Preparing the Way for Jesus

In this week’s Gospel, we encounter John the Baptist, the messenger calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord”.  St. John completes the work of all the prophets beginning with Elijah. He proclaims to the people that the consolation they have been longing for is fast approaching. In the reading this week from the Prophet Isaiah, we are told that “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord”. The prophets were always calling the people back from their wayward way of living.  Jesus’ first coming is near and John the Baptist is in the desert calling the people to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. The people came to John in the desert and “acknowledged their sins”. Today it seems as though there is so much sin, and yet very little acknowledgment of our own personal sin. It is much easier to be like the Pharisees and point out the plank in the other person’s eye. It is time to repent!

Remember St. Peter? He denied Our Lord three times at his trial and fled before His crucifixion. But that was not the end of his relationship with Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus meets up with Peter and the other apostles for breakfast on the beach. It is morning, a new day has begun and the apostles are eating breakfast with Jesus. It is a new day and a new beginning for St. Peter.

This scene tells us of something so foundational about our faith in Jesus. It tells us that Jesus has a merciful heart. His mercy is antithetical to the scornful attitude of the Pharisees. The mercy of Jesus is like that of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. He goes out in search of the sinful in order to find them, rescue them, and bring them back into the sheepfold.

This Divine Mercy extents to great sinners who have repented of serious sin and have turned to Him. His mercy also reaches to those who humbly turn from venial sin only to rise again after each failure committed due to weakness or lack of reflection. Here is where I have sympathy for St. Peter. He was weak, like me. He did not reflect, but acted wrongly even though he loved the Lord. How much I am like St. Peter. I make many resolutions and want to overcome some fault, and still, I fail – again and again. But Jesus is merciful each time I repent and turn back to Him. 

Advent is a time for us to reflect on how we may have offended Him and to turn to Him to receive mercy. Since we are poor sinners let us remember St. Peter and trust in God’s infinite mercy as we examine our conscience and seek out the Sacrament of Penance as a way to prepare the way for the Lord this Christmas.

The Sacrament of Penance is there to help us prepare for our celebration of Christmas. We should also try to make this sacrament a habit in order to be prepared for His Second Coming. The second reading for this Sunday, taken from the Second Letter of Saint Peter, so aptly reminds us about how our conduct ought to be and what kind of persons we should be, conducting ourselves “in holiness and devotion waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”.  All the while remembering that the day of “the Lord will come like a thief” and when we least expect it. So let us have Him find us always ready!

Or we can just go on with our lives in peace instead. However, there are different kinds of peace.

There is the false 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. 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.“ Otherwise they will find themselves embittered with envy. (Meditations on the Song of Songs, 2, 10)

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

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

Aware of the kinds of false peace will enable us to love God more and help us reach true peace and friendship with Him. 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 as we prepare for His coming. 

“Since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him and at peace” 2 Pt 3:14

The Feast of Christ the King

This feast, falling on the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year, marks the end of the liturgical year. Pope Pius XI inserted this feast into the Sacred Liturgy at the closing of the Holy Year in 1925. In his encyclical, Quas Primas (On the Feast of Christ the King), a very beautiful and often neglected one, is of much relevance for our day, not only for the individual but also important socially and politically. In this encyclical the Pope writes the following about the Kingship of Christ:

“This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. That this is so the above quotations from Scripture amply prove, and Christ by his own action confirms it. On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honor and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate, he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.” (no.15)

Further, the Pope writes:

“… if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls.” (no. 33)

(Taken from Pope Pius XI Quas Primas (On the Feast of Christ the King) – 11 December 1925)

St. Teresa of Jesus was fond of the image of Christ as King. In the Interior Castle, she writes about our souls:

“It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places. For in reflecting upon it careful, Sisters, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His delight. So then, what do you think that abode, will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes His delight?” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Interior Castle I, 1.1)

Christ is King and He should reign supremely in our heart and in our life for His law is the law of love; His reign is heavenly peace.


Preface of Christ the King

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks. You anointed Jesus Christ, Your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as the eternal priest and universal king. As priest, He offered His life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace. As king, He claims dominion over all creation, that He may present to You, His almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim Your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Spiritual Dryness

Dryness, or aridity, is when satisfaction and delight, that was once enjoyed during prayer and devotion, has dried up. It can have several causes. One reason for dryness is that the soul has neglected or set aside the practice of prayer. St. John of the Cross sums this cause up succinctly in The Sayings of Light and Love no. 39, “My spirit has become dry because it forgets to fed on you.” When we strive after various forms of recreation and the gratification of our senses, we will “find spiritual dryness and distraction”. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 3, Chap 42,1). The devil can cause dryness too. He can do so through visions and locutions, but the effects “are unlike those produced by the divine”. “The devil’s visions produce spiritual dryness in one’s communion with God and an inclination to self-esteem” and the pride of thinking one is important for receiving these. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 24)  When the origin is from the devil there is never a good effect. St. John of the Cross emphatically counsels in regard to locutions and visions, in order to avoid “delusion or hindrance”  that,  We should pay no heed to them, but be only interested in directing the will, with fortitude, toward God; we should carry out his law and holy councils with perfection.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 29, 12) Dryness can also be caused by God as a way to purify the soul. When God is the cause it is usually in those souls who are already quite solicitous in their love for Him and have already moved from the practice of discursive meditation to the state of contemplation. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chap 13) 

Two things one can do when experiencing dryness according to St. John of the Cross in The Spiritual Canticle are to first continue praying with love and devotion; second to ask the Holy Spirit for His assistance. The Holy Spirit “will dispel this dryness and sustain and increase” love. (Stanza 17, 2). Another thing the Holy Spirit does is to move the “soul to the interior exercise of the virtues” of faith, hope, and love. 

The Bride in the poem The Spiritual Canticle invokes the Holy Spirit in this way:

“breathe through my garden”

The Holy Spirit “awakens love” in the soul, which is the “garden”. Upon one of these visits of the Holy Spirit, the soul is refreshed, the will is awakened, and the “appetites that were asleep” are now filled with “the love of God”. (Stanza 17, 3-4) When the Holy Spirit breathes through the soul, He touches and puts “in motion the virtues and perfections already given”, and when this happens, “the Bridegroom, the Son of God, is himself sublimely communicated” evident by the beautiful fragrances that are released. (Stanza 17, 8) 

Dryness in prayer is an interior trial. Although interior trials involve much more than just a lack of devotion, dryness (or aridity), is a common phenomenon among those souls who have taken up prayer.To make an issue of dryness, according to St. Teresa of Jesus, shows a lack of humility.

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and we are to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become “distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. . .  For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.” (from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

During periods of aridity and excessive activity of the imagination, the soul can turn to meditative reading. When the soul is unable to meditate it can turn to a book to help collect the wandering thoughts and bring its soul in touch with God. St. Teresa confesses to not being able to meditate without a book for many years and recommends this practice.

The choice of a book should be one that is devout and will help in the time of prayer. The Gospels are always a good choice and are of great assistance in this matter. The book can also be one of the writings of the saints. It should be one that is practical and affective, not too speculative or intellectual. This is to foster love, a work of the heart, rather than that of the mind.

The purpose of reading is to put the soul in a proper disposition for a conversation with God. Read until enough has been read to arouse good and holy thoughts. Then when devote affections occupy the mind, stop reading and with the attention directed to God, meditate on the thoughts that have been read; speaking to Him or silently savoring the sentiments inspired by what was read.

“Like birds, who, when they drink, bend their heads toward the water, take a few drops, and raising their beaks toward the sky, swallow gradually, and then begin again, let us also bend our heads toward the devout book to gather a few drops of devotion, and then let us raise them to God, so that our minds may be fully impregnated with these thoughts. In this way, it will not be difficult to finish the prayer which we have begun by reading in an intimate colloquy with God.” (Divine Intimacy, #149 by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)

St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church

St. Teresa was distinguished as a Doctor of the Church, along with St. Catherine of Siena, by Pope Paul VI, on this day 50 years ago. These were the first two women to be given this title. St. Teresa is loved and revered as the Doctor of Prayer.

ICS Publications is offering a discount on all her works in honor of the 50th anniversary of this event. The discount will be applied from today until her feast day on October 15th.

https://www.icspublications.org/collections/teresa-of-avila?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=St++Teresa+of+Avila%3A+50+Years+as+Doctor+of+the+Church&utm_campaign=Doctor+50+%281%29&vgo_ee=jqWKc7UgJ%2B9kaazPR1tvow%3D%3D

Making Room for Jesus

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2: 7

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.

Mary would have brought these strips of cloth with her to Bethlehem, since the time of giving birth was approaching. The usual custom was to wrap the newly born infant in these strips of cloth after washing and anointing the body. 

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.” (Ps 36:10)

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.

There is a great lesson of the swaddling cloths for all of us that can be found here since we too can be wrapped in swaddling cloths. In this excerpt from Mother Marie des Doublers’ book, Joy Out of Sorrow, we can learn what it takes to make room for Jesus who could find no room in the inn of our heart. We can enjoy his presence only after we make an expansive space for him, for Light, for Love, for Peace.

The Marriage of Two Such as These

When the time had come

for him to be born,

he went forth like the

bridegroom

from his bridal chamber,

embracing his bride,

holding her in his arms,

whom the gracious Mother

laid in a manger

among some animals

that were there at that time.

Men sang songs

and angels melodies

celebrating the marriage

of Two such as these.

But God there in the manger

cried and moaned;

and these tears were jewels

the bride brought to the

wedding.

The Mother gazed in sheer wonder

on such an exchange:

in God, man’s weeping,

and in man, gladness,

to the one and the other

things usually so strange.

Romances by St. John of the Cross

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