Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Intense Love for Jesus

Today on the Carthusian liturgical calendar is the feast of Blessed Béatrice d’Ornacieux. At the very young age of thirteen she joined the Carthusian Order and became a nun of the Order at Parménie where her novice mistress was another well-known Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt.

Béatrice was subject to demonic torments and often was attacked with impure illusions and nightly fantasies which included seeing dangerous animals and hearing frightening sounds. Like anyone would do in these types of occurrences, she pleaded with God to be delivered from these attacks and even asked Him to be taken from this earth. Her prayers received a miraculous response with a Voice that said: “Receive the consolations that I give you and do not refuse the sufferings that I send you.” After that encounter she was able to completely surrender herself to the will of God.

Béatrice was intensely in love with Jesus Christ and lived a life of penance in order to follow Him in His sufferings. In response to her love, Jesus gave her the wonderful gift of possessing an intimate knowledge of Himself but she would, however, later experience the “dark night of the soul” in which she felt completely abandoned by the Lord. This caused her great suffering. After that period of refinement she once again regained full intimate union with Jesus, a union that would never again be interrupted.

In the year 1300, Béatrice was the foundress and Prioress of a new monastery at Eymeu where she continued to live in holiness until her death in 1309.

When the Carthusian Order gave up the monastery at Eymeu, Béatrice’s relics were moved to Parménie. An uprising of the Albigensians caused the nuns to flee Parménie. Shortly after, the monastery was burned down and Béatrice’s relics were lost. In the seventeenth century her relics were found and in the year 1697 pronounced authentic by a Cardinal of that region. Later, in the year 1839 the relics were once again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble and thirty years later in 1869 Pope Pius IX gave permission for her feast to be celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Sunday of Advent - November 30, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The opening verse prophesies that our heavenly Father and Redeemer are One, Who is our Lord and our God.  Out of love He has given us free will, and the choice is before us: to follow Him or to wander.  Free will is the simple answer as to why we wander from God’s ways but the complete answer is a little more complicated than that. 

Many of us can recall the various occasions of temptations we’ve succumbed to, the times we have hardened our hearts.  Still, a lingering question is why is it so difficult to tap into the power of God when the enemy is egging us on?  That’s the question that has no simple answer. 

In His Fatherhood some of the choices we make as His children surely grieve Him; and perhaps we can read into this with eternal eyes even from the Old Testament, that the grief our God experiences caused by our disobedience is a form of suffering He also allows us to experience, not as a payback but because His eternal plan was to lovingly invite us to be co-workers in His work of redemption; and thus, our acceptance of suffering would have a redemptive value.  And so, the Father of all in a very great mystery would also experience the other side of life by rending the heavens and coming down among us as a Child through a Virgin Mother. 

The pains of His Divine Love we may never fully comprehend; but it was enough for Him to become one of us in order to save us that we may spend an eternity at His Bosom.  So great and incomprehensible is this Divine Love that would cause Him to sacrifice His only Son for our sake!  So mysterious and holy is this Love that would permit an Immaculate woman to also experience this suffering by means of a sword piercing her soul because she is the Mother and eyewitness of God’s suffering Son as well as the Mother of all His adopted and not always obedient sons and daughters.

Second Reading Commentary
We learn something very important here from Saint Paul about fellowship with Jesus Christ and how that is applied to our daily lives.  It’s all about sharing -- sharing God’s graces with each other -- sharing our spiritual gifts with each other.  In doing so, we will not be lacking in our Lord’s spiritual gifts as we wait for Christ’s glorious return.  In other words, the spiritual gifts that God did not impart to one soul, that same soul can still be a beneficiary of those gifts through another soul that willingly shares his/her talents, and vice-versa.  This is clearly a description of how important each body part is in the mystical body of Christ.  And our faith in Christ is confirmed by these graces and gifts which we receive from the Holy Spirit through the waters of Baptism.    

Gospel Commentary
One of the early heresies declared that not even Jesus Christ Himself knew the exact time of His return.  After reading this Gospel, it’s not all that difficult to find yourself honestly asking within yourself what Jesus did or did not know.  Certainly as our Omnipotent and Omniscient God, He is fully aware of the exact time of His glorious return.  What we may interpret from this Gospel is that it was not part of Christ’s Messianic mission to reveal when His return would occur.  But we human beings are very inquisitive and desire to know all the mysteries of life.  Not knowing when Jesus will return, however, is actually merciful.  Saint Gregory and other saints have taught that it is indeed a very great mercy of the Almighty to veil our knowledge of this so that we can make good use of our time by always being prepared for the Second Coming.  When you think about it, if we believe that it is never too late for conversion, then how haphazardly would many of us conduct ourselves if we knew the exact time of the Parousia?   Saints Gregory and Bonaventure also teach us that God’s choice to leave us in this uncertainty was to help prevent our attachment to temporal goods. 

The words evening, midnight, at the cockcrowing and morning are symbolic of the different ages of a human life: that is, infancy, youth, adulthood and the twilight years.  We are exhorted to be always ready, for we do not know when the Judge will return.  We are expected to watch, because we are charged with the care of our soul, which is also the temple or house of God, and which is to remain His temple for all eternity.  The Greek verb used for the word “watch” does not necessarily mean watching with the eyes but more about staying alert lest one is overtaken by something unfortunate, such as indifference to one’s salvation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - November 23, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas.  It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, immediately preceding the Solemnity of All Saints.  The revision of the liturgical calendar placed it at the final Sunday in Ordinary Time. 

This Reading precisely prophesies the arrival of a Chief Shepherd Who is none other than God Himself.  As it continues, we learn that God will be among us and will tend to us; He is the Light for our darkness, He is our Provider and in Him is where we can find rest.  He shows us the way when we are lost, binds our wounds and cures our sicknesses; and therefore, He is a Healer. 

“Rams and goats” are listed to distinguish the obedient from the disturbers of the flock.  The Hebrew word for flock includes goats with sheep.  Rams and goats, in Hebrew terminology, are indicative of the ruling classes and thus are susceptible to egoism.  Therefore, “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats” implies a removal of disturbers or oppressors from the flock.  

Second Reading Commentary
If what Saint Paul teaches in this Reading were untrue, that the dead “shall be brought to life”, then Christ has not fully repaired the damage caused by the fall; and therefore, Christ is not the King of all creation.  But Jesus is indeed the “firstfruits” which literally means the “first installment” which implies there will be more installments. 

Paul frequently compares Adam to Christ.  Because of Adam, death is inevitable; but because of Christ, rising to eternal life is also inevitable for those who belong to Jesus.  Our Lord’s role as Messiah and Redeemer will cease when all who are to be redeemed are gathered.  This is “the end”, as Saint Paul calls it; when a Mediator will no longer be needed.  Jesus, however, maintains His Human Nature forever. 

It is clear that Paul is quite familiar with the Psalms and recognizes Christ as the fulfillment of them: “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” is an adaptation of Psalm 109 (110), verse 1: “Sit at My right Hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool” --  “When everything is subjected to Him” can be applied to Psalm 8, verse 8: “You have subjected all things under His Feet.”  God will be “All in all” when there will no longer remain anything that is opposed to God.           

Gospel Commentary
In the United States, with its governance by a democracy, sometimes it can be difficult to fully grasp monarchal terms such as describing Jesus as “King” and also reading from this Gospel about His glorious “Throne”.  In America as in many nations we choose our leaders; and it’s not just the President who leads us, but also many men and women who form the Congress.  Therefore, coming to grips with a sole king as a ruler, although still present in some countries, is nonetheless a foreign ideology to Americans.  But there isn’t any form of government that will ultimately succeed until it acknowledges that God is the Supreme Ruler.  And right now our nation may be walking on thin ice because God has revealed that which He considers abominations, and perilously, some of these things which are to be avoided are actually legal in our nation. 

This Gospel does not shy away from what is the end result of disobedience to the true King, or more familiarly, the King of kings.  Jesus clearly indicates that there is a separation of good from evil at the final judgment. 

The early Church scholar, Origen, writes something that should prompt a personal examination of conscience.  He writes: “When a man prays that God’s Kingdom may come, he is praying, as he should, for the Kingdom of God which is within him, that it may rise, flourish and reach its full growth.  We must understand this about the Kingdom of God – as there is no partnership between righteousness and iniquity, no fellowship of light with darkness, no accord of Christ with Belial, so the kingdom of sin cannot co-exist with the Kingdom of God.  If we would have God reign over us, then, sin must have no reign in our mortal body.  We must put to death what is earthly in us and bear the fruits of the Spirit, so that God may walk in us as in a spiritual garden and reign alone in us with His Christ, so that Christ may be seated within us at the right Hand of that spiritual Power for which we pray, seated until all His enemies within us are made a footstool for His Feet and all the principalities and authorities and powers are destroyed in us.” 

There are religious orders that are dedicated to taking care of the poor and hungry as well as committed lay ministries who visit prisons; and all of these worthy orders, organizations and ministries can use our help either through volunteer work or financial support.  “These works of mercy,” says Saint Augustine of Canterbury, “prevail towards life everlasting and to the blotting out of former sins.”  But let’s take it another step and consider this on a higher realm: Those who are spiritually starving and those who are spiritually imprisoned by their own wills and desires.  These are plagues that exist the world over.  And the remedy for this can only come by encountering those who are spiritually nourished and experience spiritual freedom without the use of any of this world’s goods; but instead by using the spiritual gifts that God has given to them.  This is an encounter with Christ living in the soul.  By applying both the physical and the spiritual to these plagues, one can see why the world is often at odds with our Lord.  Those who are physically poor and hungry generally display an “other worldly” joy and spiritual fulfillment as missionaries have attested to; while those who have material wealth could easily fall into a secular trap by thinking that the comfort of their lives means that God is not necessary. 

Those imprisoned for crimes committed, often find God in their confinement and discover spiritual freedom.  Those who are incarcerated by their own desires and addictions such as pornography, drug abuse and alcoholism actually think they are living a life of freedom.  Regardless of where we fit in by society’s standards, the joy, happiness and freedom that lasts an eternity can only come from Him Who is Eternal.  As conflicting as it sounds, true happiness cannot be found until we enter into the Wounds of our crucified Lord.  There’s an intimacy here that cannot be fully expressed in words.  Our Lord mysteriously identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.  This is hardly the world’s view of what a king is.  Supreme Perfection has lovingly embraced imperfection.  True freedom cannot be experienced until we surrender to Him Who is Christ the King.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Star of the Sea

Many of the giants of our faith had a devotion to the Holy Souls. From Saint Faustina’s account in her diary, it sure sounds like the souls in purgatory are dependent upon our prayers. They need us now and we’ll surely need them later. Pray for the Holy Souls! Here’s what Saint Faustina wrote.

* * * * * *
I asked the Lord who… I should pray for. Jesus said that on the following night He would let me know for whom I should pray. The next night I saw my Guardian Angel, who ordered me to follow him. In a moment I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, but to no avail, for themselves; only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. My Guardian Angel did not leave me for an instant.

I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God.

I saw our Lady visiting the souls in Purgatory. The souls called her the Star of the Sea. She brings them refreshment.

I wanted to talk with them some more, but my Guardian Angel beckoned me to leave. We went out of that prison of suffering. I heard an interior voice which said, "My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it." Since that time, I am in closer communion with the suffering souls.

* * * * * *
It’s interesting that their prayers for themselves are “to no avail” but it is our prayers that relieve their sufferings. This clearly delineates our connectedness as the Body of Christ. With all our prejudices, hang-ups, worldly enticements and judgments, it is a lesson we struggle so hard to embrace and practice in this life. Rampant secularism has diminished our culture's "longing for God."

Keep in mind that at Fatima our Lady revealed to us the story of a young girl who will remain in purgatory until the end of time. Our Blessed Mother isn't using scare tactics. She is embracing her children, pleading with them that Jesus is the only way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Engaged in the Service of God

For this day’s Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, here’s an excerpt from “The Life of Saint Martin” by the ancient Christian writer, Sulpicius Severus. In this particular excerpt, Saint Martin’s compassion is evident. Also very evident is Martin’s monastic/eremitic spirit: living in a cell, his mind always focused on heaven, his fasting and abstinence, and an interior life that has him always engaged in the service of God. This is a very inspiring piece for anyone who is serious about their Christian journey.

* * * * * *

Martin was born at Sabaria in Hungary but was educated at Pavia in Italy. His pagan parents were of no mean rank: his father was at first simply a soldier but became a military tribune. The youthful Martin followed a military career, serving on horseback in the Imperial Guard under the Emperor Constantine, and then under Julius. This, however, was not done of his own free will, because since his earliest years, this noble youth aspired to serve God; in fact, when he was ten years old, despite family resistance, he sought refuge in the Church and asked to become a catechumen. Soon afterwards, he wanted to devote himself entirely to God’s work and wished to live in the desert; and he would have followed up on that burning desire if the weakness of his twelve years of age had not prevented him. His heart, however, being always engaged in matters of hermitages or the Church, always meditated on in his boyish years what he afterwards accomplished.

One winter’s day, more severe than usual, so much that people were dying from the extreme cold, Martin, who was wearing only a cloak and military arms, happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens, a half-naked beggar. The poor fellow was begging those who passed by to take pity upon his misery, but all passed by him without notice. The man of God recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar good works. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Some of the bystanders mocked him, finding it ridiculous that he stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar; they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. The next night, when Martin was asleep, Christ appeared to him dressed in that part of his cloak with which he had dressed the poor man. As he contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, the saint recognized the clothes Jesus was wearing. Then he heard Him cry out loudly to the multitude of angels standing round: “Martin, a simple catechumen, clothed Me with this robe.”

After leaving the military, Martin went to Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, who even then was a recognized authority in theology, and spent some time with him. Now, this same Hilary, having instituted him in the office of the diaconate, endeavored still more closely to attach him to himself, and to bind him by leading him to take part in the service of God, but Martin repeatedly refused, declaring that he was unworthy. The wise bishop felt that the only way to engage him would be to give him functions that were quite humiliating. He therefore appointed him to be an exorcist. The young man did not dare refuse this appointment, for fear that he might seem to have looked down upon it as somewhat humble.

Later, Martin was called upon to be the bishop of Tours. With perfect firmness, he remained the same as he had been before: the same humility of heart, and the same homeliness in his garments. He performed the duties of bishop with prestige and authority, without betraying the objects and virtues of a monk. For a time he lived in a cell adjacent to the church. Then, no longer able to bear the disturbance of so many visitors, he moved to a hermitage just outside of town. This was a retreat so remote that he enjoyed in it the solitude of a hermit. On one side, it was surrounded by a precipitous rock of a lofty mountain, while the river Loire had shut in the rest of the plain by a bay extending back for a little distance; and the place could be approached only by one, and that a very narrow passage. Martin occupied a cell constructed of wood, and also several brothers in the same manner. But the majority preferred to dig a shelter into the rock from the mountain above. There were altogether eighty disciples, who were being disciplined after the example of the saintly master.

The interior life of Martin, his daily conduct and his mind always bent upon the things of heaven, no discourse could adequately express. Mentioned would be his perseverance and self-mastery in abstinence and fasting, and his power in vigilance and prayer, along with the nights, as well as days, which were spent by him, while not a moment was separated from the service of God, either for indulging in ease, or engaging in business. In fact, he did not indulge either in food or sleep, except in so far as the necessities of nature required. Never did a single hour or moment pass in which he was not either actually engaged in prayer; or, if it happened that he was occupied with something else, still he never let his mind loose from prayer. In truth, just as it is the custom of blacksmiths, in the midst of their work to beat their own anvil as a sort of relief to the laborer, so Martin even when he appeared to be doing something else, was still engaged in prayer.

Blessed is the man in whom there was no guile - judging no man, condemning no man, returning evil for evil to no man! His patience was such a strong armor against any offense. Even when he was chief priest, he allowed himself to be wronged by the lowest clerics with impunity; nor did he either remove them from the office on account of such conduct, or, as far as in him lay, repel them from a place in his affection. No one ever saw Martin angry, upset, distressed, or in the throes of laughter. He was always one and the same, his face radiant with the joy of heaven, seeming to belong to another world. Never was there any word on his lips but Christ, and never was there a feeling in his heart except piety, peace, and tender mercy. Frequently, too, he used to weep for the sins of those who showed themselves his revilers -- those who, as he led his retired and tranquil life, slandered him with poisoned tongue and a viper's mouth.

Martin had predicted long before the day in which he would die. When he suddenly felt the forces of the body leave him, he summoned the brothers and warned them of his impending death. Everyone was very much saddened and in tears, as if becoming one and saying: “Why do you abandon us Father? Why do you leave us desolate? If ravenous wolves attack the flock, who will defend us from their bites? To whom will you entrust the care of your disconsolate children?” Deeply moved, Martin turned to God: “Lord, if I am still necessary for Your people, I will not refuse the labor. Your will be done!”

O great man beyond words, not defeated by troubles, invincible in the face of death! He had no fear of dying. When the bystanders saw that, despite his great fever, he remained lying on his back, they besought him to change position to alleviate somewhat the pain. But Martin answered, “Brothers, rather let me look toward heaven than to earth so that my soul in its journey home may take a direct flight to the Lord.” Shortly before death he saw the evil spirit. “What do you want, horrible beast? You will find nothing in me that is yours!” With those words, he gave his soul to God.

Sancte Martine, ora pro nobis!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 16, 2014

First Reading Commentary
Generally the First Reading and the Gospel have somewhat identical themes.  Thus, when comparing the two, “trustworthiness” would be an appropriate word to sum them up.  Being someone that others can trust is valuable but trustworthiness in this case deals more with the willingness to be what God made us to be by making use of the gifts He entrusted to us.  And God had something special in mind when He created the vocation of wife. 

There’s a commercial on television in which children are playing in a room and they have completely demolished the room.  When the father walks in and sees what they did, he looks completely overwhelmed and all he can do is say: “Where is your mother?” as if she was to be his scapegoat.  It is doubtful that husbands would argue against the fact that wives are the glue which holds everything together. 

When a wife is faithful to her vocation then she is faithful to God and worthy of His trust.  And that worthiness and faithfulness will be rewarded at the eternal gates. 

When reflecting on this Reading one also cannot overlook the prophetic angle – the Bride of Christ - the Church, Who is always concerned for the poor and the needy.               

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul is dealing with the question: Is the Second Coming close at hand?  As Paul explains not only to the Thessalonians but to all of us, the exact time is unknown; and there is really no need to expound on that because we all know that the exact time of our Savior’s return is a mystery.  It goes without saying, however, that each second of our lives should be lived as if it could occur at any moment. 

How many of our dearly departed brothers and sisters got out of bed one morning without a clue that they would never return to the comfort of that bed?  Saint Paul explains that we shouldn’t be content with the “peace and security” that the world gives because it will perish with everything else. 

Consider the contrast of the thief that comes at night and the children of the light or day.  Most of us are literally children of the day - the day hours are when we are awake and conduct our daily duties.  During the night at rest, anything other than sleep occurring, especially something as extreme as thievery, is unexpected.  Living, breathing and walking in Christ’s marvelous Light could spare us from the shock value of a sudden disruption of the normalcy of life or the momentous event of the Parousia

One very important commonality among us is that regardless of what we believe or how we live our life, someday we will all meet God Face-to face; but by following the plan and example Jesus gave us, it doesn’t have to be an encounter wrapped in trepidation.         

Gospel Commentary
The parable in this Gospel delineates the faithfulness that is expected of Christians by using the gifts that God gives to each of us. 

God is the “Man going on a journey”.  We are the servants.  Faith is a gift from God and along with the gift of faith are various talents which our Lord gives us in order to exercise and share our gift of faith. 

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem has written much about faith and here are portions of what he taught: “You must as it were deposit this gift of faith in the bank for safe-keeping and God will demand of you an account of your investment.  You have been entrusted with an immortal treasure and the Lord will require an account of it from you at the time of His appearing.  Small are its roots, great the spread of its boughs.  In a flash faith can produce the most wonderful effects in the soul.  Illuminated by faith it gazes at the glory of God as far as human nature allows and ranging beyond the boundaries of the universe it has a vision, before the consummation of all things, of the judgment and of God making good the rewards He promised.  As far as it depends on you then, cherish the first gift of faith which leads you to God and you will then receive the higher gift which no effort of yours can reach, no powers of yours attain.  Pay attention, then brethren, to the truths of faith now being handed down to you and write them deep in your hearts.  Keep a careful watch and be on your guard against foes and heretics intent on perverting your faith and plundering it.” 

This great saint’s teachings, as they apply to this Gospel, begs the question: Am I driven to increase the knowledge of my faith or am I content with disregarding it and burying it?  Saint Cyril tells us that God will demand an account.  Is anyone on Judgment Day prepared to hear the words “You wicked, lazy servant!”? 

This Gospel also says something about effort.  It takes effort to share our talents and increase the knowledge of our faith; but it also takes effort to dig a hole.  Thus “lazy” in this parable doesn’t mean a couch potato but rather squelching what was entrusted. 

Fear is also another sprinkled ingredient in this parable.  The first two servants have a healthy fear of their master, that is, the truest sense of what it means to fear the Lord.  The third servant’s fear, however, is misguided.  Scripture tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Proverbs 9:10).  The psalmist writes: “If You, O Lord, will mark iniquities, Lord, who shall stand it; for with You is merciful forgiveness” (Psalm [129] 130:3-4).  As the Lord entrusts us with the gift of faith, the faithful servant trusts in his Master’s kindness, gentleness and mercy.  This is the proper fear of the Lord because the servant is awestruck by the superiority of his Master, but the Master is not a dictator or an oppressor.  Instead, He loves His servants and wants what is best for them. 

The other kind of fear is rooted in either a willful disobedience to God or timidity about making a mistake with what has been entrusted.  The former is found in the Letter of Saint James: “You believe that God is One. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble” (James 2:19).  Who is more willfully disobedient to God than demons?  And yet, they tremble before Him.  The latter is the example of the third servant in this Gospel.  It basically says that I believe in God but it is better not to serve Him because if I make a mistake I will be judged with the same severity as a demon.  This servant hasn’t accepted God’s love.  Scripture teaches that perfect love casts out fear (cf. 1 John 4:18).  Why then, is the third servant thrown “into the darkness outside”?  He is “wicked” because of his preconceived notions that his master is a harsh employer; and this belief sentenced him to exactly what he believed.  The moral is pretty self-explanatory: Trust in what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, be a trustworthy, “good and faithful servant” and “share your Master’s joy”. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Breath of the Spirit

This wonderful piece on prayer is from Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), a monk of Eastern Christendom. In 1872, when he became a recluse, he lived in two rooms and survived physically on mostly bread and tea. Only the Abbot of the monastery and his Confessor visited him. Most of his time in his cell was spent in the daily liturgy, interior prayer, his own writings as well as translating the writings of the Fathers into Russian.

* * * * * *
Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the “equipment” of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another - feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts' striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is, one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.

We must pray so that our mind and heart receive the content of the prayers that we read. In this way the act of praying becomes a font of true prayer in us. I will give here three very simple instructions:
1. Always begin praying with at least a little preparation;
2. Do not pray carelessly, but with attention and feeling;
3. Do not go on to ordinary work immediately after prayer.

When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again. In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders. On the other hand it may happen that a particular word or phrase might act so strongly on the soul, that the soul no longer wants to continue with the prayer, and even though the lips continue praying, the mind keeps wandering back to that place which first acted on it. In this case: Stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul. Do not hurry to get yourself out of this state. If time cannot wait, it is better to leave your rule unfinished than to disturb this prayerful state. Maybe this feeling will stay with you all day like your guardian Angel! This sort of grace-filled action on the soul during prayer means that the spirit of prayer is becoming internalized, and consequently, maintaining this state is the most hopeful means of raising up and strengthening a spirit of prayer in your heart.

Finally, when you finish your prayers, do not immediately go off to any sort of work, but remain and think at least a little about what you have just finished and what now lies before you. If some feeling was given to you during prayer, keep it after you pray. If you completed your prayer rule in the true spirit of prayer, then you will not wish to quickly go about other work; this is a property of prayer. Thus our ancestors said when they returned from Constantinople: “He who has tasted sweet things does not desire bitter things.” So it is with each person who has prayed well during his prayers. One should recognize that tasting this sweetness of prayer is the very goal of praying, and if praying leads to a prayerful spirit, then it is exactly through such a tasting.

If you will follow these few rules, then you will quickly see the fruit of prayerful labor. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Mistress, the Theotokos!

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - November 9, 2014

First Reading Commentary
This particular Reading is not meant to be taken literally; it is filled with spiritually symbolic or mystical language.  The water can be prophetically understood to mean the baptism of Christ along with His doctrine and grace.  The fish are Christians who spiritually live by these holy waters or the law of Christ; and the fruit trees along both banks are Christian virtues. 

Missing from this Reading but found in the actual biblical text are the fishermen who are the guardians of these waters or doctrines, which is understood to mean the apostles and their successors. 

The “fresh fruit” in both the Hebrew text and Latin Vulgate translates as “firstfruits” which intimates the most excellent or very best.  This points to Sacred Scripture which “shall serve for food” and biblically we know that the firstfruits belong to God, thus we can deduce this most excellent and very best Food to also mean the Eucharist. 

The “leaves for medicine” are the saints whose example heals the soul.  Wherever Christ and His teachings flow, there we will find glory and grace.             

Second Reading Commentary
The verse before this Reading begins, Saint Paul instructs us that we are God’s husbandry or soil.  As we all know, soil is used for planting; and virtues are what God plants in us.  We are warned to be careful about how we build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. 

We see in our modern day world other foundations being laid that are not Jesus.  And while they may be temporally rewarding, they, like all things temporal, will perish.  Saint Paul, as if he could see our modern day culture, poignantly asks: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  In other words, we are eternal beings; why are we so attracted to things that will not last? 

An exegetist writes: “Fly from those false apostles who seek your ruin!”  As eternal bliss is impossible without our Lord, the preceding statement might suggest that ruination also does not come by our hands alone.  Our culture seems to have a recognitory handicap by not seeing the Lord as our only Treasure; and also appears to be challenged in recognizing our enemy as the one who lures us away from our Savior, for very few willingly serve the tempter.

Gospel Commentary
It was customary to go to Jerusalem for the Passover; Saint Luke teaches us this in his Gospel (cf. 2:41-42). 

Saint John Chrysostom asks a question which perhaps you’ve thought of: “How could the Son of the carpenter, Joseph, Whose Divinity was yet unknown to the people, succeed in expelling so great a multitude from the temple?”  Fortunately, the wisdom of this great saint also provides an answer: “There was undoubtedly something divine in His whole conduct and appearance, which deterred all from making resistance.  The evangelist seems to insinuate this by putting the words, ‘My Father’s house’ into our Savior’s Mouth, which was immediately making Himself the Son of God.” 

Origen Adamantius, an early Church scholar also reflected on this miracle and concluded that it would have to be a superior manifestation of power to overcome the unruly dispositions of so many. 

The words of Saint Paul in the Second Reading come right back to us: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.”  But Saint Paul goes on to teach us that we are that temple.  Thus, Jesus does something very physical in casting out these corrupt businessmen but the spiritual and mystical value of what He did is far more important for us to grasp.  The soul of man is the house of God; and Jesus, as prophesied by the Book of Psalms, is consumed with zeal for our souls.  Another prophet also proclaims something pertinent to this: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7).  Hence, the soul is designed to have a close union with the Lord which comes through prayer, and very intimately from the Eucharist. 

Today there is evidence of a highly secularized culture obsessed with the need for material goods and wealth.  Has the soul of man become a marketplace instead of the house of prayer for which it was made?  Should we reflect on this Gospel and conclude or at the very least suspect that the core of our troubles as a people of God are rooted in our attraction to temporal joys and seemingly secure enticements, instead of turning towards Jesus and seeing Him as our eternal security?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Being with the One Supreme Good

On this Solemnity of All Saints the Carthusians at Matins reflect on a piece from Saint Anselm's Proslogion. We learn more about the saints and how to be a saint from this Discourse. This particular excerpt has several themes to ponder. First, God is wholly God forever. He is the Supreme Good. In other words, the saints are saints because of God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the saints in heaven receive all goods because they love the one Good, Who is every good. Third, Saint Anselm challenges us to consider our own longings, our own desires; and then he explains that the fulfillment of those desires are to be found in heaven, where the saints dwell. Complete fulfillment or even a partial fulfillment, however, would be without joy, if it weren’t for God, the Source of all joy. Jesus promised a joy that is complete. The key to entering wholly into that joy, as Saint Anselm continues, is to rejoice, a great challenge for us in this highly secularized culture we live in. Finally, as if to expose our own human weaknesses while encouraging us to hand them over to God that He may extract good from them, Saint Anselm demonstrates his impatience in receiving the fulfillment of joy, by praying for his advancement in joy day after day. As mentioned at the start, the saints are saints because of God; and Saint Anselm shows us that becoming a saint begins here and now, by laying up treasures in heaven, that our hearts may be there as well (cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

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You alone, Lord, You are Who You are, and You are the One Who is. Things that obey the law of change, one thing in the whole and another in the parts, is not altogether what it is. And what begins from non-existence, and can be conceived not to exist, and unless it subsists through something else, returns to non-existence; and what has a past existence, which is no longer, or a future existence, which is not yet, this does not properly and absolutely exist. But You, O Lord, You are what You are because whatever You are at any time, or in any way, You are as a whole and forever. In fact, You are He Who You are, properly and simply; for You have neither a past existence nor a future, but only a present existence; nor can You be conceived as at any time non-existent. But You, O Lord, are Life, and Light, and Wisdom, and Blessedness. And yet You are only One Supreme Good; You are all-sufficient to Yourself, and do not need anything; and You are He Whom all things need for their existence and well-being. This Good is You, God the Father; this is Your Word, Your Son. In fact, the Word by which You do express Yourself, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are. Your Word is truthful, as You are truthful, hence, it is Truth itself, just as You are, no other truth than You. And You are of so simple a nature, that of You nothing can be born other than what You are.

This highest good is the one love unique and common to You and to Your Son, that is, the Holy Spirit proceeding from both. For this love is not unequal to You or to Your Son; seeing that You do love Yourself and Him, and He, You and Himself, to the whole extent of Your Being and His. The Holy Spirit cannot differ from You, Father, or from Your Son, since He is the equal of both. Since He is Supreme Simplicity, He can only proceed from the Father and the Son. But what each is, separately, this is the whole Trinity at once, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; seeing that each separately is none other than the supremely simple Unity, and the supremely unitary Simplicity which can neither be multiplied nor varied. Moreover, there is a single necessary Being. Now, this is that single, necessary Being, in which is every good, and a single entire Good, and the only Good. Now, my soul, arise and lift up all your understanding, and conceive, so far as you can, of what character and how great is that Good!

If individual goods are delectable, conceive in earnestness how delectable is that Good which contains the pleasantness of all goods. It is a joy, however, very different from what we have experienced in created objects, as different as the Creator from the creature. If the created life is good, how good is the creative life! If the salvation given is delightful, how delightful is the Salvation which has given all salvation! If wisdom in the knowledge of the created world is lovely, how lovely is the Wisdom which has created all things from nothing! What goods and how great, belong to those who enjoy this Good! Joy is multiplied in the blessed from the blessedness and joy of others. Who shall enjoy this Supreme Good? And what shall belong to him, and what shall not belong to him? Whatever he wishes shall be his, and whatever he shall not wish shall not be his. These goods of body and soul will be such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has the heart of man conceived (cf. Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Why, then, do you wander abroad, small man, in your search for the goods of your soul and your body? Love the One Good in which are all goods, and it suffices; desire the Simple Good which is every good, and it is enough.

What are your longings, my flesh? What do you yearn for, my soul? What fulfills your desires is in heaven. If beauty delights you, there shall the righteous shine forth as the sun (cf. Saint Matthew 13:43). Do you delight in swiftness or endurance, or freedom of body, which no one can withstand? The resurrection of the dead shall be like the angels, because it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body(cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44). If it is a long and healthy life that pleases you, in God there is an eternity of health, for the righteous shall live forever (cf. Wisdom 5:16), and the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord (cf. Psalm 36:39). If it is satisfaction of hunger, they shall be satisfied when the glory of the Lord has appeared (cf. Exodus 16:7; Psalm 16:15). Do you want to taste an unspeakable joy? There draw water with joy from the springs of salvation (cf. Isaiah 12:3). If it is melody, there the choirs of angels sing forever before God. If it is chaste delights, in heaven you shall drink from the river of divine delights (cf. Psalm 35:9). If it is wisdom that delights you, the very Wisdom of God will reveal itself to you. Do you want the delights of friendship? There you will love God more than yourself, and others as yourself. God shall love you more than you yourself; for you love Him, and yourself, and others, through Him, and He, Himself and all, through Himself.

Are you looking for harmony? You’ll find it in heaven because the elect will have a single will. If power, you shall have all power to fulfill your will, as God to fulfill His. As God will have power to do what He wills, through Himself, so the blessed will have power, through Him, to do what they will. If honor and riches, God shall make His good and faithful servants rulers over many things (cf. Saint Luke 12:42). In fact, they shall be called sons of God, and share in His divinity; and where His Son shall be, there they shall be also, heirs indeed of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf. Romans 8:17). If true security delights you, undoubtedly they shall be as sure that those goods, or rather that Good, will never and in no way fail them; as they shall be sure that they will not lose it of their own accord; and that God, Who loves them, will not take it away from those who love Him; and that nothing more powerful than God will separate Him from them against His will and theirs.

The possession of the highest Good is accompanied by an indescribable happiness. If you could dive into that ocean of joy, your human heart, so poor, so experienced in pain, even submerged in it, would be filled with delight. Ask your inmost mind whether it could contain its joy over so great a blessedness on its own. Yet assuredly, if any other whom you did love altogether as yourself possessed the same blessedness, your joy would be doubled, because you would rejoice no less for him than for yourself. But, if two, or three, or many more, had the same joy, you would rejoice as much for each one as for yourself, if you did love each as yourself. Thus, in that perfect love of innumerable blessed angels and sainted men, where none shall love another less than himself, every one shall rejoice for each other as for himself.

How shall the human heart contain its joy over its own great good, how shall it contain so many and so great joys? Doubtless, seeing that everyone loves another so far as he rejoices in the other's good, and as, in that perfect felicity, each one should love God beyond compare, more than himself and all the others with him; so he will rejoice beyond reckoning in the felicity of God, more than in his own and that of all the saints with him. The elect shall love God with all their heart, and all their mind, and all their soul. But if all the heart, all the mind, and all the soul will not equal the greatness of this love, how will they be able to support the fullness of their joy? My Lord and my God, You are the hope and joy of my heart. You have promised this happiness for my soul, saying through the Mouth of Your Divine Son: “Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Saint John 16:24).

My meditation revealed the existence of an overabundance of joy that fills the heart, soul and mind. It penetrates the whole person and will still remain beyond measure. Not all of that joy shall enter into those who rejoice; but those who rejoice shall wholly enter into that joy. Speak to Your servant in his inmost heart the joy that is prepared for those who enter into Your Kingdom of heaven; Your saints will enjoy those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). My words and thoughts could never conceive how greatly those blessed ones of Yours shall rejoice. They shall rejoice according as they shall love; and they shall love according as they shall know. How far they will know You, Lord, then, and how much they will love You! Hear, O Lord, my voice: If I cannot attain to full joy in this life, may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full. Meanwhile, let my mind meditate upon it; let my tongue speak of it. Let my heart love it; let my mouth talk of it; let my soul hunger for it; let my flesh thirst for it; let my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, Who is the Triune God, blessed forever. Amen.