Our prayers break on God like waves, and he an endless shore, and when the seas evaporate and oceans are no more and cries are carried in the wind God hears and answers every sound as he has done before.
Our troubles eat at God like nails. He feels the gnawing pain on souls and bodies. He never fails but reassures he’ll heal again, again, again, again and yet again.
Is Lent and I feel the interior call to walk by your side during these 40 days united to you, my Beloved.
These 40 days in the wilderness where the earth is barren and quiet, I can feel your loneliness, my Beloved. Silence engulfs this desert and I can only hear your footsteps as we walk side by side.
I can’t wait for the night to arrive. So I can view the magnificent sky filled with all the beauty of your Father’s creation. The moon and the stars — the sky looks like a blanket of shooting stars covering us from above giving us light and protection marked by the beauty of His love.
All those bright stars are speaking to you they bring you messages from above, from your Beloved Abba! They prompt you to persevere, and remain in His presence all along this journey. Giving you strength for your mission ahead, consoling your weary heart, my Beloved.
They urge you to keep going, to keep focused, to keep praying. To stay and remain in His perfect love.
Following you along this desert, my Beloved, is not an easy task. At times I have so many questions, so many concerns, so much restlessness in my own heart. But you only ask me to trust in you, to hold your hand and continue to walk together, side by side these 40 days.
My heart is united to yours and is finding true calm now, being in your presence is all I need during these long 40 days.
In quietude and awe, my heart is waiting,
Your beloved child, sister and friend, Redeemed by your love!
Jesus is transfigured on Mount Hermon and resolves completely to accept his impending death.
Luke tells us that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. We do not know for certain what he was praying about, but his conversation with Moses and Elijah provides a clue. “They appeared in glory and spoke to him of his departure (Greek exodus) which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.” The exodus or departure referred to here is Jesus’ death. In Luke’s gospel, this is the first time that Jesus had contemplated his death.
On Mount Hermon Jesus made a choice: he resolved to embrace his death fully. At his baptism Jesus accepted his mission as the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, but only now does he confront its stark and gruesome reality. It is one thing to say “yes” to suffering that lies in the far future. Imminent suffering presents a completely different reality. Jesus was changed at the transfiguration because he came to a resolution regarding his own death.
We have all experienced the great release of energy that results when, after years of irresolution, we make an important life decision. We do not realize how much energy living in a perpetual state of avoidance, vacillation, or procrastination consumes until we experience the incredible relief that follows such a decision.
The choice Jesus made at the transfiguration also protected him against any inner vacillation. When Jesus came down the mountain, “He set his face (Greek sterrizo) to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). Sterrizo means to make fast, or to fix with an unalterable purpose. Saint Teresa encouraged her sisters to embrace the cross with a “determined determination.” In doing so, she wrote, “that person struggles more courageously. He knows that come what may he will not turn back” (“The Way of Perfection” 127).
A definitive choice protects us from inner vacillation. In The Lord of the Rings Tolkien portrays this symbolically. At the council of Elrond, a decision has to be made. Someone has to take the One Ring of Power into the evil land of Mordor and cast it into the fire of Mt. Doom. Frodo, who had lived comfortably all of his life, makes a fully conscious choice to be the Ring Bearer. At this point in the story, his uncle Bilbo Baggins gives Frodo a mithril coat.
This coat, as un undergarment made of an extremely strong but light metal, will protect the wearer from many dangers — arrows and the thrusting of spears. Why, asks Jungian analyst Helen Luke, does Bilbo present the mithril coat precisely at the moment that Frodo decides to be the Ring Bearer? What does it symbolize? Luke writes:
It was at this moment of his complete acceptance of exposure to every kind of danger, without thought of success or failure, that he was given the protection of the mithril coat…. It is not difficult to see the relevance of these things to ourselves. It is surely true that in the life of every person there is one major turning point — a moment of choice when one’s basic will (the Frodo in oneself) may say “yes” or “no” to the challenge of one individual way and to the inevitable suffering and danger it involves. It is certain that, if we say “yes” … then in proportion to the single-mindedness of this decision, we too are given protection…. Every day there is the temptation to go back on our choice … but each time we decide to take up a responsibility we have sought to evade … then, in the very moment of our willing self-exposure and conscious acceptance of the task … we can often literally feel a new invulnerability. (75-76)
Like Jesus, when we decide to embrace the cross with determination, we are transfigured and given courage that protects us against inner vacillation.
~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.
Christ “was transfigured, not by acquiring what he was not but by manifesting to his disciples what he in fact was; he opened their eyes and gave these blind man sight.”
St. John Damascene
why a seraph
why its six
the dying Christ.
you could ask
those lonely hills
I cannot say
why love and pain
go hand in hand,
I will not
that day of joy
From one unpierced
~ A poem by Abigail Carroll
How did St. Francis of Assisi receives the Stigmata of Christ?
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September 1224) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says and early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart.
Brother Leo, who was with St. Francis when he received the stigmata, has left us in his note to the saint’s autograph blessing, preserved at Assisi, a clear simple account of the miracle, which for the rest is better attested than any other historical fact.
The saint’s right side is described as bearing an open wound which looked as if made by a lance, while through his hands and feet were black nails of flesh, the points of which were bent backward.
After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification. Worn out, moreover, as Francis now was by eighteen years of unremitting toil, his strength gave way completely, and at times his eyesight so far failed him that he was almost wholly blind.
Francis died in 1226 at the age of forty-five. He was canonized in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.
“Ask and you will receive.” While God always answers our prayers, he does not always grant our requests.
In Somerset Maugham’s autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage, young Philip Carey, a boy born with a clubfoot, prays that God will heal him. He wakes up the next morning to find that he has not been cured. His faith is shaken, for he has been told that whatever you ask for in prayer will be given. Throughout his life, Philip’s deformity causes him much shame and humiliation, but it also brings about his transformation. At the very end of the novel, Philip comes to the following realization:
And thinking over the long pilgrimage of his past, he accepted it joyfully. He accepted the deformity which had made his life so hard, but now he saw that by reason of it he had acquired that power of introspection which had given him so much delight. Without it he would never had his keen appreciation of beauty, his passion for art and literature and his interest in the varied spectacle of life. The ridicule and contempt, which had so often been heaped upon him, had turned his mind inward and called forth those flowers which he felt would never lose their fragrance. Then he saw that the normal was the rarest thing in the world. Everyone had some defect of body or of mind. He had thought of all the people he had known. He saw a long procession, deformed in body and warped in mind. At that moment he could feel a holy compassion for them all. He could pardon Griffiths for his treachery and Mildred for the pain she had caused him. The only reasonable thing was to accept the good of men and be patient with their faults. The words of the dying God crossed his memory: Forgive them, for they know not what they do. (680-81)
God always answers our prayers, but does not always grant our requests. We are promised that we will receive if we ask, but we are not told what will be given to us. The door will be opened to us, but we do not know what God has in store for us on the other side. We are told only that God knows how to give.
The ways of providence are mysterious indeed. Like Philip Carey, we should reflect upon the long pilgrimage of our past in order to apprehend the pattern of God’s loving wisdom in our lives. Like Philip, we may realize what we once considered to have been our greatest curse was the occasion of our greatest blessing. We realize that what we once judged a stumbling block actually is a cornerstone. Conversely, think of how disastrously your life may have turned out had God granted your specific request.
~ A Meditation by Marc Foley, O.C.D.
“Cast yourself often into His arms or into His divine Heart, and abandon yourself to all His designs upon you” II, 673. ~ Saint Margaret Mary
Life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Each day of our lives holds within itself the possibility of this knowledge of God, this holy wisdom. How deeply we should long for this revelation of the Father.
Let us seek, let us listen with all our hearts and care for nothing else. Then perhaps we shall be able to exclaim with perfect truth: ‘My heart knows you now, Jesus Christ my Lord, and everything worldly has lost its meaning. ‘
With perfect truth. That is, my life henceforth will reveal the truth that nothing has any meaning to me except Jesus Christ my Lord.
There is no easy way to this, only that the grain of wheat must die; the humble acceptance of our painful human lot; no complaint, no rebellion, no dodging . . .
Becoming identified with the Son of Man, the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world by bearing the full weight and effect of it with no vestige of responding evil — only worship of his Father and infinite compassion for us.
~ A Meditation by Ruth Burrows, O.C.D.
Happy The One Who Loves God
How happy the heart that by love is elated, in which only God all its thought has embraced, renouncing for him every thing that’s created, and finding its glory and joy by him graced. Thus living with all thought of self so negated, because in God all its intention is placed, and so in great happiness and joyfully it travels the waves of this turbulent sea.
God is not garden any more, to satiate the sense with the luxuriance of full exotic wilderness. Now multiple is magnified to less. God has become as desert now, a vast unknown Sahara voicing its desert cry. My soul has been arrested by the sound of a divine tremendous loneliness.
I write anathema on pool, on streams of racing water. I bid the shoot, the leaf, the bloom no longer to intrude. Beyond green growth I find this great good, a motionless immensity of oneness. And Him I praise Who lured me to this edge of uncreation where His secrets brood, Who seared the earth that I might hear in silence this infinite outcry of His solitude.
~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.
“Listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence.” Catherine Doherty
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).
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.
In the Gospel of John we read how Mary of Bethany takes a whole bottle of expensive pure nard and pours it out over the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:1-8). This bottle contains a fortune, the costliest and very best that Mary has. When she has poured it out over Jesus’ feet, she dries them with her hair. What a waste! She uses no towel to dry his feet; she uses her hair, herself.
Since that time, there have always been people who feel drawn, yes forced to do as Mary. People, who in their innermost being know that they must give everything, not just what they have, but what they are. They must give their whole self. They must give it all at once. They don’t even ask what purpose it serves. But the whole Church, the whole world, is filled with the fragrance of their devotion.
There is no other incident in the gospel which so clearly expresses the uniqueness of the contemplative life. Those who enter such a life, whether in a monastery or in society, ask no questions about their talents and whether these will bear fruit, nor do they ask whether the contemplative life will develop their personality. All they think about is to give all their love to the Lord, spreading a fragrance everywhere.
~ A Meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.
by Blessed John Henry Newman
Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly, that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus! Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine, as You shine; So to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours; it will be You shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You by our words and by our example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.