Making Room for Jesus

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2: 7

With tender care and attention, Mary wrapped the infant Jesus tightly in cloth as any loving mother would do. Swaddling him in strips of cloth so that he would be warm, snug and safely protected from the outside world now that he has left the womb. Swaddling infants is still something mothers do today. In past years, narrow stripes of cloth wrapped around a newborn helped to restrain a baby’s movement and quieten him to sleep more contently and prevent him from accidentally scratching his soft, fine skin.

Mary would have brought these strips of cloth with her to Bethlehem, since the time of giving birth was approaching. The usual custom was to wrap the newly born infant in these strips of cloth after washing and anointing the body. 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminds us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and was poor, vulnerable, dependent and cold. The swaddling cloths foreshadowed the burial cloths. 

However, at his next coming, Jesus will be glorious – wrapped in light! 

“For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.” (Ps 36:10)

The Lord’s binding as an infant was one of love. He submitted to Mary’s love and attention to his tender, fragile needs as an infant. As a matter of fact, all of his bindings were bonds of love. He was bound and taken by his enemies as his hands were tied and he was led away from the Garden of Gethsemane out of love for us. He was wrapped in bands of cloth for his funeral, but at the resurrection – glorified, he removed the cloths that bound him.

There is a great lesson of the swaddling cloths for all of us that can be found here since we too can be wrapped in swaddling cloths. In this excerpt from Mother Marie des Doublers’ book, Joy Out of Sorrow, we can learn what it takes to make room for Jesus who could find no room in the inn of our heart. We can enjoy his presence only after we make an expansive space for him, for Light, for Love, for Peace.

The Marriage of Two Such as These

When the time had come

for him to be born,

he went forth like the

bridegroom

from his bridal chamber,

embracing his bride,

holding her in his arms,

whom the gracious Mother

laid in a manger

among some animals

that were there at that time.

Men sang songs

and angels melodies

celebrating the marriage

of Two such as these.

But God there in the manger

cried and moaned;

and these tears were jewels

the bride brought to the

wedding.

The Mother gazed in sheer wonder

on such an exchange:

in God, man’s weeping,

and in man, gladness,

to the one and the other

things usually so strange.

Romances by St. John of the Cross

Feast of St. Joseph

Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

– St. Teresa of Avila

Renewal

What the Church needs now more than ever is renewal, which begins in our hearts. What our hearts need is cleansing. We can begin this cleansing by removing the clutter found there.

The Church is supposed to be a sign of heavenly glory, but it has lost its original beauty. The Church’s appearance has been muddled through the bad examples of some of its members, scandals and false teachings. All of these and more have tainted the clarity of charity, which is the Church’s mission. All this has happened because we have abandoned the pursuit of perfect charity! 

Therefore we need a renewal. Renewal begins with the interior and then moves out to the exterior.  We cannot begin to have an impact on the world with the Gospel message if we have not first let God “set charity in order within” (Song 2:4).

The first place to begin any renewal is with the heart. Ultimately the reason for so many deficiencies decried in the Church today are due to the fact that we have failed to love one another. We are no longer Christ-like. Christ is not dwelling within our hearts; therefore, there is no space for the thought of others.

Christ has called us to love; each soul should examen this call within before it can in any way be repaired. Love is a study we must each undertake and this will take place over our whole lifetime. In the examination of the heart, begin with looking at what it is we are pursuing.

If love is being pursued it will be revealed in our speech, in the way we talk to others, in our openness to new ideas and in the gentleness in which we listen to the thoughts and opinions of other people.  On the other hand if we are not pursuing charity, then this too will be made manifest. If we are narrow-minded, look down on others, are quick to argue or engage in back-biting, then we are not pursuing charity.

We must renew charity within and then bring it out to others. As we pursue perfect charity, love itself will let each of us know what changes will need to be made and how to fashion these changes.

St. Teresa longed for renewal of the Church in her time and set out to reform the Order with a clear resolution in mind – “ to do the little that was in my power: that is, to follow the evangelical couples as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live her do the same.” She embarked on this endeavor trusting in God’s goodness knowing that he “never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for Him.” [Way 1: 2]

Constantly returning to the sources assists with renewal and will aid us to proclaim anew the message of our foundress. Or to return to the documents of Vatican II or even the Gospels and encounter them again, is another way to promote renewal. From the sources we can gain new inspiration and strength as we rediscover the original purpose intended by our founders or the council. Recovering the original heritage handed on to us, we can then determine how to present this fount of riches to the present generation. Needed also is a love of learning for the original formation. By returning to the Gospels – we return to Christ himself. We need to be steeped in the Gospels. For St. Teresa the book of the Gospels was her favorite for meditation. Similarly St. Therese and St. John of the Cross were also fond of the Bible. Their writings contain lavish quotes from the scriptures. 

Let us return to the sources in simplicity, but without discarding or sacrificing the development that happened over the years from our heritage. Diving into the writings of our Carmelite saints and rediscovering the vision St. Teresa had in her heart, and then to discover new ways to reproduce it using different styles and materials. In this rediscovery period it will serve us well to become like children and ask why? Approach the sources with this question to discover the reason we have been or are doing things as Carmelites. And to do them intelligently.

Any renewal will depend on the real and lasting work of faith that is exercised in prayer, silent prayer where one encounters love and discovers what is asked of him only to surrender to that love.

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Eph 3:20-21)

Joy in Finding Jesus

When meditating on the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, I cannot help but think about how there is something ordinary about this family. They are living out their daily lives, doing everyday things together, and in this passage they are traveling. So much of this is reminiscent of our own family life, doing unremarkable things together day in and day out, even taking a trip once in a while together. 

One thing I often contemplate, when reading this passage from the Gospel of Luke, is how Mary and Joseph noticed that Jesus is missing. In all this living, even though we strive to be holy and live our lives as God wants us to do, it may happen that we do not notice when Jesus is missing from our lives.

I would like to think that when this happens and we do notice that He is missing, that we would, like Mary and Joseph, go searching for Him. Searching for Him with the hope of experiencing His presence once again. My prayer even finds me asking for those in my family that have lost faith to notice that Jesus is missing, hoping that they, too, will go in search of Him.

For three days Joseph and Mary went searching for Jesus. Sometimes our life’s present circumstances are buried in endless activities and filled with various worries. However we should not let these challenges prevent us from continuing our search. Mary was afraid that her Son had disappeared. Overwhelmed with anxiety, she and Joseph continued their search with the hope that they would be reunited with Him again.

Then they experienced such joy at finding Jesus! There He was, among the teachers, captivating them all with His wisdom. May His wisdom captivate us once we have rediscovered Him and renewed our efforts to listening to Him teach us through His word and sacraments.

Once they found Him, they returned to their home in Nazareth to resume their lives and daily living with Jesus. The life of this holy family was unseen and filled with love and work.  Mary lovingly contemplates all the events that happen in her Son’s life, pondering them in her heart.

If it should happen that Jesus seems to be missing, let us strive to remove the obstacles that may be preventing us from truly knowing Jesus and His presence in our lives. And when we have found Jesus again, let us wonder once more at the mystery of our life in and with Christ.

“Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Luke 2:41-52

 

 

False Peace

In St. Teresa’s Meditations on the Song of Songs she outlines the different kinds of false peace that comes from the devil, the world and the flesh.  False peace is the kind of peace that worldly people have, and this is the kind of peace that brings perpetual war. 

The first kind of false peace St. Teresa mentions is with those people in the world who are quiet, yet go about living in serious sin. They have made peace with their vices. Their consciences are undisturbed, and they do not feel any remorse about anything. Such is the state of souls in mortal sin. Having made friends with the devil, he leaves them alone. 

However, the devil could offer the friends of God peace in small things, the second kind of false peace. St. Teresa tells us that we should greatly fear this kind of peace. Therefore we should always be on guard against growing lax even in things that seem to be small and of little significance. If we become persistently lazy soon there will be no feelings of regret. St. Teresa explains that we can begin to grow lax in small matters and persist in them without any prick in our conscience, which will result in peace – a bad kind of peace.

St. Teresa gives some examples of the small matters that the devil can draw a soul into: “an infraction of something in the constitutions, which in itself would not be a sin, or being careless, even though without malice, about what the bishop commands (in fact he stands in God’s place, and it is good always- for this reason we have come here – to consider what he desires), and many other little things that come along which in themselves do not appear to be sins. In sum, there are faults and always will be, for we are miserable creatures.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2)

Basically, she is telling us that when we commit some fault we should feel it and understand that it was a fault. If we don’t feel that a fault has been committed, then we can be sure that the devil is rejoicing. “He will go further”, she says, and we should “for love of God be very careful. There must be war in this life.” We cannot just sit idle; we must be about the battle. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2) Our saint does not wish to instill a sense of scrupulosity in souls. Her main point is summed up in this counsel: “ Always fear when some fault you commit does not grieve you. For in regard to sin, even venial, you already know that the soul must feel deep sorrow.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 5)

We don’t want venial sins, those faults that are committed habitually without any attention to them, to become so much a part of our lives that we never feel them. When we come to think of them as of no importance, showing no sorrow for them, we then fail to make amends for them too.

Then there is the peace that the world gives. First among this type of peace is riches. People with wealth and who try to lead holy lives avoiding any serious sin, think that they are secure. Nevertheless they often fail to reflect on the fact that they are stewards and that their money is not theirs, but has been entrusted to them by God. Oh they do give sometimes, but they need to be sure to not delay in helping those who are poor and suffering with the surplus. For those who are not rich, St. Teresa counsels to “be content with little.“ (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed her advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 11). Praise can cause much harm if one is not careful. Words of praise can cause harm by making you “believe that the truth was spoken or make you think that now everything is accomplished and that you have done your part.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 12) St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself. She is wise in saying that we should remember our sins, “and if in some matters people speak truth in praising you, note that the virtue is not yours and that you are obliged to serve more.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 13)

Then there is the false peace that comes from our bodies, which are very fond of comfort. She wants us to understand that there is a false peace that comes from seeking “one’s peace in comforts” and living comfortably, since the Lord suffered so much and underwent many trials. Additionally, “the body grows fat and the soul weakens” when we give the body so much pampering. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15) Craving comforts can harm the soul without one even being aware. She gives examples of how one day the body can endure a hardship and then a week later it is unable to bear with something like a rough tunic. Or that “some days eating fish may hurt you, but once your stomach gets used to it, it will not harm you.” Her point here is that “we must not find our rest in being lax.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15) Since the body can be so untrustworthy, we need to understand this about it and to use discretion. 

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him.