Saturday, May 30, 2015

through the wine-press of temptation and weakness

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Have confidence in the love and devotion of God who understands all that you endure and supplies for whatever is wanting in your actions or strength.  Misery in this world is a signal honor of the Christian, but know that in this the Heavenly Father will dote upon you all the more.  You are in His hands and He looks upon your soul ceaselessly and with great love.  The spiritual poverty you see in yourself will only serve to drive you further into His embrace.

I have the conviction that a woman like you, a faithful wife and the mother of a numerous family, is very dear to the Heart of Jesus. He is the faithful Friend Who thoroughly knows all your difficulties and Who, in His love, loves to supply for what is wanting in your actions.

We are full of miseries, but we have the signal honour of being members of Christ; that is why our Heavenly Father dotes upon us. Live united to Jesus Christ, and, in Him, yielded up to the Father.

Your soul is in God’s hands; He loves it, He looks upon it unceasingly and He makes it pass through the states that, in His wisdom, He sees to be necessary for it. As the ground has to go through the death of winter and the grain of wheat to die before bearing the fruits of harvest, so your soul needs to go through the wine-press of temptation and weakness that Christ may make it bear His virtue and divine life. The more understanding we have of our wetness and of that depth of wickedness that lies in our heart, the more we honour God in believing in the greatness of His goodness and mercy.

I see more and more, my dear daughter, that no virtue is solid if not built upon the foundation of compunction and the true knowledge of our misery. According to the divine plan, God must be glorified by the power of His grace. Those who do not feel, who do not see their misery, do not know the need they have of grace. Therefore St. Paul rejoices in the knowledge of his weakness in order that all his strength may come to him from Christ. “I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” That is why the Good God leads us by this path.

Blessed Columba Marmion

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

sharing in Mary's divine maternity

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The narrow path that leads to the kingdom is the Cross.  As one dedicated to reparation for Priests, you will meet it daily and the important thing is to accept and embrace it in union with Jesus.  All the contrarieties, misunderstandings and physical sufferings you meet in your daily duties become divine and holy through your union with Christ.  

Your patience will unite you with Mary and she will bless you as well for having shared in her divine maternity.  Each time you suffer for and bring another soul to know and love Jesus, you beget Christ within it.  Expect, as quite normal, the feelings of forsakenness you may have and the sometimes poignant sense of your own weakness and poverty.  When you remain tranquil and at peace in the face of these things, it is the sure sign of the presence of the Spirit in your soul.  Yield yourself at every turn into God's hands.  Such bare faith is the best and highest of immolations.

It is impossible to go to heaven by any other way than that which Jesus went by, the way of the Cross. You will meet with this Cross daily in one manner or another. The great thing is to accept it in union with Jesus. For it is that which gives it all its merit.

This life is not given by God as a Paradise. It is a time of trial followed by an eternity of joy and rest. Christ suffered all His life, for the shadow of the Cross ever hung over Him, and those who love Him share His Cross to some extent all their life long. The contrarieties, the misunderstandings, the sufferings of heart and body, household difficulties, all these things form the portion of your cross, and when you accept these trials they become holy and divine by their union with those of Jesus Christ. The virtue that I want to find in you on our next meeting is above all patience. Patience unites us exceedingly with Jesus suffering, as Mary was united with Jesus at the foot of the Cross.

May God bless you for having endured for His love, the pains, the lassitude and cares of motherhood in order to give Him souls to praise Him for all eternity. Mary will bless you because you have shared with her the divine maternity. St. Bede tells us that each time we teach a soul to know and love Jesus, we beget Christ within it. You will thus be mother of your dear children by a twofold claim.

It is quite normal that you should feel forsaken and in a state of dryness and tedium from time to time. All souls that aspire to union with Jesus Christ must pass through that. This sense of incapacity, of weakness, of tedium is needful in order that our pride may not attribute to ourselves what comes to us from God. The sense of almost unconscious peace that you feel in the depth of your heart is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the depth of your soul.

Jesus is the Lamb of God and His immolation consists in this, that He yielded Himself up like a gentle lamb to all the sufferings that His Father willed to permit for Him. He did not turn His face away from those who spat upon Him. He did not open His mouth. If we wish to be united to this Divine Lamb, we must yield ourselves up in bare faith to God’s hand that strikes us, to all the sufferings that His love and wisdom permit. That is the best and highest of immolations. Jesus has known weariness, fear, fatigue. He understands all that.

Blessed Columba Marmion. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

when we become desperate

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

So much energy is expended in lamenting over or desperately trying to control the things about ourselves and our lives that make us feel weak, ineffective or powerless.  Such misery is real and at times we become desperate.  We are not stoics and so with hands upraised, we cry out to God for his mercy.  Yet, let these cries be expressions of faith; for it is precisely through these things that we abandon the illusion of self-sufficiency and through which we come to an ever deeper trust in God.  If we give in to discouragement, we show simply that we have understood nothing of God's ways . . . 

We are conscious of our infirmities; we know how deep-seated they are, how overwhelming at times. But is that a reason to be discouraged? Quite the contrary. The Lord likes to choose what is weakest: Infirma mundi elegit Deus. Why? Ut non glorietur omnis caro in conspectu ejus: “So that no being may glory in himself before God.”

If our bemoaning of our misery leads to immense trust in God, then our cries are salutary and God listens to them favourably.

But if our sorrow brings us to discouragement, it is rather an injury to God since we forget His goodness; it shows that we have understood nothing of God’s ways. We are then like those, who, despite the favours God had always showered on them, “forgot the multitude of His mercies”: Non fuerunt memores multitudinis misericordiae tuae. May this reproach never be levelled at you!

Blessed Columba Marmion.

Friday, May 22, 2015

faith has its darkness as well as its light

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Temptations will come, including those against faith.  The deceiver will seek to lead you into despair and seeing you drawn along by love will cast darkness and trouble over your soul and give rise to revolt in your senses.  Yet, even here love can run ahead of faith; although not felt except for the sorrow experienced in your soul.  There will only be uncertainty but your unconscious longing for God will be your most constant prayer.  Be of good courage - for you are on the right road and will be led by God's loving care as He clasps you to His Heart.  Tell Him you accept all on His Word alone; until at last you see Him face to face and when He will give Himself to you in the full and unremitting blaze of His beauty.

You are passing through one of those terrible trials through which every soul called to close union with Jesus must pass. “Because you were pleasing to God,” said the Angel to Tobias, “it was necessary that temptation should try you.” My child, we cannot go to God but through union with Jesus. “I am the way—no one goeth to the Father but through Me.” Now Jesus went to His Father by passing through Gethsemane and Calvary, and every soul united to Him must pass by the same way.
These temptations against faith are a real crucifixion, and yet you really do believe, but unconsciously, and that is why your love subsists and seems to go ahead of your faith. The devil is doing his best to cast you into despair, for he sees that you will one day be very closely united with Him Whom he hates, hence he casts darkness and trouble into your soul, and revolt perhaps in your senses, but this is the path by which all interior souls must pass, if they are to reach perfect union. Blessed is the man who suffers temptation, says St. James, for when he has been tried, he will receive the crown of life.

The Holy Ghost says, “Blessed is the man who is tempted,” and St. James adds, “Beloved, be filled with great joy when you pass through various temptations.”

Those against faith and hope are the most distressing, and a real agony, but most salutary. The secret subconscious longing for God is a sure sign of the presence of the Holy Ghost in your soul, it is a vision of God’s beauty in the darkness of faith; but just as the beatific vision which the soul of Jesus always enjoyed did not diminish His agony, nor prevent His soul being sad even unto death, so with yours. It is your purgatory, and our Lord is holding your soul in those flames until all selfishness and self-seeking are burned out, then you will enter into the ineffable grandeur of God.

The very nature of the trial through which you are passing is the terrible uncertainty it leaves in the soul as to her state. She seems to herself to have lost faith and love, for she feels nothing. It is pure naked faith. This longing for God is a most powerful and constant prayer, for God reads the inmost “thoughts of our hearts, and this thirst for Him is a way to His Father’s Heart. “Thy ear hath heard the desire of the poor,” and no one is poorer than those who are serving God in the trials of pure faith.

So now courage! You are on the right road and all you require is great patience and absolute confidence in our Lord’s loving care. You are very dear to Him though you may imagine the contrary. He wants you to see for yourself how really miserable and unworthy you are, and that it is His sheer mercy which thus clasps you to His Heart. During all eternity God will give Himself to you in the full and unremitting blaze of His beauty. Here below His glory requires that He be served in faith. Let us try to serve Him in faith, just as if we gazed on Him in vision.

In practice adore God profoundly, then tell Him you accept all He has revealed on His Word alone, and as the Church speaks in His name you accept her voice and teaching as His. Make these acts through love, even though you feel nothing.

You are passing through a winter, but it is that you may reach a greater union. For the moment remain united (with Jesus) by faith: Sponsabo te mihi in fide, says the Spouse: “I will espouse thee in faith.” But faith has its darkness as well as its light, and God is as good when He presents Himself in the darkness of faith as when He appears upon the Tabor of consolation.

Blessed Columba Marmion. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

when your health tries you . . .

You must not be surprised if in your present state of languor you do not always feel that fervour and ardour in your prayers that you would like to have. The poor soul depends so much on the body that when the latter is suffering or languishing it cannot do much. Even the great Saint Teresa, despite her ardour and generosity, bitterly complained that her physical weakness hindered her soul from rising to God in prayer. When we bear this state patiently we are much more pleasing to God and nearer His Heart than when we are full of fervour and consolation, for then we have the merit of sacrifice and we prove that our love is pure and disinterested.

I was very grieved on hearing you were so weak and suffering, or as you yourself say, so like a little flower drooping upon its stalk. I beg our Lord daily to give you the courage to suffer, to bear this painful state, for His love and in union with His faintness and weariness and sufferings during His Passion. Yes, indeed, my child, to suffer with Jesus is true happiness, if we could only understand this—for one who suffers is so near His Sacred Heart! But you must often lovingly unite yourself with Him and accept with Him and for Him all that the Good God wills to lay upon you.

Your good letter was a real joy to me, because I saw that you had the true happiness which can be had here below: surrendering to the divine will and finding one’s joy in the performance of one’s everyday duties. Yes, life is serious, because it reaches even into eternity; and very sad is the spectacle of those who seem to live only for pleasure.

There is no unalloyed joy here below. If your health sometimes tries you, it is because God does not want you to become too attached to this world, since our true home is in heaven with our Heavenly Father.

Blessed Columba Marmion. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We are all meant to be mothers of God

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us. 

Meister Eckhart 
(Image) Georges Rouault

a great secret which few understand

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Sadly it is the most beautiful and consoling of truths about the faith that few Christians understand.  Yet, it is these truths that you must be most attentive to in your vocation. Even your hidden embrace of them will bear immense fruit for the life of the truth.  All that is suffered and all human misery has been given divine value in Christ.  It is this that must be your greatest source of confidence and hope. But even more so, you must understand that it is your very weaknesses and infirmities that draw down the riches of God's grace when you accept them.

Before going to Him, the soul must see and feel and know that all comes to her from Him, and that it is our misery, poverty, and imperfection which, having been assumed by His sacred humanity, are raised to a divine value in Him. This is a great secret which few understand. St. Paul expresses it in these words: “Willingly do I glory in my infirmities, in order that it be Christ’s virtue and strength which dwells in me. This is why I take pleasure in my infirmities."

God wills to be glorified by the union of our weakness with the infinite strength of Christ. Christ is the Virtus Dei; but He has deigned to take upon Himself our human weakness, and the whole earthly life of Jesus is the revelation of this weakness. This union “of human weakness with the divine strength gives glory to God.

This thought has always followed and sustained me in all contrarieties and difficulties, but now it is so engraven in my soul that it, as it were, makes part of myself. I am convinced that I am nothing and can do nothing, but that, on the other hand, I must have unbounded confidence in the strength of Christ, and that in Him I can do all things.

The poorer we are, the more Christ’s ineffable riches find their place in us. Our misery, known and avowed, draws down His liberality.

Blessed Columba Marmion.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

bearers of the poverty of mankind

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The Spiritual Motherhood you have been called to embrace means to bear in prayer the needs, the poverty, and the sufferings of others, especially priests.  This is can be no detached recitation of those needs before God or a detailed explanation of them.  As Spiritual Mothers you must not only stand before God with a tender love for his priests, but do so with a pure heart and boundless trust in the Father.  Furthermore, you must accept and bear before God that poverty, need and suffering as your own.

How is it that we are to pray for others - those who have asked for our prayers and are in need? After all, the list can get rather long at times and what is it exactly that we are to bring to God in that prayer? Well, as always we look to Christ for guidance: 'When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.' (Matthew 6:7-8) So no heaping up of words. What then? This is how a Carthusian writer puts it: "In the eyes of the Lord, giving a detailed explanation to the Father of all the needs we have been asked to present to him is not what matters; what matters is that we should stand before him with a pure heart, and with boundless trust in his tender love for his children. This attitude is no easy way out; it is far more reassuring to rely on words or our activity than to have complete and blind trust in the love of the Father, known in faith. We should be the bearers of the poverty of mankind not by spelling it out, but by experiencing it, in the vivid awareness that we are in the presence of God with empty hands, and that we must count totally on him." A pure heart and and boundless trust . . . this is what we must bring to our prayer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Clothed with the Word

Woman is called to be an heroic servant of the Word; through her holiness preaching in and with and by all her being.  Like Mary she is to hold within her every word of Christ, bringing it to birth, to life, from the depths of her body, from her heart.  Therefore, she must first and foremost be a woman of prayer; not afraid of silence but rather immersed in it deeply.  She must be clothed in the Word.  This is the veil she wears and that will alone make her a prophetic witness in the modern world - attentive most of all to the subtle deceits of the age and the demonic forces that seek its destruction.   

"Never in the course of history have events demanded more heroism of women than the events of our times," Pope Pius XII would say.

After uttering her fiat, woman can no longer say: Non, non sic futurum esse, non possumus: No, not this way will the future be, we are not capable.  It is not in vain that the great spiritual teachers were unanimously attentive to and hopeful about deepening the charismatic ministry of women.

It is from the heart of woman that spontaneously, instinctively springs up the invincible resistance to materialism and to all demonic elements which threaten the destruction of the modern world.

The salvation of the world will only come from holiness and holiness is more interior to woman in the conditions of modern life.  According to the spiritual teachers, in silence there is great power.  Active silence is full of presence.  "The only one who knows how to listen to the Word knows how to listen to silence."  In a certain sense, even the Liturgy is the silence of the spirit which listens in singing and in that silence which is an organic part of all liturgical worship, as it is of a symphony.  Thus the Virgin "held all the words of the Son in her heart" (Lk 2:51).  Every woman has an innate intimacy , almost a complicity with Tradition, with the continuity of life.  "The words kept in her heart" are those which a woman is able to recount, just as Mary Magdalen "went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her"; just as the myrrh bearing women "announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others."  These women are called "Equal-to-the Apostles."  Woman has her charismatic ministry of witness and of being a servant of the Word in her own way, in the manner of the Holy Spirit who manifests, who reveals the Word and then hides himself behind the figure of the dove and the fiery tongues of Pentecost.

The "veil" which St. Paul saw as a sign of the sacred and of the mystery has given way, in these apocalyptic times, to the image of the woman clothed in the sun, of the woman clothed in the Word.  She preaches in and with and by all of her being, by an ontological brilliance.  She brings to birth, to life, from the depths of her very body, from her heart, she extends the Word to the world.

Paul Evdokimov

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Woman: the soul and salvation of civilization

As the Woman (Mary) expresses most clearly the common destiny to new life (sanctification) by her call to motherhood, she also acts as a “point of encounter between God and mankind” and the “place of convergence” with her fiat (Annunciation) between the two fiats of God the Creator (“let it be” of Genesis) and Christ’s consent to the plan of salvation by His Incarnation.  Hence her intercessory position between heaven and earth and whose fiat joined the completion of the Father’s plan and the Son’s mission.  

Evdokimov sees this reality as expressed in all women and believes that the salvation of civilization depends on their sharing in the "eternal motherhood" of Mary.  Eve was tempted precisely because she "represented the religious integration of human nature"; the one who ultimately grounds man and his vision and understanding of creation.  Her very being stands contrary to the objectification of the other and she is gifted with the capacity to see the imponderables of life and of seeing the destiny of the other.  Far from being the "weaker sex" she is the very heart and soul of culture itself.  In her purity she is a source of integration.  This is why Evdokimov says the demons cannot endure woman when she fully embraces her identity.  That which is "diabolic" by definition seeks to "throw something through or across things." The diabolic act is that act which drives things apart, puts a wedge between things or people.  Whereas Woman, the Virgin/Mother Mary and like her every woman after her becomes a conqueror of evil and source of peace and harmony.  "It is not by fierce action but by her purity and sanctity that woman wounds the head of the dragon."

The bible puts before us woman as the predestined point of encounter between God and mankind.

If the masculine participates in the Incarnation by his silence, in the person of St. Joseph, on the contrary, it is woman who says fiat for us all.  To the creative fiat, "Let it be," of the Father corresponds the humble fiat of the "handmaid of God."  Christ could not take upon himself human flesh and blood unless humanity through Mary had not freely given it to him.  The Virgin is therefore the point of encounter, the place of convergence of the two fiats.

As the figure of the Church, the Virgin personalizes the Church through her own motherly protection and through prayer.  She is the Church's prayer of intercession.

In Greek the word for chastity means integrity and integration, the very power of unifying.  An ancient liturgical prayer is directed to the most pure Theotokos: "By your love, bind my soul," free it from all psychic imprisonment, make unity spring up within me.  Such integration is the only force capable of halting the enterprise of demolition to which modern male-dominated culture seems committed.  In truth, the very salvation of civilization depends on the "eternal-motherhood" of woman.

One can grasp her salvific power if one understands that it is not at all because she was the "weaker sex" that Eve was tempted.  On the contrary, she was lured precisely because she represented the principle of religious integration of human nature.  Attentive in her heart, she immediately succumbed and docile to Adam followed behind, claiming that "the woman offered me the fruit," putting up no resistance whatsoever, not even asking the most basic questions about what he was offered.

Left to himself, man would be lost in the infinity of his abstractions, in the perfected techniques of humiliating others.  Degrading the other, he becomes degraded himself, creating a world corresponding to his own dehumanized vision.  Man places himself in agony.

Many establishes himself in the world by his tools.  Woman however does this by the gift of herself.  In her very being she is intimately connected to the rhythms of nature.  If the masculine quality is to do, that of woman is to be, and this is the religious dimension par excellence.  Man creates science, philosophy, art but distorts all of these by his fearful objectification of "organized truth."  Woman on the other hand, is opposed to all objectification, for her strength lies not so much in creation but in giving birth.  It is by her being that she is herself the criterion which corrects every abstraction in order to bring values back to the center, to manifest correctly what the masculine creativity intends.  Instinctively, woman always defends the primacy of being over theory, of the operative over the speculative, of the intuitive over the discursive.  She possesses the gift of being able to directly penetrate the existence of another, the innate faculty of grasping the imponderable, of discerning the destiny of another person.  To protect the world set up by men, as a virgin to purify it by giving to the world a soul, her own soul - such is the vocation of every woman, whether monastic, single, or married.

Man is ecstatic, going out of himself in the projection of his own genius beyond himself in mastering the world.  Woman is ecstatic in being turned in toward her own being, toward being itself.  Woman operates on the ontological level.  Hers is not to be a verb but esse, the essence, the very heart of a culture.  This is the manifestation of sanctity, this sanctity of being that the demons cannot endure.  It is not by fierce action but by her purity and sanctity that woman wounds the head of the dragon.

According to Heraclitus, "War is the father of all things, harmony and peace the mother."  The father-warrior is symbolized by the bow, the mother-symphony by the lyre.  But the lyre, we might say, is nothing but the sublimated, a bow with several strings.  Rather than death, woman sings to life.  Thus the masculine warrior and killer can be brought into harmony by woman and changed into a bear of life, culture, worship, a celebrant of the Liturgy of praise.

Paul Evdokimov

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

to make every human being a mother

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Exploring the religious meaning of the feminine will be an ongoing part of living out the vocation of Spiritual Motherhood; for it is precisely in and through your "being" as woman that this vocation is expressed and bears fruit.  It is not, as the world so often emphasizes, simply what you "do" but who you "are" as woman that is essential and a grace filled reality.  Of course, many do not live that reality and it is more often than not distorted in our culture.   Evdokimov presents the biblical picture of woman as expressing the quintessential image of human nature's spiritual receptivity.  In fact, he writes, "pure spirituality resides far more in the "anima" than in the "animus."  The promise of salvation is given to a woman.  A woman is the first to encounter the Risen Lord.  It is the woman "clothed with the sun" who becomes the image of the Church.  Furthermore, it is the image of the beloved and the bride that God chose to express the kind of communion He seeks to have with us.  And most important of all is the fact that the Incarnation was accomplished in the feminine nature of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  

Evdokimov sees a direct correspondence between these images of the feminine and motherhood and divine fatherhood as a feature of God's being.  This being so, he writes, the whole goal of the Christian life is to "make every human being a mother."  Thus, woman sets before us in her very being and nature the purpose and goal of every person: to allow Christ to be formed within us.  Holiness, therefore, lies not in our action but rather in the action of the Spirit within us that brings Christ to birth in the depths of our souls.   

Conqueror, adventurer, builder, man is not fatherly in his being.  An ancient liturgical text projects upon the motherhood of the Virgin the light of the divine fatherhood: "You have given birth to the Son without a father, the Son whom the Father brought forth before the ages without a mother."  The virgin Mary's motherhood is thus a human figure or image of the fatherhood of God.

Here we have an explanation of why the religious principle of dependence on the beyond, of receptivity, of communion is expressed so immediately by woman.  The particular sensibility to pure spirituality resides far more in the anima than in the animus.  It is the feminine soul which is nearest to the sources, to the origins, to birth.  The Bible presents woman as the quintessential image of human nature's spiritual receptivity.  In actuality, the promise of salvation was given to woman, for a woman received the Annunciation of the birth of Christ, and it was a woman who first saw the Risen Lord, and it is a woman "clothed in the sun" who is the image of the Church and of the heavenly city in the Book of Revelation.  Further, it is in the images of the beloved and the bride that God chose to express his love for us and the marital nature of his communion with us.  Finally, the most important fact is that the Incarnation was accomplished in the Virgin's feminine nature.  It is who who gave the Word of God her flesh and blood.

To divine fatherhood as a specific feature of God's very being directly corresponds the motherhood of woman, her receptive capacity for the divine.  The whole goal of Christian life is to make of every human being a mother, a being predestined for the mystery of birth, "so that Christ may be formed in you" (Gal 4:19).

Sanctification is precisely the action of the Spirit who makes possible the miraculous birth of Jesus in the depths of the soul.  This is why the Nativity symbolizes and expresses the charism of every woman, that of bringing God to birth in destitute souls: "The Word is constantly born anew in our hearts," says the Letter to Diognetus.  For St. Maximus the Confessor, the mystic is the one in whom the birth of Christ is manifest.  In order to describe his spiritual fatherhood, even St. Paul used the image of motherhood: "I undergo the sufferings of childbirth" (Gal. 4:19)

P. Evdokimov

Saturday, May 9, 2015

married or not, every woman is "mother in aeternum"

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Slowly we continue to explore the charisms of woman, in particular that of spiritual motherhood, in light of the reflections of Paul Evdokimov.  He acknowledges once again how difficult this is in the face of historical distortions that have muddled and degraded her essential femininity or have led her to cast off and reject the mystery of her being, her destiny, her vocation and her gifts.  

The Fall has polarized man and woman, hiding their consubstantiality and complementarity and so preventing them from helping each other to become new creatures in Christ.  Woman helps man and is essential to his discovery of his identity; yet, Evdokimov tells us, she can only accomplish this by discerning her destiny and embracing it - by offering her FIAT.  Her very nature brings out and nurtures what is hidden.  She see what alone the soul thirsts for and immediately seeks to direct it towards the One who can quench it.  This, Evdokimov writes, is the "sacramental character inscribed on her being."  With Mary, every woman is endowed with the gift of seeking to reach out and protect all who cross her path.

As Daughters of St. Philip Neri and as those who have embraced this path of Spiritual Motherhood for Priests, you receive under your protection each priest in his weakness and vulnerability, in his sinfulness and brokenness, receiving the words of Our Lord as your own: "Woman, behold your son . . ."  In you and through your prayers and sacrifices on his behalf, he is strengthened and comes to see who he really is in Christ and as priest.   

Woman has her own manner of being, her own mode of existence, the gift of weaving her being in its own relationship to God, to others, and to herself.  Despite so many historical distortions of which woman is the victim, she protects all the more profoundly in herself the mystery of her being and her charisms, or the gifts which St. Paul describes in the amazing symbol of the "veil" (1 Cor 11), an evident sign of the sacred.  Over against this, the great whore of Babylon (Rev 17) profanes and degrades her femininity insofar as it has a religious essence.  She strips off her "veil," makes herself naked, disincarnate herself of the mystery of the feminine, of the fiat pronounced by her eternal motherhood.  And this is the mystery which every woman must discern in order to read there her destiny, her vocation, her gifts.

The biblical narrative of the first human couple, Adam and Eve, reveals the original, the archetype of the consubstantiality, of the complementarity of principles.  The Fall polarized man and woman and ever since they are either beings opposed and struggling against one another or else beings who accept each other's "otherness" and complement each other to make a "new creature" in Christ.

Man overflows his own being, more external to himself, his charism of expansion directs his vision constantly outside of himself.  He constantly fills the world with his creative energies, imposing his mastery upon it and conquering it as engineer and constructor.  Man receives at his side woman, who is to be his companion and helper.  She is at one and the same time beloved, spouse, mother.  Far more interiorized than man, woman is completely at ease within the limits of her being by which she fills the world with her radiant presence.  "The glory of man," (1 Cor 11:7) in her luminous purity, woman is like a mirror in which the face of man is reflected and revealed to himself and by which he is corrected.  Thus she assists man in understanding himself and in realizing the meaning of his own being.  Woman accomplishes this by discerning her destiny, for it is only through woman that man becomes what and who he really is.

St. Peter's words (1Pet 3:4) are addressed to every woman and contain the whole Gospel of her spiritual motherhood.
"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." 
This text defines most precisely woman's fundamental charism: the bring to birth of man hidden in his own heart, homo cordis absconditus.

Man is more inclined to be indifferent to his own situation.  On the contrary, the maternal instinct of woman, as at the marriage feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-10) immediately discovers the thirst for the spirit even of men and finds the eucharistic source to quench it.  The ontological relationship of mother and child makes woman like Eve, "the source of life."  She watches over every being, protects life and the world.  Her interiorized and universalized charism of "motherhood" bears every woman toward the famished and needy and makes admirably precise her feminine essence: married or not, every woman is mother in aeternum.  This is the "sacramental character" inscribed in her very being.  The elements of her soul predispose her to "protect" everyone who crosses her path, to discover even in the most aggressive and strong being the child who is weak and defenseless.

If we define masculine love as "to love is to need," then the love of a woman means "to fulfill the need," not only to take care of it but to even foresee the need.

"Jesus, seeing his mother and near her the disciple whom he love, said to his mother: 'Woman, there is your son'" (Jn 19:26-27).  These words of the Lord make the Virgin Mary, the figure of Mother Church and of every woman, a truly ecclesial being.  The eternal virgin and the eternal feminine and the eternal mother from whom we derive the archetype of the Magna Mater.

Paul Evidokimov

Friday, May 8, 2015

the shattered equilibrium

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The path you have taken, the contours of which may still seem uncertain and its meaning as yet hidden, I believe, is linked to the most important questions of our understanding of what it is to be human (man and woman) and in particular to the mystery of the feminine, of the "fiat pronounced by her eternal motherhood.  And this is the mystery which every woman must discern in order to read there her destiny, her vocation, her gifts."  Reflection on such questions and mysteries is nothing new, but more often than not they are only half-digested ideas rather a knowledge that has arisen out of lived experience.  There is something of a prophetic role that you embrace as those committed to Adoration, Reparation and Spiritual Motherhood; but a role that will only find expression and bear fruit if first lived.  Such things only emerge over a long period of time and so one must be patient as well as committed.  Nowhere is this captured more fully and incisively than in the writings of Paul Evdokimov on the charisms of woman.  His reflection is "inspired by anthropological concepts drawn from the Bible, from patristic thought and the spirituality of the East, of the Orthodox Church.  In the luminous imagery of St. Paul, the Church " . . . .the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes, the body's growth in building itself up in love."  The context of this very clearly speaks of charism, gifts which each receives in order to be of service to the ecclesial whole, where every person is complementary to the other.  It is therefore the charismatic reality of the human being that is essential to our subject here."  A great deal of what Evdokimov wrote on the subject was published posthumously and he was well aware that his thought had not had the time to fully develop.  Yet, I believe, the frame he provides and the manner in which he puts forth the questions will serve us well.  He acknowledges that the revolution put into action by the Gospel will take a long time given the challenges we face, spiritually, culturally, and emotionally, and these he sets out below.  

In history, the shattered equilibrium of humanity all too easily leads to the formulation of false questions.  Thus we have the "question" or the "problem" of woman.  When men pose this without raising the question of themselves, themselves as "problem," they thereby isolate themselves, cutting themselves off from the limpid sources of life, actually putting into question their own creativity and showing themselves lacking in reality.

In a male-dominated world where everything is marked by the patriarchal system, man, armed with his reason, his being, and existence, loses his cosmic connection with heaven and nature, also with the feminine as a mystery complementary to his own being.  Eliminating the metaphysical and the mystical which generate him, sliding toward cerebral abstraction, man sees the deeper dimension closing before him, that of the Holy Spirit.  He reviews the great avenues of civilization, well measured, where woman's place seems to be a minor one.  Through an ego-centric and self-defensive instinct, man imprisons woman as a maleficent power, a permanent menace to his freedom.  She will be submissive to the supreme power of a leader, to the indisputable authority of man.  According to the solar principle, that around which everything revolves, the only brilliance is man.  A Pythagorean saying goes, "The principle of good creates order, light, and it is man.  The principle of evil created chaos, the darkness, and that is woman."

Man seeks to affirm himself in surpassing everyone that limits him.  Every woman is such a limit, for she is "other," she presents him with "otherness."  Here man sees a prison which shrinks his horizons and confines his spirit.

Collective conscience veils false myths.  And it is Christian women who today apply to themselves again the ritual prescriptions defined in the rabbinical period in which resounded this prayer: "Blessed are You, Adonai, Lord, who did not make me a woman."  The complex of Adam, masculine to be sure, takes refuge in these words: "It was the woman who gave me the fruit from the tree."

The revolution put into action by the Gospel will take a very long time, and even the disciples of the Lord were astonished by the simple fact that He, Christ, spoke with a woman (Jn 4:27).