Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Wednesday

Recognizing the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. To quote:
How often do we fail to recognize the Lord when he speaks to our hearts and opens his mind to us? The Risen Lord is ever ready to speak his word to us and to give us understanding of his ways. Do you listen attentively to the Word of God and allow his word to change and transform you?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Passion of the Church

As we suffer with Christ, we also suffer with His Church. Father Angelo offers a magnificent commentary on why liturgy is not magic and how we must die with Christ in order to live.
The sacred liturgy offers us an opportunity, in this most holy of weeks, to enter into the history of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Our presence at the Sacred Triduum is a proclamation of our faith in that the Christ of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same.  Some scripture scholars have the tendency to demythologize the gospel accounts, and, inversely, some commentators on the liturgy have the tendency to mythologize the Easter liturgy.  In fact, the gospels are historical and the liturgy brings us into contact with that sacred and sacramental history.

Christopher West, as I have mentioned many times before, has tended to sexualize the liturgy.  Most recently, he reposted his Easter commentary on St. Augustine’s reference to the Cross as a marriage bed.  Of course, the patristic analogy is fine.  It is the agenda with which I have a problem.   Inevitably liturgical eroticism connects Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Hieros Gamos, which is Jungian and best and Wiccan at worst.  It is where myth meets alchemy and shamanism.

Gnostics, liturgical wreckers and liturgical reformers alike have treated the liturgy like magic: “Just do it like this and everything will get better.”  “Change it” or “Don’t you dare change it,” has only served to confirm, however wrongly, what our enemies have said all along, that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is hocus pocus.
Our liturgy is not a gnostic play, an allegorical wedding that symbolizes human life on a psychological, or on some universally valid “spiritual” or “mystical” level.  Our mysticism, our mystagogy is based on real history, otherwise we are of all men most miserable. (1 Cor 15:19).

The Sacraments are neither magic nor mythology.  Alchemy is a lousy metaphor for Christian transformation, but it is a good metaphor the reduction of spirituality to human manipulation. A “chymical wedding” is paradise calculated, prognosticated and resolved upon, and left unrealized.

Some of the liturgical magicians look to the Easter liturgy for an occult answer to even the misery of impurity. Liturgical eroticism is not the answer because sensuality and the imagination gives too free access to demonic.  The Angelic Doctor made distinctions.  The Demonic Doctor makes an infinite amount of distinctions.  His eros is never the impure kind:  “The lumen Christi takes care of that.  Just think sublimely, mystically.  Spiritual marriage is never impure.”  In fact, the Sacraments lead to bliss only by a harder road: the one Jesus took.

But Catholics should not be Roman Missal thumpers either, who think humanity’s problems will be solved simply by the black and red of missal older than 1962.  The Sacred Liturgy is not a wand to be waved over the post-conciliar Church, but a mystery to be assimilated.  The Tree of Life has not been transplanted from paradise.  The old tree points to the new, and the new is a bridal bed of pain.  Why should the liturgy not be painful?  We can be like teenagers who don’t like going to Mass because we don’t get anything out of it.
The Sacred Liturgy is not an academic exercise any more than it is mythological drama.  The unity of the Church depends in a very great part upon the liturgy, and the average Catholic has a real life to live.  He is not a monk.  He is not a scholar, liturgist or controversialist.  He just wants to go to Mass.  He has no agenda, and He probably is not visionary in his outlook.  He is just trying to make it through the week.  He needs to identify with Christ, not with the brocade on a dalmatic.

True mysticism passes by way of real, practical and concrete ascetism that bears down upon the will.   The saint is not an austere superman, but one who has broken his stubborn and recalcitrant will.  There is a big difference.  Liturgical precision and reverence should be a given.  Respect for tradition and an understanding that neither antiquarianism nor novelty are valid principles in liturgical reform must be presumed.  But the fastidious and academic preoccupation, the pained observations of everything than does not conform with the ideal resolved upon, is a sign of a will that is very much like that of the liturgical innovator.  Lest this assessment itself becomes excessively academic, I should just summarize by saying our hope should be that the liturgy break the selfish will.

Holy Week is the Way of the Cross and it is a hard road.  It resists euphemisms and cannot tolerate self-serving stupidity and effeminate mystagogery.  Our passion play is reality.  “Hosanna in the highest!” and “Crucify him!” come out of the same mouths.  It is supreme irony that we solemnize our fickleness, the fact that our piety so often misses the point.  It is a harsh reality we need to face:
I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded (Isaias 50:6-7).
 Our Lord was like a Lamb, silent before His sheerer (53:7).  Our face is set like flint when our mouths are closed and our hearts are open.  Christ is our High Priest and Victim, not a magician.  The grace is there for us even in the demystified, lowly Novus Ordo.  We should stop deflecting our attention from the real problem by indulging a magical way of thinking and set our face like flint against our selfish will.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday of Holy Week


It is in our lives that “Death and Life contend in the combat stupendous”; it is in our lives that “the Prince of Life, Who died, reigns alive” (Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes). “For we are not contending against flesh and blood,” says Saint Paul, “but against the principalities, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The struggle against the powers of darkness is present, not only in the lives of individual Christians, but also in the culture.
~Father Mark at Vultus Christi (Please visit everyday during Holy Week.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Understanding the Passion and Death of Our Lord

An incredibly moving post about Our Lord's sufferings.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Learning How to Pray

The Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican speaks of the teaching of Our Holy Mother Saint Teresa. To quote:
My dear mother's name was Teresa, and celebrated her saint’s day October 15th under her Saint Teresa of Jesus. She felt towards her patroness a very special devotion, that wasn’t only fruit of her faith but also had a very important intellectual component, because my mother admired Teresa of Avila also as a woman do to her writings and her attitude towards life.

Not only she considered her poems and prayers as the most brilliant pages of our literature, but also, and above all, she understood that Teresa of Avila was a model and example of a liberated woman and of a character worthy of being followed by all women.

When my mother passed away in her night table she had the complete works...of Saint Teresa BAC edition. The book was completely underlined, filled with marginal notes and, among the pages, there were many articles of the press and magazines related, not only with Saint Teresa, but also with women that my mother admired, such as Madame Curie, Golda Meir or more recently Oriana Fallaci. With that book in my hands I understood perfectly that Saint Teresa was always a light bold in my mother’s life, not only in love and quest for God, but also as a point of reference in her life.

These intimate experiences helped me to understand better the true dimension of the book of Saint Teresa “Way of Perfection” that is, simply (and none the less), a perfect prayer manual but, as my mother would say, written not only for the cloistered nuns of the Saint’s time, but addressed possibly to all men and women of modern days.

It is not just a matter of knowing how to pray, but also to get acquainted with prayer and ever more in a world like ours, in which Catholics, within the walls of a convent or in everyday life, have lost the custom of small gestures: a sign of the cross when passing along a church, a visit to the most Sacred Sacrament, small prayers when working… and I am not talking about the rosary prayed in family or in community, simple attitudes that we consider proper of old times, in the desire of not recognizing that, or we either feel embarrassed of them for considering them naïve, or that they express that sad reality of modern times of not having time for God.

Saint Teresa shows us how to pray taking as a guideline the prayer of prayers, the same one taught by Jesus: the Our Father, the only gospel prayer, apparently brief and simple, but to which Teresa dedicates 22 chapters of her book, showing us the profound depths that the dialog with Jesus can reach and the wonderful way that we can express God’s love.

When I was a child and my mother showed me how to read and pray she always told me “vocalize well as Saint Teresa ordered her nuns”; thanks to that a person like me who, along life has to talk in pubic many times, may that be in big meetings or in conferences, can’t thank enough that, through Saint Teresa, had learned ever since a boy the principles of speaking in public, and to let oneself be understood with clearness, just as the Saint explained to her nuns when she was defining the requirements of mental prayer.

And I finish by giving thanks once again to my mother’s Teresian testimony that the faith is, besides many other considerations, the ground of living joyfully.

In her memory and also in my fathers, a man of strong and firm faith, may these words be addressed as a pondering of the “Way of Perfection”.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saint Lydwine

The story of an extraordinary victim soul.
At that time, all of Christendom groaned under the weight and confusion of the Great Schism. At 15, while ice-skating with her friends, Lydwine broke a rib, forcing her into a bed she would never leave.

Over the next 38 years, she would frightfully endure every known ailment of the time with the exception of leprosy. Swollen with liquids, her stomach would expand to such an extent that she appeared to be with child; intolerably sensitive, her eyes would shed blood whenever they were struck by light and transfixed by agony, she bore the side wound of Christ’s passion through the stigmata.
Although in the onset of her sickness, she was given to despair, and rejected this torrent of sufferings, she soon became inflamed with an intense love of God that no pain could extinguish. Then, crippled by the agony of her infirmities, she donned a hair shirt and took to an insufficiently thin mattress of straw strewn on the floor, to augment her already unspeakable pain.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On True Love

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand explores the nature of true love, saying:
The History of a Soul, from this point of view, is also a spiritual treasure. St. Thérèse of Lisieux clearly suffered much from the lack of education and manners in some of the other nuns. She learned the holy art of using every single irritation for God's glory, including the nerve-racking noise that a sister made in the stall next to hers, which prevented her from praying and being recollected. Still, Thérèse emerged victorious through love.

Surprisingly, this can also bring happiness to the best of marriages, even though the being we love has wounded our hearts. A true lover whose love is baptized will use these insignificant sacrifices as they did in the Middle Ages, when artists used some bits of wool to make superb tapestries.

The true lover always has the word "thank you" on his tongue. It is also easy for him to say "forgive me," for in the best relationship, one inevitably falls into mistakes. If someone imagines that he can find himself in a situation in which he will never make a mistake, that person should not get married, or have children, or enter a convent. The holy art of living is to know that we will make mistakes, to recognize them, to repent, and, with God's grace, to have the readiness to change. Simultaneously, it is important that both lovers recognize their mistakes. We all know cases in which one of the lovers is always critical of the other and easily forgets that "the readiness to change" should be reciprocal, and that he too is affected by original sin. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Invisible World

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal. 
~2 Corinthians 4:18
 Many people have the experience of a certain book coming along at just the right time. The Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano was such a book for me. In bringing me back to the basic truths about God and the supernatural it freshened my perspective about earthly events, helping me to once more view the trials and tragedies of life in a supernatural light. Sometimes going back to the beginning and contemplating on a deeper level the simple truths of faith which we were taught in childhood can be the most worthwhile spiritual exercise. God is pure spirit, Who created us and Who loves us, yet He permits us to have free will because He does not want mindless automatons. Reflecting upon the greatness and power of God, knowing that such a great God sustains our very beings, can be overwhelming as well as humbling.

Written in a conversational tone, Mr. DeStefano discusses the most profound topics with clarity and insight. The simplicity of the approach reminded me a great deal of C.S. Lewis apologetic works, and yet The Invisible World is unabashedly Catholic, with much taken from the Scriptures and the wisdom of the saints. While it is a book I would feel comfortable handing to an atheist because of the logical explanations used, there is a great deal of depth to plumb so that lifelong practicing Catholics will surely find plenty of inspiration. I found the discussions of  the angelic realm and of the battle between the good and evil angels to be particularly intriguing, especially since we are involved whether we want to be or not.

Among the many anecdotes the author shares is one about his paternal grandmother. The poor lady had  a particularly tragic life but she never gave up her faith. Her trust in God was unshakable. The power of such blind, powerful faith had enormous repercussions for future generations, although the little grandmother never lived to see it. We do not know what good God will draw out of circumstances which to us are sheer misery. Since we cannot see God's entire plan then there is nothing for us to do but live in trust and abandonment to His love and mercy.

I will end with a quote from The Invisible World:
Nobody likes crosses. Nobody likes to suffer. But oftentimes that's exactly what we need most, because that's what works best. In the end, it's the crosses and trials and tests that are most effective in shaping us into the kind of human beings we're meant to be. Crosses change us. They change us by exposing the invisible truth about life — the truth that the devil wants to keep secret from you, the truth that the devil wants to stay hidden — the truth that we're in the midst of a colossal invisible battle. (p.151)

(*NOTE: The Invisible World was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Carmelite Hermit

A dear sister in Carmel has chosen an eremitical vocation.
The hermitage isn't what you'd expect: a small home in a quiet neighborhood of Essex, Maryland, that was originally built as a one-room fishing shack 100 years ago. But then, the hermit who lives there isn't what you'd expect, either. Mary Zimmerer, now Sr. Maria Veronica of the Holy Face, is a bubbly widow who discerned a call to the contemplative life after her husband passed away five years ago. Having made a public profession of vows last fall, she is now one of only two canonical (or diocesan) hermits in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vexilla Regis

Roman Christendom offers the history of the ancient Vespers hymn for Passiontide. It is sad that most Catholics in the U.S. will not have the benefit of hearing such a jewel of a hymn during Holy Week in their parishes. It is always possible to find a good CD so that the classic hymns can be played and learned at home.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Little Way

Our Holy Father recently spoke of the Little Way of the Little Flower and recommends reading The Story of a Soul.
  "Little Therese", the Pope continued, "never failed to help the most simple souls, the little ones, the poor and the suffering who prayed to her, but also illuminated all the Church with her profound spiritual doctrine, to the point that the Venerable John Paul II, in 1997, granted her the title of Doctor of the Church ... and described her as an 'expert in scientia amoris'. Therese expressed this science, in which all the truth of the faith is revealed in love, in her autobiography 'The Story of a Soul', published a year after her death".

  Therese was born in 1873 in Alencon, France. She was the youngest of the nine children of Louis and Zelie Martin, and was beatified in 2008. Her mother died when she was four years old, and Therese later suffered from a serious nervous disorder from which she recovered in 1886 thanks to what she later described as "the smile of the Virgin". In 1887 she made a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and sister, where she asked Leo XIII for permission to enter Carmel of Lisieux, at just fifteen years of age. Her wish was granted a year later; however, at the same time her father began to suffer from a serious mental illness, which led Therese to the contemplation of the Holy Face of Christ in his Passion. In 1890 she took her vows. 1896 marked the beginning of a period of great physical and spiritual suffering, which accompanied her until her death.

  In those moments, "she lived the faith at its most heroic, as the light in the shadows that invade the soul" the Pope said. In this context of suffering, living the greatest love in the littlest things of daily life, the Saint realised her vocation of becoming the love at the heart of the Church".

The Pope's entire catechesis on the Little Way is HERE.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Purity of Intention

Veritas reminds us of simple truths:
Sometimes we do something with the intention of pleasing another and the whole thing is misunderstood. We can find ourselves harshly treated in a circumstance where we might have anticipated joy.

Other times we do something convincing ourselves it is for the good of another when in fact it is a self-serving action – something we hope will elevate us in the eyes of others, or from which we will personally gain.

But God sees through us – and for that alone we ought to be eternally grateful. There’s no-one better at helping us remove the veils of self deception , for God loves us so much we can be assured that anything he ever does is to help us grow in virtue, closer to Him and in conformity to His will – the hand that wounds is the hand that heals.

To know that God sees everything and looks at the heart can then, depending on how you look at it, be an assurance or a caution. It’s certainly worth remembering.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Martyred French Priest to be Canonized

The Premonstratensian priest and canon, Pierre-Adrien Toulorge, died on the guillotine in 1793. (Via Laudem Gloriae)
The crowd was speechless with emotion as they beheld this young priest who went to his death filled with such inner peace. Just before the execution Fr. Peter-Adrian said: “My God, I place my life in Your hands! I pray for the restoration and preservation of Your Holy Church. Forgive my enemies.” After the execution the hangman grabbed the bloody head by the hair and held it up to show the people. It was 4:30. His body was taken to the cemetery of St. Peter in a cart.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dictatorship of Equality

An interesting perspective from the America Loves Fatima blog:
“Humility is truth,” said Saint Teresa of Avila. To live this “truth” means we never deny the gifts in ourselves, but thank God for them. Conversely, we should never deny the gifts in others, especially if theirs are greater than our own.
Humility practiced in this way becomes a fundamental virtue for cordial social relations and harmonious life in society.  
It is hard to keep the balance after Original Sin, since we live in an era of pride. Egalitarianism deeply pervades the modern mentality

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Saint of Allentown, Pennsylvania

Here is an account of the life of the Carmelite nun whose body may be incorrupt. (Via Spirit Daily) To quote:
Her expression was kindly and peaceful. It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and from out the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh! There was the sweetest reflections of peace in the eyes of Mother Therese and since she had learned to keep her interior in order from tender childhood, her deep spirituality could not but reveal itself even in her very countenance and she showed, unknowingly however, that her heart was immersed in Him Whom she loved above all. The refinement of her person, her extreme modesty, and the gentle dignity with which she treated persons and affairs, together with her extraordinary business capacities, gave her all that one would wish to find in a Foundress and an exemplary religious.
The purity of her gaze and the peacefulness which she constantly endeavored to maintain around her, gave a sweet and heavenly expression to her features, which were not beautiful but singularly attractive, so that one felt instinctively drawn to her. Her eyes were grey-blue, rather deep-set and penetrating, but clear and innocent as those of a child. They would sparkle merrily and light up with pleasure, and she could make her nuns laugh gayly too.

She liked her nuns to be always happy, always ready to smile, and if anyone of them would sadden over some trifling occurrences, she would remind her sweetly: "No long faces, Sister. We cannot stand long faces." And it never took long for the culprit to be wreathed in smiles even though her cheeks were still wet with the dew of tears, because Mother Therese never hesitated to portray on her own dear countenance the picture of the "long face" before her.

Great was her delight when with her nuns in recreation, especially on some of the major feasts or on days when her anniversaries were celebrated. On these occasions the Sisters would prepare "surprises" and enact scenes, both pious and amusing, from the lives of the Saints. Mother Therese enjoyed these little festivities and entered into them with a simplicity and a joyfulness that delighted her spiritual children. Unfailingly she had "surprise" for them too on such occasions, when she would herself prepare beforehand some little dainties or extra refreshments, different from the routine food, so that these happy events were sought after and eagerly looked forward to by all with child-like anticipation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Recusant Women

Some of them were aristocrats, such as Madeleine, Lady Dacre, whose religious opinions earned the respect of Queen Elizabeth I, and about whom Alice Hogge has written in God's Secret Agents, Lady Vaux and the other well-born ladies who appear in Fr. John Gerard's Autobiography, and Anne, Countess of Arundel, the wife of St Philip Howard.
As women of birth and rank they were able to exercise their authority in their local communities and in some cases protect their co-religionists.
Rather different was the story of the York housewife St Margaret Clitherow. As a regular visitor to York I have known her story virtually all my life.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Great Misery and Great Mercy

Father Mark speaks of the joy of repentance, as shown in both Sacred Scripture and the lives of the saints:
There is no need for us to live with the ghosts of the past, with the memory of past sins and troubles weighing heavily upon our hearts and preventing us from moving forward. If we have been brought to Jesus Christ by the circumstances of life; if, by God's grace, we have come to Jesus Christ; if Jesus Christ Himself has sought us out, placed us upon His shoulders and carried us home, then "there is no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before" (Is 43:18). The excessive mercy of the Lord has swallowed up all our sins, leaving no trace of what was, and filling the present with the sound of his praise. "The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises" (Is 43:21.

Ecstasy and Solitude

A great composer discovers contemplation.
The later developments in Liszt's life of prayer could shed some light on the apparent darkness of his final years. Most of the great spiritual writers have agreed on a certain pattern in a soul's ascetical progress. The initial conversion and discovery of God in prayer is usually a period of great joy and consolation. As a person grows in the spiritual life these delights gradually disappear, leaving the soul in what seems like darkness. This is not because God has deserted the person, but rather because He wants to draw him closer to Himself, helping the soul to seek and love God rather than His gifts.

This period of aridity can last for years, although it is seldom without some respite, and further progress in prayer depends largely on the generosity of abandonment and love we offer God during this time of refining. Thus it is entirely compatible with genuine spiritual progress that the Liszt of "Unstern" enjoyed a more intimate union with God than the Liszt of the Benediction -- in fact it is more likely. We know that the latter piece was written at the time of Liszt's return to the sacraments, and although the piece takes us into the world of high contemplation it is virtually impossible that Liszt could have experienced such a state of prayer at first hand. But perhaps at the end of his life, after so many years of disappointment and difficulty, still clinging tenaciously to his faith, Liszt could echo the following words of the Carmelite, St. Thérèse of Liseux, written at the end of her life:
I give thanks to Jesus for making me walk in darkness, and in the darkness I enjoy profound peace[ -- ]I am content, nay full of joy, to be without all consolation. I should be ashamed if my love were like that of earthly brides who are ever looking for gifts from their bridegrooms, or seeking to catch the smile which fills them with delight. Thérèse, the little spouse of Jesus, loves Him for Himself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Saint Nuno

The great champion of Portugal and devoted servant of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been canonized. According to Pope Benedict:
The seventy years of his life take place in the second half of the 14th Century, and the first half of the 15th Century, which saw that nation solidify its independence from Castille and extend through the Oceans - not without a particular design by God -, opening new routes which would lead to the arrival of the Gospel of Christ unto the ends of the Earth.

Saint Nuno considers himself an instrument of this higher design, and engages himself in the militia Christi, that is, in the service of testimony that every Christian is called to give to the world. His characteristics are an intense life of prayer, and an absolute trust in Divine help.

Even though he was a superlative soldier and a great leader, he never let his personal gifts be placed above the supreme action which comes from God. Saint Nuno made an effort not to place obstacles to the action of God in his life, imitating Our Lady, to Whom he was most devoted, and to Whom he publicly ascribed his victories. At the end of his life, he retired to the convent of the Carmel [Lisbon], which he had ordered to be built.
HERE is a biographical account. More HERE.

Kindness: Love in Action

Kindness is a spark that reflects God’s Light, while hate engulfs us in an actual darkness. 

When we’re kind, joy begins to creep into our being, and then to pervade it. Our bodies and emotions are both healthier. This spring -- this Lent -- ask the Holy Spirit to search the depths of your soul and guide you as to what needs to be cleared out. You may be surprised at what He says! 

You also may be surprised -- once you cast out wrong emotions -- at how free and balanced you'll feel (if you keep casting the debris out). It's important to have "balance," which also means to have ease. We must be easy (not stiff). When we are ill at ease, we can become ill. There is hardness. There is dis-ease. 

Life on earth is about seeking balance in every dimension. When we start with spiritual balance, emotional and physical equilibrium follow. 

That means purifying our thoughts and it also means being "natural," simple, and caring.
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