Does God Really Speak?

mountain bounty by jeremy cram

Photo credit to Jeremy Cram

 


It is only meaningful to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him if he speaks.


Does God really speak to us? Are there not many people who, instead of hearing God speak, feel they are encountering absolute silence? And among those who do hear him speak, are there not a good many who are merely hearing themselves, their own thoughts and fantasies?

There are people who, no matter what they do, feel affirmed by God. If they have success, it is clear that God is with them and blessing their plans. If they have opposition, it is even more clear that they are doing right. Everything that comes from God should be marked by the Cross, they say. Did not Jesus himself fail . . . ?

Are you hearing your own voice or the voice of God? Is it you who are speaking to yourself, or are you listening to God speaking to you? Perhaps the question is not nuanced enough. It need not be a question of either/or. God can speak through your own self. And that is usually what he does, provided that you stand before him in all honesty and live from the basic attitude of wanting to do his will. As soon as you want to listen to the Holy Spirit, he becomes active in you, for no one can begin to listen to God on his own initiative. The will to listen is already a work of the Holy Spirit. “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16), so the Spirit speaks together with our spirit about what God’s will is. The Spirit uses our deep, true self to make understand what God wills.

I am often asked the question: “Does God want me to enter a monastery?” My immediate reply is: Do you want it? Do you have the desire to enter a monastery, not only with a theoretical, abstract desire, but are you drawn there, do you believe you will be happy and find your home there? If you truly want it, it is likely that God wants it also, that he wills it through you. Then it remains to be seen if you have the necessary qualities of physical and psychological health, common sense, and a certain spiritual maturity, and if the religious community to which you are drawn wishes to accept you. A vocation consists mainly of these three elements:
(1) a personal desire; (2) the capacity to live the life; (3) a religious community that opens its doors to you.

God seldom speaks directly with audible, perceptible words. He speaks, for the most part, indirectly, via your own deep, truth-seeking will. I say “deep” will. For alongside the deep will there are many superficial “wills” , namely, all the small opposing desires that often drown out the deep will.

God also speaks through events, circumstances, encounters with other people, and through books. Much of what is happening around you contains a secret message from God. It is a question of deciphering and interpreting it. In everything that happens, you can gradually learn to recognize a You. The impersonal becomes personal. Apparently random events become personal messages from God.

God speaks uninterruptedly. He instructs, encourages, challenges, and comforts. He truly walks in our garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:8). Yes, our life becomes again something of a paradise when we continually meet God.

If we read the Bible, it is, among other things, to learn this fact: that God is constantly speaking to us. “And God spoke to Moses and said. . . ” How often we read that phrase! It does not mean, of course, that Moses constantly heard God’s voice. But he was so in harmony with God, so completely on the same wave-length, that he thought the same thoughts as God. For the most part, we deserve this mild reproach from God: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Is 55:8). But that can change! We can come to the point where we think God’s thoughts, where God thinks with our understanding and loves with our heart.

We can eventually receive “the mind of Christ” (see Phil 2:5) and, like him, encounter the Father in all things. When he admired the lilies of the field and saw how the birds were fed without sowing or reaping, he saw in this the Father’s love and care (Mt 6:26-29).
When he heard talk of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam (Lk 13:4-5), he saw it as a call to conversion. In everything he met a You.

It would be wise to take few minutes each day to examine one’s conscience and ask oneself: What has God wanted to teach me today? Where have I encountered him, or where should I have encountered him?

If you object that one should consider one’s sins during the examination of conscience, I can answer that this is one of our greatest sins: that we do not recognize God, who walks in our garden.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

Your Spiritual Director

 


Many complain and lament that they have not succeeded in finding a spiritual director. But it is the Holy Spirit who is our spiritual director, and apart from him no one else is.


 

Holy Spirit art by Ladislav Zaborsky

The Paraclete, art by Ladislav Záborský

 

Director and “Companion”

These directors {says Saint John of the Cross} should reflect that they themselves are not the chief agent, guide, and mover of souls in this matter, but that the principal guide is the Holy Spirit, Who is never neglectful of souls, and that they are instruments for directing them to perfection through faith and the law of God, according to the spirit God gives each one.

Thus the director’s whole concern should not be to accommodate souls to his own method and condition, but he should observe the road along which God is leading them, and if he does not recognize it, he should leave them alone and not bother them.
It would be more correct to speak of a spiritual “companion”. His task is not to lead—that is the work of the Holy Spirit—but rather to accompany the person who has confided in him and help him listen to the Spirit and recognize his impulses. It is truly a difficult task, and it demands much self-denial on the part of the spiritual “companion”. It is tempting to think that one’s won path will be suitable for others and that the methods that have been helpful on one’s own life will also be helpful to others. But this is not so. What is helpful for one may be harmful to another.

For this reason, the “companion” finds himself in a very delicate position and can feel extremely poor. There are no ready-made ideas or recipes on which to fall back. When  he goes to the confessional or the visiting room, he ought to be completely empty. He knows nothing except this: that now it is a question of listening attentively to what the Spirit wants with just this person.

True Freedom: To Be Bound by the Spirit

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”, writes Saint Paul (Rom 8:14). One is not living as a child of God if he does not allow himself to be led by the Spirit.

Perhaps this is difficult  to understand in our day when freedom and liberty are spoken of so ardently. And rightly so! Even the Second Vatican Council speaks enthusiastically about man’s freedom:

For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,” so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure.

True freedom does not exclude the fact that one is led by another. The decisive question is: By whom or by what are we led? Are we led by blind impulses, or are we led from within, from a level that lies even deeper than what we usually call the unconscious? “The soul’s center is God”, writes Saint John of the Cross. No one is so truly himself, no one lives so authentically, genuinely, and freely as the one who lets himself be led by God, who lives in the center of the soul. To live from one’s center is the greatest freedom.

A Wholehearted Yes

If the Holy Spirit is your director, then it is up to you to let yourself be led, to say Yes to his inspirations.
In connection with this Yes, I would like to point out three things.

1. It is important that your Yes be wholehearted. If every time you say Yes, you add many “Buts’ , and if you have many reservations, you cannot expect the Spirit to lead you where he wills. Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) speaks of a “great and very resolute determination” not to stop before one has reached the goal. In the Bible this is called a “pure” heart. Pure honey is honey that is not mixed with anything else. In the same way, the heart is pure when it does only what it was made to do, namely, love.
Experience teaches us that life becomes easier and simpler when we say a wholehearted Yes to God. We have a need for what is clear and unambiguous and are content with this. To know what one wants and to want what one knows gives rise to a special joy. The opposite gives a particular weariness and repugnance. We all know how it feels when we cannot make a decision, when we continually waver back and forth, and when, after finally deciding, we immediately question what we have decided. Indecision consumes an unbelievable amount of energy.

2. It is good to remember that your actions have a tendency to release a chain reaction, for good or for ill. If you say a wholehearted Yes to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it will be easier to say Yes to him the next moment. If you say No to him now, it will be more difficult to say Yes tomorrow. That is why it is so urgent to come over the threshold and break through the barrier that has been built up by a bad habit. When the first step is taken, everything goes more smoothly.

3. We live more or less in cycles. We are all a bit “cyclothymic”. We often have mild mood swings, also in the spiritual realm. When we discover a new way, such as the way of confidence and trust shown by Saint Thérèse, for example, we become very enthusiastic. We may sail forward for a few days or weeks, but later on the feelings cool down, and we become weary and tired and drag ourselves along. A machine works always in the same way. One can estimate exactly how much it will produce. But a living being has its seasons, its summer and its winter. God does not expect the same from us in the winter as in the summer.
It is extremely liberating to know that God never demands more of us than we can give him. He is always content when we do what we can. The only important thing is that we never give up, that with a holy stubbornness we do what we can.
In practice, our spiritual journey will probably be like the famous procession in Echternach (Luxembourg), where after every third step, one takes a step backward. It goes more slowly, but, nevertheless, one arrives.

~ A Reflection by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.

 

 

 

 

A Reflection: “What Makes You Happy?”

summer at the cottage

Summer days in Canada (photo source unknown)

It’s June and the summer heat is starting to make its presence felt here on this side of the world where I live—my beautiful Canada! All is green and flowers are blooming with beautiful hues and aromas that are so soothing to the senses.

The ducks are back and it’s so sweet to see them out and about walking around with their babies in tow. The warm breeze feels so good and the sunrays are beaming.
Oh, summer how much I like you! You make me happy!

I live close to the lake and I love going for walks by the shore. There is a lot of activity over there—seagulls playfully flying over the calm waters, searching for food. Nature is so alive at this time of the year. Locals peacefully walking their dogs enjoying the nice warm weather. As I sat in one of the benches overlooking the lake, I was overcome with a deep emotion of thanksgiving, my heart full of gratitude. I’m so much in awe admiring all the magnificent art of God’s creation. Indeed, God is an artist!

Every second of summer is precious. It is a season of plenty, especially for the birds. They enjoy it so much singing joyfully and loudly to the Creator. It’s a heavenly melody thanking Him for everything. Am I that grateful? Am I that loving to you, Oh Lord? I pray that I am. Many times I want to shout in joy for the precious gift of being alive and get to appreciate all these marvelous things that God has done for me and for each one of us. I thank you Lord, for this awesome gift. I thank you for this awareness that flows from my heart and allows me to contemplate your grace. Beloved, I thank you for your daily blessings in my life.

Neighbours burning wood in their backyard fire pits brings me great memories of past summers. With the smoke that rises, let it come up to you as incense and let me offer a prayer of thanksgiving and abundant joy for the gift of your presence in my life, beloved Lord. I offer a prayer for peace in the world, for love in man’s heart, for the gift of faith, for healing of body and soul, for strength and patience in tribulation, for perseverance in the way, for the blessing of nurturing a joyful heart and for endless hope for all of your human family.

Fr. Eddie Doherty asks, “What do we need to make us happy?” For me, I wonder: is it a new and bigger house? A new SUV? No debts? A good stable job or a promotion with better salary? A new wardrobe? A savory filet mignon with the most expensive vintage wine? A fancy holiday or the latest model of a mobile phone?

Once I dreamt these things would bring me happiness. What brings me happiness now, though, is experienced through a new set of eyes and a heart that is newly transformed: admiring a beautiful sunrise, a lavender field in full bloom, listening to the birds singing joyfully in the early morning for a new day has come, looking at the different cloud formations in the sky. My tabby cat Ruby lying peacefully next to me.

A shared family meal, filled with laughter and wholesome dishes with local wine and with my favorite home made lemon meringue pie for dessert.

Flowers makes me happy. A bunch of summer bloom flowers my husband brings me without any particular occasion, because really every day is a special occasion.

I love sunsets and the sky full of evening stars. I love my family, my husband and our two lovely daughters. I cherish the time we spent together, enjoying each other’s company. The faces of cheerful friends. And the smile of a stranger, which is really a new friend not yet known—that will make me happy.

I also share the same sentiment as Fr. Eddie. I quote him here:

“I walked leisurely, thinking of your words, thinking of your Son who also loved to walk upon your hills and of his mother Mary. She passed through hilly country as she hurried to Elizabeth, her cousin. Did she too stoop, now and then, because she saw your glory in a stone? I think she did.

I think she also knelt here and there along some road to smell the aroma of your presence in a flower; or to meditate on your concern for even the least of your creatures as she watched the orderly chaos in an ant’s nest; or to thank you for the gracious cool shade of a tree; or to praise you for the color of your sky and the contour and the texture and the splendor of your clouds.”

Dear God, I give you thanks and praise you for the beauty of this season and every season. For all your creation has a mark of your love for us ❤

Pax et Bonum!

 

~ My Reflection is inspired by Fr. Eddie Doherty’s piece “What Makes You Happy?” in his book I Cover God (1962) currently out of print.


Here I share some photos I took during the month of May and early June this year:

 

sun at the lake

“I can’t find words to express my happiness. Here there is no longer anything but God. He is All; He suffices and we live by Him alone.”
~ St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, O.C.D. 

 

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“Just as the sun shines on all the trees and flowers as if each were the only one on earth, so does God care for all souls in a special manner.”
~ St. Thérèse de Lisieux, O.C.D.

 

sun at the lake16
“God’s Providence is in all things, it’s always present.” ~ Saint Gianna Beretta Molla

 

sun at the lake6

“If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.”
~ St. Thérèse de Lisieux, O.C.D.

 

sun at the lake7

“If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” ~ St. Thérèse de Lisieux, O.C.D.

 

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“How I’d love to show you the lovely infinite horizon beyond creation that I experience and contemplate. I love God now a thousand times more than I did before…He reveals and makes Himself known to souls that really seek to know and love Him. Everything on earth…seems to shrink, to lose value before the Divinity which, like an infinite Sun, continues to shine upon my miserable soul with its rays.”
~ St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes, O.C.D.

 

sun at the lake13

“Enjoy Nature: take a walk, study a leaf, smell a flower, enjoy a sunset, ravish God’s natural beauty.”  (Quote from Carmelite Conversations-OCDS)

 

ruby and roses

And this is Rubyshe likes to smell the roses too!

 

Sainte Bernadette de Lourdes

 

Bernadette de Lourdes

Bernadette in Ecstasy


“The artist affirmed that this portrait was drawn during one of Bernadette’s ecstasies. While the drawing bears little resemblance to the photographs of Bernadette, the expression is clearly one of rapture. Indeed, it might have been the rapture itself that made capturing the details of Bernadette’s face difficult. The drawing bears no signature but only these words of dedication: “To the Countess of Geoffre, Lecomte du Noüy.” It was given to the Museum of Bernadette at Nevers, by the Count de Certaines.” *
* An excerpt from the book: Lourdes, Font of Faith, Hope and Charity by Elizabeth Ficocelli.


Today the Church commemorates the feast of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, visionary of Lourdes, whose visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858 paved the way for the worldwide devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. A devotion that is very close to my heart.
St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI. The little town of Lourdes became the site of pilgrimages, attracting millions of faithful Catholics every year. Astonishing healings began almost immediately in the miraculous water at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

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Relics of St. Bernadette, Crypt Church, Lourdes, France ~ Photo taken by me

Last summer I travelled to Lourdes, France and visited the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes. It was on my bucket list for a very long time. I’m so grateful that the opportunity came my way and I took it without thinking much. It was a trip filled with so many graces.
For us Carmelites, Lourdes is a very important place in the history of the apparitions.

“The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes occupies a spiritually significant site. The 18th and final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette Soubirous took place on July 16th, 1858, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. At that time the civil authorities in Lourdes had prohibitted access to Massabielle Grotto, and so instead Bernadette saw Our Lady from ‘La Ribère’, the slope overlooking the cave from the other side of the River Gave.

Despite being physically far away, the encounter between Bernadette and Our Lady was more intimate than ever. Bernadette said that on this occasion Our Lady, who appeared in silence, smiled and looked “more beautiful than ever”. One of the ancient titles under which the Carmelite Order reveres Mary is “Beauty of Carmel”.

Since that day in 1858, the site of ‘La Ribère’ has been of particular significance, linking the ‘Message of Lourdes’ and the spirituality of Carmel.

The site where Bernadette prayed on her knees before Our Lady on July 16th is now in the garden of the Carmelite Monastery. The nuns consider it their vocation to continue Bernadette’s prayer, and to pray for the millions of pilgrims who come to Lourdes today. The Grotto of Massabielle which the Carmel overlooks is reminiscent of the cave where the prophet Saint Elijah, spiritual Father of Carmelites, burned with zeal for the Lord.

When considering her vocation to the religious life, Bernadette Soubirous had wanted to join the Carmelite Order, but was told that her poor health precluded this possibility. There was no Carmel in Lourdes at the time of the apparitions.

The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes was founded 18 years after the apparitions on 16th July 1876 by nuns from the Carmel of Tulle in central France. The Mother Foundress, coming to Lourdes to find a suitable site for the future monastery, was very attracted by the land facing the Grotto on the other side of the River Gave. However, the terrain was on a narrow band of rock where any construction would be very difficult. Despite its proximity to the Grotto, previous visitors to the site had decided against anything being built there. The Mother Foundress had the idea of transporting soil to even out the level of the slope. This idea was accepted by the building contractors, and so the Monastery was built in a very privileged location overlooking the Grotto.

In the years following the foundation, the number of vocations grew considerably. The community swelled to such a size that in 1893 a number of sisters went to found a Carmel at Le Havre in northern France.” *

*Retrieved from The British Province of Carmelite Friars website: http://www.laycarmel.org/index.php?nuc=content&id=367

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The final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette, depicted in the ‘Gemmail’ style of layered stained glass typically found in Lourdes.


Prayer of St. Bernadette

Dearest Mother, how happy was my soul
those heavenly moments when I gaze upon you.
How I love to remember those sweet moments
spent in your presence,
your eyes filled with kindness and mercy for us!
Yes, dear Mother, your heart is so full of love for us
that you came down to earth to appear to a poor,
weak child
and conveyed certain things to her
despite her great unworthiness.
How humbled she is.
You, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, chose to use
what is weakest in the eyes of men.
O Mary, give the precious virtue of humility
to she who dares to call herself your child.
O Loving Mother, help your child resemble you
in everything and in every way.
In a word, grant that I may be a child
according to your heart and the heart of your dear Son.

~ Bernadette, 1866

Note: This prayer is from Bernadette’s journal, dedicated to the Queen of Heaven and written during her days as a member of the Sisters of Nevers. This is not the personal prayer that Bernadette received during the fifth apparition.”

 

lourdes6

The Statue in the niche where Bernadette first saw Our Lady, photo taken by me

 

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The Rosary Basilica and Rosary Square and the crowned statue of Mary in the Esplanade, photo taken by me during the candlelight procession.

 

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Votive candles burn continually in the grotto area…Praying for all the sick and suffering. Photo taken by me.

 

 Courage my soul, through prayer we can do all that is asked of us.
The heart of Jesus is there, let us knock!
~ St. Bernadette Soubirous

 

 

Grace Given

awakenedheart

Awakened Heart, art by Janice Van Cronkhite

You drench me in your blessedness—
pressed down, compacted, flowing over,
till here I am, a child caught in a storm of love,
saturated with these discarnate ecstasies.

Your ways are masterful. Your generosity,
now captive in my starveling heart, loads me
with luxurious garments, crown and jewels—
treasures gained by you in times long past,
and yet enduring into our eternal now.

You are willing captive to my abject,
but trustingly prosaic, homeliness.

Where do we go from here?
Into some fastness of delight and fortitude,
a refuge for those wanderers, besotted by your love?

I cannot conceive (nor do I try)
what you have in store for me, but rest
in faith’s patient hope, and love’s fierce faith.

It is you who taught me how to love—
assiduous, recklessly adventurous
and all the while imprisoned deep
within your mighty stronghold of a heart.

 

~ A poem by Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S.