Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty

One afternoon my family had the pleasure of serving dinner in our home to two friars from the Carmelite monastery of Mount Carmel in Wyoming. (Check out what they are doing over here at their website.) One of the things that still stays with me about the visit was the topic of the evangelical counsels. The evangelical counsels are vows that religious make in their desire to become “perfect”. The counsels are three: chastity, poverty, and obedience. These counsels are not binding upon all Christians, but are works that are more than what duty requires. Religious make a public profession of these counsels in the way of vows before the recognized authority in the Church which then recognizes them as members of the consecrated life. One of the Carmelite friars that afternoon referred to these counsels as: obedience, chastity and poverty. He said that obedience was most important, which is why he referred to them in that order listing obedience first. According to Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P.,  “Obedience is the highest of the three evangelical counsels, just as the pride of life is in itself a graver disorder than the concupiscence of the flesh.” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

For Secular Carmelites the desire for holiness brings us to make promises to tend toward evangelical perfection. The practice of the three evangelical counsels makes faith grow as well as hope and charity.  The promise of obedience, for Seculars, is an exercise of faith. To obey is to do what pleases God. Obedience frees one of all self will and of one’s own judgment. Obedience particularly applies to the duties of the present moment. As a lay person, Secular Carmelites “search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and in one’s own personal life”. In the context of the Secular Carmelite vocation, members cooperate with those leading the OCDS community and the Carmelite Order. 

The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the community’s council, the Provincial and the General. [Const. #15]

To know God’s will begins by being open to it. God makes His will known in His revealed Word, through scripture, throughout the events of the day, and through those in authority. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt 5:6) will then value any occasion that manifests in daily life to do the will of God even in the “little things” – which make up the majority of each day. Small acts of self-will are not acts of love for God; however, these do not break our friendship with God or separate us from His grace. The promise that Secular Carmelites make provides the grace – that is the state of mind and willingness – to obey. The more willingness there is the more grace is given.

Related to obedience is the virtue of justice. As an act of submission one submits to the will of another (a lawful superior) since they represent God. We must obey God through His the commandments. After all we are creatures. He is the creator and obviously superior! We have free will – a gift we have received from God. A good way to acknowledge this gift is by freely submitting our will to God, the Creator and giver of the gift. As His children we should obey just like Jesus did.  Imitating Christ’s obedience who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2: 8) Obedience applies also to any promises made and especially to vows (like marriage vows).

Have the mind of Christ Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,” (Ph 2: 5-7)

The will of God includes the Commandments, Church and civil law, as well as the natural law. We should also be willing to submit to the Precepts of the Church. We can show our obedience to Christ’s counsels by performance of good works according to our state in life. The performance of duties related to our state in life should take precedence. Obedience should also be given to the inspirations of grace – when clear and submitted to a spiritual director, least we be under illusion. Generally inspirations of grace will be customary things undertaken according to our state in life and that do not trouble the soul. If this is the case, then we may do them without hesitation or under the guidance of a spiritual director. When we discern God has spoken, sometimes we need confirmation and we should seek it. If we believe that we have had a communication from God, we need to have it confirmed through others in the Church. St. John of the Cross says that, “God is so pleased that the rule and direction of humans be through other humans and that a person be governed by natural reason that he definitely does not want us to restore entire credence on his supernatural communications, or be confirmed in their strength and security, until they pass through this human channel of the mouth of another human person.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2:22,9) Extraordinary undertakings need to be done with a spiritual director’s advising. If it is from God He will make it known and confirmed in His own way and time. With this confirmation one can be assured that there is not any danger of self deception or illusion. 

The Constitutions and Rules of Life (for religious) are also to be obeyed. In this case obedience is to be given to the superiors with and within the limits of the rule, obeying promptly and with generosity. St. John of the Cross in his Sayings of Light and Love (#13) explains that, “God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.”(#13)

Obedience to those in authority can be challenging to our ego. Recalling that all authority comes from God, we should obey others over us out of reverence for God. Therefore, the wishes of those who govern us and make laws, police officers, teachers, and our bosses in our places of employment should be obeyed. Obeying them is obeying God. We should obey only those things that do not go contrary to the law of God. Additionally, we should obey not only when being watched, so as to get on the good side of the superior, but doing so willingly to serve Christ and from the heart.  

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ” (Ep 6: 5-9).

The Church representatives guide us – this is how God wants things to be done. Direction from our priest and bishops—this is how God speaks to us through others for our Lord said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Lk 10:16) Sometimes “we cling greatly to our own will” and “hold to our own way of doing good more than to the good itself” (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

As a disciple we should be ready to listen for the Holy Spirit to prompt us and speak to us through others. God willed that we live in society because we are not self sufficient for all our needs. We need others. With our Secular Carmelite communities we are organized with leadership and the rules of our Constitutions and Statutes approved by the Church in order to come together for a common purpose. To carry this purpose out, we need rules and decisions in the various situations that the group meets. Our obedience only needs be in accordance with and within the limits of the present Rule (Constitutions). Someone needs to coordinate all those in the community towards the common good. Some command – some obey. Without obedience there would be chaos.

Even Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph. “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Lk 2: 51)  Submitting our will even in things that are hard, difficult or go against our own preferences is not easy. Doing so wholeheartedly, not complaining, with joy and perseveringly will have its rewards.

Obedience challenges us to be of the same mind as that of the superior or the one in charge. To do so means to conform our judgement and understanding (as well as our will) to that of another. Thus obedience expresses humility and puts to death (or mortifies) the self will. We all have self love and our own opinions that can derail us from obedience. St. Teresa in The Way of Perfections counsels: “Strive to obey, even if this may be more painful for you, since the greatest perfection lies in obedience.” (Way 39:3) She also relates this wise consolation in the prologue of The Interior Castle“Obedience usually lessens the difficulty of things that seem impossible”.

The fruits of obedience will manifest in a correct way of behaving and thinking. It makes us wiser and, having the mind of God, we will think the way God does. Obedience also strengthens the will. However, God never commands the impossible, and He gives the strength to do what is difficult – like with the martyrs – He gives the grace needed. There comes a true freedom of spirit with obedience as St. Paul writes to the Romans – we will enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom 8:21) God’s truth and wisdom frees us from error and doubt. Those who do the Father’s will, will enter heaven. And as scripture reveals the humble “will be exalted” (Lk 14:11) Most importantly obedience “prepares for the contemplation of divine things”. (Rev Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O. P. – The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

The object of obedience is the will; be willing to want to even know the will of God. The precept is expressed by the will of another. The motive or intention of obedience is to please God. The more we become interiorly responsive to doing the will of God, the more obedient we are. God’s will is manifested in many ways and circumstances especially through those in authority over us. Since the word obey comes from the Latin root which means “to be open” “to hear” – we should strive to have the ear of a disciple so as to hear God’s voice – this is obedience.

By A Simple and Loving Movement

Shortly before her death, in a letter to her friend, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote: 

“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them go out of themselves to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within that will allow God to communicate Himself to them and transform them into Himself.” (Letter 335)

Here we have laid out by the saint herself what her mission in heaven was going to be. Where St. Therese’s said her mission was “to make God loved  [and that she] … will spend [her] heaven doing good on earth”,  St. Elizabeth’s mission will be to draw us out of ourselves so that we can remain devoted to God. She even explains how we will do this – by a “simple and loving movement”. As we will see, her emphasis will be on keeping silent within in order to allow God to communicate Himself. From this Divine communication, a transformation will take place in our souls.

Key to understanding St. Elizabeth’s mission is her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Carmel is Our Lady’s Order, and as a Carmelite St. Elizabeth honored the Blessed Mother with a special devotion to her dignity as the Mother of God and in her sovereignty as Queen of Heaven and Earth. In St. Elizabeth’s devotion to Mary, she finds the perfect realization of her interior ideal. St. Elizabeth sees the Word hidden in Mary’s womb, and in her communion with the Word, a mother and flowing from her loving kindness and humility. But most of all St. Elizabeth was attracted to Mary’s silence and recollection.

As a child St. Elizabeth’s piety towards Mary was typical of a young girl at that time. It has been noted that she asked Mary to guard her purity, and the saint kept a childhood diary filled with the thoughts of Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was given to her as a child, and St. Elizabeth asked her mother for it towards the end of her life so that Our Lady “might watch over her departure”. She received the Carmelite habit on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Later in a letter to Canon Angles near the end of her life, she wrote, “ It is she, the Immaculate Conception, who gave me the habit of Carmel. And I am asking her to clothe me again in that robe of one linen in which the bride is decked to present herself at the marriage feast of the Lamb.” 

The attitudes of the Virgin greatly attracted St. Elizabeth. She says that Mary’s example during the time from the Annunciation to the Nativity is a “model for interior souls”. Since God had chosen to live within her, Mary was at peace and wholly recollected in “everything she did” and “even the most trivial things were divinized by her!”. In her writing, Heaven in Faith, we see that what attracted St. Elizabeth most was Mary as Our Lady of the Incarnation. Mary was the living tabernacle of the Incarnate Word, a pure temple for God. What must it have been like for Mary to have within her the Incarnate Word? Recollected and in silent adoration, Mary embraced this great mystery within her. The Blessed Mother’s prayer included loving service to Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, as “the servant of the Lord” – humble and always forgetful of self.

In a letter to her sister, St. Elizabeth writes, “I do not need to make any effort to enter into this mystery of the Divine Indwelling in the Blessed Virgin. I seem to find in it the habitual movement of my own soul which was also that of hers: to adore God hidden within me.” St. Elizabeth had as her ideal a life of silent adoration of God hidden within the depths of her soul, in imitation of Mary. 

Then there was Mary’s station at the foot of the cross, which also impressed upon St. Elizabeth’s devotion. Mary associated herself with her Son in the “work of redemption”. The Co-Redemptirx was “full of strength and courage” at the foot of the cross. Of Our Lady of Sorrows, she wrote, “Those last songs of His soul which no one else but she, His Mother, could overhear”. St. Elizabeth attests that the Blessed Virgin teaches her to suffer.

“No one has penetrated the depths of the master of Christ except the Blessed Virgin.”

(Last Retreat, First Day, 2)

It is in the fifteenth day of her Last Retreat that we can find the connection between Mary and St. Elizabeth’s mission. Our saint writes,  “Her soul is so simple. Its movements are so profound”. It is obvious that she sees Mary as one she can imitate. As a Carmelite, she would want to, like the Virgin, to keep “all these things in her heart”. After-all “it was within her heart that she lived… a depth that no human eye can follow her.”

Mary has a unique role in the work of our salvation. She is the Mother of God and of all the redeemed. As a mother, Mary cares for our eternal welfare. Mary’s soul was pure, detached, and transparent. Even though she had this great mystery within her, it did not in any way diminished her charity. Through it all Mary remained humble and adored of the gift of God.

St. Elizabeth wanted to live as Mary did corresponding her life to Mary’s by keeping all these things in her heart. Then bringing all these things into the depth of her soul, in order to lose herself in the Trinity which dwells there, so that her soul will be transformed into the Trinity Itself. During her Last Retreat, and confident in Mary’s intercession, on the first day her entry reads, “This Mother of grace will form my soul so that her little child may be a living, striking image of her first-born, the Son of the Eternal, He who was the perfect, praise of His Father’s glory”.

Throughout St. Elizabeth’s writing she refers to Mary from the many titles found in the Litany of Loretto: Mirror of Justice, Faithful Virgin, Mother of Grace, Gate of Heaven.  Mary is the Faithful Virgin “who kept all these things in her heart”. Mary remained little and so recollected, to “draw down … the Holy Trinity”, and “unaware of her own beauty”, Mary lived in peace and recollection. In all her actions Mary constantly adored God. On the fifteenth day of her Last Retreat, St. Elizabeth wrote, “It is Our Lady, that luminous being, all pure with God’s purity, who will take me by the hand to lead me into heaven, that dazzling heaven.” Having placed her last retreat under the protection of Janua Coeli, Mary the Gate of Heaven, St. Elizabeth entered through this gate on November 9, 1906. 

by a wholly simple and loving movement”

St. Elizabeth’s writings show us how to enter into this simple and loving movement of our soul. Essential to implementing this movement of the soul is exterior and interior silence. Exterior silence means more solitude. Solitude in Carmel is everything and what solitude there was in the soul of Mary. In the solitude of her cell, St. Elizabeth, like Our Lady, was lost in recollection under the influence of the Trinity. For St. Elizabeth the solitude of her cell was a little paradise full of Him. 

To live an interior life we must also strive for interior peace even while living among the unrest of the world and our daily occupations. Interior silence, that alone, will make our contact with God continuous. The Blessed Mother is our teacher of the silence necessary for the interior life because “the interior life, which in a very special way, is Mary’s life”. (Divine Intimacy, #378 by Fr. Gabriel Mary) To imitate and resemble Mary’s soul we need to live a life of recollection. Prayer should be foremost in our day, and an uninterrupted giving of ourselves to God should be our activity, like Mary.  Keeping constant contact with God in an intimate union with Him is accomplished by reserving our soul as a sanctuary for God alone.

What disturbs our interior peace? Our passions, sins and attachments -these make noise and interrupt our intimate conversation with God. Silence the memory and imagination when we find ourselves spending our time daydreaming, mulling over past events or feelings, or fantasying about the future. These occupy the soul and prevent our conversation with God.

St. Elizabeth has this to say about interior disturbances, “It includes our feelings, memories, impressions, and so forth. In a word, it is self.” We are to be like Mary detached and in control of our emotions and desires. 

Likewise, we are to seek solitude and silence where God can find his delights or “rest” in us. We can ask Mary for these graces – for she is the Mistress of our interior life. Additionally, the writings of St. Elizabeth of the Trinty are filled with food for nourishing the spiritual life.

“I shall unite myself to the soul of the Blessed Virgin when the Father overshadowed her with His power, while the Word became incarnate within her, and the Holy Ghost came upon her to work the great mystery It is the whole Trinity in action, God yielding, giving Himself. And ought not the life of a Carmelite be lived under this divine action?” (Letter to Mme. de Sourdon)

J. M. + J. T.

Charity from the Divine Heart

Through the power of the cross, you can be present wherever there is pain, carried there by your compassionate charity, by that very charity which you draw from the divine heart. That charity enables you to spread everywhere the most precious blood in order to ease pain, save, and redeem.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

St. Teresa, Prayer and the Gift of Contemplation

St. Teresa of Avila was born in Spain in 1515. She is most known for her spiritual perfection and for the many mystical revelations that she received. After entering the Carmelite Order as a young woman, she soon began to have a desire to live her religious life more ardently. This caused her to attract many companions and eventually lead to the reform of the Carmelite Order. St. Teresa wrote several treatises on the topic of prayer. She is one of the few women that have been declared a Doctor of the Church. She died in 1582 in Alba de Tormes, Spain. Her feast day is today, October 15th.

Before she even begins to write about prayer in The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa says she will “mention some things that are necessary for those who seek to follow the way of prayer.” These things are so necessary that she says if one does not possess these, it is impossible to be a contemplative. So what are these things? 

“The first of these is love for one another; the second is detachment from created things; the third is true humility, which even though I speak of it last, is the main practice and embraces all the others.” (Way of Perfection 4: 4)

St. Teresa was keenly aware that the practice of the virtues is what supports prayer. Key to the spiritual life are these three: love, detachment, and humility. Love, of course, is first. It is love that moves us to pray, and it is love that is the greatest commandment: love God and love neighbor. It follows that some sort of detachment is also necessary because this virtue involves our choices. Our heart loves and is centered on what we love and desire and often these are not leading us to intimacy with God. Humility, which is next, but most importantly, is about the truth. The truth we are mainly concerned with is the truth about ourselves. An aid to the truth about ourselves is an honest examination of all areas of our lives and determining what is in need of repentance, where are our failures, and what are our sins, but also necessary is a look at our attitudes that may need to be pruned and gifts which may need to be cultivated.                       

Prayer is the activity especially intended for making fervent acts of charity. During prayer, the soul lovingly meets with God. A soul that loves God does so with a pure heart; a heart that loves Him so much that it seeks only after His glory and His will. The prayer of a soul that loves God forgets itself and is ready to sacrifice every wish for Him. Its love grows stronger and will continue to grow as it performs all its actions with a whole heart and with all of its capacity for goodwill.  However, St. Teresa says that it is also important for us to have a love for one another, but “because of either excess or defect we never reach the point of observing this commandment perfectly.” (The Way of Perfection, 4:5) When we live with others those annoying things and habits that we all have will be “suffered easily by those who love one another”.  Sometimes we gravitate towards loving one person more than another. St. Teresa also points out that when we love others excessively we are unable to love God excessively!  Nevertheless, she does value friendships and said that in her convents “all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.”  (The Way of Perfection, 4:7)   

Detachment is also necessary for one who is setting out on the way of prayer. Attachment is clinging to people, ideas, and things that give satisfaction, comfort, and pleasure. Detachment is letting go of the need to find pleasure, comfort, and satisfaction in these things and to center all our desires on God. Detachment is about seeking God first. One important way to practice detachment is to detach from the love of our bodies which demand so much comfort and strive to be more faithful to our duties. St. Teresa says that our bodies want so much comfort that the more we give it the more it demands. St. Teresa also suggests that souls try to remember that everything is vanity and will all come to an end. It is a great help for souls to remove any attachment it might have to trivial things and to center its thoughts on eternal things. Detachment and control of the passions can help our soul to be like Mary’s – silent and solitary- and filled with the presence of God.

In The Way of Perfection chapter 10, St. Teresa writes about the virtues of humility and detachment saying that “They are two inseparable sisters.” Our saint warns that souls need to not feel secure or fall asleep. She advises souls to be alert in “going against our own will”. Going against our own will is humility. She points out that turning and being against ourselves is a difficult thing because. . . we “love ourselves greatly”. How true this is! The soul should embrace these two virtues and by doing so, imitate Christ who “was never for a moment seen without them!” Another interesting thing about these virtues is that they “have the characteristic of so hiding themselves from the person who possess them that these persons never see them or manage to believe that they even have them”. 

St. Teresa in The Way of Perfection Chapter 17 writes about the importance of humility in regard to contemplation. She says, “this is an important aspect of prayer and indispensable for persons who practice it”. She understood that God, if He so desires, is the one who leads the soul that prays into contemplation.  Not everyone who prays must be a contemplative and being a contemplative is not necessary for our salvation. St. Teresa stresses that “to be a contemplative is a gift from God.” However, she does not want us to give up prayer for any reason, but we are to persevere because sometimes, “the Lord comes very late and pays just as well, and all at once, what he was giving to others in the course of many years.” So we should strive “in humility, mortification, detachment, and the other virtues…[and not] be afraid that you will fail to reach the perfection of those who are very contemplative.”                

“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.” (The Way of Perfection, 17:7)   

A soul devoted to loving God has made the one necessary resolution in prayer which is to be recollected. Only then is it able to give itself entirely to God. 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.

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.

Today, October 15th, is the feast day of St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church. It is also a Solemnity within the Carmelite Order. On this day it would be good, inspired by St. Teresa, to begin to live our religious life more ardently. All of us, whether a priest, bishop, religious or layperson, can foster this desire to live our spiritual life more perfectly.

Today is a new day; a day to begin again. Today we can begin to say our prayers faithfully and to say them well. Today we can begin to remain in the presence of God throughout our day and while doing our daily duties. Today we can begin to partake in the sacramental life of the Church more regularly and with greater devotion. Today we can begin to practice more self-denial and be at the service of others.

Father,
by your Spirit, you raised up our Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus,
to show your Church the way to perfection.
May her inspired teaching
awaken in us a longing for true holiness.
Grant this through our Lord. Amen.
(from the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours)

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.