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.

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“Jesus, Radiance of the Father”

I looked but cannot find where I read last night,  “The Father spoke one Word….”  I would rather say, “The Father speaks one Word,” because He speaks His Word eternally, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever will be….” During Adoration, this innocent sentence suddenly exploded in my consciousness, for I heard the Father speak “JESUS” and radiance permeated ALL—the untold stars and galaxies bleeding the light of time, millions of trees exulting in green praise, with so many creatures—from the invisible microbes to the majestic sea creatures swarming the great deep seas, mountains rushing to break through the crust of the earth, and the waters—the rushing, glad waters of earth, and the people, all the souls tenderly fashioned in love… All explosions of light pouring through the eternal Word, this one Word of the Father made flesh in Jesus!

I cannot get over this—this “procession of the Trinity” which amazes me and intrigues me every time I think of it.  How can I say it so you can begin to realize the wonder of it? I continually try to uncover for myself some little aspect of this procession of the eternal Word from the Father, because I can’t get my head or my heart around it.  Jesus is the Plenitude of the expression of the Father’s essence. There is nothing that the Father is that is not totally expressed and radiated by Jesus in His divinity.

I found online that St. John of the Cross wrote in his MAXIMS AND COUNSELS:  “21. The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.”

St. Paul tells us in Colossians:  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him.

“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together….” [Col. 1: 15-16]  And a little later:  “the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.  But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery…it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”  [Col. 1: 25-27]

While praying late one night several years ago, the Holy Spirit gave me this sentence:  “Jesus is the Outpouring of the Father’s Heart.” I wrote a post on this sentence three years ago.  I was then astounded and so unbelievably touched because I understood for the first time that Jesus is the Revelation of the Sacred Heart of the Father. I wrote then:

Several months ago I was reading one of Father George A. Maloney’s books, Abiding in the Indwelling Trinity….“His baptism would be of water and blood poured out from his loving heart, the heart of the suffering God imaged in Jesus“   [p. 86].  What we have here suddenly is an image of the Sacred Heart of the Father!  “For the contemplative Christian, poor in spirit and pure of heart, the complete self-emptying (kenosis) even to the last drop of blood and water has fullest meaning only in being an exact image of the heart of God the Father in his infinite, tender, self-sacrificing love for all of us.”  [p. 87] The Father is not incarnate; only Jesus has a human heart which undergoes the baptism of fire–but the Heart of Jesus is the Incarnation of the Will of the Father, the Heart of the Father, if you will.  Just as Jesus told Philip,  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9], to know the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to know the Sacred Heart of the Father.”

The mysteries of the Blessed Trinity leave us breathless, speechless, lost in astonished humility. If we are faithful, the Holy Spirit has a way of striking us in the heart with a simple word from the Heart of the Mystery that sets us on fire, that drops us to our knees, prostrate with adoration. That word can come from nature, from a talk, from Scripture, from a saint, from a book—from literally anywhere.  As St. John of the Cross tells us:  “and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence must It be heard by the soul.”

[See also “Our Sins are Burned Away by the Light of Jesus”]

 

“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.

“What is the Glory of God?” – St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

During a spiritual conversation with another Carmelite nun one day, St. Elizabeth was struck by a scripture of St. Paul which the older nun shared with her:  “praise of glory.”  The phrase occurs three times in succession in Ephesians 1:

Verse 5-6: “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the Beloved.”

 Ephesians 11-12 :  “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory….”

 Ephesians 3:13-14 – “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.”

 Elizabeth was enthralled to discover her purpose, her vocation, her very name: “Laudem Gloriae,” Praise of Glory.  Years ago, as a young novice in my 20’s, I was equally enthralled.  But what is this glory?  I exist to praise His Glory,  so what is the glory of God?

This, Father M. M. Philipon, O. P. explains in his book:  THE SPIRITUAL DOCTRINE OF SISTER ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY.  [He wrote the book long before her canonization.]  This excerpt from his book is so beautiful I will quote it in its entirety [bold emphases are mine]:

1.  What is the glory of God? The radiant manifestation of what He is, the revelation of His infinite perfections.

2. There are two kinds of glory in God: His personal glory within Himself, and His external glory in the universe He has created.  There is no question here of His essential glory, that glory which God finds in Himself, in His Word, in the unique eternal Thought which adequately expresses all that He is in the indivisible Unity of His Essence and the Trinity of the Persons.  The Word expresses everything:  the inexhaustible fecundity of the bosom of the Father, the beauty of the son, the Love that perfects Them in Unity, the universe which has come into being by their creative might and which remains in the hands of God like a plaything. Thus the Father manifests His own glory to the Son. The Father shines out in the Word, the image and splendor of His glory; the Word manifests to the Father all that He is in Himself.  In Him, the Father and the Son know the Eternal Love that unites them.  Such is the essential glory of God, that personal intra-Trinitarian glory which is the Word.

 3.  The universe adds nothing to this infinite glory, and before the Holy Trinity even the very soul of Christ must acknowledge its nothingness. In the three-fold society of the divine Persons and the indivisible unity of their Essence, God is sufficient to Himself.  All that can come to Him from without, even from Christ, is only accidental.  And yet, notwithstanding, God claims it absolutely, because the hierarchy of values and the order of creation so requires.  To the Creator belong honor, wisdom, power, and glory.

 4. …[Elizabeth] understood perfectly that she was bound to become a saint in the first place for God; and to become as great a saint as possible because His glory was closely linked with her sanctity….She understood that the higher a soul is raised on the summits of transforming union, the better it will fulfill its office of ‘Praise of Glory.’ God is glorified in the measure in which ‘the beauty’ of His perfections is reflected in souls…

 5. The glorified souls, those who contemplate God in the simplicity of His Essence, have attained to this supreme transformation. ‘Then I shall know even as I am known,’ says St. Paul, meaning by intuitive vision….That is why…they are ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.’ Then they are a ceaseless praise of glory to the divine Being Who contemplates his own splendor in them… ‘God created man to His own image.’

 6.   Such was the plan of the Creator, that He might view Himself in His creature, and might see His own perfections and beauty reflected through him as through a pure and flawless crystal. Is that not a kind of extension of His own glory?

 7.  The soul…that allows the Divinity to reflect Himself in it…such a soul is truly the ‘Praise of Glory’ of all His gifts. Whatever happens, and during the most commonplace employments, it sings the canticum magnum [great canticle], the canticum novum [new canticle], and this canticle thrills God to His very depths.’ [pp. 90-91]

         No false humility in St. Elizabeth.  She determined to be a saint, and a great one, because nothing else would suffice to praise the essential glory of God.

         Several years ago I wrote another reflection, “A Plan to Praise His Glory.” In an emotional, ecstatic hour of Adoration, three years before I even read Fr. Philipon’s book, God gave me the grace to glimpse briefly what Fr. Philipon explains as the essential glory of God:

            “We tend to see the Glory of God as a static thing, brilliant Light, radiance, etc. such as Peter, James, and John saw to envelop Christ during the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Yet we should realize that His Glory is intensely alive with Divine Energy, ecstatic and personal, throbbing with incomprehensible Love, deeply shared, pouring out from Divine Person to Divine Person eternally. His Glory is Delight, enthralling, enrapturing.” 

             Rather than using Fr. Philipon’s words, “essential,” and “accidental”, I explained then that “Glory is not extrinsic to God, but intrinsic—essentially His from all eternity. We cannot give Glory to God; He IS Glory. When we say, “Glorify God” or “Give glory to God” we are talking about the praise of His Glory, giving Him what is extrinsic to Him, incidental, nonessential. If we are pure and acceptable to Him in Christ, it is as though we are holding up a spotless mirror to reflect His Glory–we don’t increase it, but merely reflect it.” 

An old hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” has always given me great joy, expressing so well the image of the eternal adoration by the angels and saints of the Trinity:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

             The line that always moved me was that of the saints casting down their gold crowns around the glassy sea.  Then the cherubim and seraphim falling down before Him—all in an ecstasy of adoration, in an extremity of prostration.  The “glassy sea” seemed a perfect mirror to  reflect His unspeakable light.  This kind of adoration was what I saw last Sunday morning.  An African woman, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, entered our church, went to the foot of the sanctuary, and in full view of the entire congregation, prostrated herself before Him, recognizing Him, laying her turbaned head on the lowest step, remaining for a long moment of singular adoration of the Blessed Trinity.

I wrote a post some time ago, “We are Underwhelmed by God.”  We are numb to Him.  We do not see.  We do not even genuflect well.  We flick our hands in trivial signs of the Cross. God forgive us.

Yet in paragraph 7 of Fr. Philipon’s excerpt, we read:  The soul…that allows the Divinity to reflect Himself in it…such a soul is truly the ‘Praise of Glory’ of all His gifts.  Whatever happens, and during the most commonplace employments, it sings the canticum magnum [great canticle], the canticum novum [new canticle], and this canticle thrills God to His very depths.’

             If we can be just a bit more mindful, if we take time for adoration on a regular basis, if we will prostrate ourselves in spirit, “whatever happens, and during the most commonplace employments,” our soul will sing the Canticum magnum, the Canticum novum—the new song of the Holy Spirit Who floods our entire being, “thrilling God to His very depths.” This is the song of the saints casting down their golden crowns in an ecstasy of adoration, the song of the cherubim and seraphim.  Even in the commonplace, the most ordinary and tedious moments of our lives, we will live adoring the intrinsic Glory of God, praising His Glory.

“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.

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

The Cloistered Heart – Nancy Shuman

Today I discovered a charming and deeply spiritual blog called “A Cloistered Heart.”  I can’t do it justice here without stealing some of Nancy’s thunder. Let me just quote this one little part:  “THE CLOISTERED HEART IS a way of living for God in the midst of the world. It is heart monasticism that can be embraced by married or single persons, religious or lay. It’s an analogy in which our lives can be “monasteries,” our hearts can live in the “enclosure” of Christ, and all things may be viewed through the will of God as through a “grille.”

This lovely mother and grandmother is a woman after my own heart!  One of her initial posts explains the cloistered heart in greater and more profound detail:  http://www.thecloisteredheart.org/2017/08/so-what-is-cloistered-heart.html

I return often to my own post, THE INNER CLOISTER OF FIAT–it’s the same idea which I captured from my beloved Conchita and of course, Love Crucified refers also to our “domestic monasteries.”

Enjoy her lovely artwork and the graphics.  She cites so well many of  the saints.  What a refreshing blog!

The Intimacy of SUFFERING WITH

          In our Love Crucified Community, Jesus tells us,  “Suffer all with Me, no longer two, but one, in My sacrifice of Love.”  In an earlier post, “The Kiss of Jesus,” I commented,  “The Cross is the bridal chamber where union takes place in the intimacy of suffering.” I continue to come back to that reflection, that it is in suffering WITH Christ that we enter intimacy.

It is not enough that we “offer it up”—this offering I learned as a child from my mother.  No, to suffer with is intimate.  To offer up is to stand outside, independent, separate.  Love Crucified teaches us:

“…unless we touch His wounds, love remains an idea in our minds with no power to heal our hearts. By touching His wounds, we touch His love, the love by which He laid down His life for us. We touch Christ’s wounds by uniting our sufferings with His.

                        “This condition exists because only through our own sufferings are we able to come personally to touch the sufferings of Christ.…Because when we touch Jesus’ sufferings, we touch Love itself.

            “For example, if we never suffer the pain of rejection, we can never come to know and experience the rejection that Jesus suffered.

            “This is the necessary process to union with God. St. Paul tells us there is a condition for us to be “children of God” and “fellow heirs with Christ”: “provided we suffer with Him”  (Rom 8:12-17) (The Simple Path, p. 86-87).

            How long has it taken me to learn this:  only through my own sufferings can I experience the sufferings of Christ. If I dodge, distract myself, or complain, I dodge, distract myself from Christ who is Love Crucified. Or another way of putting it:  Through my wounds I enter the wounds of Christ.

This week I watched THE SEVENTH CHAMBER, the life of Edith Stein, canonized by Pope John Paul in 1998.  She has been on my heart all week.  The brilliant child of a Jewish family in Germany, she became a professor of philosophy, a skeptic of religion.  But when she read St. Teresa of Avila’s INTERIOR MANSIONS, her conclusion was, “This is the truth.”  St. Teresa led her to conversion, to the Catholic Church.  After persecutions began under the Nazis, she entered Carmel to become Sister Teresa Benedetta of the Cross—not to dodge persecution, but because she wanted an intimate relationship with Christ.

Her sufferings were great, as she endured  betrayal of professional friends and the agonized refusal of her family, especially her mother, to accept her conversion to Catholicism or her vocation to the Carmelites.  Even the order itself wondered if she had chosen Carmel as a refuge from persecution.  But Edith had realized finally that religion was not a set of moral directives but a Person.  Her joy in her suffering was in this extraordinary relationship as she learned intimacy through what she suffered.

Counseled to leave the country, she finally went to Carmel in Holland, where the Nazis intruded to extricate her and her sister, Rosa, to Auschwitz.  As her superior wept, Sister Teresa Benedetta  comforted her with these words—not to be concerned because,  “I have finally accepted my destiny.”

            One of the greatest sufferings endured by St. Teresa Benedetta was the crushing oppression of her people by Hitler whom she viewed as a satan.  What she meant by “I have finally accepted my destiny” is that she would embrace all suffering, one with her people, one with her Christ.

This word destiny recalled to me a reflection which I wrote on Romano Guardini’s article “Acceptance”:

“Destiny is not an accident.  It possesses a logical consistency which is determined externally by the connection of events but also internally by the nature and character of the person involved [29].”  Finally, acceptance of self means that I consent simply to be.  Here is the rub:  “I did not confront the possibility of my own existence and decide that I wished to be, but I was cast into being.  I came forth from the lives of my parents, of my ancestors, out of the condition of the age.

This “age” I remarked, “ is filled with the effects of unredeemed original sin…complicated by repeated, serious, unrepented personal sin.”

            How is destiny fair?  It is not, nor can it be; not for us, not for Edith Stein. But Romano Guardini reminds us:

“Through the Incarnation, He stepped into the space which forms a single chain of destiny for him who lives in it.  God stepped into history.  When the eternal Son became man, He did so in reality, without protection or exception, vulnerable by word and act; woven, like us, into the stifling web of effects that proceed from the confused hearts of men….He does this prepared for all that would happen to Him, without reservation, without evasion, without resorting to resistance or craft.  Men, who have really no power over Him to whom is given ‘all power in Heaven and on earth,’ inflict a bitter destiny upon Him.  But this is the form of His Father’s will for Him.  This will is His own will; to accomplish it is the ‘food’ of His life.”

Sister Teresa Benedetta of the Cross told her superior,  “I have finally accepted my destiny.”  THIS is the destiny which she accepted, cast as she was into her unique place in history, among her people, in her family—the sweet destiny of suffering with Christ.  For her, the Cross is the bridal chamber where union takes place in the intimacy of suffering.

Before she is sent to Auschwitz, she is explaining the seven chambers of St. Teresa of Avila’s INTERIOR MANSIONS to another sister.  After revealing the meaning of the first six chambers, the sister asks her, “and what of the seventh?”  The saint replies, “I have not yet entered the seventh chamber.”

Full union with Love Crucified would come with the saint’s embrace of all the sufferings that went with the gas chamber of Auschwitz, for her—the seventh chamber of Union. This suffering consisted not only of her personal physical distress and that of her sister Rosa, but also included her sufferings for the people around her, the Jewish men, women, and children who were also ravaged by Nazi oppression.

As I reflected on this precious saint, I realized once again that my unique sufferings are the key to the unique intimacy, Union, holiness, which God has chosen for me personally. To enter holiness is not to enter a state of being so much as to accept my destiny, God’s Will, the Cross.  Holiness is to embrace a Person, Christ, Love Crucified, through the intimacy of suffering.

 

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Hardness of Heart, Part 2: Faith & Trust

As I continued to ponder Hardness of Heart,028-abraham-sacrifices-isaac I have had some additional thoughts, some of them related to earlier posts.

One of the consequences of hardness of heart is that it makes us deficient in faith and trust.  The object of faith is God Himself.  Faith, the theological virtue infused through the Holy Spirit at baptism, enables us to submit our intellect and will to God. It is only through faith that we are able to approach God.

Mary’s faith is the perfect example and model of faith.  As all of us do, Mary used her understanding to approach God, but did not rely on it, stand on it alone, for it would have failed her.  Her FIAT, “let it be done to me according to your word,”  was based, instead, on faith.  At some point, human understanding, however well developed it may be,  always fails.   Mary entered her Fiat,  Mary entered the Mystery of God through the darkness of faith.  Understanding will carry us only so far.

No transition exists between understanding and faith:  understanding is a human faculty; faith is a divine virtue.  Understanding requires use of the intellect; faith requires abandonment of the will to God along with intellectual consent. We must leap a gulf from understanding to faith.  One does not flow smoothly into the other.

Here is the irony:  our seeing, our human understanding and expectations blind us to Who God Is. It is only when we abandon understanding for naked faith, cleaving to God in the darkness of faith, that we truly see.

When we conceive a vision or understanding or expectation of God, our hearts are bound to that expectation, which is limited.  We cleave to the expectation, to our own vision of God and not to God Who Is.

Jesus Himself said:  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”  [Mt. 5:8].  To be pure of heart is to be emptied, divested of plans, designs, expectations and visions of our own devising—all of which blind us.

The aspect of the Mystery that we understand and perceive can be expected; but the greatest dimension of the Mystery is not understood by the intellect, is unknown, is unexpected, is apprehended only by faith, approached only by abandonment to it.  St. Albert the Great tells us:  “ He cannot be comprehended, but can be loved in his fullness with a pure heart, for he is above all lovable and desirable, and of infinite goodness and perfection.”   He tells us also:  “… simply cleave to God with faith and good will in naked understanding.”

For these reasons abandonment is superior to understanding.  Abandonment is consonant with faith—it is how faith operates in us.  Faith leaps forward into darkness leaving understanding behind in open-mouthed bewilderment.  Faith steps out unseeing, open arms clutching nothing, cleaving naked to the mystery of God.

All of our lives we have read and heard 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 overwhelmed 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.

How wonderfully do St. Albert’s words apply to Abraham as also to Mary:  “the devout man should cleave to God with naked understanding and will …for it is his delight to be with the sons of men, that is those who…seek him with a pure and simple mind, empty themselves for him, and cleave to him.”

As I wrote earlier:   “Mary’s FIAT was the unqualified, open response of a heart utterly divested of design, plan, or expectation–a heart free to receive the completely unexpected….”  Doesn’t this also describe the faith of Abraham?  However powerful in the will and sincere the fiat of the heart, it doesn’t eliminate the sorrow, the pain of those who “empty themselves for Him.”  We can only imagine the struggle of Abraham within himself as he forced himself calmly to lead his only son to immolation—facing the destruction of the promise that God Himself had given him—that he would be the father of many. Yet he emptied himself, divested himself of all hope, all expectation, all desire, all plans, and cleaved naked to His God in the darkness of faith.

Not only does Abraham show faith, but also trust.  When we have divested ourselves of every last crutch, every last hope, nothing remains but for us to trust the God whom we cannot understand, but love. As Job 13:15 says,  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

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