Dry as a Desert!!!

Desert

What do you think of when you think of a desert?  If you say cheesecake…that’s dessert…not desert…good try though!!  Perhaps you think of those fun looking cactus plants or hot dry desert sand…perhaps you think of one of those country western shows!  Being in the desert is not pleasant… actually it is very uncomfortable!!  However, everyone must go through a desert experience at some point…especially the desert experience in our prayer life.  What happens when we are in the desert?  We seek out water.  Jesus is the living water that we search for in our desert experience of prayer.

It is very common during the purgative stage of the journey to experience dryness in prayer.  Many people ask, “What do I do when my prayer life seems dry and empty?”  What is dryness in prayer?  Dryness in prayer is an experience of not being able to feel the presence of God during our prayer.  Perhaps we are not experiencing His presence the way that we did before…however, God is very present!!  There may be a few causes to this dryness in prayer that I found in reading, The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin.  In this book, he goes through the different stages of the spiritual journey.   We will explore specifically what he says about lukewarmness and lack of fidelity to our prayer life, fatigue or illness, and the experience of the dark night!!

It is possible that we have become careless in fidelity to our spiritual life especially through neglect of daily prayers, attending Mass, lack of spiritual reading and so on.  It is possible that we have become careless in fighting temptations as well.  There may be times when distractions of worldly entertainments enter into our lives and we may make them the center of our life.  What is the solution to this lukewarmness and infidelity?  The solution is to come back to being faithful.  We need to humble ourselves, ask God for forgiveness and realize that we have not been as faithful to God as we should be.  Then, with complete and total confidence in God’s love for us, we get back on our feet and try to do better!

Sometimes there are other reasons for dryness in prayer such as fatigue and illness.  We are composed of body and soul so our mental, physical, psychological, emotional state can greatly affect our relationship with God.  Fatigue and illness will come in our lives.  However, the important thing is how we carry this burden.  Indeed, the saints encourage us to seek medical attention when we need to do so.  They also propose another way to handle fatigue and illness… by offering up everything and uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ.  St. Francis says, “Look often with your inward eyes on Christ Jesus, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed with every kind of weariness, sorrow and labour.  Remember that your sufferings are not comparable to His…you can never suffer for His sake anything equal to what he has suffered for you.”  However, when we offer our sufferings to God, He takes them and we become instruments of His love in the world!  Through offering our sufferings, souls can and will be saved!!

When we feel loved by God is it easy to love Him in return?  This is a question that raises another question: “Are we loving God for Himself, or for do we love Him only for what we receive from Him?”  It is clear that we cannot rely solely on our emotions.  Even though we cannot feel God’s presence sometimes, or even feel His love for us…does that mean God has stopped loving us?  Does that mean that God is no longer present with me?  Am I now alone on this journey?  NO!!  God permits the dark night at times in order to purify our love for the Lord.  A good sign that God has permitted us to enter this dark night is basically when we continue to serve and please the Lord despite how we are feeling.  A wife and mother may not feel like getting up to comfort and console the crying baby, but she does it because she loves that child.  Even though we may not feel like praying, if we do it anyways, God is glorified.  Also, this dark night could be a sign that God is aiding the soul to enter into a different form of prayer, a prayer of quiet.  The prayer of quiet involves being still before God in the silence and know that He is God.  God wants the soul to rely on Him and not His consolations as sweet as they are when they come.  Consolations from God are a good thing, they give us strength when the road gets tough; however we should not go looking for them.  If consolations come, we should thank God and move forward.  If dryness comes, we praise the Lord anyway!!

So, these are just some things to think about…the bottom line is we cannot be impatient when it comes to our spiritual life, rather we must hold fast to Jesus as best as we can in prayer trusting that He is very near to us and He will never abandon us!!

Healing Hearts…

Return of the prodigal son

Life has many twists and turns…just like a roller coaster.  If you have ever been on a roller coaster, there are two emotions people generally feel.  The first is terror…this utter feeling like you are going to die… and the second is excitement…EXTREME excitement.  If we compare our lives to a roller coaster ride, we can say that it consists of times of sadness and sorrow, but also times of great joy and excitement!  We cannot always predict where God is leading us on our spiritual journey…sometimes all we know for sure is that every experience that we have is an opportunity to love Jesus more… He is leading us closer to Himself.   But no matter how intense the twists and turns of life, no matter how many bumps and bruises we may receive along the way, God is always at work healing our hearts.

Conversion happens when we can learn to call God “Father.”  Jesus taught His Apostles to call God “Father” when he gave us the Our Father.  Jesus gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son in order for us to see God as he is…a merciful, loving Father.  He has his arms outstretched ready to embrace us…we just need to call on him and he comes to meet us!  That is the love of a Father…he comes to meet us.

So, we have been making our way through the purgative stage of our spiritual journey.  We have already talked about the initial conversion and the trials and temptations within this stage; however, we need to explain one key aspect about the purgative stage which we can call the “healing stage.”  We are now turning towards God through our conversion experiences.  We are coming to see what trials and temptations befall us the most.  But now, we are in the process of healing.  One important step towards healing is developing an ongoing relationship with Jesus in prayer.

Because our senses are so powerful and worldly attractions are so rooted in our nature, a greater love for God needs to flame in us.  A common occurrence for people in this stage is to see prayer as a boring activity and a “waste of time” especially if we do not see the fruits.  We must realize that we need prayer…even before that we need to recognize that we need God.

Real healing of our hearts will come when we begin to have lives of prayer.  Our relationship with God in prayer is much like our human relationships which need time, attention and care for them to continue to grow.  Our prayers can be spontaneous, “Lord help me!” or, like a good and wise priest always prays, “Jesus mercy, Mary help!”  We need to be honest and real with God when we pray…we can’t fool him…He is God.  What is most important is that we believe with all our heart that whatever we ask God in prayer, he hears every petition and will answer every prayer, perhaps not in the way that we expect!  God sees the big picture…we just see a little tiny portion of the picture.  The point is, we need to trust that God knows what is best for us…we need to trust Him!  Being attentive to God is so key at this stage.  St. Therese of Lisieux tells us concerning prayer: “How great is the power of Prayer!…Prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance toward heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy…it expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.”  Teresa of Avila also made the point that it does not matter whether our prayers are memorized or not said out loud that determines their value but whether or not we try to pay attention that counts.

Many saints offer suggestions on how to pray well.  We all struggle with prayer sometimes, so it is good to look at saint writings for some help.  If we look at St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises for example we will see a few steps to help us grow in our prayer life.  Placing ourselves in God’s Presence realizing that God is very near and in the depth of your heart is very key.  If we struggle with this we need to ask God for help.  Say “Lord please help me to be attentive to you!”  Ignatius also suggests picking a passage from Scripture to help you meditate.  Place yourself in that scene and picture yourself in that scene.  The purpose of this meditation is to help you love the Lord more.  Take some moments to give thanks to God for the many graces that you have received in prayer.  It is important to make some resolutions in how your love for God is going to increase.  Perhaps you resolve to be more attentive in prayer, more ready to forgive others…these are some examples.

So, overall, I think it is a miracle of grace that we are able to communicate with God through prayer.  We are made in God’s image and likeness and He loves us.  As our prayer life grows so does our union with God grow.  Our prayer life is so key especially as we turn away from the sins, imperfections, and temptations of the past.  But what about those times when prayer feels so hard…when we experience dryness in our prayer…perhaps this could be the topic of our next post!

The Spiritual Battle Is On!!

Mary and Jesus crushing evil

We have all seen them…when you least expect to see them there they are!!  They tend to take us by surprise…most of us scream when we see them…  I am talking about snakes!  The other day, the Sisters and I saw a garter snake.  I know that they are God’s creatures and I have a deep respect for people who like them and take care of them…but I don’t do well with snakes.    Grasshoppers…okay…bees…fine…but snakes…no.  I guess because every time I see a snake I think of the evil serpent, the devil, who tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis.

The image that I have on this blog post is the image of Madonna and Child in Heidelberg Germany that totally captures what Genesis 3:15 says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal.”  If you look at it closely, you will see that the Child Jesus has this angry expression in his face as He is stabbing the serpent with His spear!  I looked at this image and I said, “YES!!!”  Our Lady, looks so peaceful and content to be stepping on that evil serpent!  Just think about it…he is being stepped on by the Mother of God who is the most beautiful, virtuous, loving Mother in the whole world!!  Again I looked at this image and said, “YES!!!!!”

So many times in our lives, we need to beg the Child Jesus and the Mother of God to crush the evil serpents in our lives.  We all have evil serpents that spring up from time to time.  Lies, confusion, fear, discouragement, despair, loneliness and sufferings of every kind come into our lives.  The devil, the evil serpent, tends to lead us into temptation.  We just began speaking about the purgative way, and as we are on the road of conversion, at this stage, it is very likely and possible to encounter temptations.  Now let’s get one thing straight!!  Everyone…EVERYONE experiences temptation at some point in their lives!!  Even the saints: St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Sienna had temptations against chastity, St. Jerome was tempted to anger, St. Ignatius of Loyola was tempted to despair, St. Vitus had temptations of tardiness (he found it hard to get out of bed in the morning!  St. Vitus pray for us!)  Even the Saints endured temptation!!  Temptation is necessary in order for us to make spiritual progress.  Imagine for a moment if we never struggled…if everything was easy…would we grow in virtue and love?  Would we even acknowledge that we desperately need God?  Indeed, trials and temptations are not pleasant, however if we respond to them peacefully and with patience, it will help us to become holy.  “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

So how do we respond to temptations when they come?  First we need to realize that temptation is a means of purification where we can put on the armor of faith as St. Paul speaks about and put our trust in God.  Suffering through temptations can make us atone and make reparation (do penance) for our past wrongs.  We can call temptations the “school of humility” where through them we realize our weakness, powerlessness, and how much we need grace from God!!  Suffering through temptations is also an opportunity to live out the words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow me!”  Temptation is also a school of love where we can throw ourselves into the arms of God and there seek the strength and shelter we need as His children.

It is extremely important for someone experiencing temptations, especially violent ones, as soon as they become aware of them to immediately reject both the pleasure and the temptation of it.  For example, even though we may feel an automatic pleasure to revenge or lust, we must immediately reject any voluntary delight in it once we realize that it is a temptation.  This might mean distracting ourselves from the temptation by performing an act of charity, going for a walk, beginning a new project etc…  Sometimes it is hard to combat these temptations on our own.  Having a good spiritual director and a good confessor who you can have regular contact with, especially with violent temptations is extremely necessary and important!  Do not be afraid to go to them and speak, even if what you need to say feels embarrassing.  Don’t be afraid of what the spiritual director or confessor will think…this is often a tactic the devil will use to make us be silent…spiritual directors and confessors know that life is a spiritual battle and they will not be surprised with what you say!  The devil hates the light…SO BRING THINGS IN THE LIGHT!!   Catherine of Sienna speaks about fighting the spiritual battle with a two-edged sword in our hands, with hatred of sin as one edge of the blade and love of virtue on the other.  IT IS NECESSARY TO HATE SIN!!!  Sin is ugly and offensive to Almighty God!!  No wonder the Child Jesus looked angry at the evil serpent in the statue of Madonna and Child…

The frequency and amount of time that temptations can vary.  Some people are often violently tempted, others are rarely tempted.  Temperament can play a part in this; there are some who have a temperament that is very emotional and passionate, but have a weak will and are upset with temptations.  Others are very well-balanced and energetic and are able to keep their peace in the midst of temptation.  God has providential designs for every soul.  Every person is called to sanctity but our journey there will look very different.  For most of us, our path to sanctity means passing through some severe tests only to ground us more in virtue!  So don’t be alarmed!  This is a tremendous grace!

There are three phases of temptation that we can address now which are: suggestion, pleasure, and consent.  Suggestion is basically a proposal of some evil.  There can be suggestions to so many different things: anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, flirtatious behavior, frivolity, vanity, inappropriate affection, craftiness, and evil thoughts.  Our imagination is attracted to the “forbidden fruit,” meaning something looks good and attractive but it is not good and we should stay away from it.  No matter how dangerous this suggestion is, it is not a sin unless we consent to it.

Pleasure follows the suggestion.  As St. Francis de Sales points out: “many a time it happens that the inferior part of the soul takes pleasure in the temptation, without having been consent… This is the warfare which the Apostle St. Paul describes when he says his flesh wars against his spirit.”  The pleasure, as long as our will does not get involved, is not a sin, but it is a danger since it is opening a door to the possibility of consenting.  If the soul combats the temptation and succeeds in not “giving in” to it then the soul has performed a very meritorious act.  If, on the contrary the will delights in the pleasure, willingly enjoys it and consents to it, then a sin is committed.

So, how do we know when we have consented?  Indeed, there are times when we can easily see that there was no consent.  For example, in spite of the suggestion and pleasure accompanying it, if the soul feels disgust, annoyance, embarrassment, frustration, if they hold the evil in horror, and if they turn to God in prayer, there is no consent.  However, there are times where we might have to take responsibility for giving in to the temptation.  St. Francis gives us an example of this, “If I know, that some certain conversation leads me to temptation and to a fall and I do voluntarily indulge therein, I am, doubtless, culpable of all the temptations that shall arise.”

It is possible therefore for our consent to be imperfect for example there might be times where fear of offending God will come upon the soul, but only after relishing into the pleasure a bit.  Also, it is possible for temptation to be resisted in a half-hearted way.  This means resisting the temptation, but in a lazy, slow way, which means that there was half-consent.  We are called to fight the temptations promptly, energetically, perseveringly and humbly.  When it comes to temptations of thought, the best thing to do is to peacefully turn the thought over to God and peacefully think of something else.  Trying to fight them violently may only add more fuel to the fire.  To put out fire we need water and that water is the grace and peace of God.

When consent is full and entire, we know it!  Despite our conscience that recognizes the evil there are times where we can let ourselves be drawn to the sinful pleasure and give into it, sometimes in grave ways, sometimes in smaller ways.  If someone has consented, it means they made a decision.  They said “yes” to the suggestions and the pleasurable feelings that accompany them knowing that is an offense to Almighty God and they are hurting themselves and others.   If we do have the misfortune of falling into sin due to giving in to temptation, let us not lose heart!!  This is the time where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge that we need his forgiveness, grace, and mercy.  Let us firmly resolve to be more alert and listen closely to the words of Jesus, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).

Let us pray for each other that in these times of temptation we can turn to the Lord with all the faith that is in us!  Let us pray for each other that we can be brave in the spiritual war!  Let us pray for each other that we hold fast to Jesus and Mary in every temptation and ask them to crush the evil serpent!!

 

With Eyes Wide Open…

Fix our eyes on Jesus

I am always amazed when I see a little child get excited about the smallest things.  It is amazing to see how their faces brighten up with things like eating an ice-cream cone, or witnessing the first snowfall of the year, or even opening presents on their Birthday.  Jesus calls us to be like little children: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)  God wants us to always have a sense of wonder and beauty about God and the things of God.

In the spiritual life, there are various stages that we must go through on the road to holiness.  These stages help us to open our eyes wide like a little child and discover the beauty and goodness of God.  As a result, we come to know God and ourselves in a more profound way.  The purgative stage is the first stage which can be described as the entrance into the life of grace.  As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  This stage marks the beginning of conversion.  Conversion basically means to turn around, to have a change of heart.  Conversion involves turning away from a past life in order to be transformed by God.  Usually an individual entering into the purgative stage has had a conversion experience to Christ where they know that God is good and forgiving and that they are loved by Him.  In this stage the individual begins to realize that certain vices need to be uprooted and purged and virtues need to take their place.  The person who has entered this stage realizes that they must avoid near occasions of sin by changing their lifestyle and turning away from sin and sinful attachments.  Hard to do!!  This brings to mind St. Augustine, who struggled a long time with living a life of chastity.  In his early stages of conversion to Christ he prays, “Oh, Lord make me chaste but not yet!!” (Confessions 8,7)  Changing our lives is very difficult, but with the grace of God, prayer and the Sacraments all things are possible.

A person who is in the purgative stage realizes that in order to be healed of their past life, and to be on the path to the life of eternal happiness, they must begin to follow the Commandments of God.  I like to think of this stage like a patient who approaches the doctor with aches and pains.  The patient realizes that they need help, and that this pain or ache is not going to go away on its own…they need healing.  This happens in our spiritual life too!  We are awakened to the fact that there is some ache, pain, loneliness, loss, discouragement, a sense that this world does not fulfill us… and we need a spiritual doctor!!  Our spiritual doctor just so happens to be God Himself, who is the greatest healer.

Persons who have had this conversion towards to Lord also realize that there is a duty now to have a habit of prayer, both vocal and liturgical prayer, as well as meditation with the Scriptures.  They begin to pray the prayers of the Church such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be etc…  They begin to practice various forms of piety such as regular confession, spiritual reading, retreats, and sacred study.  They realize that in performing acts of charity and works of mercy, virtue is just beginning to develop and vices are beginning to be exposed, uprooted and thrown away.

The result of a person who has passed through the Purgative stage of their journey is that they begin to have a regular, stable life in the Church where they are now living the life of faith.  Even though there might be storms and struggles that occur in the Church, their faith is rooted in Christ who gave us the Church.  They are able to respond fully to the Lord because they have discovered the loving mercy of God and they want to love Him more.  St. Teresa of Avila tell us:

“Through the blood He shed for us, I ask those who have not begun to enter within themselves to do so; and those who have begun, not to let the war make them turn back…Let them trust in the mercy of God and not at all in themselves, and they will see how His majesty brings them from the dwelling places of one stage to those of another…and they shall enjoy many more blessings than one can desire….blessings even in this life I mean.”

But we are only at the beginning everyone…only the beginning…more to come!!!

God’s Voice Brings True Peace…

godsvoice

This month of June is the time that we thank God for our Spiritual Fathers.  At the end of this month of June, I would like to end with a message that was given on Good Shepherd Sunday from our spiritual Holy Father Pope Francis!!!   

I hope that his message helps all of you on your faith journey as much as it has helped me.    

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The fourth Sunday of Easter, which we celebrate today, is dedicated to Jesus the Good Shepherd. The Gospel says that: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn 10:3). The Lord calls us by name, He calls us because he loves us. However, the Gospel says, there are other voices, that are not to be followed: those of strangers, thieves and brigands who mean harm to the sheep.

These different voices resonate within us. There is the voice of God, who speaks kindly to the conscience, and there is the tempting voice that leads to evil. How can we recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd from that of the thief, how can we distinguish the inspiration of God from the suggestion of the evil one? One can learn to discern these two voices: they speak two different languages, that is, they have opposite ways of knocking on [the door of] our hearts. They speak different languages. Just as we know how to distinguish one language from another, we can also distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the evil one.

The voice of God never forces us: God proposes himself, He does not impose himself. Instead, the evil voice seduces, assails, forces: it arouses dazzling illusions, emotions that are tempting but transient. At first it flatters, it makes us believe that we are all-powerful, but then it leaves us empty inside and accuses us: “You are worth nothing”. The voice of God, instead, corrects us, with great patience, but always encourages us, consoles us: it always nourishes hope. God’s voice is a voice that has a horizon, whereas the voice of the evil one leads you to a wall, it backs you into a corner.

Another difference: the voice of the enemy distracts us from the present and wants us to focus on fears of the future or sadness about the past — the enemy does not want the present — it brings to surface the bitterness, the memories of the wrongs suffered, of those who have hurt us, … many bad memories. On the other hand, the voice of God speaks in the present: “Now you can do good, now you can exercise the creativity of love, now you can forego the regrets and remorse that hold your heart captive”. It inspires us, it leads us ahead, but it speaks in the present: now.

Again: the two voices raise different questions in us. The one that comes from God will be: “What is good for me?”. Instead the tempter will insist on another question: “What do I feel like doing?”. What do I feel: the evil voice always revolves around the ego, its impulses, its needs, everything straight away. It is like a child’s tantrums: everything, and now. The voice of God, however, never promises joy at a low price: it invites us to go beyond our ego in order to find the true, good peace. Let us remember: evil never brings peace. First it causes frenzy, and then it leaves bitterness. This is the style of evil.

Lastly, God’s voice and that of the tempter, speak in different “environments”: the enemy prefers darkness, falsehood, and gossip; the Lord loves sunlight, truth, and sincere transparency. The enemy will say to us: “Close yourself up in yourself, besides no one understands and listens to you, do not be trusting!” Goodness, on the contrary, invites us to open up, to be clear and trusting in God and in others.

Dear brothers and sisters, during this time many thoughts and worries lead us to turn inwards into ourselves. Let us pay attention to the voices that reach our hearts. Let us ask ourselves where they come from. Let us ask for the grace to recognise and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, who brings us out of the enclosures of selfishness and leads us to the pastures of true freedom. May Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel, guide and accompany our discernment.

Special Thanks to the Vatican Website for Providing us with this message:

http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2020/documents/papa-francesco_regina-coeli_20200503.html

Happy Solemnity of the Sacred Heart!!

sacred heart of jesus

Happy Solemnity of the Feast of the Sacred Heart!!

Let us thank God for His amazing love manifested to us in the Sacred Heart of Jesus!  Remember what Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary?  “Behold this heart which loves so much yet is so little loved.”  Have we hardened our hearts?  Are our hearts open to practice charity?  Wait…what is charity?

In order to develop the truth about charity, we must recall what we know already.  We know that “God has created man through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 27).  Just ponder on that for a moment!  God created us because He is love and it is His love that holds us in existence.  Yet, we are weak, and fallen, yet out of His great and infinite love He sends us a Saviour to redeem us.  Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  God humbles Himself, becomes one of us, like us in all things but sin, in order to redeem us.  That is love.  Jesus’ gift of Himself was total…He held nothing back, He gave everything!  That is love…that is true charity.

There are times where we can mistakenly think of charity using Gollum’s theology.  For those of us who are familiar with Lord of the Rings, we remember that Gollum is a creature who represents sin, and the effects of sin.  His theology of charity is as follows: “We’ll be nice to them (the hobbits), very nice if they’ll be nice to us…”  Poor Gollum, he is a creature representing the effects of sin.  Purely attached to the ring of power, and purely obsessed with his own desire for it, we see in his definition of charity a very selfish way of thinking about love.  However, it raises some questions: Is “charity” and being “nice” the same thing?  Is charity about only being nice to others if they are nice to us?  In short this is bad theology…sorry Gollum!

Compare Gollum’s definition of charity with our own Catholic definition of charity.  Charity is the supernatural virtue infused by God into the will, by which we love God for Himself above all things and ourselves and our neighbor for God.  St. Giuseppe Moscati, a saint who was a doctor said this about charity: “Let us practice charity, let us not forget to make an offering of our actions everyday, every moment, doing everything for love’s sake.”

So what are some essential elements of charity?  Practicing charity means communicating the divine goodness that is present within us to those who are both sinners, and faithful people.  The desire to give love, to share the divine goodness that is inside of us, is something that we must will.  We must will the salvation of all, including those who hurt us.  Gollum, on the other hand, only wanted to help Frodo and Sam so that he could eventually steal the Ring…not the Christian form of charity!!!

Finally there must be a willingness to both receive and give of the Divine Goodness.  We cannot give what we do not have ourselves.  Our love must be a desire for good for ourselves and an ability to receive and give love.  Saint Mother Teresa once said, “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.”   Receiving and giving love is both founded and rooted in charity.

So what are the means for growing in charity?  How can we receive this Divine love that is called to be poured into our hearts?  By engaging in lectio divina, we are able to awaken God’s love through holy reading and mental prayer (a loving heart to heart conversation with Christ whom we know loves us).  Also, by the sacraments, (Eucharist etc…) so that we are able to respond to God’s love through sacramental graces.  I find it so interesting that Gollum does not eat the lembas bread (filled a man’s stomach with just one bite).  The lembas bread represents the Eucharist that sustains us.  Gollum could not receive the lembas bread because his heart was not disposed to receive…he was too consumed in his life of sin and darkness.

Not only this, but we are called to love God in return and our neighbor in God through liturgical praise and worship.  At Mass we come together as a community of faith to give God the worship that is due to Him, and to come as one united body.  By practicing a purifying love for the Cross of Christ, we can learn to embrace a love that is sacrificial for our neighbour.

Indeed, charity is the most excellent of the virtues.  First, it intimately unites us to God.  Faith helps us to know God, hope prepares us with union in God, but a life of charity means we begin to live a life of divine perfection, meaning a life where the Fruits of the Spirit are lived out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, generosity etc…  The great Padre Pio once said: “Joy with peace is the sister of charity…serve the Lord with laughter.”

As we ponder on the Sacred Heart, let us keep in mind the intense love the Lord has for us!  Let us also keep in mind this wonderful virtue of charity.  Charity is more then being nice.  Charity is a gift of self to God and to others.  Please ponder on this Scripture passage today:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…So faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13).

Are We There Yet???

family road trips

“Are we there yet?”  “Are we there yet?” “ARE WE THERE YET???”  This is the most common question that children ask their parents on when they are on long car rides on summer vacation.  Annoying as this question might be to parents (especially if it is continuous) it does imply a certain excitement, wonder and awe: “we are heading towards somewhere fun, exciting and I WANT TO BE THERE NOW!!!”

Indeed, as Christians we know that where we are heading is the destination where we will find true joy and true fulfillment, more than we could ever imagine!!  Heaven is eternal beatitude with God where we are totally embraced by love itself!!  We cannot even begin to imagine what that is like!!!  The Scripture tells us “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)  We need to embrace the HOPE that one day we will be with God for all eternity!!  Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms!”  A house with many rooms…that must be a MANSION!!!!!  I went in a mansion once… it was HUGE!!  I went in and I thought to myself, “oooh… a game of hide and seek would be so fun in here!!!”  Imagine, Jesus says that His Father’s house has many mansions and that He goes to prepare a place for us!!! (John 14:2).   That is awesome!!

Do I take enough time to think about heaven?  Am I excited about heaven?

Do I make acts of hope throughout the day?  Am I often discouraged, worried and stressed…do I turn to God in these moments?

So, what is hope?  Hope is the theological virtue (remember we receive three at Baptism: Faith, Hope and Charity) infused in our will which we desire God as our beatitude (true happiness) and trusting in his mercy we are confident in reaching union with God!!  To have hope requires a two-fold act of our will.  God purifies us of our desires and helps us to see all our desires in relation to him.  For example, I desire ice cream and pie for dessert today.  This desire can bring my mind to God and make me desire God more: “God knew what he was doing when he inspired someone to make apple pie and ice cream!!”  Apple pie and ice cream is so good, but it does not even compare to the infinite and loving goodness of God!!  When we grow in hope, everything begins to be put back in right order (God first, persons second, things third) and we begin to see everything as God sees.  Secondly, trust and confidence in God grows as self-reliance diminishes.  What does that mean?  Well, sometimes we believe the lie that we can merit heaven without God.  This is not true!!  Our redemption is through Christ.  “In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7).

Indeed when we are beginning the spiritual life, we see that our hope is not yet perfect.  In the beginning, the purgative way, we have a desire for God and salvation…along with many other things.  In other words, our hearts are divided, and our desires for things need to be purified which means putting them in right order.  This is done through prayer and acts of self-denial and mortification.  When our hearts are focused on things, we worry more.  Padre Pio says, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry!  Worry is useless.  God is merciful and he will hear your prayers!”  Secondly, in the purgative way, beginners’ trust in God is very imperfect so we sway between despair (taking eyes off of the mercy of God and just focusing on His justice) and presumption (focusing just on God’s mercy and not enough on His justice).  Despair is basically saying, “All is lost!  I will never be a saint!  I will never get to heaven!”  Presumption is “I am saved already!  I’ve got my ticket to heaven, I don’t need to grow in my relationship with God, I am a good person and so I am saved already!”  Despair and presumption are indeed the two great sins against hope.  In order to combat them, we need HOPE and a pure belief in God who is both merciful and just.

A person who is a bit more advanced in the spiritual life, souls in the illuminative way, desire God alone and their own personal sanctification.  They trust only in the merits of Christ and are confident that God will eventually make them saints.  St. Therese the Little Flower once said, “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”  They rely consciously on the merits of Christ and not on themselves.  One of the nice things about a person in the illuminative way is that they are not shocked or surprised when they fall into temptation or even sin.  They just simply seek pardon and reconciliation through the Sacraments and continue on.

Perfect souls, those who have reached the unitive way, have a great hope and confidence in God, so great that they desire to be united to Christ crucified for the salvation of the world.  They desire universal salvation and are willing to offer everything in order for souls to enter eternal life!!  What an amazing gift!!  These souls have grown in charity to such a high degree that the glory of God and salvation of souls is everything!!  A quote that is attributed to St. James the Apostle is, “let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)  These are souls who have great peace, because their hope is so great that even in the midst of ridicule, calumny, injury, misfortune, nothing takes away their peace and nothing discourages them!!!  Their heaven begins on earth because their hearts are already in heaven!!  This is interior freedom…we all want this and we must pray for it!!

So the next time you are on a family trip and your child asks a billion times: “Are we there yet?,”  remember the virtue of hope.  Perhaps in that moment make an act of hope!!  There are so many things that we hope for everyday: that our family members would come back to the faith, that we would hear from that person that we have not seen or heard from in a long time.  We can hope for a new beginning in relationships, meaning that instead of them being based on selfishness and the unholy trinity “me, myself, and I” they can be based on trust, humility, openness and transparency.  We can hope for a new beginning!!  Everyday is a new beginning and that should give us tremendous hope!  I think our lives would not look as dark and grey and stormy if we would all, myself included, take more time to ponder heaven!!  Our greatest hope must be eternal union with God and to hear the words of Jesus, “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master!” (Matthew 25:21).

Opening the Doors of Faith…

door-opening

We open doors everyday!  Just think about it…we open so many doors everyday!… the doors to our house, cars, office buildings, and churches.  Doors are everywhere!!  Indeed, open doors say a lot…when someone has an opened door, it is usually to say, “welcome!”  “Come on in!”  “Happy to see you.”  But it is also possible to close doors…lock them…or even slam them!…  Jesus is steady knocking on the doors of our hearts.  How do we respond?  Do we welcome Him in with open arms…or do we lock the doors of our hearts.  How do we open the doors of our hearts?  Through faith.

I once heard a priest say a few words that had a big impact on me. I will never forget what he said on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  He said “obedience leads to faith and faith leads to healing.”  When we obey God and his commands, it brings life to our soul and increases our faith in Him as a loving Father who wants the good for us.  Faith leads to healing in our lives.  Jesus, before performing a miracle of healing would ask: “Do you believe I can do this for you?”  Our response of faith moves the Sacred Heart of Jesus!  When we open the door to faith, the Holy Spirit can really act in us, bring us peace and transform us so that we have the love of Christ.

As I was looking at the various comments for this Blog on the comment board, I was asked to elaborate more on the blog post entitled “The Voice of Truth” which was written in March.  Perhaps I may speak a bit more about faith.

Faith opens the door to Christ.  It enlightens us in our spiritual journey and helps us to see God as Father.  Faith is a journey which begins with our Baptism and ends in death.  Through our Baptism, we entered into a home, the Church.  Faith is also an encounter with a Person.  YOU ARE LOVED BY LOVE ITSELF and God comes to meet you.  Coming to this truth, and this encounter with the Lord we can say with boldness: “I am loved…my life has meaning…my life is a gift and I rejoice that I have existence…”

Faith has two objects namely the formal object and the material object.  The formal object is God Himself whom we encounter and He reveals to us the secrets of His heart.  The material object would be the Divine mysteries which the Church articulates in the articles of Faith professed in the Creed.  We can think of the material object of faith as the truths in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Doctrine.  When we profess our faith we encounter God and help others to do the same.

There are some truths that are known through objective evidence…to deny them would be to deny reality… for example: fire is hot, grass is green, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the best hockey team (just kidding to the last one!)  But there is another way of knowing that is a free choice: the mind is moved by the heart.  This is a knowledge that is based on trust.  I trust the testimony of certain people.  Let’s take Marriage as an example.  Marriage is based on Faith.  The spouses do not know what the future will hold, so they must have faith in God that he will take care of them.  Hopefully, couples will come to know each other well enough and are able to trust each other before they are married so that they can trust each other to be faithful until death.  They believe and trust each other, because they love each other.

God our Father has taught us many truths.  We believe them because love moves our mind to assent to these divine truths.  The Heart moves the mind to assent to the truths.

Faith is very obscure.  It entails believing in certain supernatural mysteries that are above our comprehension.  It is almost like teaching someone born blind what colours look like…it goes beyond their comprehension…because they cannot see.  Man normally comes to know things through His senses.  However, the mysteries of Faith like the Trinity and the Incarnation go over and above our senses.  Our mind is always restless because we want to see God.  Our mind must humbly submit to what we cannot see and our heart must look forward to the day where we will see.  St. Augustine once said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”  God has revealed that He is infinitely good and he wants to share Himself with us, so he calls our heart to move our mind in assenting to the Divine Truths that he has revealed to us.

Overall, we need to trust God who is our loving Father.  Union with God is our goal for He is the first cause of all things, keeping all of our souls in being.  Our obedience to Him is a loving obedience that animates our soul with God’s own life.  We receive a supernatural union through grace where the soul is able to take on the likeness of God.  When we are fixed on God and detached from all creatures, we experience the transforming power of love in our lives.  In order for this to happen, we need to encounter the Word who is Jesus Himself and have confidence and Faith in all that He has revealed to us.  There are times where we will have questions about what we believe and why we believe it.  We must pray, “I believe Lord, help my unbelief!” Jesus normally asks in the Gospels before he performs a healing, “Do you believe I can do this for you?” We need to believe in the love and mercy of God…then miracles happen.  He has given us everything when He sent Jesus into the world!  Our hearts must turn over to the Lord: “I believe Lord because you are Truth.”

So will you open the door of your heart to Jesus today?…

Forever and Always…

ring on bible

I am learning about the vocation to consecrated virginity (to live as a consecrated single in the world). I realize that religious life may not work out for everyone, due to health or other circumstances. Yet what if God is still calling a soul to special consecration – to belong only to Him and to a life of prayer and penance. Do you have any insights about other forms of consecrated life? They too, would be a living out of a spousal relationship to Christ, right?

This is a great question!!!  Indeed, the Church is so beautiful!!  All vocations are so beautiful, because when lived well, they bring great glory to God!

After doing a little bit of research into the life of someone who would live Consecrated Virginity within the world, I was able to really see the beauty of this life!

There are a few points I would like to make about Consecrated Virginity taken from the Code of Canon Law and the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.  According to the Code of Canon Law, one called to a life of Consecrated Virginity is betrothed mystically to Christ and dedicated to the service of the Church.  She enters a public state of consecrated life in the Church and she lives her life individually under the direction of the diocesan Bishop.  Her time is meant to be spent in works of penance and mercy, apostolic activity, and in prayer in accord with her state of life and spiritual gifts.  Once she is consecrated, she has the grace of manifesting the love of the Church, the Bride, for her Bridegroom, Christ, and the grace of foreshadowing the heavenly wedding feast of Christ and the Church.

The virgin does not consecrate herself as the religious does through the profession of the evangelical counsels, rather, she presents herself to be consecrated by the Church.  And the Church consecrates her whole person, thus she is set apart as a sacred woman in the Church.  There are a few conclusions that can be made regarding the consecration of the virgin:

  1. Her consecration is a sacramental with the force of conferring the lasting identity of a Bride of Christ
  2. A living sign of the love of the Church for her Bridegroom
  3. And is a sign foreshadowing the Heavenly Wedding Feast of Christ and the Church.

These words clearly identify who a consecrated virgin is:

The consecrated virgin offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him. Through the Rite of Consecration, the Church receives the gift of the virgin and calls down upon her the grace of the Holy Spirit that she may never fail in her resolve to live in perfect continence for the sake of Christ and His Church. [Taken from Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, “Vocations to the Consecrated Life,” St. Louis Review Online, August 13, 2004]

If you would like to read further about this beautiful call to Consecrated Virginity, there are a few resources that you could access. There is a book called: Volume One: An Introduction to the Vocation of Consecrated Virginity Lived in the World which was compiled and published by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.  I used this resource while writing this blog!  There is also a really good website by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins that I would recommend.  Here is the link: www.consecratedvirgins.org

I hope this helps!  Thank you for your question!

What is the hardest part of living Religious Life? 

Wow!!  This is a very interesting question!

We who are Religious have been called to a life of love in imitation of our Spouse Jesus Christ.  We are called to live our life as He lived His by living the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.  This is a life of sacrifice…a life that is a total self-gift, a life where we place ourselves completely in the hands of our Heavenly Father.  We have accepted the invitation of Christ to follow Him in a special way just as the Apostles did.  We live our lives in community where we live a specific Rule of life, and in living this Rule of life that is blessed by the Church through the diocesan Bishop, we believe that living out the Evangelical Counsels and our Rule is our path to holiness.

Having said all of this, what is the hardest part of Religious Life?  Self.  My sins, my imperfections, my fight with wanting to do my own will, my struggle because I realize that I am not perfect…yes indeed, putting up with my own self is the hardest part of Religious Life.  However, with all this said, our struggles, trials and imperfections are not an obstacle to our vocation to our growth in holiness, rather they purify us and humble us in order for us to make a more complete gift of self to God.  It is a great mercy from God that He shows us those areas of our life that are holding us back from full union with Him.  If we do not know these areas, we cannot grow in union with God.  In Religious Life we are striving for holiness, striving to overcome our lives of sin and be united to Christ.  This is intense!  In order to be united to Christ, we need to be purified of those things that are holding us back from this deep intimacy with the Lord.  This is a lifelong journey…yet it is exciting, because we know at the end of our journey, there Jesus will be, with open arms, and we will know how He has been loving us every step of the way.  Until that day, he sustains us in the Eucharist, giving us the strength to keep trying everyday.

Thank you so much for all of your questions!  I hope that this has helped you understand Religious Life a bit better.  In the month of June we are going to be addressing some really exciting topics on the Spiritual Life…you won’t want to miss it!!

JOY…at 5:50 am in the Morning… and in Community Life!!!

Sunrise in Glen Morris

This is the sun coming up at Annunciation Motherhouse in Glen Morris…at 6:00 am in the morning!!

How do you get up so early? (5:30 am)?! I struggle to get up even at 7 am! Is there anything that helps you to get up early, and to keep going when you’re tired during the day?

This is a great question!

Love can make us do crazy things…even wake up at 5:30 am!!  One of our Sisters says it is one of her great joys in Religious Life to ring the bell and knock on the doors to wake us up for Chapel!!!  We see this as “God’s call” to us.  When we hear the bell or hear the knock, we are called to respond immediately, “Thank you!”  Some communities say, “Deo Gratias” which is fine to say too!  In saying “Thank you” we are not only saying thank you that it is a new day, but we are also saying “Thank you” that God has called us to a fresh new day where we can love Him.  In the Gospels, we hear a few times how Jesus would pass through the whole night in prayer to His Heavenly Father.  Jesus offered the sacrifice of sleep to the Father, so out of imitation of Jesus we do the same.  Also, we wake up early because we love our Spouse and we desire that the whole day be sanctified through, with and in Him.  Waking up is a sacrifice which we offer to God for the salvation of souls.  Jesus’ question “Will you stay awake and watch one hour with me?,”  can be accompanied with “will you rise up early out of love for me?”

What gets me up in the morning is remembering that Jesus is in the tabernacle waiting for me, and I don’t want Him to wait too long!!

With all that said, in Religious Life, we need to take care of our spiritual needs (our life of prayer and sacramental life) as well as our bodily needs.  Having enough sleep at night, eating healthy, exercising are all very important elements of our life that help to keep us in balance.  Balance is so key in Religious Life!!   Of course, we might feel tired during the day, but that is also an offering that we can make to God for the salvation of souls.  Jesus got tired too!  Remember the Gospel account where He was sleeping in a boat during a storm…remember Him carrying the Cross in His Passion…but He kept going out of love.  Sometimes it is a good idea when we are really tired to just take some time of silence throughout the day, open up the Scriptures and meditate on it for a few minutes.  That can really help in energizing us to keep going!

The main thing is to remember that as Spouses of Christ we are seeking union with our Spouse.  Love always entails sacrifice and a giving of oneself and so in the morning, we hear that bell, or the knock and our response is one of love: “I am coming Jesus!!!”

How does one learn to live in community, with all the tensions and different dispositions? I know at times it can be difficult, but what helps you live community life faithful to your call? What helps you in times of conflict/misunderstanding with your dear Sisters?

This is a wonderful question!!!

It might be helpful if we begin with the reasons why Religious live a common, community life.  Remember that Jesus called 12 men and lived with them for three years!  They all got to know each other really well!  And I am sure that it was not all cherries and cream…however they persevered because they loved the one who called them.  In the same way, we love the one who has called us and we are all on the same journey, union with God and we are in it together!!!  In community life we have the ability to have an intense prayer life private and communal.  I really believe our prayer life is intense because we desire union with God and also for the graces we need just to live together!  Also, community life provides us with a social life and a support in living the Evangelical counsels.  Believe me it is wonderful to have support from your Sisters!  These are wonderful women who are trying to give their lives for God as well as they can through living poverty, chastity and obedience.  Community life allows us to strive to live an authentic Gospel life in imitation of the first Christians!  Our community life should be a life of joy, because the Gospel itself is rooted in joy!  Finally, living community life is a witness to the world, but not only that, we Sisters are witnesses to each other.  When people see us, they should see love and when they see love, they see Christ.  But we are also a witness to each other.  There are times where we learn from each other…and our witnesses of Christ to each other in our prayer and work.

You are absolutely right that just like in any family, tensions and conflicts can arise.  This is due to our fallen nature.  It is good to come to Religious Life knowing that we are not perfect…and that our Sisters in community are not perfect.  Just knowing this fact can really help in those times of tension.  I also think it is important to remember that we are all on the same journey…we are all trying to follow the Lord and love the Lord as best as we can so we need to cut each other some slack!!!  Also, if a tension or conflict comes up, it is a good idea to pause and think about what is good and beautiful in that Sister, even just the mere fact that she is created as a beautiful daughter of God and that God has been merciful to her just has He has been merciful to me.  Prayer is a very good idea as well…we should pray for our Sisters in community every day…that we will all have the grace of forgiveness, no matter what.  The words “I am sorry” should come up frequently in community life, and just as frequently, the words: “I forgive you.”  Also, having a good confessor and spiritual director can help you to speak about hurts that have come.  Finally, learning about different temperaments is very helpful!  That way you will discover patterns in your Sisters: what they like, what they don’t like…how they speak…what it means when they don’t speak…what makes them laugh…or cry….understanding all those things can really help!!

I really believe it is essential to pray everyday for a greater love for our Sisters in Community.  Jesus, help me to love my Sisters…help me to see them as you see them and to love them as you love them…Amen!