The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“The Feast of the visitation commemorates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, and the occasion on which the Blessed Virgin uttered her hymn of thanksgiving, the Magnificat. The feast was instituted in 1389 by Urban VI to obtain the end of the Western schism.

In this mystery of Our Lady’s life God wish to show us that Mary is an instrument and means by which He imparts to us His graces. She is truly interested in our sanctification and salvation.

We should admire the consideration Mary showed for Elizabeth. Our heavenly mother is our model in carrying out the second great commandment of love. Through her intercession we should ask Jesus for the graces we need, especially that of being kind to our neighbor.

Prayer

Mary, Mother of God, your love is strikingly shown forth in the Visitation. When you learned from the angel that your cousin Elizabeth was with child and needed your help, you set out to care for her. Neither your long absence from home, nor the inconvenience of a difficult and dangerous journey to the mountain country, kept you from making this mission of love. You thought only of the good you could do in Elizabeth’s home. Your sincere love made you hasten to be of service. As you entered the house of Zechariah and greeted your aged cousin, you offered kind words of comfort and congratulations. You lovingly served her till you saw her happily delivered of the child of promise with which God has blessed her.

How humble you were! Though you were the mother of the Most High, you wanted to become the nurse of Elizabeth and the infant John. Though declared blessed among women, you considered yourself the servant of two of God’s beloved children.

Help me to strive to imitate your wonderful charity by aiding those who are in need, by sympathizing with those who are afflicted, by opening my heart and applying my hands to relieve every form of distress. Give me love like yours, which recognizes in every human being a brother or sister in Jesus Christ, to be treated with respect and tenderness and to be aided according to the measure of my power. Teach me that the test of my following of your Divine Son is practical charity. Help me, above all, so that by my good example I may enrich and ennoble every human being whose life I touch.

May the thought of your tenderness and love increase my confidence in you and make me look up to you in all the dangers that surround me in life. I am sure that you, who are all powerful as my advocate, will not desert me but will bring to my poor soul grace and sanctification.” Amen!

–Written by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik in Mary My Hope

St Therese and Spiritual Childhood

With the Feast of St Therese of Lisieux on October 1st, it is well-timed to reflect on the spiritual childhood of St Therese. Being childlike involves certain characteristics. Among these are confident trust and knowing unconditional love. Knowing unconditional love is very important and leads to that confident trust we want to have in God. However, St Therese’s cultural milieu had a strong emphasis on God’s justice and a rigorous adherence to the rules. This culture contributed to her struggle for holiness and perfection. In some way, we all struggle to some degree with these things. This is why St Therese is still relevant and continues to speak to us today.

In the gospels, Jesus reaches out to connect with lepers, cripples and those people considered unimportant and insignificant in the eyes of the religious authorities and leaders. Jesus often makes reference to the Kingdom of God and how it belongs to children and all the lowly and the despised people in society. Let the little children come to me, He said, for such does the kingdom of God belong. On the contrary, He had harsh words for the scribes and Pharisees. These people were focused on religious perfection, gaining merit in God’s sight, and ultimately, being justified before God. Today, we still have many of those underlining attitudes ingrained in our psyches. Like us, St Therese aspired for holiness and perfection. She wanted to be a saint. She continued to try, yet came up against the wall of her own “littleness”–her weaknesses, limitations, and failures. Her frail humanity weighed her down. But instead of being discouraged, she continually turned to God in prayer. And thus she writes in her autobiography, Story of a Soul:

“I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new. We are now living in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.”

From this passage, St. Therese began to develop her “little way” of being a child of God. With childlike trust and confidence, she threw herself in the arms of Jesus. The photograph below is what this childlike confidence and trust might look like. The girl on the big rock is ready to jump off knowing that her father will catch her in his arms. She loves this experience and it is like the bliss and joy of heaven for her to be able to leap off the rock knowing that her father will be there to catch her. This pure confidence and trust of a child is the essence of what the spiritual childhood of St Therese is all about. Maybe we can reflect and pray with the image? How many times have we been on a rock, figuratively speaking? Do we stay stuck on the rock in fear and worry, or do we find the joy and bliss of leaping into the arms of God our Father.

This is the kind of trusting abandonment that Jesus asks of us. Unless we have that childlike trust to jump off that rock, we will not enter into the heavenly bliss that Jesus desires us to experience even in this life. This trusting abandonment means turning away from the mentality that our justification rests upon our own shoulders. It is a turning away from the denial of our own frailties and limitations. We need to become like little children who trust in the unconditional love of God. St Therese discovered that her littleness was the very source and foundation of her relationship with God, not a hindrance to it. God’s mercy is always there for us, and is found in the midst of our struggles. We need only to turn to God with all our weaknesses to receive His unconditional love and mercy. This is what St Therese came to know and experience in her struggle for holiness. Let us pray that we can follow in her footsteps.

St Therese

 

Prayer to the Holy Trinity

Today, November 14, is the Feast of All Carmelite Saints. Our newest Carmelite Saint is St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, canonized on October 16, 2016. In her honor and for all the Carmelite Saints who have continued to build the Order based upon the foundations established by Sts. Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, we offer St. Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Holy Trinity:

O My God, Trinity whom I adore! Help me to become wholly forgetful of self, that I may be immovably rooted in You, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. May nothing disturb my peace or draw me forth from You, but may I, at every moment, penetrate more deeply into the depths of Your mystery!

Establish my soul in peace, make it Your heaven, Your cherished abode, and the place of Your rest. Let me never leave You alone, but remain wholly absorbed in You, in living faith, plunged in adoration, and wholly yielded up to Your creative action!

O my Christ whom, I love! Crucified for love! Would that I might be the bride of Your Heart! Would that I might cover You with glory and love You even until I die of love! Yet I realize my weakness and beseech You to clothe me with Yourself, possess me wholly; substitute Yourself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of Your life. Enter my soul as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior!

O eternal Word, Utterance of my God! I long to spend my life in listening to You; to become wholly teachable, that I may learn all from You! Through all darkness, all privations, all helplessness, I yearn to keep my eyes ever upon You, and to dwell beneath Your great light, O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may be unable to withdraw myself from Your rays!

O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love! Come down into me and reproduce in me, as it were, an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to Him a superadded humanity, wherein He may renew all His Mystery!

And You, O Father, bend down towards Your poor little creature and overshadow her, beholding in her none other than Your beloved Son in whom You are well pleased.

O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity wherein I lose myself! I yield myself to You as Your prey. Immerse Yourself in me that I may be immersed in You, until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness!

In the Carmelite Proper Liturgy of the Hours, the second reading in the Office of Readings for this feast is taken from the writings of St. Teresa of Jesus. She reminds us that the Carmelite vocation is one of prayer and contemplation. “For this we were founded,” she says. Prayerful and contemplative reading of St. Elizabeth’s Prayer to the Holy Trinity is an excellent means of fulfilling this vocation.

 

What are the Beatitudes?

One thousand nine hundred and ninety years ago, on a low hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus Christ sat down and spoke to his disciples. The site is the present-day location of the church of the Beatitudes, memorializing the spot where the transformative Sermon on the Mount was pronounced. The Sermon contains the Beatitudes, nine poetic expressions of God’s values.[1] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” is the first Beatitude, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew at 5:3.

What are the Beatitudes? What is their significance, especially for people nowadays? A common, but mistaken, impression is that the Beatitudes are just a set of rules that Jesus added, over and above the Ten Commandments, for people who aspire to a higher level of holiness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us this common interpretation “totally misconstrues these words of Jesus.”[2] So, what are the Beatitudes?

The Beatitudes are paradoxes—they turn the standards of the world upside down because they see things from God’s perspective; they state God’s values.[3] “The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and of man inaugurated by Jesus, his ‘transformation of values.’”[4] The Beatitudes tell us that it is not the rich and successful, the powerful and praised, who will be rewarded; rather, it is the poor in spirit, for their reward will be eternal life in heaven. As such, “the Beatitudes stand opposed to our spontaneous sense of existence, our hunger and thirst for life.”[5]

But the Beatitudes are not just some contrarian philosophy of life. They give “a proper ordering to our lives.”[6] Ancient Greeks were “deeply aware that man’s real sin, his deepest temptation, is hubris—the arrogant presumption of autonomy that leads man to put on airs of divinity.”[7] “This awareness that man’s true peril consists in the temptation to ostentatious self-sufficiency, which at first seems so plausible, is brought to its full depth in the Sermon on the mount in light of the figure of Christ.”[8]

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” says Jesus in His third Beatitude. The Beatitudes are revealed truth; they are the words of God, instructing us on how to live, about what is valuable and right. They give us “the correct image of man and his happiness.”[9] As promises, the Beatitudes foretell the great reward that will be given to those who adopt the Beatitudes as their attitude of life: reasonable happiness in this life and eternal happiness in the next. As such, “they are directions for discipleship[10],” for following Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Luke also gives an account of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke recounts a warning added to the Beatitudes: “But woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Lk 6:25). The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asked “what has been the greatest sin on earth so far? Surely, the words of the man who said ‘Woe to those who laugh now’”.[11] Though Nietzsche died of mental illness, much of his philosophy “has found its way into the modern mindset…”[12] His philosophy worked its way into the minds of the Nazis, whose ideology resulted in the greatest man-made catastrophe in human history.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:4). “The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’”[13] The Beatitudes present us with a challenge. We can exercise our freedom to follow them or we can exercise our freedom to be indifferent to them, as did Nietzsche.[14] The choice to live the Beatitudes results in a freedom of excellence.[15] On the other hand, history teaches us that we laugh at the Beatitudes at our own peril.

[1] (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth-from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), p. 71).

[2] (Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, 70).

[3] (Jesus of Nazareth, 71).

[4] (71-72).

[5] (98).

[6] (98).

[7] (Id.).

[8] (98-99).

[9] (99).

[10] (74).

[11] (97).

[12] (97).

[13] (87-88).

[14] (Dr. Matthew Ramage, PhD.,lecture on The Sermon on the Mount: Beatitudes (Cromwell, CT: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, recorded 12 September 2016).

[15] (Id.).

False Desires

St. John of the Cross was, and continues to be through his writings, the spiritual director par excellence. He maintained his spiritual direction of followers by means of short spiritual maxims which he placed in directees’ places in the dining room to help focus their commitment.[1] The Sayings of Light and Love are a collection of some of these maxims.

From the Sayings of Light and Love by St. John of the Cross:

#22:     A bird caught in birdlime has a twofold task: It must free itself and cleanse itself. And by satisfying their appetites, people suffer in a twofold way: They must detach themselves and, after being detached, clean themselves of what has clung to them.

Birdlime is a sticky, adhesive substance spread on branches and twigs to capture small birds. Physical pleasures and desires can often be like birdlime. Consider alcoholism; once addicted the alcoholic is stuck to the bottle, addicted to it, so much so that he or she cannot get away from its hold. Violent or sexually explicit images in a movie will often cling to our memory. So, even after sobriety or after seeing a graphically suggestive movie, we need to cleanse ourselves of the hold the drug or drama has on our memory and imagination. This is the twofold task St. John speaks of in Saying #22—first to free ourselves from the hold the drink, drug, or thought has on us; second to cleanse ourselves of its lingering, sticky effects.

Grace is the solvent that will free us and cleanse us from these snares. Prayer disposes us to receive this grace. So, we must work hard at beating these additions, working as if everything depended on us and praying as if everything depended on God. (St. Ignatius of Loyola).

[1] Leonard Doohan, A Year with St. John of the Cross: 365 Daily Readings and Reflections, p. 109 Amazon Books (2015).

Appetites and Adversities

From the Sayings of Light and Love by St. John of the Cross:

#56: “The soul that journeys to God, but does not shake off its cares and quiet its appetites, is like one who drags a cart uphill.”

#57: “It is not God’s will that a soul be disturbed by anything or suffer trials, for if one suffers trials in the adversities of the world it is because of a weakness in virtue. The perfect soul rejoices in what afflicts the imperfect one.”

Life

What is life? The question is so huge it has innumerable answers, but the most fundamental is that life is existence, for without existence there is no life. An animate being must exist in order to have life. So, what is existence?

Whenever the word ‘existence’ comes into my mind it is accompanied by the image of Moses at the Burning Bush asking God His name. “I AM” responds God. Grammatically speaking, ‘I am’ is the first person singular of the verb ‘to be’. To be is to exist, so God is telling us that He is existence. The great philosophers and theologians, from Aristotle to Aquinas agree; God is the First Cause, the one necessary being.

It helps to keep this fact in mind: God is existence. Why? For at least two reasons; first, it helps us in prayer. When we pray we want to feel as if we are being heard, that we are speaking to someone within earshot, as opposed to someone who is in a galaxy far, far away. We want to know that the person to whom we are speaking is listening, so we practice the Presence of God. We try to imagine that God is present to us, that He is close and that He is listening to us. Oftentimes this is difficult. We feel as if God is far away and indifferent. We just can’t imagine Him being so close because our external senses tell us nothing is there.

Our Faith, however, teaches us the revealed truth that God is existence, and since we exist, then we must be participating in the life of God to some extent—at least at the level of existence. We exist because He exists in us. What could be closer to us than existence? So, when I focus on this reality I feel the Presence of God, His nearness.

Second, it helps us in our relationships with our neighbors. When we believe that God dwells in all human beings, at least at the level of existence, then we should find it easier to respect and love our neighbor. “Amen, Amen, I say to you whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” Christ tells us.(MT 25:40). If we understand that God dwells in each person, then we realize that the way we treat other people is the way we are treating God.

Existence is fundamental, and good foundations are essential for any significant project. I am reminded of the incident told by one of the great UCLA basketball players who played for the legendary coach John Wooden. On the first day of practice Wooden had all the new members of the team—the highly sought after high-school stars from around the nation—remove their basketball shoes and socks, and he then proceeded to tell them how to put them on correctly. These star recruits were incredulous that anyone would try to tell them something they thought they already knew well enough. But Wooden taught them that by putting them on with care, correctly, they could avoid getting blisters and being forced out of a game at a critical time in the fourth quarter due to foot injury. The new players learned a greater lesson than just putting on their shoes; they learned that one has to have the fundamentals firmly in place in order to play the whole game well.

Life is not a game, but like any significant event, project, or building, it has to have a good foundation in order to be lived well. Those of us who know by faith that God shares His existence with us have a solid foundation upon which we can perfect the building of our life.

Br. James

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

During this Lenten Season, I have been reflecting on the way my life is and the way it ought to be. So, perhaps I should not be surprised that my mind made an unusual connection between a child’s game and an examination of conscience. The child’s game is ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ a game where two pictures are placed side-by-side, the one on the left being the exemplar and the one on the right being a copy with subtle differences. The object of the game is to find the differences.

In one sense, an examination of conscience is much like this child’s game. We compare how our day actually happened to how it should have been.  There are a number of different ways of making this comparison, but essentially we are reflecting back on what we actually did, said, or thought during the day and comparing it to how it should have been.  We determine how it should have been by some standard of conduct, namely, the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes, for example.

The picture I saw that triggered the connection was a happy scene of two children jumping rope outdoors under a tree, with flowers, birds, and a rabbit in the background. The copy had a weed instead of the flowers, the bird was missing, as was a branch of the tree, and the rabbit had become a cat. The effect of the differences conveyed a less cheery scene in the copy as compared to the original. Oftentimes, there is a similar effect in real life when our actions fall below the standard established by God for our good relations with Him, ourselves, and our neighbor.

Other times, the difference is not so drastic. There might be only one difference: one weed instead of a flower. In this case, we could conduct a particular examination of conscience. A particular examination is conducted with a focus on one particular sin, fault, or imperfection so as to eliminate that weed from our life and replace it with a beautiful flower: a virtue instead of a vice. We anticipate situations that may arise during the day where we are prone to fall, and we plan ahead; if we fail, we take note and resolve to act differently next time. If we succeed, then we give thanks to God for helping us along the way of perfection.

Br. James

First Annual Fundraiser

The Carmelite Institute’s First Annual Fundraiser was a huge success.  Thank you to all the volunteers, coordinators and participants of all kinds. We also had several of our “named” garden areas adopted by volunteers to help keep them clean and weed free.