Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Preparing a Wedding Dress

I like this passage from the autobiography of St. Therese (Story of a Soul):

One day during prayer, it was brought home to me that my too eager desire to take my vows was mingled with much self-love; as I belonged to Our Lord and was His little plaything to console and please Him, it was for me to do His Will, not for Him to do mine. I also understood that a bride would not be pleasing to the bridegroom on her wedding day were she not magnificently attired. But, what had I made ready? So I said to Our Lord: “I do not ask Thee to hasten the day of my profession, I will wait as long as Thou pleasest, only I cannot bear that through any fault of mine my union with Thee should be delayed; I will set to work and carefully prepare a wedding-dress enriched with diamonds and precious stones, and, when Thou findest it sufficiently rich, I am sure that nothing will keep Thee from accepting me as Thy Spouse.”

“It was for me to do His Will, not for Him to do mine.” How often I have to remind myself of that fact! And of course, His Will for me is perfect, so there is no reason to be unhappy with what He unfolds for me.

And I like the part about understanding that “a bride would not be pleasing to the bridegroom on her wedding day were she not magnificently attired.” Although I am not entering religious life, and have no hope of being a Bride of Christ in the sense that St. Therese was about to become, I still think about meeting His Majesty at the hour of my death. These words of St. Therese really struck me. She asks, “What, what had I made ready?” And I ask the same of myself. What have I made ready for my meeting with God?

All of us must prepare that wedding garment, mustn’t we? (cf., Matthew 22) St. Therese reminded me that I need to pay much more attention to my own wedding dress! I need to throw off the costume jewelry of pride, presumption, and ingratitude, and put on the true gems of faith, hope, and charity.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Falling, Getting Up, and Starting Over

I noticed three “sayings” in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers the other day:

[Abba Poemen] also said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

He also said, “When self-will and ease become habitual, they overthrow a man.”

He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.

These sayings seemed significant to me personally, as I reflected on my four days away from home visiting friends out of town.

The friends I visited are faithful and devout Catholics, but their life is not my life! I have purposely made my life more monastic in style, even though I am a lay person. Their lives are more like those of the laity, with a strong prayer life. In visiting them, I had to basically abandon the structure I have provided for myself by praying the Divine Office and by having a set time and place to do so.

I thought that perhaps I had built up the hermitage of my heart to the point that I could successfully weather the four days away from my spiritual life; I was hoping that I could sneak in a few of the hours (I did), and maintain an attitude of prayer and penance internally. I discovered how weak I am.

The time I spent with my friends was enjoyable and filled with talk about the Church and the faith. But still, my time there was tied much more to the secular world than it is when I am at home. It was easy to be sucked into doing more worldly things (not sinful, just secular); perhaps “earthly” is a better word. I was pulled away from my discursive prayers, and even though I thought that wouldn’t bother me too much, it did. I can see the danger in “giving your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” For a few days I abandoned that which does satisfy my heart, and I opened myself up to some pesky demons who wanted me to forget who I really am. I had a few dark moments.

Did “self-will and ease become habitual” for me during those few days?  Yes, in a sense, they did. I did not follow the discipline of the Divine Office. This was more by necessity than by my own will, but even when I had opportunity to pray, it was difficult to exercise the self-control to do it. Sleep was easily accessible, too! I realized how the “ease” of an uninterrupted night’s sleep can weaken one’s resolve to fight against those sneaky demons.

But that last saying encourages me: “Every day he made a new beginning.” That is what I strive to do. I have a tendency to self-condemnation when I fail in my duty to prayer; this of course is simply pride at work; how could I ever expect to maintain my prayer “schedule” without the grace of God to sustain me in it? Of course I am too weak to maintain the discipline of my Rule without His help! And the demons use that prideful self-condemnation to introduce a dose or two of depression, hoping to lead me to despair. And so, I have learned to renounce their efforts and just start over. I tell the Lord I am sorry for my weakness and laziness, and I ask for His help to do better the next day.

It’s always a day-to-day endeavor, too. I never know from one day to the next whether I will succeed in being faithful to my Rule; I only know that I can ask the Lord for His help and that He will give me grace in the measure He finds fitting.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Worth of a Mass

I found these quotes about the Mass on a post by Dr. Taylor Marshall at his blog, “Canterbury Tales”. They are good reminders to keep us focused on the Mass and to assist with attention, reverence, and devotion: 

  1. When the Eucharist is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar. ~ St. John Chrysostom The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass. ~ St. Augustine
  2. If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy. ~ Saint Jean Vianney
  3. The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross. ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
  4. Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “ATTEND ONE MASS.”
  5. “My Son so loves those who assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that, if it were necessary He would die for them as many times as they’ve heard Masses.” Our Lady to Blessed Alan.
  6. When we receive Holy Communion, we experience something extraordinary – a joy, a fragrance, a well-being that thrills the whole body and causes it to exalt. ~ Saint Jean Vianney
  7. There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us. ~ Saint Jean Vianney
  8. When we have been to Holy Communion, the balm of love envelops the soul as the flower envelops the bee. ~ Saint Jean Vianney
  9. It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass. ~ St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me...

Monday, February 18, 2013


I’ll be away from home for a few days, in a secular setting…with some good Catholics, but in a secular setting nonetheless – no chapel, no solitude. I’m a bit apprehensive about it because I haven’t done a trip like this in years.

Still, the “hermitage of my heart” should be with me always, and I hope to be able to retreat into it at times. Sometimes I think I am too dependent on my physical surroundings when it comes to my prayer times.

On the other hand, writing in praise of the life of solitude[1], the Carthusian monk Guigo, Fifth Prior of the Grande Chartreuse said

…in the Old Testament, and still more so in the New, almost all of God's secrets of major importance and hidden meaning were revealed to His servants, not in the turbulence of the crowd but in the silence of solitude; and you know, too, that these same servants of God, when they wished to penetrate more profoundly some spiritual truth, or to pray with greater freedom, or to become a stranger to things earthly in an ardent elevation of the soul, nearly always fled the hindrance of the multitude for the benefits of solitude.

Thus — to illustrate by some examples — when seeking a place for meditation, Isaac went out to a field alone (Genesis 24:63); and this, one may assume, was his normal practice, and not an isolated incident. Likewise, it was when Jacob was alone, having dispatched his retinue ahead of him, that he saw God face to face (Genesis 32:24-30), and was thus favored with a blessing and a new and better name, thus receiving more in one moment of solitude than in a whole lifetime of social contact.

Scripture also tells us how Moses, Elijah and Elisha esteemed solitude, and how conducive they found it to an even deeper penetration of the divine secrets; and note, too, what perils constantly surrounded them when among men, and how God visited them when alone.

So those of us who seek solitude are in good company!

Sometimes, my station in life demands that I join in with the comings and goings of the world, even if I don’t really want to. I do not enjoy any kind of party, even the rather tame, benign ones I’m required to attend a couple of times a year. I try to accept the inconvenience with grace, as the reasons for attending involve taking care of my family, essentially. I approach the coming trip with mixed feelings; part of me is happy to go, while the “hermitess” part is anxious about departing from a way of life that becomes more stable with each passing month and year.

Well, there will be lessons to learn, I am sure, and I know my soul will seek God no matter where I am. At least I know that there is nothing wrong with seeking and preferring solitude. Guido concluded his thoughts on solitude with this:
And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers — Paul, Antony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others without number — and you will readily agree that for the spiritual savor of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears, — nothing is more helpful than solitude.

[1] Consuetudines Guiguonis (1128): cap. LXXX; Statuta Ordinis Cartusiensis (1991): 0.2.2 - 0.2.9

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Foretaste of Heaven

 St. Therese writes of her pilgrimage to Rome with her father and sister:

On our way into Italy we passed through Switzerland, with its high mountains, their snowy peaks lost in the clouds, its rushing torrents, and its deep valleys filled with giant ferns and purple heather. Great good was wrought in my soul by these beauties of nature so abundantly scattered abroad. They lifted it to Him Who had been pleased to lavish such masterpieces upon this transient earth.

Sometimes we were high up the mountain side, while at our feet an unfathomable abyss seemed ready to engulf us. A little later we were passing through a charming village with its cottages and graceful belfry, above which light fleecy clouds floated lazily. Farther on a great lake with its blue waters, so calm and clear, would blend with the glowing splendour of the setting sun. I cannot tell you how deeply I was impressed with this scenery so full of poetry and grandeur. It was a foretaste of the wonders of Heaven. Then the thought of religious life would come before me, as it really is, with its constraints and its little daily sacrifices made in secret. I understood how easily one might become wrapped in self and forget the sublime end of one's vocation, and I thought: "Later on, when the time of trial comes, when I am enclosed in the Carmel and shall only be able to see a little bit of sky, I will remember this day and it will encourage me. I will make light of my own small interests by thinking of the greatness and majesty of God; I will love Him alone, and will not be so foolish as to attach myself to the fleeting trifles of this world, now that my heart has had a glimpse of what is reserved for those who love Him."

I know this feeling, these thoughts. The beauty of the geographic area in which I live is astounding, and there are times when I am driving along on my way to or from town that the glory and majesty that I see spread before me makes me want to stop and worship God on the spot.

There have also been times when the immeasurable beauty has been, it seems, spiritually enhanced just for my benefit – it is hard to explain what I see, but it is more than what is there in our physical reality. Those times are great consolations.

Sometimes, when as St. Therese says, “the thought of religious life would come before me”, I know that I would not such a life for any physical grandeur in the world, even for the enjoyment of God’s greatest creations. As the Saint says, “I will love Him alone, and will not be so foolish as to attach myself to the fleeting trifles of this world.”

Once, while praying, I had experience of seeing a my chapel wall open up to reveal an indescribably beautiful meadow scene…well, as I said, it was indescribable. The beauty was other-worldly, of course, because the whole experience was such. It was natural beauty made supernatural, a “foretaste of the wonders of Heaven”, as St. Therese so aptly put it. But this scene was a foretaste that surpassed even the natural wonders that surround my home, and I will never forget it. It made me understand that Heaven is so far beyond our wildest dreams that we cannot even imagine what we will experience there. The presence of God is unfathomable.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Of Parents and Popes

My older sister was 2 years my senior. We never got along. As kids, we fought constantly, and she would tell me, “I hated you from the day they brought you home from the hospital.” I said equally hateful things to her.

When my sister graduated from high school, she was still living at home, and we did not speak much to each other. I could barely stand to be in her presence. There were problems between her and my parents, too, though I don’t really remember what the issues were. My mother used to lament that she just didn’t understand her eldest daughter.

Then one day, my sister announced that she was moving out, and that she was going to share an apartment with her boyfriend. My mother was in tears, which was not a common state for her. I hardly ever saw her cry.

Me? I told my mother, “Why are you upset? This is the answer to all our problems!”

Well, now I am a mother, and I know why my mom was so upset.

God gives us a precious gift when he gives us a child. I suppose I have always known that, but I know it more now, as a Catholic mother, than I ever did before. He gives us precious little souls to nurture and protect. It’s our duty to take care of them, to raise them properly, to form their consciences, to teach them the faith.

It’s a big responsibility, but God provides us with so much help, too! Under most circumstances, it is giving birth to a baby that makes a woman a mother; there’s no way to fully prepare for motherhood beforehand. She can take classes, read books, do a lot of babysitting, have younger siblings, etc., but it’s not the same. Having that baby makes her a mother, and she is changed forever. Spiritually, God works wonders in the mother.

Well, I suppose in a way He has just hardwired us to have those motherly inclinations – the instinct to protect that baby, to provide for that baby in the best way possible, to guide and discipline that baby, to give that baby a better life than we ourselves had.

Sometimes we lose sight of the importance of doing what is good for the child’s soul, though.  We’re entrenched in the physical realities of this world, and those distract us at times from the fact that the real reality is in Heaven. The temporal goodies of this world are fleeting, but to us they seem like eternity…or at least a long time! When we consider a particular parental decision, it’s easier to discern the right one if we ask what will benefit the child’s soul – not what will make him stop crying, or make him happy, or make him see his parents in a favorable light. That doesn’t always make the decision easier, due to our fallen human nature, but it does help us make the correct choice.

Now, let me make what might seem to be an abrupt change of subject to popes, bishops, and pastors.

All of the same things that apply to parents as the shepherds of their children apply to these ecclesiastical shepherds of all of our souls, don’t they? The parish priest bears much responsibility for the souls of his parishioners; the bishop bears responsibilities for all the souls of his parish (plus those of his priests, to whom he is to be a spiritual father).  As for a Pope, the number of souls for whom he may be held accountable is absolutely staggering.

And I thought being a mom was a tough job!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thoughts on Two Popes

Of course I have been thinking about Pope Benedict XVI, and his decision to renounce the papal throne. (It’s been pointed out that he’s not “resigning” or “retiring” per se; he will not be known as “pope emeritus”. He will return to being Cardinal Ratzinger, from what I have read.)

Some have suggested that the Holy Father is tired, and he’s retiring to a monastery to spend the rest of his days in prayer. That is not an easy life, though. Prayer and penance would seem a fitting way for any pope – “retired” or not – to spend his days, to the extent that he can. I think of the responsibility a pope has, the accountability he faces…It is fearsome, to say the least.

Of course there are the comparisons with John Paul II, who retained the office of the papacy till the bitter end, showing the world, as they say, that even a physically incapacitated and suffering man can still fulfill his purpose. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, it says, "Abba Poemen said, "If three men meet, of whom the first fully preserves interior peace, and the second gives thanks to God in illness, and the third serves with a pure mind, these three are doing the same work."

I was thinking about JPII today; the fact that there are many things that he did during his papacy that seemed rather…ill-advised, shall we say? Things that seemed to go against Church teaching in some way or another; things that were allowed to happen with regard to the liturgy; things he wrote and said that had such a modernist sound to them. There seems to be a lot of evidence against him being a saint, but it’s practically impossible to say such a thing without arousing shrieks of protest from John Paulists.

And who knows? Perhaps JPII is a saint. Who is to say what went on in his conversations with God in the last years of his pontificate when he so clearly suffered physical pain and humiliation? Who is to say that he was not doing penance during that time, and that he came to recognize whether certain of his actions were harmful to the faithful? Who is to say that he did not agree to be a “suffering soul” for sins we don’t even know about?

Well, I don’t always think so charitably about JPII, I must confess. But today, I do. Perhaps that is a good thing. It is better to think charitably about others in our private thoughts, rather than to focus on their faults. So I’m glad I felt the impetus to do so today.

More, though, I am thinking about the big picture, and popes past and future. 

What will the next pope face? It will not be an easy road. There is so much that needs to be “fixed”. And to be honest, I think the fixing will have to start with the liturgy and Vatican II.

God help us.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Run to My Christ

I was engaged in a bit of a battle with a demon or two last night. Why do I listen to them?

In the book about the Hermitess Photini, the priest who is visiting her asks “Aren’t you afraid of the traps of the demons?” Photini acknowledges that she is, but that she has seen many times that the Lord protects her in her weakness against them.

“Besides,” she says, “I have the mighty refuge of prayer.”

I think having the habit of praying the Divine Office is a strong defense against demons. When they come after me and I feel discouraged and beaten, I know I should pray, but sometimes I don’t want to. I feel de-energized, and I don’t want to be bothered praying the next hour. On occasion, I have told myself, “I’m just not going to do it”, and plan to take a little time off to feel sorry for myself. But then the time to pray comes, and I get up and pray the Office. It’s a habit, it’s ingrained. I just do it. And at those times I am very happy that I have cultivated the habit, because praying the Office almost always chases the demon-planted depression away.

In the story of Photini, the priest asks the hermitess how she can tell which thoughts are from the evil one, and whether the devil reminds her of the world and the things in it. She affirms that this is so, and adds that the devil tells her, “You came to this wilderness in vain” – that she could do so much more good in the world by, for instance, building a women’s monastery.

“The wicked one brings these and many other thoughts to my mind. But I run to my Christ, denouncing the devil, so to speak. Then he retreats immediately and the evil thoughts disappear.”

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!
Last night I had an experience like that. Those demons…they wait for a chink in my (very weak!) armor, and then rush in, sowing thoughts that I am leading a useless and hopeless life. Last night when they did that, I recalled Hermitess Photini’s words, and I, too, ran to my Christ. He welcomed me with open arms in a most exquisite moment of consolation. The voices of the demons faded into the distance, because of course they cannot stand to be in the presence of Our Lord!

When we run to the Lord and hide in Him, it’s a sure win. The Lord will not forsake us.

In hoc cognovi voluisti me,
     Quia non gaudebit inimicus meus super me.

That you love me, I know by this,
     that my enemy does not triumph over me.

(Psalm 40:12)  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do Not Repay Evil for Evil

Another nugget from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

[A brother asked Abba Poenem]: “What does ‘See that none of you repays evil for evil’ mean?”

The old man said to him, “Passions work in four stages –first, in the heart; secondly, in the face; thirdly, in words; and fourthly, it is essential not to render evil for evil in deeds. If you can purify your heart, passion will not come into your expression; but if it comes into your face, take care not to speak; but if you do speak, cut the conversation short in case you render evil for evil.”

I like the way he outlines the progression. I see how it works in my own life! When I get upset about something – especially some perceived injustice, whether against me or someone else – I get agitated in my heart, so to speak. I feel the agitation throughout my whole body, which is probably a result of the increase in blood pressure that accompanies my anger.

Sometimes, I can feel that physiological effect in my face – not just in my facial expression, but in the tingling sensation that means my face is turning red.  How many times have I tried to smile through an upset like this, hoping to hide my anger! I’m not too good at that!

And then there’s the speaking part…oh dear. Yes, I should never speak when I am angry. I never know what will come out of my mouth, but it is never good. I can control this much more easily if I am writing instead of speaking. Recently a situation arose where I confronted someone on Face Book about something he had said that I found offensive. I made a calm statement about that, but he answered with some defensive aggression. Had we been in the same room together, I would have let him have it with a verbal blast, I’m sure. But since I was writing, I could take a moment to calm my passions, excuse his behavior at least partially on the grounds of ignorance, and offer a calm and reasonable response to his anger.

Finally, there is cutting the conversation short so as to avoid repaying evil for evil. In the situation I just described, I did just that. I knew that even in writing, if I kept going, I would say some uncharitable things, and that although I would think my responses were quite clever and sharp-witted, they would be lost on him, causing only more anger. Then my temptation would be to continue to escalate. No good could come of it. I suggested that we give each other the benefit of the doubt and perhaps have a cup of coffee sometime in the future to discuss the issue further. He agreed.

Now, even though I want to congratulate myself on that little success, I have to admit that I have no intention of meeting with this person face-to-face!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


 There is much I like about winter.

I like the first snowfall. I like the quietness. I like the sparkling clear days with bright blue sky and the gleaming whiteness of the snow-covered mountains against it. I even like the gray, dreary days; even the shades of gray have their own peculiar beauty, and their own stark message.

I don’t mind the cold, at first. When the temperature drops to 0 and below, though, I am not happy. For about three weeks here, the temperature never got above 25. I grew weary of that extended coldness.

There are things I don’t like about winter, too, and they come mostly in the second half. I suppose that’s because I’m tired of the cold, tired of the ice and snow. I get even more tired of the melting ice and snow. Slush. Slush begets mud. And when you have dogs, mud begets dirty footprints on the kitchen floor.

So when spring pokes its head around the corner, I get excited. I love spring! It is new life, of course; it is Easter. It’s returning to the land of milk and honey after wandering through the desert of winter. 

Spring isn’t even close yet, of course. But the days are getting longer, and the snow drifts are getting smaller, and the end of the wintry desert is in sight.

Spring is lovely, but it eventually turns into summer. I don’t like summer. It, like winter, is a desert – but in a different way. There is not much I like about summer! I do not like hot weather; thanks be to God we don’t get too much of that here!  I don’t like the dryness, either.  

And when fall pokes its head around the corner, I get excited. I love the fall! It’s not new life, of course; it is the death of things. But it’s beautiful, too, especially in the beginning when the fall colors shout one last hurrah for life, before life goes to sleep for a while. I like the cool, crisp mornings and the comfortably warm afternoons. I like the way the angle of the sun seems to create a whole different world of filtered and nuanced light; it’s so different from that which existed only a month or so earlier, when everything seemed to be in stark, direct sunlight.

So for me, there is the desert of winter and the desert of summer. Spring and fall are the oases, the wellsprings, the refreshing moments.

Liturgical time is sort of like that for me, too. I like Lent. Lent is supposed to be a desert, just like summer and winter, I suppose; I like Lent very much – just as I like winter. I like its austerity and the promise it holds of the new life coming at Easter. And I love Easter!

All the weeks following Pentecost are another desert for me. I don’t suppose they are meant to be, but they fell that way to me. Perhaps it is the association with summer! But when fall comes again, I start to anticipate Advent – another liturgical season that is supposed to be a mini-desert, but which I love. It’s a short one, of course, and Christmas comes as the oasis in that desert.

Seasons come and seasons go – both meteorologically and liturgically. I like the ebb and flow.