If you like these spiritual gems, you can submit very, very, short ones that you like to Ronda at
or by clicking here. These Spiritual Gems are updated every few weeks. Scroll down for the latest additions.
“Thou shalt love thy crooked neighbor with thy crooked heart.” - W. H. Auden
“Our adult children seem to love us old parents more when we are physically weaker and emotionally more vulnerable than when we are busy nagging them based on our superior wisdom.” - Ronda Chervin
The Boy on the Plow
The boy sat upon the plow, thinking boy thoughts, dreaming boy dreams. He had lived nine years on earth. He had played upon its varied surface. He had come to love its fertile depth. And though he did not know life long, he had come to know life well.
There were other things he could be doing, but, just sitting there in that space, at that moment was what he should be doing, that and nothing more. The early summer sun was what he should be feeling; the rows of glowing corn he should be watching. In some other place he would have missed the dragonfly that darted ‘cross the pond. He would not have seen the water strider’s gliding streak. This was the first full day of summer with many summer days to come. But, there would never be another day like this: A day to sit upon the plow and think boy thoughts and dream boy dreams. - Fr. Eckley Macklin, S.O.L.T.
New: March 13th, 2011
"All that is required, is to live a natural life of absolute dependence on Jesus Christ. And his way means absolute devotion to Him. Showing no concern for the uncertainties that lie ahead is the secret of walking with Jesus." - Oswald Chambers
"Don't forget that our Lord has a special love for little children and those that become like little children." - Monsignor Josemaria Escriva
"Acting in love, when others are not acting in love toward us, this is the highest value to the soul. It’s worth more than all the other works of faith, you may have done." - St. John of the Cross.
Jesus said this to St. Faustina in her diary and he's saying it to us, "I am making myself dependent on your trust! If your trust is great, my generosity will be unlimited." - (548-Diary)
"Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. Everything is passing, only God remains. Patience overcomes everything. Nothing is lacking to those who have God. God alone suffices." - St Teresa of Avila
"The fact that I think that I am following God's will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please God does in fact please Him. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that
desire. And I know that if I do this, God will lead me by the right road. Therefore I will trust him always." - Thomas Merton
"The greater the misery of a soul, the greater it's right to My mercy.” - Jesus to St Faustina (1182-Diary)
“Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” - Padre Pio
“God the Father is perfect, but He is not a perfectionist!” - Fr. Martin Jones
“You can’t really trust a person until you have seen his or her worst or most vulnerable side. We feel safe when others know our worst. If you become vulnerable then I can become vulnerable and honest.” - Ronda Chervin
“People don’t remember the words you said, but the kindness to them shining in your eyes.” - Charles Rich
“We shouldn’t excuse being laid-back and/or lax about moral values on the basis that others are workaholics and/or fanatically rigid. We should try, instead, to make steady loving choices.” - Ronda Chervin
“If you don’t look good on wood, you can’t be a Christian!” - Michael Cumbie
“Expect frustrations every five minutes, you won’t be disappointed.” - Abraham Low
“Since absence of pain is not the same as joy, I think that I and others tend to keep adding plans in hopes of more joy. This can make us exhausted from over-extendedness. Is it always good to prefer joy to peace?” - Ronda Chervin
“The throne in your heart is not a double seater. It is for the King.” - Michael Cumbie
“Love is not Loved” is a gem from St. Bernard. I thought of it when I was looking into the eyes of El Greco’s painting of Veronica’s Veil. These words came to me to say to Jesus:
I could produce many reasons why I don’t love Love enough:
- is it easier for me to love you as truth because truth is strong and love is vulnerable?
- is it easier for me to love you as beauty because beauty is sublime and love is messy?
- is it easier for me to love you as mercy because mercy is balm and love is strenuous?
When I look into your tragic eyes, my Jesus, I think the reason might be deeper still. Terror of surrender to your Divine heart whose beat is so loud I could no longer hear my own? Fear that after diving into the your waves you might cast me out on the shore even more helpless to survive? Or, still more simply, that I could refuse you nothing, no matter how painful, if I was close enough to know you wanted it! I hear you telling me that I cannot experience the fullness of your love for me if I am afraid to come closer. ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ Surrender! Yet a perfect unison of heartbeat with Jesus would render me more like you, Mother Mary. You certainly did not emerge from your surrender to the Holy Spirit as a dead fish. No! Rather as Queen of Apostles! - Ronda Chervin
"What do you want to be a customer or a disciple of Jesus? The customer comes to Jesus in prayer to ask for things. The disciple want to be like Jesus!" - Lutheran Pastor Richard Wurmbrand
“The retirement plan for Christians is ‘out of this world!” - Saint Padre Pio
“We don't know what God has in store for us, but our conviction to guide us must be ‘Your will be done’. This should be the ultimate intention of all of our prayers, along with finding peace in the acceptance of that will. To pray like this is a gift of the Holy Spirit. - Fr. Benedict Groeschel
“In mining communities you always find rock piles which contain the waste materials that comes out of the mine. Rock collectors go through these rock piles to find possible precious stones. Then they take their rock tumblers and tumble all their ugly rocks. They add water and sand and the rocks are polished by knocking against each other...knocking off all the rough edges and after a while you have beautiful polished stones. That is what happens when we join Christian community and rub against each other and knock off all the rough spots. And after a while you become like beautiful polished stones...you become holy like God is holy. - Bob Olson
“Crosses are the necklaces of the spouse. My sufferings are pleasant. I only suffer when I don't suffer.” - St. Padre Pio
"As you are very small, you must let yourself be controlled and guided by My fatherly hand which is powerful and infinitely strong....I will mold you as is best for My glory and for souls...do not fear, for I am looking after you with jealous care as the tenderest of mothers takes of her little child". - Sister Josefa Mendendez
“Every morning I forgive in advance everyone who will hurt me this day.” - Bob Olson
“The virtuous soul that is alone and without a master is like a lone burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter.” - St. John of the Cross
“You catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than a barrelful of vinegar.” - St. Francis de Sales
“Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to oneself. It is the key held in our own hand to our prison cell.” - John Paul II
New: April 30th, 2011
"One act of abandonment glorifies me more than many sacrifices." - Josefa Menendez
"I assure you of a permanent income on which you will live. Your duty will be to trust completely in my goodness, and my duty will be to give you all you need. I am making myself dependent on your trust; if your trust is great, then my generosity will be without limit." - St Faustina (548-Diary)
"Tell Jesus you love him even when you don't feel it." - St Therese
"The perfect fidelity of one single soul makes reparation for many." - Sister Mary of the Trinity
"Oh Lord, enflame my heart with love for you, that my soul may not grow weary amidst the storms, suffering and trials." - St Faustina (94-Diary)
(Note from Ronda: Some of the sayings of old holy men here use old-fashioned language, but I think the meaning is wonderful, so read on.)
“Do not be troubled if you don’t immediately receive from God what you ask him, for he desires to do something greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.” - Evagrius
“I consider no labor as difficult as prayer. When we are ready to pray, our spiritual enemies interfere. They understand it is only by making it difficult for us to pray that they can harm us….Laboring at prayer is a war that will continue until we die.” - Abba Agathon
It was said of Abba Arsenius (a 4th century monk) that on Saturday evenings, preparing for the glory of Sunday, he would turn his back on the sun and stretch out his hands in prayer toward the heavens, till once again the sun shone on his face. Then he would sit down.”
“It is better to eat meat and drink wine than to seat the flesh of one’s breathren through slander.” (Abba Hyperechius)
New: May 15th, 2011
"DO NOT PICTURE YOUR PROBLEM BIGGER THEN YOUR GOD PICTURE YOUR GOD BIGGER THEN YOUR PROBLEM"
"BECAUSE GOD IS WITH US, WE NOT FEAR WHAT IS AHEAD OF US"
"IF YOU KNOW THAT GOD'S HAND IS IN EVERYTHING, YOU CAN LEAVE EVERYTHING IN GOD'S HAND"
“Nothing is certain, but everything is safe. That is part of the mystery of (God’s) love.” - Charles Williams
“The soul that walks in love neither tires others nor grows tired.” - (St. John of the Cross)
“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” - Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Concerning Holy Communion:
St. Bernard said “Jesus! Jesus! King David prophesied that you are great and admirable, but I say you are little and exceedingly lovable.”
“He (Jesus) knew that only in His love could we find our happiness, our joy, our bliss. For this reason He suffered and died to obtain for us Redemption, reconciliation and eternal life. He knew that His personal presence was necessary for the people of all times and all places who should live after the 33 years of His mortal life. He knew that to many it would be truly the greatest benefit, the greatest delight, the greatest strength and comfort. He realized that without His continual presence, our faith would always linger in the past, while in the present it would be deprived of a living support and a solic foundation. He knew how necessary it was that the fruits of the Redemption should be applied to each person individually…He realized our weakness and helplessness. He knew we would languish and starve if He did not nourish us!” - (Fr. Lukas Etlin)
We cannot live on meditation and desires alone. (Jesus) foresaw all this and for that reason instituted the Miracle of Love, the Holy Eucharist.” - (Fr. Lukas Etlin)
“The only solution to life’s problems is embalming fluid!” (author unknown)
From the Desert Fathers (the desert fathers were hermits or monks of the early Church. Their sayings have been saved. These come from a collection from the Orthodox Church. The word “Abba” refers to the abbot of a monastery.)
Abbot Zeno said, ‘If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prayers for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything that he asks.’
‘Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came the hermit village one day. The brethren said to their holiest member, say something to edify the archbishop. He replied, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edifies by my speech.’”
“They said of Abba Macarius the Great that he became a god upon earth, because, just as God protects the world so Abba Macarius would cover the faults which he saw, as though he did not see them; and those which he heard, as though he did not hear them.”
“It was said of Abba John the Persian that when some evildoers came to him, he took a basin and wanted to wash their feet. But they were filled with confusion, and began to do penance.”
Abba Lot when to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office (series of daily Psalms), I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
Abba John said that “The saints are like a group of trees, each bearing different fruit, but watered from the same source. The practices of one saint differ from those of another, but it is the same Spirit that works in all of them.”
The same Abba John said, ‘I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.’
“There was in Egypt a very rich and beautiful courtesan (prostitute), to whom noble and powerful people came. Now one day she happened to be near the church and she wanted to go in. The sub-deacon, who was standing at the doors, would not allow her to enter saying, ‘You are not worthy to enter the house of God, for you are impure.” The Bishop heard the noise of their argument and came out. Then the courtesan said to him, ‘He will not let me enter the church.’ So the Bishop said to her, ‘You are not allowed to enter it, for you are not pure.’ She was filled with compunction and said to him, ‘Henceforth I will not commit fornication anymore.’ The bishop said to her, ‘If you bring your wealth here, I shall know that you will not commit fornication anymore.’ She brought her wealth and the bishop burnt it all in the fire. Then she went into the church, weeping and saying, ‘If this has happened to me below, what would I not have suffered above?’ So she was converted and became a vessel of election.”
New: May 31st, 2011
“Happy is the one who has a home. Happier is one for whom every place is home. Happiest is one for whom the only home is heaven.” - (anon.)
"3 Directions: If you want to be depressed look around you. If you want to be distracted look within. If you want peace, look above." - (anon.)
Starting this month Dr. Ronda will be putting into Spiritual Gems quotes from the saints about specific topics. They concern going from a negative to a positive state of being as you will see. These quotations come from her book Quotable Saints which you can get a copy of by going to www.rondachervin.com and click on books.
Quotes from the Saints on “From Ambition to Contentment.”
(Note from Ronda – they are not talking about positive drive for good goals but the kind of ambition that makes us willing to step over others to get to our goals.)
“The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?” - St. Augustine
“Oh how insinuating and imperceptible is the passion of pleasing men: it possesses even the wise! The effort to please men clothes itself in the words and appearances of piety, so that men whom it beguiles find it hard to detect its various aspects.” - St. Mark the Ascetic
“What men call fame is, after all, but a very windy thing. A man thinks that many are praising him, and talking of him alone, and yet they spend but a very small part of the day thinking of him, being occupied with things of their own.” - St. Thomas More
“You are ambitious: for knowledge?...for leadership… for great ventures? Good, very good. But let it be for Christ, for love.” - St. Jose Escriva
“In those around you, you don’t see brothers; you see stepping stones.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: June 10th, 2011
Here is a batch of gems from Charles Rich, Ronda’s Spiritual Mentor. For more about who he is and more of his writings, go on this site to Free Spiritual Books or visit The Friends of Charles Rich website.
“It is only those who have affectionate natures who are capable of experiencing all the delight divine things have in them. Few know God to be pure Beauty, pure Truth and pure Love. Many know God all right, but they do so in a merely theoretical and abstract way; a way in which it is insufficient for them to make Him the mainstay of their lives…not enough to set their souls afire and to be consumed thereby.
“When we enter a perfume shop we come out with the fragrances that are there and the same thing takes place when we think of all that God has laid up for us after we leave this life.
“By means of sublime dreams God gives us a taste of the joys awaiting us in the life to come.
“What an amazing thing the love of one human being is for another, and what an utter nothing is the earthly love for that human being compared to the one we shall have for him in the life to come? Do we ever think of the kind of love we shall have for each other in the life to come…freed from the limitations which in the present life surround that love?
“Everything on earth is only a symbol and metaphor. We live in a world of signs for what exists in heaven.
“To know what heaven is like, we have to pray for the grace to have some of its quality in ourselves – there is no other way it’s joys may be experienced while we are still on earth….what is heaven but a state of bliss for which no other word can be found? What is heaven but a state of being to which the laws of geography do not apply? Heaven is not something to be understood by our feeble intellect, because the nature of it transcends anything we are able to conceive…the Jews of old referred to heaven as a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ into which the mystical Moses that Christ is would one day bring all those who by the lives they led have become worthy of entering into it… (If there were not these riches within us Jesus would not have said) ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you.’ Heaven is close by, closer than we are to our own selves – its nature and essence constituting the highest region of our being. We do not have to ascend upward; we have but to enter deep within ourselves and we will certainly find it there.
“We would like to know by personal experience what heaven is like, but the best way this can be done is to contemplate all our Lord is both body and soul. Was He not a kind of heaven when He moved among men? …We shall never be able to get a better idea of what heaven is like than by contemplating all Our Lord is. What is the Sacred Name of Jesus but another word for heaven. By loving Him we get a taste of the joys of heaven.
“Our whole problem in this life is a question of love. As we grow older this love for the right things becomes more purified and refined and this is why interior things are such a joy to the soul – the soul that knows no old age and which is rendered fresher and more vigorous with the passage of time. As we draw closer to our home in Heaven the happier we become and the less distance there is between that in ourselves and that for which we have always longed so much – beatitude.
“The saints in heaven are with each other in a way quite different from the one on earth… you are something more to me than just another human being – you become something I cannot completely fathom, some sweet and wonderful mystery I shall completely understand only after this life is over. We are all mysteries…As the Psalmist says ‘I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made.’ (Psalm 13:14?) …We are all fearfully, wonderfully made and so we should have this in view all the time we think of ourselves or some other person with whom we are intimately bound up…Friendship provides us with the opportunity of sharing ourselves with someone, first, Christ, and then His members...
“Heaven will consist in the sweetness we will derive from being close to God and we can get a taste of it on this earth by being close to Him here.
“The sea takes you out of time and helps the soul to think of eternity which the almost limitless stretches of ocean water resemble.
“If we look back at our childhood days we will quickly find traces of the atmosphere of heaven.
“People look forward to a vacation. Why not look forward to heaven. It is a grace for which we must ask.
“My prayer is getting lost in God.
“Though every human being and everything natural are great and good things, they are surpassed infinitely by what is divine and what is supernatural.
“We have been asked not to depend on creatures not because they are not good…everything God has made is good, but because of their limited and circumscribed nature. Creatures are not everywhere available but God is and so when we need a friend most he may for all kinds of legitimate reasons not be around. God alone is always dependable…always around…God has created the good things in this life for our use but for absolute dependence we have to go to Him who is everywhere and always present. We must love our friends, but to depend upon them all the time is not what God wants us to do.
“Christ is joy; He is beauty itself and sublimity and above all, He is the divine delight in which we shall become immersed after we have the grace to enter into another and infinitely more beautiful world than the one in which we now find ourselves; and being what we are, sojourners in a foreign country; we cannot but look forward to this delight as we do in nothing else.
“We shall, throughout eternity, revel in the beauty of Christ’s being and we shall there revel in the love in Himself we will then gave the grace to have.
“I would like to write a book with the title “Dare to Love,” because it takes daring of soul to love that which is divine in itself…people are afraid to let go of their hearts with the love they have for God and for each other.
“Christ alone can give us that which will make us happy for all eternity, namely, freedom from the many miseries to which we are now subjected.
“Heaven is the natural home for souls like ours, and it is there our hearts should be centered…not on earth with its imperfect way of experiencing the divine.
“I am anxious to get out of this world so the scope of my activity may increase.”
“It is not spiritual exercises that make you holy but the grace. The exercises dispose you for the grace.
“In saying ‘Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth’ (The Song of Songs), the soul prays to be penetrated by the spirit of Christ and impregnated by His being. The kiss is symbolic of the action of the Holy Spirit which takes place in the substance of the soul: for among the different degrees of union with God we can attain in this life that denoted by the kiss is the sweetest and most sublime of all. After passing through the different stages of the spiritual life the soul realizes there exists a state higher than all, and it’s for this it asks when it says “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.”
“He mystically is ourselves by being the being of our being and the love of all things lovable.
“Prayer is the longing desire for the divine.
“True prayer is longing for death, the more ardent the longing is, the better we pray.
“‘Set my soul free from prison,’ the Psalmist prays, ‘that I may praise thy name.’ We cannot adequately praise God in the present life and so this constitutes a strong motive for wanting to be released from it – we wish to be there where this can be properly done, heaven and there only. To be fully with God we have to die, there being no other way in which can enter into perfect relationship with that which is divine…By allowing us to die, God takes away from us a good that is finite to give us one that is infinite.”
“We will have in Christ all created good things, and so nothing will then be wanting to the soul which is now finds so necessary to have.
“There is a phrase in the Sacred Scriptures with a haunting quality about it and it runs like this: “Be prepared O Israel, to meet thy God.” Now by ‘Israel’ is meant every human being who genuinely loves God and whose main concern in this life is to look forward with joy to being with Him in heaven.
“We are heading for Heaven; earth is departing and the years that pass away are the vehicle that’s taking us there…With baited breath we long to be Home with God….We cannot answer a lot of questions this side of the grave, but we will know when we pass the boundary line which separates time from eternity.
“The saints regarded each other with a holy kind of awe, and if we were as holy as they, we would do the same thing.
And here are some of Charles Rich’s favorite quotations from the saints:
“We cannot now form an adequate idea of the capacity for love which the soul will have in the next life.” - St. Bernard
“I thought I was going to die and my heart nearly broke with joy.” - St. Therese
“John of the Cross wrote: Creatures are the crumbs fallen from the table of God and which serve to whet the appetite for the divine good and beauty Jesus is…the soul lives where she loves more than in the body she animates; for she does not live in the body, but rather gives life to the body, and lives through love in the object of her love.’”
New: June 30th, 2011
The Saints on Anger to Peacefulness. (Note: These small gems come from a book called Quotable Saints assembled by Dr. Ronda published first by Servant Books, then reprinted by CMJ. You can order copies from CMJ by going to www.rondachervin.com and clicking on books.)
“Anger is a kind of temporary madness.” - St. Basil
“Belligerents are not reluctant to have peace, but they want a peace to their own liking.” - St. Augustine
“Peace is the tranquility of order.” - St. Augustine
“Tell me, how are we two going to face the Day of Judgment? The sun is witness that it has gone down on our anger not one day but for many a long year.” - St. Jerome
“Argument is a fishing line baited with veracity (defense of truth, self-justification, self-defense) by which we are seduced into swallowing the hook of sin. In this manner, hooked by tongue and throat, the poor soul is wont to be ravished by evil spirits.” - St. Simeon the New Theologian
“In order to avoid discord, never contradict anyone except in case of sin or some danger to a neighbor.” - St. Louis IX, King of France
“The world would have peace if the men of politics would only follow the Gospels.” - St. Birgitta of Sweden
“There is no sin nor wrong that gives a man such a foretaste of hell in this life as anger and impatience.” - St. Catherine of Siena
“Peace and union are the most necessary of all things for men who live in common…There is no one who has not his faults, and who is not in some way a burden to others, whether he be a superior or a subject, an old man or a young, a scholar or a dunce.” - St. Robert Bellarmine
“A man given to fasting thinks himself very devout…he does not dare to wet his tongue with wine or even water but won’t hesitate to drink deep of his neighbor’s blood by detraction and calumny.” - St. Francis de Sales
“Why lose your temper if by doing so you offend God, annoy other people, give yourself a bad time…and have to find it again in the end.” - St. Jose Escriva
Other Small Gems:
This was written by Mother Elvira Petrozzi who has sixty-three houses for drug rehabilitation in 15 countries. “With the eyes of faith it can be seen that pain and suffering are the presence of Jesus himself in the family. If you receive suffering and welcome suffering, it will save you.”
"WHEN THE FIRE OF LOVE IS IGNITED IN ONESELF IT CANNOT FIND ROOM IN THE LIMITS OF THE HEART, BUT BLAZES OUTWARD AND ENFLAMES, DEVOURS, ABSORBS OTHER HEARTS." – St. Maximillian Kolbe 1325
New: July 15th, 2011
“Christ, at the Father’s right hand, is not far away from us. At most we are far from him, but the path that joins us to one another is open. And this path is a not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographical nature: it is the “space travel” of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing divine love.” - Pope Benedict, XVI.
From the Saints on Annoyance vs. Patience:
“Patient endurance is the perfection of charity.” - St. Ambrose
“Patience is not good if, when you may be free, you allow yourself to become a slave.” - St. Bernard
“I was depressed, weary of my life and irked with myself without patience to go on living…and immediately after this Our Lord again gave me comfort and rest of soul in delight and certitude.” - Blessed Juliana of Norwich
(Jesus speaking to St. Catherine of Siena) “True, the people of the world do not offer me glory in the way they ought, by living me above all things. But my mercy and charity are reflected in this, because I lend them time and do not order the earth to swallow them up for their sins. No, …I order the earth to give them a share of its fruits.”
“Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” - St. John of the Cross
“Many would be willing to have afflictions provided that they be not inconvenienced by them.” - St. Francis de Sales
“Have patience with all the world, but first of all with yourself.” - St. Francis de Sales
“Do as the storekeeper does with his merchandise; make a profit on every article. Suffer not the loss of the tiniest fragment of the true cross. It may only be the sting of a fly or the point of a pin that annoys you; it may be the little eccentricities of a neighbor, some unintentional slight, the insignificant loss of a penny, some little restlessness of soul, a light pain in your limbs. Make a profit on every article as the grocer does, and you will soon be wealthy in God.” - St. Louis Marie de Montfort
(NOTE FROM RONDA – The above quotations is about a practice of Catholics called “offering it up.” YOU MAY NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH THE CATHOLIC IDEA OF OFFERING UP EVERY SUFFERING TO GOD. If not, write to Ronda on Contact Us, and I will fill you in.)
“Restraining my impatience cost me so much that I was bathed in perspiration.” - St. Therese of Lisieux
Poems of Gloria G. Ausubel:
The gift of praise is of a higher order.
It rests in those who love one Other.
Echoes in the Hall of Gratitude
Bounce into the heart of God.
Silence walks in this corridor,
All the doors are shut.
A mind is a funny thing:
It jumps and scuttles
Like a bird on the wing,
From one thought to another
Imagination contains all of life;
It designs, protects and confides
All the dreams we can contrive –
Buried forever in our minds.
A brittle life can be broken.
A pliant one can be crushed,
Only to form in a while
To live a whole life again.
Broken lives can be mended.
The pieces can be put together.
Vulnerable in the weak spots.
The hard are not strong.
The fullness of life
Is within you
The fire of your soul
Do not build me up, and
Do not tear me down.
Just love, and accept me,
And I will grow.
Taken with permission from Grace Ausubel’s book Hear the People Listening available at Amazon.com
New: July 31st, 2011
From Kahil Gibran:
“And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge, And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge, And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, And all work is empty save when there is love; And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit. It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”
“Silence is a punctuation mark so that words can have meaning.” - Fr. Francis Benedict
“Unlike all other religions, Christianity is not about our running to God but about God coming to us. God unites Himself with us in order that we should return to Him in the best way. He offers salvation to everyone.” - Dr. Michael Meaney
“You must learn how to fit the brain you have into the world most enthusiastically and constructively.” - Hallewell (from Delivered from Distraction.)
"Who am I? What other people say? What I do? What I possess? Or the Beloved of God?" - Henri Nouwen
Quotes from the Saints on Bewilderment to Trust
“One and the same violence of affliction proves, purifies and melts the good, and condemns, wastes and casts out the bad.” - St. Augustine
“While the ship is at sea, it is a prey to dangers and winds. When it reaches a calm and peaceful harbor, it no longer fears dangers, calamities of the winds, but remains safe. In the same way, while you are among men you must expect tribulation, dangers and mental buffetings. But when you reach the harbor of silence prepared for you, then you will have no fear.” - St. Barsanuphius
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” - Blessed Juliana of Norwich (told to her in a locution).
“Make sickness itself a prayer.” - St. Francis de Sales
“Surely nothing is too much for Him when there is question of sanctifying a soul. He hands over the body and soul to weakness in order to purify them in contempt of earthly things and in the love of His Majesty. He wounds and He heals them; He crucifies them on His cross in order to glorify them in His glory; in brief He gives them death in order to have them live in eternity. Let us accept these appearances of evil in order to have the real goods they produce, and we shall be happy both in this life and in the next." - St. Vincent de Paul
“It is a kind of death to leave a place where one is well known and has friends.” - Blessed Claude de la Colombiere
“In the novitiate, I was almost always ill and so small of stature that I was unable to reach the lectern…However, with my profession I gained health and strength and grew to medium size. I give infinite thanks to God.” - Blessed Junipero Serra
“What avails melancholy forebodings, and indulgence of feeling which can never alter the event of things? One would, rather, look at life’s realities as they are guided by a just and merciful Protector who orders ever occurrence in its time and place.” - St. Elizabeth Seton
“An iron is fashioned by fire and on an anvil, so in the fire of sufferings and under the weight of trials, our souls receive the form which Our Lord desires them to have.” - St. Madeleine Sophie Barat
(Regarding a grave illness) “He who has made me, unmakes me.” - Blessed Eugenie Smet
“Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him….He does nothing in vain. He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.” - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
“I worry until midnight and from then on I let God worry.” - Blessed Louis Guanella
“So you have failed? You cannot fail. You have not failed: you have gained experience. Forward!“ - St. Jose Escriva
New: August 10th, 2011
From a poem by T.S. Eliot:
“The wounded surgeon plies the steel/That questions the distempered part;/Beneath the bleeding hands we feel/The sharp compassion of the healer's art…
The whole earth is our hospital…. /Wherein, if we do well, we shall/Die of the absolute paternal care/That will not leave us….”
A Popular Spiritual Adage: Don’t tell God about your problems; tell your problems about God!”
Prayer of Abandonment
Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.
Radiating Christ – from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being, so utterly, that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus! Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours; it will be You, shining on others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.”
Quotes from the saints on Complaining vs. Gratitude:
“…Man, God created to be a witness and grateful interpreter of His works. This is what men should strive for, lest they die as dumb animals, without having seen or understood God and His works…When you lie down on your bed, remember with thanksgiving blessings and providence of God. Filled with this good thought, you will rejoice in spirit and…brimming with the feeling of good, will wholeheartedly and with all strength glorify God, giving Him from the heart praises that rise on high.” St. Anthony the Great
“He that complains or murmurs (mutters) is not perfect, nor is he even a good Christian.” St. John of the Cross
“If we have any natural defect, either in mind or body, let us not grieve and be sorry for ourselves. Who is there that ever receives a gift and tries to make bargains about it? .…Who can tell whether, if we had a larger share of ability or stronger health, we should not have possessed them to our destruction.” St. Alphonsus Liguori
“Crosses release us from this world and by doing so bind us to God.” Blessed Charles de Foucauld
Prayer for Priests:
O Jesus, Eternal Priest
Keep Thy priests within the shelter of thy Sacred Heart where none may touch them. Keep unstained their anointed hands which daily touch the Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with Thy Precious Blood. Keep pure and unworldly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood. Let Thy holy love shield them from the world’s contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit. And may the souls to whom they minister be their everlasting crown hereafter. St. John Vianney, pray for us.
When Death knocks - by Genni Genovese
When Death knocks
on MY door
What will I say?
“No one home! Go away!”
Will I welcome Death?
And with a grin
Call out, “Come on in!”
Before Death comes,
I must be sure
To have my Light on
Above my door.
Tunnel of Love - by Ronda Chervin
the tunnel of time
sometimes I hear
Your song loudly
sometimes my own
when we meet
no more signals
as You carry me
WHERE JESUS IS; HEAVEN IS - by Joy Bergman
I want to cross the terrain
To leap through this body
to cut this mist
preventing me, from You.
Who is Your Best Friend? - by Tom Eades
Long ago I had two best friends,
I could hardly believe they were mine.
They comforted me when I was down.
There was never a time they were not around.
Anytime I needed a lift,
They were always there,
What a gift!
When I was lonely, in pain,
They would give me joy.
When I was shy,
They made me coy.
With friends like them
I needed no more.
They were kinda jealous just the same,
Never letting go of my hand.
I soon lost everything by choosing them,
My religion, my work, my children
My wedding ring.
I gave these all up
Not to lose my best friends,
For I knew they’d be there right to the end.
Life was good or so it seemed,
Until, another old friend entered the scene.
He was a very old friend
I hadn’t seen for a while.
I was surprised how much I had missed His smile.
Like everything else, I had let Him go.
In His light I saw the wrong decisions I’d made.
He showed me as well the price I had paid.
There is one best friend that will always be there,
In time of sorrow, pain and strife.
Jack Daniels, Bud Wiser! Meet JESUS CHRIST.
For I walk now with JESUS in all that I do.
If you’ve made wrong decisions, remember
JESUS is waiting for you.
New: August 27th, 2011
We like to think that our spiritual journey is like running up a trail to the top of a mountain, but it is more as if we climb up a few steps, fall in the brambles stuck. Then Jesus comes and pries us out and takes the thorns out and we start again with the same result, slowly, slowly ascending. - Fr. Damasus Winzen, O.S.B.
“Someone was complaining to God about all the interruptions in his work. He heard the Holy Spirit reply – suppose your interruptions are your real vocation!” (Anonymous spiritual saying.) Example, someone thinks his vocations is writing books, but his bigger vocation is talking to people in need. - Dr. Ronda
Watch, by Dean Kirk
Out of the Shadows come the strangest things, a past from Shadowy Glen, from out
of a Painful Bin. Even in the Light there are shadows.
Many have hardly seen that Great Light, only reflections. Never discussed with
Savior their needs, thinking, Oh, how would He know?
We’ve witnessed, tapped on One’s heart’s door. We’ve accepted His greatest gift
of forgiveness of errors, guilt, sin, and shame. It’s exciting. Let Him come in, sit at your table
to discuss the ugh. . .critters, things so well hidden under great shadows of your spirit, heart
and mind, body too, so fearfully and yet wondrously made.
Oh, wait for now He calls those wild creatures who infected your soul. Yes!
They have to make an appearance, be identified, seen, and then summarily dismissed. That
helps you a lot. You can start over to build an identity. So profound it works to bring truth,
fulfillment. It has to be worked, it requires constant cultivation like a good garden,
productive, finally mature, to have a fine mission is all right!
The Wheel and the Axel, by Fr. Richard (Laredo)
Without a center principle, an axel, wheels do not roll. When we leave God out our tires get flat. We easily fall into such egotistic ways as envy, covetousness and greed.
Envy is a sneaky attitude which always supports the egotist. Since the ego puts itself in the center, it cannot stand when another usurps that position because of another’s talent. Another’s God-given gifts are denied, put down or condemned. Test yourself again – can you accept a correction? Without correction, there is no perfection. If I can accept that I didn’t do or handle this situation well then I possess the humility which leads to spiritual growth. If I become defensive of myself, then the ugly head of pride is exposed. Unless you humble yourself, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.
Covetousness is clothed in our desire to improve ourselves and our situation. This is a good desire in its proper place but when it is at the expense of another then we enter the realm of sin. We may covet relationships, money, possessions. This desire leads to the death of personality since it believes its value lies outside of itself. The truth is that your value remains within you. The kingdom of God lies within you – you must seek it.
Finally, greed enters the world of the egotist. He believes his possessions attribute to his power and position in the world. He is important because of those possessions. Hence the more he possesses, the greater he becomes. He is reaching for a false infinite and is deceived by the fattening of his bank account and the multiplication of his possessions. He has built bigger barns but this day your life will be called. To whom will this piled up wealth go? We see this truth played out in the boys and their toys. The limit to the toys allows for one’s personality to intensify. The expansion of toys dissipates the personality like a river which has no banks floods the plan.
Phantoms, by Pat Feller
Terror of the darkness
Figures on the wall
Spirit or man formed?
Only shadows in my sight?
Sorrow and tears from day
Carried into night’s domain?
Tears flow in which I suffer?
Or tears formed to heal?
To love or to scorn?
Darkness in perception
Closes in on my soul,
My body needs solace . . .
My mind to be consoled
Phantoms of this world begone!
Spirit of God surround me
In the circle of Your cloak . . .
Blanket me in your warmth
In the cold of this night no slumber
Am I meant to fight the foe?
Begone ghosts! Disperse!
My prayer’s appeal.
Jesus smite the shadows
In Your heavenly glow!
The Country Store
by Fr. Eckley Macklin, S.O.L.T.
The little brown boy stood all alone
Waiting to be served so he could go home.
His gramma had sent him to the country store
For a bag full of flour and nothing more.
Maybe she wanted to bake him a pie.
Now, he stood silent as clerks passed him by.
Is it because I’m so small that they can’t see?
Those white, grown-up people came in long after me.
He knew the true answer and that’s why it hurt.
He was a small boy, not a pile of brown dirt.
And then when the last man had gone out the door,
The clerk looked at him, standing down on the floor.
“What do you want, boy?”, he finally said
To the child whose spirit was now almost dead.
The boy somehow made the words come out
In a whisper, although he wanted to shout.
“My gramma sent me for some flour, sir.
But, his mother had taught him to hate no one
And he had tried to be an obedient son.
He was hurt, but the pain would soon go away
And he had more playing to do that day.
Poor little boy! If he were so clever
He’d had known that the pain would go on forever.
With troubled heart, he returned to the farm
And placed the bag in his grandmother’s arm.
“Gramma, ask me to do any chore,
But, please, don’t send me to that place no more.”
Quotes from the Saints on Confusion to Contemplation:
“The approach to perfect prayer is when a man is freed from dispersion of thoughts and sees his mind, enlightened by the Lord, filled with joy.” - St. Barsanuphius
“Merely to love things above is already to mount on high.” - St. Gregory the Great
“Prayer is one thing, and contemplation in prayer is another…Prayer is sowing, contemplation the reaping of the harvest, when the reaper is filled with wonder at the ineffable sight of the beautiful ears of corn, which have sprung up before him from the little naked seeds that he sowed.” - St. Isaak of Syria
“The grace of contemplation is granted only in response to a longing and importunate desire.” - St. Bernard
“Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world which passes like a shadow.” - St. Clare of Assisi
“Every little glimpse that can be gained of God exceeds every pain and every joy that man can conceive without it.” - St. Catherine of Genoa
“Contemplation is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.” - St. John of the Cross
“It is true that the voice of God, having once fully penetrated the heart, becomes strong as the tempest and loud as the thunder, but before reaching the heart it is as weak as a light breath which scarcely agitates the air. It shrinks from noise and is silent amid agitation.” - St. Ignatius Loyola
“Never read books you are not sure about…even supposing these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?” St. John Bosco
“At the heart of this ocean of vanities and festivals, I felt within my soul a burning desire to learn how to pray. I inquired, I read, I kept myself as much as I could in God’s presence. This was enough to begin seeing a great light shed on the nothingness of worldly things, on the vanity of existence, on the beauty of God” - Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida
New: September 15th, 2011
The Eucharist, the Fall and the Apocalypse - by Fr. Bruce Downs
The Eucharist is a miracle. This may seem obvious and commonplace to state, but
unless this is remembered Christian life itself becomes less coherent. Christians are people
who learn how to live solely by the graces, surprises and miracles of God. This may be
quickly and piously spoken and just as quickly forgotten as we ‘get on with our lives’, but it
is meant to be taken literally. Again, this is meant to be taken literally. If, as St. John tells
us, we are a people who must be taught how to love by Christ, then we must be a people who
relinquish the illusory control we believe we have over our lives. The Eucharist, then, is the
Lord’s most sublime and surprising miracle because, while making himself the most
vulnerable for our sake, Christ also demonstrates that we have no control over his saving
actions. In both action and substance, the Eucharist emphasizes love over control.
As the antidote to the forbidden fruit eaten by Adam and Eve, the Eucharist is not
something that we can take, control or manipulate for ourselves. The Lord’s Body and
Blood are pure miraculous gifts that we may only receive in complete dependence or reject
in a blinding refusal to accept reality. The very act of receiving Communion underscores
this: the Body of Christ must be placed in our hands or on our tongue; we may not grab
the Host for ourselves. The practice of allowing communicants to take the Body or Blood
themselves betrays, at least, an incredible symbolic ignorance of what is happening at the
Mass. As a priest, celebrating the Mass is a daily reminder to me of the contingency of my
life, not only in its origins but at all moments.
The Eucharist also conforms us to the notion that we live eschatologically ( with
reference to the End Times) and under the sign of the Apocalypse. In the same way that
we do not give ourselves the Eucharist we also do not control how God will conduct and
arrange the consummation of the world. We are called to follow Christ in offering
ourselves in service to the world, but we are not, thereby, privy to the Lord’s designs.
Our task, which the Eucharist strengthens and models for us, is simply to enter into our
given vocations while always remembering the Lord and giving thanks.
The Eucharist demands perseverance. If we are to love, and not manipulate
(however subtly) we must act as if we believe that the Lord really does know best. It is a
temptation, one of our favorites and most destructive, to do things (especially good things)
without waiting for the Lord, but in this we most closely resemble Adam and Eve. Surely
the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good, but it was something that
could only be given by God, not taken for ourselves. The very taking made us fall. The
work of Christ in the Eucharist gives us the ability to receive again.
From Balduin Schwarz, Ph.D., on Gratitude:
• ‘Wonder… opens up our dialogue with reality; or rather, takes it up and continues it, since reality has already spoken the first word in addressing us as persons… There comes then into being a dialogue between that which ‘speaks to us’ and our soul which receives it. For this to take placed, we must open ourselves inwardly to what is given to us, cooperate with it, ‘go along with it,’ bring it to completion in ourselves, work together with it.’’
• ‘Humility is truth. It is metaphysical truth. I affirm myself as a created self.’
• Atheism doesn’t only intellectually deny the existence of God but lives as if God didn’t exist. ‘At the root of atheism is despair: an antithesis to gratitude’ ‘Through gratitude, I hold onto the gifts I have received. I remain awake to them. Gratitude is a form of remembering. Gratitude is the way the heart remembers’
St. Patrick's Breastplate (a.k.a. "The Deer's Cry")
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH A MIGHTY STRENGTH,
THE INVOCATION OF THE TRINITY
THROUGH BELIEF IN THE THREENESS,
THROUGH CONFESSION OF THE ONENESS
OF THE CREATOR OF CREATION.
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF CHRIST'S
BIRTH WITH HIS BAPTISM,
CRUCIFIXION WITH HIS BURIAL,
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF HIS
SWIFTNESS OF WIND, DEPTH OF SEA,
STABILITY OF EARTH, FIRMNESS OF ROCK.
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF HIS
RESURRECTION WITH HIS ASCENSION,
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF HIS DESCENT
FOR THE JUDGEMENT OF DOOM.
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF THE LOVE
IN OBEDIENCE OF ANGELS,
IN THE SERVICE OF ARCHANGELS,
IN THE HOPE OF RESURRECTION
TO MEET WITH REWARD,
IN PRAYERS OF PATRIARCHS,
IN PREDICTIONS OF PROPHETS,
IN PREACHING OF APOSTLES,
IN FAITH OF CONFESSORS,
IN INNOCENCE OF HOLY VIRGINS,
IN DEEDS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN.
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH THE STRENGTH OF HEAVEN:
LIGHT OF SUN, RADIANCE OF MOON,
SPLENDOR OF FIRE, SPEED OF LIGHTNING,
SWIFTNESS OF WIND, DEPTH OF SEA
STABILITY OF EARTH, FIRMNESS OF ROCK
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH GOD'S STRENGTH TO PILOT ME
GOD'S MIGHT TO UPHOLD ME,
GOD'S WISDOM TO GUIDE ME
GOD'S EYE TO LOOK BEFORE ME,
GOD'S EAR TO HEAR ME,
GOD'S WORK TO SPEAK FOR ME,
GOD'S HAND TO GUARD ME
GOD'S WAY TO LIE BEFORE ME,
GOD'S SHIELD TO PROTECT ME,
GOD'S HOST TO SAVE ME FROM THE
SNARES OF DEVILS,
FROM TEMPTATIONS OF VICES,
FROM EVERYONE WHO SHALL WISH FROM EVERYONE WHO SHALL WISH
ME ILL, AFAR AND ANEAR,
ALONE AND IN MULTITUDE.
I SUMMON TODAY ALL THESE POWERS
BETWEEN ME AND THOSE EVILS,
AGAINST EVERY CRUEL MERCILESS
POWER THAT MAY OPPOSE MY BODY
AND SOUL, AGAINST INCANTATIONS
OF FALSE PROPHETS
AGAINST BLACK LAWS OF PAGANDOM,
AGAINST FALSE LAWS OF HERETICS,
AGAINST CRAFT OF IDOLATRY,
AGAINST SPELLS OF WITCHES AND
SMITHS AND WIZARDS,
AGAINST EVERY KNOWLEDGE THAT
CORRUPTS MAN'S BODY AND SOUL.
CHRIST TO SHIELD ME TODAY
AGAINST POISON, AGAINST BURNING
AGAINST DROWNING, AGAINST WOUNDING,
SO THAT THERE MAY COME TO ME
ABUNDANCE OF REWARD.
CHRIST WITH ME
CHRIST BEFORE ME,
CHRIST BEHIND ME,
CHRIST IN ME
CHRIST BENEATH ME
CHRIST ABOVE ME,
CHRIST ON MY RIGHT,
CHRIST ON MY LEFT,
CHRIST WHEN I LIE DOWN,
CHRIST WHEN I SIT DOWN,
CHRIST WHEN I ARISE
CHRIST IN THE HEART OF EVERY
MAN WHO THINKS OF ME,
WHO SPEAKS OF ME,
CHRIST IN THE MOUTH OF EVERYONE
WHO SPEAKS OF ME,
CHRIST IN EVERY EAR THAT HEARS ME
I ARISE TODAY
THROUGH A MIGHTY STRENGTH,
THE INVOCATION OF THE TRINITY,
THROUGH BELIEF IN THE THREENESS
THROUGH CONFESSION OF THE ONENESS
OF THE CREATOR OF CREATION.
Becoming Real - by June Cornelison
A family of seven, the young mother harried, as she prepares her children for a family portrait. When she diverts her attention to herself, the littlest soon become fidgety and quarrelsome, their pressed outfits and freshly combed hair in quick disarray. If the portrait turns out to meet the mother’s expectations it will surely be a miracle.
A reality check would tell the young mother that a real “memory portrait” would show the children and mother in their natural states of disarray. Is the picture we present to the quick flash of a camera, with our pasted-on smiles, who we really are? We want posterity and our fragile egos to gaze upon something that is masked, or the “way it should have been,” the presentation of a perfect self. In other words, fantasy.
Putting on a face for the camera that records us occupies a good deal of our time. We groom ourselves, brush our teeth, bathe, and use a deodorant in the hope we present what will be pleasing to others. Sometimes the Who We Are gets caught up with a puffed up sense of importance; the school we attend, letters behind our name, money in a portfolio, the kind of car we drive, the labels in our clothing, the color on our cheeks, a pair of cowboy boots, a badge on our chest, all of our proud accomplishments.
Being real, like the little children Jesus speaks of, should be our goal. Margery Williams, in her children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit says it best: You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
The Virtuoso and the Boy, - by Fr. Anthony Anderson, S.O.L.T.
“I am going to take you to a Recital of the greatest pianist of our time,” announced the mother to her 6 year old beginning music student.
Just before the great Paderewski emerged from the wings of the concert hall, the mother left her seat for a few moments to greet a friend. When she came back she was horrified to see that her little son was gone. Suddenly she heard “Twinkle, twinkle little star,” from the stage! She rushed toward the platform in a state of extreme embarrassment, planning to grab her son away from the piano. Just as she reached the steps the great man came out. He motioned the mother to stay where she was. Then he stood behind the youngster and added bass and treble accompaniment to the boy’s efforts to the joy and applause of the audience.
An image of what happens when we “do our little thing”, asking God to help us.
Unemployment: Loss Becoming Hope
#3 by Djinna Gochis - Forgiveness
If I am honest with myself, my former employer did me a favor in letting me go from my job. I had become unhappy with a variety of things, not the least of which was the increase in political interference and ill-considered tinkering that only hindered the effective function of the organization. I had been thinking of taking my “retirement” and moving onto other things anyway. I had just not yet quite formalized my plans or timetable.
So, why have I been up and down with anger and resentment at the individuals who wielded the figurative ax? Lots of reasons whirl through my head and incense me with every passing-- bringing me to a hardening of heart that is a failure to forgive.
“They” took away my control of my life. “They” did not value me after all I did for “them”. “They” did not recognize that this job was my career, into which I poured my body and soul. “They” hurt my chances at any further job or career in the same field. What took me 25 years to painstakingly build-- experience, respect, authority, career, was effectively erased in a five minute vague statement of “We are making fundamental changes and going in a different direction”. The entire history of the place has been whipsaw changes of direction in which I had, I thought, proven myself. I had not done anything wrong but I had nonetheless been denominated as un-useful. For you Trekkers out there (yes, I am one), you may recall Captain Kirk’s experience of a similar fate, when he was, happily only for one episode, replaced by a computer to run his spaceship Enterprise. His was temporary as probably befits someone who repeatedly saved the universe; mine, however, is permanent.
You get the picture. I can work myself into quite the tizzy.
Even at my most angry I am not a revenge fantasy sort of gal but I do admit to picturing a perfect world (to me) in which the perceived evildoer acknowledges in the public square, “I did wrong”. Oh, and there is the plaintive “please come back” to which I get to say, “too late folks!” with enormous energy and just the perfect tone of righteousness. I want “them” to make the hurt of being dismissed, literally and figuratively, go away.
I am, I know, a silly, silly girl. Does the fact that there will never be recognition or rectification of this unfairness mean that, therefore, I am entitled to maintain an unforgiving heart? In anger, the emotional answer is yes. However, in the light of the Gospel which I claim to follow and in the light of the very words from the Cross of the Man-God, the answer is, of course, no.
I must forgive. I know. It’s easier said than done.
Can I do it alone? Not a chance. I must pray, every day, something like—“Lord, take away my anger, my resentment, and yes, the fear that underlies it of not being seen in the world, and approved of by my fellow human beings. It is enough to be seen by You, and to be Loved by You. Help me to need nothing more.”
Will this forgiveness happen any time soon? Your sayings, Lord, are indeed hard. Perhaps the harder they are the more critical for them to be followed. I have always understood that this circumstance is a small, small suffering (if it is even suffering at all) compared to the struggles of countless other people and the ultimate suffering that was our salvation in Christ the Lord. On those terms, my act of forgiveness is an obligation to them, and to Him.
I hope I remember this obligation when next a memory ignites my anger. Take a breath. Pray. Let it go. My soul depends upon it.
Bigger Spiritual Gems (scroll down for the latest updates, new this month)
Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Isn't!
(Dear reader: this was an article I wrote that wasn’t published, but I thought it was really important. See what you think. Ronda)
How to turn left-overs into delicious pseudo-French potage for your family or community.
by Ronda Chervin
On one of those nights when you wake up and tune in K-Hell on the radio of your brain, I starting thinking about how when I have to add lower dentures to my uppers I just could be left with a diet of Ensure! My guardian angel raced to my aid with the memory of once reading that before dentures were popular old folks in Europe lived on those scrumptious potato soups such as I had enjoyed in France.
I called an old friend originally from Belgium and asked her for a recipe for potage. She send me not only the recipe but a vintage 1890 Amish metal grinder. You boil potatoes and grind them up with sauted scallions and, voila, a lovely soft soup.
I soon noticed that scallions are a little pricey and it occurred to me that there was no reason I had to obey my friend’s recipe since I am just as much a gourmand as a gourmet. Why not put in with the potatoes any left-overs hanging around, such as scraps of chicken left on the bone, rejected peas and carrots and then add herbs and spices. Each one would have a different flavor and… I won’t be throwing away that famous garbage that social justice people say could feed the whole world!
Well, grinding up left-overs in that old-fashioned metal grinder takes a long time. Eventually I realized that if I first cooked the whole mess for a half hour and then blended it, I could make it still finer, without the type of lumps that would repel my diners, by a last go through the grinder.
I jokingly boasted to my guests about my garbage soup. That resulted in lots of soup left-over for me – a whole week’s worth! So now I tell them about my French potage: the first course. About 50% of them actually like it. And of those, about 5% become pseudo-French chefs like me.
Putting my mouth where my money isn’t enables me to have more left-over cash to donate to favorite causes such as the Missionaries of Charity and pro-life.
Let me know if you try it and like it….
'God, our Father,' - by Diana Bowring
As my baby is weaning from my bed, and me this milestone is met with sorrow and mixed with a bit of hope and joy. It is not my will to wean him, but it is his desire, which he has shown in various ways. I must release to his needs.
I watch as he has learned to comfort himself to fall asleep after I have bid him goodnight and given him many kisses. As he settles in, he turns away from me, but still turns around to look and see if I’m still there. And in the night when he cries for me, I turn comfort him to let him know I am not far away. I know this is the first in a series of “letting go’s”and some will be easier than others. I hope he will always look and check to see if I’m there and I pray that God will allow me that joy to be there for him.
God is so loving in His Wisdom and sends us our children to be the messengers of His message. The little ones are the ultimate example of “how to” when it comes to trusting Our Father. I learn from my own baby that God too releases to my needs. My Father in Heaven too experiences “letting go’s” in my life… always waiting for me to check and see if He is still there. And when I cry out to Him, He lets me know that He is not far away.
What a comfort to my baby to know that I am there… What comfort to us as God’s children to know He is there.
Who is he?
What sort of animal is this?
He’s as black and white as a skunk
Or a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
He’s meek then he’s not.
He’s tame and he’s fierce.
A sheep and a panther.
A laughable penguin . . .
When provoked he’s an orca.
Don’t let him fool you,
That befuddled old pastor,
That countrified cleric.
Skin deep he’s a mortal
And not the best specimen.
His diet’s a wreck;
Having no wife’s made a mess of him.
But the Lion of Judah
Lurks there in that chest
Great-maned and wise-eyed.
Clueless, you say, but crazily blest.
Like our Creator in chains
Constrained on the Cross
Who while flaccid and moribund
Still had teeth and strong jaws.
To seize death as He did
And Satan and sin
The flesh and the world
For the salvation of men.
He caught them all by the throat,
The Lion of Judah
In death dealt Death death.
That great vice of a jaw
Those merciful teeth
Didn’t ungrip, didn’t slacken
Till all lay in defeat.
Who is this man?
He’s the cub of the Lion.
A presence of the Pantocrator.
The hands of the Theandric Actor.
Restorer of nations in his stuffy confessional.
Creator of his Creator at the altar each morn.
Who is this man?
He is slime and sublime.
Clay and Christ-bearer.
No wonder he dresses like that, like a skunk,
Black and white.
Contradicting all logic,
All meek and all fight.
- Fr. Antonio Anderson, S.O.L.T.
Resting in Love - by Pat Feller
Here I am again, my Jesus,
encompassed in Your arms,
cuddled oh so warmly,
protected from the world.
Like a child am I!
My body no longer young,
my life is close to o’er,
but in the cosmos of Your love,
I’m still just very small.
You indulge my many whims,
speak to me of future life.
You let me taste the love You have
for Your Father and mine,
And His for You in return.
The Holy Spirit whispers
of the love in the Trinity
awaiting me with open arms.
“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; breath forth, O mountains into singing. For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones." (Isaiah 49:13)
Money and success do not make us joyful. I fact may earthly and successful people are also anxious, fearful, and often quite somber. In contrast, many others who are very poor laugh very easily and often show great joy.
Joy and laughter are the fits of living in the presence of God and trusting that tomorrow is not worth worrying about. It always strikes me that rich people have much money, while poor people have much time. And where there is much time life can be celebrated. There is no reason to romanticize poverty, but when I see the fears and anxieties of many who have all the goods the world has to offer, I can understand Jesus’ words: ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
Money and success are not the problem, the problem is the absence of free, open time when God can be encountered in the present and life can be lifted up in simple beauty and goodness.” - Henri Nouwen
“The second of the great commandments charges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is what is meant by fellowship: that there is not one of these individuals whom an ill-named chance thrusts in our path and offers to our scrutiny who is not our brother and with whom, as children of God, we are not the coheirs of a certain joint legacy.
Yes, this peasant with his leathery face, this cringing and surly alcoholic, the image of the concierge’s fat dog, this storekeeper, with her mean scowl, repainting her ancient lips: these are our brothers and sisters; Jesus Christ died for them. There is a star embedded in the heart of this tormented flesh, deeper than the redeeming drachma in the belly of the carp of Gennesaret.
Loving our neighbor means something altogether different from courtesy, or a doubtful and meager forbearance. It springs from the awareness of this universal summons, this interrogation that will not tire of knocking until the door has been opened; somewhere, some debt is owed by us that we cannot remove until it has been discharged.
The day has come when it is absolutely necessary that we learn to get along with this brother who is thrust forcibly, whether we want him or not, into our arms." - Paul Claudel
Ronda’s daughter Carla wrote this letter to her mother-in-law to be read at her father-in-law's funeral. Though parts of the letter only pertain to Richard, lots of it is universal and constitutes to Ronda’s mind an incredible larger spiritual gem:
“I saw a picture of Richard when he was young: a gloomy Heathcliff sitting on a beach, handsome as the devil. When I met him, illness had worn him down to a charming elf instead of a lonely devil: well, time and illness can do that and sometimes it is a kindness and sometimes it isn’t. No one can know at what cost another person has earned their face... (Note from Ronda: This last line seemed to me an incredible insight)
I knew he knew he was dying when we last met. I do not think either of us knew how long or how painful it would be. I tried to pray but I don’t know how to pray. There was a channel of pain traveling all the way from England to North Carolina and I sent what little I possess of faith and hope along it, feeling it was useless.
The day before he died, Richard visited me (in spirit) stood behind my shoulder in the kitchen and commented on a meal I was making, wanted to try some. It was a whimsical moment full of warmth and it felt real. I have no right to speak of faith, but maybe this IS what it is made of: a few sunny moments strung up like rosary beads, a leap of faith, a skip of hope and finally a giant hop off the crucifixes that are prepared for us at the end of our lives. Believe in these moments because what else can you do?
The Garbage Collector - by Ronda Chervin
This an old story told in many different versions about a man who was informed one morning that Jesus was coming down to earth to visit his home at sundown for dinner. All day long the poor man tried to prepare for his unique visitor. First he weeded the garden in front of the house. Then he hosed off the front porch. Finally he helped his wife fix a banquet for the guest. When all seemed ready, the farmer ran down the road, hoping to greet Jesus even before he arrived at the house. After the sun had fallen beyond the horizon, the farmer returned home in sadness. No sign of Jesus! Imagine his surprise and dismay to find that Jesus had already come by the back road and was busy hauling the garbage cans out of his cellar!
What are we to learn from this story? Most often we are eager to earn the admiration of
Jesus because of all we have done for him. But maybe he is interested in doing something
else. He might want to usher me down to the cellar of my soul so that we could clean out
whatever is attracting the rats.
What might he want to clear out of my soul: Resentments from past hurts? Unconfessed
sins? Envy of those who seem better than me or just more attractive? Distrust of his
Spring Cleaning - by Paul Damian
It’s springtime; mother has become a white tornado flitting about, cleaning the
house from top to bottom. She has Dad fixing all those little repairs that waited for months.
The children are having fun raking winter and fall’s left over leaves and tree debris. Now
they are catching the spirit of neatness and the spirit of charity that follows and they
voluntarily offer to share their worn clothing and toys with the poor. Soon the whole family
seems so happy just to work hard on a united and uniting project of spring cleaning.
In the spiritual life we need periodic house cleaning that spares no attachment to old
and worn out toys like self-centered time wasting, or unnecessary shopping on Sunday,
the Sabbath. When we take decisive small steps toward Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us the
wisdom and insight to eliminate the big stumbling stones.
If you are having difficulty getting started on a thorough spiritual house cleaning,
it may be that you need to catch the enthusiasm of that family described above. A good
place to find this “spirit” is a quiet but well directed retreat center, where you will be given
the direction and motivation you need.
New: May 31st, 2011
My Children Are…. - by Marjorie Russo
My children are:
A garland of roses
To wear around my neck,
A bunch of daisies blooming in pots,
A chain of summer forget-me-nots.
My children are:
Soaring high above me and then
Returning to roost in their beds.
My children are:
Long-legged gazelles hopping and
Leaping great distances beyond me.
My children are:
Open hearted loving beings,
Prisms of tremulous light
Reflecting energy bright.
Swathed in sunlight,
They sit at the breakfast table
I look at them and see…
Bits of immortality.
New Wine in Old Wine Skins - by Fr. Paul Griesgraber
Developing a personality full of loving qualities is not a one-time, instantaneous event. We prepare our wineskin, step by step. Preparing a well-developed character makes us suitable for precious experiences.
Caring and sharing in exquisite ways is what the fine wine of the parable is about. This is God’s intention for us. Our ultimate human fulfillment, as God intends and designed, is for true love, holiness and lasting happiness.
The decision to be a force of good for the world does not happen in a drifting or in a neutral way. With Christ, I choose to become an active agent of change in the world. If my wineskin was unprepared it would burst under the stretching challenges of love of God and neighbor that includes my enemies.
It is ironic that when I move directly to satisfy my egocentric pleasures, I actually fail to maximize them. When I fail to look out for the good of other people with whom my heart and life are connected, their hurt diminishes my well-being.
I can be renewed by dying to self in choices and practices of discipline, with Christ, especially with the cleansing sacraments, . . . again and again. I may then, progressively, receive and share the exquisite wine of heightened experience – without bursting the skin of arrested human nature – and God’s love may increasingly dwell within a renewed human nature. This is an ongoing, transforming work.
Which Restaurant Did We Eat at Today? - By Barbara Vittoria
(Note from Dr. Ronda: Barbara Vittoria is one of the leaders of a charismatic prayer group at St. John’s Church in Middletown, Connecticut. She will give this as part of a talk soon.)
TODAY, WHAT TYPE OF FOODS DID WE PUT INTO OUR BODIES? DID WE FEED OUR PHYSICAL BODY NUTRIENTS OR JUNK FOOD TODAY? BUT THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION I WOULD LIKE TO ASK US IS WHAT DID WE FEED OUR SPIRITUAL BODIES WITH TODAY?
EACH DAY WE WAKE UP AND HAVE OUR THREE MEALS THAT NOURISH OUR PHYSICAL BODIES. BUT HAVE WE EVER THOUGHT OF WHAT WE ARE DAILY NOURISHING OUR SPIRITUAL BODY WITH? WHEN WE EAT POORLY AND CHOOSE THE WRONG FOODS OUR PHYSICAL BODIES SUFFER AND WE CAN BECOME WEAK. THIS ALSO HAPPENS WHEN WE DINE AT THE WRONG SPIRITUAL FOOD RESTAURANT.
SO, I WOULD LIKE TO INVITE YOU TO TWO RESTAURANTS THIS EVENING SO WE CAN VIEW THE MENUS AND SEE WHERE WE HAVE BEEN DINING TODAY AND IF WE STILL WANT TO PATRONIZE THE SAME RESTAURANT AGAIN TOMORROW.
MY TALK IS ENTITLED WHICH RESTAURANT DID WE EAT AT TODAY? YOU CAN FOLLOW ALONG WITH ME WITH THE MENUS I’VE HANDED OUT.
SATAN’S RESTAURANT AND GOD’S RESTAURANT ARE ON THE SAME STREET, SIDE BY SIDE, SO IT WILL BE EASY TO CHECK OUT BOTH MENUS. LET’S TAKE A WALK DOWN THE STREET AND SEE WHAT IS ON THEIR MENUS.
SATAN’S RESTAURANT MENU STATES- TO STEAL, ROB AND DESTROY. SCRIPTURE (JOHN 10, V: 10) WE CAN SMELL THE AROMAS THAT TEMPT US, SEE AND FEEL THE DISPLAYS THAT PLEASE THE FLESH AND ARE EVEN OFFERED FREE SAMPLES. HIS RESTAURANT IS OPEN 24 HOURS EVERY DAY, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.
GOD’S RESTAURANT MENU STATES- TO GIVE US LIFE ABUNDANTLY, AND ETERNAL LIFE. SCRIPTURE- (PS. 91, V:16) AND (JOHN 6, V:47) WE CAN FEEL THE PEACE IN THE ATMOSPHERE, SEE THE BEAUTY BECKONING US TO COME AND REST AWHILE AND DINE WITH HIM. GODS RESTAURANT IS ALSO OPEN 24 HOURS EVERY DAY, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.
APPETIZERS OF SATAN - LIES AND DISCOURAGEMENT
APPETIZERS OF GOD - HIS WORD AND PROMISES
SATAN’S DRINKS - ANYTHING IN EXCESS THAT WILL ROB OUR HEALTH AND LIFE
GOD’S DRINK - THE LIVING WATER - (JESUS)
SATAN’S MAIN COURSE - (YOU MAY ORDER AS MANY ENTRES AS DESIRED) ..ANXIETY, FEAR, DOUBT, HOPELESSNESS, LONELINESS, DEPRESSION… BAD ATTITUDES, JEALOUSY, ENVY, HATRED, LYING, AND UNFORGIVENESS, LAZINESS,… GLUTTONY, LUST, PERVERSIONS, TEMPTATION, GUILT, DRUGS, ALCOHOL, ADDICTIONS, AND DEATH.
GOD’S MAIN COURSE - (ARE FREELY GIVEN FOR THE ASKING TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE, NO LIMIT)GOD OFFERS LOVE, JOY, PEACE, FAITH, HEALING, STRENGTH, HOPE, TRUST, GUIDANCE, WISDOM, COMPASSION, HUMILITY, MERCY, FORGIVENESS, COMFORT, SALVATION, HIS WORD, HIS PROMISES AND ETERNAL LIFE.
SATAN’S DESSERTS - SUGAR COATING MAIN COURSE TO BELIEVE WHAT HE HAS SERVED US IS JUST THE WAY LIFE IS OR EVERYONE IS DOING IT. (FOR SATAN IS A DECEIVER.)
GOD’S DESSERTS - PEACE, TREASURES IN HEAVEN AND ETERNAL LIFE
SATAN’S BILL - PAID IN FULL BY US WITH SUFFERING, ANXIETY, FEAR, DEPRESSION, DISCOURAGEMENT, BAD ATTITUDES, ANGER, JEALOUSY, ENVY, HATRED, UNFORGIVENESS, TORMENT AND THE LIST GOES ON AND ON AS TO WHAT WE HAVE EATEN OFF HIS MENU FOR THE DAY.
GOD’S BILL - NO CHARGE. PAID IN FULL BY JESUS
NOW IF THERE ARE ANY LEFTOVERS SATAN WILL GLADLY GIVE YOU A DOGGIE BAG SO YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE LEFTOVERS YOU WILL NEED FOR THE DAYS THAT WILL FOLLOW TO CONTINUE ON HIS DIET OF SPIRITUAL STARVATION.
GOD WILL ALSO GIVE YOU HIS DOGGIE BAG BUT IT WILL NOT BE WITH ANY LEFTOVERS BECAUSE HE FEEDS US HIS WORD AND HIS PROMISES. PSALMS 103 V3-18
WHAT GOD DOES FOR US:
HE FORGIVES ALL MY SINS. HE HEALS ME, HE RANSOMS ME FROM HELL. HE SURROUNDS ME WITH LOVINGKINGNESS AND TENDER MERCIES. HE FILLS MY LIFE WITH GOOD THINGS! MY YOUTH IS RENEWED LIKE THE EAGLE’S. HE GIVES JUSTICE TO ALL WHO ARE TREATED UNFAIRLY. HE REVEALED HIS WILL AND NATURE TO MOSES AND THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. HE IS MERCIFUL AND TENDER TOWARD THOSE WHO DON’T DESERVE IT; HE IS SLOW TO GET ANGRY AND FULL OF KINDNESS AND LOVE. HE NEVER BEARS A GRUDGE, NOR REMAINS ANGRY FOREVER. HE HAS NOT PUNISHED US AS WE DESERVE FOR ALL OUR SINS, FOR HIS MERCY TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR AND HONOR HIM IS AS GREAT AS THE HEIGHT OF THE HEAVENS ABOVE THE EARTH. HE HAS REMOVED OUR SINS AS FAR AWAY FROM US AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST. HE IS LIKE A FATHER TO US, TENDER AND SYMPATHETIC TO THOSE WHO REVERENCE HIM FOR HE KNOWS WE ARE BUT DUST, AND THAT OUR DAYS ARE FEW AND BRIEF, LIKE GRASS, LIKE FLOWERS, BLOWN BY THE WIND AND GONE FOREVER. BUT THE LOVINGKINDNESS OF THE LORD IS FROM EVERLASTING TO EVERLASTING TO THOSE WHO REVERENCE HIM; HIS SALVATION IS TO CHILDREN’S CHILDREN OF THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL TO HIS COVENANT AND REMEMBER TO OBEY HIM!...”
NOW WE KNOW WHAT IS BEING SERVED AT EACH RESTAURANT SO TOMORROW WHICH RESTAURANT’S MENU WILL WE CHOOSE TO EAT FROM?
1. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG-YOU’RE NOT SAVED
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG- FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. (JOHN 3 V:16)
2. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG-YOU DIDN’T RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG-IF YOU KNOW HOW TO GIVE GOOD GIFTS TO YOUR CHILDREN HOW MUCH MORE WOULD THE HEAVENLY FATHER GIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THOSE WHO ASK (LUKE 11 V:13)
3. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG- GOD DOESN’T LOVE YOU
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG- I LOVE YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE (JER31 V:3)
4. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG-GOD CAN’T FORGIVE YOU
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG-CONFESS OUR SINS FOR HE IS FAITHFUL AND JUST TO FORGIVE US OF OUR SINS (1 JOHN 1 V: 9)
5. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG- YOU WEREN’T WANTED
GOD’S DOGGIE- HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE CREATION (EPH. 1 V: 4)
6. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG-YOU’LL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG-I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME (PHIL. 4 V:13)
7. SATAN’S DOGGIE BAG-GOD’S WORD DOESN’T WORK
GOD’S DOGGIE BAG-GOD HAS GIVEN US BOTH HIS PROMISE AND HIS OATH. THESE TWO THINGS ARE UNCHANGEABLE BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE (HEB. 6 V:18)
New: June 30th, 2011
(This is a big adventure in the Spirit that Dr. Ronda is trying with different individuals and groups. It is designed to help us get out of denial of negative traits that drive other people crazy!)
1. Pick out one negative trait you would like to improve on such as talking less, being less upset about trivial annoyances, smiling more at family, friends and people at work and Church. If you think you are perfect, ask those closest to you what little thing they wish you would do differently.
2. Collect general and personal insights about the negative and positive of this trait such as
a. talking too much vs. listening better;
b. upset about trivia vs. overlooking it or working around it;
c. grouchy or withdrawn vs. smiling and friendly.
3. Consider what is the pain from past and present that you compensate for through your negative trait. For example,
a. About talking too much the pain from the past could be feeling inferior when others dominated conversations in the past, so I want to be the speaker even when it is inappropriate. The present pain would be feeling that if I don’t make the conversation interesting to me I will be slightly bored or feel that everything is meaningless unless discussions of important things take place.
b. On upset about trivial annoyances – a past pain would be feeling out of control as a child when parents or siblings did annoying and hurtful things to me. A present pain would be not being able to coerce others to act better concerning daily trivial matters.
c. On grouchy or withdrawn vs. smiling, friendly – the past pain would be parental role models of these negative traits. The present pain would be wanting to withdraw after a hard day or before the day gets harder – being grouchy or withdrawn usually keeps others away.
4. Make a promise such as this: God, I truly want to change, not just to please others, but to get closer to you by becoming a more loving person. I realize that Your grace cannot penetrate my denial mechanisms if I justify every negative trait by excuses. (In my, Ronda’s case, well, if I don’t dominate the conversation no one will learn my God-given wisdom!) I accept the sufferings, small and large, that I will have endure in order let your grace operate more in my life with respect to this trait.
5. Write a personal prayer to Jesus to say whenever you are tempted to exercise the specific negative trait you are working on now such as:
a. Jesus, please pour your love into my heart so that feeling happy about myself I can listen to others instead of trying to dominate all conversations.
b. Father God, thank you for all the blessings of this day. Help me laugh at this trivial annoyance and get on with the rest of my day without over-reacting .
c. Holy Spirit, spouse of the Virgin Mary, show me how to be friendly so that everyone I meet today feel better because they met me, just as I believe people must have felt who met Mary in Nazareth.
(For all of these say a prayer such as this: “I rebuke the spirit of (talkativeness, annoyance at trivia, unfriendliness or whatever you are working on, and lay it at the feet of Jesus to do away with. If you are in a Church with confession, you could make a general confession of any sins you have ever committed related to the negative trait you are working on.)
6. (Optional) Write a journal of your experiences.
7. (Optional but best) Choose a person who sees you often or whom you can call at a set time each day or evening to share victories of grace. One victory a day is a lot if you multiply by 365 days a year! This call should not be analytic, but rather prayerful as in:
“Heh, pal, guess what? Today I had lunch with friends and I let someone else dominate the conversation, by asking friendly questions instead of delivering long speeches myself. “
“Gee, Ronda, praise the Lord. Today I smiled at the kids as they went out the door to school instead of muttering – stay out of trouble kids.”
“Have a blessed day tomorrow being not Grouchy Dad but Friendly Dad. I’ll be praying for you.
It may seem tiny but could it be worse than being stuck with traits everyone finds difficult but puts up with because they have given up hope we will ever change, grace or not?????
Dancing with Jesus - by Ronda Chervin
I woke up one night with an image before my mind. It was of myself dancing with
Jesus. We were doing the fast rhythmic Israeli hora. This is danced by two people,
with the four hands clasped tightly in a locked position. The hand-hold enables each
person to lean far backwards while the feet move in a 1,2,3 slide then kick motion
faster and faster in a circle.
Considering the image of dancing the hora with Jesus it seemed to tell me: “If you
hold on tight enough to Jesus, life can be for you a dance instead of mostly a burden.”
New Way by Dr. Ronda Chervin
Dancing with Life - by Betty Brownlow
Dance, Christian, dance,
to cadenced melody.
Your partner - the loved
and the unloved.
Follow with confidence
the dance of new hope.
Dance, Christian, dance!
New: July 15th, 2011
Posture Practice - by Paul Damian
Sometimes a person holds out a hand in greeting, but you don’t really feel like
extending yours. Generally you overcome your reluctance and often the warm hand-to-
hand contact leads to warmer feelings toward the initiator of the exchange.
Some spiritual writers suggest the same about prayer postures. For instance they
find that when you do not feel like praying at all, if you will go to a sacred place, (it could
be a corner of your bedroom where you have a little shrine, or a chapel or even a quiet wood
or field), and kneel erect, you will soon feel like praying. In reality the act of the will to kneel
erect and at attention is a very powerful prayer of adoration to the Almighty, who often
answers your willingness to assume this pose by giving the desire to pray.
What is a posture that images your relationship to God? Kneeling in front of the blessed Sacrament? Lying flat on the floor face down with arms out in the form of a cross? Walking without encumbrances? Picturing Jesus by your side?
If you are having difficulty getting into the mood to pray, try a posture at a definite “sacred space”, where you can go on most days, preferably at the same time.
Dancing with My Hero - by Pat Feller
He causes me to dream
That makes me seem
Important to Him,
He is my life inside
Making me see who I am
And who He is to me.
He lifts me high
He can do everything,
He is my hero…
Greater than all…
ALL-important to me.
He whispers quietly
About my schemes,
Giving me courage
To reach out and achieve
Whatever He knows
I am meant to be.
He holds me close
When I fear
And guards me
In His angel’s care,
He cautions me
In harm perceived
To protect me.
He is my knight
In shining armor
He dispels my tears
Cares for all my needs,
Making me feel perfect
Just like Him
He is like
All other men…
Like any other
Not of fairy tales.
He is real...God!
Who makes me compete
Of my dreams.
New: July 31st, 2011
Mary’s Dance - by Ronda Chervin, S.O.L.T.
If Jesus is our only mediation, why do you Catholics pray to Mary? is a question many Protestants ask. I provide the usual theological answers such as: we don’t pray to Mary but rather ask her to pray for us, much as Protestants keep beg their pastors to pray for them; if the angel greeted Mary as full of grace, why can’t we? etc. But then I like to help them expand their imagery in this way. One could think of our journey to Heaven as like single horses in a race, placed in stalls with barriers between; then moving ahead in a straight line – a solitary course to the finish, where Jesus awaits us – no detours! Or you could imagine it more like a dance where each of us gets to circle upward with different partners, and sometimes a whole chorus line of saints up to Heaven. My duet is with Jesus, my Redeemer, but He doesn’t mind if I take a turn with His beloved Mother.
A Pathway of Blessings - the author prefers to be anonymous.
This past year I learned about applying the concept of blessings from the Bible to my family and friends. It all started in July when my friend who gave me rides to classes in Level II Healing Prayer (a DVD each week taught by Francis and Judith MacNutt of Christian Healing Ministries) came over and told me all about the conference she went to in late June that the MacNutts led at Mt. Snow, Vermont. She was so excited to tell me about blessings. She shared with me her notes and asked if I had ever been blessed. I said no, so she said a blessing over me right then.
Some of my children and families were visiting me in August from out of state. So I said to myself, “I’d better take advantage of the opportunity to bless them in person.” I was very nervous, for I had never done this before. I thought, “Who am I to bless anyone. That is God’s job”. I wrote out the blessings ahead of time, not trusting myself to thinking on the spot. I wrote a short paragraph for each family member, even grandchildren. It began something like this: “I bless you ________, in God’s Holy name that God may continue the good work begun in you (Philippians 1:6). Your dedication as a loving (wife or husband and mother or father). Your love of work, music, nature, and healthy eating. Your caring and sharing spirit. God will richly bless you with good health and joy.” I held their hand.
I didn’t think much about it afterwards, but within a week after my son got home he called me on Labor Day to say that in the past week he had found out about 4 job opportunities in his specialized field. One was on the West coast, another in Spain, the third in upstate New York and the fourth a promotion in his current job. I was so happy for him because 8 months ago there was only 1 job possibility. I didn’t put the blessing together with this until the next morning when I was watching a Jewish Voice program on Trinity Broadcast TV Network. The program was all about blessings. The author, Dr. John Garr, has written a book: “Blessings for Family and Friends”. I was so excited. It was like God saying to me personally, “See how important blessings are.”
I am a member of the Blue Star Mothers (Mothers and grandmothers of men and women in the military). I was sharing this story with them. They were so encouraged that right on the spot they asked me to bless them, so I did. We all held hands around the table.
The best part is that 6 weeks after I blessed the above son, he told me that he had invited Jesus into his heart on October 6th. I was overjoyed. I am still “pinching myself to believe that it is true”. The Holy Spirit had been prompting his pastor to have a personal talk with him. The pastor answered his questions and said you have to take it on faith. I thank him profusely. This is a miracle for I brought up my children as Unitarians while I was an agnostic. I came to know the Lord late in life, the same age my son now is coming to the Lord.
My other son, who I blessed by mail found a second home after the blessing arrived, that is closer to the kids’ school. My daughter, who I blessed in person, is in the process of moving to another state and buying a much larger home with a lot more land.
I encourage you to bless your family and friends for you will be blessed too.
The Aaronic Blessing from the Old Testament: Numbers 6:24-26 is so powerful and can be said over anyone.
Numbers 6:22-3 NIV The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ’This is how you are to bless the Israelites say to them:
Verses 24-6: “ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ‘
Three months after I blessed my children, I was giving part of the sermon in chapel and one person asked me if I would tell her more about blessings which I did about 6 weeks later, plus baptizing her in the Holy Spirit. She told me later that that same day of the blessing she got a long distance phone call from an old friend that she hadn’t talked to in 50 years. They had occasionally written. It was a very affirming phone call.
A month after that, I was teaching on blessings in a small Bible study/prayer meeting that had just started in my town. I personalized a blessing for each one and printed it on pretty paper and placed it in a clear plastic protector. I read it to each one individually with my hand on their head (after asking their permission). I anointed them with Holy Oil and Holy Water on their forehead and hands. The next day I got a call from one of the ladies that our prayer meeting will be blessed with a visit from a lady who lives an hour away who is close to Father Di Orio who has a wonderful healing ministry. So the blessing is returning to us. Praise God.
A family member came over to celebrate my birthday in March and I blessed her again that afternoon. I got a call from her 3 hours later that her son had just left to church and the young people’s group afterward. He hadn’t been a regular church goer.
The next day I blessed my brother and sister and her husband as I said table grace and they gave me a blessing back.
5/1/211 I came home from my grandson’s birthday party, at which time I read and gave him his blessing on pretty paper in a plastic protector. When I got home there was a wonderful message on my answering machine from my first son, that he had word that he was asked to come to a second interview this time they flew him across the country. His first interview was by phone. A few weeks later, I made two blessings for grandchildren that were graduating from college. Around that time, my son got offered the job. This good news brings to mind what I heard and experience that the person giving the blessing gets blessed too.
God is so awesome. Try it yourself. You’ll be blessed and be a blessing.
Watch, by Dean Kirk
Out of the Shadows come the strangest things, a past from Shadowy Glen, from out
of a Painful Bin. Even in the Light there are shadows. Many have hardly seen that Great Light, only
reflections. Never discussed with Savior their needs, thinking, Oh, how would He know?
We’ve witnessed, tapped on One’s heart’s door. We’ve accepted His greatest gift
of forgiveness of errors, guilt, sin, and shame. It’s exciting. Let Him come in, sit at your table
to discuss the ugh. . .critters, things so well hidden under great shadows of your spirit, heart
and mind, body too, so fearfully and yet wondrously made.
Oh, wait for now He calls those wild creatures who infected your soul. Yes!
They have to make an appearance, be identified, seen, and then summarily dismissed. That
helps you a lot. You can start over to build an identity. So profound it works to bring truth,
fulfillment. It has to be worked, it requires constant cultivation like a good garden,
productive, finally mature, to have a fine mission is all right!
Called to Love, Truth and Life, by Michael Meaney, Ph.D., Corpus Christi, Texas
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14, 6) is a divine challenge so rich and so multi-splendored that even an outline of his/its essential elements must be quite long: really and fundamentally understanding what "being called to love, truth and life" means requires us to explore intimately and ultimately inter-related questions in four areas: "Who and what are we?" "Who or what calls us?" "How and when are we called?" and "What is each of these great realities?"
The most essential and important question we can ask about ourselves is "What is a human being?" Our answer to every other question depends on our answer to it. In each stage of our lives, the most crucial question is "What is a fetus?", "What is an infant?", "What is a child?", "What is an adolescent?", "What is a youth?", "What is an adult?", "What is an old person?" All these questions have been asked and answered by mature adults using themselves as models of perfection and adult achievements as the most essential human characteristics. Quite naturally, humans in all other stages become imperfect approximations of adult maturity. For many, humans in the early first stage and late last stage become doubtfully human or expendable beings.
For the last 2,500 years the most common definitions of man have been definitions of the adult human being. Man has been defined as a "political or social animal," a "conjugal or historical animal," a free or "pleasure-centered" ("Homo ludens") individual, a "worker, maker or 'Homo faber'" or a "wolf to other men" ("Homo hominem lupus" of Hobbes). One of the earliest, most enduring and most influential definitions is "Man is a rational animal." In all these definitions of the adult human being, human experience in all stages of life has meaning and value almost entirely in relation to whatever adult characteristic is emphasized in the definition.
Because of its origins in ancient Greek and Roman culture, western civilization has most often defined man as a "rational animal" whose greatest natural achievements consist in either speculative or practical reason. Whether it is our speculative understanding, science and wisdom, or our practical reason in technology, commerce, trade and industry, or in our social, political and moral life, reason is "what is most distinctively and profoundly human." Our moral or prudential life is "right reason in acting" ("recta ratio agibilium"), our art "right reason in making" ("recta ratio factibilium"). Quite naturally, our religious faith is related above all to reason: "Faith seeking understanding" ("Fides quaerens intellectum") and "I believe in order to understand" ("credo ut intelligam") became the medieval leitmotifs of western culture's positive response to divine revelation.
Trying to define man in an abstract or essential way without adequately taking into account the concrete or existential situations within which we live each of the stages of our lives naturally tends to de-emphasize all but one stage and one characteristic through which we are fully human. Has anyone ever described a newborn infant in terms of any of these definitions? Obviously, many years will have to pass before the newborn becomes independent or free or is able to work or fulfill social and political functions. Yet he or she is already undeniably a member of the human species and is already having experiences that will decisively influence the rest of life.
This leads us to: "Is it possible to reach a definition of man which describes human beings in all their stages of life in both an essential and existential way?" This seems to be what is done in the first, most unique and most profound of all definitions of man: "And God said, 'Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves'". (Gn 1,26) In these few words, our Heavenly Father began to reveal that we are made by the Trinity, like the Trinity and for the Trinity, and that our ultimate fulfillment consists in the various natural and supernatural ways in which we share in the wisdom, life and love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Who or what calls us to love? How and when are we called to love?
God calls us to love in two distinct but intimately inter-related ways: through nature and grace. We are all called to receive and pursue the greatest natural goods in their three main varieties: 1) in all forms of natural learning: touching and tasting, seeing and hearing, intuitive understanding and reasoning as well as intellectual and artistic creativity in all their endlessly different personal and social realizations in all stages of life, 2) in all forms of natural life: in receiving and generating life, in nourishing and fostering ourselves and others, in acting, co-operating and leading, in working and recreating, in growing and helping others to grow within the family and other social groups, and 3) in all forms of natural affection, tenderness and love, in friendliness, friendship and association, in our love of nature and of country, our love of ourselves, of others and of God.
God also shares his wisdom, life and love with us through giving us his supernatural gifts that radically transcend and transform natural corollaries. They begin with and culminate on earth with grace, bringing faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, leading towards inspired understanding, heroic life and leadership, both beginning with and culminating in sacrificial love meeting our greatest needs and constituting our highest perfection in our personal and social lives. Members of Jesus' Church share in them through receiving, believing and responding to Holy Scripture and Tradition, i.e., the People of God following the Holy Spirit and the Church's Magisterium in understanding and living divine Love.
The original divine plan - offering angelic and human creatures perfection through living in the perfect harmony of nature and grace - ended with the revolts of Lucifer and of Adam and Eve. The second and even greater divine plan is the eternalvSon of God the Father becoming the Incarnate Son of the Father and of Mary or Jesus, who offers sinners union with him in his Church through love growing towards perfect love of God and neighbor as well as perfect docility to his will. God gave one human being a unique role in that plan: Mary alone was preserved free of original as well as all subsequent sins and given fullness of grace in order to become the fitting mother of Jesus and, by the gift of Jesus (Jn 19: 26-27) our spiritual mother as well. She helps us both in our highest objective vocation - priesthood and religious life - in which "You did not choose me, no, I chose you" (Jn 15:16) to directly serve him with total dedication, and as lay persons living the theological, evangelical and moral virtues prudentially and above all on the level of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Lay persons and religious live the divinely perfect Beatitudes as "either acts of the gifts or acts of the heroic virtues insofar as they are perfected by the gifts." (S. Thomas, Super Evang Mt 5, 2, #410)
We are called by God and our created nature as well as by God's grace and Church to life-long and life-wide love, truth and life. In the divine plan, our love-life begins not by our loving but by our being divinely and humanly loved from the first moment of our conception. At conception, God directly creates and lovingly infuses an immortal soul into our tiny, receptive body prepared by the first instruments of his love, our parents. Their act of conjugal love is one of the summits of love, an eminently personal union prepared by the sacramental union of husband and wife.
While we have always known that infants and young children urgently need to be loved, it was only through the decisive demonstration of 20th century maternal deprivation studies that everyone now clearly understands that unborn babies, infants and small children have so great a need to be loved that to the extent they are not personally and warmly loved, they suffer tremendous, long-lasting, even irreversible physical, psychological and social damage, sometimes even death.
To understand this, we must begin from the beginning. The most striking first characteristic of newborn infants is their utter and total helplessness. They have a life and death need for being cared for in immediate and constant, tender and enduring ways long before almost anything can be known about them or expected of them. They may eventually turn out to be talented, average, or retarded, industrious or lazy, healthy or sick, heroes or scoundrels, but they must be loved here and now unconditionally and as persons. That greatest initial need of infants frustrates the essential thrust of our love of qualities and calls for a nurturing wife and husband, mother and father whose marriage and family are based on unconditional love.
In the beginning, God directly founded the family as a community and school of growth in love for life. In his plan of salvation, Jesus Christ made the family one of the seven sacraments of his Church. In his most explicit and solemn statement about salvation, Jesus describes how our being saved directly depends on our helping to savevothers: "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." (Mt. 25,34-37; cf Mt. 25, 31-46)
Because of our first experiences in the family, each of us can say: "From the earliest moments of my life, before even my mother knew that I existed, she was already nourishing me with her own blood, warming me with her own body and attending to all my needs. Then, when she first became aware of my existence, she began to care for me as a willing instrument of divine love. She welcomed her little stranger, fed me when I was hungry or thirsty, clothed me in her warmth and visited me when I was sick. Finally, when I had grown so much that her gentle womb became a prison for me, she liberated her little captive by giving birth to me. Hardly was I born when she began again to welcome and nourish me, clothe and take care of me in new ways, endlessly new and tender ways as those first days turned into months and years. She was co-operating with Jesus in her salvation and mine." (Excerpt from my as yet unpublished manuscript, Good News of Great Joy)
The community in which our mothers lived that love was (hopefully) the Christian family, which we enter into and live unconditionally: Christian spouses take each other "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part." That unconditional conjugal love is the best of all preparations for rightly loving our infants and children, who have an uncanny ability to detect latent indifference or hidden ambivalence. Their need for authentic, tender and unconditional love is unique and urgent. Their first experiences are all entirely centered around interpersonal love. Adult eating may be solitary or social, silent or conversational, meaningful or meaningless. Breast-feeding, on the other hand, involves mutual caressing and fondling, pleasurable body contact, tenderness and affection. This fusion of love and eating, of giving and receiving is an immensely important tenderly-loving interpersonal experience. Adult bathing is solitary, quick and efficient. But for infants, being bathed is an easily prolonged experience of caressing and fondling, a smiling and laughter-filled harmony of communion and communication, of being-loved and loving. Adult travel at its best is mechanical and efficient. Infantile travel at its best is being-carried in loving arms. In pre-rational but immensely and enduringly profound ways, infants appreciate and hunger for love. All their early development, relationships and learning, all their earliest explorations of the surrounding world and first movements towards independence are inseparably linked to love.
As an infant, each of us learns to respect and obey, imitate and identify with our parents because of their love for us and our love for them. As an infant, I seek out, cling to, and unite myself with my mother, live in her presence, share her attitudes, moods and feelings, and have no life apart from hers. I "talk" to and listen to her, "ask" her for whatever I need or want, learn to thank her and ask her pardon, and show by my feelings, gestures, actions and words how much she means to me. I am constantly interacting with her, giving her my attention, presence, needs, affection, looks and smiles, giving her what I am, for I have nothing of my own.
Whereas both friendship and conjugal love typically involve independently existing persons of similar age, temperament, talent and activity who contribute differently but more or less equally to the relationship, there is a dissimilar complementarity between infant and mother that mysteriously resembles the relationship between saints or mystics and God. Since both infants and mystics are more loved than loving, and are wholly dependent on merciful love, they alone can rightly and perfectively be predominantly receptive or responsive. For them alone is life almost entirely a matter of love rather than skills, of being rather than having, of being possessed rather than possessing, of personal communion rather than talkative communication. They alone legitimately place nearly exclusive emphasis on love of persons over love of ideals and things.
Since we are persons created in the image and likeness of the triune God and of Jesus, the Incarnate God, our love, hope and faith are eminently personal, familial and communal shares in God himself. Our lives become transcendent realizations of being loved by and loving God. If we are above all images of God, then our first as well as best qualities and virtues will be God-gifted and God-centered rather than reason-induced and reason-centered: in infancy and early childhood, we are loved before we love; receive before we give; and trust before being trustworthy. We can be obedient before we can be prudent; pious and religious before we can be just; patient and persevering before we can be courageous; friendly and merciful, humble and capable of little sacrifices before we are capable of really virtuous temperance. The first and best sources of information on this are the carefully gathered, precisely dated, sworn testimonies of first-hand witnesses cited in theologically examined enquiries leading to the beatification and canonization of saints - all of which begin with the family origin and infancy of each of the servants of God being investigated.
Our early family life of being loved and learning the greatest religious truths, such as God's love for us all, especially children, greatly influences whether we first live theological and evangelical virtues, first grow in moral virtues, or first become neurotic or delinquent. Anyone convinced of or actually experiencing Jesus' love for us responds. But, appreciating the immense importance of being loved by their parents, small children respond to God's love for them much more readily than adults do. In small children, their discovery and response becomes personal prayer as well as early move towards holiness. In fact, extensive studies of growth in prayer point out that best period in the entire human life-span to learn to pray is from 3 to 6 years of age. It is when awareness of the importance of being loved is strong and conscious that we first experience what deserves to be known as the "age of understanding."
Moralists, religion teachers and parents have long assumed that since we cannot love what we do not know, our first personal living of moral, theological and evangelical virtues comes after the "age of reason" - usually assumed to be at about 7 years of age. Yet if we observe carefully, we find that infants and small children already have a pre-rational, profoundly experiential, personal, intuitive and affective understanding arising out of their being loved. This is based on beatification and sanctification procedures; those who do not reject its possibility can find it in the everyday lives of many of our children. This very early "age of understanding" enables the small child to respond to being loved by God at a much earlier age than a reason-centered culture would expect.
For example, during the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution, my wife and I visited the Chateau de Breteuil near Paris with my sister-in-law and her children. Due to the art treasures, the younger children were in our arms for the hour long visit, which was well-illustrated by an avalanche of words. Half-way through the tour, the not yet 27 month old Antoine said "Manque Jesus!" - "What is lacking here is Jesus!" In two words, he gave the finest lecture on the French Revolution I had ever heard! When I mentioned that to his mother, she said, "That sounds like Antoine," and went on to describe how, when carried around the home at as early as 10 months of age, he would point a tiny finger at a crucifix, and excitedly say "Jesus!"
As small children learn to please, obey and help their parents, they can easily be encouraged to please, obey and serve God - which is the heart of profound Christian life and direct path to sanctity. St. Theresa of Lisieux said "If you want to be a saint...have only one goal: to please Jesus, to unite yourself more closely to him."
Given the pre-school age at which we most readily learn to pray, our parents are or should be our first teachers of prayer. They are able and willing to do that only if they are prayerful and if they know their Christian doctrine and lives of the saints well enough to share them. If most parents were prayerful teachers of prayer, our families and churches would be transformed and our society renewed. Heartily welcoming their indispensable experience of being loved, children increasingly learn to love in return. Their early living of theological and evangelical virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit safeguards them from dangers and is the best introduction to Christian moral and social virtues - which at their finest are incarnations of spiritual and mystical gifts.
Through their early discovery and love of friends, children explore the earliest beginnings of healthy independence and maturation by venturing out of the home. The influence of peer-groups, play and schooling, goals and ideals greatly need the family and Church. When serious problems arise, it is almost always in adolescence, "for, while adolescence is naturally an age of hope, it can also be one of despair. Adolescents are susceptible to despair for many reasons. They have great expectations -which are hard to fulfill. They are full of potential, but empty of achievement. They are idealists in a graveyard of ideals; they are hero-worshipers in an age of the anti-hero. They have rigorous, high standards of perfection, but cannot see how anyone can rise to those standards. They are in pursuit of honesty and authenticity in an age of propaganda, advertising and ideology. They want peace, but are unstable, simmering cauldrons of conflicting emotions and drives in a world at war. They want to be where the action is, but are too often passive spectators. They must be themselves, and yet cannot survive outside of their group. They want their satisfactions now, but are unwilling to sacrifice their future, and unhappy with compromise. They disguise their fear and anxiety with bluff and bravado. They need guidance but are afraid to ask for it. They are looking for unity of truth and life, but are pulled in all directions. They can be seduced by easy pleasure but unconsciously realize that that is the death of both effort and hope. They are capable of dreaming great dreams but may settle for drugs. They hunger for hope in a world of despair. If that is life, they may think that death is better." (From the Preface to Family Seminar on Adolescent Sexuality, Corpus Christi, Texas, Jan 14-16,1983, Michael Meaney Editor, p. 9)
All life in a materialistic and relativistic world, above all that of childhood, adolescence and youth, is especially in need of inspired understanding and heroic examples of sacrificial love. The most important decisions in life - that of responding to our vocations and preparing a way of life - come at an age when our individual resources most need the help of the understanding, life and love that the Church and Christian family best help us to have.
What is love?
No word is so differently used, no reality so desired and so often abused as love. This already becomes clear in analyzing the ancient and arguably the most common definition of natural human love ever given: to love is "velle alicui bonum,""to will someone a good." (St Thomas, Summa Theologiae, la-IIae, Q. 26, a. 4, quoting Aristotle, Rhetoric II, 4) That definition became the most common of all throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times. Since every conscious act pursues some good for someone, all of us are always loving. But, depending on whether the good we pursue is real or apparent, trivial or sublime, for self or for others, and how it is willed, our love is virtuous or vicious, exemplary or commonplace, altruistic or selfish, radically perfect or imperfect.
Compared to natural human love, the supernatural, properly divine reality of love is Simple rather than complex, One rather than a collection of many, Personal rather than concrete or abstract, Perfect rather than imperfect, Eternal rather than temporal or successive, Infinite rather than finite, Absolute rather than relative, Uncreated rather than created, and identified with Supreme Being rather than an aspect of being. (Cf St Thomas, op. cit., la, Q 3-20) Through the gratuitous gift of grace fostering holiness, we share in such love. Other inspired expressions of this include: "God is love," (1 Jn 4: 8 & 16) and "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (Jn 14: 6)
When Jesus became man, countless human societies already existed. But, except for the divinely founded family and Chosen People, all of them were promoting (at best) natural human welfare in its cultural, political, social and economic needs and goals, but were unable to share divine gifts they did not have. So, just as God had founded the first family and the Chosen People, Jesus founded the Church and the sacramental family as communal instruments divinely designed to help us receive and respond to divine gifts. Through incarnating the theological, evangelical and infused moral virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we become images of Jesus, the supreme Incarnation of the Spirit.
Love in the Christian family is not only uniquely unconditional, faithful and exclusive, but is uniquely personal as well, that is, essentially based on the mutual gift of self and only secondarily on the sharing of feelings, qualities and other goods. Compared to all other associations and friendships, conjugal love is naturally and essentially life-creating. Compared to other associations and friendships, the family is uniquely life-wide: while social, economic, cultural or professional organizations restrict themselves to the particular purpose for which each was founded and are confined to a particular age group, the family is concerned with almost every aspect of life from beginning to end - from food, clothing and shelter to basic convictions, ideals and religion. It is a completely human, physical and spiritual, day and night relationship for all seasons because it is a man and a woman unconditionally loving each other and their children as persons.
Compared to other associations and friendships, the family is a loving relation "until death do us part." Even more so, since Christian life is unending growth in love, it normally reaches its finest earthly perfection in old age and at death. Our natural independence, health, strength, endurance, sight, memory, reason, leadership and work possibilities all decline in old age and end in death. On the other hand, God offers us throughout our lives and above all at its two earthly ends, the eternal gifts of his Love, Truth and Life. Since these gifts are called to grow throughout life and we are called to respond with gratitude and adoration, docility and self-giving, old-age and death should encourage us towards our greatest experience of sacrificial love. Despite their many gifts, previous stages of life all too rarely included the total gift of ourselves to God. Naturally and supernaturally, more than any other period or moment in life, old age and death call everyone to give ourselves totally to God, to obey more perfectly than ever before the first and greatest of all commands to love: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mk 12, 30) For those who fully respond to such love, old age and death are the transition from the imperfections and trials of temporal life to eternal, beatific union with God, our first beginning, transcendent Exemplar and Ultimate Perfection. In heaven, we will be definitively and endlessly transformed by our simultaneously-whole or perfectly-unified Beatific Vision of God.
St. Paul reports that he was "caught up into paradise and heard things which must not and cannot be put into human language." (2 Co 12: 4) St. Augustine and St. Thomas (In 2 Co 12: 2-4 # 451-4) agree that he literally experienced the Beatific Vision and returned to earth. He comments "we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Co 2: 9; cf Is 64: 3 and comm. of St. Thomas)
New: August 10th, 2011
Unemployment: A Loss Becomes Opportunity - Chapter 1
About seven or eight years ago, I was on jury duty at the criminal court building which in Los Angeles is only about a block from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. I found myself gravitating toward Mass during the long lunch hours, with time to spare for browsing the gift shop. On one foray, I bought a pretty calligraphic print, in the style of medieval illuminated manuscript, with the well- known words of Saint Teresa of Avila, “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing; patient endurance attains all things: one whom God possesses wants nothing for God alone suffices.”
I displayed the print by my desk in my office where I worked as a lawyer who handles misconduct by other attorneys. I was immersed in reading complaints of consumers, listening to their often angry rants. I certainly failed to implement St. Teresa’s gentle exhortation of patient endurance, time and again. I had been taking Christ under my roof in the Eucharist on Sundays and making prayerful promises about my week to come. Yet, my world was my office and its peregrinations. I did not act as if God alone sufficed. I did not feel it much either.
I had a good long run in my career—twenty-five years—about a third of a statistical lifetime. I comprehended hypothetically the dangers of being a long term manager in the midst of constant cyclical organizational renewal. And, although I saw the signs of professional danger, with several of us similarly situated, since I and they had survived before, I could again. This time, however, it was not to be. The organization was going, we were told, “in a different direction.” We were not going with it.
They say that losing a job is one of the most traumatic events in an individual’s life. In the first week or so, I went through the five stages of grief in succession and in overlap. Acceptance was not coming easy.
No one is indispensable to a work place. But I would be lying if I were to say that I was not horribly hurt to have experienced how readily dispensable I was, without regard to the passion and commitment I had brought to the work of lawyer regulation. I was both disturbed and frightened to find myself unceremoniously severed from that extended part of my life. While my colleagues and I surely did good work, as our evaluations over many years would show, henceforward, we will never receive extrinsic validation again. In fact, what I felt was that the implicit future and transient message of our release cannot but be other than that we somehow failed. If they did not value me in that forum, I had no value.
I retrieved little from my office, my diplomas, a poster, and my print of St. Teresa’s words, which now is displayed on my bedroom desk. I find myself noticing it a great deal. I find myself meditating upon those words, “all things are passing; God alone is enough” in a way heretofore uncharacteristic of me.
I am re-discovering words of similar import by other human beings who experienced the crucible of the secular and the spiritual and were irrevocably transformed, leaving us their guidance for our time. Thomas a Kempis wrote, “On the day of Judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done, not how eloquently we have spoken, but how holily we have lived. Tell me where are now all those Masters and Doctors whom you knew so well in their lifetime in the full flower of their learning? Other men now sit in their seats and they are hardly called to mind. In their lifetime they seemed of great account, but now no one speaks of them. Oh, how swiftly the glory of the world passes away. . .He is truly great who is great in the love of God. . .”
Oh, the tug of praise and recognition by my peers, by my bosses, by an institution! The tug still is there. It will likely always be there. But finding past praise to be objectively meaningless and being severed from the possibility of future praise, at least from the worldly source, has set me in a direction of my own, fitfully indeed, but certainly.
I woke up the other day. As has been the case for nearly a month, I remembered that the thirty years of my niche legal career, painstakingly cultivated, was gone. But something conjoined the memory. I was momentarily ready to accept, without fear, the closing of that door and the opening of another, where God alone suffices. Now, I must pray for the grace of patient endurance as I embark on this last phase of my life.
I will be updating my progress on Spirituality: Running to God from time to time. Look for me. If you want to write to me about your story of unemployment and search for hope, I am at
Here is another wonderful writing from Michael Meaney, Ph.D. about some of the Commandments. Even if you think you are very familiar with the meaning of these, you might need something fresh. (Note CCC in the text refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which you can find on line for free.)
The Ten Commandments, Part 1: 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Commandments
Many persons react to "church," "religion," "piety," "commandments," as well as "law and authority" ambivalently or even negatively: all these seem to be at best difficult, long-term goods which require more immediate discipline, patience and good will than we feel we have. Or we even react to them as medicines which we take in order to reach other goods or avoid evils. To some of us, they are like paying taxes: difficult, even painful and annoying experiences which take up our time; take away our money and seriously interfere with our freedom and our lives. We can console ourselves that taxes are necessary if we are to have schools and hospitals, streets and roads, fire and police departments: they are "bad news leading to good news."
In stark contrast to this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (which does not cancel out but fulfills the Old Law), is not entitled "bad news leading to good news," but simply The Good News of Jesus Christ. This brings us to the question "Are divine law in general and the Ten Commandments in particular good news - and if so, why and how?"
Seeing divine wisdom and law as one reality, the Jews summed up their Scriptures as "the Law and the Prophets" and called the first five books the "Torah," which means both the "Teaching" and the "Law." The Jews were acutely aware of their special relationship to God; the covenants marking that relationship involve two main elements, divine law and revelation - both directly coming to them from God with predilection and both celebrated by them as their greatest gifts. For them, "the Law of Yahweh is perfect, new life for the soul, wisdom for the simple, joy for the heart, light for the eyes, more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey" (Ps 19,7-10). In fact, the most lyrical praise and enthusiastic love for the Law ever written, Psalm 119, states:
“Explain to me how to keep your precepts, that I may meditate on your marvels. Your commandments fill me with delight, I love them deeply. I have noticed limitations to all perfection, but your commandment has no limits at all. Meditating all day on your Law, how I have come to love it! By your commandment, ever mine, how much wiser you have made me than my enemies! How much subtler than my teachers, through my meditating on your decrees! How much more perceptive than the elders, as a result of my respecting your precepts! Yes, I love your commandments more than gold, than purest gold. Your decrees are so wonderful my soul cannot but respect them. I hate, I detest delusion; your Law is what I love. Seven times daily I praise you for your righteous rulings.” (verses 27,47,96-100,127,129 & 163-164)
Unfortunately, the Jews were not always faithful to God or his Law -about which they regularly made several catastrophic mistakes. For example, the Scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish "professional specialists" or "experts" in understanding, living and teaching the Law, felt that the Law was the unique and efficacious source of salvation, for it is, they said, a kind of mutually-binding legal contract through which meticulous obedience to all the details of all of the tremendous number and variety of different laws contained in the Law exacted salvation from God. Or in other words, they followed the letter of the law rather than its spirit and therefore fell into the seamless garment type of mistake: they emphasized everything without adequately recognizing or appropriately emphasizing the greatest commandments. That lack of unique emphasis on the love of God and neighbor perverted the Law and caused them to fall into the extreme pride and selfishness that merited the most eloquent of all condemnations - that of Jesus in Matthew 23.
Even though we are saved by God, not by legalistic obedience to the Law, God wants us to co-operate or participate in our own salvation and in that of others, which we do by following his will and law in a loving way. Thus, when asked how we are saved, Jesus answered "keep the commandments" (Mt 19,17) - while pointing to acts of love and the greatest commandments of love. Thus God saves us through our preferring his will and law to our own, and sanctifies through our following his commandments of love in a total and heroic way. In order to understand divine law, we must first understand what law is and what the different kinds of law are.
In general, law is a regulation of human acts, a rule of reason ordering us to do or not do something: "pay your taxes" orders us to do something, "do not kill innocent people" orders us not to do something. In a more complete sense, "law is an ordinance (or rule) of reason for the common good promulgated by one in authority" (St. Thomas, Summa Theologica. 1-2, Q 90, a 4). A law is a law only if it authoritatively orders us to do something because of its being fundamentally reasonable and for the common good: if a law is not promulgated or is not presented by those having social authority or if it orders us to do something immoral or to serve a private good as if it were the common good, it is not just bad law, but no law at all.
God is the supreme law-maker, for he is supremely intelligent, knows perfectly what our common good is, has supreme authority over his creation and can promulgate his law in our hearts and through both oral and written promulgation. Since God is eternal, his law is usually called the eternal law; since we are temporal, our law is usually called temporal law. Temporal law is of two kinds: natural law, i.e., that law which we know to be such in an immediate, interior, spontaneous, quasi-instinctive, evident way: on seeing a huge brute mercilessly beating a small child, everyone immediately thinks "this is evil." Natural law is a law written in our hearts. The other form of temporal law is positive law, i.e., law that is written out and formally enacted. This is sometimes divided into divine law (the Old and New Law) and human law, both ecclesiastical and civil.
The Ten Commandments are a resume directly made by God of all his natural moral law revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. Since these Ten Commandments are both written by God in our hearts and written on two tablets, they are both natural and divine positive law. As an expression of natural law, they apply to everyone and for all time. Other parts of the Old Law, such as the ceremonial rituals, kosher foods or circumcision, did not carry over into the New Law. Everyone calls these the "Ten Commandments" or "Decalogue," and divides them into those directly related to God and those related to neighbor. Since the two texts (Ex 20, 2-17 & Deut 5, 6-21; Cf CCC, pp 496-497) reveal them without precisely numbering or dividing them, various interpreters have divided them differently -with either 3 or 4 related directly to God and 7 or 6 related to neighbor. Following St Augustine and St Thomas, the CCC divides them into 3 and 7. We are concerned now above all with the first three related to God.
The apparently simple question, "What are the first and second commandments?," is not easy to answer. Moses records the first commandment as "You shall have no Gods except me" (Ex 20:2) and the second "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."(v 20:7) On the other hand, when asked "Which is the first of all the c ommandments ?", Jesus replied, 'This is the first "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mk 12:30 & Dt 6: 5) The second is this: "You must love your neighbor as yourself." (Mk 12:31) There is no commandment greater than these.' (Mk 12, 29-31)
Why aren't the two statements of the first and second commandments the same?
In order to answer that question, we have to see what natural law is, for the Ten Commandments are a divinely revealed statement of natural moral law. (Cf CCC #2071&n.32) The first and most general principle of natural law is "do good and avoid evil." The whole natural moral law is implicitly contained in that first principle. The next most common principles of natural law are "love God" and "love neighbor" - best expressed in the two texts cited by Jesus. (Cf St Thomas, ST,1-2,Q100,a3,ad1) The first is made explicit in the first three commandments, and the second in the last seven. Thus Jesus, seeing and revealing the common principles of natural law, shows that they are, in a very profound sense, the first and second commandments of the law. One reason that we have ten rather than thirteen commandments is that the first principle of natural law is too well known by all to need a special commandment, and the commands to love God and neighbor (which are so closely related that they are treated almost as one by Jesus) are not only very well known but are also to be found elsewhere in both the Old and the New Law. But in the ten, God gave us invaluable instruction on the priority and order of the most important elements of natural moral law.
God himself directly gave the Ten Commandments to Moses as part of an alliance or covenant which was not just a legal contract or treaty between himself and the Jews, but an interpersonal, sacred bond like a marriage vow. His gift to Moses was preceded by the whole providential history of the Jewish people up to that point in time and space, especially God's leading them out of bondage in Egypt and towards the Promised Land. Following and implementing the most striking divine interventions yet seen on earth, Moses and the Chosen People came to the wilderness of Sinai, where they pitched their camp facing the mountain. Moses alone was called by God to listen to him and to be his intermediary with the people. After two days of dialog and prayerful preparation,
Now at daybreak on the third day there were peals of thunder on the mountain and lightning flashes, a dense cloud and a loud trumpet blast, and inside the camp all the people trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the bottom of the mountain. The mountain of Sinai was entirely wrapped in smoke, because Yahweh had descended on it in the form of fire. Like smoke from a furnace the smoke went up, and the whole mountain shook violently. Louder and louder grew the sound of the trumpet. Moses spoke, and God answered him with peals of thunder. Yahweh came down from the mountain of Sinai, on the mountain top, and Yahweh called Moses to the top of the mountain; and Moses went up.(Ex 19,16-20) He went up the mountain, and stayed there for forty days and forty nights. (Ex 24,18}
Having set up such a striking theatrical setting within which to give the Law and Ten Commandments to his people, God gave them to Moses within a unique mystical experience or expression of divine love. God revealed the Ten Commandments in the best possible way: by first loving the Jews greatly, and by showing them the greatness of his love for those who would follow these precepts towards him. His personal love for us is our greatest possible incentive to respect and obey his will. He then states the ten in the best possible order of presentation. Our whole moral lives depend on two relationships of love, the first to God and the second to neighbor. We might think that someone is left out here: ourselves. Loving ourselves, however, is so natural that we do not ordinarily have to be commanded to do so. Furthermore, we are commanded elsewhere to love our neighbor as ourselves - which shows how natural, strong and primordial self-love is. Our first and most important activity must be loving God in a way which corresponds to what and who he is. Since God is absolutely unique and completely transcendent, he begins to reveal his law and will with his absolutely unique name previously revealed to Moses: "I am," which he immediately links to the latest and most extraordinary sign of his love: "(I am) the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." By then saying "You shall have no other gods before me" he shows that the perfection of our love lies above all in respecting and adoring God, the greatest of all goods, in the unique way he alone deserves. We must worship God alone, for anything else is infinitely inferior to him, is not our supreme good and final end, and if taken as such becomes a false god or idol. This directly flows out of "the greatest commandment" stated in Deut., 6,5 and cited by Jesus in Mk 12,28. The next commandment shows that our adoring love of God immediately and necessarily implies "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." Since God's name is absolutely unique, it deserves absolute respect: our using it disrespectfully shows that we have no idea what and who God is. We must rise from respect to docility and adoration rather than degenerate through disrespect to disobedience, vice and stupidity. In order to persevere in adoration, time must be set aside for it regularly. That time must not be insignificantly short nor infrequent, nor decided solely by our inclination or disinclination. In order to worship God as we should, God set up one day out of a seven day week to be devoted in a special way to him, to be his day, a day of rest from work, and leisure for God: hence "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy." This command to worship shows us not only what God is but also what we are: we are not primarily workers, administrators, organizers or citizens but above all sons and daughters of the God who loves us and calls out to us to love and worship him in return. The importance of everything else depends largely on what we hold to be primary. This first part of the Decalogue then returns to God's love for us expressed in the discipline he imposes and the rewards he gives - which are inherently linked to all the precepts, but need to be pointed out where the utility of the precept is not always evident, as in the case of our relationship to God.
Having stressed the importance of our responding to God's love for us by loving him with our whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and all our strength, God then goes on to stress our second strongest duty: to love our neighbor. Just as our first duty is to respect God, to whom we owe the most, our first duty towards our neighbors is to respect the ones to whom we owe the most. Hence the first of the commandments related to neighbor is "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." Since we owe everything to our parents, we should respond to them accordingly. This implicitly recognizes the great importance of the family in our lives: socially speaking, we do not first of all respect, honor, love and obey the State or Society, but our parents, the heads of our family.
The precepts are stated in a descending order of seriousness of sin: in descending order, the most serious sins involve 1) deeds, 2) words and 3} thoughts or desires. The worst deed we can commit against our neighbor is to kill him or her. Hence "You shall not kill." The next worst deed against our neighbor is violating, stealing or alienating his or her spouse: "You shall not commit adultery." After that comes depriving our neighbor of exterior goods. Hence "You shall not steal." The next most serious way we can wound our neighbor is through words: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." After deeds and words come thoughts or desires, the most serious of which, in terms of damage to our neighbor, is expressed in the precept "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife." Less serious but still very important is "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods." Why does God command us not to covet these two realities rather than killing or lying, for example? One reason is that we do not naturally enjoy killing or lying, and do not ordinarily have to be dissuaded from them with special prohibitions. But since we are naturally prone towards sexual pleasure and wealth, we do need those added prohibitions. Sexual pleasure and the pursuit of goods "indispensable" or highly desirable to our survival or well-being, on the other hand, are so instinctively strong and often so socially acceptable and even honored that they merit special attention in a law-giver. Hence God tells us in these last two precepts: "Don't even think about doing that!" Human history from antiquity and perhaps above all in the present provides ample confirmation of the wisdom of God's selective emphasis. Many, however, have criticized the Catholic Church for following that divine emphasis through its very strong pastoral condemnation of all forms of sexual immorality. They point out that sexual sins are not as intrinsically grave as pride, injustice or hatred of God. This fails to see the fact that sexual sins seductively promise the greatest pleasures and are arguably among the most dangerous, most destructive and most common of faults: since they all too easily lead many of us away from God, they deserve special pastoral attention.
Jesus shows us that the Ten Commandments are divinely revealed natural law calling us towards the total or perfect love of God and love of neighbor as ourselves - in that order. The first principle of the natural law does not vaguely encourage us to try to do some good sometimes, and try to avoid some evils from time to time, but is a clear, unqualified command to do good and avoid evil. There is already, therefore, in all law a clear, complete and absolute dedication to goodness and rejection of evil. Since this is realized in temporal beings called to eternity, it is a process of growth in which we gradually go from the temporal pursuit of many limited, relative, participated goods towards the simultaneously-whole and perfect eternal experience of the one, unlimited, absolute source, model and end of every pure perfection.
Seen as a whole and above all in its greatest perfection, this process is not simply an improvement in the way we love, but changes us so greatly that we become a "new creation," become through grace what Christ is by nature, and love God with divine love, whose highest mystical realization is ineffable or incommunicable. What "doing good and avoiding evil" means first and above all is loving God and neighbor as they deserve to be loved. This answers the first and greatest need of persons and societies: to discover what the greatest good or ultimate end is in order to tend towards it above all, and what the greatest evil is in order to avoid it most of all. Even though we are surrounded by a great proliferation and variety of goods, we cannot hope to possess them all nor even pursue them equally, but must concentrate on or choose the ones we consider best and try to avoid those we consider worst. Since these choices and judgments are difficult to make, crucially important and begin early in life when we haven't yet acquired much wisdom, God helps us with his natural law or Ten Commandments and with the inspirations of the New Covenant of love lived in the divinely formed People of God and family. In the Ten Commandments, God teaches us that the best way of doing good and avoiding evil is by loving God totally and our neighbor as ourselves, as well as by avoiding all opposing evils. We do good and avoid evil best when we respond to goods to the extent of their goodness and reject evil to the extent of their evil. Hence our total love of the greatest good or God, our similar love of neighbor, and our complete rejection of the worst evils - those most opposed to the greatest good - are both our highest perfection and our most perfective contributions to society -the greatest gifts we enjoy and give to others.
The first and greatest commandment, Jesus tells us in many places and ways, implies not only our recognition of the absolutely unique, transcendent greatness of God, but ultimately challenges us to the perfection of humility and faith, hope and love as well. Since God is the supremely good source, model and end of all goodness, the only fitting way we can love him is whole-heartedly. Since he is the eternally and supremely living source and end of all life, we must love him with all our souls. Since he is infinitely wise and generously shares his wisdom with us, he deserves to be loved with our entire minds. Since he is the omnipotent source of all strength, we must love him with all the strength he gives us. Anything less than that kind of total and perfect love falls short of recognizing and responding to what God is. What God is telling us in the first and greatest commandment is that what persons and societies need above all is adoration. What best recognizes and responds to what God is in relationship to what we are is adoration or worship. What most profoundly realizes and responds to what we are in relationship to God is humility. Since God revealed himself to us, our best knowledge of him comes from faith in his Word and inspiration from his Spirit. Since Jesus is our Savior, our greatest hope is trust in him. Since God is love, our highest perfection lies in responding to his love for us through loving him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
All these essential elements of adoration are not only inherently most perfect, but most perfective or fruitful as well. Many masters of the spiritual life have said that if we want to progress quickly towards perfection, we should examine our lives, determine which are our worst faults, and concentrate on the virtues most opposed to those faults. While there is much reason to recommend that, the greatest mystical theologian in the history of the Church, St. ".John of the Cross, took a different approach: we should" concentrate not so much on the virtues most opposed to our worst faults, but on the greatest of all virtues: the loving adoration of God.
The following story illustrates this point of view. Some years ago, Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP, was asked by the abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Notre Dame de Citeaux to give a retreat to the Trappists there. Dom Belorgey then recounted the story of his life. He was a young, thoroughly non-religious veterinarian in the army when he met a T rappist lay brother on a train & eventually responded to his warm invitation to spend a few days at the monastery. That visit led to others and eventually to his entering as a novice. After receiving many graces of prayer and finally making his solemn vows, he suddenly and clearly realized that his monastery was not filled with contemplatives, as he had assumed, but with workers. When he frankly and vigorously complained to God that he had tricked him, God answered that he should become a contemplative even if others were not.
After years of contemplative life, he was shocked to find himself elected abbot of the monastery. Once again he complained to God that the monastery was a group of workers, not contemplatives. This time, God told him to call every single monk into his office individually and ask each one to set aside seven moments every day dedicated exclusively to a short but warmly loving adoration of God. That would bring about a conversion in their lives. Dom Belorgey objected that since the Trappists of Citeaux had not become contemplatives even though they spend many hours every day in church praying and chanting the divine office, adding a few more prayers would not seem to offer any significant hope of change. When God told him that short, fervent, personal prayers could bring much more grace than long periods of mechanical recitation of prayers, Dom Belorgey implemented the request - and found, to his surprise, that in six months, the monastery was transformed! Fr. Marie-Dominique, who later founded the now flourishing Congregation of St. John, went on to point out that this approach is eminently fitted to helping laypersons grow in prayer and perfection.
New: August 27th, 2011
Unemployment: Loss Becoming Hope, By Djinna Gochis
Chapter II: Forward and Back and Forward Again!
I am used to a linear approach to my life, grammar school to high school, high school to college, college to law school, law school to first job, and until July, a long career as a prosecutor—the equivalent of police internal affairs, except against miscreant lawyers.
While I always harbored a creative streak and have expressed it in limited ways, I have not been much of an explorer. For the first couple of weeks of enforced liberation (being “let go”), I jumped on updating my resume and posting it on various sites. I agreed to go on an interview for a job I realized immediately afterward I did not even slightly want—being part of some company that sells annuities and long term insurance to retirees. I could not imagine telling the elderly that after paying oodles of bucks, they might not be entitled to payout. I cancelled the interview, with apology. Besides, I was trying to force myself back into a daily structure that frankly no longer fits particularly in light of my hope to cultivate my Catholic spirituality.
In an attempt to investigate my more “artistic” being, I began taking voice over classes. I am now going down a potential career road I could not afford to wander when I was young and new to California. What fun indeed, if only thirty years later! It is allowing me to get out of my head, where my legal career required me to be, into something more relaxed and unguarded. This is not to say that I am never going down the traditional legal road again, but if I do, on my own terms and schedule.
I wrote a short, short story and submitted it to some contest. The self-addressed envelope I received back had nothing it in, so I do not know if it was rejected or accepted for consideration. No matter. It was action, progress. I promised myself to do more than the yearly oil painting. A blank canvas sat outside in my little patio ready to receive the first brush strokes and finally I made the first splash of color.
I began planning to work more regularly with charities to which I have heretofore been only sporadic help. The involuntary separation from my linear life was offering a truly new direction. Perhaps this was God’s plan indeed! Two steps forward!
But then, in the early morning on the day I received my last official payroll check fell again into a sense of loss and fear, almost with as much intensity as at the first slap of termination. I was feeling again like the abandoned wife still surprised that her husband did not really love her. Oh, oh, three steps back! You know what happens. The negative thoughts pry their way into your mind and soul. I was sad anew. I was in narcissistic mode, the opposite of what is our mandate as Catholic Christians.
Robert Barron points out in his book “The Strangest Way”, that if we are truly following Our Lord we know that our lives are not about us. I found it easier to accept that I am a sinner (one of the other truths of our faith) than that my life is not about me!
My habitual tendency has been, alas, to brood and to obsess on endless, “what if’s”. What could I do in order to short circuit this cycle?
I said the rosary; it being a Friday, the Sorrowful Mysteries. I admit to distraction throughout the decades, but I came back again and again to the beads and the prayers. The calming thoughts of God and His plan were before me. And then, newly available on weekdays I went to the daily 12:10 Mass at my parish.
After Mass I had lunch with another parishioner and friend and enjoyed the fruits of fellowship. Good. A temptation to despair was averted, with God’s help. Two steps forward again!
(Stay tuned at the end of August for Chapter 3: Working on Forgiveness)
(Note from Ronda: This is the first part of a long article by Michael Meaney, Ph.D. More of this article will be in September entries.)
Christian Prayer and Mystical Experience
In order to understand Christian perfection, we might well study prayerful union with God.
A. What is prayer?
1. "An appeal for good things made to God by devout people" - St. Basil
"Asking somehing of God," "A petition" - St. Augustine
These define prayer in the narrow sense of petition. Prayer is also thanking God, asking his forgiveness and above all praising or adoring him.
2. "Raising the mind and soul to God" - St. John Damascene
"Raising the mind and heart to God" - popular definition
These definitions stress our, not God's role in prayer. They don't separate meditation from prayer. Meditation is thinking about God devoutly; prayer is conversation with God.
3. "Friendly conversation with God who - as we know - loves us" - St. Teresa of Avila, Life, ch. 8. This defines "mental" rather than vocal prayer. Mental prayer is personally talking to God in our own words. Vocal prayer is saying already composed prayers (like rosary, creed or gloria) which we make our own through faith, hope and love in talking to God. friendly, i.e., an exercise of mutual love or friendship; conversation, i.e., personally speaking with God as well as listening to him - largely through Holy Scripture & faith, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Tradition & providence, lives of the saints, Church directives, experience and conscience; with God - such a friendship relates us to God through faith, hope, love, adoration & humility:
One friend is a creature and child of God, the other is our Creator and Father
One friend is a sinner, the other is our divine Savior
One friend is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the other is the Holy Spirit who loves us.
God's love for us is adequately appreciated only by saints and mystics: St.Teresa of Avila mentions God's love for us twice in her seven word definition of mental prayer. Her reason is that God's love for us is the greatest, most wonderful, most touching, most moving, most transforming of Good News as well as our greatest incentive to pray. Learning to pray is largely a matter of learning to believe, live and respond to God's love for us. Mystical prayer is profound supernatural faith, hope and love experiencing and responding to God's love for us by loving God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, all our strength, and others as Jesus loves us.
B. What are the most important elements of prayer?
Since prayer is union with God, its main elements are those that directly unite us with God: the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, as well as the evangelical virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit closely related to the theological virtues.
1. Faith. Since prayer is a friendly conversation with God, we must believe that He is present to us, eminently worthy of being listened to and followed as well as eager to listen to and speak to us. Believing that God is our merciful Father, our crucified and risen Savior, our Holy Spirit of love, we respond by praying with faith.
2. Hope. Prayer places us in the presence of God, sharing in his wisdom, life and love in the hope that we will all be definitively united with him in heaven. In order to do any of this, we have an absolute need of divine help: "Cut off from me, you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). Our dependence on God is total: from him we have our being and well-being, both in nature and in grace. To the extent that we realize and respond through faith, hope and love to our total dependence on God, our Supreme Good, we pray.
3. Love. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love us. We respond to being loved in many different ways (enjoying it, thinking about it, talking about it), but our most natural and most perfect response is loving in return. Our responding to God's love for us by loving him and others is the source and heart of prayer and the contemplative life. Our responding to his love by loving others is the source and heart of the active and apostolic lives.
4. Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Since we grow in prayer through growing in faith, hope and love, we must tend towards the perfection or heroic level of these virtues. We do this best by responding to the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
a) The seven classical gifts of the Holy Spirit - wisdom, science, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord (Is 11:1-2) are divine gifts coming with grace to everyone in the state of grace enabling us to love, adore and serve God and others more and more perfectly. They are related above all to charity: they come with charity, in¬crease with charity and, to the extent that we respond to them with docility and generosity, enable us to reach the highest levels of love of God and neighbor. St. Thomas points out that there are three different ways of being good: 1) through natural virtues (prudence, justice and moral virtues), 2) through faith, hope and love lived pru¬dentially, and 3) through faith, hope and love lived on the level of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are different ways that the Holy Spirit touches and moves us, inspires us and gives us not simply a belief in but a grow¬ing experience of divine nature and life, wisdom and love. Perfect prayer is faith, hope and love brought to an heroic level of perfection through the mystical experience of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
b) The charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit that help us serve others well. One of St. Paul's lists of them is: preaching with wisdom (about the greatest Christian truths), preaching instruction (about elementary Christian truths), faith (an especially intense faith or unusually convincing and powerful confidence in God), healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues (1Co 12:4-10 & 27-30; also Rm12: 6-8). The charisms (which are sometimes mistakenly taken to be the only gifts of the Holy Spirit) dif¬fer from the seven classical gifts in several extremely important ways: They do not necessarily come with grace and are not signs of holiness (there can be natural or even evil as well as spiritual charisms): diabolical possession, for example, sometimes involves "tongues" "miracles" "prophecy" and so on. No spiritual person has all of them, in fact, seldom more than one. They are mostly for the sake of others. They come with & increase in us to the extent of our faith, and in turn greatly strengthen and inspire our faith and that of others so as to build up the Body of Christ.
5. Adoration and humility are so essential to prayer and so inherently related to each other that they need to be seen in relation to each other immediately after the theological virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Adoration is the most perfect way we appreciate and respond fittingly to what and who God is. It is divinely inspired worship of God - who is so unique and so transcendent that no finite mind can adequately imagine or conceive him, much less respond to him adequately. On earth our least inadequate way of appreciating and responding to God is faith, hope and charity enlightened, enlivened and divinized by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Heaven is above all the divine gift of eternal, perfect adoration. Humility most perfectly expresses what we are in relation to God. It most directly, effectively and perfectly destroys pride, the worst of all sins. Whereas God resists the proud, he gives grace to the humble (Jm 4:6 & 1 P 5: 5-6). Grace is the ori¬gin and substance of the entire spiritual life. The inspired prayer which best sums up the relationship between adoration and humility is "Abyssus abyssum invocat" "Deep is calling to deep". (Ps 42:7) The abyss of divine perfection (infinite, eternal, perfectly unified Wisdom, Life, Love, Sim¬plicity, Goodness, Power and Mercy) lovingly calls out to us, both creatively transforming us and eliciting our responding call of abysmal imperfection to his perfective Abyss of absolute, infinite and eternal divine Perfection.
The evangelical virtues - esp. love of neighbor, humility, spirit of sacrifice & poverty listening to, depending on our Savior and incarnating his Spirit in day to day life - all powerfully help us to live Christian perfection and prayerful union with God.
(More will follow each 2 weeks of Spirituality: Running to God)
HERE IS THE LAST SEGMENT OF DR. MICHAEL MEANEY’S ARTICLE ABOUT MYSTICISM AND PRAYER . (The first 2 parts you probably read in the above sections for August.)
What most helps us to pray?
Conformity to, the will of God is most important to spiritual life and prayer.
a) the way we are saved is preferring the will of God to our own will
b) the way we are sanctified is total abandonment, complete conformity, perfect docility to the will of God.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are di¬vine ways of our being perfectly doc¬ile to the will of God.
"This is what loving God is - keeping the commandments" 1 Jn 5:3. "If you love me you will keep my commandments" Jn 14:15.
Faith. After love, what promotes prayer most of all is faith, above all belief in God's love for us. Jesus often insisted on how crucial faith is to prayer: "If you have faith, everything you ask for in prayer you will receive" (Mt 21:22; Mt 8:13; 9, 2, 22 & 28-29) . One can see the importance of faith by the fact that lack of faith or weak faith was the greatest complaint of Jesus concerning his apostles.(Mt 8:26) Through faith we accept divinely revealed truths which teach us a hierarchy of values involving our understanding, living and lov¬ing through believing, hoping in and loving God. The greatest single statement of this is the Sermon on the Mount. Its spirit of poverty values the spiritual over the mater¬ial, the eternal over the temporal, persons over things and God over everything. Its spirit of sacrifice is an eagerness to please God in every way. Its spirit of docility is an eagerness to follow God's will over our own. That divine spirit ensures growth in spiritual life and prayer.
Hope. Christian faith naturally leads to hope and dependence on God. For hope is confidence that Jesus, because of his goodness and merci¬ful love, will save us - providing we co-oper¬ate with him in our own salvation and in the salvation of others. An important part of that hope-filled co-operation is prayer.
Spirit of sacrifice and of poverty. In order to begin pray¬ing, we have to be willing to sacrifice time for it. In order to grow in prayer, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for it, sacri¬fice all alternative evils impeding it and all alternative goods distracting from it. To be¬come a Christian, we must meet one condition: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross ev¬ery day and follow me" (Lk 9:23). To become a saint, our self-sacrifice or detachment must be total: in a famous passage, St John of the Cross writes that just as a bird cannot fly if it is tied down with a stout cord or by a thin thread, so we cannot become perfect if we are attached to anything, however large, small or insignificant. (Ascent of Mt.Carmel, Book 1, ch.ll, # 4)
Mercy. Loving others as Jesus loves us is the one commandment of Jesus. He loves us with merci¬ful forgiveness. The importance of forgiving others is shown by the fact that Jesus included it in the Our Father, making it part of a uni¬que agreement according to which God forgives us as we forgive others. Everything in our lives and in our prayer changes radically de¬pending on whether we receive what we deserve in justice or benefit from the merciful for¬giveness of God. Jesus further emphasized for¬giveness by making it the one part of the Our Father about which he immediately commented . (Mt 6:7-15) Our merciful generosity in meet¬ing the needs of others is nothing less than the way we are saved: Mt 25: 31-46. Our en¬tire active and apostolic lives center around doing the spiritual and corporal works of mer¬cy. Prayer helps us enormously to do them well, and they in turn help us to pray. They are even a divine condition for prayers being answered. (Is 58: 7-10)
What are the greatest obstacles to prayer?
1. What most destroys spiritual life and prayer is mortal sin, or preferring our own will to God's will in serious matters , thus removing grace from our souls, separating and alienating us from God. Mortal sins committed out of weakness are great evils but can lead to repentance, prayer and conversion. Habits of repeated mortal sins gradually change us into vicious per¬sons whose perspective goes from "I was weak in doing evil" through "Everybody does it!" to "X 'evil' is really good, and I'm good at it!" Attachment to sin causes us to avoid God, the just Judge, rather than believe in his love for us and seek him out in prayer. To the ex¬tent that we prefer our own will to God's will in some things, we become "cafeteria Catholics" pick¬ing and choosing so as to live a brand of "Christ¬ianity" adapted to our likes and dislikes. This easily degenerates into a self-centered, self-reliant , self-confident humanism bearing no resem¬blance to Christianity.
2. The great temptations against union with God have always been listed as "the world, the flesh and the devil." Today what most effectively leads us away from prayer and towards preferring our own will to God's will is a whole range of worldly alternatives to faith, hope and love of God as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For centuries, our civiliza¬tion has increasingly pursued purely natural goods and truths. This process of secularization has in turn degenerated into a secular humanism which pow¬erfully promotes the unlimited pursuit of freedom, independence, pride, wealth, pleasure and power as absolutes, highest goods and ultimate ends - di¬rectly and aggressively substituting them for re¬ligious goods, truths and ends. Recently over 900 dioceses around the world studied the reasons for shortages of priests and religious - and gave as the No. 1 cause: the secularization of culture and its influence on Catholic families. Does not secularization have an equally powerful impact on prayer?
3. In a war to the death with Christianity, secular humanism tries to direct all human life and solve all human problems through reliance on purely nat¬ural understanding and purely natural resources -without, even in opposition to, divine inspiration and help. In talking recently to the bishops of France, Pope John Paul II spoke of this as the greatest of all temptations, a "meta-temptation": to live as if we have no need of a Savior.
4. Pleasure-pain principle. One of our strongest natural instincts is pursuing pleasures and avoid¬ing pains. An immature person remains on this lev¬el. Maturing involves being willing to undergo presently painful training and preparation in or¬der to attain future goods great enough to justify the sacrifice of present satisfactions. An imma¬ture person wants to please self; a mature person wants to please others as well as self; a saint wants to please God: "If you want to become a saint—have but one goal: to give pleasure to Jesus, to be united more intimately with him". The Collected Letters of St.Therese of Lisieux, Lon¬don: Sheed and Ward, 1949, pp. 314-5.
5. Natural justice. Whereas divine goodness is a merciful, creative overflow of goodness, natural human goodness is at best a just or calculating response to goodness. It is moral virtues and above all justice, which gives to each what each deserves. Even natural love is a kind of justice: it responds to various goods according to the ex¬tent of their goodness, or in other words, gives each good or person the response each deserves. Even in natural ethics, God deserves a maximum response from human beings. What cripples any eth¬ics which does not benefit from divine revelation is its uncertainty about or denial that God is interested in us. Aristotle, for example, assumes that the only object worthy of God's attention, love or interest is God him¬self. Prayer consequently has little role to play in such an ethics. And prayer is rejected entirely within a natural ethics such as secular humanism. To the extent of their influence on us, these non-Christian and anti-Christian ethics will lead us away from prayer.
St. Teresa of Avila on Prayer
In Spain, a land of saints, St. Teresa is known as "The Saint." Not only is she one of the Church's greatest saints and mystics, but she is, with St. Catherine of Siena and St. Theresa of Lisieux, one of only three women Doctors of the Church. Her Life or Autobiography. her Interior Castle and her Way of Perfection are among the greatest mystical classics. Her Interior Castle is a great reference book; her Life and Way of Perfection ideal introductions.
St. Teresa begins the Way of Perfection by submitting it to the Church and its learned men for correction (or burning), adding that her intention was merely to "Suggest a few remedies for a number of small temptations." She contrasts "the imperfection and poverty of my style" with "other books which are very ably written by those who have known what they are writing about". This great saint even describes herself as a "wicked woman" who could well serve as a warning to the other sisters! She wrote it for them after one of her fellow sisters asked her "How can I become a contemplative?" At any rate, The Way of Perfection is divided into two parts, 1) the best conditions for learning to pray, and 2) growing in prayer through the Our Father, the perfect prayer and perfect school of prayer.
A. The Conditions for Learning How to Pray
1. St. Teresa's three conditions for learning how to pray, especially the first, are surprising. Few of us would expect a great contemplative to say that love of neighbor should be our first priority in learning how to pray. Given the importance of the love of God in prayer, we might expect that to be the first condition. Or placing ourselves in an environment favorable to prayer. Christian life is ordinarily divided into the active and contemplative lives, and if one wants to be a contemplative, one chooses a con¬templative rather than an active environment, avoiding chatter for silence, living to love and serve God and people in solitude. Of course, writing for Carmelite sisters, she assumes that. Contemplatives are known for living in peaceful, quiet places far from the hustle and bustle, the rush and tension, the aggressive competition of where the (social) action is. While many things help us to pray, for St. Teresa, the first condition for learning to pray is love of neighbor, which is the source and heart of the active life, as well as the one commandment of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you". (Jn 15:12). The contemplative life is mostly one of living the greatest commandment of the Law, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). The active life is mostly one of living the second commandment of the Law, "You must love your neighbor as yourself". (Mk 12:31) At first glance, Jesus' one commandment seems to be a profound re-statement of the second commandment. But Jesus can hardly be saying to us, "The Old Testament commands the love of God and neighbor; I command you to love neighbors." By saying "love one another as I have loved you," Jesus points out that divine love for us is the source and model of our love of neighbor. Since God's love for us is creative or fruitful by its very nature, it makes it possible for us to love both our neighbor and God in return. St. John best states this: "We are to love, then, because he loved us first. Anyone who says 'I love God', and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother that he can see cannot love God, whom he has never seen. So this is the commandment that he has given us, that everyone who loves God must also love his brother". (1 Jn 4: 19-21) Jesus also says "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well". (Mt 6:33) Among the many meanings of this text is that with love of others comes everything else: it is because of loving others that we are saved (Mt 25:31-46), that we live the moral virtues and attain social and pol¬itical goods, and that we learn to pray. St. Teresa tells us that prayer is not a tech¬nique or an art that can be learned and exercised in itself apart from the rest of life, but something that we live anytime and anywhere. Just as the working environment prepar¬ing us to learn science is a laboratory, that preparing us for a game is an athletic field, and that preparing us for intellectual learning is a library or university, so the environ¬ment preparing us for prayer is love of neighbor, or an active Christian life.
2. St. Teresa's second condition for learning to pray is equally surprising: de¬tachment from everything that is not God. When we want to pray, our first concern is usual¬ly that of finding the environment for prayer: we ordinarily look for a nice, quiet, beautiful place, neither too cold nor too hot. We must have some free time, not be too hungry, thirsty or well-fed, not be sleepy or tired. A good spiritual guide or at least a good book, the example of others praying devoutly, beautiful hymns, great preachers and teachers would all help: the list goes on and on. While St. Teresa accepts the utility of all that, and even assumes it, she rises above all of it with her second condition, which is of course primarily addressed to Carmelite nuns living their vow of poverty in a life of poverty. Laypersons interested in growing in prayer might well take detachment especially to heart. For, while our concern for and work to¬wards satisfying our needs is natural, mature and virtuous, our lives can all too easily evolve into satisfying our wants, pursuing wealth and independence, influence and power, pleasure and fame as our main real goals. These interesting and popular goods soon become captivating, seductive alternatives to spiritual life in general and prayer in particular.
The main reason that detachment from everything that is not God is so important for prayer is that prayer is union with God, who is utterly different from all created things: not only more unlike than like them, but is even their opposite. Whereas God is infinite, uncreated, supernatural, eternal, divine, spiritual, invisible, simple, absolute and nec¬essary, they are finite, created, natural, temporary, physical and human, material, vis-ible, complex, relative and contingent. Since love makes us like what we love, we need to love God above all and everything else in relationship to God. In the Confessions, (Bk 10, #29) St Augustine says "Too little does any man love thee, who loves some other thing together with thee, loving it not on account of thee." And in his City of God, (Bk. 14, # 28) he writes "Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self
Clearly and profoundly, St Thomas Aquinas gives the ultimate metaphysical reason for detachment when he points out that whereas our minds bring known realities into us, thus raising the material and lowering the spiritual to our level of understanding and being, our wills carry us to the level of being of the realities we love. Hence it is better to love than to know what is above us, and better to know rather than love what is below us. He also says that all virtue is conversion to God along with radical detachment, sub¬ordination or even aversion for everything else; all vice is an aversion for God together with a conversion to anything else. Revealing one aspect of these great mysteries, Jesus teaches in the Gospels:
If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me can¬not be my disciple. (Lk 14: 26-27)
3. St. Teresa's third condition for learning to pray - humility - is surprising because of the extent of the emphasis she places on it. She says that it is "the most im¬portant of the three (conditions) and embraces all the rest" (ch.4). She calls it "the principal virtue which must be practiced by those who pray." (ch. 17)
On the other hand, most of us would place greater relative emphasis on the importance of our persevering effort to pray, for example. We tend to look on prayer as our gift to God rather than a co-operative work or his gift to us. It is, in fact, all three: after a first stage of effort and mostly self-directed activity, there is a transitional, less-effortful, co-operative stage, followed by a final stage in which God inspires, guides and works in our souls. These correspond roughly to the classical purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of mystical perfection. Another classical description of all this, Opus dei, literally means "Work of God" rather than "Work for God," although it is of course both. Since we are more familiar with the earlier stages of prayer, we spontaneously assume that prayer will always be as it has been for us: hard work on our part. And, generally speak¬ing, when our work doesn't succeed, it's usually because "we didn't work hard enough". So we say, "Let's work harder at prayer and we will pray better."
While St. Teresa realizes that prayer requires persevering effort, her third and most important condition for growing in prayer is humility. For her, prayer is not a work or effort, an art or a skill but a friendly co-operation with God which, to the extent that it becomes perfect, requires less and less rather than more and more effort on our part. Hence, after responding to God's love for us by loving others and God, and after detaching ourselves from everything that is not God in order to attach ourselves completely to God, we need to recognize what we are in a relationship to God that is best expressed by humil¬ity. Just as love of neighbor - like detachment - changes everything in our lives and brings all other goods, including prayer, with it, so also and even more-so, humility changes everything in our lives and brings all other goods, including prayer, with it. On the other hand, the prouder we are, the more we love and affirm, value and honor only our¬selves, the more we are attached only to ourselves, surrounding ourselves with the greatest possible quantities and qualities of goods of all sorts.
It is extremely important for our humility to be authentic, for as the ancient adage has it, "corruptio optimi, pessima," "the corruption of the best is the worst." False humility claims that we are wretches who don't amount to anything, never have, never will and shouldn't try. Authentic humility is far-seeing truth that sees how naturally insignifi¬cant we are compared to God and believes that we are nothingness brought into being and sustained in being by our Creator, but also believes that God created us in his own image and likeness in order to share his own nature and life, wisdom and love with us - which is how we become the saints he is calling us to be. We are beggars enriched by great divine gifts, including that of prayer. Since God resists the proud and lavishes his gifts on the humble, we had better be humble.
In order to pray well, what we need is love, love and love, i.e., God's love for us, our love for neighbor and our love for God, as well as humility and its inseparable twin virtue, adoration.
B. Growing in Prayer.
God will not ordinarily unite himself with us in contemplative or mystical prayer, St. Teresa tells us, until we make a serious effort to acquire all the virtues, especially the theological, evangelical and moral virtues. We do that best through following the will and law of God, which is summed up in the command to love God and neighbor. Prayer, above all contemplative prayer, challenges us to live fervently the first and greatest command¬ment through which we give God everything that we are and have: our whole heart, i.e., our will, our hopes and desires, our affection, friendship and love, our whole mind, i.e., our intelligence and our prudence, our understanding and its application to our lives, our whole soul, i.e., our entire lives and all its activities, and all our strength, i.e., all our abilities, talents, associations and relationships, all our effort and work. The reason God asks this of us and makes it the cornerstone of his law is that he loves us and wants to share with us everything he is and has. And in order for him to do that, we must give him everything we are and have. What he proposes to us is a co-operative relationship, a friendship in which he gives fully to the extent that we give fully, and forgives to the extent that we forgive.
God leads different people in different ways. All people (even in a contemplative Carmelite convent) are not called to contemplative prayer. St. Teresa men¬tions her own experience: for over 14 years, she was (though a Carmelite nun) unable to pray or even meditate without the help of a book. If you remain that way all your life, she says, but pray as well as you can, are humble, detached and self-sacrificial, you can become as perfect as if you were a mystic. If you remain humble and detached, God will give you mystical graces. And even if he doesn't in this life, he will in the next!
Our true treasure consists in profound humility, sincere mortification and perfect obedience. In Christian life in general and in religious life in particular, we will never become contemplatives or even good active persons so long as we are not really and fully obedient. Growth in prayer is co-operative, brought about by both God and us, not some¬thing we do. What we do in prayer is more evident to us; what God does is often hidden. So we tend to be more impressed by and concentrate on what we do than by what God does in prayer. What God does in us is incomparably more effective, more powerful, wiser and better in every way than what we do. But we have to show our good will by doing everything we can. When God sees that we are doing that, he helps us powerfully. St. Theresa said that prayer is like a very small child at the bottom of a stairs trying to climb up to her father. Seeing her efforts and loving her, her father comes down, takes her into his arms and carries her to the top of the stairs. However poorly we pray, we must still try to pray so that God will have pity on our efforts and do his work in our souls.
In a now famous comparison, St. Teresa (in her Life, ch 11) symbolizes growth in prayer by four different ways of watering a garden:
by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labor; or by a water-wheel and buckets…it is less laborious than the other and gives more water; or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener's labor is much less; or by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no labor of ours, a way incomparably better than any of those which have been described.
The more perfect our prayer, the less effort on our part and the more God does in us. Growth in all the vir-tues and gifts greatly encourages us to pray, which in turn greatly helps us live the virtues and gifts better. John of St.Thomas also points out that the early stages of prayer and virtue are characterized by hard work and little progress - like a person rowing a boat - whereas through the gifts of God the later stages accomplish much more with much less effort on our part - like a person sailing a boat in a good wind.
St. Teresa comments on the "living waters of contemplation" of the Samaritan woman text (Jn 4:7-30) by pointing out that the living water 1) cools down (our feverous desire for temporal things, 2) cleans or purifies us (of our faults) and 3) quenches our thirst (for earthly things). Mystical and ascetical theology outlines three stages in our growth towards spiritual perfection. The first or Purgative Life, is centered around over¬coming all our sins by growing in all the theological, evangelical and moral virtues. The second stage, or Illuminative Life, presupposes and continues everything that went before, but does so in a much more positive, receptive and inspired way marked by a new awareness of God's role in prayer and our co-operation with Him. The third stage, or Unitive Life, continues everything that went before and is above all the great love of God for us touching, moving, inspiring and transforming us in incomparable ways that elicit our enthusiastic, total, perfect love for God in return. We imagine this happening to saints who lived long ago and far away, but since we are all called to be saints, it should and at times is happening to us also. As it happens, the beloved of God find themselves newly able to love God with their whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and all their strength. Up to the unitive life, everything is a feeble, imperfect effort to love fully, perfectly, totally. Only great, unitive graces can enable us to do this, graces which God is inclined to give us to the extent that we do everything we can first -which is all of the spiritual life up to the unitive life. In order to reach that unitive life, we must first pass through the previous two stages, which is a long road that can take a lifetime or only a short time. One in whom that process took only a short time is Anne de Guigne, whose cause of canonization has been introduced even though she died (in 1922) when she was less than 10 years 9 months old. One day when she was less than 9 years old, she was in a line of schoolchildren returning from receiving holy communion and was followed by her cousin (the future Fr Emmanuel of the Congregation of St. John), who pulled her pigtails. Her answer "Behave: I'm Jesus now" is one indication of her early and rapid spiritual progress.
Since growth in prayer is a very long one involving many obstacles and dangers, we need above all 1) a firm resolution to continue to pray as long as we live - a faithful gift of a certain amount of time in prayer every day for our lifetime, and 2) great courage without which we cannot hope to overcome all the obstacles, problems and challenges facing us.
Vocal prayers are very helpful and can lead us to perfection - if we really meditate on what we are saying, i.e., think about what we are saying and to whom we are saying it. When we do that, vocal prayer becomes mental prayer. We cannot go on to say that mental prayer turns into contemplation, for contemplation is a special gift of God who gives it to whom he wills and when he wills.
The Our Father
The first two things we need to do in prayer is place ourselves in the presence of God and think about how much he loves us. The opening words of our Lord's prayer places us in the presence of our heavenly Father and show us how great a love Jesus has for us in saying "Our Father". In identifying himself with us, Jesus places us in the best possible relationship with God the Father. Hearing himself addressed as "Our Father", he sees us in and through his only divine Son and treats us as a father treats his children - only incomparably better in every way. Here St. Teresa spon¬taneously bursts into prayer: "How good it is that you are the Father of such a Son - and he is the Son of such a Father! May you be blessed forever"! These initial words are an even greater gift by coming at the very beginning of the prayer. By situating ourselves between such a Son and such a Father, the Holy Spirit is with us as well. Our Father is in heaven, but he is within us too. Thinking of him as living within us, thinking about what and who he is, relating to him as our Father, being shown by him how to please him, asking him for everything - all this is the best introduction to prayer.
Since prayer places us in the presence of God and heaven is where God is, prayer in¬troduces us to heaven, or is a beginning of eternal life. With one foot in heaven, we do what everyone else does in heaven: we begin praising, worshipping and adoring God: "hallow¬ed be thy name". The environment of prayer within which we adore is the kingdom of God on earth preparing the kingdom of God in heaven: "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Only Jesus and Mary have perfectly lived this greatest of all gifts: Jesus divinely and Mary in her fullness of grace. But Jesus also inspires all his followers to aspire to this pinnacle of holiness.
One of the main goals of prayer is becoming good and avoiding evil. What helps us most to do that is discovering what the highest good is so that we can pursue it, and what the greatest evil is so that we can avoid it. By identifying loving union with God our Father as our highest good and separation from or opposition to him as the greatest evil, Jesus shows us how to begin our growth in goodness. The best good news about our growth in goodness is that the greatest growth in the greatest goodness is no longer the unaided pursuit by a few of a distant, abstract, difficult ideal, but a friendly co-operation ¬with a present, personal God who helps us to be divinely good by sharing his nature and wisdom, life and love with us. All this we believe and hope for by saying "Our Father".
When one of her Carmelite sisters asked St Teresa how to become a contemplative, she gave a long answer - the Way of Perfection - and a short one: "Say the Our Father, but take an hour to say it"! Another sister never seemed able to practice mental prayer or do anything more in prayer than say a few meditative Our Fathers, which always took her a very long time to say. So she approached Teresa, described herself as a total fail¬ure in prayer and asked for help in learning the ABCs of mental prayer. Teresa soon dis¬covered that this "failure" in prayer had, totally unknown to herself, reached the perfect¬ion of contemplative prayer. Another modern example is that of an Italian housewife who went to the nearby Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC for help in her total in¬ability to pray. When Fr. Walter Farrell, OP asked her to explain, she said that every morning after getting her husband off to work and her children off to school and doing a little house-cleaning, she liked to go to the neighboring church to pray. But now no sooner did she begin to pray by saying Our Father than she saw that it was already time to return home to prepare the noon meal. She was convinced that she must have committed some terrible sin because of which God was punishing her by preventing her from praying. Enquiry into her state of soul soon revealed that she had in fact attained a level of prayer in which the words Our Father regularly plunged her into ecstasy.
The Our Father is the best and fastest way to the gateway of contemplative prayer, the prayer of quiet, which is a radically new and surprising divine gift so different from every other experience of peace and quiet that it strikes a person as the first real peace and quiet ever experienced. It is not just an absence of noise or an interior calm, but a silence of soul, a profound peace flowing out of a divine presence and a divinely produced detachment. In trying to pray, we usually do a series of many things oriented in two main directions: 1) separating or detaching ourselves from everything that is not God, and 2) attaching ourselves to or uniting ourselves with God. We look for a quiet place, close our eyes, place ourselves in the presence of God, direct our imagination and memory, will and attention to God. The prayer of quiet accomplishes all this so much more quickly and so much more profoundly that a person experiencing the prayer of quiet spon¬taneously tends to say "It is God who does everything in prayer"! While this is true in a way, we still have to do our part. For St.Teresa, one of the most important truths of the spiritual life, one on which she places great emphasis, is the fact that "God does not give himself to us completely so long as we do not give ourselves to him completely"! For "The Lord cannot act freely in the soul until he finds it detached from all creatures, and entirely his" (Way, ch 30). It is up to us, therefore, to do everything we can to prepare ourselves for what God can do incomparably better. We need to unite ourselves with God so that God will unite himself with us. If we do our part, we can depend on God to do his. She goes on to describe (ch 33) how a person new at exper-iencing the peace and joy, silence and quiet of the prayer of quiet, often doesn't want to move a muscle or do anything for long periods of time for fear that this might detract from the experience or break the spell. What such a person doesn't realize, she says, is that the prayer of quiet (like all the other stages of prayer) is a whole range of experiences that can lead up to total absorption in God while leading an active life. And it is not in our power either to bring it about or to keep it once we experience it.
All of the counsels of this treatise on prayer, she says, have only one purpose: to lead us to give ourselves completely to God, i.e., to give our will to him and detach our¬selves from creatures, or "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"! When we say this generously, with our lives and not just with our lips, God grants our prayer and unites himself with us. Giving our wills to him entirely is our part in the pursuit of holiness - which is God's gift to us. When we make every effort to be humble, God often shows us in an instant what we could not realize in many years of effort: the profundity of our nothingness and the incomparable majesty of God, or humility that is both authentic and heroic. She adds "I want to give you some advice: don't think that you can arrive at that state by your own efforts and zeal...what you need to do is say with simplicity and humility (for it is humility that obtains everything): "thy will be done". Meditating on the one who conform¬ed most perfectly to the will of God, she states that God reserves many of his greatest graces to those who have voluntarily suffered much. She adds that persons raised to a very high degree of contemplation may still have imperfections in other areas, but not in for¬giving others. If they have the latter, their supernatural state is false.
Prayer is an act and gift of piety relating our lives to God our Father. The first half of the Our Father relates our lives to God in adoration. The second half relates our present, past and future lives and their needs to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Since the Father is our Creator and in his providence provides for all our needs, we re¬late our present life to him by asking for all we presently need: "Give us this day our daily bread"! Bread includes all our physical and natural needs as well as all our spirit¬ual needs. Our three forms of spiritual food are the will of the Father (Jn 4:34), the word of God (Jn 4:4) and the Eucharist or Body and Blood of Christ. (Jn 6: 51-58 & Mt 26: 26-28) We relate all our past to the mercy of God the Son, our divine Savior, through "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". For, at the re¬quest of Jesus and our agreement in that request, God the Father, because of his goodness and love, joins the Son in forgiving all the sins of our past - providing we also forgive. We then relate all our future to the merciful, transforming love of the Holy Spirit when we say "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil". We ask him to give us the grace to overcome all temptations, that we constantly choose good over evil and better goods over lesser goods. In that way we will be delivered from all evils, especially from the evil one, or Satan, and will grow towards definitive union with God, or heaven.
St. John of the Cross on Prayer
Among orthodox Catholic theologians, St. John of the Cross is the greatest spiritual authority, one who is to mystical and ascetical theology what St. Thomas Aquinas is to dog¬matic theology. For many years, however, Catholics have become accustomed to two other types of teachers: unorthodox ones who say and write almost anything - provided it appears to be original and seems to be popular, and orthodox but often not very inspired ones who see where we are and what we are willing to accept, and try to lead us slowly from there. St. John, one of the greatest of mystics, extraordinarily gifted on many different levels, and extremely perceptive in understanding St. Thomas, is uniquely well suited to guide us on the way to mystical perfection. Since his writings were in answer to requests by fervent Discalced Carmelites for guidance towards mystical perfection, they start from a very advanced lev¬el and are so different from what we are used to hearing that in order to understand them, we must first appreciate a number of mutually-related spiritual truths which mystics experience with unique profundity and on which they place unique emphasis. This introduces us to our need for an on-going conversion in faith, hope and love.
1) The importance of the love of God for us.
The relationship of God with us is obscure to reason, clear to faith and experiential to mystics: out of love for us, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit create, save and sanctify us. One would expect this to be the most generally and greatly emphasized of all Christian truths. While all Christians are aware of it, mystics alone fully emphasize and respond to it; others tend to neglect it largely because of emphasizing almost everything else. The world in which we live is extremely rich and varied in goods attracting our attention, arous¬ing our interest, and mobilizing our efforts in many ways, both natural and sensory, econom¬ic, social and political, practical and speculative, artistic and intellectual. The good life tends to be a rich combination of the greatest possible quantities, qualities and varie¬ties of attainable and enduringly satisfying goods. In such a context, God's love for us is one of many beliefs, truths or goods, a rather unusual thought from which we are distracted by a thousand alternative goods which are all highly visible, readily attainable and extreme¬ly popular. For mystics, on the other hand, the love of God for us is not just one of many goods, beliefs and hopes, but a unique, life-transforming experience from which they are not easily distracted. Our appreciating and responding to divine love can lead us as it did them towards transforming union. How often and how fervently do we pray for such graces?
2) The unique transcendence of God.
Since God is infinite, but our minds, wills, vocabularies and concepts are finite, he is far more difficult to know & love than anyone but mystics realize. The theologian who knew him best and wrote extremely extensive, incomparable treatises on him - St. Thomas Aquinas - said quite simply (in introducing all the rest of the Summa after the questions on sacred doctrine and the existence of God - la, Q 3, a 1) "we cannot know what God is, but rather what he is not". The reason for this is the fact that we have no direct intuition of God, but know him by an indirect process of human knowledge which begins with sensory observation of the world around us, grows through imagination and memory, and is perfected through both reason¬ing and intuition. This process produces abstract concepts of such realities as goodness, wisdom, justice and beauty, which we then rightly attribute to God, saying, for example, that "God is good"! We then complacently assume that this describes what God is. But what we fail to realize is the fact that all the goods we experience are not only not godlike, but are even in many ways the opposite of God. As we have seen, they are temporal, visible and complex, but he is eternal, invisible and simple; they are finite, created and natural, but he is in¬finite, uncreated and supernatural; they are relative and contingent, but he is absolute and necessary. None of our concepts positively express what God is: some are explicitly neg¬ative - "infinite," "uncreated," "invisible" and "unlimited;" others, such as "eternal" or "simple" are derived from negative concepts - "un-ending" and "non-complex;" still others, such as "good" or "wise," are true enough but fall short of describing what God is. In order to apply to God, concepts like these must be purified of all ontological imperfections, personalized, absolutized and infinitely expanded: God is not so much "good and wise" as in¬finite, absolute personal goodness and wisdom. Even this does not positively describe him, for he is not a collection of infinite realities, but an absolutely one, undifferentiated reality completely transcending all our concepts. We know him best through faith and adora¬tion. How often and how fervently do we pray for growth in faith and adoration?
3) The unique immanence or presence of God in our lives.
God has been present throughout history in many different ways leading up to the Incar¬nation of Jesus Christ, who remains among us through grace and the sacraments, through his Mystical Body the Church and his real presence in the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Spirit is among us through his gifts and charisms, his graces and personal indwelling. Everyone in the state of grace is united with God, lives to some extent at least in his presence and is oriented to¬wards God as ultimate end. God is present to us far more than we are to him. It takes Mary, the mystics and the saints to show us how perfectly we can be united with God and how pro-foundly he can be present to us and we to him. Their lives should inspire us and give us hope that our efforts to unite ourselves with God and live in his presence will please him and incline him to unite himself with us in wonderfully profound ways. We need to become admirers and friends of the saints and above all of Our Lady, joining our prayers with theirs for the graces to live more and more in the presence of God.
4) The profundity of Christian perfection.
On an individual level, because of following the crowd, depending on ourselves and judging our future by our past, we often despair of any real improvement in our lives - and then go on to re-enforce that expectation by fulfilling it. On a collective level, many per¬sons look on Christianity as a Social Gospel which proposes to improve human life and save society through raising its level of moral virtues and improving the justice of its social institutions. Those who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, go far beyond this by believing that Jesus is not merely a human reformer, but the Son of God become man who shares his divine nature and wisdom, life and love with us through grace, thus offering us eternal salvation and transcendent perfection: becoming through grace what he is by nature. Given this, we cannot casually dismiss mystics as astonishingly perfect but impossible to imitate and therefore irrelevant to us. For God loves all of us far more than we realize and calls all of us to sanctity, or the perfection of love. Everyone not on¬ly loves but is called to love perfectly through the first and greatest of the commandments of the Law: loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind and with all of our strength. Let us do that rather than pretend to know and dare to limit what God can or will do in our lives and prayer. The transforming union to which God calls us is so profound that, like God himself, there is no adequate human way of describing it. St. John and St. Thomas go so far as to call it "deifying" and a "deification" - for through it we live on a divine plane and become sharers in the divine nature, sharers in the trinitarian relation¬ships, or "god-by-participation". We need the example and inspiration of Mary, the mystics and the saints to strengthen our faith and hope in God as well as to motivate and encourage us to co-operate with God in our salvation and sanctification.
5) The profundity of the conversion needed to attain Christian perfection.
Since we ordinarily have almost no real understanding of how great Christian perfec¬tion is, we consequently have just as little appreciation of how profound a conversion is needed to dispose us towards it. More than anyone else, St. John of the Cross perfectly realizes both and presents them with a clarity, profundity and authenticity which cry out to be heard in our time. It is difficult to imagine anything more needed by our so-ciety and by us. He not only exhorts us powerfully towards such perfection, but is the master guide in leading us towards it - providing, of course, that we are interested and willing to follow him. How aware are we of our need for conversion? How often do we pray fervently for our own conversion? What do we do to bring it about?
6. Our guide is Holy Scripture through which the Holy Spirit and Jesus speak to us.
Holy Scripture is the revealed, inspired word of God: through it the Holy Spirit and Jesus speak to each and all of us in incomparable ways. It is one of the three divine foods we need as well as the unerring authority with which we are to judge the authentici¬ty of all doctrines and tendencies. We should respond to it accordingly. RCIA team mem¬bers who comment on the readings at Sunday Mass often prepare them well by study, medita¬tion, prayer and application to everyday life - with the result that they are amazed at the richness and profundity of these passages. If we all did this regularly, we would all be amazed at the results.
7. The environment of Christian perfection is Tradition and the Church.
Christian perfection is a share in divine Wisdom, Life and Love - which no human society is able to offer or even to understand. It was necessary, therefore, for Jesus to found the Church and include priests and the family in her sacraments. We need to study and appreciate, love and follow Jesus' Church rather than the secular world or the false prophets inside and outside the Church that are so many and so popular today.
8. God alone created us, God alone is our Supreme Good and Final End, God alone saves us, God alone sanctifies us, God alone teaches us how to pray.
We have one Creator and Final End, the Father (with his Son and Holy Spirit), one Savior, Jesus Christ, one sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. Our role is to stop impeding and begin co-operating less imperfectly in their work in our souls, to appreciate that work and become receptive to it. We do that through the theological virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are different ways of being docile to and moved by him. Such direct contact with God is the source, substance, strength, encouragement, inspiration and perfec¬tion of our prayer. In his now classical work, The School of Jesus Christ, the great 18th century French Jesuit, Fr. Jean-Nicolas Grou has ten chapters on prayer, of which five are entitled "God alone teaches us to pray" and one is entitled "The Lord's Prayer."
Anyone casually encountering the writings of St. John for the first time is likely to be most impressed by his tenacious honesty in describing obstacles on the path to perfec¬tion as well as shocked by his totally uncompromising ways of overcoming them. Because of an assorted mix of currently popular unexamined assumptions, misinformation and seculariz¬ed lifestyle, such initial impressions easily lead the unwary into completely unjustified negative judgments which attempt murder but commit suicide. One solution is to begin again with what we most need and what mystics most emphasize: God loves us.
Like Holy Scripture itself, St. John's writings on prayer are first and foremost lyr¬ical enthusiasm and eloquent praise of God's love for us. Jesus himself tells us that the path to holiness as well as holiness itself consist above all in the perfect love of God and neighbor. (Mt 22: 34-40) But how do we grow in love, especially such love? The many ways that human love grows are well known to us. As babies experiencing the crucially im-portant warmth, dependable presence and affectionate care of our mothers, we responded with loving delight and peace. In early childhood, our experience and response to being loved within an affectionate and caring family developed and extended our love. As we grew up, we began to like an increasing number of playmates and friends whose companionship and personal qualities we found attractive and enjoyable. Cared for and helped, we learned to care for and help. Learning to love by being loved, we increasingly became like the caring and self-sacrificial persons we first learned to love.
On the other hand, the best ways of growing in divine love of God and neighbor are less widely known. Purely natural philosophies, sciences and methods seldom have motivated anyone to love God or neighbor. And it takes more than a commandment or two for us to gen¬erate much love for an invisible God or a troublesome neighbor. What we need for that is for the greatest ideal to be incarnated in a person who loves us profoundly and thus great¬ly moves us by example and by word, a person who changes our nature and our nurture, making us into new persons living a new life in new societies. This utopian dream of heroes and ideologies is the inspired realization of Jesus. For no hero or ideology ever united & incarnated such an ideal - the divine nature and a divine person - with humanity as Jesus did. No hero ever loved us so greatly or sacrificed so much for us. No hero ever moved so many so pro¬foundly. No hero ever exemplified or spoke of divine love as he did. Jesus alone healed the wounds of sin by grafting divine nature and life onto humanity. No hero transcended space and time or united himself with humanity as he did. No hero ever gave us divine wis¬dom, life and love or incarnated them in sacred societies - the Church and the Christian family - designed and instituted by God to help us live and grow in divine gifts, especial¬ly love.
Jesus alone could share his divine nature and life, his divine wisdom and love with us through grace. Moved by divine love for us, Jesus made those absolutely unique, abso¬lutely incomparable gifts to all of his followers, but in tremendously different levels of greatness. After Jesus, it is above all in Mary and the saints that we can see and believe in the greatness of God's love for us. Having been most moved, most inspired, most trans-formed by God's love, saints and mystics like St. John speak most clearly, profoundly and eloquently of the transcendent importance of God's love for us. Such love and our response to it is the inspired and inspiring beginning, middle and end of the whole mystical and ascetical theology of St. John.
Nurtured and warmed, molded and inspired by a maternal and paternal love in the image of God's love for us, infants and small children in a loving Christian home experience be¬ing loved as the greatest of all goods. Because of the richness of that experience and the poverty of their other experiences, small children, when told that Jesus really and tender¬ly loves them, believe this far more readily than adults do. While everyone spontaneously responds to being loved by God, small children do so in ways that resemble saints more than adults. In fact, Jesus presents small children to us as models of perfection: "I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the king¬dom of heaven" - and so, "the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven". (Mt 18:3-4)
Our path towards salvation and sanctity is so important, so beyond our unaided under¬standing, capacity and natural inclinations that only Jesus and the Holy Spirit could effectively present this to us. In learning from them, we above all need strong faith and fervent love as well as docility or receptivity towards the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, let us look briefly at Holy Scripture.
Judeo-Christian revelation teaches us the first as well as the last of all truths: that the beginning and end of everything is God. The first beginning of time and of all creation is, as described in the first statement of the first book of the Bible, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth". (Gn 1:1) The last book of the Bible describes God as the ultimate, eternal, definitive End. The Way our coming from God re¬turns to God is the Word described in the heart of the New Testament, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God". (Jn 1:1).
Since God is love and we are made in his image and likeness, love is the beginning and end of life, both natural and supernatural, both personal, conjugal and social, both active and contemplative. If love is the beginning and end of everything, it is especially and eminently that for prayer. The single most important initial difference between the mystic and the non-mystic is the mystic's experience and appreciation of the love of God for us. What follows from that is an ascetical and mystical response to being loved that may seem spontaneous and natural in the mystic but is unintelligible and astonishing to others - even though it is nothing other than fervently obeying the first commandment of the Law. In fact for St. John, contemplative prayer is defined as loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. For him, this is the essence, beginning, middle and end of contemplative prayer and of spiritual perfection. Extraordinary, highly interest¬ing spiritual phenomena in the lives of saints - ecstasies, visions, miracles, levitations, locutions and so on - have often been strikingly described and emphasized by biographers, with the natural result, of course, that many think that sanctity consists in them. St. John follows St. Thomas in emphasizing that perfection consists in love rather than in ex¬traordinary signs and wonders. St. John is even famous for warning us of the dangers of be¬coming too interested in extraordinary phenomena. Here, as always, discernment is needed, for rejecting all visions, prophecies and miracles sometimes places us in opposition to God and would deprive us of the spiritual benefits of Lourdes, Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as those of St. Margaret Mary and devotion to the Sacred Heart, St. John Bosco, St. Maximilian Kolbe and many others. St. Paul says, "Do not stifle the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies". (1 Th 5:19-21)
Living the first commandment, St. John insists, is crucially important, for at each of the crossroads in the path to perfection, at each obstacle we encounter, we are confront¬ed with choices that have to be made - and the criterion we have determines the choice we make. For some spiritual authorities, the best way to perfection is to practice the virtues most opposed to our worst faults, responding to impatience, for example, with patience. For St. John, the best way at all times and circumstances is living the most perfect of all virtues: loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. This commandment is not only the first principle and final end or perfection of spiritual life, but the moment by moment, choice by choice way we go from one to the other. It ex¬plains how we become perfect and why we don't. Thus, through the love of God lived in many different ways, i.e., through grace and the sacraments, through goodwill in following the Gospel and the Church, through prayer and the duties of life, many Catholics become highly virtuous and pious - but extremely few are canonizable. St. John suggests that we grow spiritually by loving God more and more totally or perfectly - which leads up to a grace, a conscious choice and voluntary commitment to love God totally and give ourselves to him com¬pletely. If we say yes to total love, we receive tremendous graces and are swept by God towards transforming union. If we do not, we fall back into the same process which leads us again towards that same perfect and divine love. Most of us are not saints because we were never quite ready to accept the implications of total love: giving everything we are and have to God, our Lord and Master, giving up every attachment in order to will whatever he wills for us - even if it turns out to be martyrdom. This requires a leap of faith and confidence in God which we are afraid to make, an heroic trust, hope and love of God that we never seem to be quite ready for. Actually making that commitment or dedication - and keeping it - changes everything in our lives.
For most of us, goodness consists in exercising prudential control over our lives and goods, generously giving some of each to God - while retaining ownership and control of both. There is, of course, an enormous difference between giving God some or even most and giving him all, which entails a death of self and a re-birth. Hence the idea of giving God everything, or giving him ourselves completely, makes us hesitate and inclines us to say "Perhaps we'll do that a little later"! Loving God totally is a grace of God for which we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. All this illustrates once again the three levels of goodness according to St. Thomas: 1) prudence and natural moral virtue, 2) faith, hope and charity lived prudentially, and 3) faith, hope and charity lived on the level of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength is a formidable challenge, one that is so great that it is full realization is eternal life or heaven. Boethius gave the classic definition of eternity as "the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of unending life" (Consolation of Philosophy as quoted by Saint Thomas, ST, Part 1, Q 10, a. 1, obj. 1) or simultaneously-whole and perfect experience of God. In time, on the other hand, our ordinary experience of everything is successive and partial. To the extent, therefore, that we really and finally do love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, we are initiated into or introduced to eternal life. This transforms our lives, changes our attitudes and perspectives, activities and habits, changes our per¬sonalities and character, and makes us into different persons: "I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me" (Ga2:19) and "I am Jesus now." At best, this usually takes a lifetime, but can be brought about in an instant by God. For example, in 1935, Andre Frossard was a 20 year old atheist who followed a friend into a church in Paris. Seeing nuns adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a few minutes later, he came out "a 5 year old child" and "member of the Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church" who was "lifted, taken up and rolled over by a wave of inexhaustible joy." He found himself completely trans¬formed, his sentiments, ideas, tastes, psychology, even his habits totally changed. His whole subsequent life has been a living-out of the rich implications of his instantaneous conversion. Shortly after his conversion, he said "There is no task in this world more worthwhile, more sweet, more necessary or more urgent than to praise God, to praise him for being, and for being what he is," and "Of all the gifts of God, the first and most as¬tonishing is his love for us, who are much in relation to the material world, but nothing before him." (Cf Dieu existe, je 1'ai rencontre, and Il y a un autre monde, Paris, Fayard, 1969 & 1976, the former translated as I Have Met Him: God Exists, New York, Herder & Herder, 1971) In 1842, Alfonse de Ratisbonne, a young, worldly, pleasure-loving, non-religious Jewish banker, walked into a church in Rome and was totally transformed in one ecstatic instant. He described that change by saying
"I did not know where I was; I did not know if I was Alfonse or someone else: I experienced such a total change that I believed myself to be another self - I tried to find myself and could not. Everything happened within me, and those impressions, a thousand times quicker than thought, a thousand times more profound than reflection, not only moved my soul but turned it around and directed it elsewhere towards another end in a new 1ife."
He goes on describing his abrupt transformation by imagining the reaction he would have had to a person saying to him:
"Alfonse, in a quarter of an hour you will adore Jesus Christ, your God and your Savior, and you will be prostrate in a poor church and you will beat your breast at the feet of a priest in a house of Jesuits where you will spend the carnival prepar¬ing yourself for baptism, ready to immolate yourself for the Catholic faith; and you will renounce the world, its pomps, its pleasures, your wealth, your hopes, your future, and if you must, you will renounce even your fiancee, the affection of your family, the esteem of your friends and your attachment to the Jews...and your only desire will be to serve Jesus Christ and to carry his cross until death—" I say that if some prophet had made such a prediction about me, I would have judged only one man more insane than he: the one who could believe in the possibility of such madness! And yet it is that madness which today is my wisdom and my happiness." (Cf _Il y a un autre monde) .
Loving God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind and with all of our strength is divine wisdom for us because God is everything and we are nothing in comparison to him.
This resume of St. John of the Cross and the mystical tradition is, of course, total¬ly rejected by secular humanists and a large part of the human race - who use it to accuse Christians of insanity, but succeed only in pointing out that Christians are insane if it is false and they are insane if it is true. Just as a crucified Christ is a stumbling block to Jews and insanity to pagans (cf 1 Co 1:23), total love of God is a pivotal challenge calling out for the most profound insights and responses, the clearest explana¬tions and most powerful commentaries - which is a description of the writings of St. John. It is obvious, however, that all we can do here is outline a few of the reasons why this statement is true rather than false, wisdom rather than insanity.
Judeo-Christian revelation teaches that nothing whatsoever except God originally ex¬isted, that he brought the entire universe into existence from absolute nothingness through his creation, and that he continues to sustain it in existence or prevent it from reverting to its original and inherent nothingness. God is the "I am who am" (Ex 3:14), the identity of essence and existence, or the One whose nature is to exist. His infinite being is the whole of being: our finite, relative, contingent being depends totally on his infinite, absolute, necessary being and adds nothing to it, for the finite cannot add to the infinite.
St. John expresses the absolute transcendence of God and relative nothingness of everything else in many different and striking ways:
All the creatures of heaven and earth are nothing when compared to God, as Jeremiah points out. (Jr 4:23) Cf. The Ascent of Mt.Carmel, Bk. 1, ch. 4, #3.
We just asserted that all the finite being of creation related to the infinite be¬ing of God is comparatively nothing, and that, therefore, a man attached to creatures is nothing in the sight of God, and even less than nothing... Ibid, # 4.
All the beauty of creatures compared with the infinite Beauty of God is supreme ugliness. As Solomon says, "Comeliness is deceiving and beauty vain"(Pr 31:30)
Now all the goodness of creatures in the world compared with the infinite goodness of God can be called evil, since God alone is good. (Lk 18:19).
As St. Paul writes, "The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God". (1 Co 3:19) So also, all the sovereignty and freedom of this world compared with the freedom and sovereignty of God is utter slavery, anguish and captivity; all the temporal delights and satisfactions of the will in the things of this world compared to all the eternal beatitude that is God is intense suffering, torment and bitterness; all the wealth and glory of creation compared with the wealth that is God is utter poverty and misery in the Lord's sight.
God is not only incomparably greater, more transcendent, more separated from us than we realize, but, paradoxically, he is incomparably more immanent, more present to us, more united with us than we realize. In the natural order, the presence of God in our world and in our lives is a hidden and invisible fact which is denied by many and confidently affirm¬ed by extremely few. For most of us, goodness is a moral and social, prudential and tempo¬ral effort to further our own well-being without harming, and perhaps even helping, that of others. In that context, the only presence we really appreciate is that of interesting and enjoyable, loving and lovable friends and associates whose complementarity and compatibil¬ity with us enable us as social animals to survive and prosper in all of the ways that our society values.
Outside of Christianity, religion is a way of going to God. For Christians, relig¬ion is God coming to us, uniting himself with us and leading us back to definitive union with him. Only in Christianity did God become incarnate. That incarnation came about through the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the one divine Person of Jesus Christ - a union so unique, so intimate, so profound that every other form of union, even that between God and the angels, is complete separation compared to it. Through his union with us, Jesus leads us towards a transforming union with him that completely trans¬cends our ordinary understanding. In heaven, that union is an incomparably greater beatific vision and union with the triune God that transcends our comprehension even more.
If both the transcendence and the immanence of God are so great, so also is the per¬fection, the transforming union, to which Jesus calls us. Our ordinary expectation of "im¬provement in goodness" is so low that "perfection" is not even a part of our working vocab¬ulary - just a rarely encountered term used by a few very unusual people to describe some¬thing others may or may not have experienced. We ordinarily think of "improvement in good¬ness" in terms of a little moral progress in our attitudes and behavior, a few steps to¬wards a distant and difficult, elusive and doubtfully possible moral ideal. It is no won¬der, then, that we ordinarily live in a "religious coma" as far as any real understanding of the profundity of Christian perfection is concerned. St. John of the Cross is the ideal person to bring us out of that coma: the example of his life, the poetic beauty and mysti¬cal profundity of his writings, the uncontested authority of his wisdom are so great that he has become the spiritual guide in mystical and ascetical theology. Through our prayers and devotion to him, he can also become our heavenly friend: he is even far more willing to be our friend, model and teacher than we are to be his friend and disciple.
What St. John tells us about Christian perfection is that it is incomparably more than moral improvement, incomparably more even than human perfection, for it is a share in divine perfection. Since we become through grace what Jesus is by nature, our union with God or transformation in him carries us into not only a degree but a kind of perfection that totally transcends our vocabulary: mystical union is so ineffable that mystics, even someone like St. John, cannot precisely describe it. The closest that he comes is a "transforming union", a "deifying union", an "identification with God", a "mystical marriage". The first of five graces given to the soul in the state of spiritual marriage, i.e., "the breath or spiration of the Holy Spirit from God to her and from her to God," is described as follows:
By his divine breath-like spiration, the Holy Spirit elevates the soul sub¬limely and informs her and makes her capable of breathing in God the same spiration of love that the Father breathes in the Son and the Son in the Father, which is the Holy Spirit Himself, Who in the Father and the Son breathes out to her in this transformation, in order to unite her to Himself. There would not be a true and to¬tal transformation if the soul were not transformed in the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity in an open and manifest degree. (Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 39, # 3)
And this kind of spiration of the Holy Spirit in the soul, by which God trans¬forms her into Himself, is so sublime, delicate, and deep a delight that a mortal tongue finds it indescribable, nor can the human intellect, as such, in any way grasp it. Even that which comes to pass in the communication given in this temporal trans¬formation is unspeakable, for the soul united and transformed in God breathes out in God to God the very divine spiration which God - she being transformed in him -breathes out in Himself to her. Ibid.
Anticipating the difficulty many of his readers might have in accepting this, he goes on to add:
One should not think it impossible that the soul be capable of so sublime an activity as this breathing in God, through participation as God breathes in her. For, granted that God favors her by union with the most Blessed Trinity, in which she becomes deiform and God through participation, how could it be incredible that she also understand, know and love - or better that this be done in her - in the Trin¬ity, together with it, as does the Trinity itself! Yet God accomplishes this in the three Persons in power and wisdom and love, and thus the soul is like God through this transformation. He created her in His image and likeness that she might attain such resemblance. Ibid, # 4.
He adds that
No knowledge or power can describe how this happens, unless by explaining how the Son of God attained and merited such a high state for us, the power to be sons of God, as St. John says. (Jn 1:12) Citing Jn 17: 20-24, he comments that
The Father loves them by communicating to them the same love he communicates to the Son, though not naturally as to the Son, but, as we have said, through union and transfor¬mation of love. It should not be thought that the Son desires here to ask the Father that the saints be one with Him essentially and naturally as the Son is with the Father, but that they may be so through the union of love, just as the Father and the Son are one in essential unity of love. Ibid, # 5.
He then goes on to say
Accordingly, souls possess the same goods by participation that the Son possess¬es by nature. As a result they are truly gods by participation, equals and compan¬ions of God. (cf 2 P 1:2-5) Ibid, # 6.
Only mystics fully and experientially realize how great a conversion is needed in or¬der to appreciate and prepare ourselves for God's greatest graces and gifts. Even though St. John is justly famous for many other aspects of his teaching, he is probably best known for the absolutely uncompromising, clear and profound conversion he proposes to us. For him, Christian conversion is 1) attaching ourselves to or loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength - which involves loving one another as Jesus loves us, and 2) detaching our¬selves from everything else - except insofar as they are gifts of God leading us to him.
Although it is not a problem often found among non-mystics, some mystics have gone too far in detachment. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, was advised by some mystics that she should be detached even from the humanity of Jesus - but soon discovered how profound and dangerous a mistake that is. Complete detachment from all reward, even that of heaven, was advocated by a number of spiritual leaders including Master Eckart, Martin Luther, jansenists, Molinos and Fenelon. Such a teaching is abundantly and eloquently contradicted by many biblical texts, especially those of Jesus and St. Paul, as well as by papal and conciliar pronouncements. For a systematic study of these, read "ciel", Dictionnaire de Spiritualite. Some guides have used various texts of St. John warning against excessive emphasis on signs and wonders to try to justify their rejection of all extraordinary phenomena.
Is St. John's view of detachment extreme? He has been interpreted by some as advocat¬ing a "pure-spirit" or ultra-supernatural ideal whose ultimate thrust is living solitary, semi-naked and almost starving in some particularly barren desert - a kind of "supernatural" equivalent of Thomas Hobbes' "life of man in the state of nature," which Hobbes described in his famous phrase as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" (Leviathan, 1, 13). There is no doubt about the fact that great emphasis on abnegation and spirit of sacrifice is his most distinctive characteristic strikingly expressed in his famous "todo y nada" - "everything and nothing". Whether or not this is extreme depends on what it means and how we understand it. This is neither metaphysics nor Zen Buddhism, for St. John does not claim that all finite reality is illusory rather than real; he is clearly realist, fully accepting the metaphysi¬cal reality of finite entities. Nor is he a Platonist but a follower of St. Thomas. His "everything and nothing" has to be understood in an analogical rather than univocal sense: while finite realities are not absolute nothingness, they are nothing compared to God. Mys¬tics often express this vividly because they experience it so profoundly. For example, Andre Frossard's conversion abruptly changed his perspective from "physical reality alone exists" to "physical reality is only the pale shadow of God, who alone fully exists". Non-mystics, on the other hand, without direct experience of this, and influenced by all those who empha¬size the great importance of everything but God, are not likely to appreciate or even under¬stand the relative nothingness of the created.
Commenting on "everything and nothing" as a rule of conduct for those aiming at mystical perfection, St. John says that
In order to have pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything, desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing. Ascent, Bk 1, ch 13,#11
Thus what leads us away from God is desiring anything else without relating it to God. Fulfilling the first commandment, or loving God with our whole heart, whole mind, whole soul and with all of our strength means loving God not simply as a good, however great, but as the only absolute, infinite, creative good from whom all other goods derive their goodness. Our de¬tachment from everything that is not God does not mean that we love God alone, but that we subordinate the love of everything else to him, the only supreme and absolute good. As a result of not trying to create our own pleasure, possession, power, being and knowledge, but accepting them from God if, when and however he chooses, we end up receiving them from him in abundance.
In order to understand the sort of detachment which St. John speaks of, we must see it in the lives of the saints, including that of St. John. Has anyone ever doubted St. Francis of Assisi's detachment? And yet, has anyone ever loved nature more than he? St. John also greatly loved nature and often took his friars on excursions to the mountains for rest, relax¬ation and prayer. His sensitivity to the beauties of nature helped make him one of Spain's greatest poets. His compassion for the destitute and the desolate was no less than that of other saints. Their love for created goods is real, even great, but subordinated and ordered to the ultimate good, or God. Christians tend to look on this as one of many legitimate but distant goals; for mystics, it is a proximate rule of life, their moment by moment way of living the first commandment.
Our difficulty in appreciating St. John's detachment stems from our different under¬standing of what the ideal is and how it is achieved. We need to learn that sanctity may be rare but it is not essentially extraordinary: it is not the vocation, privilege or profess¬ional specialization of an elite, but a challenge to us all; it is not extraordinary signs and wonders, but great love of God and neighbor. It does not result from our ever-increasing effort, but from ever-increasing divine gifts - which God is inclined to give to the extent that we are humble and effectively appreciate his gifts by thanking, adoring and generously responding to him.
St. John's level of detachment seems so difficult to reach that we may suspect it to be based on a view of great goodness as above all difficult and painful to attain. It is undoubtedly true that lesser goods are easy and great ideals difficult to achieve. But for virtually all the saints, holiness is not above all difficult and painful. The earliest or purgative stage of growth towards holiness certainly does involve great discipline and sacrifices at a time when our awareness of God's help is at its lowest level. This greatly challenges our faith and humility, our courage and willingness to sacrifice: "If anyone wants to become a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me". (Lk 9:23) However, growth in holiness passes through a second, illuminative stage involving much greater faith in and cooperation with divine love for us, and above all culminates in a third, definitive stage of holiness which is not called "intense effort and suffering" but "union," for it is above all a gift of God rather than our achievement. Since holiness is union with the incarnate, suffering and risen Christ, union with the Holy Spirit, union with God our Father and union with one another, it completely transcends our ease-difficulty, pleasure-pain categories.
Growth in love always increases our joys and at least our capacity for suffering: we greatly cherish and enjoy the lives of our parents, spouses and children but grieve most of all at their deaths; on the other hand, we seldom have much more than good will towards strangers - whose obituary columns leave us unmoved. Growing in authentic love transforms us and our perspectives as well as what and how we enjoy and suffer. All these inherent fruits of love reach their maximum in holiness: St. John suffered tremendously but describes the joys of spiritual marriage as "beyond all exaggeration," and the joys of heaven as "incomparably more precious" even than that. (Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 39, # 10) After experiencing both heaven (2 Co 12: 1-5) and persecution (2 Co 11: 23-30), St. Paul writes that the beatific joys of heaven are "out of all proportion" to the worst temporal suffering. (2 Co 4:17) St. Teresa of Avila described mystical prayer as "the greatest happiness that one can taste on this earth even if one could unite all the joys and pleasures of the world". (Conceptions of the Love of God, ch. 4) Commenting on how worldly people center their lives around wealth, plea¬sures, honors and feasts, she writes
Even supposing (which is impossible) that they could enjoy all these goods without suffering the disadvantages inseparable from them, they would never arrive in a thousand years at tasting anything like this joy which, in a single instant, inundates the soul which the Lord raises to this state. If St. Paul said that "What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us", (Rm 8,18) I say that they do not and cannot merit one single hour of the joys, pleasures and delights which God gives to the soul in this state. Conceptions of the Love of God. (loc. cit)
Our union with Jesus is a share in his great roles as Prophet, King and Priest through which he brings divine wisdom, life and love to us. Papal and hierarchical ways of sharing in these great roles through teaching and guiding, ruling and leading the whole Church towards perfect union with God and each other are widely recognized and appreciated, but we should also realize that all the faithful share in them through the great divine treasures of faith, hope and love. We become through them what Jesus is by nature. To the extent of their perfection in us, they also engender the greatest natural blessings -inspired understanding, heroic leadership and sacrificial love - which are our finest human resources meeting our greatest natural needs. Thus, through union with Jesus and in his image, faith, hope and love incarnate divine wisdom, life and love in understanding and teaching, in family life and work, in moral and social, political and economic activities, in physical and spiritual works of mercy so as to transform our lives, invigorate our societies and build up the Mystical Body of Christ.
It is above all the Holy Spirit who brings this union to perfection. In one especial¬ly powerful and justly famous text, St. Paul first points out that "if you are guided by the Spirit, you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence" (Ga 5:16). Af¬ter listing fifteen striking results of self-indulgence, he says "What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentle¬ness and self-control". (v 22) Then he concludes that "You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires". (v 24)
Christian conversion and detachment as outlined by St. John are not as impossibly perfect as some make them out to be, for he does not expect anyone to attain a level of holiness entirely free of all sins and imperfections. Even St. Ignatius at the end of his life and height of his sanctity was capable of slamming doors. What he does urge is that a Christian on the path to holiness will not knowingly consent to any sin or imperfection:
I say "knowingly," because he will fall into imperfections, venial sins and the above-mentioned natural appetites without having advertence or knowledge or con¬trol in the matter. It is written of these semi-voluntary and inadvertent sins that the just man will fall seven times a day and rise up again. (Pr 24:16)
Yet some habitual voluntary imperfections that are not completely mortified are not only an impediment to divine union but to spiritual progress as well.
Some examples of these habitual imperfections are: the common habit of chatter; a small attachment one never really desires to conquer, for example, to a person, to clothing, to a book or a cell, or to the way food is prepared, and to other trifling conversations and little satisfactions in tasting, knowing and hear¬ing things. Any of these habitual imperfections, and attachment to them, causes as much harm to an individual as would the daily commission of many other imperfec¬tions. Sporadic venial sins and imperfections that do not result from habitual prac¬tice having evil dimensions will not hinder a man as much as his attachment to some¬thing. As long as he continues this attachment, it is impossible for him to make progress in perfection, even though the imperfection be very small. Ascent, Bk. 1, ch. 11.
St. John goes on to illustrate this striking doctrine with his best-known, striking¬ly vivid example:
It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord. For even if tied by a thread, the bird will be prevented from taking off just as surely as if it were tied by cord - that is, it will be impeded from flight as long as it does not break the thread. Admittedly the thread is easier to rend, but no matter how easily this may be done, the bird will not fly away without first doing so. This is the lot of a man who is attached to something; no matter how much virtue he has, he will not reach the freedom of the divine union. Ascent, Bk. 1, ch. 11, # 3 & 4.
Another of the most impressive aspects of St. John's teaching is how fully centered it is in Holy Scripture. Since he is not merely one of a crowd of theologians speculating about what others may have experienced, but a saint talking about a spiritual itinerary all of whose stages he has fully experienced - he always depends entirely on the word of God to lead us towards perfect union with the Word of God. Because it is divine revelation about God as well as about us, our origin in and return to God, Holy Scripture has incomparable authority and value for us; St. John greatly helps us in the difficult challenge of appreciating this as we should.
And since the word of God comes to us through the Church or Word of God in us, sacred Scripture, Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church are all -"so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls". (Vat. II, Dei Verbum , ch 2, #10)
After his inspired and inspiring Pentecostal sermon, St. Peter answered the most fun¬damental of questions, "What must we do?," with "You must repent...be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Ac 2: 37-38). Thus membership in the Church founded by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit as "the fellowship of life, charity and truth" is purely and simply the di¬vine way of salvation and sanctification. (cf Lumen Gentium, ch 1, # 9 and #2-5) Our en¬thusiasm should be for the Church rather than for techniques and numbers, programs and or¬ganizations, materia l resources and institutional changes.
Mystical experience is unique, for it is the fullness of direct contact with God, or union leading towards transforming union with him. Moral virtues, social relationships, intellectual, poetic and artistic gifts enrich our lives and understanding, directly relating us to each other and to the world we live in, but they only indirectly relate us to God. On the other hand, the theological virtues have God as their direct object and do bring us into direct, immediate contact with him. But since theological vir¬tues are our earthly share in divine wisdom, life and love, they are so uncomfortably above and beyond our human wisdom, life and love that we naturally tend towards a human compromise with them, or prudential exercise of them. We better appreciate, live and love the mysteries of the faith through understanding them: "fides quaerens intellectum", or "faith seeking understanding" is one famous medie¬val expression of this. Hence medieval Christendom constructed theological systems and creeds, used symbols and concepts, analogies and images in an effort to make the mysteries of the faith accessible to us. All these precious and impressive intermediaries can be very helpful, but they are not the theological virtue of faith and they can even became dangerous alternatives to faith: we may find ourselves cherishing understanding over faith, accessible images over mysteries, or understandable ideas over divine mysteries. All these intermediaries lead us towards God but do not, like faith, bring us into direct union with him - which is not a human construct but a gift of God ordinarily coming to us in succes¬sive stages of profundity.
Just as each stage of human life ordinarily grows out of and adds something precious to the previous stage without renouncing everything characteristic of it, so our spiritual lives ordinarily grow in successive stages. According to St. Thomas, the goodness of nat¬ural wisdom, life, love and natural moral virtues should be followed by a stage in which we live faith, hope and love in a prudential way, which should in turn grow into living them on the level of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Or in terms of the classical tripartite division of mystical and ascetical growth, a purgative or ascetic life is a necessary preparation for the greater graces of the illuminative life, which in turn is a necessary stage on our way to the unitive life in which alone we fully live the divine riches of faith, hope and love.
New: September 30th, 2011
More quotations from the Saints from Quotable Saints edited by Dr. Ronda
Death to Life Everlasting
“For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ.” - St. Cyprian
“The bodies of the saints will rise again free from every defect, from every deformity, as well as from every corruption, encumbrance, or hindrance. In this respect their freedom of action will be as complete as their happiness.” - St. Augustine
“I give thanks to Almighty God that He has not considered me unworthy to be the mother of a child admitted into the celestial kingdom (her baby died). Having quitted the world in the white robe of his innocence, he will rejoice in the presence of God through all eternity.” - St. Clotilda
“I can never lose one whom I have loved unto the end; one to whom my soul cleaves so firmly that it can never be separated does not go away but only goes before. Be mindful of me when you come to where I shall follow you.” - St. Bernard
Jesus is said to have told St. Gertrude ‘my heaven would not be complete without you.”
“My understanding was lifted up into heaven, where I saw… the Lord’s house filled with joy and mirth. He himself endlessly gladdened and solaced His valued friends…with the marvelous melody of endless love in his own fair, blessed face… (there were 3 degrees of bliss) the first is the gratitude… he shall receive from our Lord God … the second is that all the blessed creatures who are in heaven shall see the glorious thanking … the third … is that it shall last forever.” - Blessed Julian of Norwich
“Over my spirit flash and float in divine radiancy the bright and glorious visions of the world to which I go.” - St. Teresa of Avila
“Life is uncertain and, in fact, may be very brief. If we compare it with eternity, we will clearly realize that is cannot be but more than an instant. A happy death of all the things of life is our principal concern. For if we attain that, it matters little if we lose all the rest. But if we do not attain that, nothing else will be of any value.” - Blessed Junipero Serra
“Eternity, eternity, when shall I come to You at last…in eternity where we will love with a glance of the soul.” - St. Elizabeth Seton
“Why should you bind me? (on his way to martyrdom) From whom should I escape? From God? - St. Joseph Mukasa
“You, if you are an apostle, will not have to die. You will move to a new house: that is all.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: October 15th, 2011
Black Christian Tent Meeting saying: “Everyone knows it’s better to be in God’s hand than under God’s hand.”
From Dr. Ronda: “I was telling a beloved friend that I was departing for a time. He looked at me with love and said, "our hearts go with you, and they will be ready for you when you return."
I thought, "what a loving reaction. How different from the possible look for shock, resentment, and distancing that sometimes comes with such announcements."
It reminded me of how my godfather, Dr. Balduin Schwarz, used to say, "The only remedy for leave-taking is gratitude." Of course, the pain of separation is directly related to the love between.
So, my prayer is this: I thank you, Lord, for all the people who disappointed me when they left me for reasons having nothing to do with our friendship. Heal me of any bitterness. Let gratitude and the knowledge that all human love is a foretaste of heaven help me to remember them with hope.
“You, if you are an apostle, will not have to die. You will move to a new house: that is all.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: October 30th, 2011
From Quotable Saints by Dr. Ronda (from the chapter: Delusion to Truth)
“Truly barren is profane education which is always in labor but never gives birth. For what fruit worthy of such pangs does philosophy show for being so long in labor? Do not all who are full of wind and never come to term miscarry before they come into the light of the knowledge of God?” - St. Gregory of Nyssa
“Nothing is greater than the mind of man, except God. Learn to fix the eye of faith on the divine word of the Holy Scriptures as on a light shining in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts. For the ineffable source from which this lamp borrows its light is the Light that shines in darkness but the darkness does not comprehend it. To see it, our hearts must be purified by faith.” - St. Augustine
“Just as God’s creature, the sun, is one and the same the world over, so also does the Church’s preaching shine everywhere to enlighten all men who want to come to the knowledge of truth.” - St. Irenaeus
“Teaching unsupported by grace may enter our ears, but it never reaches the heart.” - St. Isidore of Seville
“So long as we are still in this place of pilgrimage, so long as men’s hearts are crooked and prone to sin, lazy and feeble in virtue, we need to be encouraged and roused, so that brother may be helped by brother and the eagerness of heavenly love rekindle the flame in our spirit which everyday carelessness and tepidity tend to extinguish.” - Blessed Jordan of Saxony
“Happy the man whose words issue from the Holy Spirit and not from himself.” - St. Anthony of Padua
“Those who are led by the Holy Spirit have true ideas; that is why so many ignorant people are wiser than the learned.” - St. John Vianney
“Truth is one; therefore…. The multitude of men are wrong, as far as they differ; and as they differ, not about trivial points, but about great matters, it follows that the multitude of men, whether by their own fault or not, are wrong even in the greater matters of religion. Truth addressed itself to our spiritual nature; it will be greatly understood, valued by none but lovers of truth, virtue, purity, humility, and peace.” - Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
New: October 30th, 2011
Check out a beautiful short piece on the web: www.theinterviewwithgod.com, “Be strong in the face of struggle but weak in the arms of God.”
“We need to let God transform or re-route our energy, for instance, the same hand that can punch someone in the fact in anger can be re-routed into kneading dough. Lustful energy can be transformed by grace into the urge to love everyone with God’s love. From coveting and desiring to steal something, we can, instead, open to what God wants to give. We can transform undo worry into prayer. From the urge to gossip unkindly about someone, we could go to speaking lovingly about that same person." From Marti Armstrong (for more of this kind of wisdom see her regular inserts called Biblical Counsel on this website.)
Another Segment from Quotable Saints, edited by Dr. Ronda These are from a chapter on From Despair to Hope:
“No one is safe by his own strength, but he is safe by the grace and mercy of God.” - St. Cyprian
“We need not despair of any man, so long as he lives. For God deemed it better to bring good out of evil, than not to permit evil at all.” - St. Augustine
“Hope always draws the soul from the beauty that is seen to what is beyond, always kindles the desire for the hidden through what is perceived.” - St. Gregory of Nyssa
“You can fight with confidence when you are sure of victory. With Christ and for Christ victory is certain.” - St. Bernard
“If we are to rise above this depression, dejection, and despondency of soul and turn it to use in God’s service, we must face it, accept it, and realize the worth of holy self-abasement. In this way you will transmute the lead of your heaviness into gold, a gold far purer than any of your gayest, most light-hearted sallies. The past must be abandoned to God’s mercy, the present to our fidelity, the future to divine providence.” - St. Francis de Sales
“When tempted to despair, I have only one resource: to throw myself at the foot of the tabernacle like a little dog at the foot of his master.” - St. John Vianney
“The most beautiful Credo is the one we pronounce in our hour of darkness.” - St. Padre Pio
New: December 15th, 2011
Prophetic word: Come out of the cold into the warmth of My Heart. Abide in me in all things.
How do you expect someone to move on in growth if you are on his/her back?
Al-Anon saying: Don’t go to the hardware store looking for bread. (That is accept how others are vs. trying to make them give what they don’t have. Work around their limitations through other ways to try to be happier).
Another one: “If you have to go into your head, don’t go alone because it is not a safe neighborhood. Bring God along.”
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked what needed to be changed in the Church. She replied, “two things: you and me!”
From Quotable Saints edited by Dr. Ronda on Disorder to Self-Control:
“Drunkenness is the ruin of reason. It is pre-mature old age. It is temporary death.” - St. Basil.
“Lust served became a custom, and custom not resisted became necessity.” The devil invented gambling.” - St. Augustine
“Truly my soul is troubled and my spirit freezes at the face that, although we are given freedom to choose and do the deeds of the saints, we are intoxicated by passions, as though drunk with wine, and do not want to life our minds on high and seek higher glory… to receive an eternal heritage.” - St. Anthony the Great.
“Take even bread with moderation, lest an overloaded stomach make you weary of prayer.” - St. Bernard
“A man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either command them, or e enslaved by them. “ - St. Dominic
“Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.” - St. Angela Merici
“Be not curious about matters that do not concern thee; never speak of them, and do not ask about them.” - St. Teresa of Avila
“What will the vain woman not do and suffer to preserve the beauty necessary for her ends…What torment will she not inflict on body, head and hair before her vanity is satisfied…She must act a hundred parts…and at the end of the day things did not go as one hoped. Someone else drew all eyes and attention. Nothing is brought home but disappointment and bitterness.” - Blessed Claude de la Colombiere
“Holy purity , the queen of virtues, the angelic virtue, is a jewel so precious that those who possess it become like the angels of God in heaven, even though clothed in mortal flesh.” - St. John Bosco
“Purity? They ask, and they smile. They are the very people who approach marriage with worn-out bodies and disillusioned minds.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: December 29th, 2011
Dr. Ronda’s favorite Christmas Carol is an old German song called in English “There came a ship a-sailing. Here are the beautiful lyrics. Maybe you can find the melody on the web – possibly under Es kommt ein Schiff.
There Came a Ship A-Sailing
“There comes a ship a-sailing
With angels flying fast;
She bears a splendid cargo
And has a mighty mast.
This ship is fully laden,
Right to her highest board;
She bears the Son from heaven,
God’s high eternal Word.
Upon the sea unruffled
The ship moves into shore,
To bring us all the riches
She has within her store.
And that ship’s name is Mary,
Of flowers the rose is she,
And brings to us her baby
From sin to set us free.
The ship made in this fashion,
In which such store was cast,
Her sail is Love’s sweet passion,
The Holy Ghost her mast.”
About a middle-aged couple in the process of moving: "A home is about the people who live there – we’re a moveable feast, Fragile as memory, strong as our two hands clasped of an evening, speaking as hands can of shared experience, of trust, of someone who loves you best of all." - From Quotable Saints by Dr. Ronda: From Distance to Intimacy with God
Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve.” - St. Agnes
“Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late have I loved Thee! And lo! Thou wert within, and I abroad searching for Thee. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee.” “ This is our daily bread (Holy Communion); take it daily, that it may profit thee daily. Live, as to deserve to receive it daily.” - St. Augustine
“For the soul is the inner face of man, by which we are known, that we may be regard with love by our maker.” - St. Gregory the Great
“Let us learn to cast our hearts into God.” - St. Bernard
“So abandon yourself utterly for the love of God, and in this way you will become truly happy.” - Blessed Henry Suso.
“In beautiful things St. Francis saw Beauty itself, and through His vestiges imprinted on creation he followed his Beloved everywhere, making from all things a ladder by which he could climb up and embrace Him who is utterly desirable… If you desire to know… ask grace, not instruction; desire, not understanding; the groaning of prayer, not diligent reading; the Spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness not clarity; not light, but the fire that totally inflames and carries us into God by ecstatic and burning affections.” - St. Bonaventure.
“I saw that for us He is everything that is good, comforting and helpful; He is our clothing, who, for love, wraps us up. Holds us close; He entirely encloses us for tender love, sot that He may never leave us, since He is the source of all good things for us.” - Blessed Julian of Norwich
“For perfected souls, every place is to them an oratory.” - St. Catherine of Siena
“Make many acts of love, for they set the soul on fire and make it gentle.” - St. Teresa of Avila
“He longs to be in you, he wants his bfreath to be your breath, his heart in your heart, and his soul in your soul.” - St. John Eudes
“There are certain souls who desire to arrive at perfection all at once, and this desire keeps them in constant disquiet. It is necessary first to cling to the feet of Jesus, then to kiss his sacred hands, and at last you may find our way into his divine heart.” - St. Alphonsus Liguori
“Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven. There are others: innocence, but that is for little children; penance, but we are afraid of it; generous endurance of trails of life, but when they come we weep and ask to be spared. The surest, easiest, shortest way is the Eucharist.” - St. Pius X
“Our home is Heaven. On earth we are like travelers staying at a hotel. When one is away, one is always thinking of home.” - St. John Vianney
“Anything that does not lead you to God is a hindrance. Root it out and throw it far from you.” - St. Jose Escriva.
“Purity? They ask, and they smile. They are the very people who approach marriage with worn-out bodies and disillusioned minds.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: January 3rd, 2012
“Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite.” - Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience. August 31, 2011.
From Dr. Ronda - “Try to meet others on the common ground vs. trying to drag them onto my separate ground.”
On leave-taking for 8 months this friend, Fr. Tad Hallock, said, “Our hearts are going with you and they will be ready for you when you come back.” Dr. Ronda thought that was a most wonderful way of taking leave.
He Who Fears to Suffer, by Paul Damian
Stationed as a corpsman in a psychiatric military hospital in the early ‘60's, I noticed many patients had anxiety. Generally their conditions were acute, but within few months they were back on active duty. A few cases seemed to linger on, particularly with men who seemed to have everything going for them. I felt if could not help, I wanted to understand.
Then one day, while doing research at the library, I picked up a book on Christian therapy, and these words came to my attention: “He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” I began to think that preoccupation with the suffering amplifies fear to the point of a disabling anxiety.
On the other hand if we face and accept the worst case scenario, even if we know that may mean loss, the fear will dissipate. Then, occupying our mind with positive thoughts will continue the healing process.
From Quotable Saints: Doubt to Faith
“A man who is well grounded in the testimonies of the Scripture is the bulwark of the Church.” - St. Jerome
“Poor human reason, when it trusts in itself substitutes the strangest absurdities for the highest divine concepts.” - St. John Chrysostom
“People are generally called intelligent through a wrong use of this word. (The really intelligent) are those who can judge what is good and what evil; they avoid what is evil and harms the soul and intelligently care for and practice what is good and profits the world.” - St. Anthony the Great
“The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief that, even though late…I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.” - St. Patrick
“The Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our dutry is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course.” - St. Boniface
“Though our view of the sublimist things is limited and weak, it is most pleasant to be able to catch but a glimpse of them. “ - St. Thomas Aquinas
“Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth, you are the reward of the saints, the comforter of souls, light in the darkness, riches to the poor, treasure to lovers, food for the hungry, comfort to those who are wandering; to sum up, you are the one in whom all treasures are contained.” - St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi
“I am a daughter of the Church.” - St. Teresa of Avila
“It is because of faith that we exchange the present for the future.” - St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen
"The eyes of the world see no further than this life…The eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.” - St. John Vianney
“When you seek truth you seek God whether you know it or not.” - St. Edith Stein
“Purity? They ask, and they smile. They are the very people who approach marriage with worn-out bodies and disillusioned minds.” - St. Jose Escriva
New: January 29th, 2012
“How can Christ dry the tears of those who have never cried.” - Kierkegaard
“Partial forgivingness of parents is good. One who forgives entirely has a happy childhood.” - Peter Hoeg
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
From Quotable Saints by Dr. Ronda: “Emptiness to Fullness”
“Restless are our hearts until they rest in Thee.” - St. Augustine
“I was made of love… therefore, in the nobility of my nature, no creature can suffice me and none open me, save Love alone.” - St. Mechtild of Magdeburg
(After Holy Communion) “This morning my soul is greater than the world since it possesses You, You whom heaven and earth do not contain.” - St. Margaret of Cortona
“A true sanctuary, even before the future life, is a heart free from thoughts, made active by the Spirit. - St. Gregory of Sinai
“In God alone is there primordial and true delight, and in all our delights it is this delight that we are seeking.” - St. Bonaventure
“I saw everything beneath God as narrow and limited….In all this my heart rejoiced that nothing can be compared to this infinite God and I said over and over: “Lord, who is like you? My spirit, impassioned by all these sights, sang praises appropriate to what I saw. In that vision of beauty, it sang of beauty.” - Blessed Marie of the Incarnation
“Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?” - St. Gerard Majella
“I travel, work, suffer my weak health, meet with a thousand difficulties, but all these are nothing, for this world is so small. To me, space is an imperceptible object, as I am accustomed to dwell in eternity.” - St. Francis Cabrini.
“’Have a good time,’ they said, as usual. And the comment of a soul very close to God was, ‘What a limited wish!” - St. Jose Escriva
New: February 16th, 2012
"The worst defect in talking is talking too much. Hence, in speech be brief and virtuous, brief and gentle, brief and simple, brief and charitable, brief and amiable." - St. Francis de Sales
"Man is placed above all creatures, and not beneath them, and he cannot be satisfied or content except in something greater than himself. Greater than himself there is nothing but Myself, the Eternal God. Therefore I alone can satisfy him, and, because he is deprived of this atisfaction by his guilt, he remains in continual torment and pain. Weeping follows pain, and when he begins to weep, the wind strikes the tree of self-love, which he has made the principle of all his being." (I can’t find the source. Does anyone know where it is from?)
“Let God take care of your problem, He has more experience.” - Fr. Dennis Kolinski
“’Have a good time,’ they said, as usual. And the comment of a soul very close to God was, ‘What a limited wish!” - St. Jose Escriva
New: February 29th, 2012
From Quotable Saints by Ronda Chervin - Fear to Courage:
“There is only one thing to be feared… only one trial and that is sin. I have told you this over and over again. All the rest is beside the point, whether you talk of plots, feuds, betrayals, slanders, abuses, confiscations of property, exile, swords open sea or universal war. Whatever they may be, they are all fugitive and perishable. They touch the mortal body but wreak no harm on the watchful soul.” - (St. John Chrysostom)
“When men wish for old age for themselves, what else do they wish for but lengthened infirmity.” - (St. Augustine)
“As a body must be born after completing its development in the womb, so a soul, when it has reached the limit of life in the body allotted it by God, must leave the body.” - (St. Anthony the Great)
“It shows weakness of mind to hold too much to the beaten track through fear of innovations. Times change and to keep up with them, we must modify our methods.” - (St. Madeleine Sophie Barat)
“Hope everything from the mercy of God. It is as boundless as His Power.” - (St. Frances of Rome)
“Ah fear, abortive imp of drooping mind; self-overthrow, false friend, root of remorse… ague of valor … love’s frost, the mint of lies.” - (Blessed Robert Southwell)
“I will not mistrust God, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear…. I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.” - (St. Thomas More)
“Fear nothing, said the Virgin Mary, you shall be my true daughter and I will always be your good mother.” - (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque)
“Go ahead! Courage! In the spiritual life he who does not go forward goes backward. It is the same with a boat which must always go forward. If it stands still, the wind will blow it back.” - (St. Padre Pio)
New: March 15th, 2012
“Have you ever considered that the most poignant suffering of Jesus on the Cross could have been his experience of how Mary, His beloved mother, was suffering
for Him?” - (Alice Von Hildebrand)
New: March 30th, 2012
Taken from Msgr. Landriot, a 19th Century Spiritual Writer, from Sins of the Tongue
Here he is writing about how women get into trouble with their tongues BUT SOME MEN HAVE THE SAME BAD HABITS, and, in any case, if you are a male
reader, I bet you will find these quotations describe very well what you hate in the conversation of some women you know:
"You are jealous, and these people are too brilliant to please you, for jealousy is far readier to forgive defects than good qualities. They enjoy a certain amount of
consideration, and perhaps hold a high position in the esteem and affections of others, and this gives birth to a feeling of inferiority in you. And there is yet another
aggravating circumstance - the praises which you hear lavished on these people are a veritable martyrdom for you, a turning you on the gridiron! However, one
need not be uneasy about you, for you know well how to revenge yourself, and pay off these accumulated injuries. You know how to find opportunities of speaking of
your neighbor's faults, and also how to make those opportunities when they do not present themselves naturally. You know how to wound him with the keen,
envenomed arrows of sarcastic wit. .. You know how to wrap up your bitter pills in sugared bon bons ... with insinuations all the more treacherous that they are veiled
under affected scruples and mysterious hints. I do not mean to assert that your neighbor must be irreproachable in your eyes, for no one is faultless... but is not
jealousy the chief cause of your rancor against them? Is not the feeling, strong as hell in its
“At the bottom of your hearts is hidden a secret pride which urges you to speak continually of yourself and of your own merits, real, supposed, or exaggerated; for
finding that others do not talk enough about you, you have taken the resolution of avenging yourselves by becoming your own advocates and pleading your own
cause with an ingenuity which, if not very remarkable in itself, excites, at all events, much remark from others. Then flow utterances as opposed to truth as to
humility, boastful narratives, clumsy, half veiled insinuations, words wounding to those around you…”
Remedy: “True piety will lead you to meditate often on your on misery and weakness, and without causing sadness or discouragement, it will teach you to have a
thorough distrust of yourself; to know your own defects; to take every means of correcting them; to consult serious and experienced people; and to consult them in
such a manner as to show them that you are sincere in your desire to be told the truth. After some months, perhaps some years of this constant watchfulness over
yourself, you will have humbled your pride; and, though you may not have entirely rooted it out; it will be no longer visible, and each day will lessen the number of its
offshoots. Then your tongue will lose the habit of talking perpetually about your own concerns. You will neither talk of them yourself, nor draw others into talking about
them. You will cease making yourself the centre of conversation.”
Hurt people, hurt other people! So when someone hurts you, look to see how they were hurt.
New: April 15th, 2012
Here is a more explicitly Christian version of the famous serenity prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference; living one day at a
time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,… taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that
You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” (The 12
From Brother Ben, a Brother of Mother Teresa’s Order the Missionaries of Charity:
“Everybody is desperately poor but the rich can afford to hide it and if they are unlucky even from themselves.” (He added desperately poor in the sense of spiritual,
emotional, intellectual poverty.)
From the book “Sins of the Tongue” by Monseigneur Landriot writing in the 19th Century:
"(by contrast to bad kinds of conversation, he wrote): “I wish to see you, on the contrary, always manifesting a holy cheerfulness, and giving cordial vent to that
natural, pleasant mirth, which is like the outpouring of a fresh, abundant spring...seasoned with hilarity."
“The sins of the tongue; they are innumerable, and often a source of the very worst evils. The sins of the tongue; they are swallowed down like water, and strange to
say, even in religious circles, people allow their tongues the same license on this head that worldlings do in theirs; and it is not a rare thing to meet with persons
who believe themselves to be near perfection, yet who, after tearing to pieces their neighbor’s reputation, will, ‘piously wipe their mouths and say, I have done no
evil.’ - (Proverbs 30:20).
On a positive note regarding talking about oneself, he writes, “Does this mean that we are never to speak of ourselves? No, for it is quite permissible to do so, if
done with tact, sound sense, prudence, and due regard to good manners, time and place. For example…to ask advice, and have light thrown on some questions
or other; or when the heart, having met with a discreet and faithful friend, pours itself forth like the overflowing rivulet, finding in this effusion all the support, and light,
and consolation which are so necessary for us in this life.”
From Quotable Saints on the topic of Greed to Simplicity of Life:
(Note the quoted writers do not mean my poverty starvation, but having only what you really need.)
“If you would rise, shun luxury, for luxury lowers and degrades.” St. John Chrysostom
“What do superfluous riches profit in this world when they do not assist our birth or impede our dying? We are born into this world naked, we leave without a cent,
we are buried without our inheritance.” - St. Ambrose
“The love of worldly possessions is a sort of birdlime (bird droppings) which entangle the soul and prevent it flying to God.” - St. Augustine
“Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are.” - St. Gregory the Great
“The Son of God, treasured poverty and came down from heaven to choose it for Himself, to make it precious to us.” - St. Bernard
“Christ chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty might become rich in him by possessing the kingdom of
heaven. Rejoice and be glad.” - St. Clare of Assisi
“You, who have the kingdom of heaven, are not a poor little woman, but a queen.” - Blessed Jordan of Saxony.
“When the devil is called the god of this world, it is not because he made it, but because we serve him with our worldliness.” - St. Thomas Aquinas
“A detached man should always be looking to see what he can do without.” - Blessed Henry Suso
“I think the greatest happiness of this life is to be released from the cares and formalities of what is called the world. My world is my family, and all the change to me
(if I become poor) is that I can devote myself unmolested to my treasure.” - St. Elizabeth Seton
During a visit to France in 1909 Blessed Charles de Foucauld noticed “the advances made by the taste for costly vanities, and their appearance among all classes
of society, even among the most Christian families, together with a great lack of depth and addiction to worldly and frivolous distractions completely out of place in
times as grave as these…”
“Never did material things satisfy my heart, I felt something else, very great in the depths of my heart.” - (Ven. Concepcion de Armida)
“Don’t forget it: he has much who needs least. Don’t create necessities for yourself.” - St. Jose Escriva
New - April 30th, 2012:
“Forgiveness is not just moral and a religious obligation for Christians it is also beautiful. An example is Mozart operas where whenever there is forgiveness there
is a different key. Gabriel Meyer
“Stand under the cross of the one who is crucifying him/herself with addictions, and bear the pain like Mary with them. And wait like the father of the prodigal son
with open arms.
“We dance with broken legs.” - Fr. Leo Celano, Norbertine
These are excerpts from the “Expectations & Disappointments”
section of The Wisdom of Dr. Low-Words to Live By. Dr. Low was the founder of Recovery, International, a terrific self-help program, not 12 Step, that Dr. Ronda
participates in and highly recommends.
“To have expectations means to look ahead into the future…Whether
your future will be one of fulfillment or of frustration depends on the manner
in which you manage your expectations.”
“If your self-appointed expectations meet with frustration and are
denied fulfillment, the ensuing disappointment is self-induced, and the
responsibility for the defeat is entirely yours. The popular saying, ‘As you
make your bed so will you lie in it,’ refers precisely to this matter of self-appointed
expectations leading to self-induced frustrations.”
“If life has no frustration, if life were all happiness and carefree
living, then it would be boring. You would be surfeited with a life [of] all
smoothness, all proceeding on the same level, no downs, no dips, no
frustrations, no disappointments. That is boredom. Expect frustrations all
over, all the time. And if you expect them then you will not be disappointed.
Then you will be frustrated and that will be no disappointment because
you expected it.”
(If you have problems with anger, fear, or depression, look up the web of Recovery, International for free meetings including on-line and phone.)
When a boat capsizes on the ocean, some try to swim to shore by themselves. They usually don’t make it. Others hang onto the boat even if it is ugly or battered
and they have the best chance to make it. This is an analogy to hanging onto the Ark of the Church when you are capsized. - Fr. Robert Capone
New - May, 2012:
“All of us are desperate for love.” - Anon
The Mission of My Life
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never
know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I
shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust
Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my
sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me
feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about. (Blessed John Henry Newman)
Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.
I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.
Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.
What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it hath sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.
The waters know their own and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.
The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.
From “A Thousand Reasons for Living” by the wonderful South American sage Dom Helder Camara:
A word in season
Do not make God
I wish I were
a humble puddle
that would reflect the sky!
The excise-men are blind, so blind
When I approach
or the police,
I smile, happy
because no one can discover
the divine contraband
I carry with me,
That invisible passenger
whose very discreet presence
only the eyes of angels
Leave your cares on the threshold of sleep
Leave your worries,
or you will feel as weary
as if you had slept
fully dressed, with your boots
and your hat on.
April 24, 2012
This date was the 75th birthday of myself and my twin sister. My daughter, Carla, a poet, wrote poems for each of us with music and graphics. I can’t get the music
and graphics off, but I am excerpting lines I especially liked for Spiritual Gems. If you want to whole musical graphics sequence write me at
and I will attach the links to my daughter’s web.
For me, Ronda:
There are those things that can’t be said simply.
I think it’s possible that nobody is born. We wheel around inside our mothers and only vaguely find one another, all of us twisting like a swarm of Jonahs, turning this
way and that in the skin of what either swallows us whole or becomes an ark. But a Noah is also terrified, anxiously watching the waters recede a little more every
day, white-knuckled patriarch perched on the precipice of a vanishing oblivion…
If she were to die, this might write itself as finished, but it can’t be done now: nothing that breathes will allow itself to be summed up while still puffing: every
exhalation is a new letter in the alphabet of a life.
For some period of time, I lived inside my mother wearing the face of a wish.
I remember the hushed sanctuary of a thousand churches, the round braille of rosary beads passing one by ten through your fingers as Mysteries, back and forth
soft Latin waves of devotion: the Lord be with you, and also with you: a thousand times a thousand times forever.
In certain dreams, my mother wears a casual cloak of rainbows and has made a covenant. Her world will never be destroyed by water: by proxy, I am safe.
I am not safe.
My realm is forged from water.
I see her in fragments stitched loosely at the surface. I do not notice that those who walk on water keep their arms flung out wide; that they move in the shape of a
In other dreams, we face each other, so in those dreams, I have risen. I am a raven then, tight and black with eyes on fire. I am getting ready to fly to and fro, to and
fro, hunting for branches.
I think I am a bird but I am still a fish.
My mother is a frightened dove. A thousand loaves later, my flesh will part and route into pieces and pathways, some of whom will face me and I will remember.
I am a crucifix swinging below my mother’s breasts. It has been her hope to save me.
In some now, I am myself again. I think it’s possible that everyone is born and born and born exactly into each moment. Everything else is a dream. Everything else
is a wish. Everything else writes a sharp black cross on the sky with a raven’s wide wings and empty claws. We are looking for a nest we left behind but it is all
around us. We look up towards a tunnel: the light scatters and we are once again fish: small and silver, fleet with opportunity.
This is a preamble: the sound things make before they break,
a rumbled warning before the earth quakes toward another eternal effort to swallow itself.
We are born in the water, borne by the water, slight boats on the crest of a flood.
We carry our mothers inside us when they die, whole in the way of what has finished singing and can finally be named.
There are those things that can be simply said.
After the quote from my sister, follows the poem Carla wrote for my sister, her aunt, who is a sacred dancer:
Carla DeSola Eaton – a Tribute
“I pray that everyone, sitting cramped inside a pew, body lifeless, spine sagging and suffering, weary with weight and deadness, will be given space in which to
breathe and move, will be wooed to worship with beauty and stillness, song and dance--dance charged with life, dance that lifts up both body and spirit, as we will
be a holy, dancing, loving, praying, and praising people.”
—Carla DeSola– from The Spirit Moves: A Handbook of Dance & Prayer
All the pictures I could find are gray.
A slender woman flies, her every bone
a twig. A knit-together flock of swords
contest rigidity. A bird in flight
does not know it’s a symbol, doesn’t fight
its own calligraphy: it writes a shape
made out of who it is. It cries its name.
Every gesture is a path to prayer:
it states we aren’t statues, are not stones
with quiet voices stammering the words
we have no right to say. However slight,
there is a mystic quality in light
and how it gives that leg stabbed into space
the means to break a law. It calls a Name.
Weight and deadness. Motion is the way
to charge with life, to make us not alone
but tethered by the countless swaying chords
that glorify each atom in its bright
chaotic dance – there is no black and white.
The woman in the picture summons grace
and bids the dust to join her. El Shaddai*.
What have I got to hold the dark at bay?
I flew, but then abruptly, I had flown.
I dared not try again. A form that soars
may tremble downward, shaken by the night;
but an eye remembers if bereft of sight,
recalls this image’s exultant face:
the way it says I Am and not am I.
*God Almighty, God of the Mountains
New - June 15th, 2012:
“Whoever confesses his sins…is already working with God. God indicts your sins; if you also indict them, you are joined with God. Man and sinner are, so to speak,
two realities: when you hear “man” – this is what God has made; when you hear “sinner” – this is what man himself has made. Destroy what you have made, so that
God may save what he has made….When you begin to abhor what you have made, it is then that your good works are beginning, since you are accusing yourself
of your evil works. The beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light.” St. Augustine.
More from Dom Helder Camara: “A Thousand Reasons for Living.” (A famous Brazilian priest)
Blocks of concrete, bless ye the Lord!
I was afraid
that with their blocks of concrete
the skyscrapers might wound the
But you ought to see
how sensitive they are
to the morning light,
how they disarm
and lose their cutting edge
and steely soul!
They too are caught
in the irresistible spell
of the holy hour
when the whole natural world
in rapture chants
creation’s hymn of praise.
when your ship,
long moored in harbor,
gives you the illusion
of being a house;
when your ship
begins to put down roots
in the stagnant water by the quay:
put out to sea!
Save your boat’s journeying soul
and your own pilgrim soul,
cost what it may.
When hard work
soaks the shirts of humble folk,
look about you and you’ll see
drops of sweat
as though gathering diamonds.
If the sun were as thirsty
and greedy as you,
not one puddle of water,
not one drop of dew,
would be left on the face of the earth.
If you button a button
in a button-hole not the right one
it then becomes impossible
to button up the other ones right.
From Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out:
“The difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it,
we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.
To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of
solitude. This requires not only courage, but also a strong faith.
As hard as it is to believe that the dry, desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown
beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful
spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”
FROM THE BLOG OF Dr. Ronda:
I gave a talk for the prayer leaders of charismatic renewal yesterday. It was going to be about my charismatic experiences. I thought, suppose I add in something
about the election! Okay, since these leaders tend to be non-political, they could be annoyed if I did this and not invite me to speak again. They will love me and the
talk until I raise election issues. Then I thought, if I want to bishops to risk losing our tax-exempt status over this issue, I should have the guts to risk losing a few
So, after my "lovely" talk, I said:
"I love immigrants. I wish there were no borders since all the land belongs to God. (I do know that Catholic teaching is that countries have a right to borders.) On
Thanksgiving Day I ran around telling people who might not want to hear it: Heh, we're celebrating the first illegal immigrants!!!
But, my mother, when she was an atheist, before becoming a Catholic, had 12 abortions. I never thought when I became a Catholic that any Catholic would ever
vote for a party whose platform allows for 150,000,000 babies chopped up in the womb or chemically flushed out, and a candidate who voted to kill them as they
come out of the womb.
I didn't mention any party or any candidate by name so you can't sue me."
Quite a few clapped and several said they wanted me to speak to their groups.
"Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all things will be added unto you."
New - June 30th, 2012:
More from the poems of Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian priest:
In praise of varnish.
If it gives a shine to what is new,
it emphasizes what in fact is true.
if it gives a shine to what is old,
it merits more respect than ever,
like the transfiguring smile
on the faces of happy old people
who understand how to grow old.
I love flowers more and more
They speak to me
of how ephemeral life is
and make me face up
Of all your lessons, Master,
one is so important
I forget about the rest . . .
Teach me to reach for the infinite,
the light, which on the horizon,
helps heaven come down to earth
and earth rise up to heaven.
I like the sort of birds
that fall in love with stars
and drop, worn out
from trying to catch
From the prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Seventh Sunday of Easter:
reaching from end to end of the universe,
and ordering all things with your might arm:
For you, time is the unfolding of truth that already is,
the unveiling of beauty that is yet to be.”
From a Church Bulletin in Hawaii
If a priest preaches over 10 minutes, he is longwinded.
If his sermon is short, he didn’t prepare it.
If Mass is an hour long, some people leave early.
If parish funds are high, he’s a businessman.
If he mentions money, he’s money mad.
If he visits his parishioners, he plays favorites.
If he doesn’t he’s a snob.
If he has fairs and bazaars, he’s bleeding the folks.
If he doesn’t there is no life in the parish.
If he doesn’t read minds, some people are offended
If things in the parish are less than perfect, his fault.
If he doesn’t do what I want, I’ll go elsewhere.
If he takes too much time in confession helping sinners, he takes too long.
If he doesn’t, he doesn’t care.
If he celebrates liturgy in a soft voice, he’s a bore.
If he puts feeling into it, he’s an actor.
If he starts Mass on time, his watch is fast.
If he starts late, he’s holding up the people.
If he works hard and takes a vacation, someone will say (half jokingly) ‘I wish I were a priest, what a life!”
If a priest receives a sick call at 3 AM and appears grouchy the next morning, he’s uncaring.
If he supports a traditional choir, he’s right of Attila the Hun.
If he supports a contemporary folk group, he’s a radical.
If he decorates the Church, he’s wasting money.
If he doesn’t, he’s letting it run down.
If he’s young, he’s inexperienced.
If he’s old, he ought to retire.
But if he dies, there may be no one to replace him.
On the more serious side, here is a sermon by Rev. Glen Mullan Wedding Banquet of the Lamb June 10, 2012 for the feast of Corpus Christi
(Mk 14: 2:3-7)
Jesus made special arrangements for the banquet known as the “Last Supper.” It was a Passover banquet, in which a lamb was slain, but this particular Passover
was the occasion for the Messiah to give his life as a sacrifice of love for his people. Thus he became the Lamb of God, whose precious blood was poured out for
the forgiveness of sins, and whose flesh was eaten in a communion sacrifice. The banquet of the Last Supper is the fulfillment of his whole life, because through it
he nourishes the Church with eternal life, the gift of himself.
The Scriptures do not call it the “Last Supper.” That is something we have named it. In the book of Revelation, Scripture calls it the “marriage supper of the lamb”
(Rv 19:9). We repeat these words at every Mass: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” Jesus spoke of the marriage at the Last
Supper when he said, “this is the blood of the covenant.” By his sacrifice, God and man are sealed in an eternal covenant, the “two become one flesh.”
It is to this banquet that we are invited. But we are not just wedding guests, we the Church are the bride. It is the consummation of our marriage to the Lord.
This idea of the banquet where God and man seal their love, is found throughout scripture. Yesterday at the retreat for the children making their first holy
communion, we focused on a passage from the Song of Songs which speaks of the banquet: “He brings me into the banquet hall, and his emblem over me is love”
(Sng 2:4). The Song of Songs is love poetry which sings mystically of the marriage between Christ and the Soul which takes place in Holy Communion.
In this passage about the banquet, Song of Songs depicts Christ mystically as an apple tree, whose fruit counteracts and heals the poison of the fruit which Eve ate
in disobedience, which traditionally is an apple. Just as Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which looked good to the eye but in reality
brought death; so we are able to eat of the fruit of the Cross which is deceptive in appearance because the Cross looks like death and defeat, but in reality it is the
love which brings eternal life. Here is the full passage:
As an apple tree among the trees of the woods,
So is my beloved among men.
I delight to rest in his shadow,
And his fruit is sweet to my mouth.
He brings me into the banquet hall,
And his emblem over me is love.
Strengthen me with raisin cakes,
Refresh me with apples,
For I am faint with love.
His left hand is under my head
And his right hand embraces me.
…Do not arouse, do not stir up love
Before its own time” (Song of Songs 2:3-7)
Because of sin, our love is weak, so the beloved says in the Song of Songs, “Refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.” It is the Lord who must place his
hand under our head and lift us up in his embrace. By means of this tremendous relationship we have with our Lord, and the nourishment he provides in the
Eucharist, he strengthens and raises us up from sin and death.
The last verse of that selection is somewhat cryptic: “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time.” Just as the human experience of love requires the
proper age—marriage is not something you can enter if you are too young or immature – likewise with the Lord the marital bond of Holy Communion requires a
certain age and spiritual maturity.
The children who make their First Holy Communion have to be the age of reason, because they need to be old enough to recognize what love is, and be able to tell
the Lord they love him and are sorry for ever having sinned against him. It is beautiful to see the children so well prepared for this banquet, for the wedding supper
of the Lamb. Coming in the purity of their white suits and dresses, the children are often the ones who recognize the Lord most clearly in his Eucharistic presence.
If only we all could remember the purity of that love, and prepare ourselves as well, each time we come to receive Holy Communion.
So often people will come to receive Holy Communion, in whom no love for the Lord has been awakened. Perhaps their minds have no knowledge of Christ, or
perhaps their hearts are marked by the darkness of sin. Either way, they are not ready yet for the banquet of the lamb, because they do not know what it means.
It is curious how this passage identifies Christ and his fruit with the apple tree, deliberately making that connection with the Garden of Eden, and the fruit of the Tree
of Knowledge of good and evil, which traditionally was considered to be an apple. When the serpent tempted Eve, he did not present her with something ugly and
unattractive: the fruit looked nourishing, pleasing to the eyes, and a source of wisdom (Gn 3:6). But appearance can be deceiving. It was death.
Christ, the true husband of the soul, takes the opposite approach. Instead of trying to seduce the soul with false beauty, superficial attraction, and empty promises,
the way the serpent did, he approaches the soul in the guise of humility. He makes us work to find him; he challenges us to seek him by continually hiding. He
wants us to recognize the true reality of his spiritual richness, without being fooled by the humble external appearance that so easily deceives the eye.
When Christ came down from heaven, the great Lord and King of the human race, he was born in a stable outside the town of Bethlehem. Not the place you would
expect for the great Lord and King of nations. And he was placed in the manger from which the animals feed. Christ did not come like so many powerful kings, to
feed off the people; from the beginning he came to be our nourishment. He says, with my life, I will give you life. But it was not easy to find him. Only the humble
shepherds found him, and the Magi who undertook the long and arduous journey of faith. Not King Herod the Great, and those puffed up with riches and arrogance.
And after a hidden life in the obscure village of Nazareth, Jesus spent his public ministry in humility, never seeking attention or kingship. As soon as he became
known in one town, he left! When he healed someone, he privately enjoined them to keep silent about what happened. How often his disciples woke up to find that
he had left. Remember how on one of his escapes, the crowds sought him in the deserted area, and that was where he performed his most famous miracle, of
multiplying the loaves and fish.
So Jesus makes his beloved look and search. He hides himself, and takes on the most unlikely external presentation. On the outside his appearance was very
simple and ordinary. In this way, the proud and arrogant and self-righteous could never accept him. Only the humble and pure of heart saw the reality.
And his greatest disguise of all was the Cross: to all appearances, it looked like death and defeat. There is nothing pleasing to the eye or attractive about
crucifixion. And yet, the reality of Cross is perfect love, and the gift of eternal life. Jesus made this clear at the Last Supper when he consecrated the bread and
wine: this is my body broken, this is my blood poured out. He is giving us the crucifixion, his sacrifice.
In appearance, the Eucharist defies our preconceptions. It is almost laughable that we would literally build our lives around a tiny piece of bread we receive at
Mass on Sunday. It’s no wonder so many Christians have abandoned their Catholic past for those new churches that serve up a much more “palatable” Christ.
How unfortunate for those people who are lured to those churches, where the appearance or the trappings or the production is the reality, where the religion goes
no deeper than the words, songs, and feelings evoked by the service. There is no Eucharist there, no kneeling down like the shepherds or wise men at the manger.
Our retreat for the First Communicants ended with a little story called The Weight of the Mass, in which an old woman enters a bakery begging for a piece of bread,
and offering to pay for it by offering a Mass for the baker. He laughs at the idea. In his mind, the Mass is nothing. And so he writes “one Mass” on a piece of paper
and weighs it in his scale against the rich confections of his bakery. To his surprise, and the surprise of all present, that little paper outweighs everything he can put
on the other scale. By this miracle the people realize they have they have forgotten their faith and judged the Mass based on appearance. But the person who
learned the biggest lesson of all was the woman: she too had forgotten what the weight of the Mass was, because all she had asked in exchange for the Mass was
a tiny piece of bread!
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, as our parish children make their First Holy Communion, we need to all remember the weight of the Mass, and not judge the
Eucharist or Christ simply by appearance. Like the children, in whom “love has been stirred up in its time,” we must recognize our beloved Lord, and go into the
banquet to which he invites us, our own wedding celebration.
New - July 15th, 2012:
More poems from Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian priest:
Do not condemn us
to be alone
to be together
For the love of God, answer me!
Where are you, children,
to tell me about your toys,
to tell me about your dreams,
to tell me about your frenzies,
to tell me about your sufferings,
the happy, the unhappy,
the saints and the sinners,
the young and the aged,
the dead and the living,
men and angels,
animals and plants,
all you creatures
of all worlds?
if I were to go
up to God’s altar alone!
Always stop! Always welcome!
go the buses
what I must never signal:
Some people are like sugar-cane:
even when crushed in the mill,
reduced to pulp,
all they can yield is sweetness.
Life’s Weaving by Father Tabb
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me;
I may not choose the colors,
He knows what they should be;
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this the under side.
Sometimes He weaveth sorrow,
Which seemeth strange to me:
But I will trust His judgment,
And work on faithfully;
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
He knows just what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest
And leave with Him the rest.
At last when life is ended,
With Him I shall abide,
Then I may view the pattern
Upon the upper side:
Then I shall know the reason
Why pain with joy entwined
Was woven in the fabric
Of life that God designed.
“The efficacy of prayer does not consist in giving God new knowledge or inducing him to change his intentions. Rather, it consists in creating conditions under
which God can appropriately give gifts that he eternally wills to give, provided that the necessary conditions have been met. The change brought about by prayer is
not a change in God, but in the created world.” - St. Thomas Aquinas
More excerpts from Quotable Saints by Dr. Ronda. These are on the topic of Harshness to Gentleness:
“Mercy is a good thing, for it makes men perfect, in that it imitates the perfect Father. Nothing graces the Christian soul so much as mercy.” St. Ambrose
“A man who is deeply wounded in his heart by provocation and abuse shows thereby that deep in himself he harbors the old serpent. If he bears the blows in
silence and answers with great humility, he will render this serpent weak and powerless (or will kill it altogether). But if he argues with bitterness or speaks with
arrogance, he will give the serpent an added strength to pour poison into his heart and mercilessly to devour his entrails.” St. Simeon the New Theologian
“Man must be lenient with his soul in his weaknesses and imperfections and suffer his failings as he suffers those of others, but he must not become idle, and must
encourage himself to better things.” St. Seraphim of Sarov
“Those in union with God when aware of the sins of others live in this gentle light….Therefore they are always peaceful and calm…They do not sit in judgment on my
servants or anyone else, but rejoice in every situation…Even when they see something that is clearly sinful, they do not pass judgment, but rather feel a holy and
genuine compassion, praying for the sinner.” St. Catherine of Siena
“Be kind to all and severe to thyself.” St. Teresa of Avila
“You can win more converts with a spoonful of honey than a barrelful of vinegar.” St. Francis de Sales
“The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but while you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” St. Francis de Sales
“Meekness was the method Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with kindness
and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to gain hope in God’s mercy. Thus he bade us to be gentle and humble of
heart.” St. John Bosco
“Pride makes us Hate our equals because they are our equals; our inferiors from the fear that they may equal us; our superiors because they are above us.” St.
“For none of you will Christ be a judge in the harsh sense of the word; He will simply be Jesus.” St. Jose Escriva
New, July 30th, 2012:
More poems from Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian priest:
Do people weigh you down?
Don’t carry them on your shoulders.
Take them into your heart.
If you want a dialogue,
don’t insist on always
having the last word.
Of barriers to be broken down,
most important one
You have learnt life’s lesson?
By this, you mean to say
that you’ve dried up inside
and insulate yourself
against the spontaneity
you now regret;
that you are prudent now,
with that bad prudence
implying lack of warmth,
quenching the sacred flame?
If so, I beg you,
live your whole life long
learning nothing from experience,
guileless with man,
childlike with God.
From Quotable Saints by Ronda Chervin, Idleness to Good Works
“We admire the Creator, not only as the framer of heaven and earth, of sun and ocean…bears and lions, but also as the maker of tiny creatures: ants, gnats,
flies….So that mind that is given to Christ is equally earnest in small things as in great, knowing that an account must be given even for an idle word.” St. Jerome
“While some women exalt in the management of households and others in piety – for it is difficult to achieve both (St. Nonna) surpassed all in both. She increased
the resources of her household by her care and practical foresight…She devoted herself to God as (much as) one removed from household cares.” St. Gregory
“He who divides his time between physical work and prayer subdues his boy by labor and moderates its disorderly demands; and since his soul, working together
with the body, at last longs for a rest, it disposes it to prayer, as to something easier, and brings it to the work of prayer with fresh strength and zeal…He who does
not like working, feeds passions by idleness and his desires freedom to fly to kindred objects.” St. Nilus of Sinai
“A servant is not good if she is not industrious: work-shy piety in people of our position is sham piety. All devotion which leads to sloth is false. We must love work.”
St. Zita (a saint who was a servant)
“Without work it is impossible to have fun.” St. Thomas Aquinas”
“Be sober and hard-working men; avoid all vanity in dress which will exclude you from heaven.” St. Nicholas of Flue
“It is laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife and sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her
housekeeping.” St. Frances of Rome
“Hell is full of the talented, but Heaven of the energetic.” St. Jane of Chantal
“Let us love God, but with the strength of our arms, in the sweat of our brow.” St. Vincent de Paul
“Nothing seems tiresome or painful when you are working for a Master who pays well; who rewards even a cup of cold water given for love of Him.” St. Dominic
“Too much work is a danger for an imperfect soul…for one who loves our Lord it is an abundant harvest.” St. Madeleine Sophie Barat
“The principal trap which the devil sets for the young people is idleness. This is a fatal source of all evil. Do not let there be any doubt in your mind that man is born
to work, and when he does not do so he is out of his element and in great danger of offending God…First tell the devil to rest, and then I’ll rest too.” St. John Bosco
“We will lie down for such a long time after death that it is worthwhile to keep standing while we are alive. Let us work now; one day we will rest.” Blessed Agostina
“Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. I intend that every moment of time past, present and future be employed by me
and all creatures in the best way. In heaven we shall rest.” St. Vincent Pallotti
“Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love.” St. Therese of Lisieux
“This tying of one’s life to a schedule, to a timetable, you tell me, is so monotonous! And I answer: there is monotony because there is not Love.” St. Jose Escriva
New, August 15th, 2012:
“Beauty cannot be expressed or explained in a theory or an idea, (because) it moves by its own law, that it is God’s way of comforting His broken people.” From A
Soldier of the Great War. Mark Helprin.
“He who saves a life, it is like saving the whole world.” Talmud
More from Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian priest:
Don’t get annoyed
if the person coming to see you,
if the person wanting to talk to you,
can’t manage to express
the uproar raging inside him.
Much more important
than listening to the words
is imagining the agonies,
fathoming the mystery,
listening to the silence…
The night was so dark
not the least speck of light,
that I was seized with panic
in spite of the deep love
I have always felt for night.
Then she told me her secret:
The darker the night is,
the lovelier usually is
the dawn she carries in her womb.
that prevents us hearing the voice of God
is truly not,
the clamor of man,
the racket of cities,
the stirring of the wind
or the whispering of water.
that completely smothers
the voice of God
is the inner uproar
of outraged self-esteem,
of awakening suspicion,
of unsleeping ambition.
These are the last ones of Dom Camara I have excerpted. For the whole book get “A Thousand Reasons for Living” Fortress Press
Solzehnitsyn: from the Cancer Ward: “The meaning of existence is to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity which each person is
born with – as far as possible.”
New - September 2012:
“Contentment is not having what you have but wanting what you have.”
“Joy is not the absence of pain but the presence of God.”
New - October 2012:
From Personal Poems On My Journey of Faith by Bonnie Kelly Rice:
(This is a poem written for the funeral of a woman who died at 33 years old. She was paralyzed and bed-ridden from birth. She never spoke and was deaf and
For all the love and tender care
You gave throughout my life
I now return to each of you
To help you live your lives.
The many, many graces
Through my years of inner pain
Are rewarded so abundantly
I am home from where I came.
I see now through the eyes of love
And I hear within my heart
To help you with your needs and prayers
I hold the hand of God.
And all those years of suffering
How great is my reward
I hear the songs of angels
As I am talking to our Lord.
And my body is complete again
As our Lord said it would be
So take comfort in just knowing
That God takes care of me.
So please shed no more tears for me
For I am now at peace
I sing and dance in heaven
As I listen to your please.
I love you all, I thank you too
For all your love and care
I’m in the arms of Mary
In gratitude and prayer.
“But most of all I thank you
For understanding me
And the control I will relinquish
You know what’s best for me.
And I truly am so grateful
That I recognize my faults
Cause I can work to change me
With heaven my reward.”
So just between the two of us
You know what’s underneath
So I will smile and laugh and be myself.
And be not indiscrete
So again I thank you my good Lord
For the way that you made me
And hope that I am understood
As this extrovert you see.