St Therese: Her Family

From the archives! A talk by Fr James Geoghegan, OCD in the Evening Lecture Series at the Carmelite Institute of Spirituality in Stanwood, WA.  October 10, 1990


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.”