Joy in Finding Jesus

When meditating on the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, I cannot help but think about how there is something ordinary about this family. They are living out their daily lives, doing everyday things together, and in this passage they are traveling. So much of this is reminiscent of our own family life, doing unremarkable things together day in and day out, even taking a trip once in a while together. 

One thing I often contemplate, when reading this passage from the Gospel of Luke, is how Mary and Joseph noticed that Jesus is missing. In all this living, even though we strive to be holy and live our lives as God wants us to do, it may happen that we do not notice when Jesus is missing from our lives.

I would like to think that when this happens and we do notice that He is missing, that we would, like Mary and Joseph, go searching for Him. Searching for Him with the hope of experiencing His presence once again. My prayer even finds me asking for those in my family that have lost faith to notice that Jesus is missing, hoping that they, too, will go in search of Him.

For three days Joseph and Mary went searching for Jesus. Sometimes our life’s present circumstances are buried in endless activities and filled with various worries. However we should not let these challenges prevent us from continuing our search. Mary was afraid that her Son had disappeared. Overwhelmed with anxiety, she and Joseph continued their search with the hope that they would be reunited with Him again.

Then they experienced such joy at finding Jesus! There He was, among the teachers, captivating them all with His wisdom. May His wisdom captivate us once we have rediscovered Him and renewed our efforts to listening to Him teach us through His word and sacraments.

Once they found Him, they returned to their home in Nazareth to resume their lives and daily living with Jesus. The life of this holy family was unseen and filled with love and work.  Mary lovingly contemplates all the events that happen in her Son’s life, pondering them in her heart.

If it should happen that Jesus seems to be missing, let us strive to remove the obstacles that may be preventing us from truly knowing Jesus and His presence in our lives. And when we have found Jesus again, let us wonder once more at the mystery of our life in and with Christ.

“Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Luke 2:41-52

 

 

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.

Feast of the Nativity of Mary

St. Therese had to wait to make her profession. As she waited for this day, she told God she would wait as long as he desired. Until that day she resolved to carefully “make a beautiful dress enriched with priceless stones”. Therese began applying herself to practicing little virtues, by doing little penances that especially mortified her self-love. She was not practicing these virtues alone. St. Therese stated that the Blessed Virgin, “was helping me prepare the dress of my soul; as soon as this dress was completed all the obstacles went away.”

The Bishop finally gave his permission and the community voted in favor of receiving St. Therese. The date set was September 8, 1890, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. St. Therese writes of this occasion,  “What a beautiful feast on which to become the spouse of Jesus! It was the little Blessed Virgin, one day old, who was presenting her little flower to the little Jesus. Everything was little that day except for the graces and peace I received.” (Story of a Soul, Ch 7)

St. Therese was set on mortifying her self-love and practicing little virtues and said that the Blessed Virgin Mary was helping her do this. The Blessed Mother teaches us to live these virtues hidden and under God’s shadow. Her birth was unnoticed, yet without her the greatest mystery of our faith could not have taken place. It is because of Mary that the Incarnation of the Son of God and Redemption of man was made possible. Her birth is like the dawn projecting new light over the new day. Yet her birth is unknown, unnoticed and not even mentioned in the scriptures.  She remains hidden to the world except for the eyes of God, who see her in the silence and obscurity of her life.

Today’s feast invites us to imitate this hidden life of Mary and even that of St. Therese, who was enclosed in the cloister and unknown to all expect for God. A hidden life that focuses on the interior by quietly practicing virtue and doing little penances keeping in check the selfish ego. Putting to death the need to be noticed or seeking praise or making excuses for failures, these can be done under the shadow of God, just like Mary. St. Therese knew this and put this ideal into practice in the convent. We too can do this in the ordinary circumstance of our days under the watchful patronage of the Blessed Mother, whose birth we celebrate today.

Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, heralded joy to all the world.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is often referred to as the Real Presence. This is because Christ in His fullness abides in the Eucharist. In it dwells both His human and divine natures. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1374 explains this presence:

 “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

St. Teresa of Jesus was devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and this especially shows through in her teachings on the Sacred Humanity of Christ. She exhorted her nuns to meditate on the life of Christ and even wrote that to abandon the humanity of Jesus was a hindrance to prayer. She teaches this because God chose to reach out to His people through the human person. Consequently devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus encourages Carmelites to reflect on the humanity of Jesus who loves with a human heart.

So after Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He did not leave earth. Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the same way that He is present in Heaven. Therefore His physical heart is there in the Blessed Sacrament.

All this then makes one see why St. Teresa would write, “Certainly, I think that if we were to approach the most Blessed Sacrament with great faith and love, once would be enough to leave us rich. How much richer from approaching so many times as we do. The trouble is we do so out of routine, and it shows.” [Meditations on Song of Songs, 3:13]

It shows. We do see the bread and wine and behind them we believe that Christ is present, since faith supplies what the senses fail to perceive. But how routine has our reception of the Blessed Sacrament become? The Sacrament does confer grace; how could one be in the Presence of Christ and not be affected?  The grace received is the grace to love. Through our faith in the Eucharist, charity grows in us both towards God and others. Does it show?

St. Teresa gives advice on how to receive the Eucharist with greater devotion and profit:  “After having received the Lord, since you have the Person Himself present, strive to close the eyes of the body and open those to the soul and look into your own heart… You should acquire the habit of doing this every time you receive Communion.” [Way of Perfection, 34:12] And “ If you immediately turn your thoughts to other things, if you pay no attention and take no account of the fact that He is within you, how will He be able to reveal Himself to you? This, then, is a good time for our Master to teach us, and for us to listen to Him. [Way of Perfection, 34: 10]

She also wrote that, “From certain things He told me, I understood that after he ascended to heaven He never came down to earth to commune with anyone except in the most Blessed Sacrament.” [Spiritual Testimonies, 13] Therefore it is important to receive the Eucharist in a state of grace. To this she also wrote that, “I understood well how much more priests are obliged to be good than are others, how deplorable a thing it is to receive this most Blessed Sacrament unworthily.” [Life, 38: 23]

Our devotion to the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be also fostered in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, whether exposed or reserved in the tabernacle. This is a great way to strengthen our faith and to draw closer in our union with Christ. Many communities, especially religious communities, have Eucharistic Exposition and Adoration available for the faithful. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is a great way to foster holiness. St. Teresa made certain that the Blessed Sacrament was in each of her foundations. This was often the first task that she attended to when making new foundations as she writes in her Foundations chapter 29,  “We took the Blessed Sacrament and had it reserved in the church with great and well-organized solemnity. It caused much devotion.”

Since we have such a blessing in the Real Presence let us, “Behold Him here without suffering, full of glory, before ascending into heaven, strengthening some, encouraging others, our companion in the most Blessed Sacrament; it doesn’t seem it was in His power to leave us for even a moment.” [Life, 22: 6]

Need more reasons to visit the Blessed Sacrament? Look here for 24 more reasons.

 

Empty Hands

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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