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.

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.

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)

The Most Holy Name of Mary

Today’s feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus celebrated on January 3rd. Mary’s exalted role glorifies the Father; therefore, her name is to be honored and reverenced as we call upon her with devotion and trust. The name of Mary occurs in both parts of the Hail Mary giving us ample opportunities to say this beautiful name with love and sincere affection.

The origin and meaning of the name of Mary is debated. In the Old Testament the sister of Moses was named Miryam. But this was not a common name used in the Old Testament. What does the Hebrew name Miryam mean? It may have an Egyptian origin. In Egyptian mer or mar means “love”. The Egyptian meaning of Miryam is “cherished or beloved”. Given this meaning it is an appropriate name for a daughter. Combine this interpretation with the Hebrew name for the Divine name of God yam or Yahweh. Then the meaning could be “one beloved by Yahweh”.

Many believe the name is of Hebrew origin. They see the word as the combination of two words. Mar which means “bitter” (myrrh) and yam meaning “sea”.  Seeing the name Miryam as one word could give “hope” as the meaning.

Another popular interpretation dates back to St. Jerome. St. Jerome adopted the meaning of the name to be Stella Maris, or “star of the sea”. Mary has been invoked under the title of Stella Maris or “Star of the Sea” by seafarers to calm storms or the ocean waters. Under this title she could even be invoked to calm the storms in our lives.

St. Bernard of Clairvoux wrote of her: “If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.

St. Louis de Montfort uses this prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in his consecration to Jesus through Mary:

Hail, bright star of ocean
God’s own Mother blest
Ever sinless Virgin
Gate of heavenly rest

Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came
Peace confirm within us
Changing Eva’s name

Break the captives’ fetters
Light on blindness pour
All our ills expelling
Every bliss implore

Show thyself a Mother
May the Word Divine
Born for us thy Infant
Hear our prayers through thine

Virgin all excelling
Mildest of the mild
Freed from guilt, preserve us
Pure and undefiled

Keep our life all spotless
Make our way secure
Till we find in Jesus
Joy forevermore

Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit
One same glory be. Amen.

Polaris, the North Star, is also given the name Stella Maris because it was this star that was used to guide travelers, just like Mary. We can use this feast day dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary as a way to reflect on how she is a hope for all Christians and a guide for us, leading us on our way to her son, Jesus. May Mary help us to open our hearts to God and His ways.

We should honor and praise the name of Mary because she is the Mother of Jesus, who is truly God; therefore, we can call her the Mother of God. Her name reminds us, as we say in the Hail Mary, that she is full of grace, blessed among all women and a woman who has found favor with God. We should also honor the name of Mary because she is our Mother, since the Lord gave her to us when he was dying on the cross.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

When to be Silent

What should one do when blamed for something that is not your fault? St. Teresa of Jesus counsels us to avoid giving self-defense, since it is not good for one to make excuses a habit. She says that “not making excuses for oneself is a habit characteristic of high perfection, and very meritorious.” (Way, Ch 15:1)

Ever so in tuned with human nature, she notes that even she at times reasons that it is a greater virtue to make an excuse for oneself and at other times it is lawful to do so. However, humility and discretion are both necessary to determine when it calls for one to be silent and when one should speak up. This is especially so when one is being accused without fault. There is no reason to excuse oneself when being accused of something that is not your fault, that is, unless the case is “where not telling the truth would cause anger or scandal”. (Way, Ch 15:1)

When to excuse oneself or not needs discretion. Discretion requires thought about the situation.

Will I cause offense if I speak? Is what I am about to reveal private information? Does this person really need to know? 

Discretion requires one to think about the situation and decide what should be done. Humility is also needed in order to refrain from making excuses. The truly humble do not have any desires to be held in high esteem by anyone. Neither do they care if they are “condemned without fault even in serious matters”. (Way, Ch 15:2) 

For St. Teresa this is the way for one who desires to imitate the Lord and to receive strength from no one but God. She sees this action as a a great interior virtue and as a penance that doesn’t do any harm to the body. Though the practice of this type of mortification can be difficult at first, especially if one has a sensitive nature, but with practice, and grace, this self-denial and detachment from oneself can be attained. 

St. Teresa said that she was “always happier that they speak about what is not true” of her than of what was true. (Way, Ch 15:3)  She goes on to say the if we really think about things, we are never totally without fault. Only Jesus can make that claim. Therefore she states, “even though we are blamed for faults we haven’t committed, we are never entirely without fault.” (Way, Ch 15:4)

St. Teresa also reminds us that we should “never think that the good or evil you do will remain a secret.” (Way, Ch 15:7) She says that if it is needed, there will be someone to come and defend you. She tells us to “observe how the Lord answered for the Magdalene both in the house of the Pharisee and when her sister accused her.” (Way, Ch 15:7) So, too, will he do so for us. Someone will come to our defense, if it is necessary. And if no one comes to do so, we shouldn’t  think about being defended because it wasn’t necessary. Instead we should rejoice in the freedom we are obtaining when we don’t care what others are saying about us. 

“It calls for great humility to be silent at seeing one condemned without fault.”

 St. Teresa of Avila

Living on Love

Lent is such a good time of God’s grace. St. Therese of Lisieux expresses this well in this stanza:

Living on Love is keeping within oneself

A great treasure in an earthen vase.

My Beloved, my weakness is extreme.

Ah, I’m far from being an angel from heaven!…

But if I fall with each passing hour,

You come to my aid, lifting me up.

At each moment you give me your grace:

I live on Love.

(Poem 17, p. 91 The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Fr. Donald Kinney, OCD, ICS Publications)

Isn’t this just what we are all doing?!?! Keep on living on love faithful readers!

Empty Hands

kneelingatthecross-jpg-w300h225

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

The Prophet of Mercy

Elijah is the prophet of mercy. Why? Because mercy is a gift and a call. It is a generous gift and a call to conversion. This can be seen in the life of the “father” of prophets. After considering a reign like that of Ahab, who wouldn’t be left downcast and sorrowful in spirit? Dark clouds loom, every light seems extinguished, and voices are silenced – with death on the horizon. What a scene where all seems to be in the control of Satan himself! But God had a plan. In His mercy, He raised up a prophet. Elijah was to be a witness bringing light and power.

God is wise and full of compassion.

“As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.

For he knows how we are formed,

remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

It is the mercy of God that raises up a prophet in a day of ruin. This He does with Elijah. God seeks out Elijah who is deserting, hiding under a broom tree! But God does not say, “Get up, go back to Jezreel!”

Elijah+theAngel

God is wise and full of compassion. 

The Lord tells Elijah first to rest and sleep. “ “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again.” (1Kings 19:5-6) It has all been too much for Elijah, and he is crushed and unable to think or act clearly.

God is wise and full of compassion. 

He knows that Elijah is unable to process any correction nor is he able to take in any instruction. First, in order for him to be profitable, he needs to regain his physical and emotional strength.

“After Elijah had learned mercy during his retreat at the Wadi Cherith, he teaches the widow of Zarephath to believe in The Word of God and confirms her faith by his urgent prayer: God brings the widow’s child back to life.” (CCC 2583) The Catechism goes on to explain that it is “in their “one to one” encounters with God, the prophets draw light and strength for their mission. Their prayer is not flight from this unfaithful world, but rather attentiveness to The Word of God. At times their prayer is an argument or a complaint, but it is always an intercession that awaits and prepares for the intervention of the Savior God, the Lord of history.”(CCC 2584)

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According to the visions of St.          Faustina, the Divine Mercy chaplet’s prayers for mercy have a threefold purpose. First, to obtain mercy, then to trust in the mercy of God, and finally to show mercy.

Christians know that they are not called to bring judgment. They know that they are to bring the Good News of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice to others. When faith is weakened people soon abandon the path to conversion because of their many sins. Then they are ladened with the guilt of these sins which slowly devour them. The role of the prophet is to help others to accept their faults and weaknesses while trusting in the mercy and hope that is found on the road towards forgiveness and conversion which leads to Jesus Christ.

To obtain “mercy” means to be given something that we do not deserve. As sinners we clearly do not deserve anything from God. But here is where we insert the prophetic message – God is merciful:

Merciful and gracious is the LORD,

slow to anger, abounding in mercy.

He will not always accuse,

and nurses no lasting anger;

He has not dealt with us as our sins merit,

nor requited us as our wrongs deserve.

For as the heavens tower over the earth,

so his mercy towers over those who fear   

him.” (Psalm 103:8-11)

When we live in, with, through and for Christ, He will supply us with every grace.Then we can show others the way with God’s mercy. Mercy is God’s love, a compassionate love that seeks and meets the needs of others and relieves them of their miseries.The prophet, Elijah, prays for the widow’s son and he is returned back to life for her. “The woman said to Elijah, “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God, and it is truly the word of the LORD that you speak.” (1 Kings 17:24) 

Sadly, prayer among Christians is a neglected exercise and especially at at time when it is needed most. There is a mutual weakness felt among us, and along with this there should be a united utterance of this weakness that would therefore result in a renewal of our collective strength. From a shared, heartfelt prayer we could, no doubt, expect an outpouring of God’s refreshing grace that would revive those who are resting and satisfied with their dead, cold lives.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “St. James refers to Elijah in order to encourage us to pray: “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”” (2582) On this Feast of Divine Mercy and inspired by Elijah, the prophet of mercy, let us renew our efforts at prayer entering into that “one to one” encounter with God, and from this draw light, and strength, for our prophetic mission.