Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 8, 2018

A Holy Death

Picture1

Gene

Two faithful Catholic friends many miles away, in Canada, a few years ago met the last trial we will face on this earth: death.  These friends Gaby and her husband Gene followed this blog, sometimes left responses — but we share something much more important than this blog: we share a love of Christ, and His Church.  Some years after Gene’s passing, Gaby wrote her reflections on that time, and shared them with Deborah and me.  The simplicity and depth of Gaby’s thoughts on Gene’s death greatly moved me — I asked if I could post her thoughts here, on the blog.  Gaby graciously agreed, knowing that Gene too would be eager to share anything that might help brothers and sisters in Christ, prepare for and meet that most special day – and meet it well.  Here are her reflections:

September

Monday the 15th of September 2014 : Eugene entered the hospital.

Wednesday 17th of September 2014 : In the morning I saw the psychiatrist, Dr. F. M____, who said Gene will never get better, but he could live like this for years. He had very advanced Dementia, and had all kinds of problems since several years. He had many tests done. He now could not walk alone, he needed help to eat, and he was lost and disoriented.

The Important Decision and the Last Moments

           In the past, Gene and I had spoken about our last wishes. We both agreed to the same wish. In case of severe incurable disease, severe sickness, coma, paralysis, or anything similar, we both want to see the priest, go to confession, and have the last sacraments. This request is absolutely our priority above all else. Afterwards, we both had the following wishes; not to be reanimated, not to be given anything to speed our death, or to lengthen our life. Just let nature take its course.

The doctor explained that as Gene was, he could live a number of years, but choking or pneumonia could take him away anytime. Since he was vulnerable to both of these problems, she wanted to know, that given Gene’s quality of life, did I want them to reanimate him should this happen. I told her what we had discussed, I added that I wanted more time, and I would get back to her.

I then contacted the hospital chaplain so he could give Gene the last Sacraments. This priest, contrary to the purpose of his duty as a chaplain, simply refused!  He promised me he would come as soon as he would be called, day or night, as he was living right next to the hospital. He wants to wait until the last minute. Since Gene was still conscious, and he was in a very vulnerable state, and I knew his desires, this refusal left me most dissatisfied. It left me like hanging in the air. I did not expect this refusal. I could not understand the reasoning, especially since I asked him right there at the hospital! What was the logic? This left me totally perplexed!

I then went to see our parish priest who said he would have done it, if he were at the Oasis, but he did not want to step on another priest’s duty. I could not understand his position, since I knew he had agreed to go see others at the hospital. We sometimes invited him home for dinner. On one occasion, Gene had even asked this priest he agreed to give him the last Rights when the time would come, and our friend had assured Gene in an affirmative answer, that he would. We had been friends since 1974, for 40 years, and yet, when the time came, he refused!

Now being met with again another refusal, I was confused, lost, and felt so alone and abandoned. It was a total let down, by the ones who are supposed to be there in time of need! Being refused for a second time, and by a friend, or so I thought… I did not give my answer to the doctor, and I simply lingered as I felt it was too fast and I was disheartened…

I knew Gene was a man of faith and I did not worry about his spiritual state, however, I also knew he would absolutely want the last sacraments! And we both understood how very special this sacrament is, as it can give all sorts of graces. Moreover, it can even eradicate the punishment due to sin, thus crossing the threshold of this world to eternity, going straight to heaven!

It is obvious that some members of the clergy, even shamefully, priests who work with the dying, do not know the teaching of the Church regarding the last Sacraments!!!

In conversation with him, it is easy to see he surely does not know that this is a sacrament of the living, meaning one must be in a state of grace to receive it, and it should be administered as much as possible when the person is conscious. Also, anyone over 65 may receive the last sacraments if they are sick, if they are to be operated, or if they are getting on in years, even if they are not in immediate danger of death. Gene was in a vulnerable condition, that was a situation which should definitely not have been refused, but one cannot argue with this priest, because he knows everything…

I was upset and, so sad. Looking back, I now reproach myself for not being more firm. I wish I would have aggressively demanded what should have been done!

October 2014

           Thursday the 2nd of October 2014: At 7:30 PM Gene choked. They reanimated him and broke his ribs. A member of the family was not pleased I had not said “no code” because she felt it was simply making her father suffer needlessly. I must say if he would have gone that night, I would have found it really difficult because I was not with him, and I was not ready for that shock. I was called at home, and I arrived at the same time as the priest who had a big smile saying: “See! I told you I would be here!”  Ha…! Yes, he was there… however, he would not have arrived on time if Gene had not been reanimated.  Also, now the last sacraments are given in a rush, while my poor husband is in a coma, and while I am busy with the doctor!! This is not the way a good priest prepares a soul to cross the threshold from this world to eternity!! I called the children as I was told my husband could die any minute.

He was moved to the palliative care unit and from that moment on, Gene was not left alone not a single minute. I said the prayers for the dying. I prayed the chaplet of the Divine Mercy, and the rosary. Gene had his scapular medal on him, but I placed his brown scapular and placed his rosary in his hands along with a small crucifix and a Saint Benedict medal. I also sprayed holy water all around him.

L_____ was the first to arrive with G____. I was so pleased when P___, a friend of mine living at the Royal, came in and asked to say the chaplet of the Divine Mercy, out loud. What a gift! I was so pleased with her, I thanked her many times!

Although I was told that Gene would not live until my son could arrive from Fredericton three hours away, there was lots of time because, to the staff’s surprise, he lived for 24 hours. We all had time to speak to him. We were told that hearing is the last sense to leave. I did not know this, so we were told we should speak to him as though he could hear us, although he was in a coma, and had “the rattle of death.”

Friday the 3rd of October 2014: Our children L____, M____, and G____ were at his side, with me, Gene’s sister J____, and her husband J___ arrived in the morning. We all spent the whole afternoon with him. At night, nearing the end, a few times he opened his eyes a small slit, and I had the impression he could see me with one eye. Afterwards, we continued to speak to him, each our turn, for only a short while. On the last hour I prayed out loud, I prayed and cried. When I did not know which prayer to say anymore, because I was lost for words, I sang some old hymns in spite of crying, but I did not want to stop, and sang until the very last minute. The last one was “J’irai la voir un jour” (I will go see her some day). This was one of my mother’s favourites and it’s also one of my favourites.  At 7:40 PM Gene died, and I closed his eyes.

Saturday the 4th of October 2014: In the afternoon, I went to church to meet with the choir director and chose the songs for the funeral, and I requested an “Ave Maria.” I also asked for, “J’irai la voir un jour” as the last song, when the coffin would be carried out the church. Since I have some English relatives, I had requested two beautiful English hymns, but I was disappointed since the man who sings them so well could not come.

Monday the 6th of October 2014: The funeral was at 2:00. I was most surprised to see my H______ nephews from Fredericton. J____ and his wife H_____, came in spite of having her leg in a cast. J____ came in spite of the fact that he had a very serious injury on his foot, due to diabetes. And P___ came from Three Rivers. It was a real treat to see them! I so appreciated their presence! They are my deceased sister’s sons! M____, our son, did the reading, and L____ our daughter, did the prayers. Father W____, our friend, who had known us for 40 years, spoke very well. He mentioned that Gene was very musical. It was a small but nice funeral.

Gene had many talents, he was especially good at playing Chet Atkins’ unique finger style technique. He played Leona Boyed’s Classical style, and he also enjoyed playing some Flamingo. His music was soft and peaceful. However, he was a withdrawn, shy person, and preferred to play mostly for himself.

Picture2T____, a good friend of mine, send me a picture of a man in the arms of Our Lord. This is the picture of a suffering skinny man holding the crown of thorns. When I saw this, it went straight to my heart, as I found it so striking and with a definite association with Gene… At the end, Gene was skin and bones; he had suffered much through the years. He told me he offered all his sufferings for the conversions of our children.

At the funeral mass this sad picture, along with Gene’s picture playing the guitar, were on the communion rail for all to see.

After the funeral mass, we went downstairs for a nice lunch. It was good to meet members of the family, especially the relatives we had not seen for a long time, and also the many friends.

Tuesday the 7th of October 2014: The burial was at Notre-Dame du Rosaire at 2:00 PM. Now, the custom is that nobody goes to the graveyard anymore. However, I definitely wanted to go, and our children seemed eager to accompany me. The funeral director said a few prayers; I sprayed holy water all over and around the coffin. M____ and G___ are the ones who held the ropes to lower the wooden box. G___ later told me he was pleased to do this, as it was like a “closing, his last goodbye”.  Yes, it was our final goodbye… but he is not forgotten…

****************************************************************************

Posted by: Thomas Richard | January 4, 2018

Reevaluating Time Schedules…

These are trying days!  The world has been living under the shadow of nuclear war for a long time now – as a child the 1940’s, I remember the drills in school to prepare for a nuclear attack.  We were to duck under our desks, head between our knees, hand over back of neck, eyes shut, waiting for further instruction.  I suppose the adults understood more clearly the world-wide catastrophes that would follow, after the explosive effects began to smother and strangle, and radiation began to poison, life throughout the biosphere.

It is difficult to imagine such horrors, but even the possibilities cast new light on the end-time prophesies of Holy Scripture.  What seemed so impossible if not very distant, in these end-time prophesies, is beginning to be yes, possible, and maybe not as distant as we would like.  A boy-god king in North Korea has weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, biological – and he seems to have nothing inside himself to restrain the beast.  The world has had such rulers before, but never before have they had such deadly power to inflict catastrophic horror upon so many, around the whole world.

Being a Christian is a great comfort, in such a time.  We have a foundation of faith that helps us to understand the temporary – the passing – nature of this life here and now.  This life is a trial, a life-long moment of testing, and also of opportunity to build upon and strengthen the foundation of our individual lives with lasting values, with enduring treasures, with eternal blessings.  We are invited to, and we must, use our moments well.

Therefore it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. (Eph 5:14 -20)

In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul used the familiar analogy among all humans, of battle, of war, to help Christians see more deeply into the struggles we face.  Our battle, finally, is a spiritual and interior one:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;
besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,….(Eph 6:10 -18)

Paul’s exhortations are good ones, my friends: we need to take them seriously!  We need to guard our hearts (a breastplate of righteousness), to be careful to love and value all that God loves and values!  We need to guard our minds, our thinking (the helmet of salvation), to be careful to protect right thinking, discerning truth from lies!  We need “the shield of faith” in this battlefield of amoral and godless political correctness.  We need “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” because He, the living Word, is Truth.  Jesus Christ taught us,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (Jn 14:6)

So many people – so many Catholics! – continue to use up so much precious time, with trivial pursuits.  As if we had “all the time in the world”!  No, for every man and woman there is a last day, a last hour, a last breath.  And a last time for prayer, for Holy Scripture, a last time for worship in Holy Mass, a last Holy Communion, a last act of holy charity for God, for a friend, for a stranger, for an enemy.  A last moment to live the life of Christ here and now, for the glory of God.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | December 9, 2017

St. Therese of Lisieux and “Spiritual Childhood”

Many spiritual men and women in the Church have reflected long and beautifully, on the remarkable example of St. Therese of Lisieux.  This holy woman, who died so young at age 24, left a legacy and a light of holiness that have helped and guided many to a deeper spiritual life.  Here is a brief part of a biography of the saint (1):

At the age of 14, on Christmas Eve in 1886, Therese had a conversion that transformed her life. From then on, her powerful energy and sensitive spirit were turned toward love, instead of keeping herself happy. At 15, she entered the Carmelite convent in Lisieux to give her whole life to God. She took the religious name Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Living a hidden, simple life of prayer, she was gifted with great intimacy with God. Through sickness and dark nights of doubt and fear, she remained faithful to God, rooted in His merciful love. After a long struggle with tuberculosis, she died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24. Her last words were the story of her life: “My God, I love You!”

The world came to know Therese through her autobiography, “Story of a Soul”. She described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” … Therese’s spirituality is of doing the ordinary, with extraordinary love.

There is a radical difference between the holy “spiritual childhood” that Therese lived – which is a spirituality many have sought to learn from and grow into – and the contrary spiritual imperfection for a Christian of “childishness,” that is, spiritual immaturity and an obstinate resistance to grow in the life we are called to, in Christ.

What are the differences?  I will quote Fr. John Harden, S.J., listing his six descriptors of spiritual childhood, and after each one I will comment, I hope in ways that can help answer the question.  Here are the six descriptors by Fr. John Harden (Fr. JH) (2), followed by my comments (TR):

1. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood knows nothing of spiritual pride. It never glories in whatever graces it receives from God, but acknowledges them as sheer gift of His love.

[TR Comments:  The lack of spiritual pride indicated is not present in a childish adult, certainly, but instead the reverse is found: prideful attribution of all of one’s spiritual “accomplishments” to one’s own efforts – whether the “accomplishments” are real or only imagined.  Divine graces received – whether real or falsely presumed – are considered only due and deserved in justice.]

2. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood realizes that natural means cannot achieve sanctity. Without prayer, the sacraments, and cooperation with graces received, holiness is a mirage.

[TR Comments:  The childish Christian has little if any grasp of the concept “sanctity”, nor of the call to holiness.  These realities, being of the supernatural, are hardly within the horizon of the childish one.  His universe is of the natural, the senses, the material, the tangible, the concrete.  His prayer life and his sacramental life are shallow at best, and seem to him entirely adequate and satisfactory as they are.]

3. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood has no illusions of self-reliance in danger and temptation. Immediate petition for divine help is the only guarantee of being able to overcome the surges of passion or the instigations of the evil one.

[TR Comments:  For the childish Christian, spiritual dangers that ought to concern him do not, and temptations that are very dangerous for him are not recognized.  Sin itself is hardly his concern – as lacking for him as is his concern for holiness.]

4. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood presupposes a lively faith in God’s existence. In fact, as a person grows in spiritual childhood, there is a keen awareness of God’s presence in everything that touches one’s life.

[TR Comments:  For the childish Christian, “faith” is more a vague word for a very vague concept, than a vital living reality.  If he were asked “Does God exist?” he would most probably answer “Sure!”  The question would be of the same category as, “Does the sun exist?” – this is the category of presumptions largely irrelevant to the childish one’s life, which is about personal gratifications here and now.]

5. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood has a practical confidence in God’s power and mercy. Thus the virtue of hope becomes so strong that no matter how humanly impossible the future may seem, there is peaceful trust that God will provide loving care.

[TR Comments:  All of these realities – confidence, divine power and mercy, hope, trust in God – are supernatural realities immediate and present in the spiritual childhood of one authentically in the beginnings of the life of grace.  But they are present in the childish Christian – if at all – in an attenuated and minimal degree, largely overwhelmed in the natural world of the senses, the material, the tangible.  The childish Christian wants what he wants when he wants it, and he wants it now.]

6. Fr. JH: Spiritual childhood has confident recourse to Divine providence. It sees the hand of God behind every so-called happening, and believes there is no such thing as chance.

[TR Comments:  For the childish Christian, “luck” is a far more realistic factor in life than “Divine providence.”  There is good luck and there is bad luck, and gambling is more reasonable than praying, unless one is praying for good luck.]

Fr. John Harden continues (3),

If we look still closer at St. Therese’s importance for our times, it becomes even more clear as we see the virus of pride infecting so many people in our day. As the popes are at pains to explain, whatever else the modern world needs, it is a rediscovery of the meaning of Christ’s teaching about becoming like little children. He could not have been more solemn than when He warned us, “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). This injunction was always necessary but it is crucial today when human achievements in the material world have intoxicated millions with self-conceit and widespread oblivion of God.

In Baptism, the beginning of the life of grace, a new vital force has been received into the soul of the recipient.  This vital force is the life of God, in which we can have a personal human participation.  This promised gift is the new heart, and right spirit, prophesied of old and begun in human history through the outpouring of the love of Christ through His Holy Cross.  This life is intended by God that it grow, that it mature, and reach fruitfulness.

Because the life of grace in the soul is intended to grow and mature, it is a travesty and an affront to God, that His precious gift – of His precious life – be stifled and choked and abused and wasted, in a childish life-long tantrum of self-centeredness!  But in the child-like innocence of beginning, in the openness of authentic fertile childhood, His life is glorified and the child in Christ grows, as it is intended to do.  St. Therese shows us the fruit of faithfulness to His grace, and the world and the Church are blessed by her life, brief though it was.

St. Therese, pray for us.


references:

(1) https://www.littleflower.org/therese/

(2) Fr. John Hardon, S.J. – http://www.hardonsj.org/st-therese-lisieux-practiced-virtues-spiritual-childhood/

(3) ibid.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 24, 2017

America, One Last Chance, Revisited

One year ago after the surprising, stunning upset of the presidential election of Donald Trump, I wrote a blog post of my thoughts. I was grateful to God, to the point of tears in my praise and relief and thanksgiving! I had seen much of the America I grew up in, slipping away under increasingly “progressive” godless and man-centered secular ideology – that is, Big Government take-over of more and more of America, leaving less and less of all that had made this nation good in the past, and thus in many senses “great.”

Many Americans in that election cycle knew, in their hearts, that something deep and fundamental had become wrong in America – and needed to be set right. Politicians on both sides of our two-party, three-branch system of government had found ways to deadlock true governance of the country while at the same time assuring their re-elections and self-advancing careers. It had become a “swamp” – and “Drain the Swamp” became a rallying cry for this non-politician, questionably a Republican, ignore-the-rules candidate for President – and he won.

I wrote one year ago, in the blog America: Is This One Last Chance?, and it is true now as then: “Yes I believe it was a miracle! I believe God intervened because of the prayers of His faithful ones.” The following is from that blog post:

Do you know how close we came to losing this nation – to putting this nation of laws, with a Constitution to protect us and our human rights, into the hands of lawless Judges who feel free to make up laws and rights as they see fit? Do you know how close we still are to falling so far from “One nation under God” to a fragmented, shattered confederation of hostile tribes and identity groups under an all-powerful federal rule by whim and imperial fiat? The Lord has been very patient with us, His Church, as the darkness of the world around us continued to grow only darker.

I believe this, however, concerning the Church: He is giving His Church one more chance. He is God and I am not, and I don’t know that I personally would have given us another chance, so prodigal have we been with our blessings. But He is God and He has given us this one more chance to be who we are, and to be what we are sent to be: Light! We are sent to be His holy light in this dark world.

Where has the Church been, through the decades when this nation was in such grave moral decline? The nation morphed from a culture of life to a culture of death – from a predominantly Judeo-Christian nation to a predominantly materialistic and godless one. The light of revealed truth – even the light of the natural moral law – has been receding, dimming, fading into the horizon while an amoral darkness has begun to envelop the country. Barbarism, cruelty, animal-like inhumanity has crept in. And where has the Church been, as this enemy of souls was infiltrating every facet and corner of America?

What has the Church been doing, instead of her holy mission? Whom has she been serving, when she was not serving her Lord and God? What have our parishes and pulpits been occupied with, when they were not occupied with the upbuilding of her people in holiness, and nurturing them toward the fulness and the maturity of Christ?

Has the Church learned anything, this past year? Has the Church changed her sleepy lukewarmness, her unnatural treaty with the world and the loves of the world, her shameless counterfeiting and compromising of her mission to “make disciples, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”? I see no evidence. I see rearranging the furniture and lowering the shades, lest too much light come in. I hear no wailing with grief at the interior ruination of His Holy City, the hunger of His people abandoned, the CEO bishops, the manager-priests, the preachers reading their mail-order homilies, the shameful excuses for adult formation if and where any at all even exists. Church, will you dare to tempt God, even after He has given you this time to repent?

Isaiah heard this from the Lord, many years ago. It seems relevant to us now:

Isa 66:1  Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
Isa 66:2  All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
Isa 66:3  “He who slaughters an ox is like him who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like him who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a cereal offering, like him who offers swine’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like him who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations;
Isa 66:4  I also will choose affliction for them, and bring their fears upon them; because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes, and chose that in which I did not delight.”

I will close this post, with the same paragraph I closed with, one year ago:

The more pressing question is, what will we do now? Will we seek holiness, as is our vocation? Will we be light, as is our mission? Will we be witnesses, as we are sent to be, of His life-giving Spirit? Will we see the one door open before us – the door that may be the last chance we will have – to seek His will and do it? Will we pray with all our hearts to do His will no matter the cost? Will we offer Him all that He has entrusted to us, in hope that He may use it, and us, for the glory of His work in this His creation? Thy Kingdom come, Father! Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven! Hallowed be Thy name.

Amen.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | November 7, 2017

What Is Happening, America?

What is happening to America? Why the coarseness of public discourse? Why the divisions and deep-seated hostilities of social group against group, of race against race, of political party against political party? Why the random eruptions of mass murders of total strangers, with no apparent motive at all? Why the carefree rejection of standards and norms held to be sacrosanct for centuries, now discarded in one generation? Why the rejection of personal responsibility – of “adulthood” itself – and instead a clinging to adolescent behaviors, language, games and norms into age 30’s and beyond? Why the abandonment of marriage and family, for careless sex and no strings attached? Why this astonishing ambiguity about what bathroom to use?

Or maybe more to the point (I am getting to the point, I promise), why is the world racing to self-destruction – why is the human species hell-bent on suicide?

My answer: because most of the human species sees no light, but only growing darkness – most see no way out of this doomed existence beyond “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

Men have been so successful at expelling God from human society, that His light, the light of Truth, the light of hope, is become extinguished. Even before the great Gift to humanity, of His divine Incarnation, even before Christ came, men had some light of Truth to guide them. Men had from the beginning, and persisting even after the Fall, God’s gift of the natural moral law has been set into the hearts of all men, to guide them toward the good, and away from the evil. That intrinsic, instinctive moral compass was a guide for mankind scattered everywhere around the world. But even that foundational moral compass, informing human conscience and guarding the moral lives of men, is now in the process of being expelled from human hearts. This is satanic: it is poison from hell. Cloaked with the approbation of secular society, known as “political correctness,” this new godless moral guide is indeed poison from hell. It is quenching every spark and glimmer of the righteous light of God, and presenting the counterfeit: a guide to godlessness, a guide promising freedom but delivering blindness, promising life by the path of death, recipe to the self-destruction of the species.

Where is the Church? Where is the voice of God in this wilderness; where, a new John the Baptist? Where is the adult in this room of semi-conscious children? Where are the men and women of grace, temples of the living God, disciples and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ – sent to be light in this world? We don’t know that we need light, until we realize that it is dark and getting darker! You who are reading this, do you realize how dark it has become, in your lifetime? Do you realize the level of insanity that has been embraced in this dysfunctional world of “political correctness”? Do you realize the need for Christ in the vacant, impoverished, starved hearts of men and women across this nation? He does! He knows, and He is looking at us – at us, His Church.

You who are reading this: do what you can do, because He is with us. To whom much is given, much is required – so to deacons, priests and bishops, given so much for the Church, I pray that you will “do what you can do,” because many more will listen to you. Clergy, do not be afraid of the Truth! Do not be afraid to listen to it, and hear it, and believe it! Do not be afraid to preach it, and teach it, and live it! Do not be afraid of the Truth, because the Truth is Life!

To my fellow lay men and women in the Church, do what you can do! First and always, pray! And receive with thanksgiving our “bread for this day” – whether Holy Eucharist, or the Truth and power of His Holy Word in Scripture, or His precious Presence with us in prayer – He is with us! Do all with holy charity, because charity – God’s own divine love – cannot be without fruit, and fruit that endures. We must endure: remain in Him, as branches in the vine, because apart from Him we can do nothing! But in Him, in our living Lord Jesus Christ, all things are possible: even light – unquenchable light – in darkness, even life – unending life – out of death.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 26, 2017

Foundations of Marian Devotion in the Early Church

This is the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary (seen apparently nursing the infant Jesus on her lap). It is located in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome.  It is dated circa A.D. 150.

I was recently startled to hear a Catholic telling me that, in the Catholic Church, devotion to Mary is “optional,” and that besides, devotion to Mary did not even start in the Church until the AD 431 Council of Ephesus, when Mary was officially designated Theotokos (God-bearer, or Mother of God)! (1) Before that, she asserted, “there was no Marian devotion”! She continued to assert the optional character of any devotion to Mary with this, “Saying the Rosary is not a requirement for salvation.” Well, that part is correct, but what hardness must there be in her heart, that she would close herself so legalistically against the Mother of Our Lord? I have heard some anti-Catholic evangelicals say such things before – but this was the first time I heard them from a Catholic.

Some research that I have gathered and passed on below shows that, in fact, Marian devotion – and solid reason for it – is very old in the Church. There is much more that could be said, but I’ll focus on two early Church fathers, in whom we find very early foundational insights into the special place God gave to Mary in salvation history – honor that calls forth the devotion of the faithful. This is not counting direct, obvious New Testament Scriptural evidence itself – earlier still – that reveals the honor due to Mary! She is His mother, after all! But sadly, it is amazing how the New Testament itself can be “interpreted” to say almost anything the unbeliever wants it to say.

1) Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (born ~100-110, died ~165) left us a record of theological insights in the early Church into Scriptural foundations for the personal role, and significance, of Mary the virgin mother of Jesus. In such insights we can see, beginning in or before Justin’s time, the theological foundation – and basis, or explanation – for Marian devotion in the early Church. Of course Mary deserves honor! But there is more. More than “mere” human respect because she is His biological mother, certainly more than mere sentimentalism, Christians were beginning to see and understand, very early in Church history, God’s intended personal significance of the Virgin Mary in His holy work of redemption among men.

We will see in Justin’s teaching, the perspective of God’s work of salvation as one of a second act in creation, to correct the fall into sin and darkness: a new genesis, a new life for humanity. Thus he points us back to the Scriptural Book of Genesis, to Adam and Eve, and entry of sin into mankind. Justin immediately sees a significance in the virginity of Mary, in parallel to the virginity of Eve while she and Adam were still in the Garden. Important to notice, in this writing is his vision of Mary’s place in God’s work – that it was so much more than a mere bridge for the Son, from heaven to earth, from divinity to God-man. Mary was to be more than a mere “vessel” for the Incarnation – she was to be a new Eve, a second Eve as Jesus would be the second Adam in Paul’s witness in Scripture. Let us listen to this, from Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho (2):

.. [Christ Jesus, Son of God] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38) And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.

Note the many parallels with Genesis, concerning Mary and Eve:
Eve believed the lie of the serpent; Mary believed the word of God from the Angel Gabriel.
Eve conceived death following her freely chosen disobedience to God; Mary conceived Life following her submissive obedience to God.
Eve the virgin mother of human death; Mary the virgin mother of eternal Life.

Mary will give new meaning to Eve’s given name as “mother of all living” (3), as Jesus will give new meaning to the significance of Adam (that is, “Man”), in His title as “Son of Man,” the second and the last Adam. That is, Mary’s personal free act of faith, in the grace she received from God, was instituting His re-creation, His new genesis of humanity, His new beginning with the Virgin Mary replacing and correcting Eve as the second virgin “mother of all living.”

1 Cor 15:21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being.
22 For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
….
45 So, too, it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being,” the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
46 But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual.
47 The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.
48 As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.

2) Irenaeus of Lyons

Mary’s role as the new Eve, mother of the new creation, was further developed a few decades later by Irenaeus of Lyons (born ~140-160, died ~202). Irenaeus personally was linked with apostolic testimony, hence giving a special weight to his theological understandings. As a young man he had been in contact with Polycarp, and with others who had known the apostles directly. Irenaeus himself wrote (4), “As I heard from a certain presbyter, who had heard it from men who had seen the apostles, and from others who had heard them…”

Irenaeus continued the view of Justin, of God’s correction of the first creation of man, fallen into darkness and sin, that “we might recover” what was lost with a new creation in Christ. He wrote (5):

… when He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam— namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God— that we might recover in Christ Jesus.
For as it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory; and as it was also impossible that he could attain to salvation who had fallen under the power of sin—the Son effected both these things, being the Word of God, descending from the Father, becoming incarnate, stooping low, even to death, and consummating the arranged plan of our salvation….

Mary’s part and role in this work was also amplified by Irenaeus, including his teaching of the correspondence of Mary with Eve, in a Chapter entitled, “Christ assumed actual flesh, conceived and born of the Virgin.” (6) Here, he noted the essential singular role of Mary – that is, her virginal motherhood – in the Incarnation: from her He received to Himself a human body. Here, Irenaeus continues the theme of recovery: what was lost by Eve would be restored by Jesus, but through Mary (7):

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” ((Gen 2:25) inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death [causa mortis], both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation [causa salutis], both to herself and the whole human race.

And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve… And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

The positive role that Irenaeus sees in Mary is remarkable, and significant. God’s work in Christ is primary, of course, in the Incarnation, in the work of the salvation of man – yet Mary has a crucial though always secondary role, in the making right of man’s history. We can hear, here, the foundational nature of her personal place in God’s plan – again, correcting and replacing Eve as mother of the living:

[Jesus] was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree [in the Garden], through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree, [the effects] also of that deception being done away with, by which that virgin Eve, who was already espoused to a man, was unhappily misled—was happily announced, through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to the Virgin Mary, who was [also espoused] to a man. For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel [of Satan, a serpent], so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication [Gabriel to Mary], receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word.

And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten [Son], and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

Irenaeus, in a concise summary, makes explicit the dual recapitulation in God’s plan: Jesus repairing the fall of Adam for all humanity, and secondarily Mary, the Virgin repairing the disobedience of the virgin Eve (8):

And just as through a disobedient virgin man was stricken down and fell into death, so through the Virgin who was obedient to the Word of God man was reanimated and received life. For the Lord came to seek again the sheep that was lost; and man it was that was lost: and for this cause there was not made some other formation, but in that same which had its descent from Adam He preserved the likeness of the (first) formation. For it was necessary that Adam should be summed up in Christ, that mortality might be swallowed up and overwhelmed by immortality; and Eve summed up in Mary, that a virgin should be a virgin’s intercessor, and by a virgin’s obedience undo and put away the disobedience of a virgin.

An excellent work on Marian devotion in the early Church, now published in English, is Mary and the Fathers of the Church. (9) I am greatly indebted to the author of this work, Luigi Gambero, for his research into the contributions of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons in the development of Marian devotion in the early Church, the subject of this article. Mr. Gambero sees clearly the positive personal role of the Virgin Mary in God’s work of salvation in Christ, particularly in the faith of Irenaeus, which he has summarized below:

In this perspective we can understand why Irenaeus calls Mary causa salutis [“cause of salvation”], precisely because she is the antitype of Eve, who was causa mortis [“cause of death”]. Her role is not limited to her purely biological and negative status as Virgin Mother; no, her cooperation includes moral and spiritual motives. For example, her obedience to the word of God was conscious and voluntary; her consent to the plan of salvation had a soteriological character, since she knew that the Incarnation of God’s Son was happening for the sake of human redemption.

This last sentence, clearly seen in the early Church writings cited here, demonstrate the recognized causes in Scripture for the honor and devotion due to Mary. She was given a part of crucial importance to the redemption – not merely her “biological” role, but her moral and spiritual cooperation as well, and her part in the undoing of the fall in Genesis. Mary is indeed, and was seen to be so, very early in Church history, the New Eve – “mother of the living” in the New Creation in Christ.

In closing, we pray the “Sub Tuum Praesidium,” an ancient prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the oldest known prayer to Mary for her intercession, the oldest known version of which is found on a 3rd century Egyptian papyrus. The Greek texts clearly show the term “Theotokos” – “Mother of God”- in the prayer. It is still prayed today.

Latin (10)
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.
Amen.

English
We fly to thy patronage,
O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Amen.

Notes:
(1) Note, however, the use of that term is found in the prayer to Mary – the “Sub Tuum Praesidium” – dated back at least to the 200’s. See the prayer at the end of this article.
(2) St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho Ch. 100, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01287.htm
(3) Gen 3:20 – The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
(4) Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Bk 4, Ch. 27, #1 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103427.htm
(5) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 18, #1-2, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103318.htm
(6) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 22 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103322.htm
(7) Against Heresies, Bk 3, Ch. 22, #4 – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103322.htm
(8) Irenaeus of Lyons, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33 – http://www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus/demonstr.iv.html
(9) Luigi Gambero, S.M. Mary and the Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco, Ignatius Press 1999) p. 56
(10) This Latin version, and the English, is found on http://www.ucatholic.com/catholicprayers/sub-tuum-praesidium/Notes:

 

 

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 15, 2017

On Faith: Wisdom from Fr. Lallemant, S.J.

When the lights go out – when an unexpected power failure sends the whole community into darkness – what do you do? You try to remember where you left that flashlight. You hope that the batteries are strong. You try to grope your way in the darkness to find that one source of precious light that can help you, in this darkness.

Do you see how the darkness of unbelief is growing in the world? How callousness grows in hearts toward one another, how compassion cools, and fear increases? How quickly patience evaporates and anger, even rage, flames up? The anchor of Christ in the souls of men and of women is not so easily to be seen or found, these days, as the sun sets. And lacking that anchor, men and women are like feathers in the torrents of a storm, or splinters on the raging sea: men and women without foundation, without direction, without compass or vision, having no rock to stand on – adrift and uncertain as the shifting opinions and judgments of men who cannot see.

Heb 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Faith is an assurance; faith is a conviction. Faith is a light of seeing in what, for those having no faith, is black and empty darkness. Faith is light, faith “knows”: God is real. God is love. God is eternal. God is knowable in not only “what” He is, but Who He is. God can be known, and, according to Fr. Lallemant, spiritual director and teacher of Jesuits in the early 1600’s, faith is a personal human sharing in God’s divine wisdom. His holy wisdom is the light of clarity and truth that penetrates any darkness no matter how thick, deep or wide.

In days of profound trial, when all that used to be sure and trusted is taken away or lost – when the darkness has never before been so heavy, quenching every glimmer of human self-sufficiency, then – then the soul cries out – where – where is my faith?

Fr. Lallemant’s teachings in The Spiritual Doctrine, which was quoted also in the last blog entry, includes these comments on the matter of faith. I’ll respond to his teachings after each part, as I did before.

FAITH being, next to the clear vision of God, the most excellent participation of the uncreated wisdom, it must not be based upon natural reasons nor our own human inventions. Nevertheless such reasons may serve to subdue the repugnance and opposition of our mind, to rid us of our dulness, and to dispose us to believe, though they cannot be employed as a support to that which we believe by faith, for faith implies the whole authority of God, and is founded on His sovereign and infinite wisdom, which makes it impossible for Him to be deceived, and on His infinite fidelity, which makes it impossible for Him to deceive us.

The difference between faith, which is a supernatural gift, and human reasonings or wishes, which are natural acts of the mind and heart, is radical. Faith is a human sharing in, a “participation of,” that which is of God – divine – supernatural: uncreated wisdom. There are those who have these two radically different realities confused in their minds! They have what they call “faith”, but what they have is not the gift of the fruit of God Himself, but a conclusion of their own human reasonings and wishes. No, such is not faith. It is through faith – through real, authentic faith, that men are saved from sin and eternal death. We read St. Paul, in Ephesians:

Eph 2:8  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—
Eph 2:9  not because of works, lest any man should boast.
Eph 2:10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And faith is not a human work! “… not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Faith is God’s gift in His grace, in His life, in His light. Fr. Lallemant continues:

Some tremble at the sight of the truths of faith, and are unwilling to reflect upon them; not that they doubt them, but they avoid the thought of them, because they have not used themselves to it. This is a great error, and at death the devil will be able to assault them on their weak side.

As it is faith which makes perfect that knowledge which prompts the will to act, and as, according to St. Thomas, it resides partly in the will, it facilitates the exercise of all virtues. For a knowledge of the faith touching temperance, for example, will make me perform an act of temperance more easily than the simple propriety of this virtue, and at the same time it will render my act supernatural.

Faith “facilitates” – enables, empowers – the acting of supernatural virtues. Mere human reasoning can “facilitate” good actions or even good habits of action – good on a human scale; but faith facilitates good actions on the eternal, supernatural scale. Thus, for example, the virtue or habit of temperance, or moderation could be by decision of human reasoning and will, or by conviction and guidance of faith. One man might develop the habit of temperance and self-restraint in his eating – or his drinking – by his use of reason: it makes sense for his health, and his self-image, perhaps to keep his employment, perhaps for political ambitions, or for any of many reasons. Such temperance would be good, but on the human scale, a natural decision for natural motivations.

But another man might choose temperance because of the conviction and guidance of faith: he ought to eat and drink temperately, moderately, because it is true to do so in God’s sight. Indeed, the abiding presence of God in his life, in his heart and mind, urges him toward moderation and virtue in all things, in all ways. Supernatural faith prompts the man to temperance – as does carnal ambition to a man of this world – but supernatural faith renders the act supernatural, and of eternal value.

Fr. Lallemant concludes the issue in this way:

We must endeavor, therefore, to ground ourselves more and more firmly in faith, walking always in its light, putting it in the place of those reasonings in which the human mind is always prone to indulge upon all kinds of subjects, and making it serve as the guiding torch and principle of all our actions. An act of the will grounded on faith is worth more than ten sentiments that have their source in the spiritual taste.

Here is the conclusion for us, here and now, in the today of this world: we need to grow in faith. We need to “develop” and “grow” the faith that we have – that we have been given by grace. We need to consciously exercise and use faith as light to walk by, to make choices and decisions by, so that we can become more and more persons of faith. As the darkness grows, and threatens faith more and more, so must we become more and more prepared with stronger faith, with faith we are “used to” using as the light to guide our paths, and choices.

We can begin to question ourselves, with the “why” question. “Why” do I want to buy this or that thing? “Why” do I want to go to this or that event? “Why” do I want to watch this or that movie, or TV show? “Why” do I want to spend time doing this, or that? Is God, the object of my faith, my light and my guide in this decision? Does faith lead me to this choice? Or is it merely self-satisfaction that I seek, merely natural and temporary pleasures that I want because I want them?

In the last days, the currency of the world will become worthless, of no value. On our deathbed, what will be of value? Faith, and hope, and divine charity, love. Let us practice, in our daily lives, those precious gifts – let us walk by them! On our deathbed, we will thank the saints for their faithfulness to truth – and for passing on to us, the treasures of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 10, 2017

The Cross: Wisdom from Fr. Lallemant, S.J.

The Spiritual Doctrine – a book – is a beautiful record of the wisdom of the teachings of Fr. Louis Lallemant, S.J., (1588-1633). He was born six years after the death of St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila), and three years before the death of St. John of the Cross. He lived, in other words, in a time of profound spiritual blessings and grace in the Catholic Church. He is much quoted, and clearly he is respected greatly, by (among others) Fr. R. Garrigou-Lagrange, who himself is notable for his outstanding writings on Catholic spirituality, in particular The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

I’d like to pass on just a few paragraphs of Fr. Lallemant’s wisdom on the matter of the cross. Jesus taught that all who follow Him will carry a cross, as He Himself would carry and die on the Cross for our sakes – for our salvation. And He wanted to emphasize that He did not come to save us from suffering for love and for truth, but rather to gather us, with Him and in Him, into His holy Self-giving on the Cross for love and for truth, each in our own personal way. Jesus taught:

Mt 16:24  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Mt 16:25  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The paragraphs quoted below, on which I will comment briefly, are from The Spiritual Doctrine; 2nd Principle, Ch. 3, art. IV: “Of the love of crosses.”

2. As our Lord wrought the redemption of the world only by His cross, by His death, and the shedding of His blood, not by His miracles or preachings, so likewise the evangelical laborers apply the grace of redemption only by their crosses, and by the persecutions they suffer. So much so, that no great fruits can be expected from their ministry, if it be not accompanied by contradictions, calumnies, injuries, and sufferings.

How many men and women labor, in the Church, to spread His Gospel, but not in the way of the cross? Certainly it is “reasonable” – in the reasonings of the world, with natural prudence and human understandings – to gravitate to ways of working for Christ that also advance our own personal reputation and comforts, career plans and goals, with vacations and retirements, and the praise and respect of men? How much work, in the Church, is devoted to being “inclusive” to the world and its values, seeking acceptance by the world, hoping – or assuming – that God will not be offended? We run to the world in darkness, our backs to the Cross and His pain; we embrace their values, we laugh at their jokes, we assure them that our ways are like their ways, that God’s love and mercy are free for all. Come! As you are! God requires nothing of you – He loves you! It’s free! Eternal life! Free for all!

3.Some think they do wonders because they preach powerful discourses, well-composed, well prepared, and delivered with grace; because they are the fashion, and are welcomed everywhere. They deceive themselves; the means on which they rely are not those which God makes use of to do great things. Crosses are needed to effect the salvation of the world. It is by the way of the cross that God leads those whom He employs to save souls, apostles and apostolic men, a St. Francis Xavier, a St. Ignatius, a St. Vincent Ferrer, a St. Dominic.

Yes, crosses are needed. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross. Salvation is won by crosses, by suffering. In the mysterious, supernatural wisdom of God, freedom is not free but rather it costs: it costs everything. Eternal, divine and holy love – in which is our life, our peace, our happiness – is a free and eternal and personal out-pouring for the good of another. This was His Cross, and this is our cross: Give, for the good of others. Give not counting the cost, but only counting the good, for the other. Give out of an eternal and never-extinguished font of love, and every ounce out-poured is immediately replenished, to overflowing.

Crosses are to be embraced: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters!”

4. We must not look upon our crosses and afflictions in the light of evils which are the cause to us of suffering, or as mortifications which lower us in the eyes of the world; but we must look at them, after the example of our Lord, in the eternal counsels of God, in the decrees of His providence, and in the designs of His love towards us, in the Heart of Jesus Christ, who has chosen them for us, and presents them to us as the material of those crowns which He is preparing for us, and as a trial of our courage and fidelity in His service.

He has chosen them for us, very particularly, personally, especially. He has created, designed and built us to a purpose, and the crosses He presents to us are doorways into His perfect and glorious will. “Come, Peter, walk on the water” – walk in peace, in the midst of this storm! Look not at the wind and waves, look through them, they are transparent, they are translucent, hidden in their darkness is the eternal light of God.

5. In the beginning of the spiritual life, we must not ask sufferings of God; we must think rather of purging our conscience, devoting ourselves to acquire purity of heart, the knowledge of our own interior, and recollection. From thence we rise to peace of soul, thence to communion with God, next to infused virtues, and finally to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then it is that God inspires us according to His designs and will; leading some by labors, as St. Francis Xavier; others by sufferings, as St. Ludwine; others by contradictions and persecutions, as St. Ignatius: but of our selves we must not make any particular choice, otherwise we shall always be in trouble; not possessing as yet sufficient virtue to endure crosses, it would be to undertake to carry a giant’s load without the strength to do it. When, however, at the call of God, we enter into states of toil, suffering, and humiliation, then neither will labors overwhelm us, nor persecutions disturb us, and often even great austerities will not destroy our health.

God does not ask of us anything that He does not enable in us. In the beginning, we were just beginning! He knew we were just beginners. But He calls us to grow:

Eph 4:11  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
Eph 4:12  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Eph 4:13  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
Eph 4:14  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.
Eph 4:15  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Eph 4:16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

Posted by: Thomas Richard | July 24, 2017

Simple Guidelines for Profound and Effective Prayer

Introduction

To describe the simple guidelines for vocal prayer, in a few words, is easy:
— Slow down.
— Pray attentively.
— Pray with fervent devotion.

I’ll expand on the few words a bit later; first let’s consider what prayer is, and why we ought to pray. Then, the question of how to pray becomes seen in the light it deserves. It is fundamentally, crucially, even urgently important to pray well.

What is Prayer?

What is prayer? There are several ways to describe what prayer is; each of the descriptions below are worth some time to listen and to consider. They all come from men and women of prayer – men and women who have experienced what they describe. They are not academics; they are not (merely) theologians; they are witnesses. They have lived lives of prayer; they have experienced, and they know of what they speak.

The briefest definition of prayer I have heard is from St. John Vianney: “Prayer is nothing other than union with God.” (“Catechetical Instructions” – Catechism on Prayer, Ch. 8.)

Another saint of the Church, Therese of Lisieux, wrote: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”  (Catechism # 2558)

And more from the Catechism: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” [St. John Damascene] But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? [see Ps 130:1] He who humbles himself will be exalted; [Cf. Lk 18:9-14] humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” [Rom 8:26] are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. St. Augustine wrote, “Man is a beggar before God.” (Catechism # 2559)

The Catechism also includes this: “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ.” (Catechism # 2564) “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism # 2565)

If prayer is truly prayer – if God is truly present with the one praying – if prayer is not merely talking to oneself, but in truth “union with God” – then prayer has a supernatural and divine dimension, pervading the natural and human dimension of the person in prayer. When we pray, we are not alone! Prayer is a union, a communion, a living relationship with God, an embrace of love.

If prayer is truly prayer, it is lived and experienced in a process – a growing, advancing process – a journey – a “living relationship of the children of God” with God Himself, the Holy Trinity. If we have a life of prayer, it is growing – and we are growing, in the life of prayer. If we have a life of prayer, we are on a journey of prayer in Him, to Him, with Him and with all who are in Him with us. To have a life of prayer, we must have times of silence and solitude with God alone. And with God alone, we are never alone.

How then are we to pray?

— Slow down.
— Pray attentively.
— Pray with fervent devotion.

These three requirements for praying especially vocal prayer well, are mutually linked. If we don’t slow down, it is very easy to pray unconsciously, merely reciting words out of memory, possibly day-dreaming and mentally a million miles distant from where our bodies are. Such is not praying! St. Teresa of Avila, writing to help her sisters in the Carmelites to grow in prayer, wrote of the very first steps:

… if it is prayer at all, the mind must take part in it. If a person neither considers to Whom he is addressing himself, what he asks, nor what he is who ventures to speak to God, although his lips may utter many words, I do not call it prayer. Sometimes, indeed, one may pray devoutly without making all these considerations through having practiced them at other times. The custom of speaking to God Almighty as freely as with a slave–caring nothing whether the words are suitable or not, but simply saying the first thing that comes to mind from being learnt by rote by frequent repetition–cannot be called prayer: God grant that no Christian may address Him in this manner. I trust His Majesty will prevent any of you, sisters, from doing so.
Interior Castle, 1st Mansions, Ch. 1, #9)

We must pray attentively! We must be attentive to who is praying, and to whom I am praying, and what it is that I am praying. When I am in prayer, I must be conscious of reality: without pretense or role-playing, without affectation, posturing or posing but in simplicity and sincerity. God knows me inside and out! He is not impressed with artificial flowers or theatrical oratory:

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things are mine, says the LORD. But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isa 66:1-2)

I am praying; it is to almighty God that I am praying; and this is what I am saying in prayer to Him. Let us pray slowly enough that we can be confident that we are praying attentively, and devoutly.

Yes, let us pray with devotion – honest, sincere, full-hearted devotion. Devotion is consecration – commitment – self-offering, self-gift, self-donation according to these words, the words of my prayer, binding me to God and with Him in our covenant in Christ. As cited above from the Catechism, prayer is a “covenant relationship between God and man in Christ.” Christ has died to open the way for our union – to seal our union by a covenant in His sacred blood.

So, for example, if I pray, “Our Father…,” do I commit myself and consecrate myself to be brother or sister to all who are of “our Father”? Do I see us all as called into Him with one another? Is my heart big enough, and wide enough, to hold all who are of “our Father”? And is He held in faith as my Father? Am I living a life worthy of His Name, which I claim to possess in Him by faith? Do I mean it, in other words, when I say, “our Father”? If I do not mean the words, as I say and remember this holy prayer, then my prayer ought to be for the grace and mercy of God to help me grow into meaning them, in sincerity and truth.

The life of prayer is a process, a life of growing and maturing in Him. He calls us all to holiness and to the perfection of charity. (CCC # 2013) The journey to holiness is the journey of prayer, a life of prayer and the living of the fruit of prayer: works of holy charity. Let us slow down enough to listen and to learn the truth of ourselves, and the truth of God. He calls us to a real, authentic union with Him. He created us for this union! And our hearts will be restless, until they find their rest in Him. (St. Augustine)

Let us resolve to make our prayer – even our most familiar vocal prayers of the Church – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be – let us make our prayers true: truly from the heart, true in conscience. Let them be meant, and believed, every word. As St. Francis of Assisi said, very near the end of his life, “Brothers, finally, let us at last, begin.”

Thomas Richard

 

Posted by: Thomas Richard | June 26, 2017

Our Need for Prayer

Mother Teresa troubled the West when she noted that for all the wealth of our materialism, we are victims and perpetrators of a deeper poverty than the material poverty she knew back in her beloved India.  She saw among us – citizens of a developed nation, a modern and advanced society – persons rejected, abandoned, alone.  She spoke of babies rejected and aborted because they would require care, and love, and sacrifice.  She spoke of the “disease” among the living of persons uncared for, unloved – a cultural poverty of love:

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

There can be a kind of love without God – but it is thin, shallow, transient.  Such love is never enough; it is barren, untrustworthy, unfaithful. The true hunger of persons for love is the deep longing for home, for our Origen, for our Destiny, for the meaning and reason for our very being.  We cannot know such love apart from sacrifice, from self-gift, and from the receiving of the gift of another. Love completes us, and the only love that can still the deepest longing of our hearts, is the love that completes us to finality, to perfection, into timeless peace.  “There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Christians have the greatest promise ever dreamed of in the history of all creation, and it is no dream: it is real, a real promise, an assurance, a treasure waiting to be received and gathered into each precious self, each person, each soul.  God is seeking to be sought.  God is seeking to be found.  God is waiting to be asked; He is the flame of divine and eternal love, waiting to set ablaze human hearts grown cold in guarded and lonely chambers of isolation.  God waits to pour life into souls lingering or wandering in the shadow of death, if we will but seek Him!

Prayer is our call to God, the ever-near God who waits.  Prayer is the journey to life, the journey to Him.  It is the journey to Him, all the while always with Him.  We cannot take a step to Him, except with Him – indeed, except in Him, and He in us, an ever-present Companion.  He reveals Himself only when it is time, and only enough to enable our strength for the day.  He is calling us to holiness!  He is calling us to life, to love, to communion – and because He calls us to Himself, the hunger in our hearts is deep, and strong: we must respond.

The Journey of Prayer

The journey of prayer then is a journey of response to this place in our hearts made for God, made by God, satisfied by no other love but holy love, of and for the one true God.  The journey of prayer is a journey of meeting with God, of communion with Him, progressively deeper and higher in communion with Him.  Therefore the path both descends, deeper and deeper into our own souls, and ascends, higher and higher to Him.  The journey of prayer proceeds with greater and greater engagement with God, if and as we continue to grow in the interior life of prayer.  In the very depths of the soul is I myself – who I am – my own unique name as God knows me and has created me.  If then, in my ascent to Him in prayer, I come finally to meet Him there, in the depths and center of my soul, then my prayer has reached its rightful end, even here on this earth and in this body.

Stages, or Grades, of Prayer

  •  Vocal Prayer

The journey of prayer proceeds in stages: Vocal Prayer, Meditation, Contemplation.  We begin with vocal prayer – either “formula” vocal prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the common prayer of blessing before meals, the Glory Be, and so on, or “spontaneous” vocal prayers that are prayers simply prayed in our own words.  This is the way we typically begin to pray – words spoken, directed to God either directly or through the intercession of some saint.  For many people, this is also the only way that praying is understood!  But prayer includes more, much more, than “words spoken, directed to God” directly or indirectly.

The essential requirements to pray vocal prayer well, and fruitfully, are to pray slowly, carefully, attentively, with devotion:

  1. pray with careful attentiveness, slowly, giving careful attention to what is being prayed: to every word offered in the prayer,
  2. pray with reverent devotion and commitment to the words prayed; with a faithful sincere heart, with careful intent to be obedient to the meaning, the words, the intention of the prayer.
  • Meditation

If we advance in prayer, we advance to include meditation, or mental prayer, as a way of praying along with our vocal prayers.  We never “outgrow” the beautiful written vocal prayers of the Church – indeed the Our Father is our model for prayer, the perfect prayer.  But vocal prayer, prayed well, invites us to pray better – more deeply – more completely – with our whole mind and heart.  Vocal prayer prayed well invites us into meditation.

Meditation in the Christian sense is the intentional engagement of the mind – thus “mental prayer” – with the works and words of God.  Fitting for meditation would be portions of Holy Scripture, for example: devoting time to carefully listening to a portion of Scripture, seeking to hear and understand it as fully and deeply as possible, seeking to fully open one’s own mind and heart to this passage which is “of God”.  In this way we seek to know Him more and more, in truth, and to understand His will and His ways, so as to love Him with our whole mind, and heart, and soul – by seeking to live in obedience to His will and His ways.

As vocal prayer has two “kinds” – formula and spontaneous – so mediation has three “kinds”.  The three kinds of meditation are usually experienced in a sequence, each progressive kind being “deeper” and more “simple” than the preceding one: first discursive meditation, or effort to understand or grasp with the mind, using reasoning; then affective meditation, with more intense affect of the heart; and finally the prayer of simplicity, deep and intense engagement with great focus on matters of simplicity, purity, and mystical profundity.

  • Contemplation

The last-listed “kind” of meditation, the prayer of simplicity, might be called (and has been called) “acquired contemplation,” but it is not yet true contemplation – it is still meditation.  All of the grades or stages of prayer listed so far belong in the category of ascetical prayer; the kinds of prayers of contemplation, rightly understood, belong in the category of mystical prayer.

Ascetical and mystical prayer are radically, importantly and significantly different.  Ascetical prayer can be prayed with ordinary habitual grace – the grace common to all in “the state of grace” and fellowship with Christ.  All Christians in the state of grace given in Baptism can pray in the mode of ascetical prayer – all kinds of vocal prayer and all kinds of Christian meditation.  Mystical prayer is different; contemplation, rightly understood, is different.  Contemplation is a work of God the Holy Spirit not a work of man; it is initiated and caused by actual grace (not caused by, but still requiring the presence of ordinary habitual grace) infused into – given to – the soul by God’s initiative.  Man cannot “do” contemplation; it is given to him.

There are five “kinds” of the mystical prayer, contemplation, all connoting stages of deepening, increasing spiritual union with God: contemplation as first experienced is called simply “infused contemplation.”  The next grade of contemplation is called “the prayer of quiet,” after that, “the prayer of union,” and then, “the prayer of conforming union,” and finally, “the prayer of transforming union.”  This last grade or stage of contemplation, the transforming union, is also called the spiritual marriage of the soul with God. It is identified with the seventh mansions of St. Teresa’s Interior Castle; it is the highest level of union with God possible in this life.

Concluding Thoughts

In the beginnings of prayer – vocal prayer, using prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the whole Rosary – we are beginning a conversation with God.  In this beginning, it may be that we do all the talking, and possibly not even wait for God to respond!  But this beginning of a conversation is intended by God to grow, to develop, to mature.  The fullness of development, of maturity, of conversation with God is in the higher levels of contemplation, especially the last kind of prayer listed here, the prayer of transforming union.  I hope that this brief post on the journey of prayer can encourage you to pray more, to pray with greater attention and devotion, to expand your praying into the prayers of meditation upon Holy Scripture, and on to the threshold of holy contemplation, and beyond.

“Assignment for the Learner”

The Our Father is an excellent prayer (it is the perfect prayer!) to pray, and to meditate upon in prayer.  I have a guided meditation on this prayer on my website, linked here:

An Interior Pilgrimage for the Soul

The first page (the link above) is an introduction, ending with a link to a page beginning the meditation/pilgrimage.  Try a plan of one page of the pilgrimage per day, until you complete the whole Our Father – and for the rest of each day, focus on the whole prayer the Our Father, especially the verse/petition especially highlighted for that day.

There is a space for comments/responses at the bottom of each web page – I’d appreciate hearing from you any questions or comments, especially about any way or ways this guided meditation has been helpful to you.

Learn more about the art and the science of prayer!  I list some resources below:

Resources:

  1. Spiritual Theology, by Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P.  Pages (on Prayer): 221-248.  This book can be read on-line, for free.  Fr. Aumann discusses all of these grades of prayer.  An on-line copy is HERE
  2. The Ordinary Path to Holiness, by R. Thomas Richard, Chapter 4: Growing in Holiness: Prayer.  Sorry, no copies available free on-line, only for purchase, paperback or Kindle reader.  (See Amazon: LINK )
  3. Encountering Christ in Holy Scripture with Lectio Divina, by R. Thomas Richard.  Sorry, no copies available free on-line, only for purchase for the Kindle reader.  (See Amazon: LINK )

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