Saturday, April 20, 2013

Divine Wedding Invitation

I read the following excerpt from the autobiography of St. Therese last night, and it delighted me.

Therese says that after having seen an announcement of her friend’s marriage

I amused myself by composing the following invitation, which I read to the novices in order to bring home to them what had struck me so forcibly—that the glory of all earthly unions is as nothing compared to the titles of a Spouse of Our Divine Lord.

"God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and the Glorious Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heavenly Court, announce to you the Spiritual Espousals of their August Son, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, with little Thérèse Martin, now Princess and Lady of His Kingdoms of the Holy Childhood and the Passion, assigned to her as a dowry, by her Divine Spouse, from which Kingdoms she holds her titles of nobility—of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. It was not possible to invite you to the Wedding Feast which took place on the Mountain of Carmel, September 8, 1890—the Heavenly Court was alone admitted—but you are requested to be present at the Wedding Feast which will take place to-morrow, the day of Eternity, when Jesus, the Son of God, will come in the clouds of Heaven, in the splendour of His Majesty, to judge the living and the dead.

"The hour being still uncertain, you are asked to hold yourselves in readiness and watch."

As she says, “the glory of all earthly unions is as nothing” compared to espousal to the King of the Universe!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Solitary Combat of the Desert

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

There was a brother who lived in the desert of the Thebaid and the thought crossed his mind, “Why do you live here in this useless way? Get up and go to the monastery and there you will make progress.” So he went and found Abba Paphnutius and told him about this thought. The old man said to him, “Go and stay in your cell; make only one prayer in the morning and one in the evening and one at night. When you are hungry, eat, when you are thirsty, drink; when you are tired, sleep. But stay in the cell and take no notice of this thought.” The brother went and found Abba John and told him what Abba Paphnutius had sad and Abba John said, “Don’t pray at all, just stay in the cell.” So the brother went and found Abba Arsenius and told him all about it and the old man said to him “Do as the others have told you. I have nothing to say but that,” and he went away satisfied.

I have thoughts like that, too. They say, “What are you doing? Look at yourself! Standing here chanting in the middle of the night, all alone! What is the point of this?!”

The odd thing is that the voice in my head is so convincing. I have never abandoned my prayer because of it, but it certainly does sow the seeds of doubt – at least for a while! I suppose one is more susceptible to such things in the middle of the night when the thought of sleep is so tempting.

A monk once told me that St. Benedict really taught that the solitary life should be the goal of the monastic. The community life was a stepping stone for those who were not strong enough to engage in the solitary combat of the desert. I don’t have a reference to offer for that; I just took this monk, my spiritual director, at his word.

Solitary combat is difficult. I’m not sure I am successful at it. Back then, the anchorites didn’t have cell phone and the internet, and they couldn’t send a quick text message to their spiritual directors to ask for a little assistance.  

And of course, one does not have to go physically “into the desert” to experience the solitary combat. In the end, we’re all engaged in it because we are individual persons. Physical isolation just makes it a little more intense, I guess. Of course we can ask others to keep us in prayer. And more importantly, we can do as the Hermitess Photini did, and when the demons are closing in we can run to Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Vocations and God's Will

I know that, generally speaking, it is not a good thing to ponder the "what if's" of life. But there is some fruit, I think, in looking at the big picture. For instance, take vocations. A good friend told me the other day, “You cannot mourn a vocation that you clearly never had and, right now, don't have.” I don’t think that’s right. No one can say with any certainty that I never had that vocation, just because I ended up married with children. Personally, I think I did have that vocation, but it sort of never had a chance. For one thing, I wasn’t even raised Catholic! But I can give you lots of examples of incidences in my life that indicate, retrospectively, that I was called, but did not or was not able to respond.

But apart from the personal aspect, does it really make any sense to say that we always choose our vocation correctly? I don’t think so! Look at the stories of men who left seminary because of the homosexual presence they found there. Did they not have a vocation? Maybe some did not, but probably many did, and it was thwarted. God allowed that, and His reasons will be evident for those involved at some point, I suppose. Are there men who are priests (and bishops) who were not called, but managed to get there anyway? I suspect so, looking at some of the priests and bishops I’ve known or heard about.

I think the concept of the distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will comes into play here. God wills some things antecedently, but when our own human will does not cooperate, His will prevails consequently. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas says that while God antecedently wills all men to be saved, He also consequently will some to be damned because of their own actions and because justice demands it (see the second quote below).

Here’s a quote from St. John Damascene:

The first then is called God's antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God's consequent will and permission, and has its origin in us. And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, and the other being hopeless and leading to our utter punishment, as we said above. And this is the case with actions that are not left in our hands. 

But of actions that are in our hands the good ones depend on His antecedent goodwill and pleasure, while the wicked ones depend neither on His antecedent nor on His consequent will, but are a concession to free-will. For that which is the result of compulsion has neither reason nor virtue in it.”

St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way, using salvation of souls as an example:

In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place.

So God might will antecedently that certain souls have a certain vocation, but it is possible that they will not if we do not cooperate with His will. I think I was called to religious life, but it didn’t happen for a number of reasons. Why did God allow that? Well, from my own imperfect and extremely limited perspective I can see that, had I had a solid Catholic upbringing and then entered religious life, I probably would have been absolutely devastated by Vatican II. I know women who had entered religious life and left after Vatican II; they saw priests and nuns leaving religious life and marrying each other, and that was traumatic. One of them was also told that her order was not going to wear a habit any longer, and since she insisted that she wanted to, she was invited to leave.  Neither of these women sought to enter another order, for various reasons.

Anyway, as for me, I thank God that I was protected from that experience. In addition, I think I have always been called to the solitary life. Still, it all didn’t happen early in my life, and I didn’t even actively want it then. By the time I knew anything about Catholicism and monastic life, it was too late…sort of. I do lead a “monastic” life, and I believe that it is in accord with God’s consequent will. It’s been a long, crooked path, but He got me here, and it is pretty clear that I’m doing what He wants me to do. It helps to have a good spiritual director!

I regularly tell the Lord what I want, but I just as regularly assure Him that I know His will for me is perfect, and I much prefer that to my own will. So even though I get sad about not being able to live just as I would choose, I don’t stay sad about it for long any more. I only have to remember that God sees the “big picture” and He knows what He’s doing. I don’t. So I pour out my heart to Him and let Him comfort me (or not, as He wishes), and I just move on. I can see lots of reasons why God has delayed my “vocation” this long, and why He might delay it forever. The important thing is getting to Heaven, and I realize that right now, my path to holiness includes my current vocation as wife to a good husband.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Third Sorrowful Mystery

Once I was out in the backyard doing a little pruning and cleaning up. I cut off a wayward branch of a rose bush long overdue for pruning, and tossed it over the fence. The vine had a mind of its own, though; it stuck to my sleeve and did the old whip-lash trick, resulting in one little thorn striking me in the head.

It hurt.

I was surprised at how much it hurt…just one little thorn. And of course I immediately thought of Our Lord being “crowned with thorns” – with that little pain I felt being multiplied many, many times over, not to mention the fact that those soldiers probably didn’t just gingerly set the “crown” on His head, but instead jammed it down, resulting in streams of blood...

When I pray the Rosary and come to the Third Sorrowful Mystery, I think of the pain of that one little thorn embedding itself in my scalp, and I consider that my sinfulness is a thorn that pierces Our Lord’s scalp. It is distressing to think how much pain I must cause Him with my sins. If only I could remember that when sinful inclinations overtake me!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remember, Christian Soul...

I found this in the section of “Most Necessary Prayers” in my daily missal (Angelus Press). I know I’ve seen it before, heard it before, but…you know how it is. Sometimes something you already know strikes a new chord in you when you haven’t seen it or thought about it for a while.

Remember, Christian soul, that thou hast this day, 
and every day of thy life:

God to glorify,
Jesus to imitate,
The Angels and Saints to invoke,
A soul to save,
A body to mortify,
Sins to expiate,
Virtues to acquire,
Hell to avoid,
Heaven to gain,
Eternity to prepare for,
Time to profit by,
Neighbors to edify,
The world to despise,
Devils to combat,
Passions to subdue,
Death perhaps to suffer,
And Judgment to undergo.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Being Catholic

Sometimes I think about Protestants and how they view God. I used to be one, so all I need do is remember. It’s hard to do at times, even though it’s only been about 12 years since I stopped thinking that way. Back then it was all about “me ‘n’ Jesus”.

When I “discovered” Catholicism, all of a sudden my spiritual life seemed…crowded! I was accustomed to thinking of myself praying and talking to God – just me and Him. Then suddenly I was confronted with the reality of saints…of Mary…of angels. I became very aware of their presence and felt a little awkward about it.

Now I feel comforted by the presence and help of the saints. I count on them. I ask their assistance in everything – this saint for that problem, that saint for this problem. And often I end my petitions with, “All you angels and saints, pray for me!”

Some of the posts that I see on Face Book from Christian friends remind me of those lonely days – even though I didn’t think I was lonely at the time! But it is a lonely spiritual life when you are your own authority! My well-meaning Christian friends still think it is their prerogative to interpret Scripture according to their own views. They take a simplistic view of their Christianity, and don’t have the benefit of a couple thousand years of Tradition and reflection by some of the greatest minds that have ever thought about theology! And that means they are not always consistent in the way they apply their religion to their daily lives.

Non-Catholic Christians also lack some very important weapons that are critical for spiritual warfare. They don’t pray the Rosary, for one thing. As a Catholic, I find it hard to imagine trying to combat evil without the Rosary!

And of course, there is the Eucharist – the source and summit of our lives as Christians. How can we fight the good fight without this very necessary sustenance! I feel sorry for my non-Catholic friends who do not understand the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and who never receive Him in the most intimate act of Holy Communion.
This Easter marked the 11th anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church. What a wonderful gift God gave me in calling me to the one true Church!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!