Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Love without limits 6 (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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Love without limits 5 (Fr Lev Gillet)

"My child, as soon as you speak these words, 'Love without limits,' as soon as you give this supreme reality a place in your heart, you open a door. This is the doorway that leads into the Kingdom of freedom and light.

"This is the doorway of Hope, the threshold that leads to the infinite expansion of your being. Hope: awaiting what is to come, awaiting the One who is to come. Such waiting is filled with love. It is founded on love. For we never hope for what we do not love.

"Do not confuse your 'hopes,' in the plural, with 'hope' in the singular. Your hopes are those particular, limited things you want to see realized and which often correspond only to a selfish desire. For example, some special success, or a particular healing. These are hopes. They are not Hope.

"Hope in the true sense is a wish, a desire, an expectation that refers not only to a particular object. It refers to your total destiny. It does not refer to some portion of a curve, but to the curve in its entirety.

"If you consider only a portion of the curve of your life, you can easily have the impression that is a meaningless failure, a tragic loss. Look, rather, at the entire line of your life with a confidence inspired by love. In this perspective, death itself, however great its importance, is only a moment, only a point on the curve. Love never dies. Nothing truly marked by love is ever lost.

"The doorway of Hope is open before you, and no one can ever close it. What is this doorway like? It is the doorway of possibility that Love offers you at every moment. You trouble yourself over the missed opportunities of your life. At times you say to yourself, "Oh, if only I had known! Oh, if only I had done this or that differently. If only I could do it all over again!" We cannot redo what is already done. Yes, of course there have been missed opportunities. They are gone for good. But those lost possibilities are nothing in comparison with what is before you right now: the possibilities that I offer you, that are offered to you in this very moment.

"The door of present possibility, which is also the door of Hope, is open before you at every instant. It is different with each one of us. Don't just sit in front of the door, waiting for someone to come open it because you think it is closed. You only have to push against it gently, and it will open wide before you.

"The moment you cross the threshold, Love without limits will come to you. Since it is of me, it is more than promised Love; it is Love already given. Nevertheless, in this world, as long as you are in this life, you can always break communion with Me. Here, that union remains imperfect. For the time being, ours is only an engagement, not a full marriage. It is Hope rather than possession. But move ahead with the Hope which is yours, that youthful, spring-like Hope you already possess. Hope in your Lord of Love, even when you feel you may be crushed to death. The greatest Hope is to hope against all Hope.

"Hope knows no limits, because it flows forth from Love without limits and leads back to that Love. I ask you this question: Has Love without limits already placed on your finger the engagement ring that is Hope without limits?"

Love without limits - 4 (Lev Gillet)

"My child," God calls, "expand your vision to the dimensions of universal Love, to the dimensions of my Heart. Love without limits does not end with the human person. My Love upholds the entire universe. It is the essential connection, the vital bond, between all persons and things, and Him who loves them.

"Let yourself be carried away by the immense current of boundless Love. Be transported by this movement, this dynamic and aspiration of nature itself, which waits plaintively to be delivered from the consequences of the Fall.

"It is possible for man to ascend toward me; but do not lose sight of my descent toward mankind and toward all created things. Take a flower in your hand. Take a stone. Contemplate them, not in a scientific perspective, but from the point of view of Love. They represent a recapitulation of the world's evolution. They are signs of the Love that aspires to reach the heights, as they are of the Love that comes to you from across the ages: the Love that reveals itself to you, that gives itself to you, that increasingly draws near to you.

"Behold the beauty of Love in a blade of grass, in a leaf or a branch, in an odour or a colour. Enfold your life into the life of the universe, submitting it to the same divine purpose. Think of the mountains and the sea, of winds and storms, of wild beasts and the smallest animals. They all have their place in my Heart. Grant them a place as well in your prayer. May they orient that prayer toward greater venues than those of some simple piety in which the universe has no place.
"Look for a purpose of Love in every created reality. I have loved every grain of sand, every tree, every animal. Each of them represents both an ascension and a condescension. Unite yourself to them all. Express thanks in the name and in the place of mute nature. And may an adoration as vast as the world be your response to Love without limits.

"Do you admire the sun, the stars, the galaxies? Do you thank me for their creation and their presence in your life? Can you enter into divine Love for everything that exists?

"That may be difficult for you. How can we love snakes, after all? Yet even if you are bitten by a snake, you should attempt to love that snake, even as it bites you. Animals are not culpable. They merely do what their natural organism commands. They, too, were victims of an original Fall. Nevertheless, I never cease to love them all . . .

'My child," God whispers, "this world is a world of signs. You must learn to decipher its secret writing. 

"It is good that you discover and admire at every step of the way the beauty of the world. It is good that you remain aware of the creative act that brought it into being. Yet beyond a certain point, that is no longer enough. You must set this created splendour in its total context, which is marked by both pain and victory.

"If you have perceived that the mystery of the universe is Love without limits, yet a Love that sacrifices itself for you, you can no longer see things as they appeared before. 'Natural' beauty simply disappears with the vision of the Sacrifice of Love.

"You see the sun. Think then of Him who is the Light of the World, veiled in shadows. You see the trees, and their branches adorned anew with every new spring. Think of Him who, nailed to the wood, draws all things to Himself.

"You see the rocks and boulders. Think of the stone which, in a special garden, covered the entrance to a tomb. That stone was rolled away; and ever since, the door of that tomb has never been closed. 

"You admire the crimson streaks that embellish the whiteness of certain petals. Think of the precious Blood that poured forth from Him who is absolute Purity.

"You see the sheep and the lambs. These innocent ones are led to the slaughter, yet they never open their mouths. Think of Him who, in a unique way, desired to be the sacrificed Lamb of God!' 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Love without limits - 3 (Lev Gillet)

"My child," God declares, "you have seen the Bush that burns without being consumed. You have recognized Love, which is a consuming fire that desires you completely. The 'great vision' of the Burning Bush can help you give Me a new name. That name will not replace the name or names you have used until now. Nevertheless, like a lightening flash in the night, the radiance of this new name can enlighten your entire surroundings.

"Many times you called Me by a name that was not mine. Or, rather, that eternal name, although it was indeed mine, failed to express clearly the most intense manifestations of divine life. It could not adequately express what I wanted to reveal of myself in your times of prayer: that particular aspect of my Being by which you might have spoken to Me.

"You call me God. This traditional name has been worshiped and blessed by countless souls, to whom it has given, and never ceases to give, depths of feeling and strength. Foolish are those who would depreciate it, and ungodly those who would reject it! It is for you, rather, to worship me precisely as God, and to venerate that name by which I am known.

"Nevertheless, without lessening that veneration, you recognize that, from the point of view of the word itself, this name, "God," does not have a specific content; it is lacking in precision. Those meanings people have attached to it were not all direct expressions of the word "God." For that word is so vast, so open to elaboration, that at times, because of human weakness, it can somehow seem empty.

"In your prayer you call me 'God,' 'my God,' 'You who are God,' and 'Lord God.' In this ancient designation, this sacred name 'God,' you can surely find new strength. But you can also find a fresh source of enlightenment in calling me by names that correspond more closely to your immediate experience or your immediate need. You can appeal to those aspects of my Being that are revealed by present circumstances. For example, depending on what is happening in your life, you can call me 'You who are Beauty,' or 'You who are Truth,' or 'You who are my Purity, my Light, my Strength.' You can also call me, 'You who are Love.'

"This last expression will draw your language more closely to my heart. You can say to me, 'Lord of Love.' Or more simply, you can simply speak the name 'Love.'

"Here I would set before you, in your reflection and your prayer, a term which, if you so desire, can become like the sun, the sun that knows no setting, the sun of your life. My beloved ones, I am 'Boundless Love,' 'Love without limits.'

"Love without limits... I am above and beyond every name. The qualification 'without limits' expresses precisely the truth that my Person and my Love are beyond every category known to the human mind. I am 'Supreme Love,' 'Universal Love,' 'Absolute Love,' 'Infinite Love.'

"If I now insist on the words 'without limits,' it is to evoke in your mind the image of barriers that have been overturned. It is to call up for you the image of something unlimited, boundless: a Love that, like some violent wind or hurricane, breaks down every obstacle. I am that Love that nothing can stop, nothing can contain, nothing can impede."

"Our present reflection goes 'beyond' a Person or the divine Persons. It concerns what those Persons are in their depth, their common inner Being, rather than what is proper to each one individually. In this moment we are contemplating 'the divine essence.' We are daring to explore the reality of God, to seek out the original generating emotion of all things. That emotion we have called Love, 'Love without limits.'"

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Love without limits - 2 (Lev Gillet)

"Fire burst forth from the burning bush, yet the bush was not destroyed. Draw near to the Burning Bush, my child. Reflect on this great vision, and why the bush burned and still was not consumed. 

"The fire that burns the bush without destroying it is a fire nourished by nothing apart from itself. It subsists alone, by itself. And of itself it spreads abroad in infinite growth. This fire does not destroy the wood of the bush. Rather, it purifies the wood. It eliminates everything in the wood that is merely brambles and thorns. Yet it does not deform the bush. It respects its original structure, even while it eliminates its superfluous growth. It renews without killing. It transforms the wood itself into fire, a lasting fire.

"Surely, according to the most simple, the most elementary interpretation, you can behold in the Burning Bush the expression of divine protection, which sustains your existence in the face of every burning pain and suffering. There, my child, you can find the assurance of a supreme Compassion, a preserving Mercy. There you can see as well the sign of a divine Purification: one painful for you to endure, yet one that sets you free.

"The Burning Bush, however, has a still deeper meaning. It bears a Revelation of your Lord and God Himself. 

"The Burning Bush is an expression of the divine nature. In the flame of the bush you can have a glimpse of Who I am. As the Scripture declares, your Lord, the Lord of Love, is a consuming fire!
"Like the flame of the Bush, I am Love that gives endlessly of itself. I am that generosity that knows no bounds. No one can say of my Love: it extends to this point, and no further. 

"I am that Love that always tends to incorporate and assimilate every element of human existence it encounters (indeed, I am the very Source of those elements). Just as the fire burns without consuming the wood of the bush, I never destroy the persons I have created. I only wish to make disappear whatever there is within a person that conflicts with the essence of Love. 

"I take for myself and make it my own. I transform and I transfigure. I bestow life. I transpose human life on to a higher plane. 

"He who loves unites himself to those whom he loves. I unite myself to you, my beloved. Nevertheless, there can be no confusion between myself, who am Love, and you, who receive that Love.
"Can you now behold this Great Vision? Do you see the flame that no one lights, the flame that leaps forth from my very Heart, the flame which is my very Being? Do you see the divine Fire that spreads out across the world? The entire universe is the Burning Bush!"

Friday, August 7, 2020

Love without limits - 1 (Lev Gillet)

Over the next fortnight I will be sharing with you a series of passages from Fr Lev Gillet's AMOUR SANS LIMITES, originally published in 1971 under the name of "A Monk of the Eastern Church." 

Lev Gillet was a monk of both the Western Church’s Benedictine order and of the Eastern Church. Born in 1893, in Isère, France, his early life included service in World War I and university study of philosophy and psychology. Later in life, his work as a priest and scholar would take him across Europe, Britain and to the Near East. After entering the Orthodox Church, he was rector of the first French language Orthodox parish in Paris. Lev Gillet was also considered a pioneer of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He died in 1980.

These translations of AMOUR SANS LIMITES – which has been a great blessing to me – came originally from Father John Breck's column on the Orthodox Church of America website. Most of them are no longer there, but I see that Neil at Catholic Sensibility has links to cached copies, and these were the sources I used. Thank you Fr Breck and Neil!

"I am your Lord, the Lord of Love. Do you want to enter into the life of Love? 

"This is not an invitation to some realm of tepid tenderness. It is a calling to enter into the burning flame of Love. There alone is true conversion: conversion to incandescent Love. 

"Do you wish to become someone other than you have been, someone other than you are? Do you wish to be someone who lives for others, and first of all for that Other and with that Other who calls all things into being? Do you wish to be a brother to all, a brother to the entire world?

"Then hear what my Love speaks to you.

"My child, you have never known who you really are. You do not yet know yourself. I mean, you have never really known yourself to be the object of my Love. As a result, you have never known who you are in me, or all the potential within yourself.

"Awake from this sleep and its bad dreams! In certain moments of truth, you see nothing in yourself but failures and defeats, set-backs, corruption, and perhaps even crimes. But none of that is really of you. It is not your true 'me,' the most profound expression of your true self.

"Beneath and behind all that, deeper than all your sin, transgressions and lacks, my eyes are upon you. I see you, and I love you. It is you that I love. It's not the evil you do - the evil that we can neither ignore nor deny nor lessen (is black actually white?). But underneath it all, at a greater depth, I see something else that is still very much alive.

"The masks you wear, the disguises you adopt might well hide you from the eyes of others - and even from your own eyes. But they cannot hide you from me. I pursue you even there where no one has ever pursued you before.

"Your deceptive expression, your feverish quest for excitement, your hard and avaricious heart - all of that I separate from you. I cut it away and cast it far off from you. 

"Hear me. No one truly understands you. But I understand you. I can speak about you such wonderful, marvelous things! I can say these things about you. Not about the 'you' that the powers of darkness have so often led astray, but about the 'you' who is as I desire you to be, the 'you' who dwells in my thoughts as the object of my love. I can say these things about the 'you' who can still be what I want you to be, and to be so visibly."

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Transfiguration - Metropolitan Anthony

[On the Mount of Transfiguration ...] they saw Christ in glory at a moment when His total surrender to the will of the Father, His final and ultimate acceptance of His own human destiny, became revealed to them. Moses and Elijah, we are told, stood by Him; the one representing the Law and the other on
e representing the Prophets: both have proclaimed the time when salvation would come, when the Man of suffering will take upon Himself all the burdens of the world, when the Lamb of God slain before all ages would take upon Himself all the tragedy of this world. It was a moment when in His humanity Christ, in humble and triumphant surrender, gave Himself ultimately to the Cross.
Last week we heard Him say that the Son of God will be delivered in the hand of men, and they will crucify Him, but on the third day He will rise. At that moment it became imminent, it was a decisive point, and He shone with the glory of the perfect, sacrificial, crucified love of the Holy Trinity, and the responsive love of Jesus the Man, as Saint Paul calls Him. The Apostles saw the shining, they saw the divine light streaming through the transparent flesh of Christ, falling on all the things around Him, touching rock and plant, and calling out of them a response of light. They alone did not understand, because in all the created world man alone has sinned and became blind. And yet, they were shown the mystery, and yet, they entered into that cloud which is the divine glory, that filled them with awe, with fear, but at the same time with such exulting joy and wonder!

Moses had entered that cloud and was allowed to speak to God as a friend speaks to a friend; he was allowed to see God passing by him, still without a name, still without a face; and now, they saw the face of God in the Incarnation. They saw His face and they saw His glory shining out of tragedy. What they perceived was the glory, what they perceived was the wonder of being there, in the glory of God, in the presence of Christ revealed to them in glory. They wanted to stay there forever, as we do at moments when something fills us with adoration, with worship, with awe, with unutterable joy, but Christ had told them that the time has come to go down into the valley, to leave the Mount of Transfiguration because this was the beginning of the way of the Cross, and He had to be merged into all that was tragic in human life. He brought them down into the valley to be confronted with the agony of the father whose child could not be cured, with the inability of the disciples to do anything for this child, with the expectation of the people who now could turn to no-one but Him - that is where He brought them.

And we are told that He had chosen these three disciples because together, in their togetherness they held the three great virtues that make us capable of sharing with God the mystery of His incarnation, of His Divinity, of His crucifixion, to face His descent into hell after His death and to receive the news of His resurrection: the faith of Peter, the love of John, the righteousness of James.

There are moments when we also see something which is beyond us, and how much we wish we could stay, stay forever in this blissful condition; and it is not only because we are incapable of it that we are not allowed to stay in it, but because the Lord says, You are now on the Mount of Transfiguration, you have seen Christ ready to be crucified for the life of the world - go now together with Him, go now in His name, go now, and bring people to Him that they may live!

This is our vocation. May God give us faith, and the purity of heart that allows us to see God in every brother and sister of ours! Didn't one of the Desert Fathers say, ‘He who has seen his brother has seen God’? - and serve one another with love sacrificial, with the exulting joy of giving our lives to one another as Christ gave His life for us. Amen.

(Preached on 19th August 1990, and taken from the Sourozh website)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

S. John Vianney (1786-1859) Patron Saint of Parish Priests

John Vianney was a French parish priest who became internationally famous for his pastoral care, confessional wisdom, children’s catechesis and practical preaching.

Born into humble circumstances, his parents were devout and hard working, and they sought to serve God as a family. When he was 20, John decided to leave his rural surroundings and begin secondary education so as to respond to what he believed was the call of God to the priesthood. He was a highly unpromising student, and had a real struggle. His studies progressed very slowly. A decade later he was ordained. He was well-known for his heart of compassion which led him to open an orphanage as he began to minister in the local parish in the aftermath of the Revolution. In due course he was appointed curé (parish priest) of the remote rural parish of Ars, and was known to spend up 14 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. Over time, he became internationally famous, and each year tens of thousands of pilgrims flocked from far and wide to hear him preach the Gospel, and to sseek his counsel. He prayerfully moved in the of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, and he experienced deeply the reality of spiritual warfare with the powers of evil. John Vianney died in 1859. He was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925. He is the patron saint of the parish clergy.

Here is the passage set for the Office of Readings today, from the S. John Vianney’s catechetical instructions:

The glorious duty of man: to pray and to love
My little children, reflect on these words: the Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Our thoughts, then, ought to be directed to where our treasure is. This is the glorious duty of man: to pray and to love. If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies.

Prayer is nothing else but union with God. When one has a heart that is pure and united with God, he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness. In this intimate union, God and the soul are fused together like two bits of wax that no one can ever pull apart. This union of God with a tiny creature is a lovely thing. It is a happiness beyond understanding.

We had become unworthy to pray, but God in his goodness allowed us to speak with him. Our prayer is incense that gives him the greatest pleasure.

My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.

Prayer also makes time pass very quickly and with such great delight that one does not notice its length. Listen: Once when I was a purveyor in Bresse and most of my companions were ill, I had to make a long journey. I prayed to the good God, and, believe me, the time did not seem long.

Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts. O, how I love these noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette used to see our Lord and talk to him just as we talk to one another.

How unlike them we are! How often we come to church with no idea of what to do or what to ask for. And yet, whenever we go to any human being, we know well enough why we go. And still worse, there are some who seem to speak to God like this: “I will only say a couple of things to you, and then I will be rid of you.” I often think that when we come to adore the Lord, we would receive everything we ask for, if we would ask with living faith and with a pure heart.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel is in a richly forested area at the southern end of a long fertile valley known from ancient times for its wine and oil production. From the summit of the mountain can be seen the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, making it a strategic site for defence of the rich land below. Stone age people dug caves into the side of the Mountain. As far as the Scriptures are concerned, Mount Carmel is known chiefly as the site of a contest between Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (both false gods.) (1 Kings 8) 

The area is famous for its flower blossoms, shrubs, and fragrant herbs. The beauty of the bride in the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 7:5) is compared to the mountain's beauty. On its slopes are plentiful pastures (Isaiah 33:9, Jeremiah 50:19, Amos 1:2) Through the ages, monks sheltered in the caves, as did Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:19, 2 Kings 2:25.) Reference to Mt Carmel frequently suggests God’s care and generosity. The Hebrew name 'karmel' means 'garden land' and 'a fruitful place.'

Today we celebrate the foundation of the Carmelite religious order in the 12th century. Berthold, the founder of the order, is sometimes said to have been a pilgrim to the area (perhaps to the cave of Elijah), sometimes he is said to have been a crusader. Tradition says that he originated in southern France and was venturing in the Holy Land when he encountered fierce soldiers. Receiving a vision of Jesus, he went to Mount Carmel and built a small chapel there. Before long he was joined by hermits who all lived there in community in imitation of Elijah. After his death, it seems that St. Brocard became leader of the hermits eventually leading to the establishment of the Carmelite Order in the 12th century. 

In Carmelite tradition Mount Carmel is understood to have been a place of deep devotion and monastic-style prayer since the time of Elijah. So they built an actual monastery there, and it was dedicated to the the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she was 'Star of the Sea' – the cloud of life that dwells over the sea promising rain and fertility (1 Kings 18:41-45). (Remember that the Mediterranean is seen from Mount Carmel and is a garden of life.) Throughout the monastery’s long history, there were periods of sadness, especially when it fell under Islamic control, becoming a mosque known as El-Maharrakah (the place of burning, referring to Elijah’s challenge to the pagan prophets.) In the 18th century, Napoleon established the location as a hospital, but this was destroyed in 1821. Funds were collected by the Carmelites, by then a worldwide order, and they restored the monastery, which is considered the order's spiritual home.

As time went by, the Carmelite order built monasteries throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It is not unusual for nuns and monks to receive visions from Mary and Jesus. 

Fr. John Malley, O.Carm., writes:
'For Carmelites Our Lady is the perfect model of the life of prayer and contemplation. She primarily points Christians to Jesus, saying to each what she said to the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” For Carmelites, Mary is a spiritual Mother. The Carmelites believe deeply that God is always present among us. This was the basic insight that Jesus taught in His sharing among the people. God treasures every individual with a personal and everlasting love. In the words of St. John’s Gospel 3: 16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him – might have eternal life.”

'God has first loved us and continues to share that love with us day by day in so many personal ways. God is always with us, caring for us, supporting, and providing for us in all our needs. As the first Carmelites strove to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to follow His example, this fundamental message of the Gospel became paramount.

'Carmelites have this ideal: to seek and search for God, to give and spend time with God (vacare Deo is the traditional Latin phrase), to be with God by their commitment to follow Jesus, and thus “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all you mind.” (Luke 10:27)

'This ideal excites and inspires us still. It opens a horizon that calls, provokes, and challenges us to try to empty ourselves so that we might be filled with the God who created us, guides us, and speaks to us today. (Psalm 94)'

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Holy Catholic Church Railway

Regular readers will remember that I have already made reference to the artist Thomas Noyes-Lewis (1862-1946) HERE and HERE. A staunch Anglo-Catholic, he was for many years a worshipper at my parish church - All Saints’ Benhilton in the south of London - and, indeed, a server at the altar. He was a professional artist, an illustrator of prayer books and children’s books.

I dsicovered another example of his work over at Project Canterbury. He provided the cover illustration (above) for the charming children’s catechetical booklet published by The Faith Press (date unknown), called The Road to Heaven by the Holy Catholic Church Railway. The text was written by R. A. Kingdon, and is Childermote Manual No. 16. Go HERE for the complete text.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Some Eucharistic Devotions

Now that we are back in church again, here are some great prayers of preparation for Holy Communion, prayers of thanksgiving after Holy Communion, and traditional prayers of reflection on the Holy Sacrifice.

Before Mass (Bishop Thomas Ken)
Before Mass (William Vickers)
Before Mass ("Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Angels")
Before Mass ("Lord, come to me that thou mayest cleanse me")
Before Mass (". . . incline thy merciful ears to our prayers")
Before Mass ("Cleanse our consciences, we beseech thee O Lord")
Before Mass ("As watchmen look for the morning")
Before Mass (Desiderius Erasmus)
Before Mass (From the Non-Jurors' Liturgy of 1718)
Before Mass ("Like as the hart . . .")
Before Mass (From the Diocese of Bathurst "Red Book")
Before Mass (May this offering avail . . .)
Before Mass (S. Thomas Aquinas)
Before Mass (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes)
Before Mass (Bishop Thomas Ken)
Before Mass (Bishop John Cosin)
Before Mass (Thomas Comber)
Oblation (From the liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church)
Uniting Heaven and Earth (Bishop Jeremy Taylor)
Encountering Jesus (Eric Milner-White)
The Holy Sacrifice (William Jervois)
The Holy Sacrifice (Charles Wesley)
Ave verum corpus (Attributed to Pope Innocent VI)
To Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (Favourite medieval prayer of Father John Hope)
Acclamation ("O Sacrament most holy . . .")
The Holy Sacrifice (William Bright)
To Jesus, the Risen Lord (i) (Brian Moore, adapted)
To Jesus, the Risen Lord (ii) (Brian Moore, adapted)
Drawing Near (From the liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church)
To Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
To Jesus, the Lamb of God (Charlotte Elliott)
Act of Spiritual Communion 
(when attending the Eucharist of a Church whose discipline 
does not yet allow us to receive Holy Communion sacramentally)
Gratitude (S. Richard of Chichester)
Communion (From the liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church)
To Whom shall we go?
After Communion (Bishop Thomas Ken)
After Mass (Bishop Jeremy Taylor)
After Mass (S. John Henry Newman)
After Mass (S. Basil the Great)
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
To Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament
Litany of Christ, our Eucharistic King
Adoration in the Christmas Season
Desiring Jesus (Father Ignatius of Llanthony)
Adoro Te (S. Thomas Aquinas)

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Sunday we've been waiting for - at last!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Newman's 'most brilliant' paragraph

Even during his Anglican years, John Henry Newman remarked that the popular exhibitions of devotion that so scandalised the 'English Protestant visitor to the Continent', even with corruptions of 'excess' or 'superstition', were preferable to the 'arid indifference' of the English laity and clergy. After all, as Newman puts it, these devotions to Our Lady derived from the real (versus notional) idea that she was the Mother of God. Later in his life, towards the end of his famous 'Letter to Dr. Pusey' (p. 86) Newman wrote what I have heard (justifiably) called the most brilliant paragraph in all his work:

'And did not the All-wise know the human heart when He took to Himself a Mother? Did He not anticipate our emotion at the sight of such an exaltation in one so simple and so lowly?  If He had not meant her to exert that wonderful influence in His Church, which she has in the event exerted, I will use a bold word, He it is who has perverted us. If she is not to attract our homage, why did He make her solitary in her greatness amid His vast creation? If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, He would not have made her what she is, or He would not have told us that He had so made her; but, far from this, He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, ‘A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God’s Mother, as we have for adoring Him as God.'

Thursday, June 25, 2020

A superstar who hit rock bottom and came up again

I want to tell you about someone whose life was changed - a man in the depths of despair who found new life and hope. He had been a great musician. As a child he had overtaken all his teachers. He had begun composing in childhood, and by his twenties he was fabulously wealthy - the highest paid composer in the world, packing in the crowds wherever he went.

At the same time, he was rude, arrogant, and self-opinionated. He drank too heavily, and he could swear like a trooper in three different languages!

For forty years he composed breathtaking music for the royal family. But musical tastes change, and his works fell out of fashion. He tried everything, but he couldn’t resurrect his career. He became bankrupt, poverty-stricken, depressed and physically ill. Things were so bad that he thought he might end up living out his days in a London debtors’ prison.

Who am I talking about? George Frederick Handel (1685-1759). As if things couldn’t get worse, in 1737 he had a cerebral haemorrhage which left him paralysed down his right side and unable to walk or write. Very slowly he managed to regain some of his strength.

One night in 1741 he shuffled listlessly down a dark, creepy London street, bent over - a man seriously old before his time. England was in the grip of an extremely cruel winter, and Handel was physically and emotionally worn out.

As he trudged on he came to a church. He paused, and suddenly from the depths of his being he cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Eventually he went home to his very modest lodgings. On his desk was a package - a set of words that he had promised a friend he would try to do something with musically. In fact the words were all Bible verses arranged in such a way as to emphasise the salvation won for us by Jesus. Handel opened the package and his eyes fell on the verse, ‘He was despised and rejected of men.’

He reached for his pen and began to write. Then something mysterious - even ‘miraculous’ - happened to him. He just kept writing . . . page after page after page! He actually worked non-stop for twenty-four days, hardly eating, and having almost no rest. He refused to see friends. But on the day he finished, a friend managed to get in. Handel was sitting at his piano, sheets of music strewn all around him, and he had tears running down his face. ‘I do believe I have seen all of Heaven before me, and the great God Himself,’ he said to his friend. He then flopped onto his bed and slept for seventeen hours. He woke up renewed in body and in soul. Looking back on this experience, and borrowing a phrase from the Apostle Paul, he said, ‘Whether I was in my body or out of my body I know not. God knows it’!
Right from its first performance, Handel’s Messiah has been regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces ever composed. It has stunned multitudes. To this day it is performed at Christmas and Easter all over the world, and people who know nothing else about classical music always recognise the Hallelujah Chorus! More than that, Handel’s music has brought a vision of the glory of the Lord to countless unsuspecting souls.

Why have I recounted the story of George Frederick Handel? Simply because I know that so many of us find ourselves exactly where he was. We think that life is useless. We feel that there is no hope. Maybe it’s related to a business failure or the disintegration of our relationships. Or we might be successful financially, in our careers and in our family life. But for reasons we can’t understand we’re there, right at rock bottom in other ways.

Of course we can speak to friends. And professional counselling is a good idea, too. Medication can often make a big difference. These things are important.

How bizarre it is, though, that we so easily neglect the ‘spiritual’ aspect of our being, when ‘God . . . has put eternity into man’s mind’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There are even in our universities today professional observers of human behaviour who agree that we seem to have an inbuilt instinct to reach out to ‘the transcendent’. So many people discover that ‘giving in’ to that instinct is the most important life choice we ever make, because in the context of the relationship with God that develops, deep spiritual and emotional healing begins to take place. 

On the other hand, if we refuse to come to terms with our deeply spiritual needs, all other measures are a bit like putting sticking plaster on symptoms rather than treating the real illness. (Sticking plaster is, of course, handy. But on its own it’s not going to heal us!)

Those facing big issues in our lives, or who are on the brink of despair - as many are right now at this stage in the ‘lockdown’ - ought to need very little encouragement to open up to the Lord’s love and healing. Maybe the story of George Frederick Handel will inspire us to do it!

An intriguing insight in the Bible is that we can drift spiritually without even realising what is happening to us.  One of the saddest bits of the Old Testament is when Samson, so full of promise and raised up by God to deliver his people, became captive to his lusts. Do you know what it says? Judges 16:20 tells us, ‘He knew not that the Spirit of God had left him.’ Isn’t that so sad. He drifted. 

We are warned about that happening to us in Hebrews 2:1: ‘... we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.’ In his commentary on this verse, William Barclay points out that in the original language the expression for ‘drift away’ is meant to conjure up the idea of a ship drifting to destruction because the pilot is asleep!

We matter to God. He loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t want us just to drift along. Whatever tangles or trauma we are in the middle of, he wants to help us, support us, strengthen and sustain us, so that we come through. We don’t have to drift. Nor do we have to be strong enough or wise enough in our own strength and wisdom. We can rely on him. We can let his love reach us through prayer, through the Scriptures, through receiving the Sacraments, through the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We really can open up our lives to his healing love.

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah God says to us: ‘You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.’ (Jeremiah 29:3)

S. James says, ‘Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’ (James 4:8)

And Jesus himself said: ‘Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you . . . for he who seeks finds.’ (Matthew 7:7)

George Frederick Handel had his life turned around and put on track because he encountered the Lord in a new way. Isn’t it time for each of us to seek the Lord with our whole heart, to draw near to him, and to experience his love and healing more deeply than ever before?

Handel's memorial in Westminster Abbey