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Archive for February, 2012

St. Teresa of Jesus in her book The Way of Perfection sets out to write some things about prayer. It is forty-two chapters long, and it isn’t until chapter nineteen that she begins to write about prayer in general. All the previous chapters were devoted to practical advice about virtue.

In chapter twenty-seven she begins to writer her commentary on the Our Father. What follows are just some excerpts from her commentary on each on the seven petitions of this beautiful prayer from our Lord.

Our Father who art in heaven

“You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven.” 

“Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself.” 

“. . .a soul has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice . . .”

“He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.  (Way 28:2)

“Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time.”  (Way 28:5)

Hallowed be Thy name, thy kingdom come

Here St. Teresa reflects on why these two petition are put together:

“I am thinking here of what we are asking in praying for this kingdom, and it is well that we should realize this. His Majesty, knowing of how little we are capable, saw that, unless He provided for us by giving us His Kingdom here on earth, we could neither hallow nor praise nor magnify nor glorify nor exalt this holy name of the Eternal Father in a way befitting it. The good Jesus, therefore, places these two petitions next to each other.”  (Way 30:4)

It is here in this chapter that she mentions the prayer of quiet. She says that this request in the Our Father “thy kingdom come” is a request for this prayer.

” . . . when the soul is brought to this state of prayer, it would seem that the Eternal Father has already granted its petition that He will give it His Kingdom on earth. O blessed request, in which we ask for so great a good without knowing what we do! Blessed manner of asking! It is for this reason, sisters, that I want us to be careful how we say this prayer, the Paternoster, and all other vocal prayers, and what we ask for in them. For clearly, when God has shown us this favor, we shall have to forget worldly things, all of which the Lord of the world has come and cast out.”  (Way 31:11)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

“Thou didst well, O our good Master, to make this last petition, so that we may be able to accomplish what Thou dost promise in our name. For truly, Lord, hadst Thou not done this, I do not think it would have been possible for us to accomplish it.”   (Way 32:2)

St. Teresa says that God gives the soul the capacity to suffer and that bandonment is an important factor in doing His will.

Give us this day our daily bread

He knows we are weak and doing His will will be difficult; therefore, He gives us this petition.

“It seems to me, in the absence of a better opinion, that the good Jesus knew what He had given for us and how important it was for us to give this to God, and yet how difficult it would be for us to do so, as has been said, because of our natural inclination to base things and our want of love and courage. He saw that, before we could be aroused, we needed His aid, not once but every day, and it must have been for this reason that He resolved to remain with us.”  (Way 33:2)

and He gives it ‘daily’

“While writing this I have been wondering why, after saying “our ‘daily’ bread”, the Lord repeated the idea in the words “Give us this day, Lord.” I will tell you my own foolish idea: if it really is foolish, . . . This bread, then, is ours daily, it seems to me, because we have Him here on earth, since He has remained with us here and we receive Him; and, if we profit by His company, we shall also have Him in Heaven, for the only reason He remains with us is to help and encourage and sustain us so that we shall do that will, which, as we have said, is to be fulfilled in us.”  (Way 34:1)

Forgive us our debts since we ourselves forgive

“Notice, sisters, that He does not say: “as we shall forgive.” “ (Way 36:2)

“Anyone, then, who sincerely repeats this petition, “Fiat voluntas tua”, must, at least in intention, have done this already. You see now why the saints rejoiced in insults and persecutions: it was because these gave them something to present to the Lord when they prayed to Him. What can a poor creature like myself do, who has had so little to forgive others and has so much to be forgiven herself? This, sisters, is something which we should consider carefully; it is such a serious and important matter that God should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon all trifling things which have been done to us and which are not wrongs at all, or anything else. For how is it possible, either in word or in deed, to wrong one who, like myself, has deserved to be plagued by devils for ever? Is it not only right that I should be plagued in this world too? As I have so few, Lord, even of these trifling things, to offer Thee, Thy pardoning of me must be a free gift: there is abundant scope here for Thy mercy. Thy Son must pardon me, for no one has done me any injustice, and so there has been nothing that I can pardon for Thy sake.”  (Way 36:2)

Lead us not into temptation 

Temptation here means begin sucked in by the devil disguised as an angel of light where all our virtue is destroyed and where we are drawn into error and the light of truth is hidden from us. It is not a question of asking God to make us exempt for distress or conflict, but praying for the strength and humility to cope with them and to profit by them.

“I consider it quite certain that those who attain perfection do not ask the Lord to deliver them from trials, temptations, persecutions and conflicts — and that is another sure and striking sign that these favors and this contemplation which His Majesty gives them are coming from the Spirit of the Lord and are not illusions. For, as I said a little way back, perfect souls are in no way repelled by trials, but rather desire them and pray for them and love them.”  (Way 38:1)

but deliver us from evil

“Still, let us realize that what we are asking here — this deliverance from all evil — seems an impossibility, whether we are thinking of bodily ills, as I have said, or of imperfections and faults in God’s service. I am referring, not to the saints, who, as Saint Paul said, can do all things in Christ but to sinners like myself. When I find myself trammeled by weakness, lukewarmness, lack of mortification and many other things, I realize that I must beg for help from the Lord.”  (Way 42:2)

“. . . so I ask the Lord to deliver me from all evil “for ever.” What good thing shall we find in this life, sisters, in which we are deprived of our great Good and are absent from Him? Deliver me, Lord, from this shadow of death; deliver me from all these trials; deliver me from all these pains; deliver me from all these changes, from all the formalities with which we are forced to comply for as long as we live, from all the many, many, many things which weary and depress me, and the enumeration of all of which would weary the reader if I were to repeat them.”  (Way 42:2)

 [Excerpts of The Way of Perfectionby St. Teresa of Avila, translated by E. Allison Peers]


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Each temptation by the devil took him up higher. Satan meets Jesus on the ground in the desert, then this tempter takes him to the parapet of the temple, finally he takes him to a very high mountain. Each time the temptations take him further from the manna. The manna being to live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Our cravings for other foods diminishes our ability to recognized that the manna has everything!

“Those whom God begins to lead into these desert solitudes are like the children of Israel. When God began giving them the heavenly food, which contained in itself all savors and changed to whatever taste each one hungered after [Wis. 16:20-21], as is there mentioned, they nonetheless felt a craving for the tastes of the fleshmeats and onions they had eaten in Egypt, for their palate was accustomed and attracted to them more than to the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna. And in the midst of heavenly food, they wept and sighed for fleshmeat [Num 11:4-6]. The baseness of our appetite is such that it makes us long for our own miserable goods and feel aversion for the incommunicable heavenly good.” (The Dark Night, Bk 1: 9,5)

When St. John of the Cross speaks of ‘our appetite’ he is referring to our desires. Yet it is God alone can satisfy all our desires. What is needed is to direct all desires, our cravings for other foods, to his Word and Love. Desires for people, places and things will not satisfy, they will only leave one wanting. Fulfillment can only be found in God.

When things are done for our own satisfaction, God is pushed out. Remembering that the time of Lent is a time to push out everything in our life that is unlike God, or that is not conformed to God, we can focus our desires on God being attentive to “the delicate sweetness of the angelic manna” – the heavenly food that is in our midst.

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During Lent we are to focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These were the focus of Matthew’s Gospel which were read on Ash Wednesday. (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18)

We can do these for the wrong reasons, wanting to be seen or praised by others who observe us carrying these actions out in practice. A form of pride can set in. We can do these because of the publicity or praise that we may receive.  Complacency can also creep in to these activities. Our motives can be all wrong.

A secret kind of peace and tranquility can come from the performance of these things as well. We begin to feel good about ourselves for having done something charitable or difficult or because reason has told us these are good and noble things in themselves.

St. John of the Cross reminds us that we should do these things with a totally different attitude:

“For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms, penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise and earthly or heavenly joy. They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk III, 27,5)

Therefore, we should do all our Lenten fasts, prayers, penances, and alms with more love and to do them for God, remembering that only God needs to be pleased and joyful over the works we do.  Also, we should remember that our saint also pointed out that the quantity and quality are not that important. Any little thing done with love and for God is what is most important. May our Lenten practices be carried out with more love.

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“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation, knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation (Sayings of Light and Love #158 ~ St. John of the Cross)

Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation make up the four elements of lectio divina. Lectio divina is the way the early monks and desert fathers prayed. It literally means, “divine reading”.

Reading (lectio) is understood as reading and carefully repeating a short text of Scripture. Take a selection of the Bible, read it and when a thought, word or line stands out or captures your attention pause here to reflect on it, carefully repeating it and dwell on it for a time. If you become distracted, simply return to the repetition. Stay with the text until it is dried up and then move on with the reading until you become engaged in another thought, word or line.

Meditation (meditatio) is making an effort to grasp the meaning of the text and to make it relevant to you personally. The word meditate means ‘to ruminate’, to chew the word. Try to enter into the meaning of the text and identify with it. This is not hard work just make use of the faculties. Simply listen to the words. Let them suggest images, thoughts and reflections. Ponder and perceive the message that lies in the words.

Prayer (oratio) is the personal response to the chosen text of Scripture that was used for meditation. With the help of grace, thoughts move to prayer. This is the response of the heart to ask for the grace that corresponds to the text or perhaps just to draw closer in union with God. Prayer is conversation that asks with love and with the intention to grow in the virtues. In this affective element of lectio the soul desires God.

Contemplation (comtemplatio) is the final element of lectio. It is a loving gaze at length where sometimes, by the grace of God, infused contemplation occurs and the soul is raised above meditation to experiencing the mystery and reality of the Scripture text. The experience is one of peace, harmony and quiet. God’s presence is experienced as a loving awareness where His love is felt and lovingly returned.

In summary, reading seeks; meditation finds meaning; prayer demands; contemplation tastes God.

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Lent is here. In the days leading up to Lent, I was pondering about what I would do this Lenten season in the way of a spiritual program for myself to use during these forty days as a  preparation for the celebration of Easter. I got to thinking about a previous post, and I began to think about my own fidelity to the Promises I have made as a Secular Carmelite.

One of the things that identifies a Carmelite is their formation in the Scriptures and lectio divina. (Constitutions, 35) Also, I was thinking about my prayer. The Constitutions say in paragraph number 18 that,  “Prayer, a dialogue of friendship with God, ought to be nourished by His Word so that this dialogue becomes that, ―we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine word.”

When I was a candidate a copy of the Gospels was given to me, along with the Scapular and the Constitutions of the Secular Order. Then part of what the priest said to me and the other candidates was, “May the Word of Christ dwell abundantly in your hearts.” (Ritual, 23)

Therefore, I decide to renew my efforts at praying with the Scriptures, picking up the practice of lectio divina with more devotion and fidelity. I also decided to use the Gospel readings from the Mass for my daily meditation and reflection. As a lay person I am called to Christ’s mission and I am to proclaim the Gospel which is why I decided to use the Gospels.

Lectio divina is a way to pray with the Scriptures.

Here is a simple way of praying this way…..

~select a passage from the Bible – read it slowly – briefly reflect on a few words that struck you

~read the passage again – briefly call to mind a few phrases that struck you

~read the passage once more – reflect on what this passage is saying to you

~from your heart offer a prayer based on your reflections

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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. (read more here…)



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Patricia who blogs over at I Want to See God has tagged me for a “meme”. I had to look up “meme”, not being as computer savvy as I’d like to be.

For this “meme” I am to name my three favorite religious books and then choose five friends to do the same. My thoughts went wild thinking about which three books from my religious book collection would be my favorite. All the titles on my bookshelf passed across my mind, especially those I have read over and over again. All those Carmelite books – how could I just choose three! I mean, St. John of the Cross is my dear favorite, but then I have grown to love St. Teresa of Jesus and have read The Way of Perfection how many times now? Then, of course, there is little St. Therese and her Story of a Soul – who wouldn’t include that as their favorite?

I decided that these and all the other Carmelite writings and books that I own and have read are a given as favorites. Instead of including these obvious ones in this “meme” , I will redirect readers to this page for a list of these and where they can find them. For this “meme”, I decided to include two spiritual classics that were ones St. Therese and St. Teresa had read and gained much profit from in their spiritual lives. For my third book, I chose one that was written by a Carmelite priest.

This first spiritual classic is The Imitation of Christ. This was a favorite of St. Therese. She had it memorized by age fifteen. Her aunt would open up the book and give St. Therese the book and chapter number, and St. Therese would recite the passage from memory!

“I was nourished for a long time on the “pure flour” contained in the Imitation of Christ, this being the only book which did me any good. . . I knew almost all the chapters of my beloved Imitation by heart. This little book never parted company from me,  for in the summer I carried it in my pocket,in winter, in my muff.”        (Story of a Soul)

 

The Imitation of Christ was first published in the 1400‘s. It is a spiritual classic loved by Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. Each book is relatively short and contains short chapters on various topics pertaining to the spiritual life and the Blessed Sacrament. This book is also in the public domain and can be found in numerous places on the internet.

My copy is published by The Confraternity of the Precious Blood and is a rather small one that does fit in a pocket or in a purse. Although I do not have this book memorized, I do have numerous pages dog-eared and many passaged underlined. I have read and reread it several times by keeping it with me in my purse and pulling it out whenever I found myself someplace where I had to wait: dentist office waiting rooms, in line at the drive-up window at the bank, waiting for children to finish sports practice, etc. I would even take it to the ski hill with me and keep it in my ski coat pocket pulling it out whenever I was alone on the ski lift to meditate on a page or two during the ride up the mountain.

The other spiritual classic is The Third Spiritual Alphabet. This was the book that St. Teresa of Avila was so fond of and mentions in her autobiography (Life, chap 4).  This book is about the prayer of recollection and St. Teresa says she was:

“delighted with the book and resolved to follow that way of prayer with all my might”

It was St. Teresa’s uncle who gave her The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna  when she was ill and living at her father’s home. This book is another readable medieval classic from the early 16th century written by a Franciscan, Francisco de Osuna, on the topic of recollection. Each chapter, or treatise, covers a particular topic or point of recollection giving practical advice and quoting from Scriptures. Each treatise can stand on its own, so it isn’t necessary to read the book systematically beginning with the first chapter. My favorite chapters have been on giving thanks, on how we are to control our speech, and on safeguarding the heart. All of which are important if we are to be recollected and focused on God.

The third book that has been a favorite is Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen O.C.D. This lovely book, well worth the price if found in hardcover, is based on the liturgical year. Beginning with Advent, the book covers numerous topics on the interior life, virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, Mary, and prayer. For each day of the liturgical year, there is a two-part meditation, followed by a “colloquy”.  This book is an excellent one to use for daily meditation and the practice of lectio divina. The liturgical calendar this book follows is the traditional Tridentine calendar; however, you can still use it and follow the Novus ordo calendar with some simple adaptations.

This was lots of fun and I would like to invite the following five friends to join in on this fun sharing their three favorite religious books: cinhosa at cinhosa, Emily at Catholic Poster Girl, Christine at laudem gloriae, Kellie at Faith, Family and Friends, and Julia at The Value of Sparrows.

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