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)

False Peace

In St. Teresa’s Meditations on the Song of Songs she outlines the different kinds of false peace that comes from the devil, the world and the flesh.  False peace is the kind of peace that worldly people have, and this is the kind of peace that brings perpetual war. 

The first kind of false peace St. Teresa mentions is with those people in the world who are quiet, yet go about living in serious sin. They have made peace with their vices. Their consciences are undisturbed, and they do not feel any remorse about anything. Such is the state of souls in mortal sin. Having made friends with the devil, he leaves them alone. 

However, the devil could offer the friends of God peace in small things, the second kind of false peace. St. Teresa tells us that we should greatly fear this kind of peace. Therefore we should always be on guard against growing lax even in things that seem to be small and of little significance. If we become persistently lazy soon there will be no feelings of regret. St. Teresa explains that we can begin to grow lax in small matters and persist in them without any prick in our conscience, which will result in peace – a bad kind of peace.

St. Teresa gives some examples of the small matters that the devil can draw a soul into: “an infraction of something in the constitutions, which in itself would not be a sin, or being careless, even though without malice, about what the bishop commands (in fact he stands in God’s place, and it is good always- for this reason we have come here – to consider what he desires), and many other little things that come along which in themselves do not appear to be sins. In sum, there are faults and always will be, for we are miserable creatures.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2)

Basically, she is telling us that when we commit some fault we should feel it and understand that it was a fault. If we don’t feel that a fault has been committed, then we can be sure that the devil is rejoicing. “He will go further”, she says, and we should “for love of God be very careful. There must be war in this life.” We cannot just sit idle; we must be about the battle. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 2) Our saint does not wish to instill a sense of scrupulosity in souls. Her main point is summed up in this counsel: “ Always fear when some fault you commit does not grieve you. For in regard to sin, even venial, you already know that the soul must feel deep sorrow.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 5)

We don’t want venial sins, those faults that are committed habitually without any attention to them, to become so much a part of our lives that we never feel them. When we come to think of them as of no importance, showing no sorrow for them, we then fail to make amends for them too.

Then there is the 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. Oh 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.“ (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

The second false peace the world can give is through honors. If we heed her advice on being content with little, then this next one should not be too difficult, since “the poor are never honored very much.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 11). 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.” (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 12) St. Teresa’s advice is that whenever you are praised to move quickly in waging war interiorly by humbling yourself. She is wise in saying that we should remember our sins, “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, 13)

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

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him.

The Kiss of His Mouth

Can we know if we truly love God? If we love Him our heart will not rest in ourselves or in the things and activities that profit us. We would not find satisfaction in anything except God. Our hearts will be set on pleasing God striving to give Him all the glory and honor possible. 

The saints tell us that once we have reached this point of union we will come to possess Him and begin to receive the kiss of His mouth. The mouth is the Son of God – the Word – revealed to us in order to speak the words of eternal life. The kiss is His spirit of love that comes from the Father and the Son. Those who have reached this perfection of love experience a sweet enkindling and endless burning of the flames of love. They over and over ask like the Bride in the Song of Songs: Kiss me.

Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth.

St. Teresa in her Meditations on the Song of Songs  writes that this passage can mean many different things, but it is “the soul that is enkindled with a love that makes it mad” that it “desires nothing else than to say these words”. 

Then St. Teresa wonders if the Bride in this passage is really just asking for the favor that Christ has given us: peace and friendship. For she sees that the union the Bride is seeking in the kiss “is the sign of great peace and friendship among two persons”. She then advises us to pray for this peace.

Now the kiss we are speaking of here is a completely spiritual kiss. In it the soul is united to the Word, and through the Word the Spirit is brought about in the soul. Love causes the desire in the soul for this kiss and is unable to be content with less. The soul is also acutely aware that it does not deserve to kiss the Lord’s feet.

However, in the midst of these ardent desires no one should presume or attempt to reach this high state in the spiritual life without first passing through the earlier stages. It would be presumptive to try to receive the kiss from the Divine lips without first being purified with the kiss of the Sacred wounds of Christ. Filled with sin and following the passions, we need to remain in that place where the repentant rids itself of the weight of these sins. So remain, happily, at His feet, embracing and kissing them, washing them with tears. Then when we hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven”, we can rise, remembering always that the distance from Christ’s feet to His mouth is great, and we cannot suddenly pass from one extreme to the other.


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

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.