December 18, 2008

Bl. Maria Candida of the Eucharist, Virgin, OCD

1884 – 1949 – Opt. Memorial - December 18th
Virgin, Professed Nun of the Order of Discalced Carmelites

Maria Barba was bMaria Barba was born on January 16, 1884 in Catanzaro, Italy, to Giovanna Florena, a noblewoman, and Pietro Barba, an appeals court judge. Maria was a lively, energetic child, very sensitive towards others. In addition to her schooling, she also took piano lessons and displayed an unusual talent for music. When Maria was 2 years old, she moved with her family to Palermo, Sicily.

Story of a Soul

Maria lived a "carefree" youth up until age 15, at which time she received a special grace of conversion, an immediate "change" in her character and interests: her only desire after this time was to love God with all of her heart, and she felt called to dedicate herself completely to him in the Religious life.

Her family, however, did not agree with Maria's sudden "whim" and believed she was simply overcome by an initial spiritual fervor. Their opposition to her religious vocation forced her to wait 20 years before she could enter a religious community.

These years of waiting were ones of deep interior sufferings for Maria and in the end bore witness to her remarkable strength of spirit and fidelity to God's call. Throughout this period of trial, she was constantly sustained by deep Eucharistic devotion, which became the center of her life.

During all these difficulties, Maria also found comfort in reading Story of a Soul, the inspiring autobiography of the Carmelite nun Thérèse of Lisieux (beatified on 29 April 1923 and canonized on 17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI), which provided renewed impetus for the direction of her life and drew her ever more deeply into the Teresian spirituality, nurturing her own desire to become a Carmelite.

Entry into Carmel

Five years after the death of her mother on 16 April 1920, Maria entered the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites of Ragusa and received the name "Maria Candida of the Eucharist". On 23 April 1924 she made her solemn, profession, and six months later she was elected prioress of the Monastery.

For the first three years, she also served as mistress of novices and took the formation of the young Sisters most seriously. It caused great suffering for Mother Candida to see some Sisters taking their Rule "lightly", and one day she said to one of the nuns: "My daughter, why do you insult the Lord like this? Don't you realize that humanity needs you? Why do you let yourself to go off the path?".

As a result, Mother Candida taught the Sisters to live faithfully and coherently according to their Rule, that of the great Carmelite reformer of the 16th century, St Teresa of Avila.

She was also directly responsible for the expansion of the Discalced Carmelite Order in Sicily and founded the Carmel of Siracusa. Furthermore, she helped to secure the return of the male branch of the Order to Sicily.

Building Eucharistic Spirituality

During the Holy Year of 1933, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Mother Candida began to write a long and profound meditation on the Eucharist, fruit of personal experience and of the deepening of theological reflections based on those same experiences. In one of the most intense and profound pages of her work, Mother Candida wrote the following about the Blessed Virgin Mary, model par excellence of Eucharistic living:

"I want to be like Mary... to be Mary for Jesus, to take the place of his Mother. When I receive Jesus in Communion, Mary is always present. I want to receive Jesus from her hands; she must unite me with him. I cannot separate Mary from Jesus".

In 1947, Mother Candida was diagnosed with a tumour in her liver. After long months of painful suffering lived in resignation and peace, the Lord called Mother Maria Candida to himself on 12 June 1949. It was the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. She was beatified March 21, 2004.

Pope John Paul, II - presented Maria Candida as "an authentic mystic of the Eucharist … unifying center of the whole of life, following the Carmelite tradition."

"She was so in love with Jesus in the Eucharist that she felt a constant and ardent desire to be a tireless apostle of the Eucharist," he said.

Four years after her beatification (March 21, 2004) on June 17 the diocesan process on the presumed miracle, attributed to her intercession, closed in Ragusa, Sicily (Italy). The examination of the supernatural event, now submitted to the process of the congregation for the causes of saints in Rome, is in relation to the eucharistic charism of our blessed carmelite from Sicily: the multiplication of hosts so that the faithful would not go without communion.

To mark the closing of the diocesan process a mass was celebrated in the carmel by the local bishop at which the book ‘Viaggio dentro il cuore. Intinerario ecclesiale sulle orme di M. Maria Candida dell’Eucharistia’ [‘A journey into the heart. An ecclesial itinerary in the footsteps of Mother Maria Candida of the Eucharist’] was presented. The author, Mario Gullo, was present at the celebration, as were the writers Carmelo Mezzasalma and Alessandro Andreini, from the San Leonino community. During a sacred concert the two hymns composed by Cristiana of Jesus Crucified in honour of the Blessed Maria and the choir of the St. Cecila philharmonic association, from Agrigento, were sung for the first time. Blessed Maria Candida of the Eucharist’s popularity has gone beyond the walls of Carmel to touch the faith of the whole of Sicily.

December 16, 2008

Blessed Mary of the Angels

1661 – 1717 – Opt. Memorial - December 16th

In 17th-century Turin, Italy, there lived a very worthy count named John Donato Fontanella. He and his equally admirable wife, Mary Tana (a cousin of St. Aloysius Gonzaga), raised 11 children. No. 9 in their brood was Marianna, who became Blessed Mary of Turin (Blessed Mary of the Angels).

Marianna was highly intelligent, devout in attitude, and very promising. Like St. Teresa of Avila, she and one of her little brothers, already knowledgeable at six in the ways of the saints, decided to run away and become hermits in the desert. Fortunately, she overslept that morning!

But God definitely had Marianna in His eye. When she was eight, on recovering from a serious illness, she had her first vision, and from that time on she focused on works of self-denial. At nine, she made her first Holy Communion - quite early in those days. A strange thing occurred to her in these preteen years. One event in the Gospel that impressed her deeply was the blow that the servant of the high priest gave to Jesus on Good Friday. Once when she and her sisters were attending Benediction, a strange man kneeling at her side turned and slapped her smartly on the cheek. He then withdrew from the church and was never seen nor heard of afterward.

Marianna's call to the religious life was becoming stronger and stronger, but it would take her a good while to bring it into focus. (We must not think that saints are born with wisdom. They have to learn it, sometimes the hardest way.) When she was about 13, with the cooperation of the Cistercian nuns of Saluzzo, she ran off to their convent to try the religious life. This attempt to foil her mother was neither to her credit nor to that of the Cistercian sisters. Anyhow, she didn't like it at the convent, and soon returned home to keep house for her widowed mother.

In 1676, the family finally approved her joining the Carmelites of the monastery of Santa Cristina. At first she hated being at that place. She was homesick, was annoyed by the pattern of life, disliked the mistress of novices. But now she was beginning to learn how to deal with contrarieties. She stuck out the period of noviceship, and took her vows as a Carmelite, with the name "Sister Mary of the Angels."

After seven years in the cloister, Sister Mary experienced a period of great spiritual desolation and violent temptation. Fortunately, she had a very able Carmelite priest as her spiritual advisor. When left to herself, she was usually inclined to try types of mortification and penance that were extreme. (Some saints have acted thus, failing to balance piety with prudence. We must not think we have any duty to follow their example when prompted by unwise zeal. As a biographer of Blessed Mary wrote: "No one is asked to imitate these penances; no one is bound to admire them.")

Nonetheless, Sister Mary of the Angels became the recipient of many great spiritual gifts. Her prayers and wise counsel were sought by prince and pauper, and when it was proposed that she be transferred to another convent that she founded elsewhere in Italy, the people of Turin demanded that she stay there. They got their way.

Blessed Mary was an able administrator. She served long and well as the superior of Santa Cristina Monastery. (Holiness and shrewdness are not mutually exclusive!) When the time came, however, for her to be elected prioress for a fifth term, she felt that her physical weakness would henceforth prevent her from setting the best example of obedience to the rule. She therefore prayed that God would take her to Himself, if it was His will. He chose to answer her prayer. She died soon after.

Of the special gifts that God had given Bl. Mary during her life, one was the sweet odor emanating from her during the last twenty years of her life. An archbishop who experienced it said that this scent, which also attached itself to things that she touched, was "neither natural nor artificial, not like flowers nor aromatic drugs nor any mixture of perfumes." In our day, something similar happened in the case of the modern Capuchin stigmatist, St. Pio Pietrelcina.

God's message through scent: it can only be to draw attention to holiness as the object of His pleasure. In the Book of Sirach, He has Wisdom singing her own praise: "Like cinnamon, or fragrant balm, or precious myrrh, I give forth perfume, like the odor of incense in the Holy place." (24:15).

At the age of six, Marianna Fontanella, of Baldinero, Italy, precocious in her piety, persuaded her younger brother to join her in a scheme to run away from home to become desert hermits. The plan was thwarted when on the morning they were to embark upon their adventure, the two children overslept. As a young girl, Marianna was particularly drawn to meditate upon what Christ suffered when he was struck in the face by the temple guard (Jn 18:22). When a teenager, Marianna entered a Cistercian convent as a student of the nuns. But feeling uphappy there, she soon returned home, devoting her energies to helping her widowed mother with household chores. At the age of 15, Marianna entered Turin’s Carmelite convent of Santa Cristina, where after struggling with homesickness, she persevered to take her vows, assuming the religious name, Mary of the Angels. For three years she suffered the painful, purgative mystical experience known as the “dark night of the soul”, as the conclusion of which she attained a high state of prayer. She served four terms as prioress before succumbing to a fatal illness.

December 14, 2008

Saint John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church

1542-1591 – Solemnity - December 14th

Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love -- God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love."

John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ.

Since joy comes only from God, John believed that someone who seeks happiness in the world is like "a famished person who opens his mouth to satisfy himself with air." He taught that only by breaking the rope of our desires could we fly up to God. Above all, he was concerned for those who suffered dryness or depression in their spiritual life and offered encouragement that God loved them and was leading them deeper into faith.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you." -- Saint John of the Cross

In His Footsteps:
John of the Cross believed it was just as dangerous to get attached to spiritual delights as worldly pleasures. Do you expect to get something -- a good feeling, a sense of God -- from prayer or worship? Do you continue to pray and worship when you feel alone or dry?
Saint John of the Cross, in the darkness of your worst moments, when you were alone and persecuted, you found God. Help me to have faith that God is there especially in the times when God seems absent and far away. Amen

December 11, 2008

Saint Maria Maravillas de Jesus

1891-1974 – Memorial - December 11th

Maria Maravillas Pidal y Chico de Guzman was born in Madrid on 4th November 1891 and was baptized on the 12th of the same month in the parish of St. Sebastian. She was the daughter of Luis Pidal y Mon and Cristina Chico de Guzman y Munoz, the Marquess and Marchioness of Pidal. At that time her father was Spanish Ambassador to the Holy See, having been minister for Public Works as well as exercising other high positions and being decorated in acknowledgment. He was well noted for his efforts to help the Church and religious Orders. In such a religious environment the young Maria Maravillas received a conscientious education particularly from her maternal grandmother. She was confirmed in 1896 and made her first communion in 1902.

She was gifted with great natural qualities, among which stood out her clear and deep intelligence and a will directed always towards good. These qualities were brought to perfection by grace to which she faithfully responded.

She had a marked attraction to virtue right from childhood. She herself was to say many years laters that she was born with a religious vociation, and at five years of age, being as she was, she made a vow of chastity. As she was growing up, besides cultivating her life of piety and finishing her private studies in languages and general culture, she devoted herself to charitable, good works, helping many poor and emarginated families. Under the direction of Fr. Juan Francisco Lopez, SJ, her spiritual life unfolded and took shape.

Having come in contact with the works of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, she decided to consecrate herself to the Lord in the contemplative life in the Carmelite monastery of El Escorial (Madrid). She was clothed in the Order's habit in 1920 and made her first profession in 1921.

God inspired her to found a Carmel in Cerro de los Angeles (Madrid), the geographical centre of Spain, where a monument to the Sacred Heart and the Nation was consecrated to the Sacred Heart on 30th May 1919 by King Alfonso XIII. On the 19th May 1924, Sister Maravillas and three other religious from El Escorial took up residence in a provisional house in the district of Getafe so that they could by close-by to attend to the building of the convent in Cerro.

She made her solemn profession in this house on 30th May, the same year. In June 1926 she was appointed prioress of the community and a few months after, on 31st October, the new Carmel in Cerro de los Angeles was inaugurated. This monastery was to become a place of prayer and penitence, for the spiritual good of the Church and Spain.

Very quickly it was filled with vocations and Mother Maravillas saw in this an invitation from the Lord to multiply "Our Lady's houses", as she liked to call her Carmels.

In 1933, at the invitation of the Carmelite Bishop, she made a foundation in Kottayam in India. From this Carmel in due time other foundations were made in India.

In July 1936, the Civil War broke out in Spain. The Carmelites of Cerro de los Angeles were arrested and taken to Gestafe. From there they were able to get to Madrid where they managed to set up in an apartment in Claudio Coello street. There followed fourteen months filled with privations and sacrifices, searches and threats. Yet the ardently hoped-for martyrdom desired by the group of Carmelities did not occur. In September 1937 Mother Maravillas managed to leave Madrid with the whole community, reaching the ancient and then abandoned "desert" of las Batuecas (Salamanca), which providentially had been acquired before the war began. Here she was able to found another Carmel, with some of her nuns, at the request of the Bishop of Coria-Caceres.

On 4th March 1939, with another group of nuns she was able to restore the convent of Cerro de los Angeles which had been completely destroyed. With immense effort and fatigue, they were able to restore common life by June the same year. No matter how hard the work she was always the first to be involved. Even in the midst of enormous deprivation, Mother Maravillas knew how to inject courage and happiness, being always an admirable example to her daughters.

From there she led an expansion of the Carmelites with houses in Mancera de Abajo, Salamanca in 1944, Duruelo, Avíla in 1947, Cabrera, Salamanca 1950, Arenas de San Pedro, Avíla in 1954, San Calixto, Córdoba in 1956, Aravaca, Madrid in 1958, Talavera de la Reina, Toledo c.1960, la Aldeheula, Madrid in 1961, and Montemar-Torremolinos, Málaga in 1964. To unite these and other far-flung houses, she founded the Association of Saint Teresa in 1972. The Carmel in la Aldeheula was hugely expanded with schools, a community of houses for the local poor, church, community halls and other structures in what effectively became a small town.

In all these works Mother Maravillas was known for her dedication for work and prayer, her humility and care of her younger sisters, and her dedication to the Rules and spirituality of the Discalced Carmelites.

4 November 1891 in Madrid, Spain

11 December 1974 in La Aldehuela monastery, Madrid province, Spain of natural causes

17 December 1996 by Pope John Paul II

10 May 1998 by Pope John Paul II in Rome

4 May 2003 by Pope John Paul II

December 8, 2008

Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Feast - December 8th

On this and the following eight days the Church celebrates, with particular solemnity, the immaculate conception of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary, who, from all eternity, was chosen to be the daughter of the heavenly Father, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of the divine Redeemer, and, by consequence, the queen of angels and of men. The consideration of these prerogatives convinced the most enlightened fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church that she was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin. It is very remarkable that among the shining hosts of saints who have, in every century, adorned the Church no one wrote against this belief, while we find it confirmed by the decisions of the holy fathers from the earliest times. Pope Pius IX, forced, as it were, by the faith and devotion of the faithful throughout the world, finally, on 8 December 1854, sanctioned, as a dogma of faith falling within the infallible rule of Catholic traditions, this admirable prerogative of the Blessed Virgin. It is, therefore, now no longer, as fomerly, a pious belief, but an article of the faith, that Mary, like the purest morning light which precedes the rising of the most brilliant sun, was, from the first instant of her conception, free from original sin.

In the Introit of the Mass the Church sings: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels. I will extol thee, O Lord, for Thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me." Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Prayer: We beseech Thee, O Lord, to bestow on Thy servants the gift of heavenly grace, that, for those to whom the Blessed Virgin's maternity was the beginning of salvation, the votive solemnity of her immaculate conception may procure increase of peace. Through Christ our Lord, etc. Amen.

Epistle (Proverbs 8:22-35): The Lord possessed Me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived, neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass He enclosed the depths: when He established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when He compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when He balanced the foundations of the earth, I was with Him forming all things; and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times; playing in the world, and My delights were to be with the children of men. Now, therefore, ye children, hear Me: Blessed are they that keep My ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth Me, and that watcheth daily at My gates, and waiteth at the posts of My doors. He that shall find Me shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.

Explanation: This lesson is, in the literal sense, a eulogy on the divine and uncreated wisdom, which before all things was in God; through which all things were made, disposed, and preserved; which rejoices in its works, and calls upon all its creatures, especially on men, to render to it love and obedience. Most of what is here said is also to be applied to Mary, of whom it may with truth be said that, as the holiest and most admirable of all creatures, she occupies the first place in the heart of God. Therefore the Church also refers to her those words of the wise man: "I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first born of all creatures."

Gospel (Luke 1:26-28): And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.