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October Begins

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You all know by now that I love October. I really love October. A Lot.

Today St. Thèr&ecute;se, tomorrow Guardian Angels, October 7, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St Teresa of Avila on October 15th. I know, I know, there are others, but this is just a sampling.

In addition, we get peak color in the Northern states, and in my home states, all of those birds that have migrated north, return to roost in the trees so that you see thousands and thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds. The trees look like they're decorated already for Christmas. This month really makes my heart sing.

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The Immaculate Conception


I composed this mediation for another site, but I knew at the time it was overwhelming for the purpose. And so that it should not go to waste but perhaps serve some of the purpose for which it was initially composed--mostly to remind me and those like me what we celebrate today, I reprint it in its original entirety here. (My deep thanks to the patient soul who was so kind to craft the original to better fit the purpose it was supposed to fill.)

The Immaculate Conception

from the 1854 dogmatic constitution Ineffabilis Deus:

"The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.

"The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul. Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin. The state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam -- from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death."

In a dramatic confirmation of the validity of this dogmatic pronouncement, in 1858 Benadette Soubirous, a young girl who was to become known to us as St. Bernadette, had 18 visions of the blessed virgin during one of which the Blessed Virgin Identified herself: "Que soy era Immaculado Conception" (I am the immaculate conception.)

The Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced the Birth of Jesus. Mary's yes to the angel, spoken in Eternity and not in simple linear time worked through the sanctifying grace that was always with her to bring us that most wonderful of saviors--the One Thing Necessary.

And so today we celebrate the one born truly without original sin who gave birth to the One born without Sin. Her simple "Be it done unto me according to thy will," resounds now for us in that we have a Savior to turn to, to worship, and to love. In this season as we await his Advent, it is good to remember that He was long promised, and were it not for the yes of a young girl in a backward town, we might still be waiting.

"O most Holy Virgin, who was pleasing to the Lord and became His mother, immaculate in body and spirit, in faith and in love, look kindly on me as I implore your powerful intercession. O most Holy Mother, who by your blessed Immaculate Conception, from the first moment of your conception did crush the head of the enemy, receive our prayers." From the Novena to the Immaculate conception, Day 1.


O God, who by the Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
did prepare a worthy dwelling place for Your Son,
we beseech You that, as by the foreseen death of this, Your Son, You did preserve Her from all stain,
so too You would permit us, purified through Her intercession, to come unto You.
Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, world without end.


May you be blessed this day by the intercession of the one born without original sin. May your eyes see more clearly and your heart be lifted and may you be inspired to help all who are like this young woman was--alone, frightened, burdened by mysterious and wonderful life.

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The Last Secret of Fatima

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This book is credited to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who did contribute the majority of the content; however the person responsible for the questions, the layout, and the structure of the whole is a journalist by the name of Giuseppe de Carli who seems to have an unfortunate flair for the sensational. The book takes the form of a full-length interview with some supporting documentation at the end and a foreward by Pope Benedict XVI.

As an interview, the book has its ups and downs. There are unfortunate and sometimes meaningless digressions; the final 15% of the interview section has nothing whatsoever to do with the title of the book, and appears to be meaningless padding designed to form a "book-length" study; for those not intimately familiar with everyday events in Italy, there are meangingless, enigmatic and odd references to events that may or may not be related to the main theme--I somehow doubt that the death of Oriana Fallaci has a whole lot to do with the Fatima secrets.

There are times when de Carli, either legitimately, or out of a perverse sense of journalistic sensationalism forces the points of the so-called Fatimists, insisting at points the Sister Lucia's true revelations had been suppressed, or that there was a fourth secret, or that the final secret did not concern Pope John Paul II. Perhaps these are just meant to clear away the will 'o the wisps that seem to flicker around the edges of this phenomenon.

What the book highlighted for me is the source of my distaste for the entire Fatima phenomenon. As is so often the case, it isn't the veracity or likelihood of the events in Fatima in 1917, but the claims and exaggerations and distortions made by those most partisan to the Fatima visions.

What does come across in the book very nicely is a sense of Sister Lucia as a person. One feels that she was a lively, tart, impish character who took guff from no one and who shot straight from the hip. At one point in the interview we see this:

from The Last Secret of Fatima
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

After the Secret had been revealed, some people began to doubt the genuineness of the text. Lucia's Carmelite superior in Coimbra told her about this doubt: "They're saying that there's another secret." With a sigh, Lucia replied, "Well if they know what it is, then let them tell us. For my part, I don't know about any other secrets. Some people are never satisfied. Let's not pay them any mind."

A beautiful example of saintly saying-it-like-it-is.

The book does explore the last secret of Fatima. In addition, for those of us (like me) who knew virtually nothing about the Fatima event and aftermath, it sketches in the history and timeline of events. The revelation of the "secrets" of Fatima is a little odd, occurring as it does in 1941 and 1946; however, God works in His own ways and sometimes it takes time and courage to come forward with His truth.

One of the quiet gems of the book is a short theological commentary on the Fatima secrets and in particular the last secret by then Cardinal Ratzinger. In the course of this short (12 page) essay, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the status of public and private revelations and provides an interpretive outline for the Fatima visions and their meaning for the world today.

from "Theological Commentary"
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The teaching of the Church distinguishes between "public Revelation" and "private revelations." The two realities differ not only in degree but also in essence. The term "pubic Revelation" refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is called "Revelation" because in it God gradually made himself known to men, to the point of becoming man himself, in order to draw to himself the whole world and unite it with himself through his Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. It is not a matter therefore of intellectual communication, but of a life-giving process in which God comes to meet man. At the same time this process naturally produces data pertaining to the mind and to the understanding of the mystery of God. It is a process that involves man in his entirety and therefore reason as well, but not reason alone. Because God is one, history, which he shares with humanity is also one. It is valid for all time, and it has reached its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here, the man who was to become the Holy Father set out clearly the lines of demarcation. The essay continues with the same remarkable, succinct clarity and provides one of the deeply insightful high points of the book.

Overall The Last Secret of Fatima is a muddled, digressive, journalistic mess that nevertheless does cast a great deal of light on the phenomenon of Fatima and on the practices of the faithful who remain in line with church teaching. The book isn't for everyone, but it is certainly accessible to anyone sincerely interested in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as Fatima is concerned. I'm glad I've read it because it has at once helped me to become both more informed about this small piece of Church History and more receptive and responsive to the Blessed Mother. In addition, it was a poignant reminder of how much I loved Pope John Paul the Great and how I look forward to the Church's revelation of God's will concerning his heavenly status. I won't say the same thing will happen for all who read it, but if you come looking for the truth, I think you may find a good deal of it between the covers of this book.

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Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit of God,
is the Virgin of the new heart,
who gave a human face to the word made flesh.
She is the Virgin of wise and contemplative listening
who kept and pondered in her heart
the events and words of the Lord.
She is the faithful disciple of wisdom,
who sought Jesus--God's Wisdom--
and allowed herself to be formed and moulded by his Spirit,
so that in faith she might be conformed to his ways and choices.
Thus enlightened, Mary is present to us
as one able to read 'the great wonders'
which God accomplished in her
for the salvation of the humble and of the poor.

Mary was not only the Mother of Our Lord;
she also became his perfect disciple, the woman of faith.
She followed Jesus, walking with the disciples,
sharing their demanding and wearisome journey
--a journey which required, above all, fraternal love
and mutual service.

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Elijah and Mary

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In the Carmelite tradition, Elijah and Mary are brought together most closely in the image of the cloud that forms over the sea.

1 Kings 18:42:45

[42] So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli'jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.
[43] And he said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." And he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go again seven times."
[44] And at the seventh time he said, "Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising out of the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, `Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'"
[45] And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel.

Verse 44 is the relevant verse, and how one gets the image of Mary from that, I do not know, except that when one understands it in the way of the Medieval Carmelites, it is a most beautiful metaphor.

Mary is the cloud that rises out of the sea. The sea is saltwater, undrinkable, a vast body of water, next to which the kingdom can still thirst and die. The sea is salty, impure, an image of fallen humanity with its admixture of sin. Mary rises out of this sea, pure and perfect, laden with the water of grace that will pour out through her to all humanity--not the source of Grace herself, nevertheless the container into which all is poured until it overflows out to all people, limitless, and life-giving. Not God, but human, Mary rises from the sea, pure and Immaculate in her conception, formed as a vessel of God's grace and a place of refuge for His people.

Mary may not have made her appearance in the Old Testament, but through years of meditating and contemplating the story of Elijah, the Carmelite monks and friars came to understand this passage in a Marian sense. In so doing, they enriched the understanding of Scripture and provided another key to its depths.

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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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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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Long time readers of this blog know that I have a real problem with the Rosary. I view praying it as a penance rather than a grace, and I have to drag myself through the prayers most times.

The antiphon above is in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, and I thought I'd spend a couple of minutes writing about Our Lady of the Rosary and what she has done for me.

While I may not be of the right personality or demeanor to truly appreciate the beauty and wonder of the Rosary, I do have a solid appreciation for the power of its prayers. When I am stressed beyond my own ability to cope, frightened, anxious, worried, fearful, carried beyond the emotions that have a name into a realm I would rather not visit, my solid anchor is the Rosary. At that point the prayers become a sound of comfort and a promise of home. When things are going well, when I am coping reasonably well with life around me, when everything is looking up--the Rosary is a penance, a seemingly endlessly break in the day that cannot be prayed fast enough, and yet whose stately rhythms admit of only one possible pace.

When I am fearful those same tiresome rhythms, those same time-worn words, the exact same prayers that I can barely restrain my patience to pray become a lifeline. The rhythms calm the jagged rhythms of my own thoughts, they bring into line the wayward thoughts and heartaches, they restore balance. This is the gift of Our Lady to me. In times when I really need a Mother, she is there in all solace and comfort to hold me, reassure me, and guide me own my way by her prayers for me.

When I saw this morning the antiphon, "Come let us worship Christ, the Son of Mary," I was reminded once again of my brotherhood with Christ. Through my adoption into the family of God, Christ becomes both my brother and my Lord. I become part of the largest extended family in the world. It is within the bosom of this family that I am nourished and reassured, "Let nothing alarm you. . .all things are passing. . . God alone endures."

So, today I celebrate, along with all my Catholic brothers and sisters, the great gift of the Rosary. While I may not have been granted the grace or wisdom to appreciate it in all of its beauty, I have been given the gift of consolation in times of crisis--of finding a Mother when I need one.

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