Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Mary of Guadalupe

Feast:  December 12th

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beautiful feast appropriately celebrated during Advent.  Just as the message of Guadalupe was a message of light piercing through the darkness, so is the message of Advent that of Light dawning upon mankind.  The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is beautiful in that it once again shows us the tenderness of Mary as mother, appearing to a humble native named Juan Diego on the hills of Tepeyac, to offer consolation and hope to a world wrapped in ignorance and darkness.  She appeared heavy with child, anticipating the beautiful event we are to celebrate Christmas night, when the Child to be born of her comes to save His people.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Advent- Be vigilant in Love!

With Mother Nature having transformed herself into the colorful trees and that cold wintry air, the Church's liturgical year turns its page to a new season- the Season of Advent- which begins this Sunday.  We traditionally celebrate our New Year on the 1st of January, but our church calendar actually starts its new year in the evening hour of the last Saturday of the 34th week in Ordinary Time.  Prior to this, the reading at Masses were pointed towards the "end times." The readings were ominous in character, apocalyptic, and speak of the end of the world as we know it and the final coming of Jesus as Judge of the living and the dead.  Advent also speaks of another coming.  It is the season of vigilant waiting.  There is a penitential spirit implicit in our celebrating Advent.  The penitential color of purple vestment worn by the priest at Mass reminds one of the same color vestment worn during Lent.  But when one pays close attention to the readings used at the liturgical celebration, one would notice, aside from the reminders of preparedness, a loving expectation of something beautiful to come or someone wonderful to come.  We are encouraged during Advent to lay aside cares and avoid distractions which may come in the way of our interior vigilance and waiting for the Lord.  Advent is really a spiritual preparation for the birthday of Jesus.  There is a tendency in everyone to be so taken up with the many activities connected with Christmas.  There's the shopping to be done, cards to be written and sent, parties to plan, etc.  Unfortunately, these have become part and parcel of the days leading up to Christmas.  I used to think that it is impossible to fully appreciate the season of Advent because of these demands.  Even when one is living in the convent like I do, there are demands and responsibilities the Sisters find themselves responding to.  But I found that it is possible to take the time to be quiet, to lay aside concerns, and to plan one's activities so as to make room for the spiritual.

There is beauty in Advent and Christmas none of the other liturgical feasts have.  Although Easter is theologically larger in significance, Christmas speaks to the heart.  It is my favorite season.  The idea of God coming to us as a Child, in total dependence, awakens in everyone a sentiment too deep for words.  It brings out the best in everyone.  We find ourselves more loving, more giving and forgiving, at Christmas.  Let us enter into the Advent Season with determination to be open to whatever the Spirit of God brings and to listen attentively to the prophecies read in Scriptures during Mass.  Let us imitate Mary in her loving vigilance, waiting for the coming of the Lord, as a Child.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity

Feast Day:  November 8

The Carmelite Order celebrates the feast of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity on November 8th. Elizabeth was a beautiful soul who tasted the delights of contemplating God in the depths of her soul and invites us to do the same.
She was born July 18, 1880 in a military camp of Avor in the district of Farges-en-Septaine, France to a military family. Her father, Joseph Catez, was a captain of the 8th Squadron of the Equipment and Maintenance Corps. Her mother, Marie Rolland, was the daughter of a retired Commandant. The couple was blessed with two lovely daughters, Elizabeth and Marguerite. The family moved to Dijon in 1882. As a child, Elizabeth was described to possess a terrible temper. She was inclined to bouts of tantrums and her early photos show her flashing eyes. It was said that a Canon close to the family exclaimed after being a witness to these outburst, “this child will either grow up to be a devil or an angel.” She is described to be quick-tempered and unable to manage her anger well. This character flaw will be foremost in Elizabeth’s mind as she strove to grow deeper in the spiritual life.

But despite this weakness, Elizabeth also was gifted with good natural qualities. She was naturally affectionate and did not think twice to show it. When one reads her letters to friends, her warmth and affectionate nature come through. She was loved wherever she went and was popular among her friends. She loved to travel and loved beautiful, fashionable clothes. She was an accomplished pianist and her soul was sensitive to everything beautiful and harmonious. It was this artistic soul that will open up for her the discovery of a Presence within her.

When her father died, Mme. Catez, Elizabeth and Marguerite moved to a smaller house not far from a Carmelite monastery. In fact, it was so near to the house that Elizabeth could see the belfry of the chapel from her bedroom window. A great spiritual transformation occurred in Elizabeth during her First Communion in April of 1891. Her writings talk about her account of “being fed by Jesus.” This experience was the turning point in her life. From that moment onward, Elizabeth began a journey of self-discovery, self-mastery and self-conquest. She also discovered her vocation to Carmel.

It is wonderful to read Saint Elizabeth’s writings because they are full of love and expressions of great longings. Her description and re-discovery of the mystery of the Divine Indwelling in her soul is so vivid that one cannot help but be immersed in what she is describing. Her writings are lofty and mystical and she spoke in the language of the mystics. She truly lived out her personal mission of being the apostle of Divine Indwelling in Carmel. Her appeal is different from St. Therese and yet Elizabeth read Therese's "Story of a Soul" while a Postulant in her Dijon Carmel. In a photo taken of her at this time with the Community, she can be seen holding this book next to Mother Germaine, her Prioress. There is a certain euphoria and excitement surrounding St. Therese but Saint Elizabeth manifests a more subdued, serious and austere aura about her. She was very heavily influenced by the writings of Saint Paul and most, if not all of her writings, are meditations and reflections on the works of this great apostle to the gentiles. It was in one of St. Paul's letters that she discovered her personal mission in Carmel: to be "laudem gloriae", to be God's Praise of Glory. Being a praise of glory for Elizabeth meant becoming "another humanity in which Christ can renew the whole of His mystery." She expounds on St. Paul's cry of "filling up in my body what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ." All these sentiments were not driven only by a pure sense of asceticism but more so because she understood that love is proven by the crucible of the Cross. " A Carmelite is a soul who has gazed on Christ Crucified, who has seen Him offering Himself to His Father as a victim for souls; and entering into herself under this great vision of Christ's charity, she has understood the passion of His soul and desired to give herself as He did!"

Elizabeth of the Trinity teaches me that God dwells in silence. The Rule of Carmel teaches that "your strength will lie in silence and hope." When asked by her Prioress what her favorite point of the Rule was, she referred to the practice of silence as indicated in the holy Rule. It is in silence that we must seek Him and we have to acquire that virtue of silence in order to allow God to communicate Himself to us. Being silent is not just the absence of words. Being silent more so means being abandoned, docile, submissive to the Spirit so He can accomplish his works in us. Being silent means having a “single eye” to view all things.  A silent and peaceful soul is one who is convinced that nothing happens by accident, no second causes, that God ordains all, and that everything is  grace. A noisy soul is one that constantly swims upstream, who constantly sees the danger behind every sacrifice, who measures every step so she doesn’t fall. It reminds me of the song The Rose -“it’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance, it’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance, it’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live."

Elizabeth died of Addison’s disease on November 9, 1906. She was beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II on November 25, 1984 and canonized by Pope Francis on October 16, 2016. Her dying words were “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life.”  In her own words:

“Let us live with God as with a Friend. Let us make our faith a living thing, so as to remain in communion with Him through everything. That is how saints are made. We carry our heaven within us, since He who completely satisfies every longing of the glorified souls in the light of the Beatific Vision, is giving Himself to us in faith and mystery. It is the same thing. It seems to me I have found my heaven on earth, since heaven is God and God is in my soul. The day I understood that, everything became clear to me, and I wish I could whisper this secret to those I love in order that they also might cling closely to God through everything.

 Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us!

Friday, October 05, 2018

Do You Hear What I Hear? Do You See What I See?

A graveyard full of dead-fallen leaves,
With the earth standing still.
Nothing, nothing for the senses,
Save for the gentle sway of color-filled branches.

All of creation, in transformation,
Gentle breezes on dancing branches,
Giving proof to the presence,
Of a Presence.

My heart is lulled to slumber,
This peaceful silence, oblivious to surroundings,
Demanding a hearing...
A silent heart hears,,, Only a silent heart can hear.

A harmony of movements -
Tree-top branches gently swaying.
Weathered branches softly bending,
No ripple seen on silky waters.

But the heart perceives something-
Or Someone .. in the silence.

"O send me the Spirit!
I will be lifted up with His power!"
 How can you say, "Send me the Spirit?"
When He is there abiding even in His silence?

Enter... Enter
Enter... Within!
He is there... waiting!

Faith will grasp Him,
Love will capture Him.

Sister Helena of Mary, O.Carm.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saint Therese: Love Endures All things

I love this photo of Saint Therese after her death , September 30, 1897. The first time I saw this before I entered Carmel, I was so struck by the peace that was reflected on her face that one would not know how much suffering she endured in the many months she was afflicted with TB.