Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Law of Love

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas. At Matins the Carthusians reflect on these words of wisdom from this day's highly acclaimed citizen of heaven.
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The principle of every good is in this: the law of love is the source of spiritual life. It is a natural and manifest fact that the loving heart is inhabited by what it loves. Whoever loves God possesses Him within. “Who dwells in charity dwells in God and God in him” (1 Saint John 4:16). The nature of love transforms whoever loves into the beloved being. If we love God we will be completely divine. “Whoever is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Without charity, the soul no longer acts: “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 Saint John 3:14). If a person possesses all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but lacks charity, that person has no life. For it matters not whether one has the grace of tongues, or the gift of faith, or any other gift such as prophecy; these do not bring life without charity. Even if a dead body should be adorned with gold and precious jewels, it nevertheless remains dead. Charity leads to the observance of the divine commandments. Charity is present if one is occupied with great things; but if one is not so occupied, charity is not present. We see a lover do great and difficult things because of the One loved, and that is why the Lord says, “If anyone loves Me he will keep My word” (Saint John 14:23). Whoever keeps this command and the law of divine love fulfills the whole law. Charity provides protection against adversity. Misfortune cannot harm one who has charity; rather it becomes useful to that person. Misfortune and difficulties seem pleasant to the lover. Charity truly leads to happiness, since eternal blessedness is promised only to those who have charity. For all other things are insufficient without charity. You must note that it is only the different degrees of charity, and not those of any other virtues, which constitute the different degrees of blessedness. Many of the saints were more abstemious than the apostles, but the apostles excel all the other saints in blessedness because of their higher degree of charity.

Monday, January 26, 2015

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 1, 2015

First Reading Commentary
In a literal sense, the word “prophet” is used to communicate to the people of Israel that they need not fear when Moses is no longer with them because God will continue to supply prophets who will speak the Almighty’s words to guide them.  Prophetically, the “Prophet” is the Messiah as indicated by Saint Peter when he said: “When the times of refreshment shall come from the Presence of the Lord, He may send Him Who has been preached to you, Jesus Christ.  For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God shall raise up to you a Prophet from among your brethren as He raised up me; to Him you shall hearken in all things that He shall speak to you.’  To you first, God, raising up His Son, has sent Him to bless you that everyone may turn from his wickedness” (Acts 3:20, 22, 26). 

Saint Stephen, the martyr, reaffirms this (cf. Acts 7:37).  The verse’s application to Jesus has been argued by others who see it as no more than a reference to Joshua, who led the people of Israel after the death of Moses; and the prophets who followed all the way up to Jeremiah.  Saint Athanasius condemned this opposing theory while Saint Augustine adds that the word “prophet” is written in the singular to directly signify the eminent dignity of Christ.  The opposing conclusion is not completely incorrect, but the error is in Christ’s exclusion.

God says He will put His words into the mouth of this forthcoming prophet.  Jesus said: “The words that I speak to you I speak not on My own authority.  But the Father dwelling in Me, it is He Who does the works” (John 14:10). 

In this Reading, God lays on the hearts of those who will not listen to Him a stern warning.  Returning to Saint Peter, he proclaimed these words: “It shall be that every soul that will not hearken to that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:23). 

Fire and brimstone aside, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. John 14:6).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church very succinctly separates Jesus from the pack of the other prophets with these words: “Christ’s whole earthly life - His words and deeds, His silences and sufferings, indeed His manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father” (CCC 516).              

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul’s message here has an awareness theme to it.  What he is sharing is not inevitable as Paul himself declares that this letter is for our benefit and not to restrain us.  If what he writes is inevitable, then every unmarried man and woman is “anxious about the things of the Lord.”  If only that were true!  And of course every married person is spiritually dead because all their concerns are “about the things of the world.”  Thank God that isn’t true! 

Marriage is a sacrament meaning that it is ordained by Christ; therefore, Paul would never deem it to be hopelessly sentenced to the affairs of the world.  It’s true that in married life there are many concerns especially when a couple’s love for each other produces a family.  But the message here to married persons is clear: Don’t let the concerns of married life and raising children be a roadblock in your relationship with the Lord.  Rather, allow Christ to be the Lord of those concerns.  Make Him the Center of your marriage and family life. 

For the unmarried person, being concerned solely for “the things of the Lord” would be a great grace.  But Paul’s “be aware” theme intends to warn those who are single that they are just as susceptible to worldly distractions as anyone else.  Regardless of one’s state in life, holy reminders are great aids to thwarting deviation and nurturing a heightened awareness of the presence of our Lord.  Some examples of holy reminders would be a Crucifix on the wall or desk, carrying a pocket size New Testament or a Rosary, having a bottle of holy water nearby, wearing a medal that has the image of our Lord, or our Lady, or a Saint, and frequent pauses throughout the day to acknowledge Jesus in our lives.  If your place of employment is near a Catholic Church, it’s always beneficial to pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament during your lunch break.  These holy reminders can give us, as the Latin Vulgate translates, “power to attend upon the Lord without impediment.”                 

Gospel Commentary
It would seem that Satan takes one of two approaches in his attempted onslaught of God’s people.  It would be ideal for him if humanity didn’t believe in his existence.  And in this day of New Age practices, that is a common trap many have fallen into.  For those of us who believe differently, however, the master of deceit opts for plan B.  Plan B is his attempt to get us to believe that he is bigger and more powerful than he really is. 

Notice the “key” words in the statements made to Jesus: “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have You come to destroy us?”  The “us” in these two statements surely suggests more than one, if not many, and therefore, difficult to defeat.  The trouble with this is that this Gospel story reveals beforehand “there was a man with an unclean spirit.”  And “he,” meaning the unclean spirit, “cried out.”  Yes, “an unclean spirit” and “he” - there’s only one; there aren’t many as he would want Jesus to believe.  That is not to say that demons don’t exist, but in this Gospel story Satan or a demon appears to be working alone. 

The late comedian Flip Wilson and his portrayal of the character “Geraldine” helped popularize the phrase: “The devil made me do it.”  Some theologies blame Satan for everything that goes wrong.  Giving Satan too much credit is a formula for being brainwashed into believing that he can perpetually pull our strings.  Many of our trials come from the choices we make.  God gave us the gift of free will and therefore God won’t force us to do anything. 

Out of love for us, Jesus gave us His teachings and has revealed to us everything He intended to reveal.  The choice to abide in Him, however, is completely ours.  On the flip side, sin begins with temptation; and once again the choice is ours whether or not to succumb to it.  Surrendering to temptation starts the ball rolling that leads to another temptation, and another, and another; and today we live in a world whereby the end result of successful temptations have become the norm for standard living and have nearly desensitized us to immorality: Disagreements or misunderstandings lead to dissolved friendships; on government levels they lead to wars. Risqué suggestions lead to promiscuity, broken marriages, adultery, premarital sex, unwanted pregnancies and finally abortion.  In the cases of war and abortion, innocent lives are destroyed because of the decisions of a few.  This is the domino effect of succumbing to temptation.  There are countless examples of how one seemingly harmless temptation can lead to disaster.  Concupiscence in itself is not sinful, but if not pushed aside quickly could and most likely will create a doorway for sin to enter. 

Satan is not the source of all that is wrong in life but for those of us who believe in his existence, he greatly desires to have us also believe that he indeed is the source of all sin and therefore irresistible.  Of course Jesus is not weak and isn’t fooled and simply says, “Quiet!”  A habitual succumbing to temptation without reconciling to God could become an invitation for the evil one to enter into one’s life; and then visiting the confessional will become increasingly more difficult while one’s lifestyle will gradually keep sinking further into immorality. 

Through Him, with Him and in Him is the only way to be conformed to Christ’s will and deal with temptation from the vantage point of the Sanctuary of His Sacred Heart.  A serious, highest priority relationship with our Lord is the only way because anything less or any sort of faith indifference can become a gigantic arena for temptation to play and have its way.  The holiest men and women also are men and women who faced mountainous temptations.  God’s will is for us to have a most intimate relationship with Him but that also has to be our desire and downright conviction; and for those men and women in history who have conformed to the will of God, we call them saints.  Temptation strikes regardless of anyone’s level of sanctity, but remaining close to the Bosom of Jesus makes us a channel of His strength and consequently gives us the resolve to say, “Quiet!” when evil knocks at the door of our hearts. 

From the early Church, Diadochus of Photike shares these words of wisdom: “We must by all possible means, and especially through peace of soul, offer a resting place for the Holy Spirit, in order to have the Lamp of knowledge always shining in us; for if it shines endlessly in the innermost recesses of the soul, not only will these harsh and somber insinuations of demons be shown up, but still more, they will be considerably weakened, confused by this holy and glorious Light.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Signum Crucis

For the word of the Cross, to those indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to those that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). With Christ I am nailed to the Cross. And I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me. And that I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and delivered Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14).

As Catholics, the Sign of the Cross is something we make often. Perhaps it is so repetitious that it is often a robotic gesture, something that is done without much thought or personal attention. But the Sign of the Cross is also a prayer and should be made with the same care as the most urgent petitions that approach the Throne of grace. The Sign of the Cross expresses the belief in our redemption and our belief in the Most Holy Trinity.

Tertullian, an early Church Father, wrote: "In all our travels and movements, in all our comings and goings, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross" (Liber De Corona Militis). And from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem are these words: "Let us not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it. For it was not a mere man who died for us, but the Son of God, God made man. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, Who was crucified for us, they shudder(Catechesis XIII).

There is more than one way that the Sign of the Cross can be made. In her book, 'An Infinity of Little Hours' the author, Nancy Klein Macguire, writes: "They [the Carthusian monks] have their own Carthusian Sign of the Cross: to honor the Trinity, they make the Sign of the Cross with their first two fingers and thumb held together, their gesture describing a uniquely large cross, with their hands brushing the outside of each shoulder." Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians make the Sign of the Cross similar to the Carthusians only the direction is different. In the East they touch the right shoulder first and then the left.

Saint Bernadette Soubirous had the great pleasure of being taught by our Blessed Mother how to make the Sign of the Cross. Father Robert F. McNamara, author of 'Saints Alive' wrote: "Whether in the Rosary or at any other time, from the days of the Lourdes apparitions on, Bernadette was noted for the wonderful way she made the Sign of the Cross. One observer at the grotto later wrote, 'If the Sign of the Cross is made in heaven, it can only be made in this manner.' Everybody marveled at the way she crossed herself -- slowly, reverently, 'with majesty.'

'It is important to make it well,' she told one of her fellow novices in the convent. The sisters respected the way she blessed herself, because they knew who had taught her. It was Our Lady herself, during the Lourdes apparitions."

It has also been said that there are those, after witnessing Saint Bernadette make the Sign of the Cross, had a conversion experience. Regardless of what style or tradition one follows, the Sign of the Cross should be made with great reverence, because like genuflecting and bowing, it is yet another way that we pray with the physical body.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Follow the Lamb

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr. The Carthusians at the hour of Matins reflect on twelve Readings, eight of which are excerpts from Saint Augustine’s “De Virginitate". Here is what's proclaimed to the monks from the mind of Saint Augustine.
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The whole Church itself is a virgin espoused unto one Husband, Christ, as Saint Paul says, of how great honor are its members worthy, who guard this even in the flesh itself, which the whole Church guards in the faith? Imitating the mother of her husband, and her Lord, for the Church also is both a mother and a virgin. For whose virgin purity do we consult, if she is not a virgin? Or whose children do we address, if she is not a mother? Mary bore the Head of this Body after the flesh; the Church bears the members of that Body after the Spirit. In both, virginity does not hinder fruitfulness: in both, fruitfulness does not take virginity. Whereas the whole Church is holy both in body and spirit, and yet the whole is not virgin in body but in spirit; how much more holy is it in these members, wherein it is virgin both in body and spirit?

Go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, Whom you think on more richly: hope more happily in Him, Whom you serve more instantly: love Him more ardently, Whom you please more attentively. With loins girded, and lamps burning, wait for the Lord, when He comes from the marriage. You shall bring unto the marriage of the Lamb a new song, which you shall sing on your harps. Not surely such as the whole earth sings, unto which it is said: Sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, the whole earth; but such as no one shall be able to utter but you. For there you have seen in the book of Revelation a certain one beloved above others by the Lamb, who desired to lie on His Breast, and who used to drink in, and burst forth, the Word of God above the wonders of heaven.

Wherefore, do this, virgins of God: follow the Lamb, wherever He goes. But first come to Him, Whom you are to follow, and learn, for He is meek and humble of Heart. Come in you lowly wise unto the Lowly, if you love, depart not from Him, lest you fall. For whosoever fears to depart from Him asks and says: Let the foot of pride not come to me. Go on in the way of loftiness with the foot of lowliness; He Himself lifts up those who follow Him in humility, Who thought it not a burden to come down to us in humility. The Lord protects you from committing evil when you hide in the shelter of His protection. Consider the sins you have avoided as possible only by His grace: otherwise you may fool yourself about your justice and begin to act like a Pharisee, without love, full of pride and with ruinous boasting despising the sinners who are humbly beating their breasts.

Beware of concealing that strength of yours which has been tried, so that you may not be puffed up, because you have been able to bear something: but be concerned and pray about that which has not been tried, that you will not be tempted above that which you are able to bear. Believe in secret that some are superior to you, than whom you are openly better. When the good things of others, perhaps unknown to you, are kindly believed by you, your own that are known to you are not lessened by comparison, but strengthened by love: and perhaps as yet are wanting, are by so much the more easily given, by how much they are the more humbly desired.

Let those among your number who persevere be for you an example: but let those who fall increase your fear. Love the virtues and walk on those tracks; mourn over defections, that you be not puffed up. Do not establish your own righteousness; submit yourselves unto God Who justifies you. Pardon the sins of others, pray for your own pardon: future sins shun by vigilance, past sins blot out by confessing. Thus, free from any defect, even the most minor defects, adapt your life to the profession of virginity.

When virgins are adorned with virtues, their lives appear angelic in the eyes of men, their habits resemble those of heaven, their face never shows anger, their eyes are not wandering, their tongues are not unbridled, no petulant laugh, and are dressed modestly. They do not render evil for evil, nor insult for insult, and lastly, they fulfill that love which lays down their life for their brethren. Already you are as such, because that is what you ought to be. But, the measure of your greatness, whosoever of you are so great, is determined by much humbling of yourselves in all things, that you may find grace before God, that He does not resist you because of pride, that He doesn’t humble you because you lifted yourself up, that He doesn’t lead you through straits as being puffed up: although anxiety being unnecessary, because, where Charity glows, humility is not wanting.

Because you have renounced marriage, paternity or maternity, love Him with your whole heart, Who is the fairest among the sons of men. You can devote yourself to Him fully since you are free from the bonds of marriage. Gaze on the Beauty of your Lover: think of Him equal to the Father, made subject also to His Mother: ruling even in the heavens, and serving upon the earth: creating all things, created among all things. That very thing, which in Him the proud mock at, gaze on, how fair it is: with inward eyes gaze on the Wounds of Him hanging, the scars of Him rising again, the Blood of Him dying, the price of him that believes, the gain of Him that redeems. Consider of how great value these are, weigh them in the scales of Charity; and whatever love you could have expended in your marriage, give back to Him.

There is One Who gave you the power to become children of God, O Christian soul, Who seeks your inner beauty, and not a glittery content, but fair conduct. He is not One unto Whom anyone can lie concerning you, and make Him rage through jealousy. See with how great security you love Him, Whom you fear not to offend by false suspicions. Husband and wife love each other, in that they see each other: and what they do not see, they fear between themselves: nor have they sure delight in what is visible, while in what is concealed they usually suspect what is not. You in Him, Whom you see not with the eyes, and behold by faith, neither have what is real to blame, nor fear lest perhaps you offend Him by what is false. If therefore you should owe great love to husbands, Him, for Whose sake you would not have husbands, how greatly ought you to love? Let Him be fixed in your whole heart, Who for you was fixed on the Cross.

Monday, January 19, 2015

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 25, 2015

First Reading Commentary
According to the Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, the circumference of the city of Nineveh was 480 stadia; one stadia measures about 607 feet.  Another Greek historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, estimated 150 stadia to be a day’s journey on foot.  This would concur with this Reading’s claim that Nineveh was an enormously large city.”  Jonah, therefore, walked about 150 stadia announcing: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” 

Compare this Reading with this weekend’s Gospel and what comes to mind is the immediate and favorable response to God.  In the Gospel, Simon, Andrew, James and John drop everything when Jesus calls them.  In this First Reading, after Jonah’s proclamation, the people of Nineveh believed the words of God spoken through Jonah and “proclaimed a fast” and “put on sackcloth.”  Fortunately, as revealed in this Reading, godless ways are not etched in stone.  God, in His loving mercy offers the opportunity for repentance. 

Be honest with yourself: if you knew that you were not in a state of grace, how quickly would you run to the confessional?  In the bigger picture, how important is our Lord in your life?  Is He the Center of it and everything points to Him or does He end up sandwiched between everything and you‘ll get to Him when you have time?  Our ability to answer these types of questions honestly and our willingness to react quickly when our relationship with God is not one of total commitment will help us to grow in the spiritual life and build a stronger bond with our Lord. 

The final verse of this Reading is a bit prophetic and intimates a little something about God’s future plans for humanity.  This story takes place about 750 years before the birth of Jesus and yet God shows mercy to the people of Nineveh. This is significant in a pre-Christian era because the inhabitants of Nineveh were Gentiles.

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul here is trying to create a sense of urgency.  He is teaching that all things in this life, good or bad, will soon pass away.  Do not feel a sense of security with worldly possessions, nor feel overwhelmed and on a sinking ship in the midst of great suffering.  The joys and pains of this life are temporary and will eventually give way to eternal bliss.  This is not an exercise on how to be prepared for eternal life; it is actually a lesson on how to be happy in this life. 

Possessing an undying passion for our Lord translates into an appreciation for the gifts of this life without having an obsession for them.  Moreover, an ardent zeal for Jesus overcomes a defeatist attitude in times of suffering.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “All Christ’s faithful are to direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty” (CCC 2545).   

Gospel Commentary
John’s arrest seems to be sort of a stepping aside and allowing Jesus to take over.  In other words, Jesus did not begin to proclaim “the Gospel of God” until John had finished preparing the way for Him. 

Christ’s first words recorded in this Gospel account are: “This is the time of fulfillment.”  The religious practices and the prophecies of the Old Testament all pointed to a fulfillment; and as Jesus proclaims, the time for fulfillment has come, meaning that He is the fulfillment.  Saint John the Baptist, then, is a metaphoric doorway that departs the Old Testament and enters the New Testament.  John, like the prophets of old, pointed towards a reality or fulfillment; but John, unlike the others, was not only able to point to the Messiah but was also able to see Him.  John’s arrest, then, although very real physically, on a spiritual level says, “Lord, I’ve done all I can do; but I am still incarcerated until You set me free.”  This is in line with what was prophesied in Isaiah: “To preach a release to the captives and deliverance to them that are shut up” (Isaiah 61:1). 

The statement, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” is one of those well-known biblical verses whose meaning is explored by few people.  It can be dissected and thus reflect several things.  First, the Kingdom of God being at hand is the Lord’s existing and effective reign over His people.  Secondly, it is our response to Him, or better stated, our obedience to Him.  Finally, it reflects our Savior’s triumph over evil, especially emphasizing His victory over death. 

In this Gospel we see the calling of the first disciples and their immediate response was to follow Jesus.  They were fishermen, and so, it can be said figuratively that many people in life are fishing for something that will ultimately add to their level of happiness, e.g., the fountain of youth, material wealth, that magic pill or whatever else is being sold on those half-hour infomercials.  These first disciples, however, teach us that what can be gathered, accumulated or stored up is not the answer to what is lacking.  Abandonment is the key.  It’s an emptying of ourselves in order to allow Christ to fill us; or as John the Baptist said: “He [Christ] must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Far too many are trying to mend their broken nets, so to speak, in order to catch something that will bring them happiness.  A life of fulfillment only comes, however, when Christ’s call to discipleship is answered affirmatively.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Hill of Incense

Today we turn to the writings of the Carthusian, Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier. In this particular piece he makes use of the wisdom of other Carthusians: Denys, a prolific writer in the Order, and Dom Le Masson who indirectly quotes from Saint Francis de Sales in a portion of what he shares here. There is also an introduction to a very pious Carthusian lay-brother, Bruno Lhuillier. The writings of Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier tend to be like teaching tools for those within the Carthusian Order. Today’s topic is learning how to contemplate while being active; and our Lady, of course, did it to perfection. The “hill of incense,” which Dom Rouvier quotes from Canticles, signifies Calvary, where we “make ourselves fit to draw nearer to infinite Holiness.” The hill of incense is where the faithful pour forth their prayers and learn from Jesus and His Mother how to live more of a life of self-denial and practice asceticism at least to some degree.

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The practice of self-denial is indispensable in the contemplative life. Those alone can aspire to union with God who have crucified the old man, with its concupiscence (cf. Romans 6:6 & Colossians 3:5). Nevertheless, it is not our end. We purify ourselves by self-denial, only in order to make ourselves fit to draw nearer to infinite Holiness. We have to go to the mountain of myrrh, but it is in order to climb later the hill of incense (cf. Canticles 4:6). The foundation of our Carthusian life must be prayer – prayer of the heart, and vocal prayer. “Regular observance,” says the Prologue to our Statutes, “by ordering the external man, ought to make us seek God more zealously, find Him more readily, and enjoy Him more fully.” Thus the carta of the General Chapter of 1893, in treating of the training of choir-novices, expressly required that they should be formed to the interior life, maintaining that, without the spirit of prayer, possessed at least to some extent, fidelity to the Rule and the practice of the solitary life would be like a body without a soul.

The same principle should inspire the life of the Brothers. Carthusian lay-brothers have to sanctify themselves more by prayer than by work. They are true religious, vowed in consequence to the work of their perfection, and obliged by vow always to attend to God by prayer and love. “We do not wish,” say the Brothers’ Statutes, “that the Brothers should be so occupied with external duties that they should neglect the fulfillment of their spiritual exercises at the times these are due” (Statuta Ordinis Cartusiensis, II Pars I, 3). Here again, Mary should be our model. “The Blessed Virgin,” says our Denys, “made continuous progress in the contemplative life, and the external work she was obliged to undertake in no way hindered her contemplation. If, however, her union with God was interrupted for a moment for some good cause outside of herself, she at once returned to it with a fervor always more intense” (Denys: On the dignity of the Mother of God, Bk. I, XXV).

“The Mother of God,” writes Dom Le Masson in his turn, “practiced to a degree of absolute perfection what has been said of the choice of the better part, in seeking always the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42). Never has anyone reconciled the exercises of the contemplative and active lives as she did. Saint Francis de Sales says, not without a touch of humor, that he could have reconciled the two sisters, Martha and Mary, by arranging that the one should take the place of the other for a little while, and thus they would relieve each other in turn. But our Blessed Lady harmonized both so perfectly that the need for action never deterred her from contemplation, nor did her contemplation ever hinder her from such action as she was called upon to practice through charity, or by the duties of her state” (Dom Le Masson: Subjects for Meditation, ch. II).

“Mary was a creature,” continues Dom Le Masson, “in whom there was nothing human except her body. Sin had never entered into her soul, neither in origin nor in act. Her soul had communicated to her body that purity with which it had been endowed when it came from the Hand of God. She was like a flame, tending ever upwards, and bound to this poor earth only as a fire is dependent upon the wood which nourishes it, and so long as that ‘matter’ remained to hold her back. Her contemplation was like a sun which blinds us with its brightness. We should rejoice with her in her perfections and in her grace, but while we contemplate the workings of God’s grace in her soul, we must honor the divine vocation which has called us to the part of Mary (cf. Luke 10:42). We must ask her help that we may follow it as she did, so as to bring our actions into harmony with the application of our mind to God, if not with the perfection of her fulfillment, at least in the degree of our capacity.”

If this ideal is too high for our frailty, let us consider a model more on our level, and see how one of Mary’s servants reconciled his devotion and his work in his life as a Carthusian lay-brother. Brother Bruno Lhuillier of the Charterhouse of Bosserville, possessed the gift of piety to a very marked degree. For him, this consisted in conversing with God whenever possible, and in loving Him always. He led on earth – that is, with his body – the life which, in heaven, comprises the beatitude of the Blessed. All unconsciously, he would enter into a state of contemplation wholly angelic; as, for example, when he recited the prolonged Sanctus as the bell tolled before the Consecration at the conventual Mass. And he would repeat that same Sanctus often during the day, always with the same result. Another custom of his was to repeat again and again the words Ave Maria. He would say that that was all he was fit for, and this he certainly did to perfection. For indeed, it was the Holy Spirit Who prayed in him, as Saint Paul says, with unspeakable groanings (Romans 8:26).

Let us follow in the steps of this very loving son of our heavenly Mother, by being exact in the accomplishment of the spiritual exercises prescribed by our Rule. We should make our occupations a continual prayer, by our purity of intention and by the practice of ejaculatory prayers. We should profit by all that happens to raise to God our hearts which, purified more and more as they make contact with infinite Holiness, will daily become more united to Him Whose love should be our mainstay in our exile here below, and our joy in the life to come.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - January 18, 2015

First Reading Commentary
This Reading may seem unfinished because the Lord’s reason for calling Samuel is not revealed here.  The purpose of this Reading is not the Lord’s message to Samuel but more about the calling.  Whatever our individual callings may be, we learn from this Reading that God keeps calling and never gives up on our often inattentive ears and hearts.  This is a very noisy world we live in and our own conviction to set aside time daily for silence is extremely beneficial not only to ourselves but also for others. 

It is Eli who recognizes the Voice of God calling Samuel.  Since that very first day Christ instituted the priesthood, how many men over history have been ordained because someone else recognized that God was calling these men to that vocation?   The love of God for us is quite evident.  Even when we get tangled into our own busy and complex lives, our Lord does not give up on us and will attempt to get our attention even if it means using someone else who is more attentive to His gentle whisper.  This is yet another piece of evidence to support that we are the body of Christ, we are all connected.  God never stops calling as evidenced in this Reading by His repeated attempts at getting Samuel to recognize Him as the Caller. 

God calls all of us to greatness.  The trouble is our own lack of attentiveness and the influences of the culture often obscure our perspective of what greatness is.  It has nothing to do with the size of our wallets or bank accounts. 

In this Reading God’s Voice is heard in the quiet of the night.  For other biblical figures, His Voice is heard while alone on a mountain.  Even Jesus would break away from time-to-time to be alone with His heavenly Father.  The determination to seek daily a quiet place not only makes us more attentive to God’s Voice but will eventually discipline us to hear Him even in our own busy-ness as Moses was able to do in that very chaotic scene of the crossing of the Red Sea (cf. Exodus 14:10-31).

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul here is urging the Corinthians to abandon their pagan practices and give themselves completely to the Lord. 

Human beings consist of a body and a soul.  By baptism we are made members of that mystical body, the Church, of which Christ is the Head.  In baptism both the soul and the body are consecrated to God; they are made the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Christ redeemed both our souls and bodies, both of which He desires to sanctify and glorify hereafter in heaven.  Therefore, it is necessary to look upon both body and soul as belonging to Christ, and not as our own.  To “glorify God in your body” means to employ your body for the service of God and to bear Him in your body by being obedient to His will.  When Saint Paul writes “glorify God in your body,” he doesn’t mean glorify Him in your body only but glorify Him in your body as well or also.   We know and believe that we carry about Jesus Christ in our bodies, but how sad it would be to bear the title of “Christian” and live as if we did not believe it.

Gospel Commentary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. CCC 608) teaches us that when Saint John refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” he is pointing Jesus out as the One Who takes away the sin of the world.  By doing so, he is revealing at the same time the suffering Servant Who silently allows Himself to be led to the slaughter and Who bears the sin of the multitudes; Jesus is also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover. 

When John says, “Behold the Lamb of God,” John’s two disciples followed Jesus.  At Mass when the priest proclaims during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, “Behold the Lamb of God . . . ,” moments later we leave our pews and begin walking towards our Eucharistic Lord to receive Him.  Consider our distinct advantage here: John’s disciples walk towards Jesus to ask questions and learn something about Him.  Jesus has already revealed Himself to us, and so, in our faith we walk towards Him not for interrogational purposes, but instead to receive Him - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. 

“What are you looking for?”  This question from Jesus is meant for all of us.  He wants to know what is important to us; or perhaps better stated He wants us to see for ourselves what is important to us.  This kind of personal reflection prompts us to examine ourselves to see where we are in our walk with Jesus. 

“Where are You staying?”  Hopefully our desire is to always be with Jesus in the presence of His everlasting peace.  And then what follows is that blessed invitation from Jesus, “Come, and you will see” or “Follow me.”  With the Arms of Jesus forever opened, His response is not surprising.  But this personal reflection of ours continues with the question, “Where are You staying?”  Is there indisputable evidence that Christ dwells within you?  Is His Indwelling something that is very real to you or is it merely an abstract notion; or something that might be true but doesn’t really influence how you present yourself to others? 

“You are Simon the son of John”; Jesus, Who knows all things, of course, would know Simon’s name; and at that first meeting told him he should hereafter be called Cephas, or Peter, a rock, designing to make him the head of the whole Church.  Cephas is a Syriac word meaning “rock” or “stone”.  Saint Cyril explains that our Savior, by foretelling that his name should no longer be Simon, but Peter, by the word itself aptly signifies that on Peter, as on a firm rock, Jesus would build His Church. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Centered in God Alone

It should not be difficult to withdraw from time to time from our ordinary preoccupations during the day to lift up our hearts to God, in accordance with the Psalmist's words: "It is good for me to adhere to my God" (Psalm 72 [73]:28). 

I can always turn to Him, and it is not even necessary to express my thoughts in words. An inward glance, an aspiration, is sufficient. And so gradually I will create for myself an interior solitude, where I can always listen to the Voice of the Beloved, as He Himself said: "I will lead her into a desert place apart, and will speak to her heart" (Hosea 2:14). 

And thus I will strive always more and more faithfully to listen to His Voice speaking to me: "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me" (Psalm 84 [85]:9). 

When difficulties arise I will take refuge near Him: He will be my Light, and with Him I will share my joys. In a word, it is He Who will hold the first place in my heart and be the object of my actions. My life, hitherto centered around myself, will find its center in God alone.

~ The Prayer of Love and Silence - by a Carthusian monk~

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Paradise, Our True Country

And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country (Matthew 2:12).

We should seek the wisdom of the Church Fathers as part of a regular spiritual reading agenda. They have a way of explaining Scripture so that it is useful for all generations and times. They get to the heart of Scripture passages so that it is not just a bible story, but something that is very real right where we are in the here and now. For the above Scripture verse, for example, Saint Gregory has passed this along through the centuries: "In returning to their own land by another way, the Magi intimate something to us of great importance. Our true country is Paradise, to which, having now come to the knowledge of Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the path we left it. For we left our land by the path of pride, of disobedience, by following after wealth, by eating forbidden food. And so we must return another way: by the way of tears, by the way of obedience, by contempt of the world, by restraining the desires of the flesh" (Homily X in Evang.).

We live in a culture today that has flooded our homes with immorality through the television, the computer and magazines to name only a few. Parents today even have to screen the cartoons their kids watch. It's commonplace to turn on the televsion and see a show with scenes of two unmarried people sharing a bed, or scenes of violence, adultery - you name it, it's there. But these examples have lost their shock value and reached an alarming degree of acceptance. Our culture now has a high level of desensitization to such things. The human will has been severely weakened.

As Catholic Christians, a way to get off this ill-advised path and to strenghten the will comes through conformity to the will of God, id est, self-abandonment. Don't feel like praying? Pray anyway! Feel like skipping Mass this Sunday? Don't! Well, it's raining, maybe I'll pass on going to Confession. No! Go! These are only a few examples of the temptations we face and how we can conform to God's will doing what we know He would want us to do. And such acts are acts of love, how we show our love for Him.

Every time we pray, every time we make a holy hour, every time we read Scripture, every time we go to Confession, every time we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament should be occurrences that change us. If we are determined to do God's will, then these are also weapons needed to fight the battle, and the armor to resist the enemy's attacks.

We know that Jesus is Lord, thus, as Saint Gregory tells us, we are forbidden to journey on the unsafe roads. Our Lord tells us that the road to Life is narrow and the wide road leads to destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). The road to Paradise is narrow but straight; and turning off on to the side streets is either a Dead End or like a wintry road, Slippery.

Saint Gregory tells us that these side streets contain pride and disobedience. We see such examples in the Church today by not believing or accepting all Church teachings and by not going to Confession. Oddly enough, not going to Confession leads to another of Saint Gregory's examples: forbidden food. The Eucharist is forbidden Food if one has avoided Confession and has mortal sin on the soul. Saint Jean-Marie Vianney certainly didn't mince words when he wrote: "How many have the temerity to approach the holy table with sins hidden and disguised in confession. How many have not that sorrow which the good God wants from them, and preserve a secret willingness to fall back into sin, and do not put forth all their exertions to amend. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they can, or preserve enmity in their hearts even at the holy table. If you have ever been in these dispositions in approaching Holy Communion, you have committed a sacrilege. It attacks the Person of Jesus Christ Himself instead of scorning only His Commandments, like other mortal sins." And anyone with a conscience would not be pleased to hear from this great saint that by receiving Communion unworthily he "crucifies Jesus Christ in his heart."

This is a tough spiritual battle that is being fought and conforming to God's will is the way to stay close to Him so that eventually those destructive side streets will have road blocks.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Baptism of the Lord - January 11, 2015

First Reading Commentary
In the twelfth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel is found the fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah concerning the Messiah.  In fact, this Reading is used in that chapter to show that Christ has indeed fulfilled it. 

Generally, whenever the word "nations" is used in most modern translations, the older texts translate as "Gentiles".  And so, the Messiah prophesied here shall bring forth justice to the Gentiles; and justice means moral and religious discernment and knowledge of right and wrong which is an attribute of the Messiah. 

In the older translations of prophecy the interpreters tend to approach the Scriptures with a pre-Messianic mindset, and thus the reader will read that God's plan of salvation will include both Jews and Gentiles.  The more modern translations use the word "nations" to express a point of view from the post-Resurrection age to show that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. 

It is because of Christ's humble Humanity that He is called a Servant.  "The coastlands will wait for His teaching" in the Latin Vulgate translates as, "The islands shall wait for His law" while the Septuagint translates as, "The Gentiles shall hope in His Name."  From the verse, "I, the Lord, have called you . . ." to the end of this Reading seems to be an addition which came later and is probably not from the original author.  These closing verses show that the Messiah's mission is ordained by God, in which He will be set as a Covenant of the people - all people, and a Light for the nations - all nations. 

Christ healed those who were physically blind but most likely the blindness in this Reading refers to spiritual blindness in which many were imprisoned and in darkness because of a lack of spirituality and an obsession for material wealth. 

Beyond the interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah, this Reading also invites us as individuals to reflect on our own baptism.  In baptism the soul hears the Voice of God saying: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put My Spirit."  How faithful have I been to that calling to be a servant of God?  How committed am I to pleasing Him?  Am I a holy temple in which His Spirit can dwell?  These are questions worth reflecting on as we try to get closer to God. 

Second Reading Commentary
Cornelius was a centurion who was very devout and believed in Israel's God.  Peter's speech is the first recorded address to Gentiles.  Peter publicly states that all nations and all peoples who act uprightly are acceptable to God.  Observance of the Mosaic Law is not a prerequisite for belonging to God. 

The Greek text is a little unclear as to whether the word that God sent to the Israelites is referring to Jesus Christ, the eternal "Word", or the "word" meaning Christ's teachings and/or the Gospel.  Most translations accept it to mean the latter; although the peace proclaimed through Jesus Christ could not have been proclaimed by anyone else because Jesus is the Source of true peace. 

Peter proclaims Christ as "Lord of all" which is proof of His Divinity.  Peter continues by stating that the Jesus story began after the baptism that John preached which is an acceptance of John the Baptist's ministry and a belief that John was part of a divine plan.  God anointed Jesus' Human Nature with the graces of the Holy Spirit so that He may begin His public Ministry as the Messiah.

Gospel Commentary
The depths of the waters are not our natural habitat. We cannot breathe there; and if there for too long we will struggle and fight for our natural life. Saint Gregory Nazianzen explains that: “John baptizes, Jesus comes to him perhaps to sanctify the Baptist, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water” (Oratio XXXIX, In Sancta Lumina). The man of sin, the man of eternal death is buried in the depths of the waters by the God Who became Man to restore man to his dignity, to his destiny of eternal life, his Paradise. In this natural struggle below the surface of the waters, we get a glimpse at the possibility of our death; we enter a state of panic, we stare at our own weakness, our own helplessness. The words of Jesus echo in our heart and soul: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And when those words of our Lord are realized to be truer than true, the words of the psalmist come to the forefront: “Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord” (Psalm 129 [130]:1). For in the depths of the waters we cannot speak, but God hears the cries of the heart and soul, He hears our fearful silence.

In baptism we are freed from our inevitable doom and pulled from the depths of the waters by Jesus Christ through His minister; we rise from the depths with Christ. And it is then that we meet the Most Blessed Trinity: Christ Who saved us from eternal death by pulling us out of the depths to a new life, a life that is eternal; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove unseen by human eyes, but present nevertheless, Who descends upon us, saves us, and seals us as God’s very own; and finally the Voice of the Father, undetected by human ears, but nevertheless speaking those mysterious, incomprehensible words: “This is My beloved” (Matthew 3:17). It is perhaps foretold by the psalmist: "The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty has thundered, the Lord is upon many waters. The Voice of the Lord is in power; the Voice of the Lord in magnificence" (Psalm 28 [29]:3-4). As unfathomable as those words are, may they speak within us every time we reflect on our own baptism, every time we witness a baptism, every time we try to understand our own royal dignity. It is no easier for the psalmist to grasp our filial relationship with our God as he writes: “What is man, that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You visit him? You have made him a little less than the angels, You have crowned him with glory and honor; and have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-8). In the Old Testament, there is a story of a baby which perhaps points us to that day of our own glorious baptism. That baby the world would come to know as Moses. As he was floating down the river in a basket he was seen by Pharaoh’s daughter. She took the baby and as the Scripture continues: “She adopted him for a son and called him Moses, saying, ‘Because I took him out of the water’” (Exodus 2:10).

Nicholas Cabasilus, a fourteenth century Byzantine theologian and mystic wrote: “We cannot lift ourselves up to God by our means, thus He came down to meet us. We were not looking for Him but He wanted us. The sheep did not seek the Shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the Master of the house. It was He Who came to the earth and retrieved His own image. He came to where the sheep were straying and lifted them up. God made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but instead bending heaven down to us.”

Christ has saved us, He has defeated the enemy. And for a final reflection on baptism let us turn once again to the wisdom of the psalmist: “Our soul has passed through a torrent; perhaps our soul had passed through water insupportable. Blessed be the Lord Who has not given us to be a prey to their teeth. Our soul has been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken and we are delivered. Our help is in the Name of the Lord Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 123 [124]:5-8).

Friday, January 2, 2015

Destined for a Loftier Fashion

Today is the feast of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nazianzen. Below are words from Saint Gregory of Nazianzen from his “Oratio XXXVIII.” It is a marvelous reflection on creation and the Creator; and the Word becoming man and the significance of that great and eternal event. In this oration the word “Festival” appears, which is understood as the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Saint Gregory presided over the Second Ecumenical Council which was the council that gave the Church the Nicene Creed. Both Saint Basil and Saint Gregory are revered as Doctors of the Church.

* * * * * *
The Goodness of God cannot be satisfied alone by self-contemplation because Good must be poured out and sent beyond Itself to multiply the objects of Its beneficence, for this was essential to the highest Goodness. Thus God first conceived the angelic and heavenly powers. This conception was a work fulfilled by His Word and perfected by His Spirit. Thus were created these beings of light as the ministers of the Primary Splendor.

Are we to conceive of them as intelligent spirits, or as Fire of an immaterial and incorruptible kind, or as some other nature approaching this as near as may be? I should like to say that they were incapable of movement in the direction of evil, and susceptible only of the movement of good, as being about God, and illumined with the first rays from God - for earthly beings have but the second illumination.

I am, however, inclined to think that these spirits are not truly incorruptible, but only difficult to corrupt. I think of Lucifer, the bringer of light, who turned to darkness through his pride, and the apostate hosts who are subject to him, creators of evil by their revolt against good and our inciters.

After creating the world of heavenly spirits, He gave being to the world of thought. Then when His first creation was in good order, He then conceived a visible and material world, of earth and sky and all that is contained therein. Each part is commendable for its elegance, but more beautiful is its harmony, order and the calm that reigns over everything. Each reality beautifully agrees with the other, and all with the whole, tending to the perfect completion of the world as a unit.

With the creation of the material world, God shows that He could call into being, not only a nature akin to Himself, but also one altogether alien to Himself. For akin to Deity are those natures which are intellectual, and only to be comprehended by mind; but all of which sense can take cognizance are utterly alien to It; and of these the furthest removed are all those which are entirely destitute of soul and of power of motion. I hear you say: What has all this to do with us? We are here to talk about the Festival, and the reasons for our being here today. Yes, this is what I am about to do, although I have begun at a somewhat previous point, being compelled to do so by love, and by the needs of my argument.

Mind, then, and sense, thus distinguished from each other, had remained within their own boundaries, and bore in themselves the magnificence of the Creator-Word, silent praisers and thrilling heralds of His mighty work. Not yet was there any mingling of both, nor any mixtures of these opposites, tokens of a greater Wisdom and Generosity in the creation of natures; nor as yet were the whole riches of Goodness made known.

But then the Word condescended to show in a living visible and invisible dimension, created man; and taking a body from already existing matter, and placing in it a Breath taken from Himself which the Word knew to be an intelligent soul and the Image of God. God placed man on earth; a new angel, a mingled worshipper, fully initiated into the visible creation, but only partially into the intellectual; a king of all upon earth, but subject to the King above; earthly and heavenly; temporal and yet immortal, visible and yet intellectual, half-way between greatness and lowliness; in one person combining spirit and flesh; spirit, because of the favor bestowed on him; flesh, because of the height to which he had been raised; the one that he might continue to live and praise his Benefactor, the other that he might suffer, and by suffering be put in remembrance, and corrected if he became proud of his greatness. A living creature trained here, and then moved elsewhere; and, to complete the mystery, deified by its inclination to God.

For to this, I think, tends that the Light of Truth which we here possess but in measure, that we should both see and experience the Splendor of God, which is worthy of Him Who made us, and will remake us again after a loftier fashion.