The Appropriateness of our Behavior

 

Christ and his disciples art by Odilon Redon
Christ and the disciples, art by Odilon Redon

 

 

Matthew 9: 14-16


John the Baptist’s disciples approach Jesus with the objection, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus responds that it is not appropriate for his disciples to fast while he is still among them.


 

Today’s gospel seems to focus on fasting, but it concerns itself more with two other issues. First, why do we engage in any particular behavior? Second, is the behavior appropriate? Let us take each issue in turn.

Why do we engage in any particular behavior?
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but your disciples do not fast?” This is not a question but a criticism that smolders with anger. Ask yourself this question. Why would you be angry with people who do not practice a form of asceticism that you do, since their choice has no negative consequences in your life? It neither imposes upon you nor deprives you of anything. So why be angry?

One possible answer is that when we feel forced to do something that we really don’t want to do, we envy others who are not burdened by the false sense of obligation that weighs us down. This is akin to workaholics who resent people who are not driven. In their hearts, they condemn the less-driven as lazy and irresponsible. But in truth, workaholics are envious. They cannot relax without feeling guilty or feeling afraid of having their image as indefatigable workers tarnished. Likewise, some people engage in spiritual devotions simply because someone else has recommended them highly. They do not want to lose the esteem of these people, so they bind themselves to devotions that do not fit the unique contours of their souls.

All of us are unique and must follow our own path. When Saint Thérèse was novice mistress, she described working with her novices in this fashion: “It is absolutely necessary to forget one’s likings, one’s personal conceptions, and to guide souls along the road which Jesus has traced out for them without trying to make them walk my own path…. There are really more differences among souls than there are among faces” (238-40).

In the same vein, Abbé de Tourville wrote, “Thomas Aquinas says that the angels differ as much from one another as if they belonged to different species. This is equally true of each one of us…. One of the hardest but one of the most absolutely necessary things is to follow our own particular line of development, side by side with souls who have a different one; often one opposed to our own… We must be ourselves and not try to get inside someone else’s skin. David could have done nothing in the armor of Saul; he refuse it and ran to fetch his sling…. We must follow our own light as though we were alone in the world … we must never be deflected from our own path” (26-28).

The Appropriateness of our Behavior
“The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” It is neither appropriate nor proper to fast at a wedding. To do so not only would indicate inordinate attachment to one’s ascetical practice, but would also be rude. Thomas Aquinas asks whether a lack of mirth can be sinful. His response is, “Yes.” Thomas writes that such a person becomes “burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment … they are boorish and rude” (II, II, Q. 168, art. 4).

The appropriateness of our behavior is a matter of charity, as this story from the desert illustrates. “Once two brethren came to a certain elder whose practice it was to eat every other day. But when he saw the brethren, he joyfully invited them to dine with him, saying: ‘Fasting has its reward, but he who eats out of charity fulfils two commandments, for he sets aside his own will and he refreshes his hungry brethren’ ” (Merton 77).

The appropriateness of when, where, and how we exercise any ascetical practice or virtue is important in the spiritual life. Francis de Sales wrote, “To insist on performing acts of a particular chosen virtue on every possible occasion is a great defect, as in the case of certain ancient philosophers who wished to be always weeping or always laughing; and still worse, to criticize and blame those who do not do the same. But Saint Paul says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with the mourners’ ” (85).

 

~ A Meditation by March Foley, O.C.D.

 

 

Ash Wednesday

 

Ash Wednesday art by jaki kaufman
Art by Jaki Kaufman

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Jesus commends us to fast, to pray, and to give alms but cautions us not to perform these actions for the sake of acquiring a reputation for holiness.


 

In T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas à Becket is accosted by a temptation to martyrdom, that is, to win fame and glory by his death. When he realizes the nature of the temptation, he exclaims, “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason… A Servant of God has a chance of greater sin and sorrow, than the man who serves a king. For those who serve them” (44-45). Becket’s words go to the heart of today’s gospel. Giving alms, prayer, and fasting, all good deeds, may be done for the wrong reason. Acts meant to serve God may also serve our egos.

Deeds that serve God differ from those that serve our egos because of the motive that underlies them. As John Chrysostom comments upon today’s gospel, “Since even if you should enter into your closet, and having shut the door, should do it for display, the doors will do you no good” (“Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew” 132). We can draw as much attention to ourselves by standing in a corner as by basking in the limelight. In this regard, Jerome warns us, “Don’t seek the fame of avoiding fame. Many who avoid having witnesses of their poverty, their tenderness of heart, their fasting, desire to win approval for the fact that they despise approval” (160-61). The motive out of which our choices arise is all-important because it determines the nature of our actions. If we give alms in order to be known to be generous, then our action is not a deed of generosity but of pride.

It matters little what we pride ourselves in because the lure of pride does not lie in the object of our pursuit but the distinction that it confers upon us. But, ultimately, the distinction that pride bestows betrays those who practice it. For whenever our pretense has evoked the praise of others, we become enslaved to the admiring audience that we have created. The Greek word translated in today’s gospel as hypocrite (hypokrites, meaning actor) is instructive in this regard. Every actor knows that he is only as good as his last performance and stands in dread of a bad review. The more our self-esteem depends upon the opinion of others, the more insecure we become.

Being insecure in self-esteem is the core dynamic of what psychologists call a narcissistic personality disorder. This might strike us as strange because narcissists often project a grandiose persona of self-assurance. But their personas are fragile. Narcissists easily become depressed and full of self-doubt when they receive less than rave reviews for their performances. They are like kites. When the winds of approval and applause are favorable. narcissists fly high; when the winds of acclamation subside, they fall into the doldrums of despondency and despair.

Most of us have a narcissistic wound, for we are insecure in the knowledge that we are loved. So we go through life wearing masks, conning parts, playing roles, giving performances in the hope of winning love or at least curtailing disapproval. In this regard, we are all frightened hypocrites.

There is nothing wrong with receiving praise, but the more we seek it, the more we become addicted to it. Jesus is straightforward in what we must do. We must fast from any behavior that is designed to win the approval of others. Jesus’ counsels to “go to your room and pray in secret … keep your deeds of mercy secret … groom your hair and wash your face when you fast” are but three examples.

Augustine writes that when we fast from our play-acting, we are “cleansing the eye by which God is seen” (“The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount’ 92). We cannot see our Father who dwells in secret if our minds are preoccupied with our performance. Saint Teresa tells us, “All harm comes to us from not keeping our eyes fixed on [God]” (“The Way of Perfection” 97). As we begin Lent, let us direct our gaze inward, to the God who dwells in secret and who loves us.

 

~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness art by Charlie Mackesy
Art by Charlie Mackesy

 



How often must I forgive my brother?

~ Matthew 18:21


 

Perhaps the “work” that best expresses faith is — forgiveness.

Jesus clearly saw that lack of forgiveness was one of the most blatant characteristics of the people around him, and he seemed to appreciate how hard it is to forgive absolutely and forever.

This is because we have no real grasp of what God has done and continually does for us.

Our lack of insight makes us critical, intolerant, unforgiving. We tend to think we have been splendid when we have taken a snub silently, overlooked what seemed like hurtful behaviour on the part of another.

It isn’t like that at all, Jesus says. You are bound to have pity and to forgive. It isn’t a work of supererogation but sheer bounden duty.

Think of the little things I take umbrage at, react to, or perhaps cope with quite virtuously according to my own estimation . . .

Now Jesus isn’t saying: ‘I understand, my poor dear; yes, you have been badly treated and you did very well not to lose your temper or answer back.’

On the contrary he is saying: ‘It is unthinkable that you should take any notice whatever of such things, and you wouldn’t if you had the slightest idea of what your heavenly Father is always doing for you. What if he were to treat you in that miserable, miserly, unloving way!’

~ A Meditation by Sister Rachel of the Quidenham Carmel (Ruth Burrows) O.C.D.

 

“I cannot believe that a soul which has arrived so near to Mercy itself, where she knows what she is, and how many sins God has forgiven her, should not instantly and willingly forgive others, and be pacified and wish well to everyone who has injured her, because she remembers the kindness and favors our Lord has shown her, whereby she has seen proofs of exceeding great love, and she is glad to have an opportunity offered to show some gratitude to her Lord.” — St. Teresa of Avila

 

“Pardon one another so that later on you will not remember the injury. The recollection of an injury is itself wrong. It adds to our anger, nurtures our sin, and hates what is good. It is a rusty arrow and poison for the soul. It puts all virtue to flight.” — St. Francis of Paola

 

“‘If he trespass against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to you, saying, I repent; you shall forgive him’ (Lk. 17:4).
As the Searcher of hearts, the Lord knows that men are liable to very frequent trespass, and that, having fallen, they often rise up again; therefore He has given us the commandment to frequently forgive trespasses, and He Himself is the first to fulfill His holy word. As soon as you say from your whole heart, ‘I repent,’ you will be immediately forgiven.” — St. John of Kronstadt

 

 

May we always ask the Lord for the grace to forgive and to be forgiven!

 

 

Born for Love

 

born for love
Beginning, art by Akiane Kramarik

Was I conceived in love,
and for love?
We are all born
with your precious DNA in our hearts and souls,
my Beloved.
We come to experience life
in order to discover You.
You have chosen to abide
in the deepest chambers of our hearts.
Never once,
You have left my side.

Human love is so conditional
and limited, but when we are inspired
and touch by Your divine love,
our love can be transform
and become real. Alive!

Your love is everlasting,
my Beloved.
You have placed your heart
so full of tender mercy and love
in mine.

O, how blessed I am,
my Beloved!

Your love gives me life,
gives me hope,
gives me joy.
Your love is my stronghold
and my peace.
All my life you have been
by my side,
and that suffices.

I was born for love.
We are born for love.
Because You are love.
King of my heart and soul.
Love in One.
One Love,
Pure and Perfect!

I can say like the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi:
“Love came and it made me empty.
Love came and it filled me with the Beloved.
It became the blood in my body.
It became my arms and my legs.
It became everything!
Now all I have is a name,
the rest belongs to the Beloved.”

~ My personal reflection  

 

 

 

My Island

 

Madonna House4
My visit to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario ~ July 2015 (my photo)

 

Whenever I cross the bridge to my dark island, I see dimly, then quite clearly, my vigil light twinkling through the large window. It is the only moving sign of life on my island.

There is a deep mystery in “coming to the island.” One feels that one is coming into a place of quite or rest, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the world. Yet, one has also the feeling that there is some very important task that will have to be attended to when one reaches the island, a task that cannot be done on the mainland with its constant, ever-increasing tempo of life, its demands on all of one’s attention, as well as its tendency to confuse and diffuse mind and soul, tiring them somehow.

As I cross the black, icebound river, I begin to understand that indeed I am going away from men to God, to rest in his silence, to pray at his feet. My task here is to recollect myself so that tomorrow I might return to men to love them and serve them for Christ’s sake, for God’s sake.

I begin to realize, too, that I have yet another task to perform on my island: I must set my mind at rest and quiet my heart—detaching it from all created things in order to turn it to God, the Creator and the Lover.

This is what islands are for. Not everyone has an island to live on, to come from, to go to. But all of us must make our islands within our hearts. Islands where fear cannot dwell. Islands where we can cross over the bridge of our days to rest at the feet of the Beloved, to drink of his silence, to be made whole again and ready for the battle of tomorrow.

Not everyone can be a contemplative religious. Not everyone is called to that very special and high vocation. But we all need a place to rest and be silent before God so as to hear his voice speak to us in that silence. All of us, if we really understand and desire, can make our own islands within us. One can nightly “cross over the bridge” to this place apart. If we do, our days will be full of the fruitfulness of the Lord and of his peace.

Yes, life should be a daily coming from our islands to the mainland, and of returning from the mainland to our islands. I thank God every day for my island.

~ A Reflection by Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 

Madonna House11
Visiting Catherine Doherty’s poustinia in her island at Madonna House in Combermere  (my photo)

 

Effortlessly

Effortlessly,
Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air 
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings—
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.

~ A poem by Mechthild of Magdeburg

 

Madonna House5
Views from Catherine Doherty’s island…So beautiful! (my photo)

madonna House3
Admiring the beauty of God’s creation…at Madonna House in Comberme, Ontario (my photo)

Madonna House10
Stations of the Cross in Catherine’s island (my photo)

Madonna House2
At Madonna House ❤ Our Lady of Combermere, pray for us! (my photo)

Find the Silence

 

poustinik2
Photo source unknown

 

We are besieged with endless babbling, and we become too weary to listen; we need to set aside a time to encounter the Lord. He can be encountered in many places, but one way is to find him in the poustinia (the Russian word for “desert”).

A poustinia can be a room or a small cabin—simple, even stark, so that nothing takes away from meeting God there. It has plain walls, a crucifix without a corpus, a table, a chair, a Bible, paper and pen, a loaf of bread and a thermos of coffee or tea, or simply water. The bed will be hard, for anyone who wants to follow Christ into the desert needs to do some penance; prayer and penance are two arms one simultaneously lifts up to Christ.

The poustinia is a place of solitude and peace, exterior and also interior. Everything needs to “quiet down”: the wings of the intellect are folded so that speculation and intellectual evaluation are quiescent. The head enters the heart, and both are silent.

The Bible is the only book found in the poustinia. The Scriptures become a million love letters from God, to be savored and meditated upon, absorbed so that you almost become one with those eternal, fiery, yet gentle words. Reading Scripture is a conversation with God.

When you enter the poustinia, you take humanity with you. You lift everyone before God, with their pain, sorrows, joy. The poustinik walks immersed in the silence of God. Our life of service and love to our fellow men is simply the echo of this silence, this solitude.

Then your own heart becomes a poustinia. You are there when you are travelling the subway and hanging onto a strap with your arms full. You go to a dance and you are in a poustinia. You play cards, wash dishes, you talk to people. That does not interfere with your poustinia, because the poustinia is the secret place where the Lover meets his beloved. God meets man!

~ A Reflection by Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 

 

Counsel for Silence

Go without ceremony of departure
and shade no subtlest word with your farewell.
Let the air speak the mystery of your absence,
and the discerning have their minor feast
on savory possible or probable.
Seeing the body present, they will wonder
where went the secret soul, by then secure
out past your grief beside some torrent’s pure
refreshment. Do not wait to copy down
the name, much less the address, of who might need you.
Here you are pilgrim with no ties of earth.
Walk out alone and make the never-told
your healing distance and your anchorhold.
And let the ravens feed you.

~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.

 

 

 

 

Meeting

 

praying3

 

How can you define prayer, except by saying it is love? It is love expressed in speech, and love expressed in silence. To put it another way, prayer is the meeting of two loves: the love of God for man, and that of man for his God.

~ By Catherine de Hueck Doherty

 

“We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves. God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
~ 1 John 4:16

Prayer: A Progression

You came by night, harsh with the need of grace,
into the dubious presence of your Maker.
You combed a small and pre-elected acre
for some bright word of Him, or any trace.
Past the great judgment growths of thistle and thorn
and past the thicket of self you bore your yearning
till lo, you saw a pure white blossom burning 
in glimmer, then, light, then unimpeded more!

Now the flower God-is-Love gives ceaseless glow;
now all your thoughts feast on its mystery,
but when love mounts through knowledge and goes free,
then will the sated thinker arise and go
and brave the deserts of the soul to give
the flower he found to the contemplative.

~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers) O.C.D.