Commonplace Book: March 2006 Archives

The End of the Road


from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

In the Passion and death of Christ our sins were consumed by fire. If we accept that in faith, and if we accept the whole Christ in faith-filled surrender, which means, however, that we choose and walk the path of the imitation of Christ, then He will lead us "through His Passion and cross to the glory of His Resurrection." This is exactly what is experienced in contemplation: passing through the expiatory flames to the bliss of the union of love. This explains its twofold character. It is death and resurrection.

What more is there to say. The culmination of a life of contemplation is a direct participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord. The passage through the Dark Night means death to the senses (which is not to say that one becomes an unanchored, floating, ethereal spirit) and ultimately leads to Union with God. Said Union is a union in both the Death of Christ, and so a Union on the way of the cross, which, by supporting our own burdens (always with the help of grace), we help to lift some of the burden to the cross itself, and in the Resurrection of the Lord, which is a resurrection into His eternal life while here on Earth. That is the meaning of Spiritual Union--actual participation in the Being of God while we live today--and I can't imagine a state more to be desired and yet which also summons up such great fear. And so the sum of my spiritual life is approach-avoidance. I look in on this wonderful spectacle and desire to participate, but innate fear (and of what I cannot say) keeps me back. Nevertheless, His grace is stronger than my fear, and so I trust myself to Him and know that eventually (I hope in this life) I will come to Him and be what He has made me to be.

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The Veil of Veronica


from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

He will communicate His power to you so you can love Him with a love as strong as death ; the Word will Imprint in your soul, as in a crystal, the image of His own beauty, so you may be pure with His purity, luminous with His light.

In prayer and in surrender to Jesus, we become imprinted with His image as did the cloth with which Veronica wiped His face. But the image imprinted upon us is a living image, full of purity and luminosity--bright beyond brightness, light so light that what we see as brilliance is all dark. In the spiritual union that occurs in deepest prayer, each person assumes the place assigned and does the work appropriate to that part of the body--some the head, some the heart, some the feet, some the hands--all One Christ, one mystical body serving our brothers and sisters in all that is done.

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Via Crucis II


from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one's feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father's right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels--this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.

As Brandon said of another post a similar context, sometimes whatthis saint has to say is eerily prophetic. Who would know more about "the dirty and rough paths of this earth" than one who road in the boxcars of a train that emptied at Auschwitz? Who encouraged all, the mothers, the children, everyone as she road that train to an end she well knew? Who better to sing the praises of God, than a woman from among the Chosen People, raised to the honors of the Altar--not in spite of her heritage but, indeed, because she embraced her identity as one of the Children of Israel, suffering with her people and for her people.

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Why She's a Saint and I'm Not


Amongst other reasons:

from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints:
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The cross is again raised before us. It is the sign of contradiction. The Crucified looks down on us, "Are you also going to abandon me?" . . . The fountain from the heart of the Lamb has not dried up. We can wash our robes clean in it even today as the thief on Golgotha once did. Trusting in the atoning power of this holy fountain, we prostrate ourselves before the throne of the Lamb. . . .Let us draw from the springs of salvation for ourselves and for the entire parched world.

A true found poem embedded in the prose-- see it:

The cross is again raised before us
the sign of contradiction--
the Crucified looks down on us,
"Are you also going
to abandon me?"

The fountain from the heart
of the Lamb has not dried up--
we wash our robes clean in it even
today as the thief on Golgotha once
did. Trusting in the atoning
power of this holy fountain,
we prostrate ourselves before
the throne of the Lamb.

Let us draw from the springs
of salvation for ourselves
and for the entire parched world.

It isn't just the trickery of playing with the lines, the words themselves are the poetry of salvation. Mechanics and poetry combine in the Cross and open wide the doors of its saving power--princes, poets, people of all walks of life are invited to walk through. They are invited to add their love to the love of centuries, the love of ages, the love without end--perfecting the perfect by making it present in every day.

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Burnt Norton and the Box Circle


Reading Thomas Howard's Dove Descending and finding the insights helpful in opening up Four Quartets. Obviously in so short a work it is impossible to be exhaustive, but I thought I'd share an insight that came as I was reading the explanation of the "box circle" that occurs in the first division of "Burnt Norton."

Howard offers a very fine explanation of the significance of the box circle, including it as both the hedge and the "box seats" of a theatre performance. But, perhaps because of space, he left out some details that I think add to the density and texture of the poem.

The lines in question refer to a movement in the poem to a garden:

from Four Quartets--Burnt Norton
T.S. Eliot

So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light. . .

We have been called into this "first garden" by the singing of a thrust. Entering we have found it filled with "presences." Now we are moving deeper into the mystery of time encompassed in the garden. The box circle refers to the hedge of boxwood in a formal garden--a formal designed essence. But what Howard fails to mention, and what I believe to be critically important is that the "box circle" often occurs at the center of the formal garden. It is set so that the person looking from the upper story of a house overlooking the garden will seen at it's exact center a circle inscribed in a square, usually with four entrances in the center of the side of the square.

Also, I think there is reason to believe that this "box circle" is an oblique reference to "squaring the circle." That is, using the primitive instruments of geometry (straight-edge and compass) attempting to construct a square that has exactly the same area as a circle of given radius. This is an impossibility unless we cheat and use a rational approximation of pi. And what Eliot is telling us in this box circle is the impossibility of abiding in this perfect garden for reasons that he will go on to articulate. One of which is eerily reflected in The Haunting of Hill House:

"Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality."

So, I add this little aside to a really fine and interesting study of the poem. Using Howard's insights as a leg up, I'm finding passage through this poem a much more reasonable proposition that it was some years ago. Also, I think this is one of those poems that you have to have lived to begin to understand. This pining and nostalgia cannot make a lot of sense to most twenty-year-olds.

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from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints:
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The bridal union of the soul with God is the goal for which she was created, puchased through the cross, consummated on the cross, and sealed for all eternity with the cross.

This is the rejoinder to "Jesus died for your sins." No, Jesus didn't die FOR my sins, as though they might increase, He died because of them. As important, He died to give us an intimate knowledge of the lengths to which Love will go to hold us. He gave up what each of us cherishes most and struggles to maintain throughout its span. He did so willingly as an invitation to understanding God in His fullness.

Union with God was purchased at so high a price so that we would understand how very valuable, how very worthwhile it is. Anything less would have meant nothing at all. But in this sign, God said once and for always, that His love is complete, immutable, and unconditional.

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To Die of Love

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The Saint of the Little Way, well known for her French schoolgirl and sentimentality, disliked by the intellectuals, a little repugnant to modern sensibilities, had this to say:

Our Lord died on the cross in agony and yet this is the most beautiful death of love. . . To die of love is not to die in transports.

-St. Thérèse

Spoken by one in the throes of a most excruciating crucible of ravaging tuberculosis, it carries the weight of authority. This is not some starry-eyed Schoolgirl--this is a young woman facing her own death, alone as Jesus was alone, in the midst of the deepest, darkest night any of us can begin to imagine. She neither turned her back on it, nor did she flee to seek refuge in some vain hope or in bitterness. Instead, knowing full well what was at the end, she embraced it and went to it. This she did because of her love and Jesus and her thirst for souls.

The exterior of the package, no matter how much sugary dressing it may have, does not reveal the interior strength, the beauty of the soul that even now "Spends [her] heaven doing good on Earth."

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Reflection on the Rule III


In part this is a reply to and confirmation of a comment made in the entry below about the Carmelite rule. I had been mulling this over for some time, and the response was the kind of confirmation I needed to go ahead and post these thoughts as disparate and tenuously connected as they are.

from The Rule of St. Albert

Chapter 18

Since man's life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil, your foe, is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourself in God's armour so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy's ambush.

The subtlety of this translation is particularly appealing. Note that the phrase used is "God's armour," not the more usual "Armor of God." This is an important difference, even thought the Latin can usually be translated either way. God's armour is the armour that belongs to God , His own battle gear, as it were. The Armor of God is armor that is not necessarily a personal possession, but rather a creation of God himself.

During our recent retreat, the retreat master went to great lengths to lay out a clear biblical exposition of the meaning and presence of God's armor in the scripture. He took great pains to make us aware that this armor was not our own armor that was "manufactured by God," but it was the very armor God himself wears when he is figuratively described in battle in a number of old-testament passages. When we clothe ourselves with it then, following the whole concept of the Simplicity of God, we are putting on God himself.

Chapter 19 of the rule goes on to give the traditional description of this armor, following closely that in Ephesians 6. What Father John-Benedict pointed out very clearly is that the vast majority of this weaponry is defensive. There is only a single offensive weapon--the sword of the word. We put on the armor to protect ourselves in the midst of the ongoing battle, not to launch an assault ourselves. The battle is the Lord's, He is the victor, and His victory is already won, we are protected by God's own armor as we walk the battlefield--but Jesus Christ wins the battle on His own merits. Our job in the battlefield is to wait and pray for all of those who have not put on the armor, who are not protected and who are not even aware that they are walking through a war zone.

Spiritual combat is never directed at another person, as Joachim notes below, it is always directed at fighting evil within us, and we do very, very little except don the armor and let God fight (see the notes on grace and will below). The spiritual battle is good vs. evil and we fight it every day in the most seemingly insignificant choices we make. Do we give alms, or do we ignore? Do we judge or do we help? Do we choose what is forbidden us, or do we accept God's commandments as a central pillar of our lives? One by one, or all at once, we face these choices in seemingly little things--for some it may be the question of whether they buy the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated; for others it may be returning the extra 5 dollars that came back to you by accident in change. These are small, but meaningful choices and our ability to make them in accordance with God's will is fostered by putting on His armor.

Each moment has decisions enough for a lifetime--accept God's will or reject it. And we can only perceive and understand that will when we are encased in His own armor, one body of Christ fighting the evil within ourselves by allowing the Lord to enter and win the battle, taking back the world one person at a time through His grace. So, as I concluded a day or so ago when I reopened comments--don't look to wage the battle "out there," although the battle rages there also, fight the battle within--your choices there will echo and reecho throughout the outside world, changing it slowly, subtly, bit-by-bit, to be more a reflection of what we choose moment to moment.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20: [19] I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,
[20] loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

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Fear of the Lord


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Proverbs 9:10

from The Office of Readings: Thursday Second Week of Lent
from A Treatise on the Psalms,St. Hilary, Bishop

We must begin by crying out for wisdom. . . . Then, we must understand the fear of the Lord.

"Fear" is not to be taken in the sense that common usage gives it. Fear in this ordinary sense is the trepidation our weak humanity feels when it is afraid of suffering something it does not want to happen. We are afraid, or are made afraid, because of a guilty conscience, the rights of someone more powerful, an attack from one who is stronger, sickness, encounters a wild beast, suffering evil in any form. This kind of fear is not taught: it happens because we are weak. We do not have to learn what we should fear: objects of fear bring their own terror with them.

But of the fear of the Lord this is what is written: Come, my children, listen to me, I shall teach you the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord has then to be learned because it can be taught. It does not lie in terror, but in something that can be taught. It does not arise from the fearfulness of our nature; it has to be acquired by obedience to the commandments, by holiness of life and by knowledge of truth.

For us the fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings our fear of him to its perfection.

The fear of the Lord is an acquired "skill," one necessary to wisdom, that does not spring from the primordial fear that accompanies us as guardian and protector (although often it gets out of hand and becomes tyrant). Couple that with the fact that this fear is learned and the fear takes on a new name: awe.

In today's world, many seem to have lost the sense of awe. Nothing seems to inspire people to the same heights that have been recorded in the past. We build taller buildings, we launch more ambitious projects, we see more majestic things, and there is a collective sigh and yawn. We are the children of the age of Ecclesiastes--we've seen it all and it is all futile and boring.

St. Hilary points out that to acquire fear of the Lord, at least three characteristics must be present in the life of a person: obedience, holiness, and truth. Awe cannot be present if any one of these is lacking. The order might be stated somewhat differently--a person must know the truth (of God and His commandments) and be humbly obedient to it as a prelude to holiness of life. Truth and knowledge are not the only requisites of a holy life, they are merely the start; but they are a powerful, meaningful start. These begin the "fear" of the Lord, which is perfected in the love that grows from them.

The dailiness of the day, the horrifying ennui of the movement from day to day, is broken by awe. A moment of sitting in the presence of God and recognizing Him who is and I who am not is sufficient for anyone to be revitalized, to regain a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of God. Without this necessary action even "billions upon billion of stars," are mere glowing balls of gas in the night sky.

If you look at young children, they have not yet forgotten awe. You see it in their faces as they look at each new thing. You see it in their behavior as they begin to react to these. Gradually, we train children out of this awe--we introduce them to the "real world," and work very hard to remove the stars from their eyes--not usually deliberately, but nonetheless effectively. I remember not so long ago when Sam would ask us what it was like before he was born. "What was it like when I wasn't born, when I was up in heaven with the angels and God?" He would ask this as though he had some memory of being in Heaven--it was magnificent, a breath of awe. Those questions come less frequently now, though we have done nothing consciously to remove them; nevertheless, our lack of response, of even being able to understand the question causes these questions to vanish, this memory of his to fade.

World-weariness, weltschmerz, is the dangerous offspring of a life not lived in holiness, obedience, and truth. One does not see this in the lives of the Saints. Rather one remarks in their every movement and every word a sense of profound joy, of profound peace. This is the proper offspring of love of God inspired by fear of the Lord. And this love of God brings the fear of the Lord to perfection.

O Lord,

This Lent,
teach me to fear you
as the prelude to proper love.
Set my feet in the paths of
truth, obedience, and holiness
that I may spread the light of your peace and joy
and be your humble servant here on Earth.


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La Madre's Way of the Cross


It should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with St. Teresa of Avila that her vision of the Cross is completely interpenetrated with love; not the Love of God for humanity, which she acknowledges and exalts, but the love of the person for Christ and His Cross. This is an interesting perspective and one that may help shed some light on the question of "taking up our crosses."

The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints St. Teresa of Avila

They are too attached to their honor. . . . These souls, for the most part, grieve over anything said against them. They do not embrace the cross but drag it along, and so it hurts and wearies them and breaks them to pieces. However, if the cross is loved, it is easy to bear, this is certain.

For St. Teresa of Avila, love is the measure of all things. Everything that a person does is measured by the love lavished on it. When someone loves to do carpentry, the shelves, cabinets, and woodwork of his (or her) house shows the attention given to detail. When a person loves to cook, the meals prepared show the investment of time and love.

Most people's embrace of the cross is summed up in the word endurance. The cross is not to be loved, or even to be examined, and only just barely is it to be borne, and then, often, only with ill grace. What the Saint says here is that whatever makes up the cross for a person needs not merely be borne and dragged along--in this there is mere destruction. But it must be loved, loved as the present it is from the God who gives it. While wearing braces, a person does not love them, but afterwards, for years of straight teeth and good service, the love of them grows. Leg braces are nothing great to wear, causing the owner pain and humiliation, but without them there is no motion of one's own.

The cross is a gift from God. The crosses a person is called upon to bear are to right the irregularities in that person's spirit, to repair the flaws of original sin, and to make that person a perfect vessel of grace. It's hard to love what hurts, but when what hurts leads to perfection, a person can do it. It often hurts to lift weights, to jog, or to engage in other such activities--but because of the benefits that accrue to these activities many people do them, and many people "love" them. If so for things that help make better the life of this world, then how much more so for things that help make better life now and in the world beyond?

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St. Thérèse quoted in Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition Paul-Marie of the Cross O.C.D.

Merit does not consist in doing or in giving much, but rather in receiving, in loving much. . . . It is said, it is much sweeter to give than to receive, and it is true. But when Jesus wills to take for Himself the sweetness of giving, it would not be gracious to refuse. Let us allow Him to take and give all He wills.

Our merits increase as we empty ourselves and allow God to fill us. Utter self-giving means utter Divine receiving, and whatever merits we might have accrued dim in comparison to being spouse to God. Once again, St. Thérèse is so right on the mark. And one of the great difficulties of our time is that so many know well how to give, but receive very, very poorly.

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From a Little Flower


Great beauty. The thought and admonition are absolutely beautiful.

St. Thérèse quoted in Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition
Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D.

You are not sufficiently trusting, you fear God too much. I assure you that this grieves him. Do not be afraid of going to purgatory because of its pain, but rather long not to go there because this pleases God who imposes this expiation so regretfully. From the moment that you try to please him in all things if you have the unshakable confidence that he will purify you at every instant in his love and will leave in you no trace of sin, be very sure that you will not go to purgatory.

I know nothing of why Saints receive the honors they do of the Church, but I'm convinced that St. Thérèse, who is adored by both traditionalists and by others in the Church, is actually the Saint who most significantly changed our understanding of God and of Salvation. I think that she opened our eyes to the supremacy of love and to the nature of God as Father, in ways that might have been touched upon, but certainly never thoroughly explored before her. While never denying Church doctrine, look at the shades of understanding in the passage above--God "regretfully" imposes the expiation of Purgatory. Certainly not the traditional view of either God or purgatory.

This is certainly not the God one would have encountered in the writings of Saints before Thérèse; and it is an image of God a great many have tremendous trouble accepting even now. The school that so adamantly opposes Hans Urs von Balthasar's contentions in Dare We Hope that All Men Be Saved?, would be disinclined, it would seem, to accept such an image of God. And yet there is part of me that is certain that St. Thérèse got it exactly right. God may allow some of His children to escape His love, but if so, it is done not in anger, wrath, rage, and righteous indignation, but in the way a human parent finally has to let their wayward teenager come to the end of his or her own road in a jail or halfway house. They cannot (and God does not) interfere with self-will, but both parents and God are heartbroken at the choices made by their children.

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The Shorter Way to God


from The Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection;

Quote in Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition
Paul-Marie of the Cross O.C.D.

We look for methods. . . to learn how to love God. We want to get there by I don't know how many practices. A multitude of methods makes it more difficult for us to remain in God's presence. Isn't it much shorter and more direct to do everything for love of God, to use all the works of our state in life to manifest our love to him, and to foster the awareness of his presence in us by this exchange of our heart with him? Finesse is not necessary. We need only approach him directly and straightforwardly.

It's been my experience that when the means of approaching God are multiplied, my attention to God is divided. The means become the ends; methods become the focus of attention. Brother Lawrence here suggest a "shorter, more direct" way of approaching God, a simpler way. But, as with St. Thérèse's little way, simpler is not easier. The Carmelite way of things is very, very simple, just as most Carmelites are fairly simple; however, the Carmelite way, properly lived, I'm coming to discover, is not at all easy. Nevertheless, in this, as in all that pertains to God, if our hearts are simple and our desires quieted until only one voice remains, it is possible. And these things are possible through Grace alone. We cooperate and prepare ourselves to receive the grace (although even this is not done without Grace) and it is Grace alone which accomplishes all that need be done. We must simply focus on the End rather than all the means, and we must love the End more than any of the intermediary means. Simple, but not easy--apparently a hallmark of the Carmelite way.

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Here's a thought that I am only beginning to come to terms with:

from The Way of the Cross with the Carmelite Saints: St. John of the Cross

On this [narrow] road there is room only for self-denial (as our Savior asserts) and the cross. The cross is a supporting staff that greatly lightens and eases the journey.

I have a few minor problems with the first part. Mostly they are problems of proportionality and my role. I must deny myself, but in denying myself, I may not deny others. For example, I may give up a great many things, but I cannot impose upon my wife and child to give up those same things. I can encourage and I can lead by example, but an imposition from without is not self-denial but simply oppression.

Self-denial may be difficult, but I at least understand it. I'm only beginning to sense the truth encompassed in the second sentence, and I probably won't be able to make much sense of it to you, but here I go anyway.

When you love deeply, everything you do in love is made easier by being in love. Self-denial isn't self-denial, it is making a gift of yourself. You want the best of everything for the person you love and you're willing to see to it that they get it. You deny yourself some small trinket or even something necessary in order to fulfill the need you perceive. When your love is Jesus Christ, taking up your cross is part of His being able to bear His. We all participate in being Simon the Cyrene when we choose to carry our cross and deal with the burdens of the world at large. In this sense the cross becomes a staff. It is something we have taken up in love, not in thinking about ourselves, but in thinking about Jesus.

True self-denial denies even the concept of self-denial. It cannot be self-denial if it is given in love. Yes, you are incidentally denied something, but that something you are denied contributes to the welfare of another, if only in the spiritual realm. Self-denial does not always see the denial, it sees only the end for which the denial occurs--Jesus Christ. Thus, taking up the cross becomes not so much a chore as an exertion of love--a sign of our Love for the savior. Indeed, when love carries the burden, it works so strongly that it lifts us up as well.

Do what you do not for fear of hell or hope of heaven, but for the love of Jesus Christ. When that motivates all that we are and all that we do, the world itself is transformed, and what appear to be heroic acts of virtue are baubles, trifles, never enough to satisfy our desire to give. We suffer with the suffering of being unable to give enough, of being mortal and confined and limited. Our suffering greatly increases as our love increases and I wonder if even the suffering is not suffering, but it is part of the transformative union that allows us to share the aloneness of Jesus on the Cross for a single moment. If for an instant I could be with Him when He was most abandoned, what a consolation that would be to the entire world. If I could enter into that dark and terrifying place and say, "I'm here Lord," what a consolation that would be. Suffering would still be suffering, but it would be transformed in Him.

I go on too long. I am only beginning to understand, and my lack of understanding makes many words of what is probably a very simple thing. But it is a thing I need to know better and embrace more completely. Self-denial is meaningless if all I ever look at is my self and what is being denied. Self-denial seeks to look beyond the mere temporal object to the final Glory for which we have surrendered the object so important to us.

What a joyful, wonderful time Lent is. I want to say to all the world, "Come on in, the water's fine. And the company is just grand."

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Saint Julian


from Saint Julian
Walter Wangerin Jr.

Blue-eyed with lily-white skin--Oh, how comely was the Lady of the Castle as she ducked her head and grabbed for the sailing linen and laughed at the whirling breezes as if they were sprites or dryads, the children of dreams and memories.

It was upon occasions of such unconscious abandon, occasions when his mother broke her silences and danced with the day, that Julian--watching through some high window or lattice above--was so moved with love for his mother that he fell to his knees and gave thanks unto Heaven for the rain of grace and goodness in his life.

How would you like to be the type of parent for love of whom your children spontaneously fell to their knees and gave thanks. I'm not yet, but it certainly seems a worthy goal so long as they are thanking God for grace and goodness.

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From My Present Reading


from Saint Julian
Walter Wangerin

Julian's mother, gracious in every regard, was a slender woman with slightly caven shoulders and a quick, bright eye. Her face, in sweet descent from the brow to the chin, showed first the temples of stable thought and wise administration; next, the dawn-blush of joy and high-blooded health; and finally the raised taper of noble certitude--which, in her husband's presence, lowered to noble compliance. Ah, and then how glad was the Lord of the Castle to find the gift of such compliance in the face of his lady! And how rich was the issue of Compliance and Gladness commingled together: for the issue was Julian himself, appearing pink and dimpled on the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel.

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A Lenten Pause


A hard, joyful word from St. Josemaria Escriva:

from The Way

17 Don't succumb to that disease of character whose symptoms are insonstancy in everything, thoughtlessness in action and speech, scatter-brained ideas: superficiality, in short.

Mark this well: unless you react i time--not tomorrow: "Now!"--that superficiality which each day leads you to form those empty plans (plans 'so full of emptiness') will make of your life a dead and useless puppet.

We can be pushed to and fro by the winds of self and slavish devotion to our own awkward notions of things. As our notions change, so to do our whims, our directions, our motivations, our path of life. Ultimately we do as Dante says of Dame Fortune: "Her changes change her changes endlessly." We become mere avatars of change, waffling, uncertain, and unhappy.

The discipline of Lent is the beginning of a discipline of life that can help us to alter those circumstances. We can choose not to succumb to whatever wind passes our way. We can choose to adhere closely to the truth and not be driven forward on an endless journey seeking our own ends. Simple, humble obedience and a constant recourse to the Lord in prayer and our lives become something other than what they were. We move on toward life. Or we cleave to our own ends and wind up with a life that is truly as meaningless as the postmodernists would tell you it is. The choice rests with each one of us because God's grace alone is sufficient.

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From the Office of Readings


From a Homily by St. John Chrysostom

Prayer and converse with God is a supreme good: it is a partnership and union with God. As the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, so our spirit, when it is intent on God is illumined by his infinite light. I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night.

By which I read the saint to mean not that he thinks poorly of fixed times of prayer, but that prayer of the heart, which involves the whole person is the supreme good to which all other prayer and discipline leads.

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--from In Conversation with God

The person who abandons mortification is inevitably ensnared by his senses and becomes incapable of any supernatural thought.

Those are some really tough words--but they aren't so difficult as you might imagine if you really understand what mortification is. Mortification is the abanonment of self in the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice in the service of another and in the love of God. When you put up with Ms. Whiny-voice and even welcome her into your home or office, you are excerising the spirit of mortification. When you eat less of what you would like, or allow your children to have the last piece of whatever, you are in the spirit of mortification. The possibility of mortification is pervasive, we need merely reach out to touch it and take advantage of it. We mature in our faith through self-denial and little sacrifices.

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Words for Lent


"Whoever seeks God while wanting to hold on to his own likes and dislikes, may seek Him day and night, but will never find Him."

St. John of the Cross The Spiritual Canticle

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This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from March 2006.

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