Commonplace Book: November 2005 Archives

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

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 131

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

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

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

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

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Prisoners Awaiting Freedom

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

from If Grace Is True
Philip Gulley and James Mulholland

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

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

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

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

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

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The Virtue of Amiability

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Worth your attention and my retention. Thanks Brandon.

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

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

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

from Journey to Carith
Peter-Thomas Rohrbach

[first a repeat]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Christina Rosetti


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

Christina Rossetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why I So Dearly Love La Madre


from Journey to Carith
Peter-Thomas Rohrbach

[Quoting St Teresa]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mary, Queen and Mother of Carmel


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

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

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

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

John 2:1-5

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

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

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

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

from the Apostolic Letter "Rosarium Virginis Mariae"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living Our Vocation

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

Or, the perils of ignoring popular culture.

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

Something to be Proud of
Montgomery Gentry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Psalm 131

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

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

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

from Psalm 139

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

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

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

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

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and God bless each visitor today.

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

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Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Prayer to the Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

-Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, 21 November 1904

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The Indwelling God


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The End of Prayer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love and Joy


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

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

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

(John 15:10-12)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From St. Ephrem the Syrian

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

Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So appropriate for All Saints Day.

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

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I thought this passage a revelation and an illumination:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An End to Anger?



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

from Disputations

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

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

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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



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

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

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Love's Last Letter


Love's Last Letter

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

from Christopher Love's Last Letter to His Wife

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

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Rejoice Despite Pain and Sorrow


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

from a Sermon by Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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

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

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Rejoicing in the Lord Here and Now


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

Excerpt from a Sermon of St. Augustine

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

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

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The Blessed Lady Theotokos


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

from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

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

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from November 2005.

Commonplace Book: October 2005 is the previous archive.

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