Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ennoble every action with modesty and purity

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Daughters, seek to give all of yourself to the Beloved and above all seek to jealously protect your purity for it is indeed a precious treasure.  Knowing that you are always in the presence of God, let modesty be your constant companion and let it shape your countenance, your movements and your apparel.  It will ennoble your every action and the virtue will attract the gaze of your heavenly Spouse. 

Possess purity in an eminent degree, and jealously preserve this fragrant flower. I earnestly desire to see you shine by the brilliancy of this virtue; be like to angels, and omit no precaution to retain this treasure, which is so easily lost by imprudence. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, says the Apostle. (2 Cor. x. 5.)

I also recommend to you holy modesty at all times and in all places, because we are always in the presence of God, Who is everywhere. Let the admirable modesty of your Savior be seen in your countenance, in your movements, and in your apparel. I exhort you not only to watch over your eyes, but to conform your every movement to the rules of this virtue, which beautifies and ennobles every action.

Be faithful in all things to your heavenly Spouse, and live like innocent and stainless doves.  Avoid failing, not only against purity, but even against the least rules of an exact modesty.

St. Paul of the Cross

Affliction transformed by the fire of desire

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Daughters, how are you to bear affliction?  Through love alone.  Not only entrust yourselves to the Beloved, but let your desire for Him so inflame your hearts that it purifies every intention.  The soul that is set on fire for Christ enters now into the peace of the Kingdom.  His glory was to do the will of the Father, His glory was the Cross.  When He offers you that same glory, no matter what shape or form it takes, embrace it as if you were embracing the Beloved. 

When shall we be all on fire as are the seraphim ? What shall we do to please our sweet Jesus? Ah ! would that the fire of our charity were so great that it would inflame all who are near us, and all who are afar, all peoples, of every tongue and nation ; in a word, all creatures, that all might know and love the Supreme Being!

In all your actions purify your intention, renew it several times a day, often repeat : All for the greater glory of God!

We must love God always, even when He sends us afflictions, looking up to God alone. O my God, how good Thou art! I desire nothing else but Thee!

St. Paul of the Cross

In a perpetual agony of love

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To let ourselves be completely consumed by the Beloved would be too little, and yet we shrink from offering Him our hearts and our lives.  Do we fain speak of devotion and commitment and yet have our thoughts and actions betray us?  The more He shows us His love the less we feel capable of capturing it with our poor words.  This inability to speak of His love and to offer Him the gratitude He deserves should make us, as it were, mad with the desire to rush into the "flames of and there remain in silence, consumed and lost in that infinite All."  The Beloved calls us, "Strive (agon), that is, agonize to enter by the narrow path."  Live for that divine Lover in a "perpetual agony of love."     

I would fain say much, but in order to speak of love, it is necessary to love; love alone can suggest its own language. Let the earth be silent before the great God. I repeat it : I would fain say many things, but I feel as one dumb. Listen to your divine Spouse, and let yourself be taught by Him. O my God ! teach me how to express myself. Would that I were all aflame with love! More than that : would that I could sing hymns of praise in the fire of love, and extol the marvellous mercies that uncreated love has bestowed on us! Is it not truly a duty to thank God for His gifts?  Yes, doubtless, but I know not how. I wish to do so, and I know not how. To faint away with the desire to love this great God more and more is little. To consume ourselves for Him is little.

What shall we do?  Ah! we will live for that divine Lover in a perpetual agony of love. But think you I have said enough? No ; I would say more if I knew how.  Do you know what consoles me some what?  To know that our great God is an infinite good, and that nobody is capable of loving and praising Him as much as He deserves. I rejoice in the infinite love which He bears Himself; I rejoice in the essential happiness which He enjoys in Himself, without need of any creature.  But, mad that I am, would it not be better for me to rush into those flames of love and there remain in silence, consumed and lost in that infinite All?  Ah! this is the work of love, and I am never sufficiently disposed to lose my self in love.
 
St. Paul of the Cross

Loving aspirations to God

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Daughters, you must understand that prayer is to the soul what breathing is to the body.  It must be constant; and indeed desire for the Beloved will make it just as natural.  St. Paul of the Cross refers to prayer as loving "aspirations" to God.  How beautifully this captures the nature of prayer, for it is also the action of God "breathing into" us or rather the groanings of His Spirit within us.  

Let yourself simply live in the faith of what you have become - living temples of God - and through prayer let faith, hope and love become a fire so that every thought is consumed with God.   

The kingdom of God is within you. Reanimate your faith often when you study, work, or eat ; when you retire to rest, or rise in the morning. Make some loving aspirations to God, such as: " O Infinite Goodness! " or other prayer, and let your soul be penetrated by these pious sentiments as by a precious balm. This great God is nearer to you, so to speak, than you are to yourself. As for me, I cannot understand how it is possible not to be always thinking of God.

You are the living temple of God. Visit this interior sanctuary often, and see that the lamps, — that is, faith, hope, and charity — are burning.
 
St. Paul of the Cross

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I pray for the grace to weep


When we speak or think of making reparation for our own sins or the sins of others, we cannot disassociate ourselves from the pain of those who suffered abuse and from the pain of the love that was denied them or from the shame of those who committed the acts against them.  Pious sentimentality becomes a wretched thing in the face of the betrayal of love and becomes worthy of only the well earned cynicism of the those who have suffered and carry their hidden pain with them always.  

In the face of the mundane callousness that we carry in our hearts - deadened to the betrayed and the betrayer, we need to consider what our obligations are to both.  Christianity invites no sense of condescension in our response, no high ground.  The knowledge of the Cross is found within the Cross. Within our arms, we must hold the betrayed and know the pain of having the blood of the innocent upon our hands.  This we learn from our spiritual Mother: 


At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?
For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:
She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.
Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:
Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.
Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:
By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.
Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;
Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.
Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;
Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.
Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
be Thy Mother my defense,
be Thy Cross my victory;
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.




Friday, November 28, 2014

Under me are the everlasting arms

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Death, for many of us, is the Absolute Master.  It haunts us and our desperate attempts to hold it at bay or distract ourselves from its inevitable approach only makes it more fearsome.  And as it takes its grip upon us we cling more tenaciously to familiar things and long for the comforting touch of the hands of those we have loved.  Daughters . . . God would seem so distant except for one great mercy: "that Christ has given us His own heart to love Him with, His own mind to know Him with, His own will to surrender ourselves to Him with and with which to put those whom we love into His hands, His hands of infinite mercy."  Your Beloved has taken all our loneliness, all our fear, all our anxiety - our death - upon Himself, and transformed it.  In our death, "it is Christ in us who surrenders to God. It is not with our own heart and our own will that we can long for God, but with Christ’s. And Christ has given His heart and will to us. In this is the supreme mercy that comes to us in the hour of death."

It is Christ in us who can say with absolute trust in the hour of death: “Under me are the everlasting arms."

“There are people who are haunted all through their lives by the fear of death, and when it comes close—when it is no longer something far away which they cannot even imagine happening to themselves—it is a hard thing to accept, let alone to welcome or want.
Most of us are too weak, too sinful, and too much unaware of the other world to long for God as some of the saints do. We are far too rooted in earthly things, too dependent for the flicker of courage that we have upon creatures and creature comforts. We do not, we cannot, realize that we are going into the light and warmth, that in God we shall find again everyone and everything that we loved here—and more than that, because the most lovable of His creatures is only the very dimmest reflection of Himself.

We not only cannot realize the light and warmth that we are going to, but as we feel ourselves slipping into silence and darkness, we want to cling to people, to hear their voices, to see their familiar faces, to feel the comforting touch of their hands. We want to cling forever to the here and now that we know, and suddenly the here and now is slipping away from us, and we can no longer hold on to it.

After all, it seems, now that death is near, that we do not know God the Father at all. Of course, long ago we made countless acts of love, but really we are too earthly, too limited; we just have not got the capacity to love and trust ourselves to God who, as we learned in our childhood, “is the Supreme Spirit who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfection”: God, whom we cannot visualize, cannot touch, cannot imagine, cannot know with our senses or with our tiny minds; God whom we could not love but for one thing, one supreme mercy, this: that Christ has given us His own heart to love Him with, His own mind to know Him with, His own will to surrender ourselves to Him with and with which to put those whom we love into His hands, His hands of infinite mercy.

It is Christ in us who can say with absolute trust in the hour of death: “Under me are the everlasting arms."

It is Christ in us, Christ whose death we are dying, who can say with absolute faith, both for ourselves and for those whom we love: “Into Your hands, O Lord….”

That is why Christ would not, could not, come down from the cross. On the cross He carried us all through the darkness of death to the light, through the chill of death to the warmth, through the fear of death to the love of God. It is with His heart that we love the Father in the hour of death, because He has given His heart. He has given us our Heaven.

We are not alone in the hour of death; we have nothing to fear in the hour of death: because when the time comes Christ identifies Himself with us so closely that fear gives way to trust and anguish to peace. He has lived all of our lives, died all of our deaths; to all of us He has given His peace. It is in the hour of death that our fear, our anxiety, our loneliness, will end and we shall understand Christ’s words: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
As Christ died on the cross He drew all those to Himself who would die His death and enter with Him into the mysterious glory of it, all those whose lives seem to be failures, to be cut off before they have come to their flowering; those people who could have had brilliant careers, who could have benefitted their fellows immeasurably, but are cut off at the very beginning of adulthood, or who die in childhood; deaths that seem to be nothing else but waste to which we cannot reconcile our hearts.

He identifies Himself with all the young men who would die in battle, all the men and women who would fall in the squander of destruction that is war, all those children who would die in innocence with the burning splendor of His purity still radiant in their souls, with His passion of love still whole and not frittered away.

He identifies Himself with the old people who, when death comes, will think their lives were wasted, who will think that they have done nothing for God’s glory, taken no part in the world’s redemption, but who in reality are dying His death and saving the world in the power of His love.
Christ on the cross is God and man, He is wholly human; He knows the utter desolation and loneliness of death as no other human being will ever know it. He knows the grief of leaving those whom He loves—His Mother, His friends, Mary Magdalene who seems utterly dependent on Him.

He feels abandoned by His Father.

He is dying all our deaths. Death is too big a thing for any one of us to face alone. It separates us, for a time, from those we love on earth. It is difficult for us earthbound, rooted creatures to want Heaven; it is impossible for us to realize what the glory of God will be to us. It is loving God, and that only, that can make Heaven, Heaven. Here imagination does not help us: we cannot really imagine ourselves loving the “Supreme Spirit”—we even want to cling to our human frailties and comforts, to our human weakness.

It is now that Christ takes over. He has died all our deaths on the cross; now we are going to die His; it is Christ in us who surrenders to God. It is not with our own heart and our own will that we can long for God, but with Christ’s. And Christ has given His heart and will to us. In this is the supreme mercy that comes to us in the hour of death.

“Father, into Your hands….” We can say it with Christ’s love and trust in the Father. “Father, into Your hands not only my spirit, my body and soul, but those people whom I love, and whom You love infinitely more than I do.”

Now I love God with Christ’s will, with Christ’s heart, with Christ’s trust; and because He has taken whole possession of me, in the hour of my death I shall at last love my friends too with His love.

Not only will my suffering of mind and body, molten into His in the fire of His love, be the beginning of my blessed purgatory purifying me; it will also be Christ’s sacrifice on the cross offered for those whom I love.

Of each one surrendered wholly to Christ in the hour of death, we can say: “Greater love than this no man has, that he lays down his life for his friends.”

Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.”

A sublime devotion

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Daughters, make the pilgrimage of faith, the pilgrimage within to the most sublime place of worship and devotion - your own heart.  There the Beloved waits for you, yearning for your presence.

Some there are whose devotion leads them to visit the holy places and the famous basilicas. I do not condemn this devotion; however, faith tells us that our heart is a great sanctuary, because it is the living temple of God and the abode of the Blessed Trinity. Let us enter this temple frequently, and there adore, in spirit and in truth, the august Trinity. What a sublime devotion !
 
St. Paul of the Cross

Sigh after that happy country

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The greater number of Christians live unmindful of what your Beloved had done and suffered.  This is why they live on, sleeping in the horrible mire of iniquity.  Arouse yourselves, daughters, from your lethargy and burning with zeal run out to meet your the Beloved in the Passion.  Unite yourselves to Him in love and suffering.  Let your lives trumpet the divine Word.

Already the walls of the prison are crumbling to dust, and the prisoner is about to enjoy the liberty of the children of God. Sigh after that happy country ; leave your heart free to take its flight thither; above all, drink, with love, of your Saviour's chalice ; inebriate yourself with it — and how ? By pure love and pure suffering; unite the two, or, rather, cast a drop of your sufferings into the ocean of divine love. My daughter, in heaven the elect will not be united to me as a friend is united to a friend, but as the iron which is penetrated by the fire.

St. Paul of the Cross

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A lesson of Divine Love

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Daughters, you must not rush through life so quickly that you lose sight of the presence of God; fail to consider all that reveals Him and His love to you.  Allow the flowers to preach the wisdom, power and goodness of God to you.  What they proclaim is often more profound than any sermon - for they are made for you by the Beloved's hands.

"Walk before Me and be perfect." (Gen. xvii. i.) Let everything recall to you the presence of God. If, for example, you go into the garden and see some flowers, ask one of them:
What are you ? It will not reply, I am a flower. No, but it will say to you, Ego vox — I am a preacher ; I preach the power, the wisdom, the goodness, the beauty, the prudence of our great God. Imagine that the flower makes you this reply, and let it penetrate your heart and teach you a lesson of divine love.

St. Paul of the Cross

Jesus is my nourishment and I am His

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Daughter, your heart feels hardened and unable to pray?  Do not be distressed.  God can make even the stones to speak.  Let yourself rest in Him even though your soul is restless.  For in your very depths the most sweet and divine operation takes place.  God nourishes Himself on your spirit and your spirit sustains itself on the Spirit of God.  This mutual indwelling and embrace of love does not depend on your feelings.

Prayer is never more perfect than when it ascends from the very depth and essence of the soul ; we pray, then, in the spirit of God. This is a sublime language, but when God wills, He makes even the stones speak. Let the sovereign God reign in your spirit ; there ought to be a reciprocal repose : God in you, and you in God. O sweet, O divine operation ! God nourishes Himself, let me say for want of a better word — God nourishes Himself with your spirit, and your spirit sustains herself with the Spirit of God : Jesus is my nourishment, and I am His. There is no illusion possible in this operation, because it is a labor of faith and love.

St. Paul of the Cross

Into the immense ocean of Charity

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Daughters, despite the fact that things loom so large in your life, seem out of control or oppressive, nothing is so great as the your Beloved's desire for you.  Let yourself fall like a drop of water into the immense ocean of His love.  Lose yourself in this divine solitude with Him.

You ought to forget yourself in God; let your spirit fall, as a drop of water, into that immense ocean of charity, to repose there and receive the divine communications, without losing sight of your nothingness. We learn all things in this divine solitude ; we learn more things in this interior school by being silent than by talking. St. Mary Magdalen out of love fell at the feet of Jesus ; there she was silent, she listened, she loved, she lost herself in love.
Take with you everywhere this spirit of prayer and interior recollection. Go out of yourself, and lose yourself in God ; go out of time, and lose yourself in eternity. I am at the sea-shore ; a drop of water is suspended from my finger. I ask this water : Poor drop, where would you wish to be? It replies : In the sea. And what do I in answer to this appeal? I shake my finger and let the poor little drop fall into the sea. Now, I ask you, is it not true that this drop of water is in the sea?  Certainly it is there ; but go and seek it, now that it is lost in the ocean, its centre. If it had a tongue, what would it say ? Deduce the consequence and apply the parable to yourself. Lose sight of the heavens, the earth, the sea and its rivers, and all created things, and permit this soul that God has given you to lose herself in this infinitely great and good God . . .

St. Paul of the Cross

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The cherished place where you meet your Beloved

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Daughters, Our Lord unites Himself now permanently to you by allowing Himself to be nailed to the Cross.  Forever, it must be the cherished place where you meet your Beloved; the marriage bed.  Let your heart be fastened there with Him so as to remain steady in the face of the world's mockery and scorn and the hard iron winters of the spirit when there is no consolation but only the obedience of faith.  

“He who is God is also man, perfectly man. He will not allow any miracle to help Him now.
He who is going to indwell everyone who loves Him—be he sinner or saint—through all the generations to come accepts the limitations of their human nature as His own, and so that He may not fall from the cross, by His own will He lets Himself be fastened to it.

As Christ stretched out His beautiful craftsman’s hands and composed His blameless feet on the hard wood of the cross to receive the nails, He was reaching out to countless people through all time: as He stretched His body on that great tree that was to flower with His life forever, He gave Himself to be made one with all those who in every generation to come would willingly bind and fasten themselves irrevocably to the cross, for the love of God and the love of men.

For all through time for those who love Christ and who want to be one with Him, love and the cross would be inseparable; but because Christ willed that He should be nailed to the cross Himself in His human nature, love will always predominate and redeem the suffering of the cross.
As the three nails were driven home into the wood, fastening Him to it irrevocably, Christ gave Himself to all those men and women who in the years to come would nail themselves to His cross by the three vows of religion—poverty, chastity, and obedience; those wise ones who know the weakness of human nature, who know how easily the will can falter when the sweetness of the first consolation of prayer is over; how hard and bleak the winter of the spirit when its springtide and its summer and harvesting seem passed forever; how hard to go on faithfully clinging to the Christ-life with only one’s own weak will to drive one. 

Christ, receiving the nails, gave Himself to those men and women who would nail themselves by binding vows to Himself upon the cross, who would have the ability to remain true to their chosen life because their hands and feet are put into His hands and feet, and they are held onto the cross by the nails that held Him.

He gave Himself in that moment to all those men and women who would pledge themselves to Him and to one another with the vows in matrimony, the three blessed nails of human love safeguarding husbands and wives from the assaults of temptation in every circumstance of the world, the vows to love, honor, and obey.

He gave Himself to all those converts who bind themselves to the laws of the Church and all those Catholics who persevere in the faith, nailed to it by their own baptismal vows, no matter what hardships it may involve them in; nailed to it willingly because they know well that without Christ they can do nothing, and that Christ in this world is inseparable from His cross.

And with what great tenderness, with what depths of understanding, Christ gave Himself in that hour on Calvary to all those whom He would indwell—religious, married people, ordinary Catholics, trying to adhere to Him, not through emotion, not through sentimentality, but by uniting their wills to His, and binding themselves irrevocably to Him. With what love He gave Himself to them, knowing how they too would be considered to be fools, would be mocked, and even looked upon with distrust and anxiety by their own people—by those who loved them.
He reached out in that moment to those who by entering religion would give scandal, as He 
Himself was doing: “This night you will all be scandalized because of me!”

They would be derided as He was derided, He would be derided in them: “You are escapists!—”
“You are giving up the fight.”
“You are afraid of responsibility.”
“You are afraid of life.”

And this, despite the that in many countries of the world today, to openly vow yourself to religion is to put your head into the noose, to invite persecution!

Not only would the religious be thought to be fools, but those married men and women who were faithful and compelled themselves to be faithful to their three vows—whose love and whose fidelity to love is not that which the world of today can understand.

“What?” their mockers would say in the twenty-first century, “What? You are faithful to that man” (or that woman) “whom you are tired of, you deny this other man” (or woman) “whom you love passionately! How can you believe that a God who is love asks this of you?” Or to the man and wife who deny themselves to have children: “How can you be such fools? 

Surely you do not think that a good God can wish you to have children who will be poor, who may even have to grow up to be laborers?” (as His own son did). “How can you bring children into the world to be poor, to live hard lives, perhaps to go to war?” (and to lay down their lives for their friends).

And to the seemingly insignificant faithful Catholic, who is neither a religious nor married but who clings to the faith, adheres to it firmly with a will that is grounded and rooted in the will of Christ: “What fools you must be, and how abject! How can you, in these days of enlightenment, of free thought, of new ideas, of new philosophies, accept dogma and doctrine? How can you allow your minds to be ruled by the Church?”

And even the sentimentalists who profess to love God and who love to be moved to feelings of tenderness and sweetness by sermons and the singing of hymns exclaim, scandalized, “How can you go to church because you must and not because you feel like it? How can you believe what you are told to believe and not what you feel to be true?"

To all these, Christ reached out across the years when He was nailed to the cross. He identified Himself with them; He accepted their limitations; He gave them His will. For them as well as for Himself, His prayer was uttered forever: “Father, not my will but your will be done.”

Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.” 

Lord, please make me want You

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Desire is perhaps the most important of things; to know or to have a sense that we are incomplete, that there is something lacking within us.  O'Connor understands that an increase in the desire for the Lord is essential but that it is one thing to write about it and another to possess it within one's heart truly.  We may write about it, but it can be as flat as the page upon which it is inscribed.  We may extend, I believe, what O'Connor says to our speech and to so many other ways we express ourselves.  We may speak of God and our desire might look alive but yet it can be a "horrible deception."  

O'Connor knows enough of divine love to understand that for her desire to be "living" it will most likely include suffering.  Yet, she is not quite ready for this, realizing that even if it should come should would likely close her eyes to it or fail to recognize it.  All that can be done for the moment is to ask for God's protection and Mary's maternal care. 

“Dear Lord please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to think about You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment. It is easy for this writing to show a want. There is a want but it is abstract and cold, a dead want that goes well into writing because writing is dead. Writing is dead. Art is dead, dead by nature, not killed by unkindness. I bring my dead want into the place, the dead place it shows up most easily, into writing. This has its purpose if by God’s grace it will wake another soul; but it does me no good. The “life” it receives in writing is dead to me, the more so in that it looks alive—a horrible deception. But not to me who knows this. Oh Lord please make this dead desire living, living in life, living as it will probably have to live in suffering. I feel too mediocre now to suffer. If suffering came to me I would not even recognize it. Lord keep me. Mother help me.”

Excerpt From: Flannery O’Connor. “A Prayer Journal.”

Rest in the sweet embrace of love

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Daughters: Adore your Beloved in spirit and truth.  Clothe yourselves in that Spirit of Love and worry not about any earthly consolation.  You may feel yourselves naked and exposed but in reality you will be free and unencumbered.  Rest in the Truth - small and lacking the self-consciousness that often plagues us.  Remain like a child at the breast to be nourished upon Love.

The true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth." (John iv. 23.) Note these words well, be cause they contain all the elements of prayer ; its perfection consists not in the joys and sensible delights which it may produce, but in the spirit — that is, in a true, pure, and simple nakedness and poverty of spirit, detached from all sensible consolation, so that the spirit reposes, purely and simply, in the infinite Spirit of God. Our Lord adds : " and in truth " — that is to say, we must have a full consciousness of our nothingness, so as not to rob God of one iota of His glory. See that child : after having fondled and caressed its mother, it lulls itself on her breast, continuing to move its tiny lips sucking the milk ; so the soul, after having spent her affections, so to speak, ought to rest on the bosom of her heavenly Father, and not awaken from this sleep of faith and love with out the permission of God.

St. Paul of the Cross

From mediocrity to grace-filled joy

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Again, O'Connor surprises with her sober grasp of the essential struggles of the spiritual life.  She knows that mediocrity can only have two outcomes: Despair and Presumption.  More important, she understands that it is Grace alone that can help one escape it.  She recognizes the need for fear of God, but acknowledges that to remain there only breeds a stifling anxiety.  Only by giving one's heart completely to God in love can truly bring freedom and joy to one's life.

Mediocrity is a hard word to apply to oneself; yet I see myself so equal with it that it is impossible not to throw it at myself—realizing even as I do that I will be old and beaten before I accept it. I think to accept it would be to accept Despair. There must be some way for the naturally mediocre to escape it. The way must be Grace. There must be a way to escape it even when you know you are even below it. Perhaps knowing you are below it is a way to begin. I say I am equal with it; but I am below it. I will always be staggering between Despair and Presumption, facing first one and then the other, deciding which makes me look the best, which fits most comfortably, most conveniently. I’ll never take a large chunk of anything. I’ll nibble nervously here and there. Fear of God is right; but, God, it is not this nervousness.  It is something huge, great, magnanimous. It must be a joy. Every virtue must be vigorous. Virtue must be the only vigorous thing in our lives. Sin is large and stale. You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited. But perhaps that is too literary a statement—this mustn’t get insincere.

How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation and maybe that is wrong anyway. But how to eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way.

Excerpt From: Flannery O’Connor. “A Prayer Journal.” 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The language of love is a burning heart

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Daughters, humility alone will allow your hearts to be set on fire like that of your patron Philip Neri.  Plunge yourself into the truth of your nothingness and you plunge yourself into infinite Love. Pray always but speak little.  It is the intensity of your desire for the Beloved that cries out to Him with an ardor beyond words.  Fear not to let yourself be consumed completely.

Ah ! the God of truth loves the truth. Now, she who knows her nothingness, and acknowledges it, knows the truth. Through contemplation, which ac quaints us with this great truth that we are nothing and that God is all, our soul is plunged into the infinite love of the Supreme Good. Follow the rules which I have marked out for your direction in prayer according to the lights that God has given me. The state of prayer, in which God has placed you, requires few words. Love speaks little. The language of divine love is a burning heart; no words can express its ardors; they make of the loving soul a victim of love, a holocaust, consumed and reduced to ashes in the divine fire of charity.

St. Paul of the Cross

Shame consumed by love

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Exposed, humiliated, vulnerable beyond what seem bearable.  It is in such moments that God may seem most distant from us.  Yet, here we see Him exposed in His nakedness before not only the mob who hated and scorned Him but before those who cherished Him the most.  The latter can be even harder to bear. Shame was stripping away every earthly support that Jesus had: his friends gave way in shaming abandonment; his reputation gave way in shaming mockery; his decency gave way in shaming nakedness; his comfort gave way in shaming torture. This he endures for you Daughters and for all those who vulnerability has been abused or whose shame has come to light before the eyes of those who take a morbid delight in the trials of others.  He comes to comfort you and asks you to comfort others in kind. There, upon Calvary, Christ’s love for the you is shown in its nakedness, His love for you in its intensity.

Before He is nailed to the cross, Jesus gives as yet another overwhelming showing of His love, yet another proof of His identification with human beings in their bitterest humiliation: Jesus is stripped of His garments.

It is hard to bring oneself to reflect on this, yet it is necessary because of what every detail of this dreadful incident can mean to us today. With all the wounds on His body, the wounds of the scourging, of the falls on the way to Calvary, of the heaviness and the roughness of the cross on His shoulder, Christ’s garments must have been stiff with blood and adhering to His body. The soldiers would not have treated Him tenderly, although there is no reason to suppose they were fundamentally cruel. They would undoubtedly have torn His clothes from Him as quickly as they could and as roughly as they must. It would have been almost as if His skin was being torn off Him.

There, exposed in His nakedness, He stood in front of the whole mob—and, which must have been far harder to bear, in front of those whom He loved, His Mother, John His chosen friend, and Mary Magdalene who had washed His feet with her tears. He stood naked.

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He was stripped there on the summit of Calvary not to reveal His sacred body in its perfection. He was the fairest of the sons of men; no other man had ever had, or ever would have, a body approaching His in perfection; but it was exposed to the world only when it was disfigured by wounds and bruises, only when it was exhausted and almost falling to the ground with weariness.

Again, Christ identified Himself with those whom He would indwell through all time.
He stood there naked in front of the world and in front of His heavenly Father, identified with all those sinners who are found out, whose shame is made public, or, perhaps more terrible for them, shown to those whom they love and from whom, above all others, they would wish to keep it secret.

He stood there identified with the neurotic who wants to bide his secrets under the thin disguise of his neurosis, and whose secrets are torn from him by modern “scientific” treatment.

He stood there identified with the convert, either from sin or unbelief, who must tear off the long-established habits of sin and weakness as if he were tearing off his skin.
He stood there identified with everyone who loves, because all those who love must be known sooner or later as they are, without pretense, their souls stripped bare.
Not long ago, Christ had revealed His glory upon a mountain. He had gone up with his disciples to Mount Tabor, and there shown them His splendor, clothed in garments of burning snow. Now He has gone up into a mountain again to reveal yet another glory that is His, the glory that He gives to sinners in the hour that seems to them to be their hour of shame but which, when it is identified with Him stripped naked upon Calvary, is an hour of splendor and redemption.

There in Christ is the sinner who is found out, the lover who is stripped of all pretense, the weakling who is known for what he is, the repentant murderer who pays the price of his sin willingly before the world, the child whose disgrace is known to the mother whom he wanted to make proud of him, the friend who is stripped of all pretense before the friend from whom he longed for respect.

There, upon Calvary, Christ’s love for the world is shown in its nakedness, His love for the sinner in its intensity.

Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.” 

The immensity of My tenderness

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“Even if you ceased to love Me, I should always love you. Even if you no longer listened for My voice in the silence, I should still make it possible for you to hear Me. This is how every sinner finds Me waiting. Who could ever weigh My love, or set a price on it, or measure it? And who could ever dream of the immensity of My tenderness? For My love is tender. When you hear Me say, ‘I am thirsty; I’m calling your tenderness.”

Excerpt From: Gabrielle Bossis. “He and I.” 

O happy loss!

Desiderium 1873 by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt 1833-1898


Dear Daughters, 

Let your lives correspond to all the many gifts God has given to you; for they are but a reflection of what He truly desires to bestow upon you.  The more God draws you to Himself and the more enriched you are by His life, the more you will experience your own nothingness.  Do not fear this radical sense of your own insufficiency.  Rather, forget yourself completely and once drawn into the Beloved's Heart you will experience it as a happy loss.   

Be faithful to correspond wonderful graces which you have re ceived from Our Lord ; they are a preparation for greater graces and more sublime lights, which will cause you to love God more, to acquire more solid virtue, and to practise it in a more heroic degree. Truly, the more the soul is enlightened by faith and prayer, the more intimately is she united to God, and by means of this union with the Supreme Being she is enriched with all goods, and she accomplishes great things with humility and a sense of her own insufficiency. Thus she disposes herself to be all absorbed in God in contemplation, for the divine Lover draws her to Himself by means of this union. It is for this reason that I wish you to be diligent in the study of your own nothingness, that this nothingness may be absorbed, so to speak, in the immensity of God, Who is all.

O happy loss! The soul finds her self again, indeed, after losing herself in God.
 
St. Paul of the Cross

Lord, I hope people will always find flashes of You in me

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Daughter, seek always to manifest the tenderness of the Beloved.  Live in his love and let His grace give unction to your voice, to the look in your eyes and to your every gesture.  Let everything pass without undue attention, including disappointments and the ingratitude of others.  In fact, let yourself be even kinder and more gentle with those who have hurt you. Do not think this complicated; rather allow yourself to be drawn into the ocean of His love and your offering of self to become one with His.

Don’t be astonished at My suggestion that you never cease asking for compassion, humility, and gentleness. Aren’t these the hallmarks of your bridegroom’s heart and shouldn’t you try to resemble Him? Wouldn’t you be happier if you had these qualities? And isn’t it always your happiness that I’m seeking? . . . Ask My mother to give them to you and offer sacrifices in exchange. Plant the seed of desire for them. And as always, ask Me to help you.

How happy a father is when his child who cannot yet walk holds out his arms to him. And if the child is tired, how he holds him to his heart! Who is happier, the father or the child?

If you only knew what compassion really is—the compassion you must strive to imitate! Overlooking everything to stoop to a heart’s needs, paying no attention to any disappointments or ingratitude, being even kinder to those who have hurt you. Just be your Christ for them. If you make this your intention I’ll be seen in you. You are so little that you wonder how this could be. You know how grace gives unction to the voice, the look, a gesture?

“Lord, I hope people will always find flashes of You in me.”

“Then disappear more and more, My daughter. I am your infinite ocean; flow over into Me. It is so simple for you to lose yourself there. Since I’m waiting for you. One will only—Mine. A single goal—the Father’s glory. A single declaration—‘I love You with all the strength of this heart that You gave me.’ That’s all. And the Father takes us together as a single offering. One only: I—you.”

Excerpt From: Gabrielle Bossis. “He and I.”