Monday, July 17, 2017

Martyrs of Compiegne ("Dialogues of the Carmelites")

Feast Day: July 17th

I saw the Opera "Dialogues of the Carmelites" on Broadway a long time back. The production is based on the play by Georges Bernanos and set into an operatic production by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). The play was based on the true story of sixteen Discalced Carmelite Nuns who were guillotined during the French Revolution. Here is a short historical account I lifted out of the Carmelite Liturgy of the Hours:

"As the French Revolution entered its worst days, sixteen Discalced Carmelites from the Monastery of the Incarnation in Compiegne offered their lives as a sacrifice to God, making reparation to him and imploring peace for the Church. On June 24, 1794, they were arrested and thrown into prison. Their happiness and resignation were so evident that those around them were also encouraged to draw strength from God's love. They were condemned to death for their fidelity to the Church and their religious life and for their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Singing hymns, and having renewed their vows before the Superior, Teresa of St. Augustine, they were put to death in Paris on July 17, 1794."

I confess that I have known the story of the Martyrs of Compiegne for the length of time I have known Carmel.  There were many lines in the Broadway production which spoke to me directly. The protagonist in this story was a woman called Blanche. She was the daughter of the Marquis De la Force. After the death of her mother, being caught up in the panic surrounding the French Revolution, Blanche was forever sealed with an inordinate fear of death and suffering. Even a mere shadow of a servant throws her into a panic and nervous breakdown. She decided to enter the cloister with the hope of finding the peace and security of the cloister walls and to hopefully experience a respite from all her fears. The Mother Prioress strongly reminded Blanche that the cloister was not a refuge to protect them. "Our Order does not protect us, we must protect the Order!" I love this line because it brings home the idea that an Order's charism is preserved through the efforts of its members. We can remain truly Carmelites to the extent we want to be and to the extent that we work at it.

Once inside the monastery, she met a fellow Novice Sr. Constance, who was her opposite in character. Sr. Constance was an enthusiastic, cheerful young novice who welcomed sufferings and nurtured the idea of martyrdom as an offering to God. She had a premonition of dying young. Quite a clash of attitude. But this difference in characters provided me the most uplifting plot in the story as these two opposing personalities were welded together in the scaffold, singing with ONE voice, the hymn of courage. It was a beautiful and inspiring spiritual twist and ending for me. During some early scenes leading up to the climax of the execution, the Mother Prioress was exhorting her spiritual daughters to be brave in facing whatever God had in store for them. But she tempered this exhortation with the line, "Prayer is our duty, martyrdom is the fruit." In other words, for me it meant, "let us go about our business of prayer for that is what brought us to Carmel, and leave God the free hand to grant us the glory of martyrdom, if that is what pleases Him." In other words, we should not seek martyrdom as an end in itself. She reiterated a spiritual truth that aspiring to great things can sometimes be a sign of spiritual pride. The Mother Prioress tried to temper Sr. Constance's longing for martyrdom by words such as these. In this instance, the Mother Prioress stood as a true daughter of St. Teresa of Avila who in her lifetime said many times, "our true martyrdom is the martyrdom of conquering self."

The story was the triumph of grace over nature. It was the story of how Sr. Blanche, a fear-ridden woman, ended up choosing death over freedom because she was given the strength for it in the end. Courage is not the absence of fear but embracing the object feared with the end result of overcoming it. It was the story of how God accomplished great things in simple and obscure women who never sought to win the crown of martyrdom but succeeded in obtaining it.   The Reign of Terror ended a few days after the execution of the Carmelites. We know for certain that their sacrifice was well received by Almighty God and bore fruit for France and the Church.

You can buy the book "To Quell the Terror" by William Bush and distributed by Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Catholic Church will celebrate the feast of Mary under her title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on July 16th. This is a very special day for all Carmelites as they honor Mary as their Patroness.
This is a very special day for me because this day marks the day I was led to a deeper appreciation of the Mother of God and my Catholic faith. I still vividly remember, and can accurately recall, the words of the priest that gave me my first brown scapular on July 16, 1984, "Wear this and call on the Virgin Mary." Everyone experiences life-changing events, this was mine.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Solemnity of Corpus Christi- The Body And Blood of Christ

Corpus Christi is one of God's  most beautiful and precious gifts.  It is beautiful because it encompasses the reality of the Trinity being present , and precious because it is a gift which we do not deserve and yet was given to us freely and unconditionally.  Many Saints and spiritual writers spent many long hours of contemplation before our Eucharistic Lord, and put down in writing what they have experienced during those hours of prayer and contemplation.  And yet, all of them would tell us that there is no word to describe the gift of this Presence of Jesus in this simple piece of bread.  The Holy Eucharist is both a unifying doctrine for those who accept in faith the words of Jesus, "This IS My Body!" in the passage of the Last Supper, and a stumbling block  for those who do not yet believe.  For us, Catholics, the Holy Eucharist is not just a representation of Jesus, it IS Jesus Himself, the  Real Presence.  It is not just the product of a collective imagination of pious people but a mystery presented to us which can only be apprehended by faith alone.  The Holy Eucharist is one of those mysteries of  " believe to understand" , as opposed to "understand to believe." (paraphrasing St. Augustine).

Catholic Apologists (a curious description since they are not "apologizing for anything!) are excellent guides in this debate since they point to us the Scriptural passages supporting the Real Presence.  The Holy Eucharist is inseparable from the gift and mystery of Holy Priesthood.  There is no Eucharist without the Ordained Priesthood.  They are like hand to glove, if I may be permitted to use this expression.  The Old Testament is full of prefigurations of the Eucharist: the Israelites journey in the desert for forty days and forty nights fed only by manna; the raven feeding the prophet Elijah with bread to strengthen him on his journey to Horeb, and many others.  The New Testament continues this in the many parables told by Jesus: the feeding of the five thousand, the five loaves and two fish, and most of all , Chapter 6 of St. John's Gospel.  It is most of all the events of the Last Supper which form the foundation of what we now accept as Catholics: the Institution of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday night.
Jesus left us His Body and Blood for one reason alone: that we may have eternal life.  "he who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the Last Day."  The Eucharist is a remedy for sin and a source of strength for living the life of virtues.  If we do not eat His Body, we do not have life in us.  We may be walking and talking, and may be living a "full life" but if we do not have the life of Jesus in us given to us in the Eucharist, we are dead men and women walking.  It is not enough to receive the Eucharist.  We must receive it worthily.  St. Paul says that we have to be mindful that when receiving we may not be bringing our own condemnation because we are receiving in sin.  To receive worthily does not mean we have to be "perfectly good."  It means that at the time of reception we are not conscious of being in the state of mortal sin.  Being in mortal sin means committing an act that is grave or serious, committing it with full knowledge, and committing it with our full consent.  In other words, we know something is seriously against God's commandments, we know it, and still we do it.  Grace is restored to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Confession of our sins  to an ordained priest (Sacramental Confession) makes us worthy once again to receive our Lord.  Being worthy  sacramentally-  for who of us is really worthy to receive such  infinitely good and gracious God?
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, let us be mindful of the love which made this possible.  St. Therese once said that God made Himself a "Divine Prisoner" for love of us.  He allows Himself to remain in the tabernacle so that we can approach Him with confidence in times of sorrows and temptations.  He hides Himself under the appearance of a tiny piece of  bread, so that we can contemplate Him in faith.  St. Therese also reminds us that "Jesus did not come to earth to remain in the ciborium but  so that after entering our souls in holy communion we can in turn go out to bring Him to others in charity.
Let us celebrate this day of devotion with much love.  Let us return Love for love.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Divine Mercy in the Autobiography of St. Therese

by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 31, 2006)


Divine Mercy is so central to the spirituality of St. Therese that she literally begins and ends her autobiography in praise of God's merciful love:

It is you, dear Mother, to you who are doubly my Mother, to whom I come to confide the story of my soul. The day you asked me to do this, it seemed to me it would distract my heart by too much concentration on myself, but since then Jesus has made me feel that in obeying simply, I would be pleasing to him; besides, I'm going to be doing only one thing: I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: "The Mercies of the Lord" (Ps. 88:2)....

Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own. Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. It is not because God, in His anticipating Mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I go to Him with confidence and love....

Divine Mercy Devotion

DIVINE MERCY - God's Merciful Love

O Jesus, how wonderful it is to know you are all MERCY. How can we fear you who is all merciful and tender? Your justice takes into account that we are weak human beings. You will be just in your judgment because we do not know what we do. For the love of you, help us to be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, your mercy incarnate in this dark world of hate and violence, loneliness and fears. For just as we have received from the throne of your Mercy, so we wish to give, to those who need your mercy.