“MISERY & MERCY” –St. Faustina

              “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”  I read this line in T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” a poem, nearly 50 years ago.  As a matter of fact, I wrote my master’s thesis on the poem—so I remember pouring over these lines, trying to divine Eliot’s often obscure meanings.  Parts of lines often come to my mind, but I have come to know that this one expresses a great spiritual truth.  Human kind does everything to avoid facing reality: drugs, alcohol, sex, progressively deteriorating entertainment, mindless media, mindless eating—how far and how deep do we really want to go?

In silence and solitude, we cannot escape ourselves, for this is our most basic reality.  To enter reality is to enter self-knowledge; and that is to enter misery. I remember well what I read in St. Faustina’s diary: if God were to give me the full revelation of who and what I am in a  full, instant disclosure of self-knowledge, I would be terrified. However, knowing my misery, God has such tenderness for how such a revelation would affect me, would destroy me, that He gives me self-knowledge in tiny doses, gradually revealing to me the absolute depths of my unique misery.  Even so, occasional events devastate me when I catch a glimpse of myself as He sees me.

In a recent retreat, I meditated on misery with my brothers and sisters.  Until I begin to fathom the depths of my own misery, until I begin to enter self-knowledge, I cannot begin to understand who and what God is, His astonishing mercy.

What is this misery?  Years ago I entered into several deep reflections on original sin—a great place for anyone to start.  We all know we were born in original sin, inheriting our fallen nature from Adam and Eve.  Do you remember what its affects are on “human kind”?  Original sin produces a darkened intellect, a weakened will, and disunity between the soul and the body.  Here is where we start.  Now compound the misery by adding the wounds of personal sin, our own and the wounds we receive from others’ sins, the faults and habits we cannot give up, the vices, etc.  As years pass, we often find ourselves entrenched in these disordered tendencies.  Even as we struggle to gain the habits of virtue, we fall often, and sometimes severely.

St. Paul bemoaned this condition in Romans:

18 And really, I know of nothing good living in me — in my natural self, that is — for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not:

19 the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want — that is what I do.

20 But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me.

21 So I find this rule: that for me, where I want to do nothing but good, evil is close at my side.

22 In my inmost self I dearly love God’s law,

23 but I see that acting on my body there is a different law which battles against the law in my mind. So I am brought to be a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?

25 God — thanks be to him — through Jesus Christ our Lord. So it is that I myself with my mind obey the law of God, but in my disordered nature I obey the law of sin.”

How does baptism affect original sin and our fallen nature?  The Catholic Catechism teaches us:

1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

            The saints were not free of this misery, either.  If they entered into self-knowledge—and they certainly did—then they experienced the same great depth of human misery that we all experience.  St. Faustina uses the word misery 115 times in her diary.  She tells us:

[56]“…from the beginning I have been aware of my weakness. I know very well what I am of myself, because for this purpose Jesus has opened the eyes of my soul; I am an abyss of misery, and hence I understand that whatever good there is in my soul consists solely of His holy grace. The knowledge of my own misery allows me, at the same time, to know the immensity of Your mercy. In my own interior life, I am looking with one eye at the abyss of my misery and baseness, and with the other, at the abyss of Your mercy, O God.”

St. Faustina also gives us the key to joy in our misery!  Because in us “deep calls unto deep”—deep misery calls to deeper mercy.     She writes:

[66]“Truly, Jesus, I become frightened when I look at my own misery, but at the same time I am reassured by Your unfathomable mercy, which exceeds my misery by the measure of all eternity. This disposition of soul clothes me in Your power. O joy that flows from the knowledge of one’s self!”

Long before St. Faustina or any of the saints, Mary, the Blessed Mother herself, taught us this joy in her Magnificat:  “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”  The very depth of our misery is an abyss of hunger for goodness which only His mercy can fill.  Only the truly poor in spirit can be filled with the riches of His mercy. If we do not acknowledge or even know our misery, we are the rich which He sends empty away.  How foolish we are to hide behind our pride, our false wealth, our masks, our claims that we are perfectly fine, that we don’t need anything—thank you very much!

Let us reflect and pray with St. Faustina:

“69 (29) + O Jesus, eternal Truth, strengthen my feeble forces; You can do all things, Lord. I know that without You all my efforts are in vain. O Jesus, do not hide from me, for I cannot live without You. Listen to the cry of my soul, Your mercy has not been exhausted, Lord, so have pity on my misery.”

“[52] God demands great purity of certain souls, and so He gives them a deeper knowledge of their own misery. Illuminated by light from on high, the soul can better know what pleases God and what does not.”

“[113] Pride keeps it [the soul] in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery.”

“283 I want to love You as no human soul has ever loved You before; and although I am utterly miserable and small, I have, nevertheless, cast the anchor of my trust deep down into the abyss of Your mercy, O my God and Creator! In spite of my great misery I fear nothing, but hope to sing You a hymn of glory for ever.”

“289 My happiest moments are when I am alone with my Lord. During these moments I experience the greatness of God and my own misery.”

“[346]  Suddenly, I heard these words: You are My delightful dwelling place; My Spirit rests in you. After these words, I felt the Lord looking into the depths of my heart; and seeing my misery, I humbled myself in spirit and admired the immense mercy of God, that the Most High Lord would approach such misery.”

“363 O good Jesus, thank You for the great grace of making known to me what I am of myself: misery and sin, and nothing more. I can do only one thing of myself, and that is to offend You, O my God, because misery can do no more of itself than offend You, O infinite Goodness!”

“[411] …I thought I would die of joy. At such times, my knowledge of God and his attributes becomes more acute, and also I know my own self and my misery much better. I am amazed at the Lord’s great condescension to such a miserable soul as mine.”

“435] Then I heard these words: Do not fear; I Myself will make up for everything that is lacking in you. But these words penetrated me to my depths and made me even more aware of my misery, and I understood that the word of the Lord is living and that it penetrates to the very depths. I understood that God demands a more perfect way of life of me. However, I kept using my incompetence as an excuse.”

593 O my Jesus, nothing is better for the soul than humiliations. In contempt is the secret of happiness, when the soul recognizes that, of itself, it is only wretchedness and nothingness, and that whatever it possesses of good is a gift of God. When the soul sees that everything is given it freely and that the only thing it has of itself is its own misery, this is what sustains it in a continual act of humble prostration before the majesty of God. And God, seeing the soul in such a disposition, pursues it with His graces. As the soul continues to immerse itself more deeply into the abyss of its nothingness and need, God uses His omnipotence to exalt it. If there is a truly happy soul upon earth, it can only be a truly humble soul. At first, one’s self-love suffers greatly on this account, but after a soul has struggled courageously. God grants it much light by which it sees how wretched and full of deception everything is. God alone is in its heart. A humble soul does not trust itself, but places all its confidence in God. God defends the humble soul and lets Himself into its secrets, and the soul abides in unsurpassable happiness which no one can comprehend.”

“[605] The Lord has inclined himself to my misery like a ray of the sun upon a barren and rocky desert. And yet, under the influence of His rays, my soul has become covered with verdure, flowers, and fruit, and has become a beautiful garden for His repose.”

“606 My Jesus, despite Your graces, I see and feel all my misery. I begin my day with battle and end it with battle. As soon as I conquer one obstacle, ten more appear (69) to take its place. But I am not worried, because I know that this is the time of struggle, not peace. When the burden of the battle becomes too much for me, I throw myself like a child into the arms of the heavenly Father and trust I will not perish. O my Jesus, how prone I am to evil, and this forces me to be constantly vigilant. But I do not lose heart. I trust God’s grace, which abounds in the worst misery.

“672  His justice pervades me to the marrow; outwardly I lose strength and consciousness. With this, I come to know the great holiness of God and my own great misery. A great torment affects my soul; the soul perceives its deeds to be not without blemish. Then the strength of trust is awakened in the soul, which longs for God with all its might. Yet is sees how miserable it is and what utter vanity everything that surrounds it. And face to face with such holiness, Oh, poor soul…”

“718 After Holy Communion, I heard these words:- You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this. If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. However, be aware of what you are. Because you are such great misery, I have revealed to you the whole ocean of My mercy. I seek and desire souls like yours, but they are few. Your great trust in Me forces Me to continuously grant you graces. You have great and incomprehensible rights over My Heart, for you are a daughter of complete trust. You would not have been able to bear the magnitude of the love which I have for you if I had revealed it to you fully here on earth. I often give you a glimpse of it, but know that this is only an exceptional grace from Me. My love and mercy knows no bounds.”

“723  …your heart is My constant dwelling place, despite the misery that you are. I unite Myself with you, take away your misery and give you My mercy. I perform works of mercy in every soul. The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.”

“852 (232) Today the Lord’s gaze shot through me suddenly, like lightning. At once, I came to know the tiniest specks in my soul, and knowing the depths of my misery, I fell to my knees and begged the Lord’s pardon, and with great trust I immersed myself in His infinite mercy. Such knowledge does not depress me nor keep me away from the Lord, but rather it arouses in my soul greater love and boundless trust. The repentance of my heart is linked to love. These extraordinary flashes from the Lord educate my soul. O sweet rays of God, enlighten me to the most secret depth, for I want to arrive at the greatest possible purity of heart and soul.”

1182 (50) + Today the Lord said to me, My daughter, My pleasure and delight, nothing will stop me from granting you graces. Your misery does not hinder my mercy. My daughter, write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; [urge] all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all.

“1273 Jesus: My daughter, do you think you have written enough about My mercy? What you have written is but a drop compared to the ocean. I am Love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.”

“1318 Jesus said to me, My daughter, you have not offered Me that which is really yours. I probed deeply into myself and found that I love God with all the faculties of my soul and, unable to see what it was that I had not yet given to the Lord, I asked, ‘Jesus, tell me what it is, and I will give it to You at once with a generous heart.’ Jesus said to me with kindness, Daughter, give Me your misery, because it is your exclusive property. At that moment, a ray of light illumined my soul, and I saw the whole abyss of my misery. In that same moment I nestled close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with so much trust that even if I had the sins of all the damned weighing on my conscience, I would not have doubted God’s mercy but, with a heart crushed to dust, I would have thrown myself into the abyss of Your mercy.”

“1485I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart. Your misery has disappeared in the depths of My mercy. Do not argue with Me about your wretchedness. You will give me pleasure if you hand over to me all your troubles and griefs. I shall heap upon you the treasures of My grace.”

“1602 If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.”

“1775 Jesus said, For you, I am mercy itself; therefore I ask you to offer Me your misery and this very helplessness of yours and, in this way, you will delight My Heart.”

 

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HUMILITY

Over the last few weeks I have been tested, leaving me in some desolation of spirit, but mostly stripping me of my self-confidence.  I have been on a steep learning curve which shocked and confused me.  Then this week everything which comes before me is about humility—confirming the whole point of my hard lessons.

Powerful words came to me from my spiritual mother, Lourdes, in a teaching which she sent to our whole community.  What especially struck me were these two passages from The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena:

“For one does not arrive at virtue except through knowledge of self, and knowledge of Me, which knowledge is more perfectly acquired in the time of temptation, because then man knows himself to be nothing, being unable to lift off himself the pains and vexations which he would flee…”

Then this one:

“…in order to exercise them in virtue and raise them above their imperfection, I withdraw from their minds My consolation and allow them to fall into battles and perplexities.  This I do so that, coming to perfect self-knowledge, they may know that of themselves they are nothing and have no grace, and accordingly in time of battle fly to Me, as their Benefactor, seeking me alone, with true humility…”

These passages tell me that God permits, even takes care to design, pains, vexations, battles, and perplexities specifically to teach me humility, my powerlessness, my utter inability to help myself, that I may fly to Him.  Yes, this is exactly where I have been in the last few weeks.

How kind the Holy Spirit—all this week He has brought all manner of teaching about humility to my face, reinforcing what I learned with great pains in the battles.

In the meditation today in DIVINE INTIMACY by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D., I read:  “We must humble ourselves …under the mighty hand of God, sincerely recognize our nothingness, take account of our poverty; and if we wish to glorify ourselves, we must glory, like St. Paul, solely in our infirmities. It is only in our weakness, humbly acknowledged, that grace and divine virtue work and triumph…[God] stoops only to the humble; the more lowly He finds a soul, the closer He draws it to Himself.  Humility deepens the soul’s capacity to receive the fullness of divine gifts.” [#106]

How long have I known this?  For years.  In how many battles has God permitted me to learn this? I cannot begin to estimate.  Why am I so hard-headed?  Yet to know this in an intellectual way is to remain ignorant still.

We have to experience the full frustration of deception by the evil one, perplexities, vexations, and spiritual pain—to endure a real beating sometimes—to gain the experience of our nothingness.  And then to repeat the whole process often at a later time!  What miserable children we are!

I also found in ROSARY TO THE INTERIOR [http://rosarytotheinterior.com/the-first-joyful-mystery-the-annunciation/ ] this passage from the reflection on the Annunciation/Incarnation:

“The one truth regarding Our Lord’s Incarnation which is totally inexplicable, and therefore truly does make it the ‘most hidden’ of all of the mysteries of Christ is offered to us in a passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians:

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (2: 5-8).

“ It is the humility of Christ in the Incarnation which is the ‘least understood’ of all the mysteries of Our Lord. It can make no rational sense to us as to why an Eternal and Infinitely Perfect God should lower himself to be united in human nature with men who are nothing in themselves; that He should then voluntarily suffer the most ignominious and cruel death at the hands of men – that He should be spat upon, scourged, mockingly tortured with a crown of cruel thorns, forced to bear His own Cross, and Crucified – in order to merit the grace of their salvation; and then still be rejected by the vast majority of mankind.”

If He emptied Himself, how can I not empty myself?  In DIVINE INTIMACY, same meditation, St. Therese exclaims: “O Divine Guest, You know my misery; that is why You come to me in the hope of finding an empty tabernacle, a heart wholly emptied of self.  This is all You ask.”

Finally, last night I was deeply touched by Mark Mallett’s post, “On True Humility.”  I have read repeatedly the wonderful poem and part of his post which I cite here:

“Humility is perpetual quietness of heart.
It is to have no trouble.
It is never to be fretted, vexed, irritated,  sore, or disappointed.
It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing  that is done to me,
to feel nothing done against me.
It is to be at rest when nobody praises me,
and when I am blamed and despised.
It is to have a blessed home in myself,  where I can go in,
shut the door, kneel to my God in secret, 
and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness
when all around and above is troubled.
(Author Unknown) 

“Finally, a soul is abiding in true humility when it embraces all of the above—but resists any kind of self-satisfaction—as if to say, “Ah, I am finally getting it; I’ve got it figured out; I’ve arrived… etc.” St. Pio warned of this most subtle enemy:

“Let us always be on the alert and not let this very formidable enemy [of self-satisfaction] penetrate our minds and hearts, because, once it enters, it ravages every virtue, mars every holiness, and corrupts everything that is good and beautiful. —from Padre Pio’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day, edited by Gianluigi Pasquale, Servant Books; Feb. 25th

“Whatever is good is God’s—the rest is mine. If my life bears good fruit, it is because He who is Good is working in me. For Jesus said, “without me, you can do nothing.” [3]

“Repent of pride, rest in God’s will, and relinquish any self-satisfaction, and you will discover the sweetness of the Cross. For the Divine Will is the seed of true joy and real peace. It is food for the humble.”

I don’t know where Mark found this little poem, but how amazing it is.  How amazing that the Holy Spirit constantly supports us with every grace for union with God—whatever we need. This Lent is a time of immense grace and gratitude for me—I hope it is the same for you.

The Passion of Jesus and Mary for Lent

As we enter Lent in a few days, we need to spend some time contemplating the Passion, perhaps with the Stations of the Cross of St. Faustina.

Wonderful promises are also available to those who take a few minutes each day to reflect on the Sorrows of Mary [youtube video]. 

With the following powerpoint, say a Hail Mary after each reflection as you gaze at the beautiful icon of her sorrow.

SEVEN SORROWS OF MARY

 

These are the seven promises Our Lady made, through St. Bridget of Sweden, to those who are devoted to meditating on her Seven Sorrows:

1. “I will grant peace to their families.”

2. “They will be enlightened about the Divine Mysteries.”

3. “I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”

4. “I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my Divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”

5. “I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”

6. “I will visibly help them at the moment of their death. They will see the face of their Mother.”

7. “I have obtained this grace from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and dolors, will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son and I will be their eternal consolation and joy.”

Additionally, as relayed by St. Alphonsus de Liguori in his classic work The Glories of Mary, Our Lord promised four graces to those devoted to the Sorrows of his Blessed Mother:

1. That those who before death invoke the divine Mother in the name of Her Sorrows will obtain true repentance of all their sins;

2. That He will protect all who have this devotion in their tribulations, and will protect them especially at the hour of death;

3.  That He will impress on their minds the remembrance of His Passion;

4. That He will place such devout servants in Mother Mary’s hands to do with them as She wishes and to obtain for them all the graces She desires.

“Withdraw…”

For a couple of weeks now, after my post, “These eyes will behold…” I have continued reflecting on custody of the eyes, tongue, ears, etc.  To be watchful is to guard your senses.  Then I decided to do some research and prayerful thinking about hermits and anchorites.  Of course, everyone knows what a hermit is, but I mean a hermit of the Lord, one who withdraws from social interaction in some solitary place, someone who keeps to himself in silence in order to live more completely in the presence of God. As in the Middle Ages, a resurgence of this vocation is springing up and flourishing throughout Christendom, including in the Catholic Church.  Many vow poverty, chastity, and obedience to their bishop, to a simple rule which they themselves write, and which the bishop approves.

Less familiar is the anchorite or anchoress.  In the Middle Ages, such a person attached himself or herself to a church, chapel, or monastery, even to go so far as to construct the anchorage or cell to the outside of the church itself with one window opening to the interior of the church and one window opening to the outside, to the street.  Not entirely silent, the anchorite—usually an anchoress or woman—lived close to the Eucharistic Presence and attended Mass through the interior window, but was able to respond to people who might come for assistance in prayer or counsel through the exterior window.  The anchorite/anchoress was believed to be a true anchor of prayer for the church or monastery, and as such was welcomed by the priest, bishop, or community.

What both the hermit and anchorite have in common is a more intense withdrawal from the world in order to devote their life to God.  “The word anchoress comes from the Greek anachoreo meaning to withdraw.”

The times being what they are, I have come to the conclusion that I myself need to intensify my prayer life, to withdraw more completely from the world.  To severely reduce television time, secular reading, etc., to practice better custody of the eyes, ears, tongue in order to have more solitude of silence and a deeper prayer life.

On Jan. 30, I reflected on the word withdraw during Adoration. I visualized someone (like me) on the verge of exiting a building, a little house—but stopping, backing up, watching what is before her, stepping backwards, drawing herself within her house, refusing to exit her home, seeing what is out there, refusing to participate in it.  This is, of course, a crude image, but it states a truth, nevertheless. Watchfulness is certainly a part of the process, a discerning look at what is about, what is before me and around me. Custody of the eyes, the ears, the tongue constitutes the heart of this watchfulness, not to let the world in, people, yes, but not the world, not sin, not sinful inclinations. Not the territory, the atmosphere, the flavor, the fascination, the seductive draw of the world, the flesh, and the devil. To avoid anything that may be the least bit tainted.

It will take me the rest of my life to learn this life of withdrawal.  What I withdraw from is what is outside, what the anchoress perceives through her exterior window, if you will.

I am fully aware, also, of the role that memory will play in all of this.  The reality of the world has fastened itself in great, colorful detail to my soul through my memory, and it is probably this internal construct of the world that will give me the greatest struggle.  I can withdraw from the world, but will the world leave me if it lives within me?  It will require constant renunciation, vigilance, surrender to the Holy Spirit and Abandonment to Christ.

Then we have the other half—or more—of the equation.  If I am withdrawing [drawing myself within], to what inside am I drawn?  Here it is the interior window which is all important—the opening to the Eucharistic Christ.  To the extent I withdraw from, I must be equally drawn to:  To be crucified with Him and to be hidden with Christ in God—to be drawn, to be present to the indwelling Trinity.  This is the within.

To be an anchoress is not only to withdraw, but more significantly, to dwell within, to indwell. Physical separation and solitude give the walls.  Vigilance and discernment give the cloister. Interior silence gives the substance.

Today, I was reading St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, remembering her three levels of silence:  the silence of the walls of Carmel [exterior silence], the interior silence of her inner cloister, and the silence for which she most longed:  the great silence of God [the indwelling Trinity in the sanctuary of the heart].

The whole purpose of the life of anchoress is to live in all three levels of silence, especially in the silence of the indwelling Trinity. One thing that I have learned by reading online, is that today this vocation can take many shapes, enabling those called to an eremitical lifestyle to  fashion it in ways appropriate to their abilities and resources. This includes private consecrations or public witness of consecration according to Canon 603.

As we enter Lent, let us withdraw to the sanctuary of our hearts, to be watchful in prayer, to wait on the Lord.  What else can we do in the silence, in the separation, in the long hours of day or night, except to repulse every influence that is not from God?  To turn always, to be drawn to the Blessed Trinity who dwells in our heart.  It is enough that we are present and not distracted more than we have to be.  Let us practice being attentive to the burning Hearth and Fire in the center of our being.

HELPFUL LINKS:

Embracing the Eremitical Life

How I Became a Medieval Style Anchorite

Hermits in Diocesan Life–The Anchorite

Hermits and the Roman Catholic Church

How to become a Catholic Hermit

“These eyes will behold…”

Near the end of my rosary this morning before Mass, as I gazed at the Tabernacle, these words came to my mind, brought to me by the Holy Spirit:  “These eyes will behold the Glory!” The Glory of Christ, of the Blessed Trinity—all that awaits us in Heaven!  These physical eyes of mine that gaze at the Tabernacle, at the wonder of the Eucharist, our Bread Who has come down from Heaven will still be my eyes in Heaven!

The same eyes that I use in Adoration, in my home, in the streets, in watching television….  I realized how precious is the purity of our eyes.  How critical that we “guard our eyes.”  The Fathers of the Church have much to say about “custody of the eyes.”

I read online:  “At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

 “Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. ‘To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,’ says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.” [https://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/06/custody-of-the-eyes-what-it-is-and-how-to-practice-it/]

Sam Guzman, the author, offers many practical suggestions as to how to maintain custody of the eyes, so difficult in today’s world.

I am a rather solitary person, but I have had an experience recently while watching television which has prompted me to sharply reduce the amount of time and what I watch.  As I viewed a movie, suddenly erotic scenes erupted before me.  To my shame, I was caught off-guard and did not turn away.  This failure I had to bring to confession.  Because we never know when such scenes may rise, we need to be prudent and eliminate all possibilities.  Safest to watch older films which never tread on purity or engage in content offensive to faith.

“If your eye offends you, pluck it out.” – Jesus

 “The thought follows the look; delight comes after the thought; and consent after delight.”  -Saint Augustine – Bishop of Hippo, Father, and Doctor of the Church

 “Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!”  – St. Alphonsus de Ligouri

“The eyes, because they draw us to sin, must be depressed. He that looks at a dangerous object begins to will what he wills not.”-Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Father and Doctor of the Church, Mor. J. 21, c. 2.

Sister Maria Catherine, O.P. asks us: “What am I thinking about all day long? What am I putting into my mind to nourish it? Monastic writers discuss a practice called “custody of the eyes,” at length. These wise fathers in the faith encourage me to discipline my eyes. When I’m driving along the highway, do I have to look at every billboard? When I go grocery shopping, do I dwell on a Kardashian gracing the cover of People?

 “My mind needs something life-giving to feast on. Paul emphasizes this, when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). How do I find more of these things to dwell on? A twofold approach could be helpful: Where am I wasting time on frivolous images?  What am I reading? What do I listen to? Minimizing the time spent on what doesn’t lead me to God, will help me to make room for the things that will deepen my relationship with Christ and open my heart to what is truly restorative. ”  [http://www.catholic-sf.org/CSF-home/voices/article/csf/2017/01/01/practicing-custody-of-the-eyes]

As with the eyes, so with the ears; and equally, with the tongue.

Last night as I listened to Marino Restrepo,  Catholic Evangelist from Colombia, he advised that the first thing that we should do when we rise in the morning is to “consecrate our tongue to the Lord,” for custody of the tongue is equally important.  Even in the Old Testament, we read:  “Set a watch, Lord, beside my mouth and a door about my lips.” [Psalm 38:1]  The same tongue that we use daily to talk to our family, to visit with co-workers, will be the same tongue with which we will adore the Holy Trinity for all eternity.

St. James cautions us about the use of our tongues: “So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire.” [James 3:5-6]

What is obvious is all the sins, venial and mortal, which we commit with the tongue, sins against charity, patience, even purity.  What is not so obvious is the seriousness of the wasteful and idle words we speak.  Jesus told us in the New Testament:  “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.” [Matthew 12:36] This “idle” has alternately been translated as “careless,” “thoughtless,” “empty,” and “worthless.”  Mea Culpa. This teaching of Jesus has always struck me with a pang of dread and fear. Which of us has not been guilty of idle talk often, if not constantly?

In the midst of His teachings in the discourse on the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us:  “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”   [Matthew 5:37] Jesus urges no subterfuge, duplicity, dishonesty, but purity in speech, simplicity, and transparency. I see in His words also an urgency to paucity, not to multiply words, but to respect silence as an option in many situations, with many people.

As we approach Lent, let us seriously consider working on custody of the eyes, ears, or tongue—wherever we most grievously offend our Lord.

“REMAIN With Me” — Reflections by Lourdes Pinto

A couple of weeks ago, our spiritual mother, Lourdes, sent a beautiful reflection on the Joyful Mysteries to our community, “Remain with Me.”  I have been praying the rosary, meditating on the main ideas; but what stays with me are the beginning and part of the meditation on the Presentation. This I have entered deeply, or it has penetrated my mind and my heart in a way it never has before:

 “…REMAIN with Me as I continue to shed tears for Jerusalem… remain with Me in My continuous agony for souls, to participate with Me in the salvation of the world, as you choose daily to receive the brokenness of the souls I have placed in your lives and to suffer with Me for them.” [Emphasis mine]

 Also, during this time I have been watching some videos on GMO’s, [genetically modified organisms] which pervade our food, and fluoride, a toxic additive in much of the water in the United States.  [See also The Real Truth about GMO’s and Seeds of Death.] How are these two activities related?  Watching the videos, surveying the health damage to so many lives, the genetic destruction of creation, the animals and plants, my heart was pierced with sorrow, great heaviness hanging over me till I had to cry,  “My Lord, what have they done to You?” In her contemplation of Christ’s Passion, St. Faustina cried out:  “O eternal and infinite God, what has love done to You?….” [Diary of St. Faustina, #267]

Not only all of humanity, but all of creation suffers in agony and anguish from sin, since greed and corruption strike not only the people, all people whom God loves so much, but also His creation.  How can the Lord of all creation not groan when He sees what is happening?  St. Paul tells us:  “For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth…all things were created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 16-17). And also, St. Paul tells us further in Romans 8: 20-22 that creation is a slave to corruption and “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” as we wait for the redemption of our bodies.

I can’t help but realize that Christ is weeping over Jerusalem, over His people, His whole creation now, every day; and that His suffering in us intensifies daily as even creation waits for its liberation and “we wait for the redemption of our bodies.”

The teaching from the reflection on the Presentation is this:       Remain with Jesus as our hearts are pierced. How? By REMAINING IN THE PAIN….enter, through deep contemplation, the sorrows of the brokenness of the souls we live amongst. This deep and hidden pain must consume the heart of a hidden victim soul so that we live more-and-more consumed in the pain and love of the Sacred Heart, until that subtle transformation is accomplished in us – no longer I live, but Christ’s pain and love lives in me.

            Remaining in the sorrows of Christ becomes our means to ‘pray without ceasing’!”

 Our community teaches us that we first have to enter our own wounds, core wounds, mother/father wounds, etc. To peel back the layers with which we have buried them, running away from them, denying them.  To cleanse from the wounds the lies with which Satan has infested them, the lies which led us into disordered reactions, defensive devices, even sinful ones.  First we must cleanse our personal  wounds through pure repentence and abandonment of our wounds to Christ.  Then only can we enter the pain and suffering of Christ. First, we must fully experience our own pain and suffering. We must remain in the pain.  Not block it, dodge it, or deny it. And we must continue to do this daily as we are wounded daily in so many ways.

To touch the wounds of Christ with our wounds is to touch His love. To enter the wounds of Christ through our wounds is to suffer as One with Him,  creating intimacy, Union.  We read in The Path:  “Lived this way, our wounds become a passage into His Sacred Heart.” [Simple Path, 3-A-1, p. 94]

I was amazed to realize that the sorrow and great heaviness that I felt on watching these videos indicated new personal wounds, and like all our personal wounds, I needed to enter through them into the suffering of Christ.

Through the intimacy of suffering with Christ, our personal pain is transformed into the pain of Christ for his beloved souls and for creation.

 It is, as Lourdes explains to us, that we must “enter, through deep contemplation, the sorrows of the brokenness of the souls we live amongst.” Truly, as soon as we become consumed by the pain and agony of the Sacred Heart, we become consumed by the brokenness of the souls who are the focus of His anguish.

 What to do with this pain?  REMAIN in the suffering of Christ.  For “Remaining in the sorrows of Christ becomes our means to ‘pray without ceasing’!”

St. Paul tells us in Rom. 8:17 that if we suffer with Him, then we will be glorified with Him.  The point is that we must suffer with Him first.

Lourdes refers also to St. Paul’s beautiful scripture in Galatians 2:19-20:  “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”  What she actually says is this:  …”no longer I live but Christ’s pain and love lives in me.” What has happened in the process of taking my wound to the wounds of Christ is transformation:  “we live more-and-more consumed in the pain and love of the Sacred Heart, until that subtle transformation is accomplished in us: no longer I live but Christ’s pain and love lives in me.”

Through this transformation into the Heart of Christ, we become His living hosts, suffering and praying ceaselessly for His entire creation, assuaging His anguish for the souls He so loves.

“Like a Bird to its Nest” – Sr. Ruth Burrows, O.C.D

Since Friday when I read this—the Gospel was on the Presentation in the Temple, and Simeon—and again today, Sunday, the same Gospel, this phrase has haunted me, charmed me, teased me.  The quotation comes from the reflection by Sr. Ruth Burrows, O.C.D. in the Magnificat magazine.  It begins:  “When his parents brought the Child Jesus into the Temple, Simeon held out his arms to receive him.  An old man stretches out for the Child; the Child comes to him like a bird to its nest.” Here is a picture of what can be, of what should be. He always comes to waiting arms.” [“Simeon’s Waiting Arms, p. 433]

Simeon is an old man.  He has been waiting for years, promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Salvation of Israel.  Did he know to wait for a child?  If not, then what?  The tent of his heart has been pulled, stretched, till his very body stretches to receive the Child, the desired One of all the ages, thousands of years.  His is the Salvation which Moses did not see, not Abraham, not Elijah, not Jeremiah in his bitter Lamentations or even Isaiah who told us that the virgin would be with child—Emmanuel, God with us.

Waiting in the Temple, when he sees this divine Baby, old man Simeon stretches his very heart, stretches out his arms,  longing to enfold the Desired One.  And what of Jesus?  Like a bird to its nest” the Child nestles in the old man’s arms. To the longing heart, Jesus has come home.

Sister Ruth continues:  “Let us ask him to show us how our arms are kept back from stretching towards him.  Let us begin all over again to live for him.  Simeon’s selflessness is an echo of Jesus’ selflessness.  Simeon and Jesus suit one another.  Both have one mind, one will.  This is what can be, what should be….”

We all know that if our arms are full of packages we cannot stretch them out to receive a baby.  No, it is only the empty arms, the stripped heart and will that can stretch out to receive the Christ.  But what a delight for the devout who wait like the ten wise virgins—their lamps full of oil for the coming of the bridegroom; for those who pray without ceasing by living with great love in the Temple of their ordinary lives; for those stretched in longing in the tedious, humdrum days of all their years; for those reaching for Jesus who comes with all the enthusiastic joy of a baby cooing and waving his precious little arms, launching Himself “like a bird to its nest” in our hearts.

Faith through Persecution – SILENCE, directed by Martin Scorsese

Flowing from the manger in Bethlehem and the radiance of the Christ Child, we have today the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen—in true counterpoint.  I could not help but think of the film which I watched recently on Amazon prime, director Martin Scorcese’s SILENCE, 28 years in the making, his great passion and dream.

      This heart-piercing, soul-rending film explores in great depth the persecution of the faith, of both Christians and Catholics in Japan in 1633.  Purportedly about the apostate priests of the time, to me it renders better what faith is, the suffering and perseverance of these great martyrs, as well as the cunning cruelty of those who persecuted them, who used every trickery especially to make the priests, themselves, apostasize.  The film will stay with you long after you watch it.  It is most humbling.

 See also Scorsese’s dramatic interview on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbYiGdinejU

DIVINE OFFICE – Podcast

This week I have once again returned to the beautiful prayers of the Divine Office.  I own the four volume collection of Divine Office books, but for various reasons, over the last months, I had stopped using the full office, praying instead (not very regularly) the shorter version provided by MAGNIFICAT.  

What I found helpful is the PODCAST of the Divine Office, beautifully sung and chanted by divineoffice.org.  User-friendly, I can listen and pray along, reading in my book of the divine office.  Find the podcasts here, all free:  PODCAST OF THE DIVINE OFFICE.

Text and audio here:  DIVINE OFFICE.ORG

Have a most blessed Christmas.  Find a way to enrich your spiritual life this new year.  So many resources are available, online and elswhere.

CANTICLE of CANTICLES–St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons

Just a few days ago, I found a treasure online, a profound work by St. Bernard which I had never seen before.  However, the format of the files was so difficult to read that I was moved immediately to edit it myself, making it user friendly and scaled to fit on phone or tablet.  The Table of Contents is on p.. 16.  Pages are designated in blue; find titles in bold red.  Enjoy!

B-_ST_BERNARD_-Canticle_of_Canticles_Sermons