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Archive for February, 2017

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I come before you
with empty hands…
all the secret store of grace
I fling into needy hearts,
crying in the bitter night
of fear and loneliness…..
Spendthrift of your Love
I keep before me
your empty Hands – 
empty and riven 
with the great nails 
hollowing out 
rivers of mercy…..
until all your substance 
was poured out…..
So, I, my Jesus,
with hands emptied 
for your love 
stand confident 
before your Cross,
love’s crimson emblem. 
It is the empty 
who are filled:
those who have made 
themselves spendthrifts 
for You alone,
fill the least 
of your brethren 
while they themselves 
are nourished by your Love…
more and more emptied 
that they may be filled 
with You.

– St. Therese

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Fasting is one of the principle means of making satisfaction for sins. By abstaining from eating all that is available to eat, one can do penance for sins, making reparation for them. Also one can gain strength against future sins by this self-imposed penance. Fasting is a way to chastise the body for the sins the body has committed. Additionally denying oneself the pleasure of eating helps to bring the body into control and subject to the soul.

St. John of the Cross tells us to keep in mind the value of our good works, fasts, alms and penances. Firstly the value of these is “not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them”. (Ascent Book 3 Chap. 27) So our good works, fasts, almsgiving and penances should be done for the love of God, and we “should not set (our) heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor and other elements of self-interest (like trying to lose weight) these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect (our) joy in God and desire to serve him through these means.”

As always regarding fasting we have Christ for our example. He is perfect, so we do not see any extremes to the virtue he models for us. He did practice fasting and abstinence, though he did not need to do this. He had perfect control over his desires and the appetites. In gaining control over the sense appetites prudent discretion is in order. We are not to “kill (ourselves) with penances” and “weaken (ourselves) by fasts”. (Dark Night, Book 1, Chap 6) The idea is virtue, which is the mean between extremes. We should be doing our fasting with the proper motivation which is to repair the damage done by our sinfulness and to gain strength for future temptations to sin.

Fasting is also good because the mind is dulled when the body overeats. When one indulges in  too much, the mind becomes sleepy and unable to meditate or pray with attentiveness.

The Church has us fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are the days Catholics usually associate with fasting. Fasting during these penitential days of Lent is defined as one normal meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal. Snacking in between meals would also be excluded as part of the fast. The Church additionally ask us to fast before receiving Holy Communion. We are to fast from food and drink, with the exception of water, for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. It is good to be reminded as to why we are obliged to do this. We do the Eucharistic fast out of respect for the sacrament. We are about to received Jesus, and therefore it is fitting that we should not eat or drink other substances prior to receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood.

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Seculars Carmelites promise to strive towards evangelical perfection. Regarding these counsels the Secular Discalced Carmelites Constitutions states:

 

“Following Jesus as members of the Secular Order is expressed by the promise to strive for evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience and through the beatitudes.”

To strive toward evangelical poverty is not poverty for poverty’s sake, but for the sake of the Gospel. Voluntary poverty is something lay Carmelites can do for the love of God. This in not the strict poverty like those in religious orders where their Constitutions require them to relinquish ownership of material goods.

Through voluntary poverty those of us living in the world can live in solidarity with the poor. Poverty in clothes, for example, would look like a closet limited to just a few outfits. Each day could be lived like the poor by economizing the day’s spending habits. This could include not wasting food or other things, and repairing items or repurposing them, if possible, rather than throwing them away. Doing without some comforts and forgoing some conveniences would also be some ways to practice voluntary poverty. Working hard to achieve the day’s necessities, renouncing superfluous things and denying yourself the desire to acquire more things would allow more freedom and resources to help others, especially those closest to you. Doing without so that you could help others in your own family, your children and even friends would be the happy result of voluntary poverty.  You could make contributions financially to the Church, missions and the poor of the world with the money and resources that you deny yourself. This spirit of poverty will also allow you to contribute to other good works, institutions and noble causes.

Not letting material things distract you from God and your relationship with him will come from giving up the less essential things in your life. Not only that, but you will find more freedom from the occupation with things that will allow more time and energy to be given to serving God and to prayer.

Other ways to practice voluntary poverty are to not complain when deprived of something, when something is demanded of you or when confronted with some hardship. Accept your situation serenely and with patience in the spirit of voluntary poverty.

Practice voluntary poverty so that you won’t become a slave to things and develop a divided heart between loving God and loving things. Embracing voluntary poverty will allow you to be more generous with the poor and help you to draw closer to God.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. ~ Mt 6:21

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We all have this tendency to enjoy (or seek satisfaction) in ourselves, in our pride or in other people and things. St. John of the Cross teaches that these tendencies are the root of our attachments. Attachments are those “inordinate appetites”. Basically, they are those desires we have for things that are not rightly ordered in our lives and lead us into sin, mortal and venial, and imperfections. It is important to get to the root of these inordinate desires if one desires union with God. To get to the root of these, which are the inclinations of our nature, we must oppose them and make ourselves do what is repugnant to our nature.

Gnarled Tree Roots --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Gnarled Tree Roots — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

This would mean ‘going against the current’ and requires strength of will. St. John of the Cross, in the Ascent to Mount Carmel, gives us “rules” for detachment. He tells us the soul must always be inclined:

not to the easiest thing ~ but to the hardest
not to the tastiest ~ but to the most insipid
not to things that give greatest pleasure ~ but to those that give the least
not to the restful things ~ but to painful ones
not to consolation ~ but to desolation
not to more ~ but to less
not to the highest and dearest ~ but to the lowest and most despised
not to the desire for something ~ but to having no desires.

So all that is difficult, disagreeable or wearisome to us needs to have our attention. These are the things to work on! These reveal to us our desires.

Our saint says we are to oppose these inclinations with order and discretion. In other words, we need to train ourselves to not shrink back from something we find disagreeable or that requires effort or that we find difficult or challenging. In order to strengthen the will, we can put into practice the above rules starting with little things in order to gain strength of will and then be strong enough to tackle the bigger attachments. For instance, being inclined to “restful things” like not getting out of bed when the alarm clock first goes off. The tendency is to hit the snooze and rest ten more minutes! It is a bit painful to jump right out of bed at the first call; it will require strength of will. “I will!” “I will get up right away when the alarm sounds off.” Or how about the inclination to the highest and dearest . . . a promotion, recognition, a word of praise? Can we train the will to not desire these and rather hope to be despised, past over and unnoticed? All this may sound harsh, but there is a purpose to this and it is to bring us to union with God. As we practice detachment from our desires this end is always to be kept in mind. Our desires should always be for God.

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If our desires are centered on God then we will be moving our heart to purity. The deepest, most spiritual meaning of purity is to “be detached from all creatures, free of a fixation on oneself and on others.” (Edith Stein Collected Works: Woman, p. 203)

This purity is so necessary to attaining union with God. Purity is a matter of the heart. The heart must not be allowed to be captivated by creatures, no matter how fascinating they may be. The soul longing for union with God will live among creatures and be occupied with them with all charity, but will not allow the heart to become attached to them or seek gratification in them.

The most challenging part of this virtue is the detachment from ‘self’ which we carry around with us all the time and are never wholly free. This detachment requires us to renounce our preoccupation with ourselves: our way, our wants, our comfort, our rights -to name a few.

When we become attached to something it prohibits our ascent to God. It is the virtue of purity that will help us to take flight and reach God.

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She presents him in the Temple and accompanies him on his mission. She submits herself to the laws of purification even though she does not need to be purified.

We are in need of interior purification. However, our pride often seeks to exempt us from the law. We make excuses. Often we falsely believe that parts of the law of God just do not pertain to us.

According to the law, Mary was to go to the Temple forty days after the birth of her son and participate in the purification rite. She brings the child with her. This is the first time Jesus, the Light of the World, enters the Temple.

Candles are blessed on this day by the Church. These lit tapers symbolize the life of a Christian – a life of grace that is filled with faith. Since Jesus is the Light of the World, or as Simeon proclaimed, “a light to the revelation of the Gentiles”, these candles should be a reminder to us that we too must be a light for others revealing Christ in us.

Mary is always united to her Son. We too should always be united to Jesus. Our union with him is proportional to our purity. For this Feast of the Presentation let us ask the Immaculate Heart of Mary for that pure love, free of sin and detached from all created things, and for a heart directed towards God and always tending toward him.

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