselves of them because they are less worthy of our attention. They are distraction on the path to unity with God. Through casting off these lesser goods we make more room for Jesus Christ--we are "found in him" or claim our true identity as a child of God. This is our ultimate and most important identity. In finding Him, we come to know the power of His resurrection--that is the redemptive, saving power of Grace. But more importantly, we come to know it in a way that cannot be merely intellectual. This is heart-knowledge. We know Jesus Christ intimately as indwelling and ever present with us. We commune with Him and we share every aspect of our life with Him.

". . .and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death." And a bit of speculation here--perhaps Paul is obliquely referring to a "dark night." Paul certainly shared Christ's sufferings on a material plane, but if all of this is as dross and as rubbish then it would hardly matter if he knew the constant presence of Christ. The only suffering that would matter is that feeling of abandonment, that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani." That is the true suffering. Feeling abandoned at the shallow surface of emotion, but knowing in the depths of the heart God is there with us and He suffers again in our suffering. One metaphor often used for the dark night is that of the surgeon performing an operation to remove all that withholds us from communion with God. But this is the Divine surgeon, all that we feel, He feels. He felt it at that moment on the Cross and He feels it throughout eternity. And yet, nevertheless, the step is necessary if we are to have health and to be restored to life in Him. We suffer it either in this realm or in the world to come as we undergo purgation that will ultimately allow us to enter into the heavenly abode.

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Prayers and Praying

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It is right and good to ask God for all the things we truly need. It is perhaps less good to ask for the things we want, but so long as those things are the goods of the spiritual realm, it is still right and proper. It is of questionable worth to ask for things we do not need but merely want with no real notion of what we would do with them once we had them. But even this is worthwhile because it exposes us to our own depths. These are mere vocal prayers. And yet we are enjoined to ask for what we need each day and to turn to the Lord to supply those needs. From this prayer, properly said, a more exteneded conversation with the Lord can occur.

St. Teresa defined mental prayer,

Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us (Life 8, 5).

Mental prayer is an intimate sharing between friends. Such a sharing is not really possible if we are keeping things back. If we have a person with whom we want to be friends, we find that the roadblocks to friendship can be many. But the greatest of these are things about ourselves that we do not want known. The more we keep back the harder it is to share with a friend because we always fear revealing something that would damage the relationship.

However, God knows all. There is nothing we could possibly keep back even if we wanted to. The important point is that while God knows all, He wants us to share it. Often there is great power and tremendous release in simply saying what we know to be true. That is in acknowledging our weaknesses, we open the door to further intimacy. Thus the practice of confession is both about getting our sins out in the open and opening the door to greater intimacy.

Back to the original point--praying for what we want. When we do this, however frivilous the thing we want, we are at least being honest and opening the conversation. Now, if we become obsessed with what we want and continue like a small child to insist upon it in ever detail. conversation may not continue. If however, we are really ready to talk and listen and we say what it is we want, then even those material desires become the ground for intimate conversation and ultimately for conversion. So long as we are not flippant and we are really speaking our heart's desire, we open the gate for the Lord to enter.

Mental prayer is that extended conversation that comes from well-said vocal prayer. If we pray with sincerity and with earnestness, allowing God to peer into us, we start the conversation. Once it has begun, it can continue throughout the day or throughout a lifetime.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from February 2004.

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