Monday, October 27, 2014

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - November 2, 2014

First Reading Commentary
Souls are justified by the One and Supreme Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Many tears flow during funeral Masses.  Ideally, there’s a twofold reason for that: First, they should be tears of joy as our faith tells us that our beloved one, our friend is in the Hands of God.  Secondly they are tears of sorrow because we have lost a loved one and we don’t know when we’ll see our beloved again.  Perhaps the latter often overtakes the former and it is for this reason that this Reading calls us “foolish”.  But the former offers great words of comfort: “But they are in peace.” 

The Benedictine monk Antoine Augustin Calmet sees a reference to the martyrs in the verse: “For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself.” 

If our hope for joy were confined to this world, then the sadness we endure in the here and now would likely grow beyond control.  But no, the faithful ones are the recipients of God’s grace, mercy and care.  

Second Reading Commentary
Hope is always a pertinent word in the deaths of the faithful; and this Reading tells us that “Hope does not disappoint.” 

Most of us would like to believe that if the circumstance presented itself, we would die for a loved one.  But truthfully, how we would react in such a situation is unknown until we actually face it.  Heroic acts are not uncommon to the human person but neither is self-preservation.  It is certainly an avenue one hopes to never travel. 

This whole topic would really take a turn towards the bizarre or ridiculous if we start considering the possibility of sacrificing our life for people who couldn’t care less or even hate us.  Saint Jerome’s understanding of the Greek text appears as: “Scarcely would anyone die for a just cause; for who would ever think of dying in defense of injustice?”  But this is the reality of God’s mysterious love for humanity.  Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross only for those who love Him back.  He died for all of us, right down to those who falsely accused Him as well as the one who hammered the nails into His Flesh. 

The Latin Vulgate asks the question: “For why did Christ, when as yet we were weak, according to the time, die for the ungodly?”  The answer is easy to speak but difficult to grasp and explain - God loves us.

Optional Second Reading Commentary
In our hustle-bustle, technological western world, there’s an overall vibe when witnessing a baptism, that it is merely just another religious ceremony and is nowhere near as exciting as High-Definition Television or being able to send and receive emails through your cell phone.  The reality, however, is that where there’s a baptism there is found the newest son or daughter of God’s beloved family who has an eternal destiny.  And from that moment on, the newly baptized are called to a newness of life; but unfortunately, rampant secularism detracts and distracts from the seriousness of that newness. 

As Saint Paul points out, we must think of ourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.  The words “are you unaware” really set the tone for the entire reading.  You truly get a - pounding on the table - “Don’t you get it?”- sense of zeal in this letter from Saint Paul.  The main point here is: If Jesus Christ died but defeated death and was raised, then, He can’t ever die again.  Consequently, if our old, sinful bodies died through the waters of baptism and rose to a new life, then we must be faithful to that newness by never sinning again - or in reality, making every effort not to sin.  “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.”              

Gospel Commentary
Both Saints Hilary and Augustine teach us that in this Gospel passage Jesus recommends to us His humility.  And that those who come to Jesus shall not be cast away but shall be incorporated with Him.  Let us remember, however, that only a lively faith and humility can truly come to Jesus. 

There is great joy in knowing that when we come to Jesus He will not lose or cast aside what has been given to Him.  It is the will of our heavenly Father that those who follow Jesus, those who come to His beloved Son, shall have eternal life.  This weekend as we remember all of our dearly departed, let us hold fast to these truths. 

Friday, October 24, 2014


This brief meditation by Abbé Henri de Tourville teaches us about the main ingredient present in all the saints – Simplicity – which consequently is a very challenging grace to possess, because it is “the true way of living” – a way that is very counter-cultural. This meditation closes by touching on the simplistic lives that have been chosen by God for mysticism, and they come from “all sorts of walks of life.”

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Perfection is not to be found in playing it safe, but in doing the least harm that we can, having regard to our present state and the difficulties inherent to our natures. It means not straining our abilities, but holding firm to a very unassuming simplicity and rejecting any attempts to become more perfect inwardly or in outward appearance than we really are. The saints were not those who played it safe and obeyed the rules, but the greatest gamblers in the world. They hardly wished to go beyond that ordinary amount of grace which they recognized and could feel without doubt they possessed. Let us share in such simplicity.

Perfection consists in holding fast to the very greatest simplicity. Simplicity is the final word in regards to the true way of living. It is the lesson our Lord teaches us when He proclaims that the Kingdom of heaven is for children and those that are child-like. But as with other virtues exhibited by children, so it is with simplicity; the virtues of children are in accordance to their age, not fruits of a victory obtained by the hard fought effort of the will. It is easy for us to have simplicity in childhood, but is even easier for us to lose it. And once we have lost it, it is only by a long and painful journey in our maturity that we achieve it again.

It happens to some souls to whom God has chosen to extend His grace, that they have a greater experience of the Indwelling of God. The mystery of grace given through mystical experience can never be explained. We only know that it happens to certain souls who can be in all sorts of walks of life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scala Perfectionis

The following is excerpted from the spiritual classic, “The Ladder of Perfection” by the fourteenth century English mystic, Walter Hilton. After studying at the University of Cambridge, Walter Hilton later became a hermit and eventually joined the Augustinians at Thurgarton Priory and there lived out the rest of his years. This particular work of his is addressed to a Carthusian recluse and teaches the soul how to advance in perfection by the removal of sin and earthly thoughts and occupations. It also defines the differences in the lives of ascetics, mystics, contemplatives and actives. It is considered one of the great treatises on contemplation. Walter Hilton was in close touch with the Carthusians and has been mistaken as a Carthusian, though he was not.

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I pray that in the calling to which our Lord has called you for His service, that you are contented, stand firm in it, travailing busily with all the powers of your soul; and by the grace of Jesus Christ, to fulfill in true righteousness the state which you have taken in exterior likeness and appearance; and as you have forsaken the world like a dead man, and turned to our Lord bodily in the sight of men, so let your heart be as if dead to all earthly loves and fears, and turned wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ. For you must know that a turning of the body to God, not followed by the heart, is but a figure and likeness of virtues, and not the truth in itself.

I do not say that on the first day you can be turned to Him in your soul through the full mastery of virtue as easily as you can be enclosed with your body in your cell, but you should know that the cause of your bodily enclosure is that you may the better come to spiritual enclosure; and as your body is enclosed from bodily association with men, just so should your heart be enclosed from the fleshly loves and fears of all earthly things.

The contemplative life consists in perfect love and charity, felt inwardly through spiritual virtues, and in a true knowledge and sight of God in spiritual things. This life belongs especially to them who for the love of God forsake all worldly riches, honors, worships and outward businesses, and give themselves entirely, body and soul, to the service of God through spiritual occupation, according to their strength and ability.

It is your duty to be busy night and day in labor of body and spirit, to attain as near as you can to that life by such means as you think best for you. In your prayer you must not aim your heart at a material thing, but your effort must be to draw your thoughts inward from any attention to such things, so that your desire might be as it were bare and naked from all that is earthly, always rising upward into God. You cannot see Him in the body, or imagine Him in a bodily likeness, but you can feel His goodness and His grace when your desire is eased and helped, and as it were strengthened and set free from all carnal thoughts and affections; when it is greatly lifted up by a spiritual power into spiritual savor and delight in God, held still in this for much of your prayer time, so that you have no great thought of any earthly thing, or else the thought harms you only a little. If you pray like this, then you know how to pray well.

For prayer is nothing but a desire of the heart rising into God by its withdrawal of all earthly thoughts; and so it is compared to a fire, which of its own nature leaves the lowness of the earth and always goes up into the air. Just so, when desire in prayer has been touched and set alight by the spiritual fire which is God, it keeps rising naturally to Him from Whom it came.

Monday, October 20, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 26, 2014

First Reading Commentary
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when taking the tiny steps that eventually lead to a conversion experience is whether or not a life in service to the Lord will take away one’s freedom because “You shall not” are words frequently used in the laws of God.  Love is the key to it all.  Even our limited knowledge of God’s gift of love and our duty to share and spread His love is enough to know that when exercised properly, “You shall not”  need not be burdensome.  Even with the miniscule knowledge we have on this vast and portions unreachable subject of love, it’s obvious that killing, committing adultery, stealing, molesting, oppressing, or wronging anyone in anyway has absolutely nothing to do with love.  And if we understand that, then “You shall not” is not something we need to exhaust our energies on.  On the other hand, love is hovering, but not obviously visible in the words “You shall not”. 

Those of us who are parents understand that any warnings given to our children are done because we love them and want what’s best for them, even though that is not always evident to our children.  In the same way, God warns His children because He loves us far beyond what we are capable of grasping; and like the children of God we are, His love is not always perceived by us in the words “You shall not”.         

Second Reading Commentary
Do you have a favorite saint?  If so, perhaps it’s because there’s something in his/her personality that you can identify with; or maybe you have nothing in common with them but in your mind their particular brand of holiness in life is something you would like to achieve. 

Our personal connection to saints, for the most part, is the result of our desire to be imitators of them and ask God to grant us the same graces He gave them.  It has been suggested, however, that saints choose us – we don’t choose them.  Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians that they became imitators of him and the Lord.  And, of course, our attempt to imitate any saint is an attempt to imitate the Lord. 

Some of us are fortunate to have a model for all believers in our personal life; that is, a person or persons who are destined to be saints when their earthly journey ends.  The sanctity of other souls, whether still in a human body or residents of heaven, can greatly influence us for the better; just as associating ourselves with quite the opposite can do great harm.  Through the intercession of the saints as well as the beautiful people in our lives, may we too become models for all believers and saints for all eternity.           

Gospel Commentary
Jesus sums up the law as “Love”.  Love the Lord your God and your neighbor; and do it with your whole heart, soul and mind.  To quote from “Reflections” by the late Father Leo Clifford, OFM: “A song is not a song until it has been sung; a bell is not a bell until it has been rung.  And love is not love until it has been given away.” 

Every gift we have received from God is intended to be shared.  And yet, love is that one gift in which the damages of hoarding it can actually be experienced interiorly if we’re paying attention.  If love for one another does not abound, then surely apathy or hate will.  When love is not offered to others, then what possesses our lives is that all too familiar trinity of me, myself, and I. 

It’s human nature to run away from the cross.  But that greatest outpouring of love by our Lord Jesus Christ continues to flow into us and is then, by the combination of free will and illimitable celestial motivation, poured out from us when the world has to bear its heavier crosses such as 9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, ISIS, Ebola, to name only some.  There is an enigmatic connection to suffering and love.  But perhaps what makes this suffering/love union so ambiguous, is that its Source is our invisible God. 

Our Lord and Savior often communicates to our souls, by equally obscure means, that our avoidance of the cross at all costs will ultimately lead to the undesirable encounter with the humbling and gasping reality of just how temporal we are capable of being. 

From another aspect, the great calamities of the world always seem to produce a supernatural outpouring of heartfelt labor, financial donations and prayer services on behalf of the victims.  Certainly, this delineates our convictions and a level of submissiveness to be a people of God.  The battle between making a difference and indifference continues to wage within us -- the grueling vicissitudes of being human.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Kiss of Communion

Our Lord Jesus Christ said to Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque: “Look at this Heart which has loved people so much.”

It is this Heart that we gaze upon in Eucharistic Adoration which is enflamed with an unfathomable love for us. This Most Sacred Heart which has loved so much unfortunately is also an Organ which does not receive what It gives as Jesus also to Saint Marguerite-Marie: “And yet they do not want to love Me in return.”

The Heart of Jesus was rejected for us, suffered for us and died for us. And this Heart even today suffers from rejection and loneliness as chapels and churches are empty as He waits for us in the Tabernacle.

Saint Jean-Marie Vianney was not silent about the sufferings Jesus continues to endure in the Blessed Sacrament: “The death of Jesus Christ on Calvary was violent and painful, but at least all nature seemed to bear witness to His pain. The least sensible of creatures appeared to be affected by it, and thus wishful to share the Savior’s sufferings. Here there is nothing of this: Jesus is insulted, outraged by a vile nothingness, and all keeps silence; everything appears insensible to His humiliations. May not this God of goodness justly complain, as on the tree of the Cross, that He is forsaken?”

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, stood in place of Saint John Paul II at the Colosseum for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday 2005, due to John Paul's failing health. At the Ninth Station, here is some of the reflection shared by Cardinal Ratzinger: “Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in His own Church? How often is the holy Sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must He enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that He is there! How often is His Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where He waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in His Passion. His betrayal by His disciples, their unworthy reception of His Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces His Heart. We can only call to Him from the depths of our hearts: 'Kyrie eleison - Lord, save us!'”

Of course, we can’t really cry out "Kyrie eleison" until we can understand on a deep personal level our own guilt.

Canonized five years ago was a young lady from Nobol, Ecuador named Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán. She may have found great difficulty in discerning her own guilt for neglecting the Heart of Jesus, even though she was remarkably humble. This was a very devout young lady whose constant prayers often became songs. One of her favorites contained the words, “reaching the Heart of Him Who well deserved it.” Her father converted a small room in their house into a chapel as he recognized the extraordinary sanctity of his daughter.

She would often go into ecstasy. One of her experiences of being rapt in the love of Christ came one day following Holy Communion. She saw Jesus standing before her; He removed His Most Sacred Heart from His Bosom and placed It before the lips of Narcisa who in turn kissed It. Saint Ambrose said: “We kiss Christ with the kiss of Communion.” Although never entering religious life, it was revealed after Narcisa’s death that she had made private vows of poverty, perpetual virginity, obedience, enclosure, the eremitical life, fasting on bread and water, daily Communion, Confession, mortification and prayer.

On this Optional Memorial of Saint Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, the saint of the Sacred Heart, may we return to truly loving our Savior’s Sacré-Coeur and passionately kissing Him in Holy Communion!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Whole Soul Loving Him

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila. From the Divine Office, at Matins, the Carthusians listened to this great Saint in her own words. Here’s what the monks heard and reflected on.

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In the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer - I speak of the prayer of quiet - I labored to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects; but I did not dare to lift up my soul, for that I saw would be presumption in me, who was always so wicked. I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God: this was true, and I contrived to be in a state of recollection before Him. This method of prayer is full of sweetness, if God helps us in it, and the joy of it is great. And so, because I was conscious of the profit and delight which this way furnished me, no one could have brought me back to the contemplation of the Humanity of Christ; for that seemed to me to be a real hindrance to prayer. O Lord of my soul, and my Good! Jesus Christ crucified! I never think of this opinion, which I then held, without pain; I believe it was an act of high treason, though done in ignorance.

The first consideration is this: there is a little absence of humility - so secret and so hidden, that we do not observe it. Who is there so proud and wretched as I, that, even after laboring all his life in penances and prayers and persecutions, can possibly imagine himself not to be exceedingly rich, most abundantly rewarded, when our Lord permits him to stand with Saint John at the foot of the Cross? I know not into whose head it could have entered to be not satisfied with this, unless it be mine, which has gone wrong in every way where it should have gone right onwards. Then, if our constitution - or perhaps sickness - will not permit us always to think of His Passion, because it is so painful, who is to hinder us from thinking of Him risen from the grave, seeing that we have Him so near us in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is glorified?

No trial befalls me that is not easy to bear, when I think of You standing before those who judged You. With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails, He is the true Friend. I see clearly, and since then have always seen, that if we are to please God, and if He is to give us His great graces, everything must pass through the Hands of His most Sacred Humanity, in Whom His Majesty said that He is well pleased. I know this by repeated experience: our Lord has told it to me. I have seen clearly that this is the door by which we are to enter, if we would have His supreme Majesty reveal to us His great secrets. So, then, I would have you seek no other way, even if you have arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe.

Our Lord is He by Whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more could we want than so good a Friend at our side, Who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him! Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him deep down in his heart. After I had heard this of some great Saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. Saint Francis with the stigmata proves it, Saint Antony of Padua with the Infant Jesus; Saint Bernard rejoiced in the Humanity of Christ; so did Saint Catherine of Siena, and many others, who knew better than I do. This withdrawing from bodily objects must no doubt be good, seeing that it is recommended by persons who are so spiritual; but, in my opinion, it ought to be done only when the soul has made very great progress; for until then it is clear that the Creator must be sought for through His creatures.

When God suspends all the powers of the soul – by some means of prayer -- it is clear that, whether we wish it or not, this presence of the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is withdrawn. Be it so, then, the loss is a blessed one, because it takes place in order that we may have a deeper fruition of what we seem to have lost; for at that moment the whole soul is occupied in loving Him Whom the understanding has toiled to know; and it loves what it has not comprehended, and rejoices in what it could not have rejoiced in so well, if it had not lost itself, in order, as I am saying, to gain itself the more. But that we should carefully and laboriously accustom ourselves not to strive with all our might to have always - and please God it be always - the most Sacred Humanity before our eyes - this, I say, is what seems to me not to be right: it is making the soul, as they say, to walk in the air; for it has nothing to rest on, however full of God it may think itself to be. It is a great matter for us to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh.

We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth, and so much on the earth as I was, is an act of folly. In general, our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go forth out of itself now and then, or it may be very often so full of God as to be in need of no created thing by the help of which it may recollect itself. But this is not so common a case; for when we have many things to do, when we are persecuted and in trouble, when we cannot have much rest, and when we have our seasons of dryness, Christ is our best Friend; for we regard Him as Man, and behold Him faint and in trouble, and He is our Companion; and when we shall have accustomed ourselves in this way, it is very easy to find Him near us, although there will be occasions from time to time when we can do neither the one nor the other. We must not show ourselves as laboring after spiritual consolations; come what may, to embrace the Cross is the great thing.

The Lord of all consolation was Himself forsaken: they left Him alone in His sorrows. Do not let us forsake Him; for His Hand will help us to rise more than any efforts we can make; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees it to be expedient for us, and when He pleases will also draw the soul forth out of itself. God is greatly pleased when He beholds a soul in its humility making His Son a Mediator between itself and Him, and yet loving Him so much as to confess its own unworthiness, even when He would raise it up to the highest contemplation, and saying with Saint Peter: "Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). I know this by experience: it was thus that God directed my soul. Others may walk by another and a shorter road. What I have understood of the matter is this: that the whole foundation of prayer must be laid in humility, and that the more a soul humbles itself in prayer, the more God lifts it up.

I come, then, to this conclusion: whenever we think of Christ, we should remind ourselves of the love that made Him bestow so many graces upon us, and also how great that love is which our Lord God has shown us, in giving us such a pledge of the love He bears us; for love draws forth love. And though we are only at the very beginning, and exceedingly wicked, yet let us always labor to keep this in view, and stir ourselves up to love; for if once our Lord grants us this grace, of having this love imprinted in our hearts, everything will be easy, and we shall do great things in a very short time, and with very little labor. May His Majesty give us that love - He knows the great need we have of it - for the sake of that love which He bore us, and of His glorious Son, to Whom it cost so much to make it known to us! Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beholding the Radiant Face of Christ

Today, the Carthusians honor all those of their Order who are now heavenly intercessors, residents of Paradise – the Saints and the Blessed. At Matins, the monks reflected on an excerpt from what is considered a spiritual masterpiece in Syrian spirituality titled: "Le Livre de la Perfection" by the seventh-century writer and martyr, Sahdona. Here is that excerpt.

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To all those who care about their salvation, Christ our hope and our God, has taught us in the Gospel to distance ourselves from the world, waiting for God alone, devoting ourselves to prayer and spiritual contemplation. By His words and His example He has shown that no place is more suitable for both prayer and being fixed on God than a place of solitude, away from traffic and favorable to recollection.

There, in fact, the body quiets itself, because the excitements of the external senses are extinguished while at the same time the soul is no longer agitated by internal impulses. As the worldly tumult subsides, it brightens the spirit; the mind becomes liberated from dark earthly concerns: in short, man emerges purified and freed from all physical and spiritual pollution. The discerning eye of his inner light shines and it is good to know himself, to improve and guide his behavior on the clear path of justice. Under these conditions, the man is rushed into the spiritual heights, he stands before the Lord and perceives something glorious, and feels extremely blessed by the Lord Who created him.

He dwells in God alone due to holy purity of life, and God constantly abides in him, waiting to envelop him with the great remembrance of His own manifestation, to burst from the body and impulses man’s thoughts, until the last day, entering into the clouds of heaven, where his covered face will be uncovered and radiant.

Blessed devotion! Your wonders have manifested themselves since the beginning with Adam, our ancestor, and have grown through all generations and achieved miracles for us. These marvelous effects shine in those wonderful beings who are men of truth, who have been able to contemplate its significance. They have taken flight far away from the world and its distractions in order to quiet themselves, body and soul, withdrawing to the desert; by these means they strive for total peace which is rendered to them, the incredible recollection, infused by the Lord supernaturally.

Our Lord, mighty, victorious and holy, source of all holiness, courage and victory, and Who has not disregarded the toil of fasting! Who among us carnal beings can ignore or dismiss You, weak and sinful as we are, continually stuck in the mud of passions?

No one would dare to say that the adverse passions of the flesh have ever been able to touch the Lord's Body, the Receptacle of perfection, the magnificent Temple of the Divine. Yet, although He did not have the slightest need, the Lord Jesus did not renounce the laborious practice of fasting; in order to better teach the great virtue and holiness that He confers on those who observe it.

Just as He was baptized to teach us in our turn to receive baptism and follow His example, thus He fasted to teach us to fast in His likeness. Every baptized person should feel compelled to fight against evil, as did our Lord, and so to be attached to the weapons of fasting even though we have received the fullness of the Spirit.

We fast according to the will of God, sincerely and wholeheartedly, without altering our fasting obligations to the criteria of Satan. This would occur if fasting hypocritically, being seen by others, in order to please men and receive the reward of vain praise from the people; we would thus be excluded from the divine reward, just as our Lord warned about the Pharisees, blinded, discouraging imitation: When you fast - He said - do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.

Behold, rendered wholly perfect by fasting from all evil, hungry and thirsty for the spirit of felicity that comes from God, we will be able to escape the threat of misery and famine in the last days reserved for those who shall be satisfied on earth. We will merit instead the blessing of contentment that Christ Jesus has promised to the hungry in these terms: Blessed are those who hunger, they shall be satisfied.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 19, 2014

First Reading Commentary
Biblically, the word “anointed” intimates someone who is chosen for a great work.  Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is the Anointed of all anointed. 

Cyrus was chosen to conquer the empire of Babylon which would result in freedom for God’s people.  Cyrus, therefore, is a figure of Christ, a deliverer of the people of God.  Cyrus, who is the king of Persia, and thus is not anointed in the literal sense but as Saint Jerome explains: “He is styled thus, in allusion to the custom of the Jewish kings.”  This would also explain God’s words, “though you knew Me not”.  And God’s call to Cyrus is prophetic of the call of the Gentiles to Christianity.  And through the graces given to Cyrus the Gentiles would learn that there is no other god but the Lord our God.          

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul’s greeting “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” shows his belief as well as his conviction to teach the Thessalonians that the Father and the Son are equal.  It was Paul’s custom in other letters to refer to himself as an apostle.  He did not do this with either letter to the Thessalonians.  Most likely, since he mentions Silvanus and Timothy in both greetings to the Thessalonians, Paul didn’t want to exalt himself and appear more important than the other two. 

Paul thanks the Thessalonians for their faith which moved them to good works and for their patience because of their hope in the Lord.  They did have to endure suffering caused by their own countrymen who would not convert to the Christian faith.  Not everyone believes what we believe; but since we have been chosen by God, we cannot allow ourselves to be deterred from using the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit.  In Thessalonica, the power of the Holy Spirit in Paul was demonstrated by his preaching as well as by the sincerity of conversion on the part of many of the Thessalonians.           

Gospel Commentary
An attempt at deception starts off this Gospel.  The Pharisees plotted against Jesus; and once they came up with a plan, they weren’t even courageous enough to carry it out themselves, but instead they sent their disciples to do their dirty work.  Their disciples were students who had not yet become rabbis. 

The plan starts off by complimenting Jesus because He is truthful and teaches God’s ways.  Of course, trying to deceive God won’t get you very far. 

The Herodians were a political group, not a religious sect.  They didn’t have much in common with the Pharisees except their willingness to thwart any movements that went against the status quo; and so, in their view, Jesus was a disturber of the existing state of affairs.  Both the Pharisees and the Herodians were obsequious towards Rome; and so, in the question they direct at Jesus, it would seem they were hoping for an anti-Rome answer which would make Jesus appear to be a rebel or traitor.  They would later have to fabricate what they were hoping for here because our Lord’s response didn’t supply them with any evidence. 

Jesus does, however, call them hypocrites.  Quite often the tendency for us is to focus on the merciful and compassionate Jesus and would rather not think about the Jesus Who is very direct, especially when we willfully step out of line.  It is much better to be truly sorrowful for sins now than later have to face a direct, no-nonsense Lord and God. 

“This severe reprehension,” according to Saint John Chrysostom, “shows that is better for man that God should chastise him here in this life, than spare him to chastise him hereafter.” 

Our Lord’s solution to the seeming dilemma of the Roman coin demonstrates that Jesus understands that in this life we will be subject to that which is temporal as well as to that which is spiritual.  Our coins are stamped with leaders of our nation, a nation which we pledge allegiance to; and our souls are stamped with the Image and likeness of God.  Our obedience to the laws of our nation, however, should not contradict the laws of God.  This is why Catholics, for example, strongly object to the legality of abortion.  It directly opposes God’s Commandment: Thou shalt not kill.  The laws of man may very well contain the errors of imperfect man but the Law of God was conceived in perfection, and therefore, cannot be in error. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Servant of Mary will Never be Lost

Today on the 1962 liturgical calendar is the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary. Saint Louis de Montfort had written: "The Holy Spirit gives no heavenly gifts to men which He does not have pass through her Virginal hands." The feast itself was instituted in 1931 by Pope Pius XI in memory of the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus. The calendar reforms of post-Vatican II in 1969 removed all the ‘minor’ feasts of Our Blessed Lady. Here is a Carthusian writing which reflects on the Motherhood of Mary.
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The reverence shown by a subject for his queen and the loving and eager devotion which the members of her household bring to their service, is nothing compared to the devotion and tenderness of a child for its mother. The memory of a mother is the sweetest and strongest of human sentiments; it returns in even greater strength, and is the last to fade. Even when it is hidden, and seems completely suppressed in the depths of the most unmindful and perverse of hearts, it is often the only force which has power to soften and to bring peace.

As the eternal Father sought among all human qualities those which could lead back to Him His own handiwork, could He pass over the one quality – motherhood – which moves the child so powerfully towards her to whom he owes his very existence? Would it be possible for so sacred a tie not to find a place in a religion so clearly founded on human nature and human affection? In the Christian religion the whole of humanity forms in Jesus Christ one united family. We all have a Father Who is in heaven; we surely need, therefore, a Mother, if our heart is not a thing made by chance, and if the religion which so draws our affections comes from our Maker.

This Mother God has given to us: it is our Blessed Lady. The Mother of God’s only-begotten Son has become the Mother of the children of His adoption. When Jesus was about to die and so repair the outrage done to His Father and to pay our ransom, He said, speaking to Mary and turning to the beloved disciple: Woman, behold your Son. Then, addressing Saint John, He said: Behold your Mother. In these words we have the express declaration of Mary’s spiritual maternity, uttered at the very moment of the birth pangs of the Christian family. From Mary’s sword-pierced heart, we were brought forth to a life of grace, and Mary’s consent to the Passion of our Saviour became, freely given as it was, the cause of our birth to grace through the death of the crucified Christ.

But long before this, our Lady had already begun her work as a Mother. Before giving birth to us, so to speak, she had conceived us and had carried us in her heart. When, through the ministry of an angelic envoy, the Word had solicited her consent to the Incarnation, He did so as the Redeemer of men. As a consequence of the fatal fall of our first parents, all members of the human race, with the one exception of our Lady, came into this world deprived of supernatural life. By coming amongst us the Word of God wished to graft upon His own Person all the souls of men, and in this way to infuse into them the grace of which they had been deprived and which He possessed in all its fullness. But in the designs of the Father, this mysterious engrafting could only be effected by the Blood-stained Flesh of the God-Man. Hence, the Divine Son came down to earth to climb Calvary’s hill, and it was as the Victim of sin that He asked Mary to receive Him.

In response to the angelic salutation, the Maid of Nazareth gave an unconditional Fiat and it was at this solemn moment that she conceived us in her heart. Mother, according to His human nature, of our Divine Savior, she became the true spiritual Mother of all Christ’s members. And in the Blessed among women whom He destined to be our Mother, God united all the gifts capable of calling forth and holding our filial love. Her beauty will ravish for eternity the souls of the blessed in heaven; while her goodness, second only to that of her Divine Son, will be beyond anything we can conceive here below. She has said so herself. Between the love of the most ardent of her servants and the love she gives in return to the least of her children, there will ever be a vast difference, as vast as that between earth and heaven.

O incomprehensible condescension of divine mercy to give us such a Mother! O tremendous desire for our salvation! The least we can do is to respond with a sincere and practical love. "If I love Mary," Saint John Berchmans used to say, "I am certain of my salvation," And Saint Aloysius, summing up the tradition of the early Fathers, formulated the well-known saying: "Servus Mariæ nunquam peribit – the servant of Mary will never be lost." Now "the true servant of Mary," as one of our founder’s own companions used to say, "is the Christian who has recourse to that beloved Mother as often as he should, whether it be to persevere in the grace and friendship of God, or to recover those blessings by a sincere repentance."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Powerful Pleaders to God

On this day in which the Carthusian Order celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Bruno, at Matins the monks will hear and reflect on the Apostolic Constitution, Umbratilemby Pope Pius XI.

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All those, who, according to their rule, lead a life of solitude remote from the din and follies of the world, have chosen the better part, like Mary of Bethany. They contemplate the divine mysteries and the eternal truths, and pour forth ardent and continual prayers to God that His Kingdom may flourish and be daily spread more widely. They also atone for the sins of other men still more than for their own by mortification, prescribed or voluntary. For no more perfect state and rule of life than that can be proposed for men to take up and embrace, if the Lord calls them to it. Moreover, by the inward holiness of those who lead the solitary life in the silence of the cloister and by their most intimate union with God, is kept brightly shining the halo of that holiness which the spotless Bride of Jesus Christ holds up to the admiration and imitation of all. No wonder, then, that ecclesiastical writers of former ages, wishing to explain and extol the power and efficacy of the prayers of these same religious men, liken their prayers to Moses.

While Joshua was engaged in battle with the Amalekites on the plain and Moses on the top of a hill nearby was praying and beseeching God for the victory of his people, it happened that as long as Moses held his hands raised heavenward, the Israelites conquered, but if from weariness he lowered them a little, then the Amalekites overcame the Israelites; wherefore, Aaron and Hur on either side held up his arms until Joshua left the field victorious. This example most aptly symbolizes the effect of the prayers of the religious we have spoken of, since those prayers are borne up by the august Sacrifice of the Altar on one hand, and on the other hand by works of penance, as by two props typified respectively in a certain way, by Aaron and Hur; it being the usual and indeed the principal duty of these solitaries, as we have remarked above, to offer themselves up to God and devote themselves as propitiatory victims and hostages for peace for their own weal and that of the world - a function which they fulfill in an official way, as it were.

From the earliest times this mode of life, most perfect and at the same time most useful and fruitful for the whole of Christendom more than anyone can conceive, took root. For if we pass over the "Ascetics" who right from the very outset of our religion used to live so austerely, though in their own houses, that Cyprian considered them as "the noblest part of Christ's flock," it is known that many of the faithful in Egypt, persecuted under the Emperor Decius on account of their religion, had fled into the desert parts of the land and had found by experience that the solitary sort of life they led there was most profitable for attaining perfection, they continued that way of living even after peace had been granted to the Church. The number of these anchorites was so immense that there were said to be as many inhabitants in the wilderness as there were citizens in the towns. Some of them went to live far away from all human society, while others, under the leadership of Anthony, began to live in lauras. That was the origin of the common life - life in community - which, gradually evolved, organized and ruled by certain definite laws, was quickly propagated throughout all the countries of the East and then spread over Italy, Gaul, and Proconsular Africa, while monasteries rose up on all sides.

The monks, each one in the privacy of his cell, unoccupied with any exterior ministry and having nothing to do with it, should fix their thoughts exclusively on things of heaven, wonderful was the benefit that accrued from it to Christian Society. Nevertheless, in the course of time the institution so pre-eminent, that is called the contemplative life, declined somewhat and lost in vigor. The reason was that, although the monks, as a rule, shunned the care of souls and other exterior ministry, yet they came by degrees to combine the works of active life with their pondering on divine things and their contemplation. They thought that they ought to comply with the earnest request of the bishops and assist in the labors of the secular priests who were not able to cope with the many needs of the faithful, or, that it behoved them to take charge of popular instruction - an object of Charlemagne’s solicitude. Moreover, owing to the widespread disturbances of these times, monasteries had perhaps suffered some harm and had slackened.

Consequently it was highly important for the Church that this most holy form of life, which had been kept unimpaired for so many centuries in monasteries, should be restored to its pristine vigor, so that there should never be lacking men of prayer who, unimpeded by any other care, would be perpetually besieging the Divine Mercy and would thus draw down from heaven benefits of every sort upon men, too neglectful of their salvation. According to His great kindness, God, Who is ever attentive to the needs and well-being of His Church, chose BRUNO, a man of eminent sanctity, for the work of bringing the contemplative life back to the glory of its original integrity. To that intent Bruno founded the Carthusian Order, imbued it with his own spirit and provided it with those laws which might efficaciously induce its members to advance speedily along the way of inward sanctity and of the most rigorous penance, to the preclusion of every sort of exterior ministry and office: laws which would also impel them to persevere with steadfast hearts in the same austere and hard life. Through nearly nine hundred years the Carthusians have so well retained the spirit of their Founder, that unlike other religious bodies, their Order has never in so long a space of time needed any reform.

Who can help feeling admiration for these men, shut off completely and for all their lifetime from the society of men in order to give themselves up to a sort of hidden and silent apostolate for the eternal salvation of their fellow-creatures? They live each one in the solitude of his cell all the year round and never leave it for any reason nor under any stress of any need. At fixed hours of the day and night they assemble in the sacred temple, not merely to chant the Divine Office without modulation, as is the custom in other Orders, but to sing the whole of it with a lively and full voice in lifelike, molded tones - according to the very ancient Gregorian melodies of their choir books, and with the accompaniment of no musical instrument. How should God who is so merciful, fail to grant the prayers of those most pious brethren who thus raise their voices to Him in behalf of the Church and of sinners who need conversion? Wherefore, just as Bruno never lacked the esteem and benevolence of our predecessor, Urban II, who, having had that very learned and holy man for his master in the school of Rheims, later on, when he was Pope, took him for his counselor and made use of him in that capacity, in like manner the Carthusian Order has continuously enjoyed the special favor of the Apostolic See, commendable as that Order has ever been for the simplicity together with a certain holy rusticity in the way of living of its members. We ourselves bear the Carthusian monks no less good-will and we wish as much as anyone that so valuable an institution should spread and increase.

For, if ever it was needful that there should be anchorites of that sort in the Church of God it is most especially expedient nowadays when we see so many Christians living without a thought for the things of the next world and utterly regardless of their eternal salvation, giving reign to their desire for earthly pelf and the pleasures of the flesh and adopting and exhibiting publicly as well as in their private lives pagan manners altogether opposed to the Gospel. And there are perhaps some who still deem that the virtues which are misnamed "passive" have long grown obsolete and that the broader and more liberal exercise of active virtues should be substituted for the ancient discipline of the cloister. This opinion our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, refuted, exploded and condemned; and no one can fail to see how harmful and baneful that opinion is to Christian perfection as it is taught and practiced in the Church.

It is, besides, easy to understand how they who assiduously fulfill the duty of prayer and penance contribute much more to the increase of the Church and the welfare of mankind than those who labor in tilling the Master's field; for unless the former drew down from heaven a shower of divine graces to water the field that is being tilled, the evangelical laborers would reap forsooth from their toil a more scanty crop. It is hardly necessary to say what great hope and expectation the Carthusian monks inspire in us, seeing that since they keep the rule of their Order not only accurately but also with generous ardor, and since that rule easily carries those who observe it to the higher degree of sanctity, it is impossible that those religious should not become and remain powerful pleaders with our most merciful God for all Christendom.

All powerful, eternal God, You prepare dwelling places in heaven for those who renounce this world. We humbly beg of Your boundless clemency that through the intercession of our blessed Father Bruno, Your Confessor, we may faithfully fulfill the vows of our profession, and safely attain those things You have promised to all who persevere in Your friendship. This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sancte Pater Bruno

From the Museo della Certosa is the Italian publication titled, "I Colori del Silenzio". And in that publication is a loving tribute to Holy Father Bruno. It is shared here on this day where around the world the Carthusian Order celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Bruno.

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There are lives, my God, which may be approached only with respect, holy grounds where Your mystery shines. No one can contemplate them without being enlightened by You, no one can find them without being inflamed by Your Spirit.

6 October 1101, Sunday, at the Hermitage of Santa Maria della Torre in Calabria, Italy there were some monks, and in the midst of them a man laid down. Tears were in their eyes and choking cries in their voices. The guide of their souls, their father . . . had reached the time of his birth into eternity. This man is you, Bruno. In this instant, your whole life, more than seventy years, is in your heart, the final offering to the Father.

Behold your first years in Cologne, where you were born, your departure for Rheims in France, that great and celebrated school of theology, your scholarly enlightened intuitions, and your appointment as canon of that church. The face of Archbishop Gervais, his decision of promoting you, at the early age of twenty-eight, to master of the most celebrated school of this time; students from all over Europe flocked together to listen to you, as your fame continually increased; then came the archbishop’s death in July 1067.

Behold the newly elected Manasse, his greed, his rages, the first discords, the increasing disorder, the scandals, while the Church reforms herself thanks to the Holy Father, Gregory VII; your sufferings, and the firm decision to voice your displeasure of the papal Legate. In the final months of 1076 came the retaliations of Manasse, depriving you of all your charges and goods – leading to the way of exile, a long and painful fight which lasted four years. At last the decision of the Pope: to depose, to dismiss the bishop from his See, while all eyes looked upon you to be the successor. But . . . in the silence of your heart, suddenly, another Heart! Your exile was the first stage of a long interior pilgrimage.

Behold the call of Christ: to leave everything so as to follow Him, to resume the way of the first fathers of the desert; the astonishment of all, the admiration for you, the light of Rheims, who was already fifty-five years old; then Sèche-Fontaine, the first attempt at solitary life with two other monks, but soon they defected and you searched for a second hermitage.

Behold your new companions: Landuin, two men named Stephen, and Hugh; these four were clerics, and with them were Andrew and Guérin, the first lay brothers. Their faces are still now in your heart, your brothers so beloved. And all seven were united as the flames of the archangels before the Almighty. You asked Hugh, the holy Bishop of Grenoble, for a place to live, hidden in God. Hugh of Grenoble was a friend of your heart. He helped you immediately without reservation; he had a dream about seven stars that guided him into the desert of Chartreuse to glorify God.

On June 1084, nearing the feast of Saint John the Baptist, you arrived at the place foreseen in the dream, to begin a great adventure still unknown. Behold your monastery, lost in the mountains, the first years, the ascetic struggle, the peace of the Spirit. Such fire in your souls, such love in your hearts! You, Bruno, already possessed pure praise and cries of amazement: "O Bonitas! O Bonitas!" (O the Goodness! O the Goodness!).

Six years of toils, six years of joy; God, God, God always, only God, together with your brothers! Then, unexpectedly, the trial . . . In the first months of 1090 a courier of the Pope arrived with this message: Urban II, a former student of yours, calls you to his service at his side. The sun sets, it is night. Leaving everything, abandoning all, again, undoubtedly forever, your solitude in God, that blessed solitude, your companions of life, your friends. But in your heart, the "yes", which is your love for God and for the Church. But the tempest overwhelms your brothers, the bewilderment takes them, and they disperse. To be without you, the master, the star of the journey: How could they? This way is so difficult. Everything collapses. Everything! Your heart is on the cross. It is the hour of your passion. Has the beautiful adventure reached its end? "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by! Yet, not my will, but Yours be done." The sky opens, a new day is born. Your brothers again gather in the desert guided by Landuin. Your soul is suffering less, Bruno, at the hour of departure.

Behold Rome, the holy city, the heart of Christianity! But Rome is threatened. Shortly after your arrival, the Emperor Enrico IV and his protected, the antipope Clement III, launched their troops towards it. Urban II and his court fled to the south, near the land of the Norman allies. And still another trial: the Holy Father offers you the archbishopric of Reggio Calabria. What were you to do, Bruno? This is such a difficult time for the Church, as a brilliant future opens up for you – a counsellor for the Pope, a trustworthy man, admired by all. But in your soul still resounds the call, continuous, powerful, captivating, even stronger in the splendour of this court: Only God! Only God! To be His, completely His, only His, together with other brothers! Only God! Your heart, a cry of love for Him! Father, will You forget Your son? It is You Who has sown the cry in him . . . Bruno, the Lord responds, Urban II blesses your vocation: yes, you may resume your solitary life. "O Bonitas! O Bonitas! My life and my all, my beloved forever." (Autumn of 1090).

Your heart would like to return to Chartreuse, to find your brothers. But the Pope asks you to stay in these lands and you accept his words as those of Christ. But where to dwell? A friend of the Holy Father, and soon to be your friend, Count Ruggero, offers you a vast desert territory. Behold your hermitage, Santa Maria della Torre, in the woods of the Serre, and the arrival of new companions, and later others, and yet more, up to thirty-three new sons. Nearby the hermitage stands the monastery of Saint Stephen where the lay brothers lead more a life in community; Landuin guides them, your faithful friend.

Eleven more years, eleven years of hard work and asceticism, eleven years of light and joy in praise, here, in this rich land of monks and hermits, whose history is blessed with their presence. And so, that your joy may be complete, Bruno, one day found the happiness of a visit: Landuin, who brings with him the love of your first sons, and their fidelity. "O Bonitas! O Bonitas!" -- so as to accept this friend of yours in this land that fills your heart, with an embrace and a gaze.

The autumn of life nears the end and your eyes rise towards eternity. Two years have passed since Urban II left this world; a year later, on his return journey, Landuin dies professing the faith in the prisons of the antipope; three months before that, in June, Ruggero died. Bruno, heaven calls you. Now . . .

The breath becomes briefer, perspiration bathes you, with your last brothers, you proclaim your faith, a hymn to the Trinity. The instant is near, time opens. Bruno, look at this grand light, so immense: "My Lord and my God."

"It is Me My friend, come! Enter into My Heart. Come! Come."

"O Bonitas! O Bonitas!"
Bruno, stay with us!

"I will remain in your hearts."

Everything stood still. Silence freezes us in its density. Fire has consumed the last twigs, the flame has vanished. Bruno . . . your face is so beautiful, illuminated by peace; and your eyes, open towards heaven, are overflowing with an infinite tenderness. A hand closes them in the ultimate sleep. Your life is hidden in Him, for all eternity. Fullness of joy! Ocean of love!

But your light still shines in our hearts and in your two letters, for your friend Raoul and your brothers of Chartreuse, who will bear witness forever to your mystery. You are so present in them, your profound humanity, finesse, your sweetness and goodness, your harmony throughout, your wisdom, all tenderness and humility, spiritual joy, simplicity - Bruno, all-burning with your love of God, and the God-Love in you.

Yes, you are alive forever. And, like a planted seed, from you will rise a tree where different birds will make their nests. Are you not seeing it in the Eyes of God?

A life-flame of prayer still consumes itself roundabout you, Bruno; it burns in this place from where now you fly towards heaven, so as to make descend from there a great light of melody and love. Together with the first, behold all your sons and daughters, throughout the centuries, until this day and even further, all of us who, invisibly are around you on this 6 October, in this instant of your great birth, Bruno.