Friday, March 26, 2010

Lent with Carmelite Saints

Updated as often as possible during these days of Lent to read, reflect and maybe to try to amend some imperfections. May God help us!

Passion Sunday
Passiontide is consecrated to the remembrance and loving contemplation of the sorrows of Jesus. The veiled crucifix and statues, the absence of the Gloria Patri in the responsories of the Divine Office, the suppression of the psalm Judica me at the beginning of Mass are all signs of mourning by which the Church commemorates Our Lord's Passion. Through meditating on Our Lord's Passion we bear His suffering in our hearts and by uniting our own suffering to His (2 Cor 4:10) we shall be able to share in its fruits "If you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts." At the same time let us open our hearts to a lively hope; for our salvation is in the Passion of Jesus. St Paul says in the epistle to Hebrews (9:11-15) that 'by His Blood, entered once into the holies [that is, heaven] having obtained eternal redemption". The passion of Jesus has redeemed us; it has re-opened again our Father's house to us; it is then the motive for our hope.

The Value of Suffering
The Passion of Jesus teaches us in a concrete way that in the Christian life we must be able to accept suffering for the love of God. This is a hard and repugnant task for our nature, which naturally prefers comfort and happiness. Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; but Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude for our sake, he offers it to us and invites us to esteem and love it - as the only means to accomplish the sublime good of our redemption and the sanctification of our souls. God willed to exempt our first parents from suffering by preternatural gifts, but through sin, these gifts were lost forever, and suffering inevitably entered our life. the gamut of sufferings which has harassed humanity is therefore direct outcome of the disorder caused by sin, not only by original sin, but also by actual sins. Yet Church chants: O happy fault! Why? The answer lies in infinite love of God which transform everything and draws from the double evil of sin and suffering the great good of the redemption of the human race. When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of mankind, He also assumed their consequences, that is, suffering and death; and this suffering, embraced by Him during his whole life, and especially in His Passion, became the instrument of our redemption. Let St Therese speak on the value of suffering:
"O Lord, You do not like to make us suffer, but You know it is the only way to prepare us to know You as You know Yourself, tp prepare us to become like You. You know well that if You sent me but a shadow of earthly happiness, I should cling cling to it with all the intense ardour of my heart, and so You refuse me even this shadow... because you wish that my heart be wholly Yours.
Life passes quickly that it is obviously better to have a most splendid crown and a little suffering, than an ordinary crown and no suffering. When I think that, for a sorrow borne with joy, i shall be able to love You more for all eternity, I understand clearly that if You gave me the entire universe, with all its treasures, it would be nothing in comparison to the slightest suffering. Each new suffering, each oang of the heart, is a gentle wind to bear to You, o Jesus, the perfume of the soul that loves You; then you smile lovingly, and immediately make ready a new grief, and fill the cup to the brim, thinking the more the soul grows in love, the more it must grow in suffering too.
What a favour, my Jesus, and how You must love me to send me suffering! Eternity itself will not be long enough to bless You for it. Why this predilection? it is a secret which You will reveal to me in our heavenly home on the day when You will wipe away all our tears.
I am happy not to be free from suffering here; suffering united with love is the only thing that seems desirable to me in this vale of tears (St Therese of Child Jesus "Letters", Story of the Soul)

Patience is the virtue which makes us accept for love of God, generously and peacefully, everything that is displeasing to our nature, without allowing ourselves to be depressed by the sadness which easily comes over us when we meet with disagreeable things.
Patience is a special aspect of the virtue of fortitude which prevents our deviating from the right road when we encounter obstacles. it is an illusion to believe in a life without difficulties. many difficulties are surmounted and overcome by an act of courage; others, on the contrary, cannot be mastered. We must learn to bear with them, and this is the role of patience - an arduous task, because it is easier to face obstacle directly, than to support the inevitable oppositions and sufferings of life, which, in time, tend to discourage and sadden us. By fixing our glance on Jesus, the divinely patient One, we can learn to practice patience most effectively. When we see Him who came into the world to save us, living from the first moment of His earthly existence in want, privation, and poverty, and later in the midst of misunderstanding and persecution; when we see Him become the object of the hatred of His own fellow citizen, calumniated, doomed to death, betrayed by a friend, and tried and condemned as malefactor, our souls are stirred: we realized that we cannot be his disciples unless we follow the same road. If Jesus, the Innocent One par excellence, bore so much for love of us, can we, sinnners who are deserving to suffer, not endure something for love of Him? Whatever the total suffering in our lives, it will always be very small, and even nothing, compared with the infinite sufferings of jesus; for in His Passion Christ not only endured the suffering of one life or several human lives, but that of all mankind.

It is very consoling for me to remember that You, the God of might, knew our weaknesses, that You shuddered at the sight of the bitter cup which earlier You had so ardently desired to drink.
In spite of this trial which robs me of all sense of enjoyment, i can still say: 'You have given me, O Lord, a delight in Your doings.' For is there any greater joy than to suffer for Your love, O my God? the more intense and the more hidden the suffering, the more do You value it. And even if, by an impossibility, You should not be aware of my affliction, I should still be happy to bear it, in the hope that by my tears I might prevent or atone for one sin against faith" (St Therese - "Letters" "The Story of the Soul")

Hidden life
St Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus was the Saint who perfected the way of 'hidden life'. She wanted to reserve for God alone the gift of her whole being, and she tried to hide from the eyes of others the riches of her interior life, her heroic virtues. She once said: "Work for the sole end of pleasing God, never looking for any human praise". St Therese prays: "Yes, all must be kept for You with jealous care, because it is so sweet to work for You alone! Then the heart is filled with gladness!...Yes I want to be forgotten, not only by creatures, but even by myself...and to have no other desire than Your glory, my Jesus - that is all! My own I abandon to You". It sounds hard, but not so if we realize it was Jesus Himself has thought us how to practice the hidden life, insisting that we do our good works in secret, only to please God, and without ostentation. He tells us also to guard the secret of our interior life and our relations with Him: "When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and shut the door"; to conceal our self-denials: "When thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face"; not to display our good works: "When thou dost give alms, let not thy left hand know what the right hand doth," for those who do their good works before man, to be seen by them, "have received their reward" and will receive no further one from their heavenly Father (Matt 6: 1-18). When "we observe in ourselves a desire for something brilliant", said St Therese, "Let us humbly take our place with the imperfect and know that we are weak souls who must be sustained every instant by God" (Ven Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene)

Humility and confidence
In the Psalm 129 also known as 'De Profundis' or prayer of a sinner trusting in the mercies of God we read: 'Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it. For with thee there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord. My soul hath relied on his word: My soul hath hoped in the Lord. From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (D-R B). When the Apostles asked Jesus who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven He answered this way: 'Amen I say to you, unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven' (Matt 18:3-4). St Therese therefore says in Novissima Verba: 'to remain little, is to acknowledge one's nothingness and to expect everything from the good God, as the child expects everything from its father...even among the poor, a child, while he is very little, is given everything that is necessary, but when he has grown, his father no longer wants to support him, and says 'Go to work now!...You can rely on yourself.' It is that I might never hear those words that I never wanted to grow up, because I felt incapable of earning my own living: eternal life."In spiritual terms when a soul forgets its nothingness, and relies on its own strength, knowledge, initiative, or virtues, God leaves it to itself, and the failures which follow, the falls, the fruitlessness of its works - all reveal its insufficiency. God does not introduce a soul to a higher spiritual life, nor admits it to deeper intimacy with Himself, as long as it is not completely despoiled of all confidence in itself. St Teresa of Jesus, speaking of difficulties in overcoming the last obstacles to her total conversion says: 'I must have failed to put my whole confidence in His Majesty and to have a complete distrust of myself' (Life, 8). St Therese is convinced that 'what pleases Jesus is to see me love my littleness and poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy. This is my only treasure' and 'I admit, O Lord, that I am very weak; I have salutary proof of it every day. But You deign to teach me the knowledge which makes me glory in my infirmities. This is a very great grace, and only in it do I find peace and contentment of heart, for now I understand Your ways: You give as God, but You want humility of heart'. (Letters) (credits: based on  'Divine Intimacy' meditations)

Humility in our falls
It often happens when we try to practice some virtue or execute a good resolution that we fail and feel discouragement - our inner pride is wounded and deceived. This is because we depend upon our own strength. We act by ourselves. In our busy lives we easily forget that all our strength depends on the grace of God. We often forget about Him in times of prosperity, nor do we have recourse to Him when we fail Him. We rely on ourselves and this is not what God wants us to do: 'Woe to him that is alone, for when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up (Eccl 4:10). In our struggle for better, holy life we are in great need of God's help and considering any failure we should remember that God is our merciful and loving Father. He alone can raise us up. St Teresa of Jesus teaches us that our self-knowledge cannot be separated form the knowledge of God when she says: 'The soul must sometimes emerge from self-knowledge and soar aloft in meditation upon the greatness and the majesty of its God. Doing this will help it to realize its own baseness better than thinking of its own nature, and it will be freer form the reptiles which enter the first room, that is, the rooms of self-knowledge' (Int C 1:2). In her 'Way of Perfection' the Saints says: 'True humility, however deep it may be, neither disquiets, nor troubles, nor disturbs the soul; it is accompanied by peace, joy and tranquility....It enlarges it, and makes it fit ti serve God better', whereas 'false humility only disturbs and upsets the mind and troubles the soul, so grievious is it. I think the devil is anxious for us to believe that we are humble and, if he can, he will lead us to distrust God' (Way, 39). Therefore, when we fall into the same imperfections after so many good resolutions; when after many efforts we still so not succeed in correcting certain faults or in overcoming certain difficulties, St Teresa encourages us to have recourse to the infallible remedy of humility that is: 'the ointment for our wounds' (Int C 3:2). After St Therese of Child Jesus we may say: 'Yes, O my God, I am happy to feel little and weak in Your presence, and my heart remains in peace...I am glad to feel so imperfect and to need Your mercy so much! When we calmly accept the humiliation of being imperfect, Your grace, O Lord, returns at once' (Letters, Novissima Verba). (Based on 'Divine Intimacy' Lenten meditations)

To be hidden with Christ in God
Our Lord's interior life was the life of intimacy with the Holy Trinity. His sacred soul was personally united to the Word, unceasingly enjoying the Beatific Vision. It sees the Word, the subject of His activity, it sees the Father, the cause of its Being and it sees the Holy Spirit, who dwells in it as 'His chosen temple' and who, by covering it with the flame of His love, draws it toward God in perfect accomplishment of His will. Exteriorly, Jesus lives among men, deals with them as one of them, but His real life, His existence as the Son of God, is lived hidden from all human sight, with the Trinity and in the Trinity. The imitation of Jesus' hidden life has for its ultimate end the participation in His interior life; that is, to be hidden 'with Christ in God' - in order to enter with Him  the sanctuary of the Most Holy Trinity. St Teresa Margaret expressed this in her ardent desire to 'emulate by faith insofar as it is possible for a creature, the hidden, interior life and activity of the intellect and will of the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, hypostatically united to the Word' (Spirituality of St Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus). The practice of the hidden life, which St Teresa Margaret perfected, has two aspects. First consists in dying to glory and worldly honours, whereas the second, consists in concentrating entirely on God in a life of relation with Him. The more the soul is able to hide from creatures, the more it is capable to live 'with Christ in God' - as St Paul beautifully expressed, saying: "You are dead [to the world] and your life is hidden with Christ in God"(Col 3:3). The more we are detached from worldly honours, fame, earthly glory and esteem the more we become close to God. Our Lord is the best example: "When the people, therefore, had seen the sign which Jesus had worked, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world." So when Jesus perceived that they would come to take him by force and make Him a king, he fled again to the mountain, himself alone (John 6:14-15).
"My God, I desire to enclose myself forever within Your most loving Heart, as in a desert, so that in You, with You, and for You I may live a hidden life of love and sacrifice" " O Jesus,...since You inspire  me to become as much as possible like, all my efforts will tend toward that end. I shall imitate You especially in those virtues which are most pleasing to Your most lovable Heart - humility and purity of intention, interior as well exterior - always working with a spirit of simplicity" (Spirituality of St Teresa Margaret)