Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Unbeautiful Tapestry of My Life

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life,
                 and weaves them gratefully
                 into a single cloth – 
                 it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
                 and clears it for a different celebration

                 where the one guest is you.
                 In the softness of evening
                 it’s you she receives.

                 You are the partner of her loneliness,
                 the unspeaking center of her monologues.
                 With each disclosure you encompass more
                 and she stretches beyond what limits her,
                 to hold you. 

-      Rilke

Every moment of my life begins a new thread that extends throughout the whole of my existence in this world until my very last moment comes to an end. With every moment comes an increase of the material that makes up my life as new threads are added. The threads themselves do not stretch on in uniform color; they extend in varying shades as they age and mature, until each thread is a spectrum in itself, reflecting all the pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, hope, despair, peace and desperation that is contained in each one. I sit down to my work and am distressed to find that not only are the threads ill-matched amongst themselves, but that each thread is itself a kind of contradiction. The threads of my life are a mess; a disaster. Certainly, I can weave them together, but they will not amount to anything beautiful. In the end, the tapestry that is my life will be like each single thread: chaotic, ugly, ill-matched. Why bother with the work of weaving? Of reconciliation between the threads? Why bother when I cannot possibly make anything beautiful from these rough and ugly moments?

Why bother? Because this tapestry – this single cloth – is my gift to You. 

This single cloth that is my life - not beautiful, but whole - will be the gift I bring to You, Christ Child. I will place it in the hands of Your Blessed Mother that she might wrap You in it on the cold night of Your birth into our world. It will be a small and poor sign of the thanksgiving and reparation that I desire to give to you. 

I will place this cloth in Your hands, O High Priest of New Covenant, that You might use it to wash the feet of your beloved priests. With it You will purify and sanctify them, warm them, and prepare them to be worthy and holy ministers of Your most sacred mysteries. 

One more time I will bring this cloth to You, Crucified Lord, and I will press it to Your torn and bloodied face as You endure Your passion. In Your abundant mercy and love You will leave the image of Your own most holy face upon it; You will bless it, sanctify it, and make it holy. Men shall look upon the imprint of Your face, left on this poor and unworthy life and they will see Your glory in it – in my deepest wounds they will see Your glory and be dazzled.

So, I will take up the loom of prayer and will weave these ill-matched threads gratefully into a single cloth. I will give it to you - my poor and unbeautiful life - and You will make it holy. 

Now I begin to understand the purpose of my life: every moment is part of a single whole that is meant to be a gift for You. It is all for You. So, I set about the work of driving out from my heart all the voices and companions of this world – the chaos and pandemonium I have hitherto welcomed. I clear it that You might enter in . . .

. . . Now I am empty and alone. How desolate I feel. I am empty, reduced to silence, lonely, and holding in my hands, as a gift for You, the ugly and ill-matched tapestry that is my life. How small and miserable I feel. Will You not enter my heart? I have emptied it for You, O Heavenly Bridegroom, that the celebration of Love and Adoration might begin. Enter, Honored and Only Guest, into this heart that has been emptied in search of You. 

My heart has been swept clean, and the poor gift that is my life is ready. Where are You? Why do You not reveal Yourself? Why do I spend my days in Adoration of this Eucharist that both is You and hides You? You are here, but I am brought to my knees under the weight of this crushing loneliness. You are here, but I begin to think myself mad as I speak into the deafening silence. Do I speak these absurd monologues only to myself? Perhaps I have gone mad . . . 

. . . Should I not fling open the doors of my heart to let back in that which I have cast out? The companions and noises that I can see and hear? . . . I can wait a little longer . . . 

. . . In glimmers and whispers I begin to find You. You are the pearl at the center of a great loneliness – a treasure that is found when the doors of solitude have been shut tight. You are the great Word, heard only in the silence of an empty heart . . . 

. . . With each glimmer and whisper You enamor me more and more. I forget all about the loudmouths outside; I forget that I am lonely and isolated; I even forget about this unbeautiful tapestry that has brought me so much sorrow and shame. I am no longer living within the limits of my own self. You encompass me and live within me. I am caught up in You. At last, when I am no longer I, I am large enough to hold You.

- Anonymous

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Hard Road of the Beggar

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The following reflection invites us to search our hearts to see if we find therein the abiding sorrow of those who experienced our Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  For this sorrow, unlike other forms, brings on spring and awakens new life.  Such sorrow, the author tells us, "is a holy possession and a special gift of God"; the grief known by those most intimate with the Lord's Passion - the Mother of Sorrows, St. John and Mary Magdalen.  As those few who remained with the Lord, "what a wonderful sun of redemptive love arose out of this sea of sorrow and remained ever afterwards as a commanding power and source of happiness in their lives!"  Likewise if we were to linger among the few ancient olive trees in the Garden they should whisper to us of the first few steps of the Silent Beggar on the sorrowful way of the Cross.  We should make ourselves beggars before them and the other faithful witnesses; that they would bestow alms upon us that we too might know the grace of sharing in their compassion for the Lord and in some small way too may sweeten His bitter chalice.

If we take hold of the grace they possess we can find ourselves in that Garden - gazing upon the Silent Anchorite of the Tabernacle.  He stands before us not as God possessed of untold wealth but alone, despised and scorned - with a broken heart.  How will you respond? "Here your Redeemer stands before you, lifts up His broken Heart, and begs for the gift of love. What will you do?"
“My heart hath expected reproach and misery; and I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Ps. 68, 21). 

IN the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ began His Passion, it is said there are still eight of the ancient olive trees left. They are weak and brittle with age, and need props to keep them straight. In the late hours of the evening, when the wind comes from the Red Sea, a mysterious whispering is heard in their crowns, quite different from that of the other trees. Their whispering is merely an unintelligible sound, whereas that of these ancient olives resembles the words which men speak to one another. Often there is mixed with it a peculiar painful groaning, such as might issue from a sorrowful, grief-laden heart. It has been thus for two thousand years. The event which makes these venerable trees so sad and sorrowful must be a true fact which engraved itself deeply into their nature. Otherwise time, which heals all wounds, would have gradually abated their sorrow, and they would no longer keep lonely vigil in the garden and utter heart-rending sighs while men are asleep. 

Perhaps it will do them good if we sit down beneath them for a while and compassionately ask them to share their grief with us. Everyone who is sick or sorrowful like sympathy. Grief which is shared by others is easier to bear. But perhaps this rule does not apply here. There is another kind of sorrow, which has only the outward form of sorrow, but in reality is like beneficent sunshine, which brings on spring and awakens new life. Such sorrow is a holy possession and a special gift of God. Of this kind was the grief of the Mother of Sorrows, as well as that of St. John and Mary Magdalen. They were allowed to witness the death of Jesus on the Cross. Truly their hearts were torn and their grief was great. Yet what a wonderful sun of redemptive love arose out of this sea of sorrow and remained ever afterwards as a commanding power and source of happiness in their lives! All the thoughts, deeds, meditations, feelings of these chosen servants of God were from that hour concerned only with the Redeemer. And whoever meditates deeply and strives upward, looks on these chosen friends of Jesus with a sort of holy envy and would gladly exchange all earthly happiness for their grief. Yet they bear up as best they can, and send a joyful magnificat to Heaven in thanksgiving for this profound, yet fruitful grief. 

It is thus with those ancient olive trees in Gethsemane. By a special grace from above they were allowed to witness the first steps of the silent Beggar on the sorrowful way of the Cross. No doubt they were possessed by that strange something which weak-sighted mortals call grief, but which manifests itself to the initiated as the highest of graces. And when we ask them to tell us of their sorrow, it is by no means a benefit that we generously offer, as if we could lessen their grief, but rather an alms which we ask of them. They gladly bestow this alms on us, for it is their ardent wish that our hearts should be filled with compassion for the sorrowful Lord and that we should be inspired to lessen His grief by acts of love and atonement. But because Jesus was omniscient and knew all this in advance, they did their share of sweetening His bitter chalice and in kindling the light of a little joy in His agonizing face. This is their thanks for being chosen. 

How hard and deeply affecting was the beggar’s errand of the silent Anchorite. Look at the sun! Every morning he rises to gladden and refresh man. And when he sets in the evening, after a day spent in hard labor, what glorious hours he can look back upon! So many million drops of dew he has turned into diamonds; so many germs which lay in the cold bosom of the earth he has made fruitful, and so many flowers he has caressed ad endowed with beautiful colours! And to how many human beings has he brought joy and comfort! After such a survey he can say with satisfaction: “I went by and did nothing but good.” Certainly that was not a difficult thing, owing to the sun’s abundance of light and warmth; even if he were to send down oceans of sunshine every hour, he would be none the poorer. 

Unexpectedly a fearful catastrophe happens, and we see the same sun, hitherto the greatest comforter of humanity, compelled to remove his shining garments and leave his path of light above. An untoward fate has deprived him of his riches. Now he lives on earth and wanders through dusty, dirty streets, breathing gloom and fog. Wretched rags cover his shoulders, and frost and cold cause his limbs to tremble. Thus he wanders about, knocking at every door, appealing to every flower and to every man, and begging for a little light and warmth. Who would not be moved to pity by such a sight! No eye would remain dry and no one would turn the poor beggar away from his doorstep. 

Was Jesus not a sun, of a much higher kind? Out of the dark night He once rose, as it were, in the stable of Bethlehem, stood over the heads of mankind, and poured forth His light and warmth. That light was truth, and that warmth was grace. The poor shepherds experienced it, and the wise men from the East, old Simeon and Anna, the prophetess. This Sun displayed its full brilliance when Jesus was thirty years old. He dried the tears of men and healed their sorrows. He taught the blind to see and the dumb to speak. He expelled devils and broke the fetters of sin. In short, wherever He went, blessings poured from His lips, and His hands worked miracles for the benefit of men. What the prophet writes of the sun in the firmament: “And there is no one that can hide himself from his heat” (Ps. 18, 7), applied with even great truth to that Sun of love and justice. “Of his fullness we have all received” (John 1, 16). Hence, when the people united in a great procession on Palm Sunday, cut branches from the trees and spread their clothes on the street for Jesus to walk on, and exclaimed: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hail to him who cometh in the name of God!” – we must exclaim “Euge, Euge! ‘tis well, ‘tis will!” (Ps. 69, 4). 

Yet scarcely five days later, on Holy Thursday, the eight ancient trees in Gethsemane were witnesses how the much fĂȘted Messias in a few hours became the poorest of the poor and was forced to take up the beggars staff and beg for alms. Hos this picture must have horrified them! In their own way, no doubt, they earnestly entreated the moon: “Lose your light! Leave your place in the heavens, so that this horrible sight may no longer torment us!” Yet this could not happen without a command from above, and so they saw the Son of God in unutterable agony, His face was deadly wan, his brow covered with bloody sweat, His heart and mind filled with the horror of desolation, anxiety, and grief. Thus He went staggering to the disciples and begged them for a drop of comfort. But they were asleep! Poor Jesus! Accustomed from eternity to sit at the richest table, and now lying like poor Lazarus in the entrance hall, begging for crumbs, and even these are denied Him. “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and ye gates thereof, be very deolate.” (Jer. 2, 12). 

Immense misfortune, unexpectedly viewed, makes the spirit of mortals stiffen. Feeling for everything else disappears, and only one thing remains: the stark view of misfortune, and everything one says, thinks, and speaks, centres round that one idea. So it happened with those ancient olive trees in that dread hour. Hence they still stand in their old place; life and progress go on around them, but they heed it not, and only converse together about that fearful scene of Holy Thursday. 

The prophet Micheas once upon a time proclaimed to the Jews a fearful judgement: “O my people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I molested thee? Answer thou me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and delivered thee out of the house of slaves: and I sent before thy face Moses, and Aaron, and Mary. O my people, remember, I pray thee, what Balach the King of Moab purposed: and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him…That thou mightiest know the justices of the Lord! And I therefore began to strike thee with desolation for thy sins. Thou shalt eat, but shalt not be filled: and thy humiliation shall be in the midst of thee: and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not save: and those whom thou shalt save, I will give up to the sword. Thou shalt sow, but shalt not reap: thou shalt tread the olives, but shalt not be anointed with the oil: and the new wine, but shalt not drink the wine. For thou hast kept the statues of Amri, and all the works of the house of Achab: and thou hast walked according to their wills, that I should make thee a desolation, and the inhabitants thereof a hissing, and you shall bear the reproach of my people!” (Mich. 6, 3 sqq., 13sqq.). 

Might not the silent Anchorite in the tabernacle have proclaimed an even sterner judgement? Certainly Yahweh’s love and compassion had been poured out lavishly over the people of Israel. But the silent Anchorite in the nineteen centuries that have passed since His death, has given humanity infinitely more. Every tabernacle in the wide world—and their number is thousands—was like a sun, sending ever new floods of light and life into towns and villages. He had a right to expect men to be grateful, to bend their knees before the holy tent, with incense in their hands and songs of jubilation on their lips, and to give Him thanks, and more thanks, and ever more thanks. But, alas, they did not come! The holy places were deserted and empty, and when with great difficulty the bells had gathered a few worshippers, they stood there as unthinking and cold as if they were made of stone and had no feelings. Their lips were silent, and their hearts were diverted from the tabernacle by idle trifles. Worse than that! They laughed, and chattered in the presence of Him before whom the heavens bow low and tremble. Sacrilegious hands even broke open the tabernacle, and scattered the sacred hosts on the ground, while they took the lifeless gold as booty. How much more reason had the Divine Anchorite than Yahweh for sitting in judgement on this wicked people and inflicting a severe punishment on them! and instead of that? … He takes His beggar’s staff and asks for an alms of love! 

My dear reader! The Silent Anchorite stands before you, not as a God possessed of untold wealth, no, as on despised and scorned, with a broken heart, like a mother sneered at by her own children and turned out on the streets. Often, as you walk along the street, you meet a cripple or a blind man who holds out his hat. Are you not moved by pity to throw him a gift? And here your Redeemer stands before you, lifts up His broken Heart, and begs for the gift of love. What will you do? Will you act as did the Levite and the priest? Or will you be the Good Samaritan! 

You must try by means of your presence to pour a little oil and wine in that most painful of all wounds, hoping that it may heal. Do thou, O silent Anchorite in the tabernacle, remember this pious intention when we stand before Thee one day as our eternal Judge! 

The Silent Anchorite of the Tabernacle
Rev. F.X. Esser, S.J.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Christ is the Bridegroom of the Soul

Not nearly enough do we consider the image of Christ, the Bridegroom of the Soul, despite the fact that this mystery is at the heart of our deepest desires as human beings and an expression of the nature of Divine Love.  Many might not be familiar with Elder Porphyrios, a Greek monk and priest who died inn 1991, yet he stands in a long tradition of spiritual guides as one who in simple, deeply reflected and profoundly wise words expounds upon the Christian faith for today.  
The reflection below will likely speak poignantly to the heart of the Daughter of St. Philip Neri who seeks to cultivate a passionate love and adoration for the Heavenly Bridegroom as she gazes unceasingly upon His Eucharistic face.  "Fix your gaze unwaveringly" towards Christ, Porphryrios counsels.  Your Beloved will respond by stooping over you and pervading your soul.  Speak to Him of your desire and longing for him unabashedly.  There is nothing greater for which your hearts could long.  He is joy.  He is Paradise.  Adore Him with your whole heart and soul. What does this look like? "Your only thought must be God. But the thought of God is unlike other thoughts. It is different. It is a kind of worship of Christ. This is the thought the beguiles and delights."  
There is a distinct and unique pain attached to such longing.  The heart strains and agonizes - as a woman in labor giving birth to something both part of her and greater than her.  So beautiful is this holy desire that Porphyrios tells us that before one becomes a Christian she most become a poet.  For who can describe what it is for the soul to take flight amidst the glory of God and enter into the silence that is also the fullness of Love and Meaning.  
But are we inflamed Daughters by the love of Christ?  Do we run to the Beloved when He draws near?

The Song of Songs by Solomon the Wise grew out of this adoration for Christ. This book cultivates divine craving, divine love, adoration and vigilance in relation to the heavenly Bridegroom. What wonderful words – erotic, full of love and passion, divine eros! They appear like human words but they are divine. ‘For I have been wounded by your love’ says one of the hymns. That is, ‘I suffer, I am pained, my soul desires You, she longs for You who are my light, my life, my God, my Lord and my God.’ 
            More than anywhere else, in the Song of Songs we see Christ as the Bridegroom. Christ is the Bridegroom of our soul. Our soul is His bride, and follows Him in everything – even to martyrdom, to Golgotha and the Crucifixion, but also to the Resurrection. When we attain to this love, Christ will stoop over us and pervade our soul. 
            Fix your gaze unwaveringly upwards towards Christ. Become familiar with Christ. Work with Christ. Live with Christ. Breathe with Christ. Suffer with Christ. Rejoice with Christ. Let Christ be everything for you. Let your soul long for and cry out to her Bridegroom, ‘I crave for You, O my Bridegroom…’ Christ is the Bridegroom, He is the Father, He is everything. There is nothing higher in life than love for Christ. Whatever we desire we find in Christ. Christ is everything: all joy, all gladness, all Paradise. When we have Christ within us, we possess all magnificence. The soul that is in love with Christ is always joyful and happy, however much pain and sacrifice this may cost. 
            No one can deny that Christ is the fullness of life. Those who deny this truth are soul-sick and possessed by an evil spirit. They deny that which they are lacking. And so the devil finds their soul empty and enters in. And just as a child is deeply traumatized if he is deprived of his father and mother in his life, so too, and much more so, is the person who is deprived of Christ and His Holy Mother. 
            In the Song of Songs the bride says of Christ the Bridegroom, I sleep, but my heart awakes. The voice of my beloved knocks at the door.
            The bride stays awake and dreams of Him. Even if she sleeps, her soul turns towards Him. Thus she expresses her love and complete devotion. She has Him constantly in her mind and in her heart, even when she is asleep. She adores and worships Him. Do you understand? Worship must spring from the whole soul and whole heart. What does that mean? Your only thought must be God. But the thought of God is unlike other thoughts. It is different. It is a kind of worship of Christ. This is the thought the beguiles and delights. It is not something that is done under duress. You feel a spiritual delight and pleasure. It’s not like the homework a child does for school. It is like the passionate love between two people, but higher and spiritual. 
            And as a woman in childbirth draws near the time of delivery and in her pain cries out, so have we been towards Your Beloved on account of Your fear, O Lord. We have conceived, we have been in travail and we have brought forth, says the Prophet Isaiah. 
            This our soul cries out to God on account of the pain she feels when she craves for Him. And she makes an effort; she strains herself. What do the effort and tears of the ‘woman in childbirth’ mean? Is it not the pain and travail until Christ enters us. This pain is the greatest of all. Those who have experienced it know what it is. It is an unbearable torment… 

            Whoever want to become a Christian must first become a poet

The soul if the Christian needs to be refined and sensitive, to have sensibility and wings, to be constantly in flight and to live in dreams, to fly through infinity, among the stars, amidst the greatness of God, amid silence. 
            Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet. That’s what it is! You must suffer. You must love and suffer – suffer for the one you love. Love makes effort for the loved one. She runs all through the night; she stays awake; she stains her feet with blood in order to meet her beloved. She makes sacrifices and disregards all impediments, threats and difficulties for the sake of the loved one. Love towards Christ is something even higher, infinitely higher. 
            And when we say ‘love’, we don’t mean the virtues that we will acquire, but the heart that is pervaded by love towards Christ and others. We need to turn everything in this direction. Do we see a mother with her child in her arms and bending to give the child a kiss, her heart overflowing with emotion? Do we notice how her face light up as she holds her little angel? These things do not escape a person with love of God. He sees them and is impressed by them and he says, ‘If only I had those emotions towards my God, towards my Holy Lady and our saints!’ Look, that’s how we must love Christ our God. You desire it, you want it, and with the grace of God you acquire it. 

Elder Porphyrios
Wounded by Love

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thy Whole Heart, Thy Whole Soul, Thy Whole Strength

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out. (Deut 30:14)

The Carthusian tells us: “We have all we need to enter immediately upon a life of the greatest intimacy with God.” Do we believe this? What is more, do we have the will to act on it? Do we permit ourselves to imagine that the kingdom is without us and thus squander our time searching far and wide for what is all the while immediately at hand, thus putting off our promised conversion? Do we even realize the value of that which we profess to seek?

Our Lord tell us that the kingdom of God is within us; and not only within us, but in the very depths of our being. If anyone love me, he says, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him; and we will come to him and make our abode with him (John 14:23).

Unfortunately, we are so apt to forget these truths. There are, of course, many faithful souls who endeavor to lead good lives, and strive to attain to a certain ideal of moral virtue. But how few know how to live a life of real faith, sustained by hope and aflame with the love of God, in order to participate fully in the life that Jesus longs to share with us. We are surrounded and enfolded with the loving care of divine Providence; we have all we need to enter immediately upon a life of the greatest intimacy with God, but we lack the will to live the supernatural life. We know the principles: the way lies open before us. If anything prevents us from embarking upon it, then the fault lies in ourselves. We must admit that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light (Luke 16:8). We have, indeed, received an infinite treasure, but we do not realize its true worth. And the very fact of our ignorance of its value prevents us from making the good use of it that we should. Our Lord surely had our heedlessness in mind when he recounted the parable of the wasted talent, which the foolish servant hid, to no purpose, in the ground.

What is outside of us is something other than ourselves, and thus it can only be entered into for a time and constitutes only a part of our lives. But the kingdom, God himself, is within us; His commandments, His kingdom, and His very self – they dwell in the very depths of our beings and thus are a part of our whole life. We either exist integrated within ourselves, and thus one with the God who is within us, or we exist disintegrated and thus alienated from our own selves and from God.

We must not rest content with a few devotional exercises at the beginning and in the course of the day: that does not constitute a life. The word life denotes a constant, persevering activity: and Our Lord wants to be our life. He said: I am the Life (John 11:25). And so we must not only follow in his steps but continue to do so. It is not just this or that particular devotion that he asks of us, but our whole life, our whole strength and our whole soul; so that we may with his help begin, even
now, our eternal life. In a word, we must respond to the call of Christ, if we would breathe the pure and radiant air of eternal truth and love.

Saint Charbel writes: “Do not weary yourself looking for other keys with which to open the gate of heaven, or fabricating others. Many are those who spend their life trying to design their own keys, believing that they would be capable of opening the gate for them; and many too are those who ridicule the cross of Christ. In front of the gate the truth shines forth, and they notice then that all their keys are in vain... There is only one true key: the cross of Christ..” Here the Carthusian tells: “There is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage . . . This one door is Christ.” All our actions, all our asceticism must be carried out for Christ and through Christ, and for and through Him alone.

Looking back in all sincerity over our spiritual life, we are surprised, if not disheartened, at our slowness, not to say complete lack of progress. How is it that there has been so much effort with so little to show for it? Why, after so many years, it may be, of a life of asceticism, must we own to the same weaknesses, admit the same faults? Is it not possible that from the very beginning we have missed the essential point of it all, and have been following the wrong road?

For there is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage. In our vain attempts to enter by some other way, it is obvious that we are bound to meet with insuperable difficulties. Have we not been rather like a foolish robber who seeks by some ruse to effect an entrance into a place only too well defended? He that entereth not by the door, but climbeth up another way, says Our Lord, is a thief and a robber (John 10:1). This one door is Christ: faith in Christ; a faith quickened by love, which by fortifying our heart makes us capable of loving in return with a love which burns more intensely and radiates more widely, thus resembling more and more the love of Jesus.

But first of all we must make one thing perfectly clear. Any kind of asceticism which has for its sole object the perfecting of self ––an asceticism which is egocentric–– is utterly worthless. Such a way of life pays very poor dividends, and the profits it yields are very disappointing. He who sows human seed can only expect to reap a human harvest.

Christian asceticism is based absolutely upon a divine principle, and this same principle inspires and animates it, and guides it to its end. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength (Deut 6:5). Here we have the summing-up and essence of the Old Law: the New Law has done no more than repeat this first and greatest commandment, making it clearer for all to understand, and promulgating it universally in all its divine simplicity and force. From the very beginning of our spiritual life we must keep our soul set towards this plenitude of love, towards God alone. To act otherwise is to fail to recognize the profound purpose of Christianity; to return to the notion of a self-centered perfection, to that delusive egoism of certain pagan moralists––in a word, to Stoicism, ancient and new––which is so exacting a culture of so miserable a pride. If only we could convince ourselves once and for all of the truth of the words of our divine Master:Without me, you can do nothing (John 15:5), how changes our whole outlook would be. If only our minds were penetrated with the doctrine of life contained in those few words, we would concentrate on practicing, not just one or two virtues, but all without exception, knowing so well that it is God himself who must be both the term and source of our actions.

Then, having done all we can (as though success depended solely upon our own efforts) we would remain humble in our progress and confident after our falls. Knowing that of ourselves we can do nothing but that in Christ we can do all things, we should no more be discouraged by our faults than proud of the virtuous acts his grace has made possible.

And not only that. Once we are convinced that we are nothing and that God is all, our very weaknesses and failings need no longer be obstacles. Indeed, they are changed into means: they are an occasion for our faith to grow by the exercise of heroic acts, and for our trust to triumph before the manifest rout of all that draws us away from God. Gladly will I glory in my infirmities,says the Apostle, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor 12:9). Once, then, we have learned to trust in God and mistrust our own strength, we shall run like giants in the way of love. More and more will love motivate our actions and purify our intentions, until before long its influence will penetrate every corner of our lives.

And so, if we would be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we must spare no effort until we have arrived at acting solely from motives of faith and love. And since a purely natural principle can never produce supernatural results, we shall never reach our goal unless from the outset we endeavor to act solely from specifically Christian motives. For if, as Saint Paul says, we cannot pronounce our Lord’s name save by his grace, how can we hope, by our own efforts, to arrive at our supernatural ends.

The kingdom of Christ lies open before us. Not only so, but it is Our Lord’s express desire that we should make that kingdom ours. Abide in me, and I in you (John 15:4). Why not respond to his call, and begin to live by faith now?

The Prayer of Love and Silence
A Carthusian

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

We Must Conquer Weakness

St. Charbel speaks with simplicity and guilelessness but also with the strength and vision of a prophet.  He can see very clearly the source of the world's sorrow (our sin) and its healing (the Cross).  The Cross alone is the key that opens the gate of heaven for us.  Yet, so many think there is no lock or that they can fashion a key of their own making. Vanity and delusion blind us to reality and our efforts and energies mock the true Cross.

Our path must be one of repentance. Such a path does not allow us to be immobilized by our poverty and failings.  We must courageously move forward, trusting not in ourselves but in the mercy of God and the intercession and support of Our Lady. No amount of sorrow or trials can match the infinite joy of the Kingdom found at the end of the journey.  So press on!  Know that your enemies will be numerous and hostile, but in the midst of violence you must preserve the face of Christ. Do not treat enemies as such but rather speak to them with the language of the Cross. 

Every lock has its key.  Every door has its lock that opens only with the key that belongs to it.  Death shut the door and sin bolt it.  The cross is the key that frees the lock from sin and the bolt from death; the cross opens the gate of heaven, and there is no other.

The gate of heaven is found where heaven and earth meet, at the summit of Calvary.  The gate is well-known, tangible, and visible; everyone has eyes to see it.  Some think that it has no lock and that it opens if you push it; but when you draw close to it you understand that it has a lock that opens only with its key.  We can know the right key only if it is inserted into the lock.  There is only one true key: the cross of Christ.

Do not weary yourself looking for other keys with which to open the gate of heaven, or fabricating others.  Many are those who spend their life trying to design their own keys, believing that they would be capable of opening the gate for them; and many too are those who ridicule the cross of Christ.  In front of the gate the truth shines forth, and they notice then that all their keys are in vain.

Our whole life is a journey toward this age, and you will arrive there at the end of your pilgrimage; if you are holy the key in your hand, you will open it and enter.  If not, you will stop in front of the gate without being able to go in, because the keys that you have are nothing but your own handiwork.  They will disappoint you.

Therefore, carry the cross of Christ, and you will have the key of heaven.  Carry the cross with joy ardor, and courage.  Do not weep, do not lament every time you fail.  Salvation history is not made up of tears and lamentations, even though the gate of heaven opens only to those who strike their breast and utters cries of lamentation.  Just one tear is enough to open the gate of heaven, the tear of repentance that bathes the cheek of the courageous believer.

Carry the cross of Christ and follow in his footsteps; you will find the Virgin at your side, as she was for Christ.  Every time that you feel hurt, say: "By the wounds of Christ."  When you suffer, say: "By the sufferings of Christ."  When they persecute you, when they mistreat you or insult you, say: "For the glory of the Lord."

You must conquer your weakness and not make it an excuse to let yourself go.  If you carry the cross of Christ, no suffering can bend you, no weariness can demoralize you; you will walk steadfastly, patiently, silently.  Once you have arrived at the gate, you will feel that the joy of your passage far surpasses your suffering and fatigue during the walk.  The happiness at your arrival at the destination will infinitely surpass the sorrow of your travels.

The road to Calvary in this corner of the world is long, and here you carry the cross of Christ on your shoulders.  Your enemies are numerous because they are enemies of the cross; do not take them as enemies; always speak to them with the language of the cross, even if they are hostile toward you because of it.

The months and years to come will be very difficult, bitter and as heavy as the cross.  Endure them by praying.  May your prayer proceed from your faith, may hope spring from your patience, and may the cross make your love grow.

Violence will reign over all the earth.  The planet will be stabbed by the knives of ignorance and hatred.  All the nations that surround you will totter user the weight of suffering; fear will beat down on the whole earth like a storm; sadness will overflow from the heart of everyone.  Ignorant and hostile men will preside over the destiny of all their peoples, dragging them along the paths of mystery and death, because of the blind revenge that they will nickname "justice" and because of the lugubrious ignorance that they will call "faith."

Rancor and ignorance will prevail in all four corners of the world.  Resist and stand firm in faith and charity.  The face of the earth will change, but you will preserve the face of Christ.  Boundaries, communities and regimes will be erased and redrawn, nations will totter beneath the weight of fire and sword; but you will preserve your love without boundaries.

Safeguard your ecclesial community, and may your rule be the Gospel.  Be the anchor that holds fast the boats that wander on the turbulent seas; may your hearts be the port of refuge for every human being who is lost, astray, and in need of protection.  By your prayers you can bring down the rain of mercy and water the earth with your charity.  Pray to soften hardened hearts, to open darkened minds, to comfort those who have experienced catastrophes and horrors.

Finally, have no fear, because the light of Christ will rise and shine, the cross and the Church will illumine each other.  Stand fast in your faith in Christ, have no fear, have confidence in the God of the Resurrection and of Life.  To him be glory eternally.

Love is a Radiant Light
Homilies of St. Charbel

Friday, May 10, 2019

Travel the Path with the Joy of the Resurrection

Rooted as he is in the scriptures, St. Charbel pulls us into the rich images used by Jesus and brings them to life for us.  We find ourselves walking along the path to the well with the Samaritan woman, weighed down by the burdens of our life; carrying all the "treasures" once held dear but now broken and shattered dreams.  We carry the shards, still treasuring what is worthless or only a distraction. St. Charbel tells us to get rid of what the world would make us carry. Have only one jar, he teaches, the jar of Christ, which will enrich you with everlasting love and lift you up.  Simplify your lives.  To multiply jars is to multiply ones burdens and concerns.  It will blind us to the world around us and we will lose sight of our neighbor.

Likewise, he tells us to be full grains of wheat that can bear the winnowing to come. You must have the substance of the Kingdom so as not to be blown away with the chaff.  You must become the wheat that can be ground into flour and baked with the fire of God's charity.  Persevere, Charbel exhorts us, through this whole process and travel the path of sanctity that will bring you to the fullness of Life. 

You walk along the path of your life, carrying the weight of burdens and many cares, loaded with all sorts of jars; some of them useful, others useless, while scattering your treasures in them.

You mix up your treasures with your junk, and you no longer know where, in what jar they are.  The jars are so cumbersome that some of them fall and are broken, some treasures are lost.  Some people fritter away their fortune along the path of their life and arrive loaded down only with clay.

Every jar you carry that does not contain your treasure is a useless burden full of distractions, which slows your march and tires you.

Get rid of the jars that the world obliges you to carry, even if you have carried them during a long, tiring journey and perhaps have become accustomed to them.

Know where your treasure is and put your whole heart there; store it all in just one jar and carry it carefully.  Thus you will preserve it, and you will arrive rich with this treasure.

Carry just one jar, the jar of Christ, who enriches you with love and carries it with you.  Even when it is full, it will always be able to hold more; although heavy, it will be easy to carry.

The other jars are all made of clay; even when empty  they will be difficult to carry and will bend your back.  Choose for yourselves your paths in this world, and do not let the path choose you.  Do not carry the jars that the world imposes on you to distract and exhaust you.

The more your jars multiply, the more remote you will be from your neighbor.  Each one of them demands a distance.  The more numerous they become, the greater the distances around you, and you be obliged to distance yourselves from one another so that your jars do not collide and run the risk of breaking.  Therefore the jar becomes more important that your brethren.  In your anxiety to protect your jars, you will have lost your brethren and your neighbors.

Know that your treasures are very precious, but that you carry them in an earthen treasure, and all your brethren own a precious treasure, and they too carry it in an earthen vessel.

You make your jars with your own hands and shut yourselves up in them, telling yourselves: "The world is made of clay?"  Someone who puts himself inside the jar sees all of life as though it were made of clay.  Come out of it and see the world as it is, and not as you have imagined it from inside.  Let everyone fill his jar with the treasure of Christ, who is the only true treasure.

Be full grains of wheat on the Lord's threshing floor so that you may have weight and fall when the fork winnows you and you may be gathered upon so as to be stored in the barns of life.  Do not be light, empty grains like the straw that the wind carries off far from the threshing floor and scatters.  Only Christ can fill you and give you weight.

Be filled with Christ so that you can remain on the threshing floor and be gathered up.  As long as you remain on the threshing floor, the shovel will keep winnowing you to remove the straw from you.  Every grain of wheat remains alone, even if it is gathered with the others in the measure and in the sack.

The mill, the water, and the fire make the flour into one lump of dough and one loaf.  It is a long process from the field to the bread.  Pray for the sickle that cuts you down, for the flail that threshes you, for the threshing floor that gathers you, for the fork that winnows you, for the mill that grinds you, for the water the kneads you, and for the fire that bakes you.

The path of sanctity extends from the field to the bread, from the dusk to the light, from the crib to the cross.

Travel it with the joy of the resurrection.

St. Charbel
Love is a Radiant Light

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Build well the temple of the Lord without growing weary

St. Charbel does not mince words: we are to be about the work of our Heavenly Father!  What we spend our energy on and what we seek to build must be the life that He has made possible for us in His Son.  The temple that we are to build lies within us and we are to adorn it with jewels of every virtue.  We are to labor for what does not perish.  In similar terms, St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Nothing is weaker than human affairs. Whatever term therefore one may employ to express their insignificance it will fall short of the reality."  All knowledge and labor, all riches and worldly achievements, fall short of the reality of the new life of the Resurrection.  Pope Benedict XVI said that the Resurrection is for us an "Evolutionary Leap": we have become something that we were not before - sons and daughters of God who share in the life of Christ.  In so far as we seek to find meaning and purpose in worldly knowledge rather than the knowledge that comes through Love, we destine ourselves to be crushed by anxiety and sadness.  Christ alone is our salvation and we must not rest from the labor of seeking Him.  "God is love; he is the goal and guide of this lost humanity. Christ is the remedy of the sick man. The water of baptism in the Spirit is what extinguishes the fire raging in the world."

The Kingdom of God is like the construction site of a temple whose building stones come from rocks taken from the quarries of this world. Human beings are the workers on the site at God’s decree, and the builders build according to his will. They hew the stones from the rocks taken from the quarries and place them stone upon stone, one after the other. And God breathes life into them so that human beings become living stones of this temple.

Many men build their own temple with the stones hewn from the rocks and claim to be their owners. They build them stone by stone, one after the other, without being able to give them life, however, because God alone is capable of providing it. Those people perish, leaving behind them the stones, rocks, and quarries, as well as their little temples built of dead stones. Subject to deterioration, they are annihilated over time. They too are perishable along with their temples.

Only the temple of the Lord is eternal because it is alive. Build up this temple and be living stones in it, instead of raising your little fleeting temples with dead stones that time will ruin. Work diligently, joyfully, cooperatively, and lovingly; do so with patience, humility, and obedience to the Lord of the temple. Since you work by his decree, build according to his will.

Build well without growing weary. Do not seek rest, because that is the source of a great danger for you. If you see an idle worker, do not criticize him, do not condemn him, and do not curse him. On the contrary, with your pick or your sickle in hand, continue your work; thus you will oblige him to work, because the building belongs to both of you. The harvest is yours and his, and the whole thing belongs to the Lord of the temple and to the God of the harvest.

Respect your fellow man as you respect yourself. There is always in you something of what you see in your brother, because the other is you with a few differences. Instead of speaking against your brother, go and speak with him; if not, then kindly keep quiet.

Never condemn, and do not judge by what your eyes see. You cannot pass judgement on the water that you see in a glass, because with your eyes you cannot tell whether it is fresh or salty, drinkable or insipid.

To outward appearances, jars of wine are all alike, even if the wine inside is not the same. Look at the outside with your eyes, but at the inside with your hearts. The heart does not condemn.

Do not claim to have absolute knowledge and this build temples by the measure of the things that you know; they will fall down on your heads and kill you. Knowledge needs love in order to becomes understanding.

However great your knowledge may be, you cannot understand as long as you do not love. Love is much nobler than intellect. The logic of love is much more sublime than that of the intellect.

Knowledge without love lacks soul; it destroys a human being. The earth is a sanctified globe on which the God of the universe has set his foot. He has illuminated it with the light of the Spirit, and his divine Heart watches over it.

With their loveless knowledge, human beings have made the earth sick. Their food poisons them, their drink makes them thirsty. They mistake their illnesses for medications; the air that they breath stifles them, their food tires them, their peace causes them anxiety, their joy saddens them, their happiness torments them, their truth is an illusion and their illusion truth, their light darkness.

Human beings have more knowledge than wisdom. Their theories have become in their minds like the fog on the mountains and in the valleys; they prevent them from seeing things as they are. Their theories rob them of sight.

Their buildings rise, their morality sinks. Their worldly goods increase, their values diminish. Their speeches multiply, their prayers grow scarce. Their interests deepen, their relationships wear thin; their facades expand, their interiors become impoverished. Their roads are broadened, their vision become shortsighted.

They have many paths, but they do not lead them to each other’s houses. They have multiple means of communication, but they do not help them to communicate with each other. Their beds are spacious and comfortable, but their families are small, broken up, and exhausted. They know how to go faster without being able to wait. They are always running to make a living, forgetting to lead their lives.

They hurry toward the outside and neglect what is inside. They are prisoners who take pride in the comfort of their prisons, lost travelers who boast of the distances that they have covered, dead men who flatter themselves with the luxuriousness of their tombs. They die of hunger while sitting next to a kneading trough, poor men, yet sitting on the treasures that they themselves have buried.

Why do you take a place beneath the table to eat the crumbs that fall from it when the meal is being served for you? Human beings sow thorns which, while still tender and new, caress their feet; but once they have hardened they will tear the feet of future generations.

You cut the wood, you pile the logs, you light the fire, you feed it so as to throw yourselves into it, and you wonder why you are burned by it! Humanity has gone astray, man is sick, and the world is catching fire.

God is love; he is the goal and guide of this lost humanity. Christ is the remedy of the sick man. The water of baptism in the Spirit is what extinguishes the fire raging in the world.

Base all of your knowledge on Christ; all knowledge built apart from the foundation of Christ will condemn you. All knowledge without soul is considered ignorance.

An edifice based on man may well rise, but it ends up crushing him. Man lives in sadness and anxiety; he is satisfied and fulfilled only when he is unified in the heart of God.

Meet one another, look at one another, listen to one another, greet one another, console one another with sturdy, charitable words, go out from yourselves to visit one another, embrace one another in the love of Christ work in the Lord’s field without growing weary or bored.

May the sound of your picks fill the valleys and drown out the noise of the world, and may the sound of your scythes’ call remind people of the harvest.

May your prayers split the deaf rocks and cause the mute springs to gush forth. The rocks hear prayer, the springs speak about it, and together they all pray and glorify God.

St. Charbel
Love is a Radiant Light