Monday, August 26, 2013

The Joy of Suffering

Psalm 25 (26): 2-3

Proba me, Domine,  et tenta me.
Ure renes meos et cor meum.
Quoniam misericordia tua ante oculos meos est,
Et ambulari in vertate tua.

Examine me, Lord, and try me;
O test my heart and my mind,
For your love is before my eyes
And I walk according to your truth.

The Douay-Rheims translates “ure renes meos et cor meum” as “burn my reins and my heart”, which is clearly a more literal translation. Either way, these verses captured my attention during Vigils the other night. Funny, isn’t it, how you can read the same verses over and over, and different ones make an impression on you at different times?

That night, I read the verses over several times and savored them. I want the Lord to try me, to test my heart and mind; and yet, I always complain when He does! I thought about St. Therese and her willingness to be a Victim Soul. I had a little talk with Our Lady about it. I told Her I am willing to make the same offer, if God desires it. There is a part of me that wants to be a Victim, the way St. Therese was, or the way little Blessed Jacinta was. Sometimes I think I can really understand the joy that St. Therese felt in her suffering.

And yet, if I can imagine joy in that kind of suffering, why can’t I endure the little irritations and inconveniences that confront me on a daily, even hourly, basis?! I ask Blessed Jacinta to help me with that, and try to remember to pray as the children of Fatima did: “Lord Jesus, I offer it for love of you, for the conversion of poor sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Practicing Virtue

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Abba Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it: a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so, we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain.”

This “saying” reminded me that, once upon a time, I had asked my spiritual director how one might go about practicing a particular virtue. He gave me a short, step-by-step approach which I jotted down on a little piece of scratch paper.

Well…I cannot find that little piece of paper, though I know I had kept it in a certain place for a long time. I have looked everywhere I can think of to look. It is nowhere to be found.

I suppose if I’d actually put the steps into practice, I wouldn’t need to find the piece of paper. It would be part of my routine, and I would probably have developed at least a couple of virtues by now. And I could share the steps with you right now.

One problem I had was that I couldn’t decide upon a virtue to practice – and I do recall that that was the first step!
Hmm. I think I have a long, long way to go!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

We Must Die to the World

 St. Robert Bellarmine wrote a famous book, "The Art of Dying Well." Chapter 1 tells us that in order to die well, we first must live well. Chapter 2 is titled, "TO DIE TO THE WORLD." Here is an excerpt:

Now, that we may live well it is necessary, in the first place, that we die to the world before we die in the body. All they who live to the world are dead to God: we cannot in any way begin to live to God, unless we first die to the world. This truth is so plainly revealed in Holy Scripture, that it can be denied by no one but infidels and unbelievers. But, as in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand, I will quote the holy apostles, St. John, St. James, and St. Paul, witnesses the more powerful, because in them the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of Truth) plainly speaketh.

St. John adds also in his Epistle: "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof. But he that doth the will of God abideth for ever."

Let us now hear how St. James speaks in his Epistle: "Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world, becometh an enemy to God."

It is our bounden and serious duty to go forth from the world, not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth: yea, to die to the world, and to exclaim with the Apostle, "The world is crucified to me, and I to the world." This business is no trifling matter, but one of the utmost difficulty and importance:

To live in the world, and to despise the pleasures of the world, is very difficult: to see beautiful objects, and not to love them; to taste sweet things, and not to be delighted with them; to despise honours, to court labours, willingly to occupy the lowest place, to yield the highest to all others in fine, to live in the flesh as if not having flesh…

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Justice and Honor are Lacking

Here are readings 4-6 from Matins for this Sunday, with some thoughts of mine interspersed, and with my highlighting:

Great is the glory of justice. She liveth for others rather than for herself. By her our commonwealth and fellowship are holpen. She holdeth such a pre-eminence that all things are subject unto her judgment. She helpeth others. She giveth wealth. She refuseth not to labour. She taketh upon her the dangers of others. Who would not desire to hold this castle of power and courage, if the covetousness of our first parents had not weakened and distorted the strength of our nerve. But so it is, that, while we are fain to increase wealth, to put by money, to add lands to our possessions, or to make show of our abundance, we put off the image of justice, and lose charity toward our brethren.
How true, that bolded part, especially in today’s culture. Secular society more and more denies God and glorifies self, and because of our weakness and sinfulness due to our fallen human nature, we have “put off the image of justice” – we hardly know what it is anymore! “Justice” becomes a juvenile cry of “that’s not fair!”, and it really means “I didn’t get what I want” – never mind what I deserve! And in that self-centeredness, we “lose charity” toward the rest of the world

How far-spreading is the field of justice appeareth by this, that there is excepted therefrom no place, person, or time, nay, she hath to do even as regards enemies, for if one be agreed with his enemy of a certain place, or day for battle, it should be deemed unjust to fall on him beforehand, at some other place, or time. For it is a very different thing, whether one get the better of another in a hard fight, or by skill, or by accident. If therefore in war justice hath place, how much more is she to be observed in time of peace.

There’s another foreign concept for today: that battle is pre-arranged with one’s enemy and that it would be unjust to then make a surprise attack. Terrorism…etc.

And that last sentence in the paragraph above: if justice has a place in war, how much more should we employ that concept in time of peace! I’m thinking about the peace of the family, or of the parish community, perhaps…maybe even the community of Catholics throughout the United States. There is little justice and many surprise attacks amongst people who call themselves Catholics. Note the recent “attacks” on “rad-trads” or whatever they are calling the tradition-minded faithful Catholics (who are essentially a remnant at this point!).

Honour is the foundation of justice. The thoughts in the hearts of just men are honourable thoughts and when the just man accuseth himself, it is honour that bringeth him to that just deed. Then is his justice made manifest by his honourable avowal. The Lord saith by Isaiah, "Behold, I lay in Zion a foundation-stone" xxviii. 16, that is to say, He giveth Christ unto the Church to be her foundation. Christ is the true honour for all men, and the Church is as it were a figure of justice, being a commonwealth wherein all have rights, and which worketh as one, and suffereth as one. Whosoever denieth himself, the same is just, and worthy of Christ. Therefore also Paul saith " Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ " ( I Cor. iii. 11 ), and upon that foundation is it, that every building of justice must be raised. For the spirit of Christ is the true spirit of honour which is the foundation whereon justice resteth.

Honor. Justice. Sadly lacking in today’s world.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, August 12, 2013

We Are Weaker Now

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

[Abba Anthony] also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.

That seems oh-so-true to me. We are weaker, in many ways. We are weaker in terms of ability to endure physical hardship, because modern society has so many conveniences – and has for a long time. I get freaked out when I see a big spider on the wall, for heaven’s sake! And don’t we all complain about minor inconveniences that people of the past took for granted?

Spiritually, we are weaker, too. One thing we do very poorly is wait. Ours is a fast-food mentality where we expect everything to be served “our way” and in short order! Of course there are other weaknesses. Many Catholics seem to have lost sight of our end purpose, which is to be happy with God in Heaven…not on earth. And many have lost sight of the fact that we are not guaranteed Heaven, and that we have to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”.

Here’s another nugget from St. Anthony:

Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”

Well, it seems to me that time is upon us! “Gay marriage” is becoming a norm, a “right”. That will inevitably lead to society giving similar “rights” to people who want to have sex with children, with family members, and even with animals. It’s happening now. The slippery slope seems to have ended, and we are now in the abyss.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hold Nothing Back

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Abba Anthony. When he told him this, the old man said to him, “If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like theat.”

The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.”

How difficult it is to give up everything…isn’t it? I wonder if any do so today. Those in some religious communities may do so, but they still have the security of the monastery, do they not? For the most part, they will be fed and clothed and sheltered, though of course such physical comforts could fail.

But what about hermits? Are there any hermits like St. Anthony and the desert fathers these days? I wonder. We are very much used to “security” in this culture. Many (most?) would think it imprudent to give up everything… 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prayer and Penance for the Conversion of the Clergy

Our Church leaders need help – the help of prayer, of course.

I don’t think a “grass roots” movement can restore the Church to health. It will take leadership from the top down, because many among the laity simply do not know any better. Many priests, I fear, are in the same boat, but it is their responsibility to know better. At least, I think it is! They are our teachers and shepherds; for the sake of their own souls, they had better be teaching the right things.

I ask myself what I can do in terms of prayer for the conversion of the wayward shepherds, and what I can do in terms of penance and reparation for the sins of commission and omission which have led the laity astray. I could fast for a week! I could pray three novenas at the same time! I could find just the right prayer for priests and bishops! But I do pray the Divine Office, and that is an act that has merit, too...I must remember that, and ask God's grace to pray it with every increasing attention, reverence, and devotion.

But in the end, I keep coming back to St. Therese’s “little way”. I am probably not capable of some “big” penitential act that is ongoing and heroic. But I am capable of offering little sacrifices each day that perhaps will contribute to the salvation of souls. I am also reminded of the three Fatima children; Our Lady told them to make sacrifices, and they did, in their own child-like ways. Well, some of their ways were not so very child-like – they were pretty heroic at times, I think.

In particular I think of little Blessed Jacinta, and her understanding that little acts of sacrifice and penance would make a difference, because Our Lady had said they were necessary.

So I will keep doing what I am doing, but ever have in my mind that bishops and priests (and of course the Holy Father!) always need our prayers and penances. I can only resolve daily to do a better job of enduring and even accepting the little inconveniences and discomforts and irritations of my life, in order to offer them for the love of God, for the conversion of poor sinners (including the clergy), and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.