July 29, 2011

St. Martha, Friend of Jesus (Feast day July 29)

Spiritual Direction:by Kathryn Marcellino, OCDS
What better goal can we have than to be followers and close friends of Jesus as was St. Martha, whose feast day we just celebrated on July 29? What can we learn from her and her relationship with Jesus? Below are some Gospel passages about what Jesus taught St. Martha.

John 11:20-27. "When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 'Lord', Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha answered, 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?' 'Yes, Lord', she told him, 'I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.' "

Martha knew Jesus personally. She witnessed perhaps Jesus' greatest miracle of raising her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. (John, Chapter 11). She came to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that those who believe in him have eternal life. These are important lessons to know not only intellectually but to stop and reflecct on and to realize these things are truly real and also to share them with others.

Jesus also gave Martha some personal spiritual direction on how she and we can follow him more closely:

Luke 10:38-42: "As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.' "

We see that Martha served the Lord. Serving God and others is a very good thing. Most of us do well to work as Martha did and also to help others with their physical needs, but Jesus said there is something even better and not to neglect that as well. The something better, Jesus said, is to "listen" to what he says.

Many people today are like Martha, that is very "worried and upset about many things" (and there are many things that we could be worried and upset about), but Jesus tells us, "Do not worry" (Matt 6:34), and "Do not be afraid" (Luke 12:32), and "My peace I give you." (John 14:17)

How can we also have the peace of Christ even when things are not going well?

Jesus gives us the answer in his words to St. Martha when he tells her about the better part, which is taking time to listen to Him. When we listen to Jesus with an open heart, ready to do whatever he asks of us, following him as our Lord, putting into practice (with the help of his grace) all we know that he wants... we begin to experience his peace and joy inside even if outer things are not always going that well. In other words, as we open our hearts more and more to God and follow him more closely we begin to experience his love for us, and deep peace and joy even in the midst of outer things that could upset us if we let them.

It is good to remember that God desires only what is best for us. He desires that we are happy and become holy. The old Baltimore Catechism said God made us to, "to know him, love him and service him in this life and be happy with him forever in Heaven." God loves us and wants us to love him in return and to trust in him first and foremost. He sometimes allows us to go through sufferings and difficult things to help us to grow in virtue and to teach us to put Him first in our love, trust and allegiance instead of hoping and trusting too much in created things that often can fail us.

So how do we listen to Jesus today? How can we be his friend?

One way to listen to Jesus is to go to a quiet place such as our room and spend some time in prayer and reading Jesus' words in the Bible. In reading and pondering God's word in Scripture we are listening to God. In prayer we can speak to Jesus as to a friend. Also in being quiet for part of our prayer time we allow God to speak to use in the depths of our heart. We don't have to continually speak but we can take a little time to listen as well.

We really can trust Jesus as he loves us immensely even while we are still imperfect sinners and he is completely trustworthy. (Divine Mercy Prayer: "Jesus, I trust in you.") He invites us to open our hearts to him and to be receptive to whatever he would give us including his will and plan for our lives. If something is troubling us or distracting us, we can, "Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Besides speaking to Jesus as we would to a friend, some other ways to pray are the rosary (including meditating on the mysteries from the Gospels), Lectio Divina (a way to pray with Scripture), the Liturgy of the Hours and other forms of prayer. There are many ways to pray and we can see what works best for us at any given time.

Most of us can find a quiet place for at least a few minutes of silence and solitude each day. The goal of our prayer relationship is ultimately union with God. We can ask God for all the things we need both earthly and spiritual, but most of all we pray to find out God wants and as God knows best. ("Thy will be done" not "my will be done.") We can follow Jesus example in this, i.e. in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was to die on the cross when he prayed, "Father if it be your will take this cup from me, but not my will but thine be done." (Luke 22:43).

The goal of the spiritual life is union with God not just to get our earthly needs and wants met, even though God does say he will take care of us and answer our prayers if they are in accordance with his will.

Ideas on finding time for prayer

Finding time for prayer can be challenging. If we have a very busy schedule perhaps waking up a little early or going to bed a little early would be good times to spend some time alone with Jesus without the distractions of a busy day. For example, I have a friend who says if she doesn't pray before getting out of bed in the morning she just doesn't have time to pray during the day due to family demands and work. Another idea is to attend daily Mass and spend some time before or after for private prayer. An adoration chapel is also a great place to spend some quiet time alone with Jesus. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Spiritual reading, action and support

Besides taking time to pray, and to read and meditate on God's word to us in the Bible, it is also good to study solid spiritual books. Official Church teachings such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church help explain what the Bible means and what Jesus meant. The writings of the saints and solid Catholic writers are also very helpful for us to know and understand Jesus better. We also need to put into practice what we learn (with the help of God's grace).

Finding a good spiritual director is also helpful as well as having some practicing Catholic friends, groups or organizations. In general it is best not to try to live the Christian life alone if we can find others who are serious about living their faith and following Jesus to be friends with. If we make an effort we should be able to find some friends or a Bible study or some sort of Catholic organization to join. If one is not available there are resources available to start your own group using good study materials such as Johnette Benkovic's Women of Grace study groups, Jeff Cavins The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study, third order lay religious communities, and others. Also there is an online course below for learning more about the spiritual life if interested.

In summary, St. Martha's friendship with Jesus can give us some spiritual direction on how to be better friends with Jesus. She knew Jesus personally. She believed in Jesus and sets a good example for us to follow. Jesus' directions to St. Martha show us the importance of making time to listen to Jesus, which we can do both in prayer and meditating on his words in Scripture, and then putting into practice what we learn.

July 23, 2011

ASCETICAL TEACHING OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS

To understand rightly the ascetical teaching of St. John of the Cross, it is necessary to understand that although he is called the "Doctor of the Dark Nights," he has also written about the highest state of the mystical life---the transforming union---in The Spiritual Canticle and The Living Flame of Love. In fact, in the Prologue to his first work, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, he states that he wants to "relieve the great necessity which is experienced by many souls who, when they set out upon the road of virtue, and our Lord desires to bring them into this dark night that they may pass through it to divine union, make no progress."
It is evident from the foregoing statement that St. John does not consider asceticism and detachment as ends in themselves. They are simply the means--- but important means--- to the attainment of the transforming union in which the soul experiences to the fullest the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the proponents of a purely negative spirituality do a disservice to St. John of the Cross. They define Christian holiness in terms of the rejection of all created goods, and then they interpret the teaching of St. John according to their own preconceived notions. In doing so, they ignore one of the fundamental principles of ascetical theology, namely, that grace does not destroy nature but works through it to perfect it. St. John describes those persons in the Prologue to The Ascent:
It is sad to see many souls to whom God gives both aptitude and favor with which to make progress (and who, if they would take courage, could attain to this high state) remaining in an elementary stage of communion with God, for want of will or knowledge, or because there is no one who will lead them in the right path or teach them how to get beyond these beginnings. . . . For there are souls who, instead of committing themselves to God and making use of his help, rather hinder God by the indiscretion of their actions or by their resistance; like children who, when their mothers desire to carry them in their arms, start stamping and crying, and insist on being allowed to walk, with the result that they can make no progress; and, if they advance at all, it is only at the pace of a child.
Theology of asceticism
There are two aspects of the Christian life: the positive and the negative. They are not mutually exclusive but they interact with one another. The positive aspect comprises the cultivation and development of the virtues, the worthy reception of the sacraments, and the practice of prayer. The negative aspect is covered by such terms as detachment, self-denial, purgation and mortification. It is usually these latter practices that come to mind when one hears the word "asceticism," and perhaps there is an historical basis for such thinking.
The early Christians were called ascetics because they were exemplary in the practice of the Christian virtues. But a person who wants to be proficient in the practice of virtue must achieve self-mastery by subjecting the lower faculties---especially the passions and instinctual desires---to the control of reason enlightened by Christian faith. This, in turn, requires a regime of self-denial and detachment from sensate satisfaction. In due time, therefore, the word "asceticism" connoted the practices of self-denial rather than the practice of virtue, although both the negative and the positive aspects are included in the word. They are two sides of the same coin.
Jesus himself gave his disciples a series of admonitions regarding asceticism, the most general of which is: "If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my steps. Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will preserve it (Mk 8:34-35).
A fundamental principle in the theology of St. John of the Cross is that God is all and, by comparison, we creatures are nothing. This is the well-known Todo and Nada of the Carmelite Doctor of the Dark Nights. Consequently, if there is to be a union of friendship between God and the soul, the soul must be elevated through sanctifying grace and charity so that it can relate to God on the supernatural plane. The bond of union with God is the theological virtue of charity, which is made possible only through sanctifying grace.
With sanctifying grace, however, the individual becomes a new creation, a child and friend of God, endowed with all the potentialities it needs to attain to the transforming union and the perfection of charity. But to reach that goal the soul must travel through the active and passive dark nights of the senses and the spirit, either in this life or in Purgatory.
St. John of the Cross is adamant in insisting that the soul desirous of making spiritual progress must reject everything that does not lead to union with God. Anything that would be an impediment to growth in the love that is charity ---love of God and of neighbor---must be relinquished. In explaining why this is so, St. John gives evidence of the training in Thomistic theology that he received at the University of Salamanca.
The reason is that two contraries (even as philosophy teaches us) cannot coexist in one person; and that darkness, which is affection set upon the creatures, and light, which is God, are contrary to each other, and have no likeness or accord between one another. . . . In order that we may the better prove what has been said, it must be known that the affection and attachment which the soul has for creatures renders the soul like to these creatures; and the greater is its affection, the closer is the equality and likeness between them; for love creates a likeness between that which loves and that which is loved.. . . . Love not only makes the lover equal to the object of his love, but even subjects him to it (Ascent, Bk. I, chap. 4).
Christ taught the same doctrine in his Sermon on the Mount when he said: "Remember, where your treasure is, there your heart is also. . . . No man can serve two masters. . . . You cannot give yourself to God and to money" (Mt 6:21-24).
Curbing one's desires and attachments.
At first reading, the teaching of St. John of the Cross may seem to be too demanding and, in fact, impossible to put into practice. In Chapter 13 of Book I of The Ascent he goes so far as to say: "Every pleasure that presents itself to the senses, if it be not purely for the honor and glory of God, must be renounced and completely rejected for the love of Jesus Christ."
As if anticipating an objection from the reader, St. John had already stated in Chapter 3 of Book I that "it is true that the soul cannot help hearing and seeing and smelling and tasting and touching," but "we are not treating here of the lack of things, since this implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it has a desire for them; but we are treating of the detachment from them of the taste and desire, for it is this that leaves the soul free and void of them, although it may have them; for it is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them."
Up to this point St. John has established the fact that the use and enjoyment of created goods do not in themselves pose an obstacle to progress in the spiritual life. Do we not call God's blessing on the meal that we are about to enjoy? Is not the love between a husband and wife compared to the love of Christ for his Church ? Hence, whether or not we use and enjoy created goods is not the point at issue; it is our desire for them and our attachment to them that do great harm to our spiritual life. It is necessary to resist and renounce any and all desires and attachments that are incompatible with the love of God and of neighbor. But here also St. John makes some important distinctions.
I expect that for a long time the reader has been wanting to ask whether it is necessary, in order to attain this high estate of perfection, to undergo first of all mortification in all the desires, great and small, or whether it will suffice to mortify some of them and to leave others, those at least which seem of little moment. For it seems to be a severe and most difficult thing for the soul to be able to attain to such purity and detachment that it has no will and affection for anything.
To this I reply: first, that it is true that all the desires are not equally harmful, nor do they all equally embarrass the soul. I am speaking of those that are voluntary, for the natural desires hinder the soul little, if at all, from attaining to union, when they are not consented to or do not pass beyond the first movements. . . ; and to take away these---that is, to mortify them completely in this life---is impossible. . . .
But all the other voluntary desires, whether they be of mortal sin. . .or of venial sin, . . .must be driven away every one. . .; and the reason is that the state of this divine union consists in the soul's total transformation, according to the will, in the will of God so that there may be nothing in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that, in all and through all, its movement may be that of the will of God alone (Ascent, Bk. I, chap. 11).
St. John uses a striking example to illustrate the need for the mortification of all voluntary desires. "It comes to the same thing whether a bird be held by a slender cord or by a stout one; since, even if it be slender, the bird will be as well held as though it were stout. . . . And thus the soul that has attachment to anything, however much virtue it possess, will not attain to the liberty of divine union" (Loc. cit.).
Two things should be noted at this point. First, in Chapter 12, Book I of The Ascent, St. John repeats that he is not talking about other natural desires that are not voluntary, of thoughts that do not go beyond the first movements, or of temptations. "For, although a person who suffers from them may think that the passion and disturbance which they then produce in him are defiling and blinding him, this is not the case; rather, they are bringing him the opposite advantages. For, insofar as he resists them, he gains fortitude, purity, light and consolation, and many blessings."
Secondly, as stated in Chapter 11 of Book I, the greatest harm comes to the soul from habitual uncontrolled desires and attachment to created things. The occasional sin or imperfection should also be avoided, of course, but as long as one has not cultivated the habit of a particular sin or imperfection, it will be much easier to resist temptation. Hence, St. Augustine warned that we should not think lightly of venial sins and imperfections because they are light and easily forgiven; but we should be concerned that they are so frequent in our life. More harm may be done by a habit of venial sin than by a mortal sin that was immediately repented and never repeated.
It does not suffice, however, simply to stop sinning; it is also incumbent on the devout Christian to cultivate and practice the virtues. But an occasional act of virtue does little or nothing to foster one's growth in holiness. St. Thomas Aquinas rightly taught that the essence of virtue does not consist in the external act but in the interior strength of character that comes from the repetition of morally good acts. Indeed, the goal of any virtue is to become, as it were, second nature to the person who practices it. Without this interiorization of virtuous activity, the external performance of good works may be simply a mask to hide one's vices.
Spiritual maxims.
At the end of Book I of The Ascent, St. John gives a list of maxims or counsels so that the devout soul may know how to enter the dark night of the senses, which is the first stage of purgation. What he is giving is Gospel teaching pure and simple, but if one exaggerates the negative aspect there is danger of misinterpreting his teaching. Christians have always been urged to renounce sin, avoid occasions of sin and resist temptation. For many persons the struggle to keep one's lower faculties obedient to reason enlightened by faith is difficult indeed, and especially in the early stages of the spiritual life. But before listing the various admonitions, St. John states a general principle of spiritual theology:
First, let him have an habitual desire to imitate Christ in everything that he does, conforming himself to his life, upon which life he must meditate so that he may know how to imitate it, and to behave in all things as Christ would behave (chap. 13).
St. John then provides two sets of counsels, the first of which has to do with the control of the passions, which by their very nature are self-centered. These maxims challenge the individual to exert ever greater effort in the ascetical struggle to control the demands of selfish love. Greater perfection always calls for greater effort; progress is made by moving onward and upward. Hence, if the counsels are put into practice, they can contribute to the formation of an integrated personality and an authentically Christian character.
In this context St. John urges the Christian to try not to prefer that which is easiest but that which is most difficult; not that which gives the most pleasure but that which gives least; not that which is restful but that which is laborious; not that which is the greatest but that which is the least; and so forth. In a word, one should strive to cultivate a spirit of holy indifference, a perfect obedience to the divine will.
In the second set of counsels St. John returns to his basic teaching that "we are not treating here of the lack of things, since this implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it has a desire for them; but we are treating of the detachment from them of the taste and desire, for it is this that leaves the soul free and void of them, although it may have them" (chap. 3).
These counsels are reminiscent of the manner in which Christ spoke when he said: "Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:25); "There is no one who has left home or wife or brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive a plentiful return in this age and life everlasting in the age to come" (Lk 18:29-30).
Similarly, St. John teaches that in order to receive the "plentiful return" promised by Christ, one must not desire to take pleasure in anything, to possess anything, to be anything, to want anything. He maintains that we can never be at peace until we control our selfish desires which keep us in a state of restless agitation and often activate one or another of the capital sins. It is necessary to hold oneself in a state of holy indifference, satisfied with whatever God wills for us. These are the sentiments expressed by St. John in his poem, Glosa a lo Divino:
From creatures now my soul is free,
Detached from all created things;
Now she at last has taken wings
And lives her life delectably.
To God, and God alone, she clings.

July 22, 2011

ST. TERESA'S TEACHING ON THE GRADES OF PRAYER

When Pope Paul VI proclaimed St. Teresa of Avila the first woman Doctor of the Church on September 27, 1970, he selected one of her many titles as the basis for conferring that honor on her: Teresa of Avila, Teacher of Prayer. The same sentiment was expressed by Pope John Paul II in a letter to the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelite Friars to mark the fourth centenary of the death of Teresa:
Teresa considered that her vocation and her mission was prayer in the Church and with the Church, which is a praying community moved by the Holy Spirit to adore the Father in and with Jesus "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23). . . . Saint Teresa considered the life of prayer to be the greatest manifestation of the theological life of the faithful who, believing in the love of God, free themselves from everything to attain the full presence of that love (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, November 9, 1981).
In all of her major works---The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle---St. Teresa explains the practice of prayer. And it is noteworthy that she did not begin to write until she was 47 years old, after her second conversion and when she was already well-versed in the practice of prayer. Her teaching flows from her own experience and not from books on prayer. She does, however, acknowledge her indebtedness to two authors: Francisco de Osuna, the author of The Third Spiritual Alphabet, and Bernardino de Laredo, the author of The Ascent of Mount Sion. The book by Osuna treated of the prayer of recollection, and St. Teresa states that she was "delighted with the book and resolved to follow that way of prayer with all my might" (cf. The Life, chap. 4). The treatise by Laredo described the prayer of union, to which St. Teresa had attained "after almost twenty years of experience in the practice of prayer" (cf. The Life, chap. 23).
As we have noted, Teresa began writing her first work, The Life, at the age of 47, and she finished it three years later. In that same year (1565) she began The Way of Perfection, since the nuns of the first monastery of the reform has asked her to teach them about mental prayer. In these first two works, St. Teresa concentrates on the ascetical grades of prayer, but in The Interior Castle, written when she was 62 years old, she gives detailed descriptions of the mystical grades of prayer. Thus, in the Second Mansions of The Interior Castle she says: "I want to say very little to you about [the prayer of the Second Mansions] because I have written of it at length elsewhere."
St. Teresa realized that not all souls travel by the same path to perfection, but that God leads souls by many different roads. At the same time she knew that in order to teach the theology and practice of prayer, one has to follow a basic pattern or structure. The journey to spiritual perfection is a progressive passage from the lower to the higher stages of prayer, from ascetical to mystical prayer. And since St. Teresa treats only briefly of the lower grades of prayer in her definitive work, The Interior Castle, it is necessary to turn to her two earlier works for a fuller description of the ascetical grades of prayer.
The Life
In her first work St. Teresa explains the grades of prayer by using the symbol of the "four waters," or more precisely, the four methods of watering a garden. The first method is by drawing water from a well by means of a bucket attached to a rope. This is the first stage of prayer and it includes vocal prayer and discursive meditation. The individual is active, exercising the faculties and reaping what benefit it can through one's own efforts. But lest the beginners think too much and turn their discursive meditation into an intellectual exercise, St. Teresa advises them "not to spend all their time in doing so. Their method of prayer is most meritorious, but since they enjoy it so much, they sometimes fail to realize that they should have some kind of a sabbath, that is, a period of rest from their labors. . . . Let them imagine themselves, as I have suggested, in the presence of Christ, and let them continue conversing with him and delighting in him, without wearying their minds or exhausting themselves by composing speeches to him" (The Life, chap. 13).
The second method of watering a garden is by means of a waterwheel to which dippers are attached. As the wheel is turned, the water is poured into a trough that carries the water to the garden. St. Teresa explains that this stage, in which "the soul begins to recollect itself, borders on the supernatural. . . . This state is a recollecting of the faculties within the soul, so that its enjoyment of that contentment may provide greater delight" (The Life, chap. 13).
The third type of watering a garden is by irrigation by means of a running stream. It doesn't call for human effort as in the two previous methods. Prayer at this stage is mystical; that is, all the faculties are centered on God. "This kind of prayer," says St. Teresa, "is quite definitely a union of the entire soul with God" (The Life, chap. 17). She calls it a "sleep of the faculties" because they are totally occupied with God. "Not one of them, it seems, ventures to stir, nor can we cause any of them to be active except by striving to fix our attention very carefully on something else, and even then I don't think we could succeed entirely in doing so" (The Life, chap. 16).
The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain. This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.
The grades of prayer described by St. Teresa in The Life do not correspond to the division of prayer that is usually given in manuals of spiritual theology. There are several reasons for this, and the first one is possibly the fact of the discrepancy of 15 years between her first and the last major work. Secondly, the precise terminology to describe some the transitional grades of prayer between discursive mental prayer and the prayer of the transforming union did not come into common use until the seventeenth century. Thirdly, since she was writing from her own experience, it is possible that St. Teresa had passed immediately from discursive meditation to a high degree of infused, mystical prayer.
The Way of Perfection.
When we turn to The Way of Perfection, which St. Teresa began in 1565, we notice that there are some adjustments in her division. Since the first nuns of the Teresian reform had asked her to teach them about mental prayer, it is logical that she would be more precise and detailed, especially when speaking of the earlier stages of mental prayer. One of the most obvious differences in The Way of Perfection is that St. Teresa tries to distinguish between the prayer of active recollection and the prayer of infused recollection.
In Chapters 28 and 29 she discusses the prayer of active recollection. After recalling that St. Augustine had said that he had looked for God in many places and finally found God within himself, St. Teresa asserts that one need not go to heaven to speak to God, nor is it necessary to speak in a loud voice. "However quietly we speak, he is so near that he will hear us. We need no wings to go in search of him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us" (chap. 28).
If one prays in this way, conversing with God who dwells in the soul through sanctifying grace, even if the prayer is vocal, the mind will be recollected. It is called prayer of recollection because "the soul gathers together all its faculties and enters within itself to be with its God" (loc. cit.). This may prove to be something of a struggle in the beginning, says St. Teresa, but if a person cultivates the habit of recollection, the soul and the will gain such power over the senses that "they will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and let themselves be recollected" (ibid.).
When St. Teresa spoke of the prayer of recollection in Chapter 15 of The Life, she said that "this quiet and recollection. . .is not something that can be acquired." But in Chapter 29 of The Way of Perfection she says: "You must understand that this is not a supernatural state, but depends on our will, and that, by God's favor, we can enter it of our own accord. . . . For this is not a silence of the faculties; it is an enclosing of the faculties within itself by the soul." In other words, it is an ascetical, acquired grade of prayer, and not a mystical, infused grade.
What St. Teresa calls the prayer of quiet in Chapter 31, on the other hand, is definitely the prayer of infused recollection, a type of mystical, infused contemplation. Later on, she will further refine her terminology, but for the moment we should read her description of this "prayer of quiet."
I still want to describe this prayer of quiet to you in the way that I have heard it explained and as the Lord has been pleased to teach it to me. . . . This is a supernatural state and however hard we try, we cannot acquire it by ourselves. . . . The faculties are stilled and have no wish to move, for any movement they make seems to hinder the soul from loving God. They are not completely lost, however, since two of them are free and they can realize in whose presence they are. It is the will that is captive now. . . . The intellect tries to occupy itself with only one thing, and the memory has no desire to busy itself with more. They both see that this is the one thing necessary; anything else will cause them to be disturbed (chap. 31).
The predominant characteristics of the prayer of quiet are peace and joy, for the will is totally captivated by divine love. The faculties of intellect and memory are still free and may wander, but the soul should pay no attention to the operations of these faculties. To do so would cause distraction and anxiety. Later on, in the prayer of union, it will be impossible for the intellect and memory to operate independently, because all the faculties will be centered on God. But to learn St. Teresa's teaching on the prayer of union, we must consult her final major work.
The Interior Castle.
Using the symbol of a castle containing seven apartments or suites (las moradas), St. Teresa identifies the first three as the stages of prayer in the ascetical phase of the spiritual life, and the treatment is very brief because she has already discussed the lower degrees of prayer in her previous works. The last four stages of prayer, from the fourth to the seventh moradas, represent the various degrees of mystical prayer. And at the very outset of her discussion of the grades of mystical prayer, St. Teresa advises the reader:
It may be that I am contradicting what I myself have said elsewhere. This is not surprising, because almost fifteen years have passed since then, and perhaps the Lord has now given me a clearer realization of these matters than I had at first (Fourth Mansions, chap. 2).
The most noteworthy changes in The Interior Castle are a clear distinction between acquired and infused recollection, further precisions concerning the prayer of quiet, and the description of sensible consolations and infused spiritual delights.
St. Teresa had previously discussed the prayer of recollection in Chapters 15 and 16 of The Life and in Chapters 28 and 29 of The Way of Perfection. Consequently, in The Interior Castle she makes only a brief reference to it, saying that "in the prayer of [acquired] recollection it is unnecessary to abandon [discursive] meditation and the activity of the intellect" (Fourth Mansions, chap. 3). In the subsequent literature on the practice of prayer this acquired recollection will be called by various names: prayer of simplicity, prayer of simple regard, acquired contemplation, and the loving awareness of God.
It is in the Fourth Mansions of The Interior Castle, says St. Teresa, that "we now begin to touch the supernatural." She is preparing to discuss the prayer of quiet, which she also calls the "prayer of consolations from God." However, before doing so, she turns back to describe the prayer of infused recollection.
First of all, I will say something (though not much, as I have dealt with it elsewhere) about another kind of prayer, which almost invariably begins before this one. It is a form of recollection which also seems to me supernatural. . . . Do not think that the soul can attain to him merely by trying to think of him as present within the soul. This is a good habit and an excellent kind of meditation, for it is founded on a truth, namely, that God is within us. But it is not the kind of prayer that I have in mind. . . . What I am describing is quite different.
As I understand it, the soul whom the Lord has been pleased to lead into this mansion will do best to act as I have said.. Let it try, without forcing itself or causing any turmoil, to put a stop to all discursive reasoning, yet not to suspend the intellect nor to cease from all thought, although it is good for it to remember that it is in God's presence and who this God is. If this experience should lead to a state of absorption, well and good, but it should not try to understand what this state is, because it is a gift bestowed on the will. Therefore, the will should be allowed to enjoy it and should not be active except to utter a few loving words (Fourth Mansions, chap. 3).
Thus, the prayer of infused recollection is the first grade of mystical prayer in the Teresian schema of the degrees of prayer. In this Fourth Mansion of the spiritual life she also clearly distinguishes the prayer of infused recollection from the prayer of quiet, wherein the human will is completely captivated by divine love. And since the will is now operating on the mystical level, the individual experiences peace, sweetness and spiritual delight, which are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the experience is so intense that the individual passes into a swoon or a state of languor which St. Teresa calls a "sleep of the faculties." However, she also warns that hypersensitive persons of a weak constitution, bad health or an excessively austere life may sometimes think that they are experiencing a "sleep of the faculties" when in reality it is caused by one of the aforesaid conditions (Fourth Mansions, chap. 3).
Although some authors classify "sleep of the faculties" as a distinct grade of mystical prayer, St. Teresa makes so little of it that it seems to be merely an intensification of the prayer of quiet.
From the Fifth to the Seventh Mansions, St. Teresa treats of the final and highest grade of mystical prayer: the prayer of union. In this grade of mystical prayer there are various degrees of intensity and St. Teresa identifies them and describes the phenomena that normally accompany the prayer of union. In the Fifth Mansions she describes the prayer of simple union by saying that "God implants himself in the interior of the soul is such a way that, when it returns to itself, it cannot possibly doubt that God has been in it and it has been in God" (chap. 1). It should be noted, however, that although St. Teresa is here discussing the mystical prayer of union, she urges the nuns to "ask our Lord to give you this perfect love for your neighbor," because "if you are lacking in this virtue, you have not yet attained union" (chap. 3).
In the Sixth Mansions the soul experiences the spiritual betrothal (mystical espousal) which is usually accompanied by mystical phenomena such as painful trials and wounds of love, ecstasy and rapture, flights of the spirit, or even locutions and visions. This is the longest section of The Interior Castle---eleven chapters---because St. Teresa describes and explains the phenomena that accompany the mystical espousal. She also points out the dangers of such gifts, but admits that if they are received in the proper spirit, they can contribute greatly to the soul's purification and sanctification. The basic characteristic of this grade of mystical prayer is that the soul is wounded with love for the divine Spouse and seeks every opportunity to be alone with him. It willingly renounces everything that could possibly disturb its solitude.
Finally, in the Seventh Mansions, the soul experiences the transforming union or mystical marriage. This is the highest state of prayer that can be reached in this life on earth. St. Teresa begins by discussing the indwelling of the Trinity. The soul "sees these three Persons, individually, and yet, by a wonderful kind of knowledge which is given to it, the soul realizes that most certainly and truly all these three Persons are one Substance and one Power and one Knowledge and one God alone" (chap. 1). She then describes the various effects of the prayer of the Seventh Mansions, and she concludes The Interior Castle with some very important observations:
You must not build on foundations of prayer and contemplation alone, for unless you strive after the virtues and practice them, you will never grow to be more than dwarfs. . . . Anyone who fails to go forward begins to fall back, and love, I believe, can never be content for long where it is.
You may think that I am speaking about beginners, and that later on one may rest; but. . .the only repose that these souls enjoy is of an interior kind; of outward repose they get less and less. . . . We should desire and engage in prayer, not for our enjoyment, but for the sake of acquiring the strength which fits us for service. . . . Believe me, Martha and Mary must work together. . . . I will end by saying that we must not build towers without foundations, and that the Lord does not look so much at the magnitude of anything we do as at the love with which we do it. If we accomplish what we can, His Majesty will see to it that we become able to do more each day (Seventh Mansions, chap. 4).
By collating all the material contained in the works of St. Teresa and taking into account the contributions by later authors on the practice of prayer, we can offer the following schema of the grades of prayer:
Vocal Prayer, with attention to what one is saying or reading and God, whom one is addressing.
Discursive Meditation: consideration of a spiritual truth; application to oneself, and resolve to do something about it.
Affective Mental Prayer: one turns to "other," namely, God, and prayer becomes "the language of love."
Acquired Recollection: also called prayer of simplicity, prayer of simple regard, acquired contemplation, the loving awareness of God.
Infused Recollection: the first degree of infused, mystical contemplation.
Prayer of Quiet: the will is totally captivated by divine love; sometimes all the faculties are likewise captivated (sleep or ecstasy).
Prayer of Simple Union: both the intellect and the will are absorbed in God.
Prayer of Ecstatic Union: this is the "mystical espousal" or "conforming union."
Prayer of Transforming Union: also called the "mystical marriage" because it is the most intimate union of the soul with God that is possible in this life.
 

July 20, 2011

Discernment


"There is a wonderful way of experiencing love in life:
it is the vocation to follow Christ..."
Pope John Paul II
 The call to follow Christ is one that resonates deeply within each of us. And as we open our hearts to truly "listen" to His voice, to follow His promptings, He leads us in ways that are beyond our expecations, our imagings.


Amazing as this may seem, He sets apart some to belong totally, unreservedly to Him. If this is the path that He desires you to follow...what is your response?

July 18, 2011

O my God, Trinity whom I adore

O my God, Trinity whom I adore, let me entirely forget myself that I may abide in you, still and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity; let nothing disturb my peace nor separate me from you, O my unchanging God, but that each moment may take me further into the depths of your mystery ! Pacify my soul! Make it your heaven, your beloved home and place of your repose ; let me never leave you there alone, but may I be ever attentive, ever alert in my faith, ever adoring and all given up to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, would that I might be for you a spouse of your heart! I would anoint you with glory, I would love you - even unto death! Yet I sense my frailty and ask you to adorn me with yourself; identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm. me, substitute yourself in me that my life may become but a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, Redeemer and Saviour.
O Eternal Word, Word of my God, would that I might spend my life listening to you, would that I might be fully receptive to learn all from you; in all darkness, all loneliness, all weakness, may I ever keep my eyes fixed on you and abide under your great light; O my Beloved Star, fascinate me so that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, descend into my soul and make all in me as an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to him a super-added humanity wherein he renews his mystery; and you O Father, bestow yourself and bend down to your little creature, seeing in her only your beloved Son in whom you are well pleased.
O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in whom I lose myself, I give myself to you as a prey to be consumed; enclose yourself in me that I may be absorbed in you so as to contemplate in your light the abyss of your Splendour!


July 12, 2011

Canonization process of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity opens

CommunicationesDijon-France (12-07-2011).- On July 11, 2011, in the Chapel of the Archbishop of Dijon, in the presence of the Most Reverend Roland Minnerah, Archbishop of Dijon, the super miro process for the canonization of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) was opened.

After a brief prayer and in the presence of a relic of the Carmelite of Dijon, the following members of the Tribunal were sworn in: His Excellency, Ennio Apeciti of the Archdiocese of Milan, Archdiocesan Judge-Delegate; Canon Paul Chadeuf, Promoter of Justice; and Mr. Yves Frot, Notary.

Canon Marc Galen, Archdiocesan Chancellor, read the supplice libello of the Vice-Postulator for the Cause, Father Antonio of the Mother of God, OCD, in which opening of the process is requested as a result of the proposed miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.

Following this initial session, three Discalced Carmelites of the Monastery of Flavignerot were interviewed. The Belgian Monastery of Flavignerot is the location of the proposed healing miracle of Miss Marie-Paul Stevens.

Marie-Paul is a professor of religion in the Marist Brothers’ School in Malmedy, Belgium. In May 1997, she began to experience great difficulty in articulating words, simultaneously with the onset of salivary dysfunction. On the advice of a physician who was her friend, she underwent clinical analyses with a resulting diagnosis of Sj√∂gren syndrome. This disease would gradually affect several body systems.

She traveled to Flavignerot after several unsuccessful treatments to thank Elizabeth of the Trinity for her support during her illness. On April 2, 2002, after having prayed in the chapel of the Carmel and made thanksgiving to Elizabeth for her help, she sat on some stones surrounding the parking area of the Monastery. Unexpectedly, before the dumbfounded eyes of two friends who accompanied her, she lifted her arms on high and exclaimed, full of surprise and joy, “I am no longer ill!” After that day, Marie-Paul resumed a completely normal life.