The Flying Duck takes off again….With much love to YOU from your fair feathered friend:
The Flying Duck takes off again….With much love to YOU from your fair feathered friend:
THE VIOLENCE OF SORROW — 9/1/16
St. Bernard is, of course, addressing our Mother of Sorrows. In our PATH TO UNION, p. 141 we read further: “ Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.”
Mary was united to the Word of the Cross ever since she carried Him in her womb. Through her ordinary hidden life she lived united as one to Christ; and in this way, she possessed, with her Son, the power of God and the wisdom of God. She lived her daily trials, challenges and sufferings abandoned completely to God.”
Because she was one heart, one mind, one will with her beloved Son, Mary entered the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus through compassion. Compassion means “to suffer with.” Although through her overwhelming compassion, her heart was pierced with the violence of sorrow, Mary’s compassion is only a small replica of the compassion of Jesus Himself.
How can we begin to understand the violence of sorrow that pierced the Sacred Heart of Christ? Jesus enters intimately in the suffering of every member of His Body—there is no sorrow so little or so great that He does not feel with us, undertake with us. As we are pierced, so is His Heart.
The saints of God are filled with compassion—they suffer with Christ and with His Body. For example, today I read an article by Father Alexander Sherbrooke about St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta—about her premonitions about the deterioration of the Middle East:
“In 1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the military action being proposed by the Americans and British seemed inevitable. I spent that winter in Calcutta and can testify to Mother’s absolute preoccupation with the consequences of the proposed Allied military action. She knew it would mean children orphaned, homes destroyed, limbs lost and the poor becoming poorer. I was set the task, as a newly ordained priest, of helping her to write letters to President Bush and Saddam Hussein. For hours we laboured over them, the draft pressed against the tabernacle by her immense hands and the final copy put on the altar. The letters were delivered.
“In a strange way, I feel I was given an interior vision of Mother’s heart. She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos. I would venture that God was crying over our catastrophic manoeuvrings in the Middle East and the mayhem we were to cause.
“The precious and fragile neighbourly cooperation between Christian, Muslim and Jew – which had somehow allowed those ancient and faith-filled communities to survive – has now disintegrated. The suffering cries of persecuted Christians are like the cries of Rachel’s children. “ [http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/september-2nd-2016/mother-teresas-terrifying-premonition/]
We need to delve more deeply into this Heart so pierced with the violence of sorrow. Several years ago I was blessed to do precisely that. As a consequence I wrote SOUL FOOD TALK # 18: The Sacred Heart of Christ. I want to share a small excerpt of that talk here [par. 31-35]:
“What sends us reeling here is the dimension of pain. We have all meditated on the Passion of Christ, but we tend to see it as horrible, primarily physical sufferings which He endured 2000 years ago. We should not forget that the drama of the Redemption is ongoing. When will it end? Only the Father knows. We do know this, the vicious spiritual warfare is even more intense today than it has been throughout the last 2000 years. Sin is more grievous and torrid than it has ever been. Abortion alone is unspeakable. And we know this too, the Heart of Christ is living, pulsing in our Tabernacles, contending with the hearts of all the men alive today. And will be till this whole drama is over once and for all.
“9/2/14– Today the Lord let me enter the sorrow of His Sacred Heart… Then He gave me a vision of what He has held in His Heart since the Incarnation: the face of every child since the beginning of time, the innocent child of His Heart, every one, till assaulted by personal sin or the assaults of other sinners—what a barrage of pain, His sense of loss and suffering for each little one, for the aborted, for those lost to Satan. Not only is the sinner a victim of his own sin, but his sin victimizes other souls, like a Ponzi scheme, like ripples on a lake which spread indefinitely when a pebble is tossed in….
“We are constantly praying for souls, intensely, sometimes very emotionally when the objects of our prayer are loved ones, living or deceased; but it is the vision of all these little faces which struck me with such power because for just a short time He made me see all of these souls, every human being who has ever lived or will live, as He sees them. The innocence and potential purity of each one. Remember Bishop Martinez’ remark: “…this love is a singular love, because each soul is for God ‘one beyond compare’…No two loves are the same, for each soul has its own special character…God created each soul precisely that way in order that each soul might love Him with a love which is never duplicated.” 
“For the Heart of Jesus, that little face, “one beyond compare” is His whole focus, the infinite delight of His Heart or the unmitigated sorrow of His Heart. It is as though that one little face is the only one that has ever existed or will ever exist and the fullness of His Heart rests on that little one. Now reflect on all the people who have died. So many have been lost to perdition. Can you imagine His grief? His sorrow both in the Garden of Gethsemane and right now as He looks at our century, our country, our family?
“Don’t just reflect on the lost souls, but on the barrage of pain inflicted on victim souls, on the abused, for example. His Heart has felt every pain of every hurt or frightened child—and it is His child’s face that Jesus sees in every confused, broken adult. The loss of innocence and purity everywhere drowned, killed, mutilated, in the clutches of the evil one. The Sacred Heart of Jesus takes personally every hurt to every child of His Heart. Can we ever again “pray for souls” without seeing with Him all those innocent faces in harm’s way? “
One of the central pleas of Love Crucified Covenant Community, a community of victims of love, is this one: “Suffer all with Me, no longer two but one in my sacrifice of love.” I pray constantly: “Let me suffer all with You, no longer two but one in Your sacrifice of love.” Today I see something new in this prayer. It no longer applies to me alone suffering with Christ, but to me and to all others who are suffering. So I pray, “Let me suffer ALL, my suffering and yours, with you—all my suffering brothers and sisters—for we are the suffering Body of Christ. One Body, one Heart, one Mind, one Will. The violence of sorrow pierces all, All.”
Compassion means to suffer with. If we, with our weakened wills, our calloused hearts, our innate selfishness, feel pain at the suffering of our brothers and sisters, imagine the violence of sorrow in the sensitive, Sacred Heart for each of His little ones, each little face in the core of His Heart, Mind, and Will. “Let me suffer all with you…” Enter the violence of sorrow of His Sacred Heart. When you see the refugees fleeing Somalia and Syria, the face of the persecuted whose homes and lives are in ashes, the flood victims whose lives are smashed into floating debris, the shredded lives—open your heart and suffer all—“Let me suffer all with you, all with Your Body, all with You… Let me be one with Your living Mass, Your sacrifice of love.” This is what it means to be a victim of love for Christ.
Like Mary, then, “Thus the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.”
A couple of weeks ago, Lourdes, Mother of the Cross and our spiritual mother, spoke to us about the “violence of sorrow.” She entreated us to “enter into the violence of your sorrows.” We cannot suffer with Christ or one another, if we do not enter the sorrow. In our human weakness, we try to dodge pain, turn away, avoid by varied means. These are three reasons we do not enter our “violence of sorrows”:
1) We minimize them. Do not constantly tell yourself, “I have no sufferings to speak of.” You suffer exactly the crosses which Christ gives you—however little or great, you suffer them—and in entering your sorrows you live the Mass.
2) We distract ourselves from them. You know how that works: busy, busy, television, telephone, and insufficient quiet time to reflect on your life with Christ.
3) We complain. The smallest complaints neutralize the sacrifice of love. We comfort ourselves in these insipid ways and refuse to enter the pain of our sorrow.
[AUDIOS – LOURDES PINTO –Violence of Love, part 1: http://lovecrucified.com/audio_subsite/violence-of-sorrow-72816.mp3
Violence of Love, part 2: http://lovecrucified.com/audio_subsite/violence-of-sorrows-part.mp3 ]
AUDIO – FATHER JORDI RIVERO: “Suffer With”
My grandson, Michael, middle; my son, Andre, on the right.
i n-law, Ann.
The New Orleans firemen who rescued us from our flooded neighborhood.
This is the email which I sent to my Covenant Community [also posted on facebook] on Saturday night, August 13, the night before we were evacuated:
“Dear ones, Although by a small chance we may escape without the flood waters coming into our home, the flooding is quite severe in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas–nearly 1/4 of the state, I would guess. The street in front of my house is full of water; the side street is full with about 4 feet entering my driveway. The five adults in my house have packed our bags, because we may have to call 911 for emergency evacuation in the morning. If it rains tomorrow morning, the water will probably come into the house.
I have put all in His hands: to suffer all with Him, no longer two but one.
Whatever happens, we will return home and do the best we can to make it habitable again, if we have to leave. I do not have flood insurance. I pray that His beloved Will be done. My family has suffered through illness, evictions, unemployment, etc; so I especially regret this additional hardship. But we will stay together and work this out together. Pray for us.
I’m not sure when you will hear from me again because I just don’t know what will happen.
One Heart, One Mind, One Will,
P.S.You will love the quotation from my little Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity for today–what a confirmation!
O Good Master, what a trial You put me through, what a sword thrust into my heart, never will I be consoled! And despite all that, I give You thanks. I bless You. You have used this horrible trial to detach me from the things here-below and attach me more totally to You, to You alone, my Love, my Life, my Spouse. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880–1906)
Living Faith Christian Center on Winbourne Ave, very close to my home, was flooded by the same canal that flooded my home.
NARRATIVE OF THE FLOOD: I slept about an hour on Saturday night, August 13, spent much time trying to figure out how to elevate at least some of the furniture—the sofas and all upholstered pieces. At 3:00 in the morning, my grandson was still awake, so together we elevated the two big recliners in the family room. About 4:30 am, Andre, my son, and daughter-in-law helped me elevate other pieces, balancing sofas on small tables, etc. After closing the drain, we placed the little dinette set, table and 4 chairs, all the sofa cushions and bedding, into our huge acrylic tub in the bathroom, knowing that the water would have to top three feet to reach inside.
I had had a powwow with the family the night before, as we watched the water advancing up our street. I advised all of them to pack a bag for a few days because we might have to ask for evacuation the next morning. Then I blessed all three entrances with Lourdes water, praying: “Lord, don’t let anything enter this house which is not Your Will.” During the night my son and I kept going to the back door by the carport to watch the progress of the water. By six a.m. about 3 inches of water had come into the back of the house: family room, my bedroom, and office, but had not yet entered the kitchen and oldest part of the house. Ready to leave at 6am, I locked the house, leaving on the carport light and we sat on the big storage unit on the carport. Airboats called in from Plaquemines Parish had been traveling up and down Winbourne Ave.—now badly flooded [some cars completely submerged]. Now one passed us, we called out that we were ready to evacuate, and he told us he had to go the back of our subdivision which was badly flooded, but that he would back soon. We waited 2 hours. Finally a schoolbus came to the corner from the interior of our subdivision, and the five of us boarded with other neighbors and our two dogs, and were ferried to high ground at the corner of another flooded street to wait for one of three boats to carry us out of the subdivision. The bus continued to go back into the neighborhood for more evacuees; and as the line grew, we waited for another 2 hours to get into our little boat with the help of the New Orleans Fire Department.
I must tell you that throughout these most stressful hours, I heard no cursing, but only prayer, acceptance, praise and thanksgiving expressed by so many people. As we waited for the boat, at least a hundred people standing in line, one of our neighbors who live on that corner, with whom I have talked many times as I walked my dog, hugged me, talked with me then, insisting that “God is cleansing Louisiana”; we recognized this vital element of the real Storm. She then called out to all the people waiting, so many of our neighbors: “Will you pray with me? Let’s thank and praise God for his protection. “ And many joined her. The others stood silently, respectful. At the shelter, one woman told me that at least 4 feet of water had entered her home, she had no flood insurance, but she was utterly serene, trusting that God would make a way for her. This was evidenced EVERYWHERE!
At 11:00 am on Sunday morning, August 14, we were deposited on dry ground, were given bottled water, and walked to a Texaco station/store to purchase snacks, and where we tried to get information about getting to a shelter. The sun was brutal by then, but we sat on the curb in the shade at the store. Finally, I decided to call 911 again, was referred to another dispatcher who placed an order for our extraction to a shelter. We got on another school bus, and by 3:00 pm or so arrived to Celtic Studios. The large Stage buildings were being quickly fitted into shelters. [I heard on the news that 2500 people are there now.] We registered for Stage 4, the one set up for pets. Hot jambalaya was waiting for us—the last hot food we would see till we reached my cousin Billy’s house—and we found a place to settle, selecting varied pillows and blankets from the table so supplied. Abundant pet supplies were available as well, tons of water, snacks, etc, all supplied by Costco next door.
Unfortunately, the air was not working, but supplementary blowers were brought in that evening. We were severely dehydrated by that time and drank continuously. This building was so noisy with huge fans running, constant barking, and helicopters—staged next door—taking off and landing constantly.
One failure which had a major negative impact on so many stranded people— was that a substation of ATT&T, a major phone server in our area, had flooded, and for several days [through Tuesday and maybe longer], the only calls that ATT&T put through were 911 calls. We could not call for help from relatives or friends, but were forced to go to shelters.
By Monday, August 15 in the shelter, with heat and humidity in the shelter were so oppressive, my cousin, Gigi, transferred to the medical shelter next door because she was having trouble breathing and was overheating. By then she had managed to reach our cousin, Billy Hebert, who offered all five of us, with our dogs, to stay at his homane. He came to pick us up around noon on Monday. At Billy’s, I was able to register for FEMA assistance. At that time I had no idea how extensive the damage to my home would be, and like so many others, I had no flood insurance. It was scary. We kept hearing that the water was still rising, it was raining still, and we could only imagine how high the water might be in the house with the entire neighborhood flooded out.
On Tuesday afternoon, August 16, Billy drove my son Andre and another friend [also flooded out] to our homes to see if we could gain entrance. We were delighted to learn that the water had drained from our home and street, and that it had risen only a couple more inches after we left. Billy’s friend, Daniel, found that the water had reached midway his front door, but they did not enter the houses because they didn’t have the house keys with them. Coming back tell us the good and bad news, they hydrated, we ate lunch, and we prepared to come home to clean up.
We returned to the house, taking many pictures for FEMA, discovered that much of the front of the house: bathroom, Gigi’s bedroom and the bedroom, were DRY! The living room and dining room with hardwood floors, had a little water which had quickly receded. Kitchen floor was buckling, the plywood swollen—the entire floor including substrata will have to be replaced. My walk in closet with carpet, was soaked, of course. But all the furniture seems fine! Even the wooden pieces will probably be fine because the water did not stand too long. We were able to remove the soaked carpet, sweep, mop, get the furniture in place and make the place habitable. All appliances were fine, running; and great news—all three automobiles were great—no water entered, and all started without a hitch. How grateful we were! How we thanked God for saving us from so much heartache and hardship.
Today we have to continue the cleanup, remove the kitchen floor, especially, and maybe the family room. How blessed we are to have a home to return to, to be able to live normally again in so short a time—others will face such difficulties and decisions for weeks and months to come.
It’s been one week since I have had the opportunity to go to Adoration or Mass; all has been so chaotic, noisy, and busy, that I have had to keep to the simplest prayers, having a hard time even to pray the rosary. But I know that my spirit will soon settle down–it’s just that so much remains to be done, paperwork, repair work, etc. I and my family are so very blessed to be back into our home so quickly. The Storm is truly upon all of us, and only God knows what it will bring. What we must do is TRUST, TRUST, TRUST.
Today a spiritual friend shared with me “No Need to Hide”—we shall call her FLYING DUCK because she said, “When I share, just consider it one of a number of flying ducks; you can shoot down any one that you like!” From time to time, I may shoot down one of her ducks to share with you!
FLYING DUCK’s reflection on what so many of us face daily–given our woundedness, the daily struggle to be authentic, to be transparent:
If I am made in the image and likeness of God, then
when , how , and why did I ever develop such a
Why are the things I say to myself in my head more negative than positive?
Why did I not learn when I was a child to love and accept my body or my personality? Why did even my talents became a source of separation and anxiety for me?
What led me into a false image of myself? What nurtured that false image?
Was it a conscious or subconscious decision to portray a certain image or was it that I honestly believed I was and am the image I have, for years, portrayed?
Did I live a life based on morals and principles that I really believed? Or did I believe so much in those morals that I fell under the heavy burden of expecting that I live up to each one perfectly, judging myself harshly and inwardly judging others based on my high standards?
Was my faith ever really about Jesus or was it more about me?
Even now, am I motivated by love of Him or an emotional need and yearning for self knowledge to be free of such self deception?
If I wanted to live and be a good girl, what did that mean?
Who was it for?
What benefit did I receive from being known, as a “good girl?”
How was a good girl , good mother, good wife, good daughter, good friend, good Christian supposed to act, feel, speak?
What was a good girl to avoid, and if she didn’t avoid these attitudes or actions was she not good anymore?
Again, who did the good girl really want to please?
How could a good girl be so outgoing on the outside and yet feel so painfully alone on the inside?
How could she be so nice to others and yet couldn’t be a good friend to herself, stand up for herself?
Why was she afraid of showing anger, sadness, fear, disappointment or at times unable to even recognize much less admit those emotions to herself?
When did she first begin to do this? Why did she have emotions that were buried alive within her?
How was she able to live this double life of happy on the outside, giving of herself to others, putting others first, forgive numerous grievances against her all in the name of love of God while
all the while putting herself down for everything especially for not living up to her own expectations?
Why was she so insecure and so indecisive?
Why was she so afraid of disappointing God whom she knew loved her no matter what?
And now, 1/2 a century later as she begins to realize the reality of this painful existence she has lived for so long, a life so lacking in real joy and mercy, what does she do with this knowledge?
Her blessings have been numerous, so much that so that any complaint at all seems to her sacrilegious.
And still she felt so different from others? Why did she care or even compare?
How detrimental was this “act of comparing”!
How insatiable her desire to be liked and to be “the good and faithful servant” she tried so hard to be! How impossible was it to actually be that good and faithful servant at all times , on all levels, and in every relationship.
So what really did move her?
Pride of perfectionism?
Deep need for affirmation?
Subconscious wounds that had never been addressed?
And if finally God got her attention by sledgehammering her pitifully distracted life – how and where does she begin this PATH to rediscovering herself and allowing God to transform her or invite her to come out of her self-inflicted cocoon.
If it took so long to get here, it may also take a while to remove the layers of self denial and self rebuke.
The time has come for her to “accept” that she is imperfectly delightful and has much to share.
First she must begin to stop writing in 3rd person and own up to her life (all of it).
I wore a mask to hide the pain
it hid my life ,
it hid my shame
My head held high, no one could see the real me
not really me
I wore a crown that drew disdain
And like a clown I played their game
Until I couldn’t breathe at all
The mask came off and I ………began to fall
Under the weight of all the lies
that had disfigured my whole life
I fell to the ground,
I fell to my knees
I started to question all I believed
I lived in a perfect little world,
I lived as a perfect little girl
the wounds were so deep
Alive but asleep
I moved through each chapter of my life
I was suddenly awakened
by the one I had mistaken
as the one who could have saved me from my very hidden pain
As I faced myself there face to face
And embraced myself in my disgrace
I was entering a sacred place I had not known before
For the mask had hid me from myself
Had turned me into someone else
incapable of loving me as God does….tenderly
As this violent sorrow pierced my soul
I knew the old self had to die
A new life in me now unfolds
The pain embraced, the fears subside
I discover a new world within
as I move towards those without
I’ve realized the greatest sin
Is not knowing what life’s all about
And so comes off the mask
As so come off the gloves
No need to hide or to defend
A Victim of God’s Love
For several years now I have been trying to understand faith much better and praying for an increase of faith. You see, along with hope and love, faith is one of the theological virtues. This means that the object of faith is God Himself. According to the Catechism , the theological virtues which are infused into the souls of the faithful, “adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature.”
A few years ago I wrote a post “The Obscurity of Faith” which distinguishes between belief and faith: “Belief is an intellectual matter” whereas “the object of faith is not a proposition but a person….We believe not just ideas about God but God.” God Himself. Peter Kreeft explains it anecdotally in several beautiful ways: “Faith is a fundamental Yes to God with the center of our being. Faith takes a stand like an army. Faith leaps into God’s arms, answering his proposal of spiritual marriage.”
I see how faith is a wonderful YES to God. In Book I of the Ascent of Mt. Carmel, I loved St. John’s wonderful line on his illustration of Mt. Carmel regarding the denial of all voluntary imperfections: “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing on the way; and nothing on the mountain.” As I reflected on this line for several days, I kept saying, “Nothing but You. Nothing but You. Every other light must be extinguished.” This morning at Mass, after reading my earlier post, I prayed, “Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes on the way; and Yes on the mountain!”
Last night I read and prayed deeply in Book II of the Ascent. And the epistle at Mass today was the powerful reading about the faith of Abraham. God told him to take his only beloved son, Isaac, and to sacrifice him on the mountain. This YES to God which he willingly gave was full of darkness, for it completely superceded his understanding. It was not rational for him to kill the child of the promise—how then could he be the father of many? God’s request made no sense—it contradicted events as Abraham saw them—in the natural order. Yet he assented. In darkness he assented. His Yes was complete though he understood nothing about it at all except that he had to give his complete Yes. St. John’s “dark night of faith” became so much clearer.
St. John agrees with many other theologians who explain that faith is a “habit of the soul, certain and obscure”–that is, it’s a Yes of the soul, and it’s dark. “It makes us believe truths revealed by God Himself, which transcend all natural light, and exceed all human understanding, beyond all proportion….for the soul, this excessive light of faith which is given to it is thick darkness.” Here, plainly stated, is the wonderful paradox of the mystics: faith which gives access to the light of God is sheer darkness to the human understanding—“beyond all proportion.”
St. John explains that faith “tells us of things which we have never seen or understood, nor have we seen or understood aught that resembles them, since there is naught that resembles them at all. And thus we have no light of natural knowledge concerning them, since that which we are told of them bears no relation to any sense of ours; we know it by the ear alone, believing that which we are taught, bringing our natural light into subjection and treating it as if it were not.”
What does this mean? Through faith we access God Himself who is totally outside of the human understanding. St. Paul says faith comes from hearing the truth—with the consequence that faith TAKES THE PLACE of our natural understanding—brings our natural light into subjection and treats it as if it were not light at all. This line explains much: “Wherefore Isaiah said: …If ye believe not, ye shall not understand.” It is only if you believe that you will understand. Without faith, the understanding is merely natural. Without faith, there is no chance of understanding spiritual realities or God.
St. John of the Cross tells us: …” faith is dark night for the soul, and it is in this way that it gives it light; and the more the soul is darkened, the greater is the light that comes to it….” Another sentence which explains it in a similar manner: “faith, which is a black and dark cloud to the soul (and likewise is night, since in the presence of faith the soul is deprived of its natural light and is blinded), can with its darkness give light and illumination to the darkness of the soul.”
St. John of the Cross makes it clear that on the path to Union with God “the night of faith shall be my guide” and “….the soul must be in darkness in order to have light for this road.”
In this journey to Union with the Indwelling Trinity, “It [the soul] must be like to a blind man, leaning upon dark faith, taking it for guide and light, and leaning upon none of the things that he understands, experiences, feels, and imagines. For all these are [true] darkness, which will cause him to stray; and faith is above all that he understands and experiences and feels and imagines.”
St. John makes clear in the night of sense that the soul must “deny himself” the pleasures of the senses, “and void his senses of such pleasure, as though they were in darkness.” In the darkness of faith, the darkness is of a spiritual nature, “the spiritual part” as St. John puts it. Denying oneself is even more critical here. To be more specific, St. John lists the spiritual aspects of the soul that are here affected: “And thus a soul is greatly impeded from reaching this high estate of union with God when it clings to any understanding or feeling or imagination or appearance or will or manner of its own, or to any other act or to anything of its own, and cannot detach and strip itself of all these. For, as we say, the goal which it seeks lies beyond all this, yea, beyond even the highest thing that can be known or experienced; and thus a soul must pass beyond everything to unknowing.”
When I read this I immediately thought of another beloved book, THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING [15th century]. I will cite my favorite passage here since it is in such fine conjunction with St. John’s teaching [1541-1592–contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila]. Also, I think you will find it so comforting and helpful if you find yourself in this great darkness of faith:
“ This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him…Do all in your power to forget everything else….and so diligently persevere until you feel joy in it. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being. For if, in this life, you to hope to feel and see God as he is in himself it must be within this darkness and this cloud…. For the intellect of both men and angels is too small to comprehend God as he is in himself.” [48-49,50]
“Thought cannot comprehend God. Though we cannot know him, we can love him. By love he may be touched and embraced, never by thought. Let your loving desire, gracious and devout, step bravely and joyfully beyond [the cloud] and reach out to pierce the darkness above. Yes, beat upon that thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire and do not cease come what may.” [54-55] “Learn to be continually occupied in the blind, reverent, joyful longing of contemplative love….” 
How closely St. John’s thought follows that of the author of the Cloud [an anonymous priest]: “…passing beyond all that can be known and understood, both spiritually and naturally, the soul will desire with all desire to come to that which in this life cannot be known, neither can enter into its heart. And, leaving behind all that it experiences and feels, both temporally and spiritually, and all that it is able to experience and feel in this life, it will desire with all desire to come to that which surpasses all feeling and experience.”
In summary, and in promise of what is to come, St. John tells us: “the three theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—produce the same emptiness and darkness, each one in its own faculty. Faith, in the understanding; hope, in the memory; and charity in the will…. Afterwards we will go on to describe how the understanding is perfected in the darkness of faith; and the memory in the emptiness of hope; and likewise how the will must be buried by withdrawing and detaching every affection so that the soul may journey to God. This done, it will be clearly seen how necessary it is for the soul, if it is to walk securely on this spiritual road, to travel through this dark night, leaning upon these three virtues, which empty it of all things and make it dark with respect to them. For, as we have said, the soul is not united with God in this life through understanding, nor through enjoyment, nor through the imagination, nor through any sense whatsoever; but only through faith, according to the understanding; and through hope, according to the memory; and through love, according to the will.”
Today at Adoration I meditated on Chapter 1 of THE ASCENT OF MT. CARMEL, St. John of the Cross. I am understanding quite well the night of the senses—the quelling of the natural desires. As I reflected, I remembered this favorite Psalm verse which I ran across in 2013:
“Whom have I in the heavens but You?
None besides You delights me on earth.
Though my flesh and my heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.”
This thought has pierced my heart for several years already. As I thought about George and our life together, I had a sudden revelation: with George’s death in 2012, God suddenly snapped many attachments. My whole life of natural desires, all the innocent employments of my married life, have dried up almost entirely. I have no desire for social engagements, entertainment of every kind—except for a little television—those activities which I do take on are mostly in the nature of ministry; and I have taken care not to undertake anything which will interfere with my life of prayer and adoration.
Such life events offer tremendous opportunities to reassess our spiritual lives and practices. What seems at first to present a panorama of loneliness and emptiness, a feeling of being left out of the normal sweep of life, actually gives us remarkable openings to deeper and more substantial spiritual development–if we can see it for what it is and take advantage of it. The early church saw widowhood, for example, as one of the earliest opportunities for consecration. Remember Anna, who attended the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple? She was a widow of many years who spent her time praying in the Temple: “Contemplative widows are foreshadowed by Anna, early widowed, praying in the Temple for decades for the coming of the Messiah” [SPIRITUALITY FOR WIDOWS. See also: http://www.rondachervin.com/ocw.htm]
In Nov. 2014, I was reading Owens’ book NEW & DIVINE about the eternal mode of prayer. “Only souls who abandon themselves to the Will of the Father through the Holy Spirit can fully participate in His interior life made present in the Eucharist.” P. 34 Also, “He [Jesus] told Blessed Dina that by abandoning herself to the Father’s Will through the Holy Spirit, she would allow Him to operate freely in her and with her, in eternity “Even one soul given completely over to Me can radiate on all the other souls. …My rays reach out into the distance, far into the distance.” P. 36
Jesus told her that, through souls who abandoned themselves completely to Him, his rays reach all souls, past, present, and future: ‘In consecrated souls in whom my hands are bound by threads, in whom consequently my Heart is wounded, my rays reach only some souls living in the world at the same time. In consecrated souls who refuse Me only small things, you can see that my rays reach many other souls in the world and extend further. In consecrated souls that have abandoned themselves totally to me, in whom I can act freely, see how my rays reach all souls, even to the end of time.’” P. 49
I was immediately taken by the vision of how attachments, however slight, hinder Jesus’ effectiveness, “binding His hands.” It grieved my heart to permit any attachment of my soul to natural desires, but I could not see how they could be entirely eliminated. My greatest desire is to live in the eternal mode of prayer, entirely abandoned to the will of the Father through the Holy Spirit—to sever the least thread which would hinder Jesus hands.
Then today I read in St. John of the Cross: “…it is true that all the desires are not equally hurtful, nor do they all equally embarrass the soul. I am speaking of those that are voluntary, for the natural desires hinder the soul little, if at all, from attaining to union, when they are not consented to nor pass beyond the first movements (I mean, all those wherein the rational will has had no part, whether at first or afterward); and to take away these — that is, to mortify them wholly in this life — is impossible.”
What hinders Christ, hinders the soul, are not natural desires, if they are involuntary and not consented to by the rational mind and will. He explains: “But all the other voluntary desires, …whether they be only of imperfections, …must be driven away every one, and the soul must be free from them all, howsoever slight they be, if it is to come to this complete union; and the reason is that the state of this Divine union consists in the soul’s total transformation, according to the will, in the will of God, so that, there may be naught in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that, in all and through all, its movement may be that of the will of God alone.”
Later he laments: “…when God has granted them strength to break other and stouter cords — namely, affections for sins and vanities — they should fail to attain to such blessing because they have not shaken off some childish thing which God had bidden them conquer for love of Him, and which is nothing more than a thread or a hair.”
That little thread, that little hair reminds me of my beloved Conchita and what struck me so forcibly on Oct. 4, 2014—Conchita’s HOLY HOUR: “Why do those tiny things stop you? And why do you not see these open arms that are waiting for you?…you are stopped by little straws, by silly things…,who will not walk if I do not drag you, because it is hard for you to sacrifice yourself.”
WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
“And you still tell Me that you love Me, that you love Me? O, no! Love is not like that! Here, here in this Heart is where fire burns! How ungrateful you are!”
Here I prayed in the spirit of and with some of Conchita’s very words: “Help me, my Life, to destroy within my heart every trace of self-will, self-love, self-indulgence, burning myself like incense—in all my roughness—before your Sacred Heart.”
Threads, hairs, straws, silly things, childish things that we refuse to give up—voluntary desires—voluntary attachments, especially habitual ones, hinder union. St. John gives specific example of these habitual imperfections: “These habitual imperfections are, for example, a common custom of much speaking, or some slight attachment which we never quite wish to conquer — such as that to a person, a garment, a book, a cell, a particular kind of food, tittle-tattle, fancies for tasting, knowing or hearing certain things, and suchlike…any one of these imperfections, if the soul has become attached and habituated to it…”
I persist with my little sister, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, to deepen my interior silence, to live in my sanctuary of the heart, my inner cloister of fiat, to enter within myself the abode of the Indwelling Trinity, “this silent gaze of the Beloved Three, wordless and imageless, which floods the heart with the unfathomable richness of Mystery. “ [Journal July 24, 2016]
Before we begin, let me preface all that follows of Bl. Elizabeth’s spirituality with what Monsigneur du Vauroux writes of her in the preface of the book, The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth, by Father M. M. Philipon: “Like St. Teresa, the dear little sister loved above all else true, strong, beautiful doctrine” [Doctrine xix]. She drew her understanding principally from Sacred Scripture, especially from the Epistles of St. Paul, and from St. John of the Cross.
Rev. Philipon admits frankly that his purpose is to study not only her doctrine, but also her soul. Chapter 1, “Spiritual Journey,” details her interior life in the world, before she entered Carmel, which includes a description of her fiery temperament, her normal social experiences, being surrounded by children and young people who loved her, travels and dances through which she guarded her heart—above all, her desire to enter Carmel from the age of 14, and her decision to wait patiently on her mother, a widow, who was intensely opposed to losing her oldest daughter to the cloister. She was drawn to prayer.
Father reports in this first chapter that “when Elizabeth was shown into her Carmelite cell she was heard to murmur, ‘The Trinity is there!’” When asked a week after she arrived at Carmel to fill out a questionnaire, “What point of the Rule do you like best?” her response: “Silence.”
Father Philipon explains: “In accordance with her special grace, it was in the very depths that she lived her Carmelite ideal. She went straight to the essentials: solitude, the life of continual prayer, the consummation in love….On the mountain of Carmel, in silence, in solitude, in a prayer that never ceases because it continues through all else, the Carmelite lives as though already in heaven, by God alone….so she hungers for silence in order to be always listening, to penetrate ever more deeply into His infinite being” [Doctrine 13-14].
What Elizabeth longed for with all her soul was to seek the Trinity dwelling in the deepest sanctuary of her heart, to listen to that Mystery, the very essence of which is Divine Silence. For that she entered the cloister of Carmel, entered the exterior cloister of the walls. Once inside, she entered more deeply into the inner cloister of her heart to seek the indwelling Trinity which invaded her soul from the first moment of baptism. She declared: “I am Elizabeth of the Trinity, that is, Elizabeth who disappears, who is lost, who lets herself be invaded by the Three.”[Doctrine 49]. One of her favorite Carmelite mottos was this one: “Alone with the great Alone.”
On the day of her profession, she said: “Who could describe the joy of my soul when, on contemplating the crucifix which I received after my profession and which our Reverend Mother placed ‘as a seal on my heart,’ I could say to myself: ‘At last He is all mine and I am all His. I have nothing else but Him. He is my All!’ And now, I have only one desire, to love Him, to love Him all the time, to be zealous for His honor as a true bride, to give Him joy, to make Him happy by preparing a dwelling and a refuge for Him in my soul, so that there He may forget, by the strength of my love, all the abominations of the wicked!” [Doctrine 65]
Her powers of recollection were intense: “She passed through the cloister silent and absorbed, and nothing could distract her from Christ.” This goal of abiding deep in silence with her Beloved in the indwelling Trinity would be the guiding focus of her entire spirituality as she sought to fulfill the true meaning of her name Elizabeth—which means “House of God.”
Beginning with Chapter 2, Father Philipon reveals “The Ascesis of Silence,” telling us that she had a special devotion to the prophet Elias, “who was the first to lead the eremetical [hermit or solitary] life and whom God had commanded to flee from the dwellings of men and to hide himself, far from the multitude, in the desert: ‘Get thee hence…and hide thyself by the torrent of Carith.’” The ideal of Carmel was not to form a community of contemplatives, but to form a collection of hermits, solitary contemplatives. The walls of Carmel offer practical protection and living essentials, but is not meant to dissipate the solitude. This is the life of which Elizabeth dreamed and into which she poured her whole soul. This was also the dearest wish of St. Teresa of Avila, as she says, “Let us call to mind our holy Fathers, those hermits of other days, whose life we seek to copy. What sufferings did they not have to bear, and in what loneliness!” [Doctrine 35].
Father Philipon explains that Bl. Elizabeth distinguishes three kinds of silence: “exterior and interior silence and, finally, a wholly divine silence,” sacred silence or God’s silence [Doctrine 36]. Outward or exterior silence helps to foster and maintain interior silence. Only from interior silence can the soul enter the sacred silence which is the true silence of the Trinity. Elizabeth rigorously protected her exterior silence, ruthlessly pursued interior silence because in her heart of hearts she longed for the true silence of the Mystery of the Trinity. “She loved the silence of her cell…’It is full of God and I spend such happy hours there, alone with the Bridegroom. I keep silence; I listen to Him; it is so good to hear everything from Him…and then, I love Him!” [Doctrine 36].
Elizabeth loved St. Catherine of Siena, the third order Dominican saint, who in her necessary travels, learned to enter her “interior cell” where she found constant refuge in the midst of bustling activity. This is an example of interior silence.
Father Philipon explains: “This is teaching straight from the Gospels: whoever desires to be lifted up to God in prayer must reduce to silence in himself both the empty tumult without and the din within, and retire into the depths of his soul and there in secret, ‘having shut the door,’ recollect himself in his Father’s presence” [Doctrine 39]. Indeed, this was the practice of Christ himself.
This interior silence includes silence of the imagination and other faculties of the soul, a whole interior world of sensations and impressions within us which threatens to take possession of us at any moment. The understanding, too must hush all human commotion within itself. Not all thoughts, thinking, and reflection lead to the sacred silence of the Mystery of God. Father Philipon gives us such a beautiful explanation of Elizabeth’s practice here: “Like her master, St. John of the Cross, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity was ruthless in this respect. ‘We must extinguish every other light,’ and attain to God by nakedness of spirit, and not by building a learned structure of beautiful thoughts” [Doctrine 40].
It seems to me that this one sentence of Father Philipon may be worth the entire post. I have been chewing on this substantial truth for several days now—and will be for days to come.
Father Philipon also reveals: “Above all, there must be silence in the will. The whole drama of our sanctification takes place there; the will is the faculty of love. Rightly does St. John of the Cross assign to the will the final purifications that prepare the way for transforming union. ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, on the way; and on the Mountain, nothing’” [Doctrine 40].
What we will, the object of our will, the focus of our will must be completely purified—“We must extinguish every other light” as Elizabeth puts it—except that of the indwelling Trinity. “’To know nothing….’ To be resolute in passing everything by in order that, in complete self-forgetfulness and abnegation, the soul may be united to God alone….not a material separation from external things, but a solitude of spirit, a detachment from all that is not God” [Doctrine 41].
Near the end of her life, in her last retreat, Sister Elizabeth devotes an entire chapter to the freedom of the soul set free by interior silence: “My Rule tells me: ‘In silence shall be your strength.’ To keep our strength for the Lord is to keep our whole being in unity by interior silence; to collect all our powers, to occupy them in the one work of love, to have the ‘single eye’ which allows the light of God to enlighten us…” Doctrine 42].
To conclude, let us reflect on a beautiful interpretation of scripture by Elizabeth herself: “’Hearken, O daughter…incline thy ear; forget thy people and thy father’s house. And the King shall greatly desire thy beauty.’ This injunction is, I feel, a call to silence. ‘Hearken…incline thy ear.’ But in order to listen, we must forget our ‘father’s house,’ that is, whatever pertains to the natural life, of which the Apostle says: ‘If you live according to the flesh you will die.’ To forget our people is more difficult, for this ‘people’ is that world which is, as it were, a part of ourselves. It includes our feelings, memories, impressions, etc. In a word, it is self. We must forget it, give it up. Then when the soul has broken with it and is wholly delivered from all it means, ‘the King shall greatly desire’ its beauty, for beauty—at least God’s beauty—is unity.”
“The Creator, seeing the beautiful silence that reigns within His creature, who is deeply recollected in her interior solitude, greatly desires her beauty. He leads her into that immense and infinite solitude, into that ‘large place’ of which the Psalmist sings, which is His very self.” Thus, this supreme solitude establishes the soul in the very silence of the Trinity [Doctrine 44-45].
When I was a novice in 1968, in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, I came upon Blessed Elizabeth’s diary– Praise of Glory: Reminiscences of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun of Dijon, 1901-1906. Her diary made a profound impact on me. I identified with her so very much, partly, I guess because she had been so young, and I was young also. But more because so much of her spirituality derived from St. Paul, and I was enamoured with and devoured scripture in these formative years. As I consider her writings today, I realize how little I truly understood—but how I wanted to understand and follow her, completely!
When I returned to the church in 2009, I was so hungry to revisit all that I had missed for so many years, and one of the books which I reread was Elizabeth’s diary. In 2014, I was astounded to learn that my obscure (I thought) little Carmelite had been beatified by Pope John Paul, and that her canonization is in process.
In my posts, I want to do a series on her spirituality. First, her diary is available; but I am reading and meditating deeply another book: The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity by Rev. M. M. Philipon, O. P., the same priest who wrote Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary, another book which has had and is having a profound effect on my life. The first printing of this book about Blessed Elizabeth’s doctrine was 1947, the year after I was born! Thus the style and language is that of the mid 1900’s. Although I did not know till a couple of weeks ago that this book existed, it is available online as a free ebook. Here is the link: http://www.strobertbellarmine.net/books/Elizabeth%20–%20Spiritual%20Doctrine.pdf
As a general introduction to Blessed Elizabeth, I recommend this beautiful short video. As it contains many quotations from her, be ready to pause so that you can read them in full before the screen changes:
Here I am, nearly 50 years after first reading her diary, finally plunging deeply into her remarkable teachings. When I began reading Rev. Philipon’s book which reveals and explains so well her spirituality, especially the first section on silence and solitude, my heart was pierced with sudden longing. This section is one of the most powerful reflections that I have ever read, and makes me more than ever, long to go deeply, deeply into that inner cloister, the intimate sanctuary where dwells “the unfathomable Trinity: ‘Immensus Pater, Immensus Filius, Immensus Spiritus’” in the words of Elizabeth herself.
In my next post, we will take a look at silence and solitude from Blessed Elizabeth’s viewpoint, as illumined by Rev. Philipon. As eager as I am to do this, the work is so profound, I truly feel inadequate to the task, but I will have to rely on the Holy Spirit, to give me what He wants to give you.
First, I have to tell you what this title reminded me of. St. Teresa of Avila, [1515-1582], the great reformer of the Carmelite Order who worked closely with St. John of the Cross, had to travel throughout Spain a great deal despite bad roads and bad health, in order to monitor the convents which she was founding or reforming. I can only imagine how bad the roads were in the 1500’s. Carriages would bounce around quite a bit, and when stuck in the mud, everyone would have to get out to enable the poor horses to pull the carriage out. It must have been on one such occasion that she wearily told Jesus, “No wonder You have so few friends. Look at how You treat them!” What a telling title—truly St. Teresa, author also of Interior Castle, one of the classics on the stages of spiritual life and prayer, was a contemplative in the mud!
How I love this little blog! Daily posts of gems about the contemplative life as lived IN THE MUD–in the highways and byways of the world, as most of us must do! You’ll find many favorite saints here: St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila), Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, Blessed Henry Suso, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901–1925), cardinals and popes, Saint Peter of Alcantara,Saint Paul of the Cross, Little Brother Marcel Văn CSsR (1928–1959), and more.
The author’s name is not given, but he has this to say about himself: I’m a university lecturer. I teach engineering and live in Thailand, but I’m Canadian, white, and Anglo.
As a graduate student in England and France, I converted to the Catholic Church. There was just something in the lives of some friends that I wanted, too. In the few weeks following my initial conversion experience, the words that I found to express this something came from Charles de Foucauld: “See Jesus in all people.”
He has so much wisdom to share about contemplation, the contemplative life; but what I love best are the wonderful quotations from so many saints on the spiritual life, the unitive life.
See his BIG QUESTIONS page for some remarkable articles:
The following is a partial list of ”Big Question” posts.
Is a Contemplative Vocation Really Possible in the World?
Detachment, Dryness, and “Darkness” Experienced in the World
Others Aspects of Contemplation Experienced in the World
What is the Difference Between Meditation and Contemplation?
Action and Contemplation
Become a follower of his blog–you will want to get his daily post in your emails!