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.

Charity from the Divine Heart

Through the power of the cross, you can be present wherever there is pain, carried there by your compassionate charity, by that very charity which you draw from the divine heart. That charity enables you to spread everywhere the most precious blood in order to ease pain, save, and redeem.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

St. Teresa, Prayer and the Gift of Contemplation

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. St. Teresa wrote several treatises on the topic of prayer. She is one of the few women that have been declared a Doctor of the Church. She died in 1582 in Alba de Tormes, Spain. Her feast day is today, October 15th.

Before she even begins to write about prayer in The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa says she will “mention some things that are necessary for those who seek to follow the way of prayer.” These things are so necessary that she says if one does not possess these, it is impossible to be a contemplative. So what are these things? 

“The first of these is love for one another; the second is detachment from created things; the third is true humility, which even though I speak of it last, is the main practice and embraces all the others.” (Way of Perfection 4: 4)

St. Teresa was keenly aware that the practice of the virtues is what supports prayer. Key to the spiritual life are these three: love, detachment, and humility. Love, of course, is first. It is love that moves us to pray, and it is love that is the greatest commandment: love God and love neighbor. It follows that some sort of detachment is also necessary because this virtue involves our choices. Our heart loves and is centered on what we love and desire and often these are not leading us to intimacy with God. Humility, which is next, but most importantly, is about the truth. The truth we are mainly concerned with is the truth about ourselves. An aid to the truth about ourselves is an honest examination of all areas of our lives and determining what is in need of repentance, where are our failures, and what are our sins, but also necessary is a look at our attitudes that may need to be pruned and gifts which may need to be cultivated.                       

Prayer is the activity especially intended for making fervent acts of charity. During prayer, the soul lovingly meets with God. A soul that loves God does so with a pure heart; a heart that loves Him so much that it seeks only after His glory and His will. The prayer of a soul that loves God forgets itself and is ready to sacrifice every wish for Him. Its love grows stronger and will continue to grow as it performs all its actions with a whole heart and with all of its capacity for goodwill.  However, St. Teresa says that it is also important for us to have a love for one another, but “because of either excess or defect we never reach the point of observing this commandment perfectly.” (The Way of Perfection, 4:5) When we live with others those annoying things and habits that we all have will be “suffered easily by those who love one another”.  Sometimes we gravitate towards loving one person more than another. St. Teresa also points out that when we love others excessively we are unable to love God excessively!  Nevertheless, she does value friendships and said that in her convents “all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.”  (The Way of Perfection, 4:7)   

Detachment is also necessary for one who is setting out on the way of prayer. Attachment is clinging to people, ideas, and things that give satisfaction, comfort, and pleasure. Detachment is letting go of the need to find pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction in these things and to center all our desires on God. Detachment is about seeking God first. One important way to practice detachment is to detach from the love of our bodies which demand so much comfort and strive to be more faithful to our duties. St. Teresa says that our bodies want so much comfort that the more we give it the more it demands. St. Teresa also suggests that souls try to remember that everything is vanity and will all come to an end. It is a great help for souls to remove any attachment it might have to trivial things and to center its thoughts on eternal things. Detachment and control of the passions can help our soul to be like Mary’s – silent and solitary- and filled with the presence of God.

In The Way of Perfection chapter 10, St. Teresa writes about the virtues of humility and detachment saying that “They are two inseparable sisters.” Our saint warns that souls need to not feel secure or fall asleep. She advises souls to be alert in “going against our own will”. Going against our own will is humility. She points out that turning and being against ourselves is a difficult thing because. . . we “love ourselves greatly”. How true this is! The soul should embrace these two virtues and by doing so, imitate Christ who “was never for a moment seen without them!” Another interesting thing about these virtues is that they “have the characteristic of so hiding themselves from the person who possess them that these persons never see them or manage to believe that they even have them”. 

St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection Chapter 17 writes about the importance of humility in regard to contemplation. She says, “this is an important aspect of prayer and indispensable for persons who practice it”. She understood that God, if He so desires, is the one who leads the soul that prays into contemplation.  Not everyone who prays must be a contemplative and being a contemplative is not necessary for our salvation. St. Teresa stresses that “to be a contemplative is a gift from God.” However, she does not want us to give up prayer for any reason, but we are to persevere because sometimes, “the Lord comes very late and pays just as well, and all at once, what he was giving to others in the course of many years.” So we should strive “in humility, mortification, detachment, and the other virtues…[and not] be afraid that you will fail to reach the perfection of those who are very contemplative.”                

“I don’t say that we shouldn’t try; on the contrary, we should try everything. What I am saying is that this is not a matter of your choosing but of the Lord’s….Be sure that if you do what lies in your power, preparing yourselves for contemplation with the perfection mentioned, and that if He doesn’t give it to you (and I believe He will give if detachment and humility are truly present), He will save this gift for you so as to grant it to you all at once in heaven.” (The Way of Perfection, 17:7)   

A soul devoted to loving God has made the one necessary resolution in prayer which is to be recollected. Only then is it able to give itself entirely to God. We often fail to dispose ourselves for contemplation either because we give in to too much activity or because we do not produce enough acts of love. By offering to God a holy heart, one free from all actual stain of sin, we can at least do our part and strive for perfection.

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.

Today, 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 spiritual 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.

Father,
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)

Renewal

What the Church needs now more than ever is renewal, which begins in our hearts. What our hearts need is cleansing. We can begin this cleansing by removing the clutter found there.

The Church is supposed to be a sign of heavenly glory, but it has lost its original beauty. The Church’s appearance has been muddled through the bad examples of some of its members, scandals and false teachings. All of these and more have tainted the clarity of charity, which is the Church’s mission. All this has happened because we have abandoned the pursuit of perfect charity! 

Therefore we need a renewal. Renewal begins with the interior and then moves out to the exterior.  We cannot begin to have an impact on the world with the Gospel message if we have not first let God “set charity in order within” (Song 2:4).

The first place to begin any renewal is with the heart. Ultimately the reason for so many deficiencies decried in the Church today are due to the fact that we have failed to love one another. We are no longer Christ-like. Christ is not dwelling within our hearts; therefore, there is no space for the thought of others.

Christ has called us to love; each soul should examen this call within before it can in any way be repaired. Love is a study we must each undertake and this will take place over our whole lifetime. In the examination of the heart, begin with looking at what it is we are pursuing.

If love is being pursued it will be revealed in our speech, in the way we talk to others, in our openness to new ideas and in the gentleness in which we listen to the thoughts and opinions of other people.  On the other hand if we are not pursuing charity, then this too will be made manifest. If we are narrow-minded, look down on others, are quick to argue or engage in back-biting, then we are not pursuing charity.

We must renew charity within and then bring it out to others. As we pursue perfect charity, love itself will let each of us know what changes will need to be made and how to fashion these changes.

St. Teresa longed for renewal of the Church in her time and set out to reform the Order with a clear resolution in mind – “ to do the little that was in my power: that is, to follow the evangelical couples as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live her do the same.” She embarked on this endeavor trusting in God’s goodness knowing that he “never fails to help anyone who is determined to give up everything for Him.” [Way 1: 2]

Constantly returning to the sources assists with renewal and will aid us to proclaim anew the message of our foundress. Or to return to the documents of Vatican II or even the Gospels and encounter them again, is another way to promote renewal. From the sources we can gain new inspiration and strength as we rediscover the original purpose intended by our founders or the council. Recovering the original heritage handed on to us, we can then determine how to present this fount of riches to the present generation. Needed also is a love of learning for the original formation. By returning to the Gospels – we return to Christ himself. We need to be steeped in the Gospels. For St. Teresa the book of the Gospels was her favorite for meditation. Similarly St. Therese and St. John of the Cross were also fond of the Bible. Their writings contain lavish quotes from the scriptures. 

Let us return to the sources in simplicity, but without discarding or sacrificing the development that happened over the years from our heritage. Diving into the writings of our Carmelite saints and rediscovering the vision St. Teresa had in her heart, and then to discover new ways to reproduce it using different styles and materials. In this rediscovery period it will serve us well to become like children and ask why? Approach the sources with this question to discover the reason we have been or are doing things as Carmelites. And to do them intelligently.

Any renewal will depend on the real and lasting work of faith that is exercised in prayer, silent prayer where one encounters love and discovers what is asked of him only to surrender to that love.

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Eph 3:20-21)

Charity Must Not Consist in Feelings

St. Therese of Lisieux was born on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, Normandy. She was the youngest of eight children born to Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin. Of the eight children, three died, and the surviving five girls all became religious. After Zelie’s death, when St. Therese was four years old, the family moved to Lisieux. St. Therese entered the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux at the age of fifteen. She died on September 30, 1897, at the young age of twenty-four.

St. Therese, of course, is most famous for her autobiography, Story of a Soul. In this story she describes her famous “little way” of spiritual childhood –a way of trust and surrender. It is well know how she would do “little” things with great love and how this is proposed to us to imitate.

What is little known or spoken of are the ways she would practice mortification. She never had any attraction to perform great acts of penance. She felt she was too cowardly. Her serious and mortified life consisted “in breaking my will always so ready to impose itself on others, in holding back a reply, in rendering little services without any recognition, in not leaning my back against a support when seated, etc.”

St. Therese made it a habit of always acting in a way opposite of the way she was feeling. There was s Sister in the community that she found quite displeasing to her in everything. She writes, “Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits, I felt this was pleasing to Jesus …and when I was tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most friendly smile, and changing the subject of the conversation.”

This saintly woman would resist the urge to give self-defense, to judge others, and to make claims to ‘her rights’. She would give what others asked of her and allowed others to take what belonged to her without asking for it back. These mortifications are heroic and are at the disposal for all of us to practice in our daily lives as well.

“I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works.”

“And it isn’t enough to love; we must prove it.”

(Story of a Soul, ICS Publications)

The Path of Joy, Prayer, Fraternity and of Time

Today begins the Order’s celebration of the 5th Centenary of St.Teresa’s birth. Read Pope Francis’ message to the Bishop of Avila on St. Teresa’s Feast here.

In his message he stresses that our journey in the Footsteps of St. Teresa should be a path of joy, prayer, fraternity and time.

Cultivating Love in the Heart

The heart stirs up an image of that organ which beats within the human body giving it life. It is the heart that preserves our earthly existence. It is also the heart that makes up that place deep within us that gives rise to emotions and desires particularly to love. The heart holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. Since it is love of God and love of neighbor that are the focus of all our energies, the heart then holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. For a Carmelite, God is the longing of the heart. Since a Carmelite longs for God deep within the heart, cultivation of this heart to love is necessary so that this heart will be open to those around them.


sacred-heart-of-jesus-2

The Rule of St. Albert no. 19 mentions the heart and instructs us on how to cultivate the heart:

“Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this — your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.”

father-please-heal-my-broken-heart_0.jpg.crop_display

It is from the Scriptures that we are to learn to love God and our neighbor. Our preeminent model for how to do this is Jesus. Meditation on the sacred texts will show us what He said and did. It will also reveal to us the well-ordered emotions of our Lord. From the Gospels we know that Jesus had a heart. He had a broken heart and tender emotions. There are also accounts demonstrating his feelings of forgiveness and love.

in_thy_tender_care_lawrence_l

Love for Love

“By offering my whole self to You, I understand that I am giving You my free will, so that henceforth, you alone will be the master of my heart and Your will alone will regulate my actions. Therefore, dispose of me always according to Your good pleasure: I am content with everything, since I wish to love You with a love that is patient, mortified, wholly abandoned to you, an active love, a strong, undivided love and, what is more important, a persevering love.” (St Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart)

St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart led a quiet and hidden life. She died at the young age of twenty-two. Despite her short life on earth, she spent five years of it in a Carmelite monastery in Florence, Italy. She did not do anything to gain the world’s attention; there were no great deeds or brilliant performances. Her interior life, however, was rich, fragrance and powerfully charmed all those around her. She was a hidden but ardent disciple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

3_11_st-teresa-margaret-of-the-sacred-heart

She was born on July 15th 1747 in Tuscany. Even as a young child she often spoke of God and had a strong desire to please Him and to live a holy life. She made her profession on March 12, 1766. Her life in the convent was one of deep faith. “God is love,” was one of her best-loved phrases.

god-is-love

St. Teresa Margaret was one day snatched up in a rapture while reciting the Divine office. During the recitation the words of St. John’s first epistle were being chanted:

God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him.”

In this vision she beheld that the source of love is centered in the Heart of Jesus. His heart is the source of love, and  Jesus merited for us the power to return this love. “To return love unceasingly to Him who has so loved us,” says this disciple of the the Heart of Jesus.  Love for Love. This was the mindset of this holy Carmelite. This is the attitude we should also have.

 

Envy, the Crucifixion, Active and Passive Purification: A Comparison

Envy is an emotion and one of the seven capital sins. As an emotion it is that feeling of sadness that we experience within because of the good seen in others. It is “a tendency to be saddened by another’s good as if that good constituted an affront to our own superiority. Often it coincides with the desire of seeing the neighbor deprived of the particular good that offends us.” (The Spiritual Life, by Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S.D.D.)

The chief priests and scribes did not like Jesus.  They were envious of his popularity, his gift of teaching, and his way with the crowds. They did not believe in their own gifts; therefore, they failed to utilize them. They had been given much. Even though under Roman rule, they were free to practice their religion and to teach those under their charge, but they failed. Seeing Jesus and his example should have stimulated them to imitate his good qualities. Instead they let envy get the better of them and wanted to do away with Jesus. For those who the envy is towards, this can be crucifying!

Marco_palmezzano,_crocifissione_degli_Uffizi

Crucifixion of Jesus by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting ca. 1490

Envy wants to destroy.

The envious speak ill of others and try to darken their character with all sorts of calumny.

Pilate saw this – why what evil has he done?

Pilate asks the crowd, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”  For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. (Mk 15:9-10) “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd.” (Mk15:11) The envious like to do this – to sow discord. Pilate again asks the crowd what they want him to do with Jesus. “Crucify him” they shouted. Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Mk 15: 14)

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Ecce Homo with Jesus and Pontius Pilate, 19th century

Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Ecce Homo with Jesus and Pontius Pilate, 19th century

It was envy that crucified Christ.

Active purification in this case has to do with what do I do with the envy that I feel. Envy is a feeling but also a sin when acted upon. To counter this temptation to scorn my neighbor I can call to mind that my neighbor’s good qualities in no way lessen mine, but “are a stimulus to imitation”. (Tanquerey) This attitude combined with grace received in prayer and the sacraments can lead me on the path of virtue.

Christ was the passive receiver of the emotions of the envious. In this passive purification one suffers from the actions of others. And these bring with it terrible temptations against charity. Who wouldn’t want to strike back? With patience and persevering prayer one can carry on in charity towards those who do such things to them. Christ patiently bore all this even being mocked while suffering and dying on the cross and was able to say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23: 34)

 

 

The Hidden Life at Nazareth

h-tarazona-holy-family-at-nazareth

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 a school:

The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus – the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. . . A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. . . A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the “Carpenter’s Son”, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work. . . To conclude, I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern their brother who is God. (CCC 533)

This quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church was taken from a beautiful address given by Pope Paul VI at Nazareth, 5 January 1964, on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Family. Read more of that address here.