Joy in Him…

Jesus and Mary

Have you ever had a moment where you were so overwhelmed with happiness?  Maybe it was when you went on that trip that you always wanted to go on.  Perhaps it was the day you received your university degree after many years of intense study.  Maybe it was the moment that you held your newborn baby for the first time.  Perhaps it was the day you got married to your high school sweetheart.  If you are a priest, I am sure it was the day you were ordained and celebrated your first Mass.  If you are a Consecrated Religious, perhaps it was the day of your entrance, and final profession day.  We all have moments where we experience great heights of happiness and joy.  If we were to have asked St. Mary Magdalene what her moment of overwhelming happiness was… I am sure she would say it was the moment at the tomb when Jesus said “Mary!”

When we read the Resurrection account, we hear that Mary did not recognize Jesus at first.  Overcome with grief that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb, Mary could not recognize the Lord.  But when he said her name “Mary” (John 20:16) she was overwhelmed with great joy and did only what any woman would do…she wanted to embrace Him.  Hearing her name proclaimed by Jesus, was enough to fill every part of her with exceedingly great joy.

Do we hear the Lord calling our name? 

Do we hear God call us His sons and daughters?

Is Jesus our joy?  Do we find our joy in the risen Christ?

St. John of the Cross in his many works speaks about the joy that comes from being in union with God.  Christian joy is indeed a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  When someone has joy, they are consciously aware of possessing good which is the fundamental desire of the heart.  Blessed Pier Giorgio once said, “You ask me whether I am in good spirits.  How could I not be so?  As long as faith gives me strength I will always be joyful.”

There are two elements of joy: possessing a good and a conscious awareness.  To love or desire the good is not enough.  We need to foster the virtue of thanksgiving to God.  Many times we do not realize how much we have been given.  We are downcast at times because we are pursuing things that are lower than God.  But God has given us so much!  He has given us His very self especially evident when we meditate on His Passion and He gives Himself to us in the sacraments especially the Eucharist.

Conscious awareness of joy is necessary!  St. Paul writes in his letter to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Mary Magdalene and the Apostles are not joyful until they know that Jesus is risen from the dead!  Joy comes once they know that Jesus is risen from the dead.  We need to foster an awareness of all the gifts God has given us with a spirit of gratitude.

Finally, joy is a choice…like love.  Joy is certainly the fruit of love.  For this reason, we can be joyful even in the midst of the cross.  St. John of the Cross says, “if you knew how pleasing to God is suffering and how much it helps in acquiring other good things, you would never seek consolation in anything; but you would rather look upon it as a great happiness to bear the Cross of the Lord.”  Spiritual joy comes when we are aware through Faith of God’s gifts even in the midst of the Cross.

Joy is so fundamental in the spiritual life!  We are called to be a people of joy!  Living the Gospel is a life of joy!  Let us go forth and proclaim that Jesus is Risen!

Wounded for Our Transgressions…

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The Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate wish all of you a very Blessed Holy Week and a Happy and Holy Easter!!!

Below is a series of passages from Scripture composing a “Biblical Narrative” of the Passion of Jesus based on the first chapter of the Gospel of St. John.  Read one verse after the other…bring it to prayer… allow the Lord to speak to you…

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” (John 1:1)

“For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 4:16)

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)

“…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself…the light is with you a little longer…walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you…believe in the light that you may become sons of light…” (John 12: 32, 35-36)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” (John 1:10)

“Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear…” (Isaiah 53: 11b-12)

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

“He came to his own home, and his own people received him not…” (John 1:11)

“Behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of many is betrayed into the hands of sinners…” (Matthew 26:45)

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and with his stripes we are healed…” (Isaiah 53: 5)

“My, God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

“It is finished…” (John 19:30)

“But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13)

“Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous…” (Romans 5:18-19)

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10: 10-11)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father…” (John 1:14)

“Peace be with you…”he showed them his hands and his side…” (John 20:21).

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him…” (1 John 4:10).

The Voice of Truth…

Jesus the Way, Truth and Life

I grew up hearing sayings like: “curiosity killed the cat” (poor cat) and “what they don’t know won’t hurt them!”  It is so interesting how it is built into our human nature that we want to know things.  I have a few examples of this from my own life.  I like to read…very much…and when I was working at a library during my High School years, I would pick up books to read… but I would be very anxious to know how they ended.  So…instead of reading the book, I would just read the end.  Another time it was my sister’s Birthday, and she wanted to know everything she was getting for her birthday…her birthday was just the next day…I couldn’t hold it in anymore…so I told her everything!

Knowing is so key in relationships and helps us in our interactions with other people.  Knowing people’s temperaments and how they respond to certain situations is really helpful!  Some people are very much extroverts and find joy in being around people.  Some people like their space and prefer to spend time in quiet and solitude.  Some people have a drive to get things done and enjoy a good challenge…while others prefer to take it easy and enjoy life as it comes.  Learning about each other, getting to know our strengths, gifts, and weaknesses can really serve well in the long run both in family life and community life.  We need to know ourselves before we can fully give ourselves.

Jesus is the Truth.  He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).  He told Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37).  He who lives in a web of lies and deceit is not at peace with himself or others. He who is living in the Truth is at peace.

Knowing is a big part of our relationship with God for we are created to know, love and serve Him.  We know that the intellect is made to know the truth of things and to be able to contemplate God’s beauty, truth and goodness.  St. Anthony the Great said, “The intellect in a pure devout soul truly sees God the unbegotten, invisible and ineffable, who is the sole purity in the pure of heart.”

There are various acts of the mind.  The mind gazes upon reality through the senses, makes judgements on the reality that it has perceived and it can reason by moving from one truth to another.  Let us take prayerful meditation on the Prodigal Son story as an example.  I am able to read the story as it is on the page and picture all the events in my mind.  I can see that the young man asks for his inheritance, leaves home, spends it all, and all that time his father is watching patiently for him.  As I reflect on what I read, I can draw conclusions from it: the mercy of God, God is Father, we are sinners.  The purpose of meditation is to rest in the Truth, allowing the Lord to work from within, and eventually that turns into a burst of love.

St. Maximilian Kolbe once said, “What we can do and should do is to seek the truth and to serve it when we have found it.”  It is our duty to seek after truth and once we have found it, embrace it with all our hearts!  There are five ways of knowing: moral reasoning (mind is led by objective truths), emotional reasoning (the mind is led by the emotions), volitional reasoning (the mind is led by the will, for example a Supreme Court decision made), sacred reasoning (the mind is elevated by the light of faith and is led by Divine Revelation as taught and guarded by the Magisterium), finally contemplation (the mind is silent before the mystery of God and is led through the dark night by the Holy Spirit).

Since the mind has been wounded by ignorance in the state of original sin, it is prone to error in judgement.  There are various examples of this: curiosity, intellectual pride, and spiritual blindness.  Man was made for contemplation of Divine things.  Curiosity can be dangerous because it is possible for the mind to neglect the things of God and salvation and be preoccupied on less useful things.  We can be so fixated on truths that do not give life.  What can be done? Contemplation.  Contemplation communicates life to the soul by pondering the truths of God and allows us to ponder truths already known in order to be transformed by them.

Do we take enough time in our day to ponder the truths of God?  Do we waste time thinking about things that do not help us grow in our relationship with God?

Intellectual pride can also occur where someone is so confident in their own judgement and reason that they do not want to seek help or counsel from anyone else.  This mentality takes away the light of the Holy Spirit.  Heresies were born sadly because people in history put their judgement above the Church which put out the light of faith all together!  Spiritual blindness is another wound where persons lack the light of faith…they are not able to see the things of God because of intellectual pride and curiosity.  This leads into all sorts of difficulties!  Lack of faith in the Real Presence, preferring temporal goods to eternal goods (soccer game over going to Sunday Mass) are some examples.  Divine light is taken away because of repeated sins.

What purifies these wounds of the intellect?  Faith.  Someone with faith must cling firmly to the truths of the Faith on the authority of God.  With faith, we are able to judge according to the mind of Christ.  The light of faith must be animated by charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can be guided in all we do, think, say and avoid.  For example, it takes faith to realize that sometimes persons are brought into our life in order to help us grow in virtue, understanding and patience.  It takes faith to believe the Word of God even if we do not fully understand it.  It takes faith to accept suffering as it comes.  Faith is needed in every walk of life!  Let us pray for greater Faith in God…because greater faith will lead to greater love!

 

“Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart” St. Mary Euphrasia

Jesus and St. Dismas

I heard a story recently from a speaker about a young boy who would always be so busy playing outside that he would forget to come inside on time for dinner.  His mother finally told her son, “Son if you are late again, you will only be allowed to eat bread and drink water for dinner.”  The boy agreed and then went out again to play.  He was having such a good time outside that he completely forgot about dinner!  He ran back home only to find his mother and father with his favourite dinner before them!  What was at his place?  There at his place was the slice of bread and the glass of water.  The boy, head bent low, sat down at his place.  His father immediately grabbed the boy’s plate and replaced it with his own saying, “Son, I love you and I will take the punishment for you.”

This story explains to us the mercy and love of a father…even though the boy was guilty through his forgetfulness, the father looked upon him with mercy.  How many times in the Old Testament did the Israelites forget about the goodness and faithfulness of God…and how many times did God show mercy and forgiveness for that?  The Lord did not forget the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt!  He delivered them!  God speaks to His people “If I shall forget you Jerusalem let my right hand wither” (Psalm 137:5).  As the Israelites were engaging in idolatry (worship of idols) such as the golden calf, God did not abandon them!  As the Jews were waiting for the coming of Messiah, God did not abandon them…he sent Jesus!

How often we forget things!  How many times have we said to ourselves: “I forget where I left those keys!”  “I forgot to turn over my grilled cheese sandwich and now it is burnt!”  “I forgot to take out the trash and now there is a huge raccoon living in it!”  In this Lenten season, we should strive not to forget the most important things in life.  We should not forget the great love that God has for us in sending His Son, Jesus for us.  When Jesus was going through His Passion, He thought of you…He remembered you and He remembered me.  The good thief on the cross, which tradition names St. Dismas, only asked Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 RSV).  Jesus did more then just remember him, he said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 RSV).  Dismas only asked to be remembered and then Jesus canonized him!  That is pretty awesome!

Our memory is meant to help us remember God and His goodness to us.  In remembering His love and goodness, it initiates a response in us to want to spend more time with Him in prayer, and receive the Sacraments more often and more devoutly.  St. Mary Euphrasia, a woman who lived in a time of great political unrest and persecution once said, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”  When we are truly grateful for what someone did for us, or the very fact that the person was in our life…even for a short time, it fills our heart with gratitude and we never forget them; rather, we lift up our eyes to heaven and say, “thank you God, for bringing this person into my life…they are a gift to me.”

Are we grateful to God?  Are we grateful to others? 

In this Lenten season we are beginning to make a good examination of conscience…meaning we are looking back on our life and seeing all the areas where we have grown spiritually, but also the ways in which we have fallen into sin.  Our memory is a very useful tool because it can help us to respond in a healthy way to experiences that we have had in the past.  Perhaps memories of past hurts initiate a response of sorrow and forgiveness in us.  Perhaps memories of past joys initiate a response of friendship and acceptance. God is present in all the events and experiences of our lives.  We must strive to remember God in times when there was great joy, that he was the source of that joy, but also to remember the times of sorrow, that God did not abandon us, but was right there supporting us in our trial.

Our childhood experiences are extremely influential when it comes to forming our character.  If children come from a good home with a mother and father who love them, or if a child comes from a home that was abusive or demanding, this will affect their whole outlook on life: how they respond to God and people in authority.  Our memory of the past affects our interior life.  If we are at peace with the past and are able to see God’s mercy in it, then our interior life will be peaceful.  However, if trials of the past seem to haunt us in a sense, then our interior life will suffer.  We must pray for the gift of peace and acceptance of the past…then God’s Spirit can really work!

There can be three defects to our memory.  Remembering past sins, especially remembering sins that have already been brought to the Sacrament of Confession, can cause a renewed temptation to despair.  I once heard that every time the rooster would crow, St. Peter would weep remembering how he denied the Lord three times.  This did not make him fall into despair, but made him humble. These memories need to be purified with good spiritual direction, spiritual reading, and prayer.  One good book is St. Augustine’s Confessions where he remembers and writes about his life of sin, not out of despair but out of glory to God who delivered him from that life of sin.   Remembering past injuries to the point of unforgiveness can cause anger and resentment to build up.  Lent is a good time to pray for peace in these difficult times and to come to the Sacrament of Confession so that we can receive grace to carry those memories with peace and grace.  Remembering past sins can also make us forget the loving mercy of God.  As stated above we must recall often how merciful God has been to us.  Participating in the Holy Mass is a beautiful way to encounter the mercy of God.  The Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross, for the Eucharist and the Cross are one single sacrifice.  The offering is the same and the one being offered is the same, only the manner of offering is different (C.f. CCC 1366-1367).

What is the remedy for purifying our memory?  The remedy is hope.  Hope purifies the memory, because it makes us mindful of God and orders our memories to God.  We learn through this virtue how to see everything in the light of God and His Providential care.  Through hope, our past memories of sin can transform into memories of God’s Divine Merciful Love.  Memories of the past through the eyes of hope can help us to have more self-knowledge, place us in a spirit of humility, and bring sorrow to our soul for having offended God.  Healing through past injuries can cause the Holy Spirit to empower us with the grace to forgive others…the way that Christ has forgiven us.  Healing that happens from the past brings joy to the angels and saints in heaven…with them we can forever sing of the Mercy of God.

The Carpenter’s Son…

Joseph and Jesus

I once heard that you can tell a lot about a man by the love in his heart and the work of his hands.  And similarly, you can tell a lot about a man by the one that he chooses to spend the rest of his life with.  Indeed, St. Joseph was a carpenter who loved to work with his hands!  How fitting that God, the Creator of the universe would allow His Son to learn a simple, humble trade.  St. Joseph would have worked with such faithfulness, gentleness and obedience that we could say he loved, worked and moved in God’s presence. What is most special about St. Joseph is that he was prompt to obey God’s will for him, no matter the difficult circumstances.  Living in poor conditions, not able to find room in the inn, and having to accept the coldness of a stable, the flight into Egypt are all examples of difficult circumstances, however St. Joseph gently accepted God’s holy will knowing that God was with them.  The fact that he chose the Immaculate Virgin Mary to be his spouse says a lot about the type of man that St. Joseph was! “How pure then were St. Joseph’s thoughts, always centered on God; how holy his desires and affections, which came from a heart filled with love; how peaceful his eyes which were never disturbed by an unholy object” (Orafferty, Discourses on St. Joseph: For the Month of March, St. Joseph’s Feasts, and Similar Occasions, 46). The humility by which St. Joseph took Mary to be his wife is outstanding!  Mary, the all-pure, all spotless Virgin had also seen something remarkably special in St. Joseph…she saw the love in his heart shine through in his faithful response to God.

How does Joseph respond to God?  He spent His life doing everything for the glory of God.  He was content with doing the ordinary.  We can imagine how day after day, Joseph would work with his tools producing work that would provide for his family!  St. Joseph is a model for us of someone who worked for God and who constantly lived in the presence of God, for he had the Son of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary living under his roof!  We can imagine St. Joseph, with great gentleness and simplicity showing Jesus all the skills in his trade.  We learn from St. Joseph that holiness can be achieved in the ordinary. I can imagine that St. Joseph had customers who were not happy with his work.  I can imagine that St. Joseph would get bored sometimes.  But in all these circumstances of life, I am sure that it made him yearn for heaven more.  I am also sure in these circumstances St. Joseph would just look at His little Jesus and say, “this is for you!”

Are we content with the ordinary?  Can we see Jesus in the day to day routine of life?  Do we see in the ordinary circumstances and duties of life that we are able to become great saints?    

It always makes me smile when we read in the Scriptures who the people thought Jesus was.  “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55).  What an honor for St. Joseph, to be known as the father of Jesus!  That is an amazing reality, that Jesus, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would humble Himself so much to be known as “the carpenter’s son.”  We cannot even begin to fathom the remarkable humility that Jesus had shown working in the carpenter shop and at the same time redeeming us.  St. Joseph’s love for Jesus was a reflection of God the Father’s love.  Let us pray to St. Joseph to continue to help us love Jesus more everyday…especially in the ordinary duties of the day.

Bibliography

O’Rafferty. Rev Nicholas. Discourses on St. Joseph: For the Month of March, St. Joseph’s Feasts, and Similar Occasions. Bruce Publishing Company: Milwaukee. 1951.

I Can Only Imagine…

jesus with hand

When I look back on the good ole days of my childhood, I am quite impressed with the adventures that my sisters and I would go on.  We had quite the imagination!  First, we were princesses, coated in make-up in our castle with playdoh food and purses full of money (play money of course).  Then we were explorers with those walkie-talkie machines running around the yard trying to make it to headquarters before dad would see us (he was good about playing along!).  You probably have memories from your childhood too!

The past few weeks, we have been speaking about various purifications and detachments that take place in order for us to obtain the transforming union with God!  We have spoken about death and how we must always be prepared.  This month, we are going to journey through purifications of the intellect, memory, and imagination.  Indeed, Lent is a time where we are striving for deeper holiness.  Our thoughts are fixed on what we can sacrifice, or how we can break certain habits.  However, have we considered the importance of having a renewal of our mind in which we strive for thoughts to be more God-centered?

First, let’s consider what the imagination is made for.  Simply, the imagination is made to store and create images.  However, the imagination was not meant to store just any images, but it is meant to form ideas in order to know higher realities (heavenly realities) better.  Jesus was an expert in helping His listeners use their imagination!  He would tell them parables: the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son are two examples that paint explicit pictures in our minds.  There is a certain pleasure that comes from having certain images.  For example, you can imagine yourself going on a beautiful hike in British Columbia and that might instill emotions of joy and excitement.  These excitable emotions are meant to be lifted up to God, drawing closer to Him… with being awed by the beauty and majesty of God’s creation.  Or, you can imagine yourself on a roller coaster and that can leave you with emotions of excitement…or fear…and even that we must lift to God!

Our imaginations do not only put image-forming ideas in our mind, but they also arouse (bring alive) our senses and passions.  Let us consider prayer for a moment.  In prayer, we are called to gather all the powers of our soul and focus on the Lord.  St. Ignatius believed that our imagination is meant to help us in prayer by choosing scenes from the Gospels to contemplate: seeing how Jesus speaks, acts, interacts and ministers to the people.  In this way, thought St. Ignatius, we can experience Jesus and really meet Him.  For example, if we are meditating on Our Lord’s Passion and death, we can use our imagination to put ourselves in that setting.  We can hear the chanting of the crowd to crucify Him.  We can see the tears in Our Lady’s eyes.  We can hear and see in our mind the blows that Our Lord received, and hear the nails going into His hands and feet.  We can see the blood pouring from the face of the Lord…and His tear-filled eyes longing to save us.  These holy images in our minds can really aid our meditation to be fruitful and that is good!

If someone does not have a mortified imagination, two problems can result.  First dissipation, (over-indulgence over worldly things) and second, temptation.  If we do not strive to recollect our imagination, then having an interior life that is God-centered will be extremely difficult.  Things of worldly importance will reign in our minds, and we will seek them more.  Temptation can also result since every image that comes to us arouses our senses.  If one looks at an impure image for example, on a billboard, or a computer, these images remain in our imagination and can cause terrible temptations which may eventually lead to sin.  Padre Pio once said, “Banish from your imagination all those distressing thoughts and sentiments which are all suggested by Satan in order to make you act badly.”  As well, having an unmortified imagination can cause anxiety in a person…an excessive fear that the worst will happen.  This excessive fear can be damaging to health in mind, body and soul.

So what can be done?  How can we better control our imagination?  Take this as your motto: what you put in is what will come out.  If you put wheat flour, you will get bread.  If you put butter in popcorn you get buttery popcorn.  If you put a seed in the soil, you will one day have a tree.  Simply, we need to be prudent in what we read, and watch especially our consumption of media!  Instead of spending hours playing video games settle into some good spiritual reading on the martyrs.  Instead of watching that movie with coarse language and sexual content, look at some good sacred art or watch a movie about a Saint.

Another important piece of advice is to be attentive to the duty of the moment.  You might have heard the expression, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”  We need to strive to prevent daydreaming and idleness at all costs!  Being attentive in our prayer life rather than having anxiety about future difficulties is also key for our growth in the spiritual life.  Furthermore, the great Fulton Sheen says, “Nothing is as efficacious in curing the memory and imagination as Confession it cleanses us of guilt.”  The Sacrament of Confession can help cleanse us of those images in our minds that are taking us away from the Lord.  Praying ejaculatory prayers such as “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” or “Jesus I Trust in you,” making the sign of the Cross with reverence often and having images around our homes to look at when we are beginning to daydream or fantasize are also ways to keep our minds fixed on God throughout the day.

Have I allowed my imagination to be worldly centered instead of God centered?  What can I do to focus more on God today?   

Attention to the present is the best way to prepare for the future!  Put everything in the hands of God and this helps us save a lot of energy in the long run.  In this way we will be better ready to serve God, knowing Him and serving Him all the days of our lives!

“Oh death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

raising from the deadThere is a story that I once heard about our Father Founder, Father William Lloyd Ryan that really struck me.  One day, the hospital had called Father saying that a man was dying and needed the last sacraments.  Fr. Ryan, as you can imagine, was speeding down the highway to get to this dying man quickly.  The police caught up to Father!  However, Father stopped the car in the middle of the road, got out, and went to the police officer.  He told the policeman that there was a man who was dying that needed him at the hospital and the officer could follow him if he wants to!  Fr. Ryan, with his love for the salvation of souls, understood that every soul is precious to God.  He did not want this soul to be lost, rather he wanted this soul to meet God with joy and grace!

I tell this story because it helps me to recall the truth that death is going to come.  It is important to ask ourselves “am I ready for death?”  In the past few weeks, we have been talking about the daily dying to self, breaking away from attachments and accepting purifications as they come.  This might be a good time to stop and meditate on the day that will come when we will take our last breath…the day where we will speak our last word…and none of the comforts of this life will matter.  It is in the moment of death where we will know that we are completely and totally loved by God.  All the events of our past life in that moment will make sense…the times where we questioned God’s paternal care, and the times where we asked him, “Lord, why is this happening to me?…” suddenly now make sense at the moment of death…it had to be that way, even though I did not understand it in my earthly life.

Often times we do not want to think about death because it scares us…we are afraid of it. This Ash Wednesday, we received ashes on our forehead as a reminder to us that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and we are reminded that one day we are going to die. Traditionally, the words pronounced by the priest in receiving the ashes are: “Remember man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  With these words, we are reminded of the original sin of Adam and Eve, and how we are all infected with sin as a result of the fall.  The Church says we must change our hearts and be converted.  We must strive to no longer to be slaves of sin and selfishness, but sons and daughters of God who love.   Jesus once said that death comes like a thief in the night, for he warns us with the words: “You also must be ready.” (Luke 12:40).  One day, we will stand before the judgement seat of God, where we will see Christ, with His glorious wounds, looking at us with eyes of love.  Our judgement will be based on how we have loved.  I remember one of our Sisters who was new in formation saying in a very high- pitched nervous tone of voice that in her judgement she was going to have a discussion with the Lord beginning with the words: “I think I did pretty good, what do you think?”  Of course, she said this in jest, but are there times where we are just aiming for the minimum in charity and console ourselves saying “I think I am doing pretty good!”  In this statement, we are putting a measurement on love.  There is no measurement in love…Love just loves.

I always wondered what exactly the Lord meant when he said, “enter by the narrow gate.” (Matthew 7:13)  I heard a very wise priest the other day speak about this and he said “the gate is narrow; we will all walk single file.”  He was making the point that we should not follow the crowd!!  The wide gate leads to destruction, for it is easy, pleasurable, attractive, and sinful and most people are tempted in that way.  To these will the Lord say the scariest words in all of Scripture: “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.” (Matthew 7:23).  However, to get into the narrow gate, we must learn not to follow what everyone else is doing!!  I think of St. Thomas More who would not agree to the unlawful marriage of King Henry VIII even though much of England was in favor of it.  I think of St. Clare of Assisi, who became a Religious even though those closest to her preferred to see her married.  I think of St. Rita who could have easily sought revenge when her husband was stabbed, however she chose the way of forgiveness.  We must have courage like the saints and persevere in the path of holiness, doing and deciding what is right and true rather than what is easy and sinful.

But let’s talk about being prepared!!  If we are like the faithful servants in the Gospel who had their lamps burning a light (Luke 12:35-40), we will not have fear or anxiety over death, rather we will be ready to open the door for the Lord when He comes.  But this is not the only time that the Lord comes to us.  Although at death we are brought fully into the presence of God, there are other moments in our lives where the Lord makes Himself known to us and comes to us: our Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist and all the other sacraments offer us grace and allow our souls to be more intimately united with the Lord.  By our participation in the sacraments we come to be more united with God and are more prepared for death!

Also, if we are confident that Jesus has conquered death by His Passion and Resurrection, and if our lives reflect this truth, we will not be afraid of our death. “Oh death where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).  Christ has conquered the grave, and even though “in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Hearing how Jesus raised the dead gives us hope that He will also raise us up.  Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25).  If we trust in this truth, death will not be something we are afraid of, rather something we look forward to with joy!

Further, if we strive in life to always follow the will of God, trying to do everything with the greatest love and care we can be sure that God will give us the grace to have a peaceful death.  Accepting the will of God even when it means sacrifice and pain is at the heart of becoming a saint.  If we turn our life and death over to the Lord, resigning ourselves to His holy will, then we will embrace our life and death out of love for God.  Learning to accept our death, and the hour in which it happens under whatever circumstances that God intends is key to having peace.  One day, we want to hear the voice of Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Time is very delicate…and we need to use it wisely.  Have you made time to visit with your mother who is elderly and lonely?  Have you forgiven that person who said that nasty word to you, or spoke that lie to you?  Have you made time to listen to someone who is suffering?  Have you told the people you love that you love them?  Let’s not wait to do these things!  Let’s pray that God will transform our dry, cold heart into a furnace of charity…before He calls us home!

They Belong Together…

Jesus fasting

Bacon and eggs go together.  Salt and pepper go together. Man and woman belong together.  It is so neat that God has created things to go together!  When things go together, there is a unity and a completion that takes place.  It is the same in our spiritual life.  Various virtues seem to go together: in order to be patient with someone we need humility.  In order to practice charity, we need faith and hope.

Have you ever had a time where you wondered: “what is taking God so long to answer my prayer?”  Our faith tells us that sometimes what we are asking God for is not His plan for us, rather he will answer our prayer in a more perfect way that will bring us closer to Him.  Our faith also tells us that perhaps our prayer will be answered, but in God’s perfect timing.  However, I propose that there might be another reason why God asks us to wait: our prayers are not complete…in other words our prayer is not finished yet.

Let’s look at an example.  A man tells his wife that he loves her.  A woman tells her husband that she loves him.  That’s wonderful and good.  It needs to be said!  But how is love shown?  You see, sometimes words are not enough.  We can mouth the words, but it is nothing if it is not with the heart.  For example, many popular songs say: I would walk 1000 miles, swim in the ocean and climb the mountain for you!  I remember thinking to myself: “okay buddy, starting swimming and start climbing.”  In a sense, these popular songs make a good point…love entails sacrifice.  Could God perhaps be asking us to make a sacrifice…a form of self-denial before he answers our prayer?

Two questions were once asked by our retreat master on one of our annual retreats.  The whole of our spiritual life hinges on these questions and I turn them over to you for your reflection: What does Jesus mean to me?  Is He everything to me?

We talked in the last post about attachments…now we must speak about one way of letting go of attachments…a way in which we can respond to the Father’s love for us and imitate Christ.  It is the way that can make our prayer complete…the way of sacrifice and fasting.

I know our first reaction is “But I don’t want to fast!” It is just like getting a kid to eat broccoli…you say, “Honey it is good for you!  You will grow and become stronger!”  It is sort of the same thing…we are children in the spiritual life…and fasting is like spiritual broccoli.  Ponder on these words of St. Peter Chrysologus: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.”

Fasting is necessary and essential in becoming disciples of Christ.  How do we know this?  Jesus fasted.  Before His public ministry he was led into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights eating nothing and drinking nothing (Matthew 4:1-11).  Not only did Jesus fast, but he expected his apostles to fast.  Some of the greatest saints: St. Padre Pio, St. John Vianney, St. Catherine of Sienna and so many others became great saints because they were willing to fast.

So what is fasting?  Fasting is a voluntary denial of a certain pleasure as a sacrifice offered to God.  Pope Benedict XVI says, “It is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us to make a complete gift of self to God.”  It can mean denying certain nourishment for the body such as food or drink.  There are several types of fasting on nourishment: Biblical fast (not eating or drinking anything until after 3:00 pm) Black fast (no food all day or all night), Ecclesiastical fast (Church calls for one full meal and 2 small snacks) and Abstinence (denial of certain types of food such as meat).  It is also possible for people to deny themselves sleep which are called “vigils.”  People can rise early in the morning to pray, or stay up and pray, or rise in the middle of the night and pray.  There were times where Jesus spent all night in prayer.  Before choosing the twelve apostles, “all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12) So these were the two forms of fasting that Jesus practiced: fasting of physical nourishment and vigils.

Fasting is so necessary and essential for us.  As a sacrifice, it cleanses the soul of sin and strengthens us in virtue and releases graces upon us and the whole world.  Since man is composed of soul, body and spirit, we can say that fasting is good for body, soul and spirit.  Fasting, as much as health demands, helps us maintain good health and avoid gluttony (overindulging).  Indeed, we need healthy bodies to do God’s work!

Fasting is also good for the soul and spirit.  It helps us to maintain self-control, so that in times of temptation we have the strength to resist.  In other words, fasting is strengthening our will against indulging in certain pleasures that would not be good for us.  Fasting prevents us from being slaves to pleasure, and makes us more grateful for God’s creation. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18).  Sometimes when certain pleasures come frequently, for example food or sports, things tend to lose their excitement.  Fasting helps keep things new and fresh!

Fasting can serve as a penitential act with value that calls down God’s mercy and it makes atonement (satisfaction) for sins that have occurred in the world.  Indeed, many prayers are not answered because sometimes our prayers are not complete until we sacrifice something.  I was once told by a very wise priest: “Prayer is elevation of the soul to God and fasting is elevation of the body to God.”  Fasting is necessary in prayers of intercession.  We can recall in the Gospels how the Apostles were not able to drive a demon out of a person because it could only “be cast out by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29).  Prayer must be accompanied with sacrifice to be complete.

Finally, fasting disposes us to a higher form of prayer that we call contemplation where the soul is lifted upward to God.  To receive the Spirit of God entails silence before Him deeply immersed in the mysteries of God.  If someone is fasting, they are disciplined and less distracted. St. John Chrysostom says, “Fasting is the support of our soul: it gives us wings to ascend on high, and to enjoy the highest contemplation! […] God, like an indulgent father, offers us a cure by fasting.”

Now I know that this may have sparked your enthusiasm for fasting!  I know that we are all ready to fast more for the Lord and that is great!  But…hold the horses!  One final note is to be prudent…do not fast more then your health permits.  Fasting should never make you incapable of fulfilling your duties of state in life.  Also, in your fasting, are the Fruits of the Spirit more present in your life?  Are you a more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient person?  All fasting must be done cheerfully.  You do not measure holiness by how much someone suffers or sacrifices, but by the love that is in it.  It is for Jesus…always for Him.  Also, extraordinary penances must be approved by an authority such as a spiritual director or superior.  Obedience always before sacrifice!

St. John Vianney once said: “When we must do something we dislike let us say to God, ‘My God I offer you this in honor of the moment when you died for me.’”  Reflect today: What does Jesus mean to me?  Is He everything to me?

 

Me? A Saint?… Now Please!!!

Miraculous Perfection

st. alphonsus

 

I believe in miracles…I am sure you do to!  It is amazing how we can be so blind to all the miracles that happen around us!  I was talking to a Sister recently from another community about baking.  She told me that she was making cheese bread (you know bread with cheese in it!) and she said that she did not really measure the ingredients…but it came out like a 5 star cheese bread!  She was amazed!  Then she said a statement that really caught my attention: “It was miraculous perfection!”  I then pondered on this and thought to myself how becoming a saint is really a miracle of grace… we cannot do it by ourselves.  God gives us all the ingredients, everything we need to become saints: redemptive love of Jesus, the love of Mary, our guardian angels, the Church, the sacraments, prayer, good works, challenges that help us to grow.  We might wish sometimes that being a saint was as easy as snapping our fingers, however, if it were that easy, would we really know how to love?

We have been talking about the need of purification and how God allows the purifying fire for our sanctification.  Today, we are going to focus on one particular aspect of the purifying fire… the need to break free of attachments.  Jesus often speaks about detachment in the Gospels: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).  St. Paul talks about this when he says “put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness…” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  Jesus and St. Paul are not saying that things in the world are bad…but they are saying that our love must be properly ordered…God must be first!  Denying ourselves means the cross, but we should not fear becoming disciples of the Lord.  If we detach ourselves from the world, we do not lose anything…but we gain everything…union with God and we become saints…yes we will become saints faster!!!!!

So, let us first understand what an attachment is not.  St. John of the Cross spoke a lot about this in his various writings which we will summarize here.  An attachment is not merely a pleasure we find in something, for pleasure is meant to draw us to what is good.  Our pleasures can incite gratitude to God and help us have a deeper joy in the Lord.  Attachments are not about possessing or using things we like, for we need things in this life in order to live.  Nor is an attachment an attraction to something because our attraction to beautiful things or people remind us of the beauty of God.  The holiness of the saints made them so attractive to people, that those who saw them wanted to love God just like that saint did.  So, what is an attachment?

An attachment is an inordinate (obsessive) desire where we become so fixated on something or someone to the point that our souls are constantly attentive to that particular thing or person. So, when does desire become inordinate, an attachment?  When it becomes excessive and we begin to make that particular thing or person our everything.  I once heard a priest explain it in this way, “Remember that man is destined to a union of likeness with God, but that can only happen when what is unlike God or not conformed to Him is cast out!”  Attachments can deprive us of the Spirit of God.  Any attachment we have impedes the Holy Spirit from directing the soul.

So, what is the prescription to being healed of attachments for the sake of Divine Union? First, we need to cultivate a desire to imitate Christ by studying the Scriptures and cultivating a great love for Him in the Liturgy.  It is a profound fact that we imitate those we love.  When we seek to imitate Jesus, we will not allow our hearts to become attached to anything or anyone else.  Secondly, in mental prayer, we can contemplate the life of Christ, especially His life of self-denial and voluntary mortification.  In seeing how much Christ has loved you and me by contemplating his sacrifices for us, it grows in us as reciprocal love that also chooses to suffer rather than to have pleasure, as a means of imitating His love for each of us.  St. John of the Cross points out, if we wish to be more like Our Lord, we should be more inclined not to what is easiest, but to the most difficult…in this way we learn to deny ourselves and cultivate a love for the crucified Christ.  St John of the Cross says,

“As regards the sense, if anything pleasant comes your way which is not purely for the glory of God, put it away immediately for the love of Jesus Christ.  For instance, if you feel the urge to see or hear something which will not of itself lead you closer to God do less of it.  As for appetites, prefer always what is worse, more unpleasant, or poorer…”

Attachment and love are two different things.  Attachments are sought out for one’s own pleasure and to obtain a sense of worthiness but in a selfish way.  Love is not self-seeking rather it is self-sacrificing.  Attachments make us more corrupt and diminish us as people…love transforms us and elevates us to an intimacy with God.  St. Catherine of Sienna once said: “A soul cannot live without loving. It must have something to love, for it was created to love.”  If our love is God-centered, it is a healthy love.  Enjoying persons and things (cheese bread!) in God without trying to be totally consumed by them is key…in that way there can be an inflow of God in our soul and then we are on our way to becoming saints…in the fast lane!

 

 

Consumed in the Fire of God’s Love

Beginning of the Soul’s Journey to Union with God

Candle Image

Have you ever heard the expression: if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen!  There is something very uncomfortable about heat and very dangerous about getting close to fire…You get burned!  However, in the spiritual life we are called not only to get burned, but to be totally consumed with the fire of God’s love!  How does this happen?  The Feast of the Purification of Mary calls to mind the need of our interior purification.  Many of the saints spoke about how purification in the spiritual life is like a cleansing fire: “a fire that rages against vices only to produce a healing unction in the soul” says St. Bernard.  There are parts of us that need to be cleansed and purified in order for us to become love.   To obtain this cleansing we must pray like the psalmist: “Create a clean heart in me oh God and put a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

I once heard a story about two old men who dwelt together for many years and who never quarreled.
Then one said to the other: “Let us pick a quarrel with each other like other men do.”
“I do not know how quarrels arise,” answered his companion. So the other said to him:
“Look, I will put a brick down here between us and I will say ‘This is mine.’ Then you can say ‘No it is not, it is mine.’ Then we will be able to have a quarrel.” So they placed the brick between them and the first one said: “This is mine.” His companion answered him: “This is not so, for it is mine.”
To this, the first one said: “If it is so and the brick is yours, then take it and go your way.”
And so they were not able to have a quarrel.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert. Sayings and Stories of the Desert Fathers. Accessed February 3, 2020.

https://christdesert.org/prayer/desert-fathers-stories/the-quarrel/

I like this story because it reminds me of the peace that is present when we learn to combat vice and embrace virtue.  We could say that these two men had interior peace and were not attached to anything created.  Their hearts were purified! Remember in the beginning of time how Adam and Eve had it all!  They had sanctifying gifts (infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit) and preternatural gifts (knowledge, harmony, freedom from death)!  That must have been a nice life!  But, after they had sinned, the wound of original sin, which we are all infected with, put a major wall between us and God.  Concupiscence (inordinate desire for pleasure), weakness (shying away from work), malice (self-love) and ignorance (difficultly learning) are these wounds of that filthy, rotten, stinky, original sin.  The filthy, rotten, stinky sin also causes pride in us and concupiscence in our flesh and eyes.  We have a tendency to sin, and we are weak. We need to ask ourselves: What can I do to purify my soul and prepare it for union with God?

We have been pondering on God’s love for us and our response to God’s love.  Now, we will begin to talk about the stages of the Spiritual Life according to writings by St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Bernard, St. Therese and so many others!  In order for us to grow in holiness and love for God, we need to understand the movements that the Holy Spirit is making in our soul, and the ways in which He is purifying us.  In this way, we will come to know how to cooperate with God.

When God sees that a soul is truly trying to give themselves completely to God, He loves that soul and wishes them to be like Himself: Christ strips the soul, yet He clothes it with His own divine Life. Remember at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to His Father for perfect union saying: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John17:21).  When we consider the Passion of Jesus, we are reminded that our purification cost the Son of God Innocence itself.  Keeping this in mind we realize that we can endure purification since we have offended God so often.  Purification is the work of God’s love for us, and our acceptance of purification is proof of our love for Him.  If a person is prone to anger, God will give many opportunities to practice patience.  If someone is prone to follow lustful desires, God will give many opportunities to practice chastity and custody of the eyes.  If someone is prone to pride, God will give opportunities to practice humility most often in the form of humiliations.  If someone is prone to sloth, God will give many opportunities to give generously.  If someone is prone to envy, God will give many opportunities to practice gratitude.  If someone is prone to fear and anxiety, God will give many opportunities to practice courage in spite of the fear and stress.  We must not be afraid of this, but must be convinced that purification is the work of Love. In light of all this, let us take the words of St. John of the Cross seriously: “To love is to labor to detach and strip ourselves for God’s sake of all that is not God.”