Thursday, October 15, 2020

S. Teresa of Avila, pray for us



Today is the feast of S. Teresa of Avila, whose best known writing is the above brief poem known as her “Bookmark”, because it was found in her prayer book when she died:

Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain in 1515. After her mother's death she was sent to be educated by Augustinian nuns, but became ill and returned to live with her father and other relatives. One of her uncles introduced her to the Letters of Saint Jerome, and these inspired her to consider that she had a vocation to the religious life. At the age of 20 Teresa entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila.

During the sixteenth century many religious communities had lost their original devotion, discipline and openness to God. In many places convent life had become lax. Teresa's convent at Avila was no exception. She tells how she lost her first love for the Lord and embraced the status quo of comfortable convent living. In fact, she struggled with her vocation until after her father's death, and then a number of illnesses. In 1555 she underwent a spiritual renewal in which she saw the risen Jesus, and experienced a mystical transverberation, which she described as the piercing of her heart by an angel. She called this spiritual union with God, her "mystical marriage." She gave herself completely to prayer. 

Teresa began to have more spiritual experiences and visions which she, as well as the clergy she consulted, often thought were delusions. But two confessors believed that her experiences were genuine graces from the Lord, and encouraged her to embrace them as such, and to deepen her life of personal prayer and radical discipleship. More than that, they told her to write down her experiences so as to help others understand contemplative prayer. So she wrote the Life of herself (up to 1562), The Way of Perfection and Foundations for her sisters, and The Interior Castle, as a guide for praying people in general. Her writings are intensely personal spiritual autobiographies, and take their place alongside The Confessions of S. Augustine (which had also been a major influence on her). It was mainly on account of her writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. (Teresa had been declared a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.

After many tribulations and much heart-searching, Teresa felt that God was asking her to leave the Convent of the Incarnation and establish St Joseph's, a new monastery that would conscientiously observe the original Rule of Carmel. This she did on 24th August 1562. There was a great deal of opposition to the new Carmel and it was some time before she was able to live there in peace. Many condemned her as having been deceived by her mystical experiences in prayer. Eventually the hostility died down and Teresa was asked to found more of these houses of prayer in other cities of Spain. Over a period of twenty years she founded 15 houses for the nuns and, in association with John Yepes (later known as S. John of the Cross), at least two for the friars. In 1580, the Holy See recognised the Discalced Carmelites as distinct from the other Carmelites. By then Teresa was sixty-five years old, and in very poor health. Even so, she continued her work. The last Carmelite house she founded was at Burgos in July, 1582. On her way from there to Alba de Tormes she became ill. On October 4, 1582, three days after reaching Alba de Tormes, she died, and was buried there.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

S. TERESA SAID:
I believe that love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small. So if you have this love, try not to let the prayers you make to so great a Lord be words of mere politeness, but brace yourselves to suffer what God's Majesty desires. For if you give God your will in any other way, you are just showing the Lord a precious stone, making as if to give it and begging God to take it, and then, when God's hand reaches out to do so, taking it back and holding on to it tightly. Such mockery is no fit treatment for One who endured so much for us . . .
(From: The Way of Perfection)

Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honey-comb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God.
(From The Interior Castle)  

Do not build towers without a foundation, for our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day. 
(From The Interior Castle) 

Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a more fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honour of his Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church.
(From The Interior Castle) 

Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people's if we are always criticising trivial actions which often are not real defects at all, but we construe them wrongly through ignorance of their motives.
(From The Interior Castle) 

How many maggots remain in hiding until they have destroyed our virtues. These pests are such evils as self-love, self-esteem, rash judgement of others in small matters, and a want of charity in not loving our neighbour quite as much as ourselves. Although, perforce, we satisfy our obligations to avoid sin, yet we fall far short of what must be done in order to obtain perfect union with the will of God.
(From The Interior Castle)  

The only remedy for having given up a habit of recollection is to recommence it, otherwise the soul will continue to lose it more and more every day, and God grant it may realise its danger.
(From The Interior Castle)

O Lord, regulate all things by your wisdom, so that I may always serve you in the manner that you will. Do not punish me by granting my desire if it offends your love, for I desire your love to live always in me. Help me to deny myself in order that I may serve you. Let me live for you - who in yourself are the true life. Amen.



Friday, October 9, 2020

Professor Tracey Rowland on the Influence of John Henry Newman on Benedict XVI



On this the day when the Church honours S. John Henry Newman, it is appropriate to share a ten year old article which summarises Newman's influence on a theological movement that inspired significant 20th century teachers, including the future Pope Benedict XVI. 


Leading Australian theologian, Dr. Tracey Rowland, holds the S. John Paul II Chair of Theology at the University of Notre Dame (Australia) and is an Honorary Fellow of Campion College (Sydney) and a member of the International Theological Commission. From 2001 to 2017 she was the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne) and the author of numerous books, including: Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican IICatholic TheologyRatzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford University Press, 2008); Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (Continuum, 2010). This article is from the Australian Broadcasting Commission ‘Religion and Ethics Blog’, Thursday 16th September 2010.


The Munich-based Jesuit, Erich Przywara (1889-1972), editor of the theology journal Stimmen der Zeit, had developed an interest in Newman as early as the 1920s and had encouraged Edith Stein (now St Teresa-Benedicta of the Cross) to translate Newman’s pre-conversion letters and his Idea of a University into German.


The cultural critic Theodor Haecker, who had converted to Catholicism in 1921, had also translated works of Newman into German and is one of those specifically cited by Ratzinger as a popular author for seminarians of his time.


Haecker is also credited with introducing Sophie Scholl, martyr of the White Rose movement, and others in her circle to the works of Newman. During the Advent of 1943, Haecker quoted from his translation of Newman’s Advent sermon on the Antichrist (Tract 83) to members of the anti-Nazi student group.


Haecker believed Newman was especially valuable for demonstrating the legitimate role of reason in the act of faith and for explaining conscience in relation to other acts of the mind, thus making conscience an organ and mediator of knowledge.


He praised Newman for his clear perception of the intellectual difficulties which exist for the faith in the modern world, and in particular for his understanding that these difficulties could not be overcome with “a naked syllogism.”


The latter comment was a criticism of the tendency in pre-Conciliar theology to present the faith with reference to Latin maxims and syllogistic “proofs.” In all Haecker published some seven books on Newman, mainly translations into German.


When Ratzinger joined the seminary in Freising in 1946, his Prefect of Studies, Alfred Laepple, was working on a dissertation on conscience in the work of Newman. Ratzinger has since reflected that for seminarians of his generation, “Newman’s teaching on conscience became an important foundation for theological personalism, which was drawing us all in its sway. Our image of the human being as well as our image of the Church was permeated by this point of departure.”


Ratzinger was to take from Newman his understanding of papal authority as a power that comes from revelation to complete natural conscience and Newman’s rejection of the popularist interpretations of papal authority as something akin to absolute monarchy.


Ratzinger has written that the pope is not an absolute monarch, but more of a constitutional monarch - that is, someone whose powers are circumscribed by conventions or constitutions, or in the case of the Pope, by revelation itself.


But it was not only Laepple that was immersed in the works of Newman, so too was Gottlieb Soehngen (1892-1971), Ratzinger’s teacher in fundamental theology and the director of both of Ratzinger’s theses.


It was under Soehngen that Ratzinger studied Newman’s Grammar of Assent. Soehngen had also worked on the topics of the convertibility of truth and being, on sacramentality, and on the border issues between theology and philosophy, all of which reappear as perennial themes in Ratzinger’s publications.


In an address delivered to mark the centenary of Newman’s death, Ratzinger remarked that even deeper for him than the contribution of Soehngen for his appreciation of Newman was the contribution which Heinrich Fries published in connection with the Jubilee of Chalcedon.


Here he found access to Newman’s teaching on the development of doctrine, which he regards, along with Newman’s doctrine on conscience, as Newman’s decisive contribution to the renewal of theology.


Newman’s work “placed the key in our hand to build historical thought into theology, or much more, [Newman] taught us to think historically in theology and so to recognize the identity of faith in all developments.”


This was a reference to what Ratzinger would later identify as the most significant issue for Catholic theology in the twentieth century - that of coming to an understanding of what he termed “the mediation of history in the realm of ontology.”


In short hand terms, one might call this the Heideggerian “being in time” problem. Whereas the theological establishment prior to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s prided itself on being “ahistorical” or “above history,” the effect of Heidegger’s philosophy was to push to the front of theological speculation the issue of the significance of time and history for the development of tradition.


The different responses to the documents of the Second Vatican Council often revolve around different understandings of the role that history plays in theological speculation.


Here it is highly significant that Ratzinger’s understanding of the development of doctrine comes from the convergence of the works of Newman and those of scholars of the nineteenth century Tuebingen school, who were working on parallel themes to those of Newman.


Newman was introduced to a French audience by Henri Bremond whose work in turn influenced that of Maurice Blondel, author of the seminal History and Dogma (1903). Blondel then influenced the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac, who, along with his student Hans Urs von Balthasar, ultimately became friends and mentors of Ratzinger.


In his introduction to the English translation of Blondel’s The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, Alexander Dru (a close friend of Theodor Haecker) noted that the very first edition of Annales de Philosophie Chretienne (a journal owned by Blondel and to which he was a frequent contributor) “pointed to the need to break away from the narrow Latin, Roman and Mediterranean conception of Catholicism by pointing to the relevance of the German Catholic writers of the Romantic period.”


Dru also noted that Blondel and Bremond - among others - were “carrying on (unbeknown, at first, to themselves) the tradition of Tuebingen (and in some respects therefore of Newman).”


While Newman’s teaching on the development of doctrine opened a pathway for history in theological thought, the doctrine of conscience gave weight to the emerging body of mid-twentieth century scholarship presented as Christian personalism.


Both John Paul II and Ratzinger were heavily influenced by personalist currents in their early academic years.


Whereas the young Karl Wojtyla was in contact with the French sources of the movement, and with the work of the Munich-born philosopher Max Scheler, the young Ratzinger came to personalism primarily through the Saarland philosopher Peter Wust (1884-1940) and the Austrian born Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber (1878-1965).


In the nineteenth century, Newman was working on theological topics that ran parallel to those of the Catholic theologians at the University of Tuebingen and which could be described as a Catholic engagement with themes of interest to the Romantic movement.


Although Germany, France, England and Scotland all had their own particular Romantic movements, a common theme running through all of them was an interest in history, tradition, memory and the motions of the human heart.


These topics were absent from the neo-scholastic theology of the same period. They were to enter into the theological tradition in the twentieth century by way of a number of authors, including the scholarship of Przywara, Soehngen and Haecker in Germany, Blondel and de Lubac in France, and von Balthasar in Switzerland.


Newman is linked to all three of these tributaries. One might say that at the Second Vatican Council it wasn’t merely the Rhine that flowed into the Tiber, but the Cherwell and Isis were there too.


It is therefore particularly fitting that it should be Benedict XVI - the student of Soehngen and colleague of de Lubac and von Balthasar - who finally beatifies Newman. 


As Alfred Laepple once remarked, when he and Ratzinger were seminarians, Newman was their hero. 



Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Little Flower and the Grace of God



“Nothing in my hand I bring. 
Simply to thy cross I cling.” 

From the hymn “Rock of Ages” 
by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776.

On 24th August, 1997, during the Mass he celebrated at the Twelfth World Youth Day in Paris in the presence of hundreds of bishops and before a huge crowd of young people from all over the world, Pope John Paul II announced that he was to proclaim St Thérèse a “Doctor of the Universal Church.” This he did on Sunday 19th October 1997 when he pointed out that Thérèse is the youngest of the 33 officially recognised Doctors of the Church, the one closest to our time, and the third woman among them. In his apostolic letter Divini Amoris Scientia, the Pope said: 

“As it was for the Church’s Saints in every age, so also for her, in her spiritual experience Christ is the centre and fullness of Revelation. Thérèse knew Jesus, loved him and made him loved with the passion of a bride. She penetrated the mysteries of his infancy, the words of his Gospel, the passion of the suffering Servant engraved on his holy Face, in the splendour of his glorious life, in his Eucharistic presence. She sang of all the expressions of Christ’s divine charity, as they are presented in the Gospel.” 

The Pope also said that 

". . . we can rightly recognize in the Saint of Lisieux the charism of a Doctor of the Church, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit she received for living and expressing her experienced faith, and because of her particular understanding of the mystery of Christ . . . That assimilation was certainly favoured by the most singular natural gifts, but it was also evidently something prodigious, due to a charism of wisdom from the Holy Spirit." 

No wonder that Thérèse is the most quoted woman saint in the Catechism of the Catholic Church! Today is when we commemorate her in the Church's Calendar.

Her Life
Marie Frances Thérèse Martin was born at Alençon, France on 2nd January 1873. When she was four years old her mother died, and she moved with the family to Lisieux. 

As a child, Thérèse had a deep awareness of God’s presence in her life. She grew up loving the Lord Jesus and understanding the Sacraments to be deeply personal encounters with him. By the time she became a teenager she knew that God was calling her to embrace the Religious life in its contemplative form. 

In 1887 Thérèse went to on pilgrimage to Italy with a group from Lisieux. On 20th November Pope Leo XIII met with them and Thérèse was able to ask him for special permission to enter the Carmel of Lisieux at the age of fifteen, which she did on 9 April 1888, receiving the habit on the following year. She made her religious profession on 8 September 1890, the Birthday of Our Lady. 

Thérèse embraced the spiritual principles of St Teresa of Avila while faithfully fulfilling the various community responsibilities entrusted to her, especially the menial ones. During this time her faith was severely tested by the sickness of her father who died on 29th July 1894. 

She continued to be nourished by the Scriptures, which were central to her spiritual life. Her response to God’s Word in openness of heart and mind nurtured her growth in holiness and made a deep impact on those around her. 

The autobiographical manuscripts she wrote are a detailed account of her walk with God. Based on the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, she called it the “little way” of “spiritual childhood” and taught it to the novices entrusted to her care. 

She also accepted the ministry of spiritually supporting two missionary priests with prayer and sacrifice. Indeed, seized by the love of Christ, whom she described as her “only Spouse”, she became increasingly aware of her own apostolic and missionary vocation. 

In her Autobiography Thérèse says that on Trinity Sunday 1895 (9th June), she gave herself completely to the love of God. Several months later, on the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday (3rd April 1896), she suffered a haemoptysis, the first sign of the illness which would lead to her death. From this point, her writings speak of the trial of faith, which would last until she died. In the midst of her pain she wrote that her vocation was simply “to be love in the heart of the Church.” 

Thérèse was transferred to the infirmary on 8 July 1896. During this time her sayings were collected. Meanwhile her sufferings intensified. She accepted them with patience, right up to the moment of her death in the afternoon of 30th September 1897. “I am not dying, I am entering life”, she wrote. 

Her final words, “My God, I love you!” were uttered at the age of 24, after years of illness and spiritual struggle, sealing a life lived in total surrender to the Lord’s love. Then she began what she had already foreseen as her new responsibility - her ministry of intercession, prayer, and love in the Communion of Saints, “in order to shower a rain of roses upon the world.”

Thérèse was canonized by Pope Pius XI on 17 May 1925. 

Since her death, Christians of many cultures and traditions - especially young people - have been inspired by her holiness, love and steadfast faith to give themselves completely to the Lord.

Letters to Maurice
To get a truly rounded picture of Thérèse – and in order to move away from the rather saccharine stereotype of her that has been built up, it is a good idea to read Maurice and Thérèse: The Story of a Love, by Patrick Ahern. This is the collected correspondence between Thérèse and Maurice Bellière, a stumbling young man she had never met, who was preparing to become a missionary priest. They exchanged twenty-one letters at a time when Thérèse’s suffering and pain was at its height, and when her spiritual struggle was most intense. It is significant that she was able to write such letters of support and encouragement to someone else. (The letters are accompanied by Ahern’s commentary.) 

Maurice had experienced a moral failure, and couldn’t quiet his conscience. Thérèse told him that God does not want our relationship with him be based on an obsessive fear of punishment. Neither, she said, does God want us to try and bargain for salvation by promising to do good works. With all who have begun to grasp the meaning of the grace-filled Gospel down through the Christian centuries, Thérèse knew that no amount of “good works” could purchase God’s love, and that in our better moments we would always wonder if we had done enough. In fact she even said to Maurice that the best of our good works are blemished, anyway, and they make us displeasing to God if we rely on them. 

Thérèse knew that Jesus came into this world to save us, to set us free. She reminded Maurice of St Augustine and St Mary Magdalene, both of whose sins “which were many” were forgiven. 

She wrote to him, “I love them. I love their repentance, and especially their loving boldness.” 

Thérèse knew that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Indeed, she said, “How can I fear a God who is nothing but Mercy and Love?” “Confidence, nothing but confidence” in God’s love was what she stressed. This may sound like spiritual presumption to some. But it echoes the teaching of Hebrews 10:19-22: 

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” 

Justification, Faith and Works
Thérèse practised what she taught. Just four months before she died, she wrote:"I am very happy that I am going to heaven. But when I think of this word of the Lord, 'I shall come soon and bring with me my recompense to give to each according to his works,' I tell myself that this will be very embarrassing for me, because I have no works . . . Very well! He will render to me according to His works for His own sake." 

And in her Act of Oblation, she prays to Jesus: “After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.”

At the level of Christian experience, Thérèse articulates the theological convergence on the doctrine of Justification that would appear in the the Agreed Statements of the Roman Catholic/ Lutheran dialogue, the Roman Catholic/ Anglican dialogue, and the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. It is significant that she occupies such a central place among the Doctors of the Church and in the Catechism.

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What we believe about the Angels (Bishop Jonathan Baker)



Here is a great teaching given by our Bishop for Michaelmas Day. He packs into just ten minutes all the main things we need to know from Scripture and the Church’s teaching about the Holy Angels. This is certainly a video to share!


God, Science and Faith


Renowned geneticist, Dr Francis Collins, who led the team that mapped the human genome, directs the National Institutes of Health in the USA, and is at the forefront of finding a vaccine for Covid-19. He was been awarded the £1.1-million Templeton Prize for 2020. Previously - in his own words - an ‘obnoxious atheist’, Collins believed that all questions about life and the universe could basically be reduced to physics and chemistry. He has written about his journey to faith in God, and, in particular his examination of the evidence concerning the truth or falsity of religion. Eventually he read C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. ‘Within the first three pages’, he writes, ‘I realised that my arguments against faith were those of a schoolboy.’


This video is Collins’ 2020 Templeton Prize Address.







Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Get your 2021 Ordo NOW - the best one available!

 

Without doubt, the best ORDO available to western Christians is the one under the imprint of Tufton Books (i.e. The Church Union), still compiled each year by Father John Hunwicke, now of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It painstakingly provides full information both for users of the Roman Rite (Third Typical Edition) and users of Common Worship. There is also guidance for those who use versions of the Book of Common Prayer.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Salve Regina


Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Tears of S. Monica

 


S. Monica, by John Nava (2003) (Go HERE for information)

So many people have to struggle against the odds, and not just in terms of projects attempted unsuccessfully or goals that prove to be illusive. Hardest of all is to cope with being surrounded by really difficult people - and in particular - living in the midst of a network of dysfunctional relationships.

A STRONG WOMAN OF REAL FAITH
Today is S. Monica’s day. We know a little bit about Monica and the challenges she faced. We also know how easy would it have been for her to react negatively to her circumstances, to become an unloving wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing mother. In fact, though she struggled, she didn’t become any of those things. She was a woman of great godliness, and that made her strong as well as loving.   


Monica’s difficulties began when she was young. Though she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a non-Christian, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa (in modern day Algeria). Patricius certainly had some redeeming qualities, but he was well-known for his fierce temper. He was also highly promiscuous. To make matters worse, Monica also had to manage a very bad tempered mother-in-law who lived permanently in her home. Patricius criticised Monica constantly for her charity and Christian faith - often considered ‘weaknesses’ in their culture - although it is also evident that he also had a deep respect for her. 


In the end, through Monica’s prayers and the goodness and loving holiness of her life, Patricius actually became a Christian, and - even more remarkably - so did Monica’s difficult mother-in-law. Patricius died in 371, one year after his baptism.


AUGUSTINE’S MEANDERINGS

At least three of Monica’s children survived infancy. Augustine, the eldest, is the famous one. At the time Patricius died, Augustine was 17 and studying rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was devastated when she found that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy and was also living an openly immoral life. Thinking she was doing the right thing, at first she wouldn’t let Augustine eat or sleep in her house. But one night she had a vision in which she was assured that Augustine would embrace the Faith she had tried to share with him in his childhood. She remained very close to Augustine from that point on, praying for him with tears and fasting. (She was probably a lot closer than Augustine was comfortable with!)


In 383, when he was 29, Augustine - absolutely brilliant but still wayward - decided to teach rhetoric in Rome. Monica insisted on going. That’s not what Augustine had in mind! So, one night he told his mother that he was going to the docks to farewell a friend. But instead, he got onto a boat bound for Rome. The heartbroken Monica made up her mind to follow him. By the time she arrived in Rome, Augustine had decided to go to Milan. He had already left! In spite of the most difficult travelling conditions, Monica pursued him.


CONVERSION

It was in Milan that Augustine came under the powerful influence of the Bishop Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. Monica accepted Ambrose’s advice in all things and demonstrated enormous humility in doing so. She became a leader of the network of devout Christian women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.


Monica’s tearful prayers for Augustine persisted. He, in turn, gradually opened his mind and heart to the Gospel, and really was learning the Faith. Deeply impacted by the worship, singing and praying of the Church in Milan, and having humbled himself to receive the Gospel and the Catholic Faith from the godly Ambrose, Augustine finally surrendered to the love of God. He and several of his friends were baptised by Ambrose at the Easter Mass in 387 AD. 


A HOLY DEATH

In that same year, Augustine and his brother Nagivius set out on their return to north Africa. Monica was travelling with them. They broke their journey at Ostia, near Rome, where the Tiber runs into the sea. There Monica became ill and suffered severely for nine days before her death. She shared with Augustine a profound experience of God. According to Augustine, who recorded this special time in his ‘Confessions’, Monica said, 


‘. . . Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here.’  


Augustine continues: 


‘At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. We had gone there after a long and wearisome journey to get away from the noisy crowd, and to rest and prepare for our sea voyage. I believe that you, Lord, caused all this to happen in your own mysterious ways. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead. We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth - for you are the Truth - what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man. We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.


‘ . . . within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?”


ONE THING ONLY I ASK . . . 

REMEMBER ME AT THE ALTAR OF THE LORD

‘We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” 


‘Thereupon she said to both of us: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.’


S. Monica died at the age of 56. She is regarded as the patron saint of all mothers who weep over their wayward children. We thank the Lord for her, and for the work of his grace through her in the conversion of her son Augustine, who is still regarded as one of the Church’s greatest teachers.


O God,
who console the sorrowful
and who mercifully accepted
the motherly tears of Saint Monica
for the conversion of her son Augustine,
grant us, through the intercession of them both,
that we may bitterly regret our sins 
and find the grace of your pardon.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

S. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church



Bernard was born near Dijon (France) in 1090 and died at Clairvaux on this day in 1153. At the age of 21 he joined the impoverished, reformed abbey of Citeaux. He soon became the founder and abbot of Clairvaux and pioneered the reform and expansion of the Cistercian Order, sparking off a spiritual renewal that was to have a deep impact on the European Church for three centuries. Bernard was a prolific theological writer, a sought after spiritual master, a popular preacher, and an adviser of popes and kings. He is remembered as the most influential churchman of his age, for his inspirational leadership, and for his devotion to the humanity of Christ and to the Blessed Virgin.

Here is one of the most beautiful readings in the entire Divine Office. It is set for today's Office of Readings, and comes from the preaching of S. Bernard (Sermo,83:4-6; Opera omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 2 (1958), 300-302): 

Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.

The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?

Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.

What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?

* * * * * * * * * *

Anglicans are most aware of S. Bernard through the well known translations of his hymns: 

Jesu dul­cis memoria 

Jesu! the very thought is sweet!
In that dear Name all heart-joys meet;
But sweeter than the honey far
The glimpses of his presence are.

No word is sung more sweet than this:
No name is heard more full of bliss;
No thought brings sweeter comfort nigh,
Than Jesus, Son of God most high.

Jesu! the hope of souls forlorn!
How good to them for sin that that mourn!
To them that seek thee, O how kind!
But what art thou to them that find?

Jesu, thou sweetness, pure and blest,
Truth’s Fountain, Light of souls distressed,
Surpassing all that heart requires,
Exceeding all that soul desires!

No tongue of mortal can express,
No letters write his blessedness,
Alone who hath thee in his heart
Knows, love of Jesus! what Thou art.

O Jesu! King of wondrous might!
O Victor, glorious from the fight!
Sweetness that may not be expressed,
And altogether loveliest!

(This hymn is also translated as: 'Jesu, the very thought of thee'
and 'Jesu, thou joy of  loving hearts')

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesu, Rex admirabilis 

O Jesus, King most wonderful,
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou Sweetness most ineffable,
In whom all joys are found!

When once thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, Light of all below,
Thou Fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire!

Thy wondrous mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousand fold,
Whatever we can say.

May every heart confess thy Name;
And ever thee adore;
And seeking thee, itself inflame,
To seek thee more and more.

Thee may our tongues forever bless;
Thee may we love alone;
And ever in our lives express
The image of thine own.




Friday, August 14, 2020

Love without limits 10 (Fr Lev Gillet)

 

"My dear child Love without limits breaks through the limitations of your words. 

"I place in your heart and on your lips various 'ascensions' or upward movements, so that every word you use 'explodes' toward the infinite heights, surpassing every previous word and drawing you on to an ever greater mission. 

"You go. Everywhere you go, may you experience yourself as sent to be a bearer of a sacred message. 

"You come. From wherever you come, may you feel you are awaited. Be aware that you walk towards a well-defined goal, and that already within yourself you are bound to that goal. Hurry along, then, toward this encounter I have prepared for you. 

"You see. What I want for you is that you behold, and that everything you behold might become within you attentive contemplation. 

"You hear. My desire for you is that you listen, that you listen from the depths, and that you truly wish to receive what is beyond the physical senses. 

"You talk. I want you rather to speak, and that you transform mundane words into a personal and intimate communication. 

"You see these verbs rise, one beyond the other, to ever greater clarity. At the highest point there is a verb beyond which one simply cannot go. This is the verb to give. For the gift, the very act of giving, abolishes all sense of personal possession. 

"Yet at the heart of every true gift there resound callings that are ever more demanding. The divine logic of the gift-my logic-transforms it from partial to total, from the gift of some thing to the gift of one's self. 

"My child, allow me to place these words on your lips. Learn to make of each one of them the verse of a hymn. Then, at last, at the final bend in the road, you will behold the land that you lost, the land you long for, the Promised Land. 

"A man is walking in the dark of night, a winter night of bitter cold. It is snowing. The landscape and the atmosphere together crush all sense of hope. 

"Yet all at once, among the flakes of snow that bite into the traveler's hands, there appear sparks. 

"Where could these sparks have come from? Does that mean there is some flame, some fire nearby? If so, then he can warm himself, then he can find a source of heat and light. 

"Yes, there is a flame. There is a fire, right close by. Infinitely close by. "I come to you, my child, in the smallest things, in the most humble details. Every gesture you make can give expression to Love without limits. 

"You wash a plate, then you wipe it dry. Make of that simple act an act of love toward those who have eaten from that plate, and toward all those who will eat from it. 

"A housewife walks out the back door. She hangs out the wash on a clothesline so it will dry. Does this rapid gesture of service remind you of anything? Do her two arms, extended for just a moment, make you think of two other arms that were stretched out on a sacred Tree? 

"All things can become sacred, if they are transfigured by love. That Love is forever with us, as one who serves."


Love without limits 09 (Fr Lev Gillet)

 


"With what love, then, are you loved?" God asks. "I did not say, 'You were loved.' Nor did I say 'You will be loved.' I did not just love you yesterday or the day before. Nor is it simply tomorrow or the day after tomorrow that I will love you. You are loved today, at this very moment.

"So it is with every one of my human creatures. You express surprise, my child, and you question me, asking: 'Really? Am I loved without exception?' Yes, without exception. Yet you reply: 'Lord, how can that possibly be? Can someone who sins against you be loved by you at the very same time?' Yes, my child. If I did not continue to love a sinful person, would I let that person go on living? My Love is seated like a beggar before the door of someone who does not love. It waits. It will continue to wait. The length of time that I shall wait is beyond human comprehension. I wait. And who will be able to separate me from my beloved sinner?

"You see, then, my child, with what great a Love you are loved! I do not say you are 'deeply' loved or 'greatly' loved,' or loved more or less than someone else. You have heard it said that I love some and despise others, that I love to very different degrees. This is because I have had to speak to human beings in human ways and in human language, in a pedagogical style, with poor human words that cannot possibly express divine realities. Nevertheless, in my indivisible Love there is neither 'more' nor 'less.' My Love is pure quality, containing nothing quantitative, nothing measurable. In its infinite fullness it is offered to all people equally. I can only love in a divine way. That is, entirely, giving myself totally in and through it. It is my human creatures who open themselves more or less - or else close themselves entirely - to my Love.

"Let me use an image. Divine Love is like atmospheric pressure that surrounds and weighs upon every creature. It besieges everyone, desires to conquer everyone. It seeks to force an opening, to find a pathway leading to the heart, in order to fill the person entirely. The difference between the sinner and the saint is that the sinner closes his heart to Love, whereas the saint opens it to that Love. Yet it is the very same Love, offered to both, that attempts to fulfill both. The one rejects it, the other accepts it. There is no acceptance, though, without grace, and that grace is immeasurable."

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Love without limits 08 (Fr Lev Gillet)

 

Infinite Love storms the very gates of our life. It could be that I've already achieved a kind of peaceful coexistence with God. Perhaps I've been able to convince myself that I am more or less "in order" with my soul and therefore more or less at ease with myself. Maybe I've even foreseen a happy and peaceful ending to my earthly life.

Then suddenly all these assurances are turned upside down by a divine calling. God demands something of me that I never expected. It's almost like receiving the news of an unwanted child.

Should I listen to this urgent request? Should I make a decision that will cost me dearly? Why in the world would I? Everything seemed to be going so well. Is it really necessary to accept these uncertainties, these new anxieties? Do I really need to tread again the tortuous pathway of that first calling, the one that came so long ago? Do I really have to leave my own familiar homeland, with no idea as to where God is leading me?

I never spoke these things to God, but I certainly thought them. Of course I never said "No" to the Lord, but I have certainly given Him a reply that amounts to a respectful refusal: "Please allow me to live in your presence just as I am!"

"Just as I am...." That person who is me, myself, represents a present state of being, a life lived in a well defined situation, with a collection of things to which I've become thoroughly attached. That includes my relationship with God, which seems perfectly adequate. What more could I want?

Love without limits seeks to invade my life. It troubles the calm waters of my daily existence. It shatters all that seems stable, in order to open before me new horizons that I never before imagined.

Will I refuse? Will I run from this announcement, this command, that God has just spoken to me? If I do refuse, I may not necessarily be estranged from every other form of love. But the love I finally do embrace will be both relative and limited. It will amount to a rejection of absolute Love, with all its audacious demands. It will be the stillness of a stagnant pond, rather than the tumult of the high seas.

Lord of Love, break the bonds that hold me back! I will never return to that place of familiar complacency. O Lord of Love, may I live before you as the person I shall become!


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Love without limits 07 (Fr Lev Gillet)

 

What does 'love' mean, when it is God who loves, God who Himself is Love? Every form of love is a movement from one being towards another with the desire to unite with the other. The directions, forms and varieties of this movement are innumerable. They span the range from less than human to more than human. Yet there is always a tendency toward union, toward a desire for union, whether possessive or sacrificial.

"My Love for persons is a movement of myself toward them, not only to be known by them or to be in some way imitated by them. That movement allows me to unite myself to them, to give myself to them.

"My Love, Love in its incorruptible essence, Love without limits, is never entirely absent. God is never absent. At times such Love seems barely to exist, yes. It can be undetectable, covered by hatred, by all sorts of perversions, or by a layer of instinctive brutality. Yet I still work through it. No matter how deformed love may be, I can make it rise to the level of a conscious and total gift. Love has a great many different aspects, it's true. But there is only one Love.

"You are loved. Isn't there a place for the most 'insignificant' person in the flame of the Burning Bush? A soul, a person whom I love, though, is not insignificant. You are loved. It is you whom I love. This is no universal affirmation; I'm not speaking here about groups of people. I am speaking about you.

"Certainly you are all, collectively, my 'beloved,' whom I have created by my Love. You are members of a single body, which is my own Body. But now, my child, I am speaking to a single person: to you, and to no one else. I am calling you by a name I have given to no one else.

"Yes, I am calling you by a secret name, one reserved for you from all eternity. It is a different name from the one others use to address you. It is the name written on a white stone, a name no one knows, except (if they are attentive to the gift) the person who receives it.

"In the heart of God there is given to each of you the possibility to discover and make apparent to others a different facet of the unique Diamond. You yourself are that facet. Whatever life may have handed you, you are a unique aspect, a particular aspect, of the link that joins each person to divine Love. You are a ray of Love, shining forth from Love, even if at times that ray may seem broken . . . "

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Love without limits 06 (Fr Lev Gillet)


"No less than six times in the first chapter of the first sacred book of the Hebrews, God is represented creating the days of the week and setting evening as the time at which the day begins.

"The way people today count time is not Your way, O Lord. Instinctively, they tend to start the day with morning. The day begins with the pale light of daybreak. Then comes the joy of dawn, the rising of the sun, the splendour of noonday, the sunset and shadows of evening, the sadness of the twilight hours, and finally the tangible tragedy and the terrors of darkness.

"With You, O Lord, it is very different. You declare that first there was evening, and only then did morning appear.

"Your day begins in the evening hours, in nocturnal obscurity. Then it progresses toward morning, toward the light, toward the incandescence of the Burning Bush and of the midday sun.

"Thus it is with our love. It always begins in obscurity, in weakness, uncertain and threatened. Gradually it progresses in strength towards the brilliance of Love without limits.

"Without doubt, the evening will return once again. Yet an immense gulf separates the vision of a day declining toward night, from the image of a day that rises toward morning.

"What truly matters, O Lord, is the meaning You attribute to the movement that marks each day. You make a symbol of the order it follows, from darkness to light. From the beginning of Creation, You have directed the evolution of time toward Your own luminous fullness. You guide us toward the Morning.

"O Lord, grant me to be more conscious of the movement inherent in my days. Despite the obscurities that can darken each moment, grant me an intuition and an unceasing movement toward the rising of the Sun of Love. Open wide the door of my hope to the approaching Day of Your Kingdom, a Day that will know no evening."
 


S. Clare of Assisi

 


The Church in western Europe wasn't doing so well at the end of the 12th century. But it was at this very time that the Holy Spirit stirred the hearts of two young people in central Italy, giving rise to the remarkable Franciscan movement.

Clare - commemorated in the Church's calendar today - was born Chiara Offreduccio in 1193 or 1194, the daughter of a wealthy and highly educated family in Assisi. When Francis began to preach the Gospel in the squares of Assisi in 1210 Clare was only sixteen years old, eleven years younger than him. Even as a child her heart was turned towards the Lord, and she would share her food with the poor and needy people of the town. She had already refused several offers of marriage. At the age of 18, she was captivated by Francis' Lenten preaching of a Christ-centred simple gospel life, and especially his emphasis on poverty as a special vocation to which some are called. She had several secret meetings with him, accompanied only by a friend, Bona, and made up her mind to join him. 

On Palm Sunday 1212 Clare left her parents' house secretly. She had already sold her dowry and given the money to the poor. At the little church of S. Mary of the Angels, just below Assisi, she met Francis and a few of his brothers. She changed her dress for a simple habit, and took off her jewellery. Francis cut her hair, and she made a vow of obedience to him. At first she lived with a nearby Benedictine community of nuns, doing simple menial tasks. 

Not surprisingly, Clare's family were outraged at what she had done. They sent armed men to bring her back, without success. When Clare's younger sister Catherine followed her only a fortnight later, the family made even more violent attempts to force her to return home. It is said that as they were physically carrying Catherine away Clare prayed, and Catherine became so heavy that they could not lift her. Defeated, they returned home. 

Francis received Catherine, too, as a sister, and gave her the name Agnes. Then Clare, Agnes and several friends moved to San Damiano, the church where Francis had heard Jesus speak to him from the crucifix, charging him to "rebuild" the Church. Here the first community of Poor Clares came into being. In time, Clare's widowed mother joined as well. 

It was said that the followers of Clare were the most beautiful young girls from the "best" families of Assisi. The community grew rapidly, and in 1215, very much against her will, Clare was made Abbess. 

The women devoted themselves to prayer, nursing the sick, and works of mercy for the poor and neglected. The order came to be called the "Poor Clares." They wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a house that was unsatisfactory even by the standards of the time. They kept silent most of the day. They had no beds, but slept on twigs with patched hemp for blankets. They ate only food they begged for. Clare fasted more rigorously than anyone else. 

Clare remained in charge until her death in 1253. In spite of long years of sickness, we know the depth of her love for the Lord by the letters she wrote. Just two years after her death, in 1255, she was declared a saint by the Church. 

In the early years of the movement Francis visited Clare often, but as his own community grew his visits decreased and she had to find within herself the inspiration she had received from him. In fact, their relationship grew more equal, and Francis would consult her on important decisions. In his last illness he came to San Damiano and Clare cared for him. 

Although she called herself “the little plant of Francis” Clare became a powerful and innovative woman in her own right. Not only did she write the Rule (a guide to a way of life) for her religious community. She struggled long and hard with the "institutional Church" for most of her life, as Popes and Cardinals resisted the renewal movement and sought to draw her away from the poverty which was at the heart of her following of Jesus. But Clare remained firm and her Rule was finally approved by the Pope himself just a few days before her death. By that time there were more than 150 communities following her way of life, mainly in Italy, southern France and Spain, but also as far east as Prague, and as far west as Bruges. 

COLLECT
God of peace, 
who in the poverty of the blessed Clare 
gave us a clear light 
to shine in the darkness of this world: 
give us grace so to follow in her footsteps
 that we may, at the last, 
rejoice with her in your eternal glory; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.



The Church of San Damiano, 
where S. Francis heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "rebuild my Church." 
It is also where S. Clare died on August 11, 1253.


A LETTER OF S. CLARE TO BLESSED AGNES OF PRAGUE 
Agnes, previously a very wealthy woman, was Abbess of the community of Poor Clares in Prague. Although she and Clare never met, a close friendship developed and was maintained through their correspondence for over twenty years. 

Fortunate indeed is she who shares in the sacred banquet and clings with all her heart to him whom the hosts of heaven constantly adore! Contemplation of him refreshes her; his kindness and sweetness fill her being. "He is the splendour of eternal light, a mirror without blemish." Look daily into that spotless mirror, dear queen and spouse of Christ, and see your face in it. See how you are to adorn yourself, within and without, in all the blossoms of virtue, as befits a chaste daughter and spouse of that greatest of kings. In that mirror poverty, humility, and love beyond telling shine radiantly. 

Contemplate the beginning therein mirrored - the poverty of him who lay in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvelous humility and astonishing poverty! It is the King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, who lies here! Contemplate next the course of his life, with its humility in the form of blessed poverty, endless toil, and torments to be endured for the redemption of humankind. Contemplate, finally, the boundless love that marks the end of that life, when love made him suffer and die on the Cross. The mirror cries out to us: "All you who pass along the way, look and see if there be any sorrow like mine!" What shall our answer be? "I remember and my heart fails within me." Here, noble queen of the heavenly King, your love will flame up ever more intensely. 

If you go to contemplate his inexpressible delights and the riches and honours he bestows, your heart will sigh with loving desire: “Draw me after you; we shall run after you, drawn by your fragranet perfumes,” heavenly Spouse! I shall run and not cease until you lead me into your wine cellar. 

When you contemplate all this, remember me, your poor little mother. Know that the memory of you is imprinted in my heart, for you are dearer to me than any other. 


A LETTER OF St CLARE TO ERMENTRUDE OF BRUGES 
In 1240 Ermentrude, a noble lady originally from Köln, went to Bruges, Belgium, where she lived for twelve years in a hermitage. She heard about Clare and the Poor Ladies and left for a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, but found that Clare had already died. She returned to Bruges and transformed her small hermitage into a monastery of Poor Ladies and then and then established other monasteries in Flanders. Clare had written two letters of encouragement to her. Here is one of them: 

I have learned, O most dear sister, that, with the help of God's grace, you have fled in joy the corruptions of the world. I rejoice and congratulate you because of this and, again, I rejoice that you are walking courageously the paths of virtue with your daughters. Remain faithful until death, dearly beloved, to God to whom you have promised yourself, for you shall be crowned by him with the gariand of life. 

Our labour here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamour of the world, which passes like a shadow. Do not let the faise delights of a deceptive world deceive you. Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts. Gladly endure whatever goes against you and do not let good fortune lift you up: for these things destroy faith, while these others demand it. Offer faithfully what you have vowed to God, and he shall reward you. 

O dearest one, look up to heaven, which calls us on, and take up the cross and follow Christ who has gone on before us: for through him we shall enter into his glory after many and diverse tribulations. Love God from the depths of your heart and Jesus, his Son, who was crucified for us sinners. Never let the thought of him leave your mind, but meditate constantly on the mysteries of the cross and the anguish of his mother as she stood beneath the cross. 

Pray and watch at all times! Carry out steadfastly the work you have begun and fulfil the ministry you have undertaken in true humility and holy poverty. Fear not, daughter! God, who is faithful in all his words and holy in all his deeds, will pour his blessings upon you and your daughters. He will be your help and best comforter for he is our Redeemer and our eternal reward. 

Let us pray to God together for each other for, by sharing each other's burden of charity in this way, we shall easily fulfil the law of Christ.