Sunday, December 04, 2016

Advent's Main Characters



There are three major personalities in the season of Advent: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. It is very helpful to meditate on the significance of these three personalities and to find their significance in the event of Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

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.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

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 Blessed 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 Blessed 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 14, 2016

SAINT TERESA OF JESUS

Feast Day: October 15

The Carmelite Order celebrates the feast of St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) October 15th. St.Teresa does not need any introduction. She is famous among the laity and a shining luminary in the Catholic Church. She is one of the three women Doctors of the Church, with St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine of Siena, being the other two. She is known as the Reformer of Carmel, along with St. John of the Cross, and founded the Discalced Order of the Carmelite family. The Teresian reform is not the only reform in Carmel. There were other reforms including the Reform of Touraine in France (17th century) and the Mantuan reform in Italy, which effected many changes in the Order. But St. Teresa's reform was the most well known partly because of her own charismatic personality and widespread influence. She was a very influential woman of her day and collaborated with powerful people .

She wrote books dealing with her Life and Prayer. To mention some of her famous works: The Life (autobiographical), The Way of Perfection (written for her Nuns) and The Interior Castle (on Prayer). There are a variety of commentaries written about these books and you can check them out at http://www.icspublications.com/.

I got to know St. Teresa in 1984 after I graduated from College.  My favorite reading is her Way of Perfection . It deals with the subject of prayer. I also like The Interior Castle when I am trying to analyze what mansion I may be in! Although the Way of Perfection was written for her nuns and is tailored to those living a solely contemplative lifestyle, one can use her counsels in this book to know about prayer and how to grow in the life of prayer. She summarized three preconditions for a life of prayer: Humility, Detachment and Charity. The entire book expounds on these three criteria.

One subject St. Teresa persistently wrote about was how to pray . In her own life, she had a terrible time praying, to be specific 18 years, of not being able to pray. In her autobiography, she stated that she needed the security of a book to get her focused. Even though most of the time she did not read the book, she needed the security of having it with her for reassurance. Because of her personal difficulties in praying, she is able to explain to us through her writings difficulties we ourselves often experience. She is very insistent about imagining Christ in His humanity. She imagined him in those moments when he was most alone because she figured she will not be turned away when he is so abandoned.

I thought of presenting a little of her thoughts on Mental Prayer or meditation. I used the article presented by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello OCD “Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer”.

Lectio Divina (or divine reading) is not particularly exclusive to Saint Teresa of Avila. It is an old form of monastic prayer used throughout many centuries. It is a monastic designation for meditative reading of the Scriptures. According to Fr. Morello’s book, there are four steps to lectio divina:

1. LectioMeaning “reading”, understood as the careful repetitious recitation of a short text of Scripture.
2. MeditatioMeaning “meditation”, an effort to understand the meaning of the text and make it personally relevant to oneself.
3. OratioMeaning “prayer”, a personal response to the text, asking for the grace of the text.
4. ContemplatioMeaning “contemplation.” It is gazing at length on something. The idea behind this element is that sometimes with God’s infused grace, one is elevated beyond meditation to an experiential contact with the divine presence, to God’s truth and benevolence.

Applying the Teresian flavor to the basic elements of lectio divina, we come to the following exercise:
1. Teresa’s “lectio” Reading the Word of God with Teresa
She counsels that when we start to pray, we must be aware of the following: who it is who is praying (we are creatures), who it is we are praying to (God), what we are praying for.
Attentiveness to what one is doing and saying is the first of Teresa’s advice.

2. Teresa’s “meditatio” - meditating with Teresa.
Saint Teresa counsels that one aid to prayer is to find a companion at prayer. She is referring to taking Christ as our companion in prayer. Whether one imagines Christ within oneself or before the Blessed Sacrament (although Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament is not imagined but a reality), or in the image of the crucifix. She teaches us to think of God as very near to us or as within us, dwelling in our depths. With Teresa we go where God is. Her advice is to locate God according to one’s inclinations. There is no one way we ought to pray. We pray as we can, not as we ought. Teresa also wants us to ‘think” of Christ. We address ourselves to him, or we try to “hear” his words in Scriptures addressed to us.

3. Teresa’s “Oratio” Prayerful expression with Teresa.Teresa’s prayer is full of affectionate expression to Christ. It is the prayer that comes out of a heart that begins to be filled with love. The heart can express itself in a million ways. But here we implement the Teresian principle of making Christ the object of that prayer. You can utter words that come spontaneously to you. This is the part where prayer becomes a conversation.

4. Teresa’s “Contemplatio” Contemplating with Teresa.After going through the steps of reading the text to feed the mind, meditating on the meaning of the text to move the heart and praying the words or other emotions that come to heart. Teresa describes a state of “resting” in the Lord. A new recollection of the soul, in its innermost core, is experienced. With Teresa, we rest in the presence and take a holiday from the work of meditation.

The fruits of contemplation for Teresa is shown in the growth of virtues. For her, the virtues are the flowers in the garden of the soul.

We have explained in summary the exercise of mental prayer according to Saint Teresa of Avila. We should endeavor to learn this exercise of mental prayer for our growth in the spiritual life.

Prayer:
"God our Father, by Your Spirit you raised up Saint Teresa of Jesus to show your Church the way to perfection. May her inspired teaching awaken in us a longing for true holiness. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen" 

SHORT INTRODUCTION: 
Known to her family as Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, she became the reformer of Carmel, mother of the Discalced Carmelite nuns and friars, "spiritual mother" (as is engraved under her statue in the Vatican Basilica), patron of Catholic writers (from 1965) and Doctor of the Church (1970), the first woman with Saint Catherine of Siena to ever receive this last title. She was born at Avila in Castile, Spain, on 28th March 1515 and died in Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca, on 4th October 1582 (a correction due to the Gregorian reform of the calendar that year, as the following day was officially 15th October). She was beatified in 1614, canonised in 1622 and her feast day occurs on 15th October.
Her life needs to be understood in the light of the plan which God had for her, with the great desires experienced in her heart, with the mysterious illness to which she was subject in her youth (and with the ill health from which she suffered throughout her life), and with the "resistance" to divine grace for which she blamed herself more than she should has. Running away from home, she entered the Carmel of the Incarnation in Avila on 2nd November 1535. As a result, partly of the prevailing conditions in the community and partly from her own spiritual difficulties, she had to struggle before arriving at what she called her conversion at the age of 39. But, benefitting from various spiritual directors, she then began to make great strides towards perfection.
In 1560, the idea first emerged of a new Carmel, where the Rule could be followed more closely, and this was realized two years later when the monastery of St. Joseph was founded without any endowments and "following the Primitive Rule": a phrase that needs to be clearly understood because both then and later it was a notion which was more nostalgic and "heroic" than practical. Five years later Teresa obtained from the Prior General of the Order, John Baptist Rossi, then visiting Spain, permission to increase the number of monasteries and a licence to found two communities of contemplative Carmelite friars (later to be called Discalced) who would be the spiritual counterparts of the nuns and, as such, able to help them. At the death of Saint Teresa, there were 17 monasteries of nuns in the Reform, and the communities of friars also quickly outstripped the original number, some founded with permission from the Prior General Rossi but others, especially those in Andalusia, established against his will, relying on the approval of the apostolic visitators, the Dominican Vargas and the young Discalced Carmelite Jerome Gracian (a close spiritual companion of Teresa, for whom she vowed to do whatever he asked her, as long as it was not contrary to God's law).
There followed a series of unedifying quarrels, made worse by the interference of the civil authorities and other outsiders, until in 1581, the Discalced were formed into a separate Province. Saint Teresa was then able to write, "Now all of us, Discalced and Calced, are at peace and nothing can hinder us from serving the Lord".
Saint Teresa is among the most important figures of all time for Catholic spirituality. Her works - especially the four best known (The Life, The Way of Perfection, The Mansions and The Foundations) - together with her more historical works, contain a doctrine which encompasses the whole of the spiritual life, from the first steps right up to intimacy with God at the centre of the Interior Castle. Her Letters show her occupied with a great variety of everyday problems. Her doctrine on the unity of the soul with God (a doctrine which was intimately lived by her) follows the Carmelite tradition which had preceded her and to which she herself contributed in such a notable way, enriching it as well as passing the tradition on, not only to her spiritual sons and daughters, but also to the whole Church which she served so unsparingly. When she was dying, her one joy was to be able to affirm that "I die a daughter of the Church".

SOURCE: CARMELITE WEBSITE

Friday, October 07, 2016

Our Lady of the Rosary

October 7th is designated feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The Holy Rosary has been described as a "compendium of the Gospels," a summary of the life of Christ and encapsulates the most memorable events in the life of Our Lady.  The Rosary, along with the Brown Scapular, is the most popular devotion to Mary.  For cradle Catholics, we learned of the Holy Rosary since childhood, and consider it to be the most powerful weapon against evil.  Mary had placed her seal of approval on this devotion as evidenced by her many apparitions.  The devotion of the rosary came to us through St. Dominic.
"According to tradition, the rosary was given to St. Dominic in an apparition by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille.   This Marian apparition received the title of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Alain de la Roche or Saint Alan of the Rock, a learned Dominican priest and theologian, and established the "15 rosary promises" and started many rosary confraternities.   However, most scholarly research suggests a more gradual and organic development of the rosary."   (wikipedia) 

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Science of Divine Love

St. Therese of the Child Jesus was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by late Pope John Paul II October 19, 1997.  She joined the other two women, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena, in receiving the highest honor the Catholic Church could bestow on one of her daughters.  Carmelites now have three Doctors of the Church, with St. John of the Cross, making the third one.  This proclamation did not come without raised eyebrows from those who considered St. Therese lovable but not material enough for being a Doctor of the Church.  She did not produce voluminous writings which would place her in the category of the REAL Doctors up in heaven.  But those who knew Therese, and whose lives were touched through her intercession, will beg to differ.  Her simple way of spiritual childhood continues to be the "elevator" which raises many to the heart of God.  According to Pope John Paul II, she rediscovered the Gospel truths, and gifted the world with the deep insight revealed to the humble and little.  A beautiful apostolic letter entitled "Divini Amoris Scientia" puts in a nutshell why St. Therese deserves to be among the greats in heaven.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What is True Charity?


True charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues.  Charity must not remain shut up in the depths of the heart, for "no man lights a candle and puts it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house (Mt 5:15)."

It seems to me that this candle represents the charity which ought to enlighten and make joyful, not only those who are dearest to me, but "all who are in the house."


Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
Story of a Soul, Chapter IX

Sunday, September 25, 2016

St. Therese Novena

September 23rd marks the beginning of our novena to St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  Over 100 years after her death, St. Therese is as popular and lovable as ever.  Some attribute it to her winning personality and her ability to attract people of different personalities from different cultures, making her the "greatest Saint of modern times." But Therese was not just a charming little girl or a good Religious, or a deeply Catholic young woman, her spiritual doctrine is attractive because it speaks to the core of every man and woman's heart: that even in our weakness, and especially because of our weakness, God loves us. "It is so good to know that I am weak and in need of God's mercy", she exclaimed. "I am not afraid of the justice of God because justice is giving to someone his or her due, and God knows we are nothing but dust."  In Therese, we see our own weaknesses, our deep desires and longings. Her scruples were our struggles, her victories and failures mirror our own.  She gives us hope because she proves to us that hoping in God will yield fruits, and that our hope will never be in vain. She saw the misery of man, embraced it in faith, hope and love, and showed us that weakness is not a hindrance to union with God.  She was a breath of fresh air to a world which saw perfection and heroic deeds as standards of greatness.  Therese redefined the essence of perfection and elevated it to perfection in love.  It is not what we do for God which matters, it is what God does in us and through us.  It is not doing extraordinary deeds which matters, it is doing something ordinary in an extraordinary way.   In Therese, love alone counts.  "It is love alone which attracts me."  And yet, hers was a love defined not in sweetness and consolations, not in flowers and rainbows.   She proves to us that true love, true charity, is borne in true knowledge of the person of Jesus, nurtured in aridity and spiritual darkness, effected by the act of the will, and bears fruit in complete self forgetfulness and sacrifice.  She was a true daughter of St. John of the Cross who said:  "He who seeks not the Cross of Christ, seeks not the glory of Christ."  Therese can be easily misunderstood because of the flowery, romantic words and phrases she used to express herself.  But if one tries to get pass the language, one will find a treasure and source of inner peace in her writings.  As we begin to honor her with nine days of prayers, let us get to know her again by re-reading the story of her life.  Many of us have read the Story of A Soul so many times.  But just like the life of Christ, we can always glean new insights and learn new lessons from the experiences of this girl who called herself "Little Therese."