Feast of St. Joseph

Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

– St. Teresa of Avila

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)

Where He May be Found


“Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.” (Is 55:6)

Our faith teaches that, “The Lord is everywhere and always present. (CCC 2802) Yet we, like St. Augustine, will seek Him in all kinds of places, but will ultimately find Him within. St. Teresa of Jesus says that, “all one need do is go into solitude and look at Him within oneself and not turn away from so good a Guest.” She asks us to try to “understand this truth: that the Lord is within us, and that there we must be with Him.” (Way of Perfection, 28:2-3)

God, however, speaks silence, and for most of us He is passed by to the noisiness of the day and events that fill it. No one thinks to find Him in the silence – so near and within.

In The Interior Castle St. Teresa describes the soul as a castle, and in the center of the castle is the “place where the very secret exchange between God and the soul take place.” (Interior Castle 1:1,4) Here in this deep solitude and silent exchange, the soul and God deepen their love.

Even sin does not remove God’s presence from the soul. St. Teresa explains, “It should be kept in mind here that the fount, the shining sun that is in the center of the soul, does not lose its beauty and splendor; it is always present in the soul, and nothing can take away its beauty and splendor.” (Interior Castle 1:2, 3) However, sin does have an effect in the soul’s ability to find God. She goes on to say, “[But] if a black cloth is placed over a crystal that is in the sun, obviously the sun’s brilliance will have no effect on the crystal even though the sun is shining on it. . . How sad a thing it is to see a soul separated from this light!” (Interior Castle 1:2, 3-4) Souls in mortal sin have covered this light and become totally dark, and their works are darkness too. She exhorts anyone in such a state to strive to remove sin from their life and to once again enjoy this light!

The prophet Isaiah lovingly calls these souls back to God saying, “Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts; let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.”  (Is 55:7)

All we have to do is turn back to Him, with all our heart and to “Go into solitude and look at Him within oneself.” (Way of Perfection, 28:2)  Speak to Him there and listen to Him speak to you in the Silence, letting Him love you, while you return the love. Then God’s majesty and presence will shine in the hearts of souls made just. (CCC 2802)

“God alone is enough.”  —Teresa of Ávila

Mission

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw this post that was of a meme contrasting a photo of the beautiful Sainte Chapelle Cathedral with a church that had a plain and bare modern altar, plain wood cross and walls that were stark and white. The person who posted it was obviously making a statement about the beautiful architecture from the Dark Ages and how it differs from modern places of worship. I agree that one was more beautiful and attractive to the soul – drawing one to God and heavenly things. But that was not what struck me. What caught my attention was the comment made by someone else. Basically the comment was that both photos depicted money that was wasted on tax free “buildings that no longer house or feed the homeless”. I realize that there may be others that agree with the commentary since I have heard similar words from other people.

However,  this moved me to think about the mission of the Church and the mission of a Carmelite.  Cardinal Sarah in his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise noted that, “The Church’s mission is not to solve all the social problems of the world, she must repeat tirelessly the first words of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee: “ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)”

Feeding and housing the poor is fundamental to the mission of the Church, but more importantly is the salvation of souls. This is the primary mission of the Church – to draw souls to God, inspire them to conversion and bring these prodigal children back to God who is merciful. Beautiful buildings like the Sainte Chapelle Cathedral is one way to draw souls to God. It is because of its beauty that the building can aid a soul to think of God. These beautiful buildings are for all to enjoy, rich and poor alike, even for the non-believer.

Now the Church has always been interested in the needs of the poor. This is evident in the many hospitals, clinics, schools, and universities that the Church has founded, not to mention the many works of charity that she attends to through soup kitchens, orphanages, homes for the elderly, etc. The Church is often on the front lines in fighting for the end of poverty. Additionally it must be noted that we are all responsible for our neighbor in need. The Church also seeks to avoid the scandal of having much of the world that enjoys “an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. (Gaudium et spes)

The worst poverty, however, is to be without God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 341 that “The ultimate purpose of the mission of the Church is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.” Which is why the Lord commanded that the message of the Gospel be preached to all men.  For He says in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” The truth has been entrusted to the Church, and she must go out and bring all men to the truth. God wants all to be saved and this is the motivation for all of the Church’s activity.

When I was in formation for the Secular Discalced Carmelites my formation director encouraged me to pick up and reread St. Teresa’s The Way of Perfection each year. I have to admit that I did reread it a few times, but haven’t done so every year. So I decided to pick it up again and use it as my daily spiritual reading. The beginning of the book brought to my attention once again the missionary activity of a Carmelite. St. Teresa is clear in the first three chapters that this is to pray for the preachers and teachers of the Church and for the salvation of souls. St. Teresa noted that priests and theologians “are the persons who must strengthen people who are weak”.  She saw that those who labor for the Church need God’s grace, and she wanted her sisters to beg God to help them. She also thought that they needed protection from the enticements and seductions that come from the world. While the Carmelite prays seeking intimate union with God, this is not the only reason a Carmelite prays. Our prayer is at the service of the Church. This is our mission.

 

Compline with Mary

Eastern Orthodox icon of the Praises      of the Theotokos

Before ending this month of May devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a remembrance of the Holy Mother as the day ends seems to be a good thing to recall for those of us devoted to the Virgin.

As Seculars we are exhorted to “try to recite Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer of the Hours in union with the Church spread throughout the world. When it is possible they will also recite Night Prayer.” (Constitutions III, 24)

Night Prayer, also known as Compline, is said as the last prayer of the day. It is at this time that a brief examen of the day is also to take place. At the end of this prayer there is a hymn to the Blessed Mother. The breviary lists several popular Marian hymns to choose from.

During the Easter season the Regina Coeli is appropriate and can be sung throughout Eastertide and through Pentecost. During Ordinary time the Salve Regina or Hail Holy Queen is an appropriate night time hymn. The Advent season is a good time for focusing on the Alma Redemprois Mater which beautifully connects the Incarnation theme of that part of the liturgical year and can be recited until February 2nd (Candlemas). Then from Candlemas to the end of Lent, the Ave Regina Coelorum is most fitting. For more on the singing of these seasonal Marian hymns go here. To hear these check out the chants here.

The Extraordinary is Always Silent

Silence is the longest precept in the Rule of St. Albert written for the Carmelites. We are instructed to keep silence and to work in silence because “silence is the way to foster holiness.” For Carmelites this precept of silence is seen as a means for recollection, not as penance. It is a privative, though a happy one because it is what makes possible our union with God. This is also the most difficult precept of the Rule. There is noise everywhere! A constant montage of noise fills every moment. And if by chance one can escape the exterior noise and find some solitude, then there is the barrage of interior noise that goes on within one’s own self!

What happens in silence is an amazing thing. Robert Cardinal Sarah has a new book titled The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.  In it he stated that, “What is extraordinary is always silent.” This phrase really stuck a cord and moved me to contemplate this thought more.

He goes on to explain that, “The greatest mysteries of the world are born and unfold in silence.” For example a “tree grows in silence.” “Springs of water flow at first in the silence of the ground.” “The sun that rises over the earth in its splendor and grandeur warms us in silence.” (Sarah, p. 34) Other extraordinary things also came to mind as I read this: The dew appears on the grass in silence, and clouds form and grow gathering in the sky, all in silence. A new human life grows in its mother’s womb in silence. Snowflakes fall to the earth in great silence.

At prayer an extraordinary thing also happens. The soul encounters God and unites with Him in heart, mind and will. Therefore the need to move away from the noise, to find secluded places to be alone with God Alone.

In The Twelve Degrees of Silence by Marie-Aimee de Jesus OCD, she expresses this beautifully. “Just as a flower unfolds in silence and its scent worships its Creator in silence, the interior soul must do likewise.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 54)

To pray in silence. Silence in the presence of God. This is love in action for a contemplative for “The silence of love is love in silence.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 50)

Continue to contemplate these thoughts as I end with one more image from Marie-Aimee de Jesus. “A silent heart is a pure heart; a melody singing in the heart of God. Like a sacristy lamp flickering noiselessly at the tabernacle, and like incense silently rising at the Savior’s throne, such is love’s silence.” (Marie-Aimee de Jesus, p. 51)

Rolling Away the Stone

Mary Magdala goes to the tomb early in the morning while it is still dark. Preoccupied with Jesus, nothing keeps her from seeking him. When she gets to the tomb she sees that the stone has been rolled away, and the tomb is empty. She runs to tell the others.

“We, too, (like Mary) have a keen desire to find the Lord: perhaps we have been seeking Him for many long years. Further, this desire may have been accompanied by serious preoccupation with the question of how we might rid ourselves of the obstacles and roll away from our souls the stone which has prevented us thus far from finding the Lord, from given ourselves entirely to Him, and from letting Him triumph in us. Precisely because we want to find the Lord, we have already overcome many obstacles, sustained by His grace; divine Providence has helped us roll away many stones, overcome many difficulties. Nevertheless, the search for God is progressive, and must be maintained during our whole life. For this reason, following the example of the holy women, we must always have a holy preoccupation about finding the Lord, a preoccupation which will make us industrious and diligent in seeking Him, and at the same time confident of the divine aid, since the Lord will certainly take care that we arrive where our owns strength could never bring us, because He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (Divine Intimacy,  p. 420, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)