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Archive for the ‘The Way of Perfection’ Category

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.

 

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How can one remain in the presence of God? For St. Teresa the Lord can and is to be seen, one just needs to attend to his presence. She would see him “with the eyes of the soul” (Life, Chap 7: 6) So should we since he really is present to us and sees everything and he “never takes his eyes off” of us. He truly is with us. Here is more of what St. Teresa has to say:

“I’m not asking you now that you think about Him, or that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than to look at Him. For who can keep you from turning the eyes of your soul toward this Lord, even if you do so just for a moment if you can’t do more? You can look at very ugly things; won’t you be able to look at the most beautiful thing imaginable? Well now, daughters, Your Spouse never takes His eyes off you. He has suffered your committing a thousand ugly offensives and abominations against Him, and this suffering wasn’t enough for Him to cease looking at you. Is it too much to ask you to turn your eyes from these exterior things in order to look at Him sometimes? Behold, He is not waiting for anything else, as He says to the bride, than that we look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him. He so esteems our turning to look at Him that no diligence will be lacking on His part’” (Way of Perfection 26: 3)

During any time of prayer we often let that time pass or be lost instead of recollecting them on God, so ask Him to not abandon you during your time of prayer.

Additionally even while occupied physically with others and other occupations one can make brief pauses and interiorly keep recollected with the heart centered and attentive on God. When employed with things like our daily duties, not all our faculties and senses have to be taken up with the task at hand, so let the others be occupied with God. (The Sayings of Light and Love, #117) We can do our daily duties and tasks in such a way that we keep loving attentiveness towards God and His presence. For St. John of the Cross counsels us to “endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive insofar as is permitted by your works.” (Degrees of Perfection)

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Eucharist-consecration-150x150

The mission of the priest is to mediate between God and man. This mission is two-fold for he offers Christ to the Trinity when he offers the host during the consecration, and then at communion he distributes to the faithful the Bread of Life giving Christ to the world.

For this divine task Christ-like souls are needed, which is why Carmelites pray for priests. The whole Church should help priests to acquire this Christ-like soul, but contemplatives in particular come to their aide.This apostolic element of the Teresian charism is found in The Way of Perfection where St. Teresa of Jesus exhorts her nuns to:

“strive to be the kind of persons whose prayers can be useful in helping those servants of God who through much toil have strengthened themselves with learning and a good life and have labored so as now to help the Lord.” (Way of Perfection 3:2)

This apostolate of those who dwell in cloisters is to silently immolate their lives in purity, simplicity and crucified.

Since the priest is another Christ and is to communicate Christ to the world, he needs an interior life even though he may be busy. However, he can only do that in the measure in which he possess Jesus himself. Therefore, contemplatives need to pray for priests asking God to help them to remain ever at the fountain of living water so that He can overflow on those around him without ever becoming empty himself.

ol-and-jesus-on-cross

 

While the priest carries Christ to souls in word and sacrament, contemplatives then stay close to the feet of Christ in silent adoration, like Mary beside the cross, asking Him to render the priest’s words fruitful in souls. The contemplative does this to help priests and for the redemption of souls.

 

 

 

“I beg you to strive to be such that we might merit from God two things: First, that among the numerous learned men and religious there be many who will meet these requirements I mentioned that are necessary for this battle, and that the Lord may prepare those who do not meet them; one who is perfect will do much more than many who are not. Second, that after being placed in this combat, which as I say, is not easy, they may receive protection from the Lord so as to remain free of the many perils there are in the world, and stop their ears in order not to hear the siren’s song on these dangerous sea. If we can obtain some answers from God to these requests , we shall be fighting for Him even though we are very cloistered.” (Way of Perfection 3:5)

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The greatest obstacles to contemplation is not disposing yourself for it. When we remain dissipated and attached we block the reception of this most sublime gift.

St. John of the Cross in his work  The Dark Night speaks of this desire for contemplation when he writes, “For God does not bring to contemplation all those who purposely exercise themselves in the way of the spirit, nor even half. Why? He best knows.” (Book I, Chap 9) However, in his commentary on The Rule of Carmel, Jerome of the Mother of God, OCD,  says that the saying “He best knows” is a Spanish saying which means: the whole world knows it. Because precisely when one does not do what one ought- then it is clear as day!

How can we excite in ourselves the desire to attain the gift of contemplation?

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.

St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection chapter 17 says, “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.”

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.

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 jesusinthehomeofzaccheus

Luke 19: 1-10

“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was; but could not see him because of the crowd.” (vs 3)

Obstacles get in the way; they crowd out Jesus in my life and prevent me from seeing him. I want to see him. I am always seeking him, but many things crowd him out of my time.

“So he ran ahead a climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” (vs 4) Like Zacchaeus, I need to move away from the crowds, the obstacles, and change my perspective. This move will help me to see Jesus better.

Just like with Zacchaeus, Jesus wants me to spend time with him. He wants to come to my house. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (vs 5)

Reflecting on these scripture passages about Zacchaeus made me think about the importance of mental prayer and its place in the life of a Secular Discalced Carmelite. Our Constitutions state: “Carmelite Seculars will commit themselves daily to spending a time in the practice of mental prayer. This is the time to be with God and to strengthen their relationship with Him so that they can be true witnesses to His presence in the world.” [Cons.Sec. III, no. 21]

St. Teresa of Jesus explains mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (Way of Perfection) And there is the key to all this seeking and climbing trees! I need to be alone with him, taking time to meet with him, to invite him in to my house and to enjoy his presence while developing a relationship with him.

In order to do this I can again look to our Constitutions. “The Carmelite Secular will make sure to have special times set apart for prayer, as times of greater awareness of the Lord’s presence and an interior space for a personal and intimate meeting with Him.” [Cons. Sec. III, no. 20] I need to have a special time set aside. This is going to require me to give away “half of my possessions” (Lk 19:8), those attachments that occupy my time and space that leave no room for Jesus!

I have many distractions that keep me from setting aside time each day for mental prayer. Many of these distractions are really attachments. What are your attachments? What keeps you from devoting yourself to God and making time for mental prayer each day?

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“To love is to give all and to give oneself.” ~ St. Therese of the Child Jesus

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I want to be more generous at prayer and to pray with greater devotion. This has long been my desire because I love God. I want to serve Him in this way, which is why I am a Secular Carmelite. I love to pray and want to put more love into the time that I spend in prayer. Often times though, I race through it just to get it done. It seems at other times I am just going through the motions. Sometimes the goal is just to fit in more quantity rather than quality, so I will fill up my time at prayer with various devotions without any real sentiment attached to them.

 To give myself completely and generously to prayer I need to be attentive to the task at hand. What holds me back from being generous with God at prayer?

 One thing for sure is selfishness. I need to make generous efforts to pray, which would greatly help in conquering “self”. I am often preoccupied when I begin to pray and these preoccupation encroach upon my prayer and carry me away from actually praying. I need to give these preoccupations to God first before beginning to pray. Attention to a short period of preparation before praying will aide in overcoming this obstacle to generosity. Sometimes I am just lazy; therefore, I need to arouse zeal within me by recalling the goal and to stir up within me the desire to rise higher. Additionally, prayer is a sacrifice and in this I am most wanting. It requires the sacrifice of time. It takes time to pray and this means to take away time from doing something else. But what else can be more important to do with the time I have? Sometimes I lack a generous spirit in praying because of discouraging results. Prayer is not always pleasant or rewarding. But then this is not the reason I pray. All these obstacles keep me from raising my heart and mind to God.

 Prayer needs to be approached not as a duty or obligation, but as the means of striving for union with God. Prayer is, after all, a gift. That I can commune with God is His gift, underserved by me worm of the earth! Therefore, I should approach prayer with great humility and trust.

 God is generous in His distribution of gifts, so I should be generous in my efforts, seeking to pray with the right dispositions and making a complete gift of myself to Him when I pray. I should never shrink from prayer, hesitate, avoid doing it, or waste away the time when I could be praying. Praying is a way to redeem time.

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St. Teresa of Jesus in her book The Way of Perfection sets out to write some things about prayer. It is forty-two chapters long, and it isn’t until chapter nineteen that she begins to write about prayer in general. All the previous chapters were devoted to practical advice about virtue.

In chapter twenty-seven she begins to writer her commentary on the Our Father. What follows are just some excerpts from her commentary on each on the seven petitions of this beautiful prayer from our Lord.

Our Father who art in heaven

“You know that God is everywhere; and this is a great truth, for, of course, wherever the king is, or so they say, the court is too: that is to say, wherever God is, there is Heaven.” 

“Remember how Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself.” 

“. . .a soul has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice . . .”

“He is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.  (Way 28:2)

“Those who are able to shut themselves up in this way within this little Heaven of the soul, wherein dwells the Maker of Heaven and earth, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place which will distract these outward senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road, and will come without fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will journey a long way in a short time.”  (Way 28:5)

Hallowed be Thy name, thy kingdom come

Here St. Teresa reflects on why these two petition are put together:

“I am thinking here of what we are asking in praying for this kingdom, and it is well that we should realize this. His Majesty, knowing of how little we are capable, saw that, unless He provided for us by giving us His Kingdom here on earth, we could neither hallow nor praise nor magnify nor glorify nor exalt this holy name of the Eternal Father in a way befitting it. The good Jesus, therefore, places these two petitions next to each other.”  (Way 30:4)

It is here in this chapter that she mentions the prayer of quiet. She says that this request in the Our Father “thy kingdom come” is a request for this prayer.

” . . . when the soul is brought to this state of prayer, it would seem that the Eternal Father has already granted its petition that He will give it His Kingdom on earth. O blessed request, in which we ask for so great a good without knowing what we do! Blessed manner of asking! It is for this reason, sisters, that I want us to be careful how we say this prayer, the Paternoster, and all other vocal prayers, and what we ask for in them. For clearly, when God has shown us this favor, we shall have to forget worldly things, all of which the Lord of the world has come and cast out.”  (Way 31:11)

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

“Thou didst well, O our good Master, to make this last petition, so that we may be able to accomplish what Thou dost promise in our name. For truly, Lord, hadst Thou not done this, I do not think it would have been possible for us to accomplish it.”   (Way 32:2)

St. Teresa says that God gives the soul the capacity to suffer and that bandonment is an important factor in doing His will.

Give us this day our daily bread

He knows we are weak and doing His will will be difficult; therefore, He gives us this petition.

“It seems to me, in the absence of a better opinion, that the good Jesus knew what He had given for us and how important it was for us to give this to God, and yet how difficult it would be for us to do so, as has been said, because of our natural inclination to base things and our want of love and courage. He saw that, before we could be aroused, we needed His aid, not once but every day, and it must have been for this reason that He resolved to remain with us.”  (Way 33:2)

and He gives it ‘daily’

“While writing this I have been wondering why, after saying “our ‘daily’ bread”, the Lord repeated the idea in the words “Give us this day, Lord.” I will tell you my own foolish idea: if it really is foolish, . . . This bread, then, is ours daily, it seems to me, because we have Him here on earth, since He has remained with us here and we receive Him; and, if we profit by His company, we shall also have Him in Heaven, for the only reason He remains with us is to help and encourage and sustain us so that we shall do that will, which, as we have said, is to be fulfilled in us.”  (Way 34:1)

Forgive us our debts since we ourselves forgive

“Notice, sisters, that He does not say: “as we shall forgive.” “ (Way 36:2)

“Anyone, then, who sincerely repeats this petition, “Fiat voluntas tua”, must, at least in intention, have done this already. You see now why the saints rejoiced in insults and persecutions: it was because these gave them something to present to the Lord when they prayed to Him. What can a poor creature like myself do, who has had so little to forgive others and has so much to be forgiven herself? This, sisters, is something which we should consider carefully; it is such a serious and important matter that God should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon all trifling things which have been done to us and which are not wrongs at all, or anything else. For how is it possible, either in word or in deed, to wrong one who, like myself, has deserved to be plagued by devils for ever? Is it not only right that I should be plagued in this world too? As I have so few, Lord, even of these trifling things, to offer Thee, Thy pardoning of me must be a free gift: there is abundant scope here for Thy mercy. Thy Son must pardon me, for no one has done me any injustice, and so there has been nothing that I can pardon for Thy sake.”  (Way 36:2)

Lead us not into temptation 

Temptation here means begin sucked in by the devil disguised as an angel of light where all our virtue is destroyed and where we are drawn into error and the light of truth is hidden from us. It is not a question of asking God to make us exempt for distress or conflict, but praying for the strength and humility to cope with them and to profit by them.

“I consider it quite certain that those who attain perfection do not ask the Lord to deliver them from trials, temptations, persecutions and conflicts — and that is another sure and striking sign that these favors and this contemplation which His Majesty gives them are coming from the Spirit of the Lord and are not illusions. For, as I said a little way back, perfect souls are in no way repelled by trials, but rather desire them and pray for them and love them.”  (Way 38:1)

but deliver us from evil

“Still, let us realize that what we are asking here — this deliverance from all evil — seems an impossibility, whether we are thinking of bodily ills, as I have said, or of imperfections and faults in God’s service. I am referring, not to the saints, who, as Saint Paul said, can do all things in Christ but to sinners like myself. When I find myself trammeled by weakness, lukewarmness, lack of mortification and many other things, I realize that I must beg for help from the Lord.”  (Way 42:2)

“. . . so I ask the Lord to deliver me from all evil “for ever.” What good thing shall we find in this life, sisters, in which we are deprived of our great Good and are absent from Him? Deliver me, Lord, from this shadow of death; deliver me from all these trials; deliver me from all these pains; deliver me from all these changes, from all the formalities with which we are forced to comply for as long as we live, from all the many, many, many things which weary and depress me, and the enumeration of all of which would weary the reader if I were to repeat them.”  (Way 42:2)

 [Excerpts of The Way of Perfectionby St. Teresa of Avila, translated by E. Allison Peers]


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