Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty

One afternoon my family had the pleasure of serving dinner in our home to two friars from the Carmelite monastery of Mount Carmel in Wyoming. (Check out what they are doing over here at their website.) One of the things that still stays with me about the visit was the topic of the evangelical counsels. The evangelical counsels are vows that religious make in their desire to become “perfect”. The counsels are three: chastity, poverty, and obedience. These counsels are not binding upon all Christians, but are works that are more than what duty requires. Religious make a public profession of these counsels in the way of vows before the recognized authority in the Church which then recognizes them as members of the consecrated life. One of the Carmelite friars that afternoon referred to these counsels as: obedience, chastity and poverty. He said that obedience was most important, which is why he referred to them in that order listing obedience first. According to Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P.,  “Obedience is the highest of the three evangelical counsels, just as the pride of life is in itself a graver disorder than the concupiscence of the flesh.” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

For Secular Carmelites the desire for holiness brings us to make promises to tend toward evangelical perfection. The practice of the three evangelical counsels makes faith grow as well as hope and charity.  The promise of obedience, for Seculars, is an exercise of faith. To obey is to do what pleases God. Obedience frees one of all self will and of one’s own judgment. Obedience particularly applies to the duties of the present moment. As a lay person, Secular Carmelites “search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and in one’s own personal life”. In the context of the Secular Carmelite vocation, members cooperate with those leading the OCDS community and the Carmelite Order. 

The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the community’s council, the Provincial and the General. [Const. #15]

To know God’s will begins by being open to it. God makes His will known in His revealed Word, through scripture, throughout the events of the day, and through those in authority. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6) will then value any occasion that manifests in daily life to do the will of God even in the “little things” – which make up the majority of each day. Small acts of self-will are not acts of love for God; however, these do not break our friendship with God or separate us from His grace. The promise that Secular Carmelites make provides the grace – that is the state of mind and willingness – to obey. The more willingness there is the more grace is given.

Related to obedience is the virtue of justice. As an act of submission one submits to the will of another (a lawful superior) since they represent God. We must obey God through His the commandments. After all we are creatures. He is the creator and obviously superior! We have free will – a gift we have received from God. A good way to acknowledge this gift is by freely submitting our will to God, the Creator and giver of the gift. As His children we should obey just like Jesus did.  Imitating Christ’s obedience who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2: 8) Obedience applies also to any promises made and especially to vows (like marriage vows).

Have the mind of Christ Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” (Ph 2: 5-7)

The will of God includes the Commandments, Church and civil law, as well as the natural law. We should also be willing to submit to the Precepts of the Church. We can show our obedience to Christ’s counsels by performance of good works according to our state in life. The performance of duties related to our state in life should take precedence. Obedience should also be given to the inspirations of grace – when clear and submitted to a spiritual director, least we be under illusion. Generally inspirations of grace will be customary things undertaken according to our state in life and that do not trouble the soul. If this is the case, then we may do them without hesitation or under the guidance of a spiritual director. When we discern God has spoken, sometimes we need confirmation and we should seek it. If we believe that we have had a communication from God, we need to have it confirmed through others in the Church. St. John of the Cross says that, “God is so pleased that the rule and direction of humans be through other humans and that a person be governed by natural reason that he definitely does not want us to restore entire credence on his supernatural communications, or be confirmed in their strength and security, until they pass through this human channel of the mouth of another human person.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2:22,9) Extraordinary undertakings need to be done with a spiritual director’s advising. If it is from God He will make it known and confirmed in His own way and time. With this confirmation one can be assured that there is not any danger of self deception or illusion. 

The Constitutions and Rules of Life (for religious) are also to be obeyed. In this case obedience is to be given to the superiors with and within the limits of the rule, obeying promptly and with generosity. St. John of the Cross in his Sayings of Light and Love (#13) explains that, “God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.”(#13)

Obedience to those in authority can be challenging to our ego. Recalling that all authority comes from God, we should obey others over us out of reverence for God. Therefore, the wishes of those who govern us and make laws, police officers, teachers, and our bosses in our places of employment should be obeyed. Obeying them is obeying God. We should obey only those things that do not go contrary to the law of God. Additionally, we should obey not only when being watched, so as to get on the good side of the superior, but doing so willingly to serve Christ and from the heart.  

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” (Ep 6: 5-9).

The Church representatives guide us – this is how God wants things to be done. Direction from our priest and bishops—this is how God speaks to us through others for our Lord said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16) Sometimes “we cling greatly to our own will” and “hold to our own way of doing good more than to the good itself” (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

As a disciple we should be ready to listen for the Holy Spirit to prompt us and speak to us through others. God willed that we live in society because we are not self sufficient for all our needs. We need others. With our Secular Carmelite communities we are organized with leadership and the rules of our Constitutions and Statutes approved by the Church in order to come together for a common purpose. To carry this purpose out, we need rules and decisions in the various situations that the group meets. Our obedience only needs be in accordance with and within the limits of the present Rule (Constitutions). Someone needs to coordinate all those in the community towards the common good. Some command – some obey. Without obedience there would be chaos.

Even Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2: 51)  Submitting our will even in things that are hard, difficult or go against our own preferences is not easy. Doing so wholeheartedly, not complaining, with joy and perseveringly will have its rewards.

Obedience challenges us to be of the same mind as that of the superior or the one in charge. To do so means to conform our judgement and understanding (as well as our will) to that of another. Thus obedience expresses humility and puts to death (or mortifies) the self will. We all have self love and our own opinions that can derail us from obedience. St. Teresa in The Way of Perfections counsels: “Strive to obey, even if this may be more painful for you, since the greatest perfection lies in obedience.” (Way 39:3) She also relates this wise consolation in the prologue of The Interior Castle“Obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible”.

The fruits of obedience will manifest in a correct way of behaving and thinking. It makes us wiser and, having the mind of God, we will think the way God does. Obedience also strengthens the will. However, God never commands the impossible, and He gives the strength to do what is difficult – like with the martyrs – He gives the grace needed. There comes a true freedom of spirit with obedience as St. Paul writes to the Romans – we will enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) God’s truth and wisdom frees us from error and doubt. Those who do the Father’s will, will enter heaven. And as scripture reveals the humble “will be exalted” (Lk 14:11) Most importantly obedience “prepares for the contemplation of divine things”. (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

The object of obedience is the will; be willing to want to even know the will of God. The precept is expressed by the will of another. The motive or intention of obedience is to please God. The more we become interiorly responsive to doing the will of God, the more obedient we are. God’s will is manifested in many ways and circumstances especially through those in authority over us. Since the word obey comes from the Latin root which means “to be open” “to hear” – we should strive to have the ear of a disciple so as to hear God’s voice – this is obedience.

The Feast of Light and Hope

Mary presents the Infant Jesus in the Temple and accompanies Him on His mission. She submits herself to the laws of purification out of obedience 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. 

Mary, who was influenced by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is our model of contemplative prayer and of purity of heart. “My eyes are ever upon the LORD” (Psalm 25). This describes Mary and her purity. Mary’s purity was of heart, mind, and intention. Souls aspiring to contemplation should strive for this kind of purity in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

A pure heart that is detached from all that can lead to sin or trouble the soul.

A pure mind that puts to death curiosity, which only troubles and distracts the soul, scattering its attention in all different directions.

Purity of intentions that have only one aim in mind, to please God.

The fruit of this purity is a great mastery over self and opens the way to constantly thinking of God, conversing with Him, performing all actions with Him in mind, and desiring only to please Him. Then, like Mary, His presence is always in mind and the soul is constantly turned toward Him.

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, hope, and love. 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 and giving hope to all.

Mary is always united to her Son. We too should always be united to Jesus. Our union with Him is proportional to our purity. On 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.

Nazareth – Life of the Holy Family

“The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children, it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.” (CCC 2205)

Jesus spent most of his life hidden living within the context of a family. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family and the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph provide us with some important lessons. Their home life at Nazareth is in many ways a school, as Pope Paul VI pointed out in his address on 5 January 1964.

The home of “Nazareth is the school in which we begin to understand the life of Jesus. It is the school of the Gospel.” The first lesson is of silence where “we learn to observe, to listen, to meditate, and to penetrate the profound mysterious meaning” of Jesus and to imitate Him. Silence is an admirable and indispensable condition of mind to revive in us as it teaches “us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers”

The home at Nazareth teaches a lesson on family life. The Holy Family teaches us what family life is – a communion of love with “its simplicity and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable character.” When meditating on the life of the Holy Family we cannot help but think about how there is something ordinary about this family. They are living out their daily lives doing everyday things together. They eat meals together, pray and work together, and sometimes they even travel. 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. 

On one such trip, the Holy Family notices that Jesus is missing, and the parents 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 and sometimes, like with the Holy Family, with great challenges! 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! Once they found Him, they returned to their home in Nazareth to resume their lives and daily living with Jesus. 

Additionally, we receive the lesson of work from the home at Nazareth where the “carpenter’s Son” shows us how to “understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labor.” The life of this holy family was unseen and filled with love and work. 

During these hidden years, the whole family lived the hidden human virtues we are all called to live. Simple, humble virtues like work, religion, family life, and activities. These virtues are ways to sanctify our daily lives. There is nothing great here, just ordinary things done daily and lived authentically. 

Entrustment and Consecration of Families to the Holy Family

Dear Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

We are orphans in a world grown cold, and we are seeking the Refuge of your Holy Home at Nazareth.

Holy Family, take us in our Heart as we entrust, and consecrated our family, and all families, entirely to you. Infuse in our hearts the same love for each other that penetrated the Heart of the Holy Family.

St. Joseph, we beg you to be the father of our family. Please guide, protect, and provide for us as you did the Holy Family.

Holy Mary, please be our Mother! Teach us, take care of us, and love and embrace us in your Maternal Heart as you did your family.

Jesus, be our Brother and our King. Be the center of our lives. Let your Sacred Heart and the Heart of the Holy Family reign in our homes. 

Teach us how to pray together, work together, play together, and become saints together – with God and family as our first priority! 

Teach us to praise and encourage one another and to be faithful, chaste and committed.

Comfort us in our sufferings, and dry away every tear of us who are in distress caused by the difficulties, heartaches, and sorrows of our families.

After you have raised us as your very own children, send us out as you did Jesus. 

Send us to minister to the poor, the sick, the suffering, the aged, the lonely, the prisoners, and to defend and protect LIFE and the concerns of Holy Mother Church. 

Send us, no matter in what walk of life we may be in, to make a difference in this world. Let us be so filled with charity that the cross will no longer be a burden because we will be following Him, our Brother, who gave His life for us. Let us do the same for each other. Amen.

Let us go to Bethlehem

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

(Luke 2:8)

Suddenly the shepherds hear the voice of an angel. Struck with awe they listen to the angel say, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news”. 

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2: 11-12)

The shepherds turn to each other and said, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds make their way to the little town of Bethlehem. Days before their journey, Mary and St. Joseph travel to this place to take part in the census, even though the timing was not convenient for the expectant mother. The time for her to have her child was drawing near. 

The Virgin consented to the impossible. An angel had visited her too. She gave her “fiat” to be the “handmaid of the Lord” and so the savior of the world was conceived. “The most sublime work of God’s mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the second, came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God’s only-begotten Son, “who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate” (Credo).” (Divine Intimacy #26, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdelen)

The shepherds hurry along prodding the sheep with them. What will they see? 

Joseph and Mary arrive in the village, swarming with other pilgrims. It is night, cold and the time for the child’s birth is fast approaching. Joseph’s poverty as the head of the family is palpable. He must trust in God. St. Joseph trusts with “creative courage”. He arrived “in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable at hand, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world.” (Patris Corde, Pope Francis)

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.

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.”

(Ps36:10)

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.

Now the shepherds have their personal encounter with Jesus, led to this encounter by the Star to a poor manger with a little baby. A baby who will “bring peace on earth”. They behold the infant, a poor infant lying in the poverty of a manger, sleeping, resting. Together with the shepherds, we move from this sight of Jesus with faith to follow Him along His way of sorrows with the Cross. 

This Christmas may we welcome the Savior. May Jesus find our hearts empty and poor with the poverty of the manger where He can come and find his rest. Seeing that only a poor heart can truly receive God, let us make room for Grace. 

Ecce ancilla Domini!

Today’s Gospel takes us back nine months to the Annunciation, to Gabriel, the messenger sent from God to a virgin in Nazareth, whose name was Mary.

Mary is humble, docile, and filled with faith in God as she recieves and accepts His message through the angel, Gabriel. Through her acceptance the accomplishment of God’s greatest work – the Incarnation of the Word – is to take place, which will end in His glory. Glory is the end of all of God’s works.

God called us into existence out of nothing giving us a natural life, but He also gave us a supernatural life. He elevated man to divine sonship so that we might share in the intimate life of the Godhead – the Trinity, and enter into that beatitude that is eternal. This was the Divine plan from the beginning. However, even though the first sin of Adam and Eve destroyed this plan and changed everything, God’s love did not change. God through His immense charity towards man willed to redeem him. So through an even greter act of love, God became man and appeared into the world taking on human flesh as a son, as a small child in the womb of Mary. 

To save us He descended from heaven and became incarnate. With what love God has loved us! Divine Love moved God to become one of us.

The Word comes down from heaven to be with us. This is the greatest manifistation of God’s merciful love. From the Incaranation of the Word comes our salvation, sanctification and our beatitude. Without this supreme act of Charity we would be trapped in a purely human life and would be stripped of a supernatural life now and for eternity.

Fiat!

Our Blessed Mother models for us the effects that graces and divine favors should generate in us – an increase in humility and a consciousness of our nothingness.

The higher God elevated her, the lowlier she became because of her humility. “The Angel called her “full of grace” and Mary “was troubled” ”(Lk 1: 28-29) Because of Mary’s humility, she disliked praise. Her desire was that only God should be praised. “The more she understood the grandeur of the mystery, the immensity of the divine gift, the more she humbled herself, submerging herself in her nothingness. Her attitude was the same when Elizabeth greeted her, “Blessed are thou among women”. (Lk 1:42) (cf. Divine Intimacy #176 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen)

Inspired by this narrative of St. Luke, let us enter into the dispositions of Mary. She is recollected in solitude when the angel approaches and says to her the words repeated in every Hail Mary. Mary’s reaction to this angelic visitor is one of humility. She is ‘troubled’, that is, astonished at such an unusual greeting addressed to her.

fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

Then Mary gives her ‘fiat’: “Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). This is the only proper response to God’s will.

Two virtues are displayed in Mary. First of all, humility reveals her peaceful interior and is reflected in the exterior body of her soul. She is astonished but not disturbed. If we really ponder in great honesty all that disturbs us and trace this disturbance to its root, we will find that our pride in some way has been wounded. Some contradiction, some change to our plans, some insecurity in our comforts; all these disturb our constant grasping for “my will to be done”. The second virtue we see in Mary is her simplicity. Simplicity is looking only at God. Mary is pure and has a desire for only one thing. Our passions and attachments keep us from this disposition. Once a soul is purified of every passion and attachment it is then reduced to perfect simplicity. To reach this goal the soul must look to God for help, leaning on God at every moment seeking Him as sole support and strength. The simple soul does not waste time reasoning about the conduct of others. These souls see the hand of God in everything that happens and in every circumstance.

These two virtues, humility and simplicity, so perfectly modeled in the Blessed Virgin Mary, are necessary for a soul to rest peacefully in any given situation knowing and trusting in God.

Mary’s humble dependence on God and His will is reflected beautifully in her reply, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” (Lk 1: 38) This interior attitude of Mary’s is equal to that of Jesus: “Behold, I come to do your will.” (Heb 10:9) This deep interior disposition was constant throughout the Blessed Virgin’s life. Her life was one of docility which is expressed in this attitude of “handmaiden”. We too can make this our attitude of being easily led by God when we accept all that He permits in our lives. God wills the inconveniences, poverty (spiritual and material), privations, separations, persecutions, insults, and hardships as grace. Let us, like Mary, humbly depend on God for everything.

Where the Star is Leading Us

“When the days grow shorter and shorter, when – in normal winter – the first snowflakes fall, then quietly and softly thoughts of Christmas begin to surface, and from the mere word a certain magic exudes that affects every heart. Even those of other faiths, or of no faith at all, to whom the story of the Child of Bethlehem has no meaning, prepare for the feast and even make plans to convey its joy here or there. Months and weeks in advance, there flows a warmth like a stream of love over the whole world. A festival of love and joy – that is the star which beckons all mankind in the first winter months.
For the Christian, and especially for the Catholic Christian, it is yet something else. Him the star leads to the manger with the little Child who brings peace to earth. In countless endearing pictures, artists have created the scene for our eyes; ancient legends, replete with all the magic of childhood, sing to us about it. Whoever lives along with the Church hears the ancient chants and feels the longing of the spirit in the Advent hymns; and whoever is familiar with the inexhaustible fount of sacred liturgy is daily confronted by the great prophet of the Incarnation with his powerful word of warning and promise:
Drop down dew from above and let the clouds rain
the Just One! The Lord is near! Let us adore Him!
Come, Lord, and do not delay! Jerusalem, rejoice
with great joy, for you Saviour comes to you!

From 17 to 24 December, the great O Antiphons to the Magnificat call out with ever greater longing and fervour their ‘Come, to set us free’. And with still more promise (on the last Advent Sunday), ‘Behold, all is fulfilled’; then, finally, ‘Today you shall know that the Lord is coming and tomorrow you shall see his splendour’.

Yes, on that evening when the lights on the tree are lit and the gifts are being exchanged, that unfulfilled longing is still there groping for another ray of Light until the bells for Midnight Mass ring out, and the miracle of that Holy Night is renewed upon altars bedecked with lights and flowers: ‘And the Word was made flesh’. Now the moment of blessed fulfilment has arrived. ”

(The Mystery of Christmas, Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), January 1931)

Silence in the Darkness of Advent

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  –St John of the Cross, OCD

Advent is a time of waiting…waiting in the darkness where it is still and quiet. This season is also a time to establish the conditions I need to have in order to bring Christ into my life.

Night, these long winter nights, can be a time for prayer, waiting prayer. In this night of waiting prayer, I can remain before the Lord in silence and love. St. John of the Cross teaches that silence is the language God hears best.

As St. John of the Cross reminds me, I need to remain in silence with my desires and tongue silenced. Thoughts and words are limiting. They limit my time with the Lord; therefore, I need to be present before Him with these faculties silent and remain there in a state of interior quiet. It is in this silent waiting of my prayer through faith and love that will bring me to the God I am seeking.

In the darkness of Advent, I can then see and adjust my responses after this time in silence. My response can then be to bring Christ into the lives of others, but first I need to begin by bringing Him into my own interior life.

Today is the Feast of St. John of the Cross who was and still is a good guide through the darkness that is faith. With him and his writings, he will draw me to seek God in faith and love.

Joy Not Sadness

This third week of Advent comes as a rest in the penitential spirit of this season and is known as Gaudete Sunday. We take this time to express our joy in the nearness of the Lord’s coming. There is one more Sunday before we will celebrate Christmas. The pink candle on the wreath is lit and represents our joy in that Christ has come into our world! 

This Sunday gets its name from the second reading taken from First Thessalonians, “Rejoice always.” We as Christians should always be filled with joy, even in our sufferings, because of Christ. He is the source and the cause of our joy. As St. Paul tells us we should rejoice in the Lord always, pray without ceasing and give thanks to God for everything, counting all to be pure joy. St. Teresa of Jesus teaches that we should have “a calmness and glory within” and she even went so far to say that we should “rejoice in the fact that all are rejoicing”. (Way, 30, 5)

Joy is the fruit of God’s grace. The Gospel is a source of joy since its message is that God loves us, He cares for us and He is with us!  This joy fills the heart and moves us to serve others. St. Teresa of Jesus invites her nuns, and by extension to all of us, to “be happy to serve” (Way, 18, 5); we are to put ourselves at the service of others and to do this with selfless love.

It is difficult for people to be joyful. Life isn’t easy. We are often weighed down with problems. Yet we were made for joy! Today I am hoping to raise awareness to this fact: that God is the God of joy and wants His children to be happy.

We have a soul and this is what is in us that tunes us to the inner life of the joyfulness of God. It is our soul that enables us to enjoy God in prayer. Did anyone ever teach you that you were to enjoy God in prayer? Enjoying God in prayer- seems like the concept should be self evident, but for some reason it isn’t. The little known secret of discovering enjoyment in prayer is that God is present to us and He is the God of love and joy. If we truly believe and understand this then prayer will be a joy!

“From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” (Attributed to St. Teresa of Jesus)

Do you think of prayer as drudgery or perhaps as something altogether boring? True joyfulness, that joyfulness that is seen in the saints, comes from being rooted in and nourished by a deep prayer life. Prayer is the grace-filled secret to joyfulness.

The greatest enemy of joy is sadness. It is so easy to serve God fervently, to spread goodness and practice virtue when we are aware of God’s presence in our lives. However, when we experience feelings of sadness and despondency, we act in the opposite manner. We have no inner peace; we are troubled and down-hearted. We go about weak and all our good resolutions have diminished. We may even avoid praying. Yet prayer is what we really should do.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” (James 5:13)

When we are suffering from sadness we should turn to prayer so that our hearts can be strengthened. Prayer puts us into God’s presence and this will lift our spirit and fill our souls with confidence. Our joyful awareness of God’s presence will bring peace, the peace for which our hearts long. 

In this Sunday’s Gospel from St. John we see that John the Baptist had to point out Jesus to the men the Jews had sent to him in the desert. He had to tell them that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize”.  Jesus is really in our midst. He is present in our Tabernacles and by grace in our souls. We can help others recognize Jesus’ presence today in the joy we express in our own lives because we have Him. God is our infinite joy. Let us always live joyfully so that all can see this joy and want it too! 

Let us recall as we continue our Advent journey that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22) Remember that the Lord is with us and He will help us to see Christ in all things and will move us in love to bring the joy of His presence to all men.  And isn’t this what our world needs of us now more than ever?

“When one loves, everything is joy. The cross doesn’t weigh down. Martyrdom isn’t felt. One lives more in heaven than on earth.” (St. Teresa of the Andes)

Preparing the Way for Jesus

In this week’s Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist, the messenger calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord”.  St. John completes the work of all the prophets beginning with Elijah. He proclaims to the people that the consolation they have been longing for is fast approaching. In the reading this week from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord”. The prophets were always calling the people back from their wayward way of living.  Jesus’ first coming is near and John the Baptist is in the desert calling the people to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. The people came to John in the desert and “acknowledged their sins”. Today it seems as though there is so much sin, and yet very little acknowledgment of our own personal sin. It is much easier to be like the Pharisees and point out the plank in the other person’s eye. It is time to repent!

Remember St. Peter? He denied Our Lord three times at his trial and fled before His crucifixion. But that was not the end of his relationship with Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus meets up with Peter and the other apostles for breakfast on the beach. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them, and bring them back into the sheepfold.

This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, and still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him. 

Advent is a time for us to reflect on how we may have offended Him and to turn to Him to receive mercy. Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy as we examine our conscience and seek out the Sacrament of Penance as a way to prepare the way for the Lord this Christmas.

The Sacrament of Penance is there to help us prepare for our celebration of Christmas. We should also try to make this sacrament a habit in order to be prepared for His Second Coming. The second reading for this Sunday, taken from the Second Letter of Saint Peter, so aptly reminds us about how our conduct ought to be and what kind of persons we should be, conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”.  All the while remembering that the day of “the Lord will come like a thief” and when we least expect it. So let us have Him find us always ready!

Or we can just go on with our lives in peace instead. However, there are different kinds of peace.

There is the false 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. 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.“ Otherwise they will find themselves embittered with envy. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed St. Teresa’s advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much”. 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.” St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself “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, 11-13)

Then there is the false peace that comes from our bodies, which are very fond of comfort. St. Teresa 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. 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.” Since the body can be so untrustworthy, we need to understand this about it and to use discretion. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 15)

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him. May all our efforts cooperate with the grace God gives in each moment to prepare a heart, pure and receptive, to receive so great a gift as we prepare for His coming. 

“Since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him and at peace” 2 Pt 3:14