His Yoke

What’s holding you back? What is keeping you from giving of yourself to God today? Not enough time? Do you say to yourself, “I’ll consider doing that later, when I retire and have more time.”

It seems that we are afraid that if we take on something for God that He will lay on us a heavy burden, one that we just cannot bear right now.

But Jesus never asks of us or gives us more than He knows we can handle. He tells us to take His yoke upon us. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:30)

We probably never really think about a yoke these days. But in the time of Jesus, a yoke was a familiar object. It is a wooden beam that is used to pair a couple of oxen together to allow them to pull a load. Of course, Jesus is speaking metaphorically here in the Gospel of Matthew. The etymology of the word “yoke” comes from the verb to ‘join’ or ‘unite’. What Jesus is asking of us is to submit to Him and to be connected or united to him as with a yoke.

So what are you waiting for? Start today. Give yourself to Him. Consider spending time with Jesus today in prayer, in love, in service to someone or to His Church.

Much More

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He asked him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus replied, ” ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
(Mt 19:16-22)

St. Teresa of Jesus when speaking of some causes of dryness at prayer, says that she had this young man in the Gospel of Matthew in mind. “For we are literally like him; and ordinarily great dryness in prayer comes from this, although it also has other causes.”

Dryness in prayer is an interior trial. Although interior trials involve much more than just a lack of devotion, dryness (or aridity), is a common phenomenon among those souls who have taken up prayer.

To make an issue of dryness, according to St. Teresa, shows a lack of humility.

In her work The Interior Castle, she encourages us on to “Enter, enter, my daughters, into the interior rooms; pass from your little works. By the mere fact that you are Christians you must do all these things and much more.”

St. Teresa writes that those who have entered the third dwelling places, souls of which there are many of in the world, long to not offend God and they even guard themselves against venial sins, they have well-ordered lives, practice penance and works of charity toward their neighbors. They are much like the young man in the Gospel.

“In my opinion,” writes St. Teresa, “there is no reason why entrance even into the final dwelling place should be denied these souls.” “But since there is need of still more in order that the soul possess the Lord completely, it is not enough to say we want it.”

(St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, III:1, 5-7)

St.Teresa on Self-denial

“Now, then, the first thing we must strive for is to rid ourselves of our love for our bodies, for some of us are by nature such lovers of comfort that there is no small amount of work in this area.”

“It seems to me an imperfection, my Sisters, to be always complaining about light illnesses. If you can tolerate them, don’t complain about them.”

“Remember how many sick people there are who are poor and have no one to complain to… Learn how to suffer a little for love of God without having everyone know about it.”

“A fault this body has is that the more comfort we try to give it the more needs it discovers. It’s amazing how much comfort it wants… The poor soul is deceived and doesn’t grow.”

“Shouldn’t we suffer just between ourselves and God some of the illnesses He gives us because of our sins? And even more so because by our complaining the sickness in not alleviated.”

(Taken from Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life, Volume 4, St. Teresa of Avila, Ignatius Press)

The Craftsman and Selfishness

The third enemy to conquer is one’s own self.

The way to combat this enemy is to first think of everyone as artisans that are present in your life in order to prove you. In order to “free yourself from the imperfections and disturbances that can be engendered by the mannerisms and attitudes of (others) and draw profit from every occurrence, you should think that all in the community are artisans”.

“Some will fashion you with words, others by deeds, and others with thoughts against you; and that in all this you must be submissive as is the statue to the craftsman who molds it, to the artist who paints it, and to the gilder who embellishes it.”

St. John of the Cross want us to get along well with others in the communities in which we live and in order to do so we need to overcome our sensuality and the way we feel. His goal for us is to attain peace and free us from many stumbling blocks that will trip us up on our way to live charitably with everyone.

Our selfishness and sensuality can keep us from doing something we ought to do because we find it disagreeable. Or it can move us to only do those works that we find delight or satisfaction in doing. St. John of the Cross sees this as a weakness within the soul. We should do whatever is fitting for the service of God. Doing those works we find disagreeable, and doing them well, will aid our striving to conquer our weakness and gain constancy.

Another sensual weakness that needs to be overcome stems from becoming attached to pleasant feelings that can be found in spiritual exercise. This attachment can lead one to carry out these spiritual exercises only for the satisfaction that is experienced in them. St. John of the Cross also counsels, “nor should such a person run from the bitterness that may be found in them, but rather seek the arduous and distasteful and embrace it. By this practice, sensuality is held in check; without this practice you will never lose self-love or gain the love of God.”

(St. John of the Cross Collected Works, ICS Publications, The Precautions)

Inspired by St. Teresa

St. Teresa of Avila was born in Spain in 1515. She is most known for her spiritual perfection and for the many mystical revelations that she received. After entering the Carmelite Order as a young woman, she soon began to have a desire to live her religious life more ardently. This caused her to attract many companions and eventually lead to the reform of the Carmelite Order. She is one of the few women that have been declared a Doctor of the Church. She died in 1582 in Alba, Spain.

October 15th is the feast day of St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church. It is also a Solemnity within the Carmelite Order. On this day it would be good, inspired by St. Teresa, to begin to live our religious life more ardently. All of us, whether a priest, bishop, religious or layperson, can foster this desire to live our religious life more perfectly.

Today is a new day; a day to begin again. Today we can begin to say our prayers faithfully and to say them well. Today we can begin to remain in the presence of God throughout our day and while doing our daily duties. Today we can begin to partake in the sacramental life of the Church more regularly and with greater devotion. Today we can begin to practice more self-denial and be at the service of others.

by your Spirit you raised up our Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus,
to show your Church the way to perfection.
May her inspired teaching
awaken in us a longing for true holiness.
Grant this through our Lord. Amen.

(from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours)

Obedience and Humility

The way to combat the Second Enemy.

The devil more commonly deceives spiritual persons under the appearance of good rather than evil. The devil knows that spiritual persons will not reach out and choose an obvious evil. “Thus you should always be suspicious of what appears good, especially when not obliged by obedience.”

St. John of the Cross wants us to do the right thing and in order to be safe in such a matter he counsels souls in three ways regarding the wiles and deceits of the devil.

First, he counsels that those striving for perfection should never take upon themselves, without the command of obedience, “any work – apart from the obligations of your state – however good and full of charity it may seem, whether for yourself or for anyone else inside or outside the house.” We should always strive to be obedient to our duties that correspond to our state in life.

is what is being asked; in little things as well as big. To neglect being governed by obedience in all things you will soon find yourself in error. The devil loves to deceive in this way by playing on our pride, you know, I am right!

The second counsel is on a matter that many fall into to their own loss and harm. It is “that you always look on the superior as though on God, no matter who he happens to be, for he takes God’s place.” This can apply to any one who is regarded as our superior: a boss, spouse, religious superior, bishop, or priest. To dwell on their character flaws, behavior, ability or their methods will do you harm because you will change your obedience from being motivated by visible (human) traits of the superior and not be basing your obedience on the invisible God whom you serve.

The devil can induce us to dwell on the things that others do to annoy us or to let their good qualities please us and make us happy. He does this because it interferes with our obedience.

The third counsel is “that you ever seek with all your heart to humble yourself in word and in deed, rejoicing in the good of others as if it were your own, desiring that they be given precedence over you in all things; and this you should do wholeheartedly.” This is a good practice and will increase charity within our soul. Always remember that the devil’s aim is to cool charity in souls and in this way wins them over.Overcome evil with good and “try to practice this more with those who least attract you.”

Finally, “ever prefer to be taught by all rather than desire to teach even the least of all.”

God wants obedience more than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22)

(Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, ICS Publications, The Precautions)

The World, the Devil and the Flesh

St. John of the Cross instructs souls that want to become more recollected, to practice more silence and to be more “poor in spirit” in his work titled, The Precautions. In it he says that in order to enjoy the peaceful comfort of the Holy Spirit and reach union with God (and who wouldn’t want that!), souls must be freed of obstacles that come from the world, defended from the deceits and cunning of the devil and liberated from ‘self’.

In other words, the battle we are all faced with each and everyday takes place on three fronts: the world, the devil and the flesh.

St. John of the Cross tells us that “the world is the enemy least difficult to conquer; the devil is the hardest to understand; but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self lasts.”

To overcome these enemies of the soul one has to vanquish all three of them. When one enemy is weakened the other two are weakened as well. Once all three enemies have been overpowered then there is no war in the soul.

All of what our saint advises in The Precautions require our active efforts and, of course, recourse to grace.

Against the World

First of all we should love everyone and love them all equally. “Do not love one person more than another, for you will err; the person who loves God more is the one more worthy of love, and you do not know who this is.” Loving one person more and another one less doesn’t help in holy recollection. We need to keep our affections, our hearts, directed towards God.

“Do not think about others, neither good things nor bad.” Thinking about others, their good or bad qualities, will keep us from recollection and opens us up to a number of imperfections. The devil is a nasty meddler in this area and can harm our souls by deceiving. We should always guard our thoughts, for thought is power, the beginning of action.

Secondly, souls should free themselves from worldly goods. We shouldn’t desire them or worry about them. This includes food, clothing, possessions, status, positions, and honor.

“Direct this care to something higher – to seeking the kingdom of God (seeking not to fail God); and the rest, as His Majesty says, will be added unto us (Mt. 6:33).” St. John of the Cross promises silence and peace in the senses by this practice of seeking the kingdom of God.

The last advice he gives to fight against the world is on how to guard ourselves in the community in which we live, be it a religious community, social community, workplace or family. “Carefully guard yourself against thinking about what happens in the community, and even more against speaking of it, of anything in the past or present concerning a particular religious (or person): nothing about his or her character or conduct or deeds no matter how serious any of this seems.”

We are to never be astonished or scandalized by anything we may see or hear of, but rather, preserve our peace of soul and forget what we may have learned of or seen. He doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t correct someone. We should do so ,but only at the proper time and to the person who should know of it.

“Forget these things entirely and strive to keep your soul occupied purely and entirely in God, and not let the thought of this thing or that hinder you from so doing.” Failing to do all this will result in a loss of peace in the soul and a fall into many sins and imperfections. Our tongue is a great disturber of peace; ours and that of others. St. John of the Cross reminds us of this fact and counsels us to quiet the tongue, interiorly and exteriorly. For more counsel on the tongue, read the Epistle of James in the New Testament.

(The Precautions, ICS Publications, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross)

Take it Easy!

The duties and cares of the day ahead crowd about us when we awake in the morning (if they have not already dispelled our night’s rest). Now arises the uneasy question: How can all this be accommodated in one day? When will I do this, when that? How shall I start on this and that? Thus agitated, we would like to run around and rush forth. We must then take the reins in hand and say, “Take it easy! Not any of this may touch me now. My first morning’s hour belongs to the Lord. I will tackle the day’s work which He charges me with, and He will give me the power to accomplish it.”
(Edith Stein Collected Works, ICS Publications p. 143)

We can’t go about our day disturbed and agitated. In today’s society we live with almost constant stress in our daily lives. Many things need to be done and physically we can feel overwhelmed if not totally exhausted.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stien) quoted above in her essay on Principles of Women’s’ Education has the answer for us. Our first duty each day should be to spend time with God in prayer. Ideally, it should be spent at Mass where we participate in the great offering of reconciliation and are purified and made happy. As we participate in Mass we lay all our doings and troubles along with the sacrifice on the altar.

And when the Lord comes to me then in Holy Communion, then I may ask Him, “Lord, what to you want of me?” (St. Teresa). And after quiet dialogue, I will go to that which I see as my next duty. (Edith Stein Collected Works, ICS Publications p. 144)

The Rosary a Daily "Pause for Prayer"

October is traditionally the month devoted to the Rosary. October 7th was the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. The Rosary is a daily “pause for prayer”. It is a spiritual aid that shouldn’t be underestimated. Praying the Rosary is not always easy and our praying it is in constant need of renewal in order to keep it from becoming dry and performed out of routine thus losing its spiritual fruitfulness.

Perhaps a look at Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on the Rosary can help us to renew our efforts to pray this beautiful prayer better. Rosarium Virginis Marie was written in October 2002 and in it the Holy Father added the new Luminous Mysteries to the Rosary and presented a catechesis on this devotion.

When praying the Rosary it is good to announce each mystery. A biblical passage that is related to the mystery should be read to help meditate and to supply the biblical foundation to this prayer. Long or short biblical passages can be used before each decade. Making use of an icon or picture of the mystery also aids in focusing on the particular mystery.

After the biblical passage is read a short period of silence should be included to nourish listening and meditation on the Word. A pause in order to focus on the mystery is quite appropriate before moving on to the vocal prayers. This way while praying the Rosary we are listening to the Word, focusing on the mystery and lifting our minds up toward the Father as we say, “Our Father…”.

The ‘Hail Mary’s’ should be recited with great love and affection for our Blessed Mother. It should be noted that this prayer with its two parts hinge on the name of Jesus. Each time we say the Hail Mary we are praising His name and telling our Blessed Mother how much we love her.

The ‘Gloria’ should be given prominence in our hearts. This prayer in praise of the Trinity is the high point of contemplation.

The Holy Father suggests that at the conclusion of each mystery a personal prayer be included for the fruits specific to that particular mystery. For example, after praying and meditating on the First Joyful Mystery we can add a personal prayer for the virtue of humility or for openness to God’s will.

The Rosary is a beautiful meditation on the Gospels and a path to contemplation. With renewed efforts to praying it well and a commitment to praying it daily, especially as a family, we can grow closer in our union with God.