Commonplace Book: March 2004 Archives

"Deliver us from evil,
--and from slavery to the senses, which blinds us to goodness."
(from the intercessions of Morning Prayer--Wednesday 5th Week of Lent)

How providential that our subject from St. Teresa Benedicta this morning is presaged by the intercession from morning prayer.

We don't like to face the truth of Jesus’ dictum, but it is important for us to do so. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it " (Matthew 16:25). In short, we can't do it ourselves. Moreover, we should not expect it to be either easy or without unpleasantness--dying isn't a particularly easy process. But dying to self is critically necessary for advancing in real life.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (and St. John of the Cross)

To take up battle against it [the animal spirit] , or to take one's cross upon oneself, means entering into the dark night actively. The saint [John of the Cross] gives several concise directions of which he himself says: "A person who sincerely wants to practice them will need no others since all the others are include in these." These directions are:

"1) Sustain always the desire to imitate Christ in all things and to bring your life into conformity with his. You must therefore study his life in order to imitate it and behave always as he would.

"2) In order to do this well, you must deny yourself every pleasure that presents itself to your senses, keep it far from you if it is not solely directed to the honor and glory of God.

"And in fact you should do this out of love for Jesus who knew no other joy and had no desire in his life other than to fulfill the will of his Father. He called this his food and nourishment [Jn 4:34]. If, for instance, some amusement offers itself to you in hearing of things that do not contribute to the service of God, then you should neither have pleasure in them nor wish to hear them. . . . Likewise, practice renunciation in regard to all your sense for as much as you are able to refuse their impressions readily. Insofar as you are unable to ward them off, it is sufficient that you take no enjoyment when these things approach you. Take care how you mortify your senses and preserve them from being touched by any inordinate desire. Then they will remain alike in darkness and in short time you will make great progress."

"The follow maxims will serve as a thoroughly effective means of mortification and harmoniously ordering the four natural passions: joy, hope, fear, and sorrow. . . . Take care that your inclination is ever directed:

not toward the easier, but toward the more difficult;
not toward the pleasant, but toward the unpleasant;
not toward the restful, but toward the troublesome;
not toward the more, but toward the less;
not toward what brings you more joy, but what brings displeasure;
not toward what prepares consolation for you, but toward what makes you disconsolate;
not toward the higher and more valuable, but toward the lowly and insignificant;
not toward what wants to be something, but toward what wants to be nothing."

. . . No further explanation is necessary to see that this active entry into the dark night of the sense is synonymous with ready willingness to take up the cross, and with persistence in carrying the cross. But one does not die from carrying the cross. And in order to pass completely through the night, a person must die to sin. One can deliver oneself up to crucifixion, but one cannot crucify oneself. Therefore that which the active night has begun must be completed by the passive night, that is, through God himself.

Always remembering that passing through either night is only possible with the generous assistance of Grace.

We don't like to think about these things. We would prefer to squeak into heaven, on a technicality if necessary. Who really wants to die to self--to give up the pleasures of the world, to not find joy in the little things that are around us? But I look at the lives of the Saints who chose to do this and fact of the matter is, their lives were filled constantly with a far greater joy than I can summon up from any created thing (except, perhaps, Samuel--but that's another matter.)

We don't want to do the work of sacrifice. We'll give money, we'll look to buy our way out of real self-giving, but it isn't sufficient. To truly serve God and to claim His greatest gifts for us we must die to self. There is no compromise. If we are to live the life God has for us we must abandon the one by which we protect ourselves from God's agency. We must shed the self-created life and assume the one that God has had for us from the beginning. It will either happen here on Earth or in the life to come. But it will happen. It seems to me that I would rather choose the joys the Saints partook of than the ones that I have daily, the ones that more and more taste of dust and ashes. The joys of eternity are available to us but we must be open to receive them and to receive them, we must love God more than we love ourselves. Loving God is the only thing that makes entry into the active dark night possible. We cannot do it by will, though we might start. We cannot do it by our own power, though we must contribute to it. We cannot do it without grace. And even with grace, if we do not allow grace to feed and fan the fires of love we cannot do it. Only love can draw one through the dark night. God's intense love for us is the magnet and our love for Him must transcend all earthly loves (even while it incorporates a great many of them). If we do not love God most of all, we cannot enter into the night, our strength and our courage will fail. And God wants us to enter this night so He can share how much, how intensely, how completely He Loves us. We cannot know this while senses are dulled by all the glittering attractions of the world. We must abandon our love of it (even as we continue to live in it) and direct all of our devotion and attention to God. In this we purify the senses, and like John of the Cross we will begin to truly love the vistas of creation, not for creation itself but for and by intense love of our creator. Our eyes begin to see what is really there, our ears to hear, our sense to actually touch. The weariness of the world washes away from them and we, like Lazarus are called out of the tomb into the real world--the world "charged with the Glory of God." That is our goal, that is ultimately our destiny. Why would we want to put it off until later? Why would we choose a lesser love over a greater?

But if we would choose this greater way, it will be hard to walk because of our fallen nature. Nevertheless, I, for one, want to open myself to God's call and to find Him here and now. I want to walk in the Garden in the evening and to be reborn into His image of me. He dreamed me into existence from the beginning of time, I want to fulfill His dream. I want to realize His dream for me.

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Hard Words for Hard Times

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Oh, you didn't think you got away from St. Teresa Benedicta so easily did you? Thanks to the resounding silence (perhaps the highest of compliments, considering the material) I have determined to post more, as she must be making an impact. In this passage she refers to the beginning of the Dark Night of the Senses and why one embarks upon it, indeed, why it is truly necessary to embark upon it.

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

On the other hand, something entirely new is begun when the Dark Night starts. The entirely comfortable being-at-home in the world, the satiety of pleasures that it offers, the demand for these pleasures and the matter-of-course consent to these demands--all of this that human nature considers bright daily life--all of this is darkness in God's eyes and incompatible with the divine light. It has to be totally uprooted if room for God is to be made in the soul. Meeting this demand means engaging in battle with one's own nature all along the line, taking up one's cross and delivering oneself up to be crucified. Holy Father St. John here invokes the Lord's saying in this connection: "Whoever does not renounce all that the will possesses cannot be my disciple" [Lk. 14:33].

And it is in this last line that the true hardship of the word comes. It isn't that we can't be saved or we can't enter into heaven, but at times that seems like so small a goal compared with that of serving the Lord as Disciple. And discipleship is costly. I would recommend Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship were it not so virulently anti-Catholic. But he points out in the course of the work that many of us want a costless or cheap discipleship. Such a discipleship is inauthentic--and that makes sense. How can carrying a cross be cheap or costless? If we wish to serve Christ in this world and in the world to come, it will only be at great cost. Consider the very short parable of the man who found a pearl of great price and sold all that he owned to purchase it. That is the cost--all that we think we own, all that we think is ours, all that the senses "possess," these must be completely surrendered to God as the "cost" of serving Him. And the cost yields a valuable rebate. No matter how much we give up and give to Him, He returns countless amounts more in the freedom, peace, and serenity of serving Him.

The gradual shedding of the world's hold on us is a necessary prerequisite to focusing our attention completely upon the Crucified One. And what other meaning in life is there? If Jesus is not the complete focus then we are not seeing anyway--so what loss is our sight of this world?

(Tomorrow, perhaps, I will include the précis of what is required to enter the dark night of the senses--other than the call by grace, of course.)

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Terry at Summa Mamas made mention of In Conversation with God--a work I had known about but had not paid much attention to thinking that it was another of those questionable works of half-baked piety and rancid new theology. (This is the "word" referred to in the header.) But her recommendation provoked me into looking more closely with the ultimate result that I bought the volume for Lent and Easter. There I found this piece of advice this morning:

from In Conversation with God--Volume II
Francis Fernandez

We Christians must seek the remedy and the antidote--just as the Israelites bitten by the serpents in the wilderness did--in the only place that it is to be found: in Jesus Christ and in his saving doctrine. We must not cease from contemplating him raised above the earth on the Cross if we truly want to reach the Promised Land that comes as the end of this short journey. That is all this life really is. And as we do not want to reach our destination alone, we will strive to get many others to look at Jesus, in whom is Holy Humanity, contmplate him in the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, in the Way of the Cross, in the scenes that the Gospels narrate for us, or in the Tabernacle. Only if we have great piety will we be strong against the harassment of a world which seems to want to separate itself more and more form God, dragging with it anyone who is not on firm and sure ground.

Later: Mr. White's note in the comment box reminds me that I did not make explicit my clear endorsement of this wonderful series. I've only used it a couple of days, but it has added immeasurably to my devotional life. Highly recommended. (Scepter is a publishing house for Opus Dei works. I have been greatly blessed by the works of St. JoseMaria Escriva, even if I have some reservations about some reported penitential practices.)

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From St. Louis de Montfort


First part available in its entirety here

from The Secret of the Rosary
St. Louis de Montfort

Saint Gregory of Nyssa makes a delightful comparison when he says that we are all artists and that our souls are blank canvasses which we have to fill in. The colors which we use are the Christian virtues, and the original which we have to copy is Jesus Christ, the perfect living image of God the Father. Just as a painter who wants to do a lifelike portrait places the model before his eyes and looks at it before making each stroke, so the Christian must always have before his eyes the life and virtues of Jesus Christ, so as never to say, think or do anything which is not in conformity with his model.

It was because Our Lady wanted to help us in the great task of working out our salvation that she ordered Saint Dominic to teach the faithful to meditate upon the sacred mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ. She did this, not only that they might adore and glorify him, but chiefly that they might pattern their lives and actions on his virtues.

See here for more Montfortian works online.

And here is an interesting prayer--The Fiery Prayer for the Apostles of the Latter Times by St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort.

It's a shame so much of this great Saint's work is co-opted by sedevacantists and other schismatics, as it is both profound and salutary.

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On Taking Up Our Crosses--WOW!


from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Knowing this, Jesus' disciple not only takes up the cross that is laid upon him, but also crucifies himself: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." They have waged an unrelenting battle against their natures, that the life of sin might die in them and room be made for the life of the spirit. That last is what is important. The cross has no purpose of itself. It rises on high and points above. But it is not merely a sign--it is Christ's powerful weapon; the shepherd's staff with which the divine David moves against the hellish Goliath; with it he strikes mightily against heaven's gate and throws it wide open. Then streams of divine light flow forth and enfold all who are followers of the Crucified.

It is in passages like this that we come to understand the true meaning of the word visionary.

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The Science of the Cross

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St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross made such a splash yesterday and the enthusiastic plaudits were such that I couldn't disappoint by not bringing more. First a definition: "St Paul who already had a well-developed science of the cross, a theology of the cross derived from inner experience (p. 20) And now this passage:

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The saving power: this is the power that awakens to life those to whom divine life had died thorugh sin. This saving power had entered the Word from the cross and through this word passes over into all who receive it, who open themselves to it, without demanding miraculous signs or human wisdom's reasons. In them it becomes the life-giving and life-forming power that we have named the science of the cross.

Paul brought it to fulfillment in himself "Through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

It could prepare one to recive life, but of itself it could not give life. Christ took the yoke of the Law upon himself in that he fulfilled it perfectly and died for and through the Law. Just so did he free from the Law those who wished to receive life from him. But they can receive it only if they relinquish their own life. For those who are baptised in Christ are baptized in his death. They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life. This life will be ours in its fullness only on the day of glory. (p. 21)

There are two points in this that really spoke to me:

(1) In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

The law is the sign that points to the great redeemer, not redemption itself. I know this from all that is taught and yet to hear this revelation from one who would know--a Jewish convert to Catholicism--completely transforms an intellectual truth into a heart-truth. St. Teresa Benedicta lived this transformation and more. She learned the truth of the law, abandoned it, and then learned the fullness of the law in Jesus Christ. She died as a martyr for her people (in her own words), taking them with her in a mystical way in the reality of her own death and rising. She reified the truth of Christ's sacrifice on the cross in her own life and death. And as with all martyrs she is among the best imitators of Christ.

(2) They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life.

This may be more significant for those of us who had adult, full emersion baptisms. In the Baptist Church, once you accept Christ, you are baptised in a pool of water--not by having water sprinkled or poured on you, but by being completely emersed in the water three times--"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." This is quite a different experience from that of most Catholics (many of whom cannot remember their baptism) and even most adult converts. I've seen many who have had water poured over them, but have yet to witness a full emersion Catholic baptism. That's an aside, but important. In full emersion you are truly submerged, and brought forth again fully symbolizing the death and resurrection into which we are being baptised.

In St. Teresa Benedicta's terms we are submerged into the body of Christ which is the living Church and the body of the resurrection. We die to self to become part of what is greater than we are. In dying we are resurrected as more than self, as a member of the body of Christ.

But I like the sense of submerged for another reason. It suggests the fullness of the truth that Christ is not only completely surrounding us, but within us. When one is completely submerged, eventually the fluid one is submerged in enters the body. Submergence in Christ once again suggests the truth of becoming a new person, of losing the old, false identity and assuming one's god-given place in the body of Christ. In addition, submergence contains within it hints of subordination, of right ordering, and of proper relation between the creation and the Creator. In all, a very satisfying fleshing out of Paul's magnificent, life-giving teaching.

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an excerpt:

God’s timing never fails to be amazing. Here we are in the middle of the season of Lent, following Jesus as He makes His way to Jerusalem and ultimately to His passion, and suddenly, as if a flashback in a film, we’re taken to where the story began.

This amplifies the pathos of the coming passion. We see a woman captivated by an angel, in love with God, saying, “Let it be unto to me as you say.” Mary’s eternal “Yes” resounds through time and through space as Jesus Christ becomes man and is born for us.

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from The Science of the Cross: Introduction
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

But--in contrast to a holy realism--the artist's receptivity to impressions is one that the world views in the light of a particular domain of values too readily at the expense of other values. This results in a particular sort of responsive behaviors. It is characteristic of the artist to transform into image anything that causes an interior stirring and demands to be expressed exteriorly. Image here is not to be restricted to the visual arts; it must be understood to refer to any artistic expression including the poetic and musical. It is simultaneously image (Bild) in which something is presented and structure (Gebilde) as something formed into a complete and all-encompassing world of its own. Every genuine work of art is in addition a symbol (Sinnbild) whether or not this is its creator's intention, be he naturalist or symbolist.

It is a symbol: that is, it comes from that infinite fullness of meaning (Sinn) into which every bit of human knowledge is projected to grasp something positive and speak of it. It does so in such a manner, in fact, that it mysteriously suggests the whole fullness of meaning, which for all human knowledge is inexhaustible. Understood this way, all genuine art is revelation and all artistic creation is sacred service.

Despite this, it is clear that there is a danger in an artitistic inclination, and not only when the artist lacks an understanding of the sacredness of his task. The danger lies in the possibility that in constructing the image, the artist proceeds as though there were no further responsibility than producing it. What is meant here can be demonstrated most clearly by the example of images of the cross. There will sacrcely be a believieng artist who has not felt compelled to portray Christ on the cross or carrying the cross.

But the Crucified One demands from the artist more than a mere portrayal of the image. He demands that the artist, just as every other pesron, follow him: that he both make himself and allow himself to be made into an image of the one who carries the cross and is crucified.

(Note to T.S.--this definitely adds to Mr. Gibson's accomplishment in that the media excoriation is a definitive image of the One scourged. I too have little use for the detractors from the film who see only what they wish to see.)

The other aspect of responsibility for the art is too readily dismissed by modernists and postmodernists. Once the work is created they disavow any reactions or results of the art. We get crucifixes in urine and dung-smeared Madonnas and outrage when such works of "art" are criticized or publically declaimed. We get eminem saying that his lyrics encouraging hatred of women and of homosexuals aren't there to inspire hatred (then, what, pray tell, are they there for, because they certainly don't edify or entertain); we get filmakers who produce films that "tell the truth" (or so much of it as they are capable of seeing) who say they are not responsible for offending, hurting, or inspiring acts of terrorism and hatred. Nonsense. The artist's responsiblity does not stop at the production of the work. This is part of my problem with Stockhausen's comments after 9/11. The artist is also responsible for some interpretations of the work. Stravinsky was not responsible for the battles that broke out over The Rite of Spring but he was responsible for the music that resulted from his work. An artist cannot bear the burden of responsibility for every crackpot interpretation of his work, but as Mr. Gibson once again amply demonstrates, he must in some way answer for it--publicly or before God. Personally, I'd rather face the public than offend my God.

St. Teresa Benedicta goes on to point out another crucial responsibility of the sacred artist and that is to live out the life he is called to. Just as every one of us is called to imitate Christ in His mysteries, so too the artist is called to so. And perhaps an artist is called to do so more publicly because their work is in the realm of the public. That is, when we as individuals think matters less in some very real ways, than what those who have access to the media think and do. Thus, we have a personal, community, and familial responsibility to imitate Christ, but the more public the figure, the greater the burden of responsibility for the proper representation of Christlikeness. This is why so many are hurt and disappointed when Christian artists do patently non-Christian things. We have an example before us presently that needs our constant prayer that the party involved realize the implications of his action and learn to do the right thing rather than buying into the lies of the culture of death.

So the artist's work is a sacred undertaking because it draws our attention to Meaning and the One who is inexhaustible. And also the artist's responsibility is commensurately greater as his work is more popular.

All of this from an introduction to a book about St. John of the Cross and his doctrine. One can readily see why St. Teresa Benedicta is so much lauded and admired for her intelligence and her thought. And The Science of the Cross is her EASY book.

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Becoming God's Friends


from Awakening Your Sould to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian Healy OCD

What more could God have done to invite us to be His fieends? Did He not send HIs only-begotten Son into the world to become man, so that we might find it easier to know and to love Him? Di dnot Jesus say on the eve of His passion:"No longer do I call you servants. . . but I have called you friends"? Was He not revealing to the Apostles and to the future members of the Church their vocation to intimacy with Him, the Son of God?

There you have it--we are called to a vocation of intimacy with Him. He has given the instructions, the example, and the grace. Now, we must take Him up on the invitation. How can we grow to love God if we do not talk to Him? Many of us already share our concerns of the day, but many of us do not share the deep-down reality of who we are. Part of the reason for that is that we are afraid of who we are in Christ. That person would be called upon to act differently than we normally do in the world. That person would have no entitlements and would have no rights before all. He would be a servant of God and a servant of the servants of God. We don't really want to be servants. Okay, maybe we want to be, but I can tell you, I'm not terribly keen on the idea. A servant gets kicked around. A servant gets ignored. A servant has no real recourse when abuse is heaped upon him.

So the role of servant doesn't really appeal to me--I suspect it doesn't appeal to many. However, the role of God's friend does appeal to me. It appeals to me so much that the role of servant may not be so bad. Here is where I must change. I must pray for the grace to serve and the grace to love. Only in serving our fellow men can we become God's friends. Jesus made it explicitly clear in the parable of the sheep and the goats. "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, thy brethren, that you do unto me." Suddenly the idea of service isn't so bad. Perhaps I can serve. Perhaps I can learn to see Jesus in those in need. Surely with grace this can be accomplished. And perhaps I can begin to be who Jesus would want me to be. Perhaps I can begin to have an identity in Christ.

All is grace. None of this can happen if I refuse the actions of grace. None of this can happen if I remove myself from conversation with God. So I must seek to open the channels of grace, to exercise spiritual muscles and disciplines that I have heretofore left inactive. And I do this because all is grace and all is gift. I can do nothing of myself. But I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

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from The Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis

Peter did not fall into the deep pit of despair as did the unfortunate Judas, but he trusted in your continuing abundant mercy, which he had often experienced. Thus shedding sorrowful tears, he hastened to do penance, the saving rememdy for sin, and found the gate leading to infinite mercy wide open to him.

And Judas did not seek out this remedy. Surely Judas's crime was by far the greater, and yet the same gate of mercy swung wide for him. He was one of those Jesus trusted with the precious gift of His message, so surely he was assured a place among them even after his dastardly act. But Judas's public repudiation put him squarely in the eye of the world. He judged himself by the eyes looking in upon him (much as those unfortunates in Sartre's world of Huis Clos) and despaired because he could not rejoin the company. He so thoroughly believed the lies of the world that he condemned himself.

And yet it is my prayer that the love of Jesus redeemed him nevertheless. Jesus knew to the core the weakness of this vessel, and Judas fulfilled His every expectation. I pray that Judas had the grace of final repentance and has his seat among the twelve. (Though Dante would tell me otherwise.)

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I have found that there are generally two types of practical books about prayer (here I am not refering to advanced treatises like van Balthasar's theology of prayer). One is an insipid string of clichés;s about "who, what, when, where, how, and why," that fails to stimulate a spirit of prayer and most often fails to provoke anything other than yawns. The other type is a book so thoroughly practical, so dense with helpful advice and with insights that it is virtually impossible to finish because its main effect is to make you abandon the book and start praying--truly an effective work on prayer.

It is into this latter category that I classify Romano Guardini's wonderful The Art of Prayer. It is one of those books that rather than underlining, one would do better to use a black magic marker to delete the one or two sentences per chapter that you wouldn't read again, except that would deprive you of their help when you next came back to it.

This makes it most difficult to choose what to share, what stirkes one, and what might be most helpful. But I will endeavor to share a bit of what the book has given me:

from The Art of Prayer
Romano Guardini

It is a great mystery that man, whose life springs from God, should have such difficulty in communing with Him; that indeed he should experience disinclination to do so and should sieze on any pretext to evade Him. If man merely followed his natural feelings he would soon have no desire to pray. It would, however, be highly dangerous to conclude that this is his proper condition and that he had better accept it, rather than try to change it. . . . Are a sick man's feelings a reliable standrad of truth? Common sense tells us that his feelings may well be unrealiable and he should therefore, guided by superior knowledge--for instance, the judgment of an experienced doctor--establish a regime and persevere in it. In this manner and with time, his feelings may be restored to health. Only then will they be reliable. We are like the sick man; we are sick in our relationship to God and to the world. We cannot therefore make our natural feelings the true standard for our religious attitude, but must follow enlightened opinion in order to put ourselves and our feelings right. The supposed truthfulness which consists in doing what inclination demands is frequently an evasion of truth. In the practice of prayer therefore, we must also endeavor to seek what is right and to do it loyally and, if need be, against our inclinations.

Even those of us inclined to prayer spend much of our time being disinclined. It is grace and the Holy Spirit that lead us "with leashes of love" to the royal throneroom. Prayer is very, very hard to start, and extremely easy to abandon. Satan has used our own natures and allowed them to accumulate the spiritual equivalents of inertia and friction any motion is difficult to begin and requires a constant effort to maintain.

As a result those of us inclined to pray spend a great deal of time reading books about prayer, books about God, books about how to stop reading books about prayer and start doing, and using all manner of clever dodges for avoiding prayer and calling it preparing for prayer.

Or maybe not. Perhaps I'm the only person caught in such a cycle, though from speaking to others, I suspect not.

Routine is helpful. This is why, a while back, I spent some time encouraging the daily practice of the liturgy of the hours. There was a notably dampening response to that suggestion--intimating that it was too difficult, too time consuming, not necessary for sanctity or furthering prayer life. And yet I note that when I am faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours all other prayer flows more easily (not to say spontaneously), and when I break that routine, I shatter the rest of my prayer life as well.

A fixed time and a set place are a good beginning to a constant prayer life. When vocal prayer becomes habit, when its lines and contours are known and well worn, then it can begin to deepen and take root in the soul. St. Teresa of Avila advises us that a well-formed vocal prayer is already a mental prayer.

This is one of the reasons that the Rosary is so effective a mechanism for encouraging the contemplative life. The words of the prayers form a known and set rhythm and it is on this undulating tide that the meditations on the mysteries take place. The words form the backdrop and the prayer can center on the mysteries. So too with the Jesus Prayer or with the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The words are less important that the meditation that goes with them. When this meditation continues for a long enough period than mere images are no longer necessary and we enter into the realm of contemplative prayer. I suspect few of us get there because we will not settle into a routine.

We've been told (incorrectly) that prayer should be spontaneous and not in fixed modes. The devotions the Church used to encourage are less welcome among some modern clerics. And while spontaneous prayer is good and a wonderful way to "practice the presence" it is a serious mistake to abandon or repudiate time-honored methods of prayer.

Good, solid prayer takes root in well-worked soil. And well worked-soil comes about only through constant application and routine. The great old devotions and prayers of the Church are exquisite ground for beginning a prayer life than can lead directly to union with God. In addition, these well traveled routes have been followed by all the great Saints upon whose intercession we can rely for help as we set out to join God.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel to union with God in prayer is not a solitary road. Along it we have the help of the ages--well-worn, comfortable prayers, and clouds of witnesses, legions of Saints who have pledged their lives and their heavens to assisting those of us too weak to stand on our own. The Ascent is always done in a community of prayer and we all can make the Ascent if we set our minds on doing so and rely upon grace and the prayer of the Communion of Saints to make it happen.

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from Meet Katharine Drexel
Mary van Balen Holt

Family is the first "sacrament." In it one experiences God through flesh-and-blood faces, arms, and hearts. When a mother holds a crying infant close, the child experiences God's loving embrace. When a father reassures a young one who is afraid of a storm, the child knows the safety of God's love. Such experiences give human beings some way to understand the love of God with us.

We are blessed and cursed by family. No matter how good the family, there are always small things that are "wrong" or do not serve us well in later life. Our job as parents is to make certain that on the whole the memory and reality of family that our children carry forth into the world is a good one. If we really want to stop the contraceptive mentality short in its tracks, our only real mechanism is the experience we give our children in family. If it is hard, harsh, and dreadful, if each additional child is seen only as a burden in the carrying and in the reality, if we do not teach love as the funadmental ground of reality, we only increase the risk that our own children will buy into the mentality of the society that surrounds them. If, on the whole, the family experience is one of love and mutual support, an expanding circle of ever more life and love of God, how can our children desire anything other than this profound experience for themselves in later life?

Family is where we learn of God's love. Many of us have our doubts about God's love that stem from these family experiences. We have wounds and hurts that cripple us in our relationship with God because of mistakes our parents made. We need more than anything to forgive our parents and use the experience to NOT be to our children what our parents were to us. Everyone does as much as they can do. Every parent tries to be a good parent. Some meet the needs of their children, others do not. As parents, it's time to give up our woundedness and not pass it on to our children. It's time to live love and teach our children to live it as well.

I know you parishioners of St. Blog's already do this. If you are like me you spend time wondering what life altering defect you afflict on your child that you don't even see. Better not even to worry about it, but take your nearest little one into your arms--yes, even if a teenager and reluctant--and let them know that they are loved, and that your love is a sign of the richer, fuller, more expansive love that God has for them.

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Truth in Prayer

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

No hard-and-fast rules can be laid down for this; we shall discuss it more fully later. But whatever routine one may adopt, one should carry it out honestly and conscientiously. In matters of prayer we are only too apt to deceive ourselves because, generally speaking, man does not enjoy praying. He easily experiences boredom, embarrassment, unwillingness, or even hostility. Everything else appears to him more attractive and more important. He persuades himself that he has not got the time, that there are other more urgent things to do; but no sooner has he given up prayer than he applies himself to the most trivial tasks. We should stop lying to God. Better to say openly, "I do not wish to pray," than to make such excuses. Better not to resort to specious justifications such as, for instance, tiredness, but to declare, "I do not feel like praying." This may sound less decorous, but at least it is the truth which leaves the way open, whereas self-deception does not.

A word to the wise is enough. Y'all know who you are, so just stop it. :-) And, of course, I'm a big one to be talking. But it is nice to have someone point out to you a few home truths.

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from The Anatomy of Melancholy
Democritus Junior (Robert Burton)

A third argument may be derived from the precedent, [436]all men are
carried away with passion, discontent, lust, pleasures, &c., they generally
hate those virtues they should love, and love such vices they should hate.
Therefore more than melancholy, quite mad, brute beasts, and void of
reason, so Chrysostom contends; "or rather dead and buried alive," as [437] Philo Judeus concludes it for a certainty, "of all such that are carried
away with passions, or labour of any disease of the mind. Where is fear and
sorrow," there [438]Lactantius stiffly maintains, "wisdom cannot dwell,"

------"qui cupiet, metuet quoque porro,
Qui metuens vivit, liber mihi non erit unquam."[439]

Seneca and the rest of the stoics are of opinion, that where is any the
least perturbation, wisdom may not be found. "What more ridiculous," as
[440]Lactantius urges, than to hear how Xerxes whipped the Hellespont,
threatened the Mountain Athos, and the like. To speak _ad rem_, who is free
from passion? [441]_Mortalis nemo est quem non attingat dolor, morbusve_, as [442]Tully determines out of an old poem, no mortal men can avoid sorrow
and sickness, and sorrow is an inseparable companion from melancholy.
[443]Chrysostom pleads farther yet, that they are more than mad.

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On the Desertion of Christ

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from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis

May Saint Peter's fall and the apostles' flight serve me as a warning against sin rather than be obstacle in my path. Let their return to repentence instill in me the great hope that I too may seek mercy after my own failings; for there is no one so holy that does not sometimes fall into venial sin. If it should happen that I am deserted by friends and acquaintances or am looked upon, by those whom I love, as a stranger and as one who is worthless, then grant me, as a special remedy, to recall your complete desertion and abandonment, that I may readily forego all human consolation, and in some small measure be conformed to you as you undergo your trials.

Gentle Jesus, forgive me for having so often offended you, for so easily turning to vanities, and for not setting my heart on that which I have proposed to do. How often I look back on the amount of time I spent on so many things, all far from important, while I paid no attention to your Passion. You have preceded me along the narrow road, and with eyes dry I pass by as if your sorrows have no effect on me. Remember my foolish heart and instill in it a loving remembrance of your Passion.

It is entirely too easy to forget what Christ has done for us, even as we remember it. We are too easily distracted by the pretty baubles of God's good world, and too easily drawn away by our own trials.

We abandon Jesus for any reason or for no reason at all. We leave at the slightest provocation. We become wrapped up in ourselves and our trials and we forget Him, though we have promised to stay close to Him. We hunker down for Lent and spend perhaps an extra few minutes a week during which we cast Him a passing thought. Is this how we treat "My Life and my All?"

Unfortunately we do so. But, so then did the disciples when he needed someone most of all. Thomas encourages us to take a lesson and hope from this and to allow our wayward selves to tap into God's grace, as did the apostles. Yes, we will stray away, but let us always return to the straight and narrow path trodden out first by Christ and then by His legion of Saints throughout the ages. Let us give ourselves unreservedly to His Glory that it permeate the entire world. Let us make Love live in the hearts and minds of all who surround us through His grace. Let us rely upon grace and carry His light into the world.

Though we stumble and fall, He is there to pick us up as we were not in His dolorous way.

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Grace--An Unexpected Gift

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One of the delights of serving the St. Blogs community is that from time to time, I get very special little gifts. In this case, I was given permission to share the gift with the community and it is truly tremendous. Please express your appreciation to this truly talented poet in the comments box below. And my most Sincere thanks to Father Woolley.

                      Cor Unum

        O lover, pierced with sorrow, crowned with shame,
        deign here to be consoled, adored, caressed.
        Hide here thy face, a living signet pressed
        to willing wax; and I'll, soft, whispering, claim
        thee, veiled, my cherished own.  Here slake thy flam-
        ing thirst, thy wounded head here, cradled, rest,
        safe on the flowery meadows of my breast.
        Listen -- my heart beats nothing but thy name.

        Here, in this ardent ground, flower forth thy mys-
        teries of crown, cross, chalice, thou blest mart-
        yrs' prince, and fire-wine-apple-incense kiss-
        es shower on brow, throat, breast till thou, I part-
        less die, rest, rise and dowered with boundless bliss
        blooms, springs in both our breasts one rose, one heart.

Father Deacon John Woolley

There is much too much magnificent about this poem to even begin to delineate. The language is rich (much like my beloved Seventheenth Century--about which you have been spared in recent months), antique, and yet not incomprehensible, but somehow more tangible that much of our modern jabber. There is an intense enjambment (flow from one line to the next without stopping) that creates a dynamic tension of the poem. And what can one say as to the sentiment ultimately expressed. I do not know Father personally, but this certainly sounds like the fruit of spending much time with the Lord.

At any rate, my most sincere thanks, and my prayers that whatever gave rise to this magnificent poem continues to grow and bring the author ever closer to the God so supremely invoked here.

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Suffering for Christ

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I don't know about you, but this is an aspect of Saints' lives that always bewildered me. God made life beautiful, wonderful, and glorious. Why would we want to go through it suffering for His sake? Wouldn't it be better to glory in it for His sake? To appreciate the good, and treasure it for all that it is, the gift God saw fit to bestow upon us? Yes, I know that we will return home to the Father, and we should look forward to that wonderful day, but should we discourteously dismiss the wonderful gifts that He has given us so that we can suffer more? Is that the way we treat the gifts of our human parents? Box them up and ship them off so that we can do without?

Last night in my reading, I stumbled across this reminder, which I recall from reading St. Thérèse, but needed to hear again.

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcroft

It is well worth quoting this remarkable letter [249] in full, if only because of the superb advice it contains. But it also reveals so beautifully Elizabeth's spiritual outlook. It is full of common sense, taking full account of our human weakness and yet at the same time piointng to the heights of holiness. It is completely without self-pity; far from asking "why me?" her utter assurance that she and others are totally loved by God enables her to see purpose and meaning in suffering. But there is no hint of suffering for suffering's sake. Her conversation with Mother Germaine shows the same commonsense approach; if it cannot be avoided, and we have a duty to look after ourselves, then we must use it for his glory. The whole letter is permeated with Scripture, which she mediatated upon and lived. Above all, this was no theory, but only wat she experienced for herself.

As the Buddha pointed out (incorrectly) "All life is suffering." Well, ALL life is not suffering, but even the very best earthly life comes with its share of sorrow, disappointment, and pain. When these cannot be avoided, as Blessed Elizabeth and a great many other Saints teach, they should be embraced and offered up to God. What a great common-sense approach to things.

We will suffer. That is a given. There isn't a single human being who has ever lived that has not suffered. However, we suffer even more when we try to avoid the reality of suffering and spend our time complaining about it and trying to find extraordinary means of fleeing it (drugs, alcohol-abuse, etc.). If there will be suffering, then it seems better to accept this as part of what has come from God to us--a kind of bitter-sweet gift, and offer it back to Him as a share in His own suffering from us.

So when we read about suffering in the Saints, keep this in mind. Most were probably not masochists, but recognized the wonders and the beauties of life. But they also recognized that suffering is the human lot. If it is to happen to us anyway (even after we have taken pains to avoid it) than the best we can do is to offer it back to Jesus after we have cherished it. Rhonda Chervin has a book that examines this called A Kiss from the Cross. One important point to remember is that we needn't go out of our way to make ourselves suffer--this I suppose would be a sin against God's goodness. We have enough suffering in life that we needn't make more for ourselves or for others.

God loves us. Suffering is a fact of our mortal bodies and a consequence of the fall. By accepting that lot and offering it back in some sense we help to redress the upset in balance that resulted from the fall.

And small acts of mortification, small deprivations of God's goods also help us to acknowledge that God is more important to us that these lovely baubles that surround us. Giving up what is good and right for a time, as we do in Lent, we experience some part of that "suffering." If we are "using" it wisely, we are allowing it to change our hearts and our lives so that they are more closely aligned with God's Heart and His vision for our lives.

Suffering is not purposeless, it reminds us of the transcience of the present world, and it acts like a cattle prod to keep our feet moving on the path toward holiness.

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from He Is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity
Jennifer Moorcroft

Let us live with God as with a friend, let us make our faith a living faith in order to be in communion with Him through everything, for that is what makes saints. We possess our Heaven within us, since He who satisfies the hunger of the glorified in the light of vision gives Himself to us in faith and mystery, it is the Same One! It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul. The day I unsterstood that everything became clear to me.

For Elizabeth, this was not just a lovely spiritual idea, once she understood it, she lived it with unrelenting persistance, as she said herself, it was how saints were made. It was a way that was typical for her, since there was no dividing line between her spiritual life and her everyday life. In her letter to Guite [stevenote: Elizabeth's sister] Elizabeth went on to reassure her family, who were worried by the thought of the hard Lenten observance in Carmel: "Lent isn't tiring me; I don't even notice it, and then I have a good little Mother who watches over me with a quite maternal heart" (L 109).

And so we have a synthesis of Carmelite teaching. Live with God as with a friend in constant conversation, listening more than speaking; and make your faith a living faith. Perhaps this might be said to BE faith alive. That is when people look at your life they see the fire burning there, the faith that is the love of God shining forth. This should show forth not from what you say, nor even necessarily from what you do, but in how you go about it.

I think of it as the spiritual equivalent for Faith of what Audrey Hepburn was for sophistication, class, and beauty. She didn't need to preach classiness or sophistication--it was simply who she was. And reports have it that part of that may have been because of her faith. But when people look at us, as we conduct ourselves even virtually, they should see the constant striving to make real the presence of God within and among us. They should see living faith. And this only becomes possible when the most important thing in the world is a passionate, all-consuming love of God and desire for His will alone.

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More Reflections on the Passion


from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
"On the shameful arrest and leading away of the Lord Jesus"
Thomas á Kempis

Lord Jesus Christ, Hope of the saints and Tower of strength in every tribulation, I bless and thank you for undergoing so violent an arrest by hateful enemies, for the arrogant laying of sacrilegious hangs on you by those sent to arrest you, and for the brutal looks and menacing shouts of those carrying arms against you. I bless and thank you for your harsh and cruel binding, for your rough and ruthless detention, for your painful pummeling, and for your being so abruptly dragged away. Amid all this tumult, while you were being rushed to your death by mean-spirited and worthless villains, your dear disciples, who had deserted you, looked upon you from a distance with great sorrow.

(book available from Ignatius press)

I was particularly affected by the last line, for I am among those disciples who look upon Him from a distance with great sorrow. I set myself at a distance through my own faults, choices, and sinfulness. And yet, the look that crosses that great distance from the eyes of the Savior himself is not one of condemnation, not one that says, "See what you did to me." Rather it is a look of love that says, "See what I can do for you. Come with me."

And so in Lent we journey with Him. But afterwards, too seldom do we bring to mind the great love that redeems us. Too infrequently do we pause to consider what God has wrought in so marvelous and completely loving a savior. At a word the entire realm of heaven could have rushed down to crush the oppressors. But God stayed His hand, accepting in His human body the pains and suffering we inflict on ourselves and each other in our sinfulness.

Praise the look of love that does not condemn, but speaks new life, "See what I can do for you."

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The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharoah, king of Egypt. Understand then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful convenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7: 6, 8-9)

From morning prayer and especially dedicated this morning to M.

It is because the Lord loves us that he leads us out of slavery to ourselves if we allow Him to. We are like small children lost among the racks of all the adult coats in a department store, wandering, crying, looking for mommy or daddy. God comes to us and takes us by the hand and leads us out. He finds us in the secret places we hide and He offers to carry us. God loves us with an everlasting love, a love that cannot be denied, but which can be refused. He will not insist, but He will continue to try.

God loves us. He leads us out of every kind of slavery. He opens the doors to our prisons. He embraces us as a loving Father and He waits on us as the Father of the prodigal son. What stops us from turning to Him? Why would we refuse His compassionate love? Pride--sheer stubborn human cussedness that cannot admit we cannot do anything by our own power.

God showers us with graces simply to keep us alive from moment to moment. How much more He would give us if only we would open our hearts and reach out to Him, not in fear of retribution but in heart-felt love. Follow the little way of St. Thérèse and take the elevator to the top--the elevator of His arms.

God loves you, each of you, as though you were an only child. Stop acting like an only child and presuming on that indulgent love. Return to Him with your whole heart. This season, give Him the only gift that matters--yourself.

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On Lectio and Openness

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A great many people "spend time in the word" every day. But much of the time they spend there seems to be spent fending off any meaning of the word that might have an impact on their lives. People fear the demands of the gospel. They often fear the cost of discipleship.

In the first few chapters of The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis warns us of this tendency.

Here for example is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

from The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis

EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars. He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.

If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what would it profit me before God Who will judge me by my deeds?

Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise.

Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?

Many who approach the Bible study it. Study is good and necessary. But if the end result of study is merely that one knows more, it is futile. Study must end in loving more. Study must end in opening oneself to the Word and making oneself vulnerable and useful to God.

This goes for all spiritual reading. If we read only to have read, or if we read in order to understand God, and we do not allow the reading to affect how we live, we have read in vain. There is no purpose in reading merely for more information. We have enough information. People who were illiterate throughout the history of Christianity, those who had no learning whatsoever, had sufficient information. Where we are deficient, universally, is in our willingness to serve the Word, to live the Word as it has been spoken to our hearts.

So, during Lent, spend time in God's word and pray that God enlighten not merely the understanding, but the entire intellect and the will and the heart, that what we read there really changes our lives in fundamental ways. Pray that this season opens us up to the working of the Holy Spirit so that the journey begun here does not end in Easter, but in Eternity, starting here on Earth and moving through all time.

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from On the Passion of Christ: According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis

Also grant me the grace courageously to overcome my defiant flesh for the benefit of my soul, to cast out all carnal fear, to pray more frequently and attentitvely, to enjoy your assistance, to leave every outcome in your hands, to renounce my will thoroughly, and to be ready to suffer whatever comes.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from March 2004.

Commonplace Book: February 2004 is the previous archive.

Commonplace Book: April 2004 is the next archive.

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