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Today’s feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus celebrated on January 3rd. Mary’s exalted role glorifies the Father; therefore, her name is to be honored and reverenced as we call upon her with devotion and trust. The name of Mary occurs in both parts of the Hail Mary giving us ample opportunities to say this beautiful name with love and sincere affection.

The origin and meaning of the name of Mary is debated. In the Old Testament the sister of Moses was named Miryam. But this was not a common name used in the Old Testament. What does the Hebrew name Miryam mean? It may have an Egyptian origin. In Egyptian mer or mar means “love”. The Egyptian meaning of Miryam is “cherished or beloved”. Given this meaning it is an appropriate name for a daughter. Combine this interpretation with the Hebrew name for the Divine name of God yam or Yahweh. Then the meaning could be “one beloved by Yahweh”.

Many believe the name is of Hebrew origin. They see the word as the combination of two words. Mar which means “bitter” (myrrh) and yam meaning “sea”.  Seeing the name Miryam as one word could give “hope” as the meaning.

Another popular interpretation dates back to St. Jerome. St. Jerome adopted the meaning of the name to be Stella Maris, or “star of the sea”. Mary has been invoked under the title of Stella Maris or “Star of the Sea” by seafarers to calm storms or the ocean waters. Under this title she could even be invoked to calm the storms in our lives.

St. Bernard of Clairvoux wrote of her: “If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.

St. Louis de Montfort uses this prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in his consecration to Jesus through Mary:

Hail, bright star of ocean
God’s own Mother blest
Ever sinless Virgin
Gate of heavenly rest

Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came
Peace confirm within us
Changing Eva’s name

Break the captives’ fetters
Light on blindness pour
All our ills expelling
Every bliss implore

Show thyself a Mother
May the Word Divine
Born for us thy Infant
Hear our prayers through thine

Virgin all excelling
Mildest of the mild
Freed from guilt, preserve us
Pure and undefiled

Keep our life all spotless
Make our way secure
Till we find in Jesus
Joy forevermore

Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit
One same glory be. Amen.

Polaris, the North Star, is also given the name Stella Maris because it was this star that was used to guide travelers, just like Mary. We can use this feast day dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary as a way to reflect on how she is a hope for all Christians and a guide for us, leading us on our way to her son, Jesus. May Mary help us to open our hearts to God and His ways.

We should honor and praise the name of Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is truly God; therefore, we can call her the Mother of God. Her name reminds us, as we say in the Hail Mary, that she is full of grace, blessed among all women and a woman who has found favor with God. We should also honor the name of Mary because she is our Mother, since the Lord gave her to us when he was dying on the cross.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

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St. Therese had to wait to make her profession. As she waited for this day, she told God she would wait as long as he desired. Until that day she resolved to carefully “make a beautiful dress enriched with priceless stones”. Therese began applying herself to practicing little virtues, by doing little penances that especially mortified her self-love. She was not practicing these virtues alone. St. Therese stated that the Blessed Virgin, “was helping me prepare the dress of my soul; as soon as this dress was completed all the obstacles went away.”

The Bishop finally gave his permission and the community voted in favor of receiving St. Therese. The date set was September 8, 1890, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. St. Therese writes of this occasion,  “What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except for the graces and peace I received.” (Story of a Soul, Ch 7)

St. Therese was set on mortifying her self-love and practicing little virtues and said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was helping her do this. The Blessed Mother teaches us to live these virtues hidden and under God’s shadow. Her birth was unnoticed, yet without her the greatest mystery of our faith could not have taken place. It is because of Mary that the Incarnation of the Son of God and Redemption of man was made possible. Her birth is like the dawn projecting new light over the new day. Yet her birth is unknown, unnoticed and not even mentioned in the scriptures.  She remains hidden to the world except for the eyes of God, who see her in the silence and obscurity of her life.

Today’s feast invites us to imitate this hidden life of Mary and even that of St. Therese, who was enclosed in the cloister and unknown to all expect for God. A hidden life that focuses on the interior by quietly practicing virtue and doing little penances keeping in check the selfish ego. Putting to death the need to be noticed or seeking praise or making excuses for failures, these can be done under the shadow of God, just like Mary. St. Therese knew this and put this ideal into practice in the convent. We too can do this in the ordinary circumstance of our days under the watchful patronage of the Blessed Mother, whose birth we celebrate today.

Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, heralded joy to all the world.

When to be Silent

What should one do when blamed for something that is not your fault? St. Teresa of Jesus counsels us to avoid giving self-defense, since it is not good for one to make excuses a habit. She says that “not making excuses for oneself is a habit characteristic of high perfection, and very meritorious.” (Way, Ch 15:1)

Ever so in tuned with human nature, she notes that even she at times reasons that it is a greater virtue to make an excuse for oneself and at other times it is lawful to do so. However, humility and discretion are both necessary to determine when it calls for one to be silent and when one should speak up. This is especially so when one is being accused without fault. There is no reason to excuse oneself when being accused of something that is not your fault, that is, unless the case is “where not telling the truth would cause anger or scandal”. (Way, Ch 15:1)

When to excuse oneself or not needs discretion. Discretion requires thought about the situation.

Will I cause offense if I speak? Is what I am about to reveal private information? Does this person really need to know? 

Discretion requires one to think about the situation and decide what should be done. Humility is also needed in order to refrain from making excuses. The truly humble do not have any desires to be held in high esteem by anyone. Neither do they care if they are “condemned without fault even in serious matters”. (Way, Ch 15:2) 

For St. Teresa this is the way for one who desires to imitate the Lord and to receive strength from no one but God. She sees this action as a a great interior virtue and as a penance that doesn’t do any harm to the body. Though the practice of this type of mortification can be difficult at first, especially if one has a sensitive nature, but with practice, and grace, this self-denial and detachment from oneself can be attained. 

St. Teresa said that she was “always happier that they speak about what is not true” of her than of what was true. (Way, Ch 15:3)  She goes on to say the if we really think about things, we are never totally without fault. Only Jesus can make that claim. Therefore she states, “even though we are blamed for faults we haven’t committed, we are never entirely without fault.” (Way, Ch 15:4)

St. Teresa also reminds us that we should “never think that the good or evil you do will remain a secret.” (Way, Ch 15:7) She says that if it is needed, there will be someone to come and defend you. She tells us to “observe how the Lord answered for the Magdalene both in the house of the Pharisee and when her sister accused her.” (Way, Ch 15:7) So, too, will he do so for us. Someone will come to our defense, if it is necessary. And if no one comes to do so, we shouldn’t  think about being defended because it wasn’t necessary. Instead we should rejoice in the freedom we are obtaining when we don’t care what others are saying about us. 

“It calls for great humility to be silent at seeing one condemned without fault.”

 St. Teresa of Avila

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O Lord!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19: 4)

The Israelites had become comfortable worshiping the Lord and Baal, giving each one an exclusive area of influence in their lives. So the Lord takes his claim by exerting his authority over the rain, thus challenging the domain and power of Baal. Elijah proclaims a drought at the command of God, leaving the land parched and dry. The story as it plays out in chapter 17 and 18 of the First Book of Kings is explicit: the Lord and Baal – who will the people of Israel be loyal to? After three years of no rain, Elijah challenges the prophet of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel. After this the prophet it worn out and cannot go on. He lays down and falls asleep “under the broom tree”. He was exhausted and depressed and ready to just give up, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. “Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water.”

There is a profound similarity between our present times and those of the prophet Elijah. It seems like we are wandering in the desert, dry and weary in the spiritual life and everyone is worshiping Baal. What is a faithful person to do? Like Elijah we need to be nourished by God and persevere.

“After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the Lord came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”(1 Kings 19: 6-8)

We too are on a journey to the mountain of God. To get there we need to persevere. Perseverance means we need to continually begin again. To arrive at our destination we need to persevere in our struggle in going against our defects and to acquire virtue. Perseverance in prayer is necessary in order for our life to bear fruit.

God will reward our efforts if we rely on God’s strength. He supplies us with daily nourishment in his word and in the Sacraments.

For daily nourishment and inspirational quotes from Carmelite Saints for the journey visit Hearthcake and a Jug of Water here.

Where He May be Found


“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.” (Is 55:6)

Our faith teaches that, “The Lord is everywhere and always present. (CCC 2802) Yet we, like St. Augustine, will seek Him in all kinds of places, but will ultimately find Him within. St. Teresa of Jesus says that, “all one need do is go into solitude and look at Him within oneself and not turn away from so good a Guest.” She asks us to try to “understand this truth: that the Lord is within us, and that there we must be with Him.” (Way of Perfection, 28:2-3)

God, however, speaks silence, and for most of us He is passed by to the noisiness of the day and events that fill it. No one thinks to find Him in the silence – so near and within.

In The Interior Castle St. Teresa describes the soul as a castle, and in the center of the castle is the “place where the very secret exchange between God and the soul take place.” (Interior Castle 1:1,4) Here in this deep solitude and silent exchange, the soul and God deepen their love.

Even sin does not remove God’s presence from the soul. St. Teresa explains, “It should be kept in mind here that the fount, the shining sun that is in the center of the soul, does not lose its beauty and splendor; it is always present in the soul, and nothing can take away its beauty and splendor.” (Interior Castle 1:2, 3) However, sin does have an effect in the soul’s ability to find God. She goes on to say, “[But] if a black cloth is placed over a crystal that is in the sun, obviously the sun’s brilliance will have no effect on the crystal even though the sun is shining on it. . . How sad a thing it is to see a soul separated from this light!” (Interior Castle 1:2, 3-4) Souls in mortal sin have covered this light and become totally dark, and their works are darkness too. She exhorts anyone in such a state to strive to remove sin from their life and to once again enjoy this light!

The prophet Isaiah lovingly calls these souls back to God saying, “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”  (Is 55:7)

All we have to do is turn back to Him, with all our heart and to “Go into solitude and look at Him within oneself.” (Way of Perfection, 28:2)  Speak to Him there and listen to Him speak to you in the Silence, letting Him love you, while you return the love. Then God’s majesty and presence will shine in the hearts of souls made just. (CCC 2802)

“God alone is enough.”  —Teresa of Ávila

Mission

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw this post that was of a meme contrasting a photo of the beautiful Sainte Chapelle Cathedral with a church that had a plain and bare modern altar, plain wood cross and walls that were stark and white. The person who posted it was obviously making a statement about the beautiful architecture from the Dark Ages and how it differs from modern places of worship. I agree that one was more beautiful and attractive to the soul – drawing one to God and heavenly things. But that was not what struck me. What caught my attention was the comment made by someone else. Basically the comment was that both photos depicted money that was wasted on tax free “buildings that no longer house or feed the homeless”. I realize that there may be others that agree with the commentary since I have heard similar words from other people.

However,  this moved me to think about the mission of the Church and the mission of a Carmelite.  Cardinal Sarah in his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise noted that, “The Church’s mission is not to solve all the social problems of the world, she must repeat tirelessly the first words of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee: “ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)”

Feeding and housing the poor is fundamental to the mission of the Church, but more importantly is the salvation of souls. This is the primary mission of the Church – to draw souls to God, inspire them to conversion and bring these prodigal children back to God who is merciful. Beautiful buildings like the Sainte Chapelle Cathedral is one way to draw souls to God. It is because of its beauty that the building can aid a soul to think of God. These beautiful buildings are for all to enjoy, rich and poor alike, even for the non-believer.

Now the Church has always been interested in the needs of the poor. This is evident in the many hospitals, clinics, schools, and universities that the Church has founded, not to mention the many works of charity that she attends to through soup kitchens, orphanages, homes for the elderly, etc. The Church is often on the front lines in fighting for the end of poverty. Additionally it must be noted that we are all responsible for our neighbor in need. The Church also seeks to avoid the scandal of having much of the world that enjoys “an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. (Gaudium et spes)

The worst poverty, however, is to be without God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 341 that “The ultimate purpose of the mission of the Church is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.” Which is why the Lord commanded that the message of the Gospel be preached to all men.  For He says in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” The truth has been entrusted to the Church, and she must go out and bring all men to the truth. God wants all to be saved and this is the motivation for all of the Church’s activity.

When I was in formation for the Secular Discalced Carmelites my formation director encouraged me to pick up and reread St. Teresa’s The Way of Perfection each year. I have to admit that I did reread it a few times, but haven’t done so every year. So I decided to pick it up again and use it as my daily spiritual reading. The beginning of the book brought to my attention once again the missionary activity of a Carmelite. St. Teresa is clear in the first three chapters that this is to pray for the preachers and teachers of the Church and for the salvation of souls. St. Teresa noted that priests and theologians “are the persons who must strengthen people who are weak”.  She saw that those who labor for the Church need God’s grace, and she wanted her sisters to beg God to help them. She also thought that they needed protection from the enticements and seductions that come from the world. While the Carmelite prays seeking intimate union with God, this is not the only reason a Carmelite prays. Our prayer is at the service of the Church. This is our mission.

 

Precious Blood

“If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” John 1:6-7

The month of July is devoted to our Lord’s Precious Blood. Jesus became incarnate by taking on our human nature. His blood is from human nature, and our redemption was at a cost – the shedding of His Blood on Calvary. Jesus gave back every drop when He redeemed us with His Precious Blood. Sin offends God. The gravity of this fact lies in that our sin required the Blood of Christ, the Son of God, to forgive that sin. Through the Sacraments this Blood flows into our souls to cleanse and purify us and to enrich us with His grace. Oh the purity acquired for us in the Precious Blood of Christ!  Venerate and realize how truly precious it is and to become more sensitive to how awful sin is, since it cost Jesus the shedding of His blood and His life.

His Blood also means life. In John chapter six Our Lords says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

St. Teresa of Jesus, in her work entitled The Interior Castle, explains that worldly persons living in mortal sins are not able to retire into their own hearts, since they are accustomed “to be with reptiles and other creatures living outside the castle” where the King lives. She therefore admonishes them by saying, “O souls, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ, take these things to heart; have mercy on yourselves…remove the darkness from the crystal of your souls.” (Interior Castle, Book 1:2)

One day while St. Therese of Lisieux was looking at an image of Jesus on the Cross she became focused on the blood. In her autobiography she recounts: “I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking that this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls. The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: “I thirst!” These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet is was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned with the desire to snatch them from the eternal flames.”

We can offer this Precious Blood for great sinners. By actively participating in Mass and by uniting with the offering of the priest, we can offer the Blood of Christ for sinners. We can make visits to the Blessed Sacrament adoring the Real Presence of Our Lord, and through our prayers for sinners, we can ask that souls will come to live a life of grace by living a sacramental life and will live according to their great dignity that God has given to them.

“Every time a creature offers up this Blood by which he was redeemed, he offers a gift of infinite worth, which can be equaled by no other!” (St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi)