Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Prayer to Blessed Jacinta

This is a prayer written by Lucia to Blessed Jacinta, which I found in the book Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, edited by Fr. Louis Kondor, SVD.

I love this prayer. The first part makes me think of Psalm 55: “If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest.”

I’ve decided to make this prayer my own.

To Jacinta

Swift through the world
You went a-flying,
Dearest Jacinta,
In deepest suffering
Jesus loving.
Forget not my plea
And prayer to you:
Be ever my friend
Before the throne
Of the Virgin Mary,
Lily of candor,
Shining pearl,
Up there in heaven
You live in glory,
Seraphim of love
With your little brother
At the Master’s feet
Pray for me.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blessed Jacinta, Blessed Francisco, and Death

The monk is supposed to keep death at the forefront of his mind. After all, death is our ultimate end on this earth, and the gateway to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell. Heaven is our goal, and death to our earthly existence is the only way to get there.
In her memoirs, Fatima seer Lucia recalls her little cousins’ attitude toward death. In the apparitions, Our Lady had said that Jacinta and Francisco would go to Heaven soon, but that Francisco would need to pray “many rosaries”. In the simplicity of their childhood, they believed her, and both children fell to serious illnesses that brought them much suffering, just as Our Lady had told them would happen.

Francisco so faithfully believed that he would die soon that often he did not bother to go to school. Lucia recounts that he would say, “Our Lady is taking me to Heaven soon, so there’s no need for me to go. I would rather stay in the church with the Hidden Jesus. Remember, Our Lady said I needed to pray many rosaries.” And so he would remain in the church before the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary, until Lucia and Jacinta stopped by for him on their way home from school.

When Francisco was ill, and Lucia asked him if he was suffering much, he would reply in the affirmative and note that he did not speak of it because he wanted to offer his suffering to console Our Lord. That was his focus: to console Our Lord who suffers because of our sins.
Jacinta suffered in her illness for a longer period of time than Lucia, and Our Lady told her that she would die all alone. This was a cause of grief for Jacinta, who was very much attached to Lucia. When Lucia told her to remember that she would soon be with Our Lady, Jacinta would agree, but comment that sometimes it was hard for her to remember that.  Still, when Our Lady came to Jacinta and asked if she was willing to suffer a bit longer for the conversion of poor souls, Jacinta agreed. That was her focus: the conversion of poor souls.

I am so inspired by the stories of these children! Their attitude toward death seems so far removed from the way we tend to look at it. I think of those programs that seek to grant dying children their fondest wish – like a trip to Disneyland or whatever; I have nothing against that, really. But I don’t think Jacinta and Francisco would have had any wish other than to please Our Lord and Our Lady, and they knew without a doubt that there was no better place than Heaven. In these times, we so need to keep that in mind.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Be Watchful Inwardly and Outwardly

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
Abba Poemen said that a brother asked Abba Simon, “If I come out of my cell and find my brother amusing himself, I amuse myself with him and if I find him in the act of laughing, I laugh with him. Then when I return to my cell, I am no longer at peace.”

The old man said to him, “So, when you come out of your cell and find people laughing or talking, you want to laugh and talk with them, and when you return to your cell, you expect to find yourself as you were before?”

The brother said, “What should I do?”

The old man replied, “Be watchful inwardly; be watchful outwardly.”

It is so easy to be carried off to a place one has struggled to escape, just by engaging in a casual conversation with friends!

The Fatima children, after the apparitions, seemed to have recognized that they had to be watchful inwardly and outwardly. In her memoirs, Lucia describes little Jacinta as a child who loved “frivolity” and dancing; but after the apparitions, she was much more serious and no longer engaged in the playful pastimes of a child. Jacinta also, says Lucia, had no problem telling people to “stop doing that; you are offending the Lord Our God, and He is already so much offended!” And if they did not stop, she would turn and walk away from them.  

Lucia describes Francisco as a quiet boy who preferred to be alone. After the apparitions, he became more so. Sometimes he would play with other children, but often he would either decline or leave them after a time. When asked why, he might say, “Because you are not good” or “I want to be alone”. He too had been given the grace to understand that he must be watchful inwardly and outwardly.

What lessons there are for us in the lives of the Fatima children, as well as in Lucia’s adult life. Perhaps I will write more on that in the future.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Keep Your Pot on the Fire

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

A brother said to Abba Poemen, “Give me a word,” and he said to him, “As long as the pot is on the fire, no fly nor any other animal can get near it, but as soon as it is cold, these creatures get inside. So it is for the monk; as long as he lives in spiritual activities, the enemy cannot find a means of overthrowing him.”

This again reminds me of my recent trip to California to visit friends (see “Failing, Getting Up and Starting Over”, February 25). My pot was no longer directly on the fire. I tried to keep it warm by praying the Divine Office when I could, but those times were few and far between for four days. There were definitely flies and other “animals” in my pot by then!

Of course, the “saying” isn’t really true. Flies can and do get into a pot even if it is over a fire; I’ve been camping enough times to have observed that! And flies and moths have flown into the flames of my little votive oil lamps; sometimes they put out the flame but die in the oil.

In the same way, it seems to me, the demons can and do get into our spiritual activities even when we are maintaining discipline in reciting the Office or the Rosary, etc. I am not a perfect temple for the Holy Spirit, and those evil creature find a way into my “pot” by way of my own weaknesses and shortcomings.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that, as Abba Poemen says, we maintain our Rule , we are safer than  we would be without our “spiritual activities”; even if the demons find a way to crawl in through the cracks and crevices, it is easier to stomp on them or drive them away if the structure and discipline of our Rule is in force. The enemy cannot overthrow us if we are staying close to God.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sacrifice for the Conversion of Sinners

I’ve been reading a book called Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs. In it, Lucia describes her early years and her friendship with her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco. She paints a sweet picture of their daily treks to the pastures with their families’ sheep.

One thing that strikes me is the willingness of these little children to obey Our Lady by offering praying the Rosary and offering sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Lucia describes Jacinta’s devotion in particular (since the “First Memoir” is primarily a description of Jacinta writing at the request of Lucia’s bishop).

Jacinta took very seriously Our Lady’s commands, and informed Lucia and Francisco that they must now pray the Rosary in its entirety (instead of “cheating” by just saying “Hail Mary” for each bead, and simply “Our Father” instead of the whole prayer). She also insisted on making a sacrifice, and Francisco suggested that they could give their lunch to the sheep every day as a sacrifice for the conversion of sinners. And so they did. Later, they became aware of some very poor children, and gave their lunch to them instead.

I suspect that Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta themselves also did not have a lot to eat – not like we do in these modern self-indulgent times, anyway – and to give up their lunch would have been a very significant sacrifice. After all, they had to walk some distance to take their sheep to the pastures, and they were young children. I’m having a difficult time imagining any 6- or 7-year-old child I’ve ever known who would willingly go hungry for the sake of the conversion of sinners. Even some adults I know wouldn’t be able to handle that sacrifice!

I suppose they were given the grace to accomplish these works of mercy, but still, they had to respond appropriately. Sadly, we don’t talk much about sacrifice in our current culture…not even in the Church. It’s not really part of our “mindset” because it’s just not talked about. Everyone I’ve heard talk about their Lenten discipline is giving up something like chocolate or coffee, or maybe some internet time. Those things seem trivial when compared to the three children of Fatima giving up their lunch every day!

It seems so necessary to me that we re-establish our Catholic identity! We seem to have lost sight of what it means to do penance. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that our true home is Heaven.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Theophan the Recluse on Prayer

This is from a homily on prayer, written by Theophan the Recluse in 1864.  The entire homily is at this website (scroll down a bit and you will see links to “Four Homilies on Prayer”. The excerpt here is from the first homily.

Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying "How is your prayer?" The activity of prayer was considered by them to be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the "equipment" of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts' striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.
I have one of the books by Theophan the Reculse shown at that website – Kindling the Divine Spark. It’s been quite a while since I read it, but I recall that I found Theophan’s homilies to be very kind and gentle, but at the same time capable of inspiring me to a fervent determination to live my Rule to the very best of my ability for the love of God.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.