Monday, September 30, 2013

St. Charbel and the Contemplative Life

From One of the Greatest Saints of Our Time: St. Charbel Makhlouf:

Father Charbel was thirty-six years old when he went to see his Prior one day and said, “As a grace, Father, I ask you to forbid me to have any contact with the outside. I would rather not see anything anymore, nor hear anything anymore, except for God’s voice.”

Father Albani answered, “Contemplation is something which pleases the Lord, but one must not forget others.”

“I think only of others, Father. I have asked God that the force of my prayers not serve myself, but my neighbor.” (p. 45)

I recall also that in The Cloud of Unknowing it says that in the contemplative work of the spirit,

…Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you many not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. (p. 48)

The contemplative life…

They Who Go Away for God's Sake

From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

It was said of Abba Agathon that he spent a long time building a cell with his disciples.
At last when it was finished, they came to live there. Seeing something during the first week which seemed to him harmful, he said to his disciples, “Get up, let us leave this place.”

But they were dismayed and replied, “If you had already decided to move, why have we taken so much trouble building the cell? People will be scandalized at us, and will say, ‘Look at them, moving again; what unstable people!’”

He saw they were held back by timidity and so he said to them, “If some are scandalized, others, on the contrary, will be much edified and will say, ‘How blessed are they who go away for God’s sake, having no other care.’ However, let him who wants to come, come; as for me, I am going.” Then they prostrated themselves to the ground and besought him to allow them to go with him.

Once, before I was Catholic, I was counseling a high school girl. She had been raised Catholic in her early years, but divorce and various family circumstances had led her away from the Church. She had become involved with a Pentecostal church, and of course, since I was a “Pentecostal” myself, I encouraged her.

When I finally saw the truth of the Catholic Church, and began the RCIA process, I talked to her again. I encouraged her to come back to the Catholic Church, and tried to explain what was wrong with the views of her Pentecostal community. She became angry and accused me of jumping from one “religion” to another; she saw me as “unstable” because I was converting from Protestantism to Catholicism.

So I see Abba Agathon’s point quite well. Something was wrong with the Pentecostal community where I had been worshiping God (or was I worshiping the music and myself?!), and so I left. I know some people were scandalized – “Look at her! Moving again! She’s unstable!” And yet, in the years since my conversion, I have known a few people who were edified by my conversion story. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Death of a Child

A 5-year-old child died in our community yesterday. He was attacked by a dog – a family pet, no less. It was a horrible death, one that is reverberating through our little town.

I can’t imagine the terror of the little boy; or the horror and grief of his parents and relatives; or the horror and terror of the two children who witnessed the attack.

I can’t imagine the guilt and grief of the woman who owned the dog. She had children of her own – four, I think – so she surely was not expecting that the dog would turn on anyone else’s child.

And I find myself wondering if the child was baptized. Even if not, he was below the age of reason, and so there is a place for him close to God with other unbaptized children who die.

For many tragedies, I can philosophize a bit about what good might come of the event. I can remember that God has a plan, and whatever the tragedy might be, it is part of that plan; it is something that God allowed. I must admit, though, that this one is tough for me. It is hard to see good coming from it. It is hard to fathom why God would allow an innocent little child to die in the jaws of a dog. And yet, He did just that.

Of course, He is God, and so there is no reason why I should be able to fathom His ways.

Besides, in the midst of it, what keeps coming back to my mind is the fact that every single day, thousands of little unborn babies have their limbs ripped off, and suffer death – not in the grip of some frenzied animal, but at the hands of a human being who has been explicitly hired by the mother (or some other person) to do that horrible deed. And while many people are horrified by the death of the little boy who died in the dog attack, many still think abortion is okay, no big deal, the "right" of the mother.

God allows abortion, I guess, because he allows us to have free will. And free will means being able to choose to do the wicked, evil deeds over the good ones. Death by any accident – dog attack, car wreck, drowning – also often involves a choice, I suppose…whether to keep a pit bull as a pet, whether to drive a little too fast, whether to let your child go in the water without a life vest…whatever. And with accidents, sometimes it does seem like all the right choices were made, and the tragedy still occurred.

In reality, there is not much difference between death by dog and death by abortion, in the sense of the horribleness of each. Both are equally horrific. Death by abortion happens much more often, of course.  And it’s an active “choice”, not an accident, like the dog attack.

I weep for them all.

The world…sin…redemption. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son to save us.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thoughts on Reading About St. Charbel

I bought this little book after I watched a movie about St. Charbel that is available on Youtube.

One story mentioned in the book is this: after his ordination to the priesthood, Charbel’s family wanted him to come and visit them one more time. He declined to do so, saying, “The religious who visits his parents and stays with them after his ordination has to start becoming a monk all over again.”

That may seem extreme, but the author of the book points out that Charbel was deeply influenced by the Imitation of Christ, where it is written that

“The monk who leaves his monastery is like a fish out of water; he dies.”

“I have never been among men without returning less of a man.”

The author goes on to note that:

This unnecessary return to the world which, according to the Imitation, renders one imperfect, constituted for Charbel a lack of sincerity in the seeking out of God, and a step backwards.

I myself have thought quite a bit recently about the implications of leaving one’s family – completely – in order to commit oneself to the eremitic life. The reality of it is staggering, in my view.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Te Lucis Ante Terminum

This is not the same version of Te Lucis that I sing when praying Compline in my chapel; it is the version in my little monastic breviary, however. The difference is in the second stanza:

 Te lucis ante terminum,
rerum Creator, poscimus,
ut solita clementia,
sis praesul ad custodiam.

Procul recedant somnia,
et noctium phantasmata:
hostemque nostrum comprime,
ne polluantur corpora.

Praesta, Pater omnipotens,
per Iesum Christum Dominum,
qui tecum in perpetuum
regnat cum Sancto Spiritu. Amen.

Here’s an English version; the English never quite matches up literally with the Latin, since they are trying to put it into words that fit into the melody.

To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That, with thy wonted favour, thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Withhold from us our ghostly foe,
That spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally. Amen

In The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, by Rev. Matthew Britt, this translation of the second stanza is presented:

From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
From nightly fears and fantasies;
Tread under foot our ghostly foe,
That no pollution we many know.

And in the same book, this further translation and explanation is offered:

“Far off let dreams and phantoms of the night depart; restrain Thou our adversary lest our bodies become defiled.” Somnia, foul dreams; phantasmata (phantasma, atis), delusions. Both words convey with them the additional idea of uncleanness. In Mr. C. Kent’s translation, they are rendered by “evil dreams” and “fancies with voluptuous guile”. Hostem, the devil, the great adversary of man. In the beginning of Compline we are cautioned to be vigilant, for our “adversary, the devil, goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1Peter 5, 8). [p. 39]

I like this version with its various translations. It has been my experience that the demons do, of course, want to attack us in our sleep, and “foul dreams” and “delusions” are ways they can and will do that. So praying the words of this little hymn holds a great attraction for me. It helps me to realize the protection I am offered through Our Lord, and it prepares my mind, I think, to defend itself against the wiles of the demons even when I am sleeping.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ember Wednesday: Fast and Pray

Today is Ember Wednesday. I was particularly struck by the reading of the third nocturne at vigils.

From a homily of St. Bede the Venerable:

Jesus told the disciples, “This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.”

While teaching the Apostles how the prince of devils must be driven out, He gives us all a lesson for life. It is this: we must realize that the worst temptations and trials, whether brought by evil spirits or by men, can all be overcome by praying and fasting. Moreover, these serve us as singular means for making atonement when God’s just anger has been stirred up by our sins.

Now fasting, in a sider sense, means more than restrictions on food. It means keeping all the allurements of the flesh at a distance; indeed, keeping oneself from every sinful passion. Likewise, prayer, in a wider sense, must consist of more than mere words beseeching God’s mercy; it embraces everything we do with a dedicated spirit of faith in the service of our Creator.

Now, I know that my own sins are egregious enough, and I pray and fast and do penance for them. But I also know that there are bishops whose sins are even more egregious because they affect the faithful under their care. I read that, after his mother congratulated him on his appointment as Bishop of Mantua, St. Pius X told her: "Mother, you do not realize what it means to be a bishop. I shall lose my soul if I neglect my duty.”

So obviously we need to pray for our bishops. And that’s what I was thinking about as I read that lesson from the Divine Office. We can overcome the wrongdoing of bishops by prayer and fasting, and we can make atonement for their sins as well.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Bird in the Hand

The dogs found a little bird in the yard the other day. It didn’t seem able to fly. I don’t know whether it was a just-out-of-the-nest baby, or whether it had some defect. It didn’t really look like a newbie.

Anyway, I called the dogs off, and tried to help the little thing get out of harm’s way. We have a yard and a pasture, separated by a fence. I wanted the bird to go away from both, but instead, it sought to creep through the fence from the yard into the pasture.

That was bad enough, but then it got stuck. The fence actually has chicken wire attached, and the even this little bird was a little to large to get through the holes in the mesh.

I put on my garden gloves and tried to move it one way or the other, but it wouldn’t budge. Then I got my wire cutters and made the hole a little larger; the bird forged on through. Since it couldn’t fly, it was fairly easy to capture in my gloved hands, and I set it in a safe area where at least the dogs wouldn’t find it. I can’t vouch for its safety from cats and birds of prey, though.

There’s a lesson in this. Perhaps you can figure it out. If you do, let me know, because I’m not sure what it is!

But just imagine: someday perhaps there will be stories about Amma Photini (me).

A sister came to Amma Photini and said, “My sister is in a quandary, and can’t decide which side of the fence to be on. What should I tell her?”

Abba Photini answered, “Is it right that the dogs should bother a little bird that cannot fly? Better to have a bird in the hand by the aid of wire-cutters than to have two dogs in the bushes.”

I think maybe that’s exactly how some of those “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” came to be! (You know – the obscure ones that leave you shaking your head…).

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Death and Judgment

Today, of course, is the anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.

I remember that day…the horror I felt then, and the horror I felt when I saw photos of people jumping out of the towers in order to escape the death of the flames and explosion on the inside – only to meet their death on the pavement below.

In the last few years, becoming more aware of the Catholic view of sin and death and eternity, I think more about the state of those souls at the moment of their deaths. How many were not in a state of grace? How many had committed unconfessed mortal sins? How many were Catholic? How many had been baptized?

The death they met was horrific, but what awaited each one at the moment of judgment before God?

I guess I think about death a lot – not just my own, but others’. For instance, recently, I was listening to family members discuss a hostage situation in which the perpetrator killed himself before being taken into custody. They made rather callous comments about how much money that would save the taxpayers in the cost of imprisoning the man and bringing him to trial, along with the multitude of appeals that would ensue when he was found guilty. But all I could think of was the fact that he had committed horrible sins before his death, and his suicide was one more to add to the list. Is he in hell? Did he have a conversion of heart as he was dying? God’s mercy is infinite…

Then there was the man who kidnapped and held prisoner those young women – for 10 years. Sexual abuse, physical abuse… And he hung himself in his prison cell. I felt sad about that, too, even though I know the crimes he committed against those women (and their unborn babies) were inexcusable, in human terms. But did his suicide mean he had come to some realization of how bad those sins were? Of course we can’t know that. And we can despise his crimes, but we cannot ignore his soul! Lord, have mercy.
Finally, on this day of remembering thousands of deaths, I saw this observation made on Face Book:

Which is a greater (and more valid) tragedy? The 3K killed by terrorists on 9/11 or the 3K babies we killed ourselves on that same day? I don't wish to downplay the one, but neither can I downplay the other.”

Yes, I agree with that sentiment. While we don’t know the state of the souls of the 9/11 victims, we do know that those aborted babies were completely innocent. But because of the stain of original sin, and the fact that they could not have been baptized, we know that those unborn babies are not in Heaven. They enjoy perfect natural happiness with God, though, and that is no small gain. Still, it is heartbreaking to think of those little unborn souls who never saw the light of day on September 11, 2001…and the thousands that die in the same way every day of the year.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Soul in Solitude

I often wish I could live in solitude! Some years ago, I found this quote and thought it would serve as a good reminder to me that true solitude does not always depend on “being alone”. The bolding is mine:

My daughter, is it not true that you find very much pleasure in solitude? And furthermore, was not every day a feast day for you during those first years you spent in the cloister, when you were given no exterior work to perform? ...I want you to imitate My industriousness. I came to earth not to be served but to serve! …My daughter, you at times complain that you cannot live a life of solitude because of your many occupations, but tell me, do you know what a solitary soul really is? Behold, a soul in solitude is one that has become mistress of her passions. Therefore, such a soul continually sacrifices her self-will and in obediently attending to the various occupations imposed on her by means of her office, she lives the life of a true solitary, and in a certain way begins to share in the very solitude of God Himself, by living according to His Holy Will.” …And on the contrary, although a soul is sheltered in the stillness of a retreat, yet she does not deserve to be called a soul in solitude if she is distracted by the noise of her own passions and seeks self satisfaction in doing her own will. Know and remember, therefore that self-will is the nurse of the passions.
[From The Golden Arrow by Sr. Mary of St. Peter]

The little slip of paper on which I had printed out this excerpt fell into my hands yesterday even as I was expressing to God my desire to live a life of silence and solitude. This has happened at other times, and has been a help to me – a reminder to dutifully perform the “various occupations” required in my vocation of wife and mother. It is also a reminder that solitude must be experienced above all in one’s heart and mind if it is to be “real”.

But this time, while I paused to think it over, I did not completely dismiss my desire for solitude. My life has changed over the years; I no longer have children to care for. My husband and I have our separate ways of passing the day, but are of course available to each other when one or the other of us seeks out the other’s company. He is accepting of my times of prayer, and I am accepting of the pastimes that occupy his hours.

And so, it seems an appropriate time in my life to seek more solitude. Believe me, solitude is still difficult to find here at my house, and I am not on a perpetual “retreat” by any means. Still, there are things I can do to facilitate long periods of prayer and meditation.

My spiritual director once told me that people did not go to a monastery because they were contemplatives; they went to the monastery to become contemplatives. My own private “monastery” is calling to me, to become more contemplative, I think. The biggest lesson, the biggest hurdle, will be overcoming “the noise of my own passions”. I am very much aware of that noise, but I think I have begun to control the volume a bit.

“A soul in solitude is one that has become mistress of her passions.” I hope that arranging to live a life that includes more silence and solitude, and by seeking to master my passions, I will continue along that path to becoming a soul in solitude.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Talk Too Much

Yes, I talk too much. And that really is difficult to do when you see as few people as I do!

By “talk” I include “write”, as well – I use too many words. I give verbal answers that are too long, I write too many emails, and I spend too much time agonizing over word choice on blog posts.

You know you talk too much when your husband walks away in the middle of your sentence.

You know you talk too much when someone actually tells you that! For instance, the person asks you a question, you ramble on with your answer, and then the person says, “Okay…that was more than I needed to know.”

After watching the video about St. Sharbel that I posted the other day, and after reading a bit about him, I have determined that I should try to say less. It can only be for the best!

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

St. Charbel

I stumbled upon this movie about St. Charbel on YouTube. I found it very edifying!

I knew of St. Charbel before seeing the movie, but did not really know too much about his life. I knew that he was a monk/hermit/priest; such a combination is not common!

Here's the video:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thy Will Be Done

Teach me the way I should go...
I was fixated on this verse the other morning.

Psalm 143 (142):8
Auditam fac mihi mane misericordiam tuam,
quia in te speravi.
Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ambulem,
quia ad te levavi animam meam.

Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Sometimes I think: Lord, if you would just let me know what you want me to do… When I start thinking like that, though, the demons get to work, stirring up dissatisfaction with my own current “status quo”.

I am learning, slowly but surely, to just turn to the Lord, tell him my deepest secret desires (as if he didn’t know them already!), and then say, “But your will, not mine, be done.”

 Still, I am human, and this is a difficult task!

 Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!