Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 Christmas Letter from our Carmelite Father General,Saverio Cannistra, OCD

Photo: R. Massaro, Sorrowful Mother Shrine-Bellevue, Ohio

P. Saverio CannistrĂ , Preposito General

In the mystery of Christmas, God asks man to receive him. He calls at the door of our home, our world, our daily tasks: he wants to enter, find a place where we are, our things, our thoughts, our affections; he does precisely what every human who comes
into the world does, every guest (expected or unexpected) who shows up at our doorstep. Man always asks the other man to make room for him, to give him time: without this, he cannot live. And the miracle of Christmas is this: if God makes himself man, it is because he needs man to take care of him. This, as paradoxical as it seems and contrary to any natural or philosophical idea about God, is nevertheless understandable. Perhaps what is more difficult to understand is that this welcoming defines man’s salvation. Man is saved the moment he cares for God. Receiving the God-made-man, man receives himself, he welcomes himself in the most authentic and radical way, and is able to love himself at last.

Yes, because the problem is that man does not love himself at all and does not take care of himself at all. When we read in the Gospel of Luke, “because there was no room for them [for us] in the inn,” or in the Gospel of John, “He came to what was his
own, but his own people did not accept him,” it is really about man himself that the Gospel is speaking. This is what Christmas primarily, fundamentally brings to light: we discover that in our lives and dwellings, in our minds and hearts, there is no place for
ourselves, for what we truly are, for that incessant dynamism that is man, for his infinite potential for love. Everything is already scheduled, the agenda is already full, a bit like our calendars at the beginning of the new year.

And of what is this man made, who bids enter and find lodging within us? I believe it is the Word of God, if we read between the lines, that gives us many elements to reconstruct his countenance and understand his nature.

The first element is time. He is a man made of time, who needs time. He needs almost a year to learn how to walk, and more than a year to learn to talk, and then more years to learn to read, write, work.... Jesus spends thirty years in Nazareth growing in years, wisdom, and grace. Many days, months, years, which are not consistently the same, but are steps that succeed each other and are consequences of each other. Time does not repeat itself, it continues, as we say, “inexorably”; yet, not: it evolves in a
beneficial manner, salvifically. I ask myself if we still have that same sense of time, of existence, of its “unfolding,” which is actually a making way, or on the contrary, if we are attached to the moment, to many moments, each identical to the other, without
progression, without direction, one piled upon or imprinted on the other. We are in a hurry to see results, to possess tangible goods which in reality are only ephemeral images, made of the same stuff as dreams. The God who becomes man asks us to welcome man in his temporalities, who grows and matures slowly.

The God who enters our life is also the man that contains inner spaces and landscapes. The birth of Jesus is surrounded by a series of experiences that happen in solitude and interiority. The gospels speak of angels, that is to say messages that envelope Mary in her awaiting, Joseph in his questioning, the shepherds in their nocturnal vigil. And we are told that all these people discovered a different reality, hidden from the eyes of the world, but that generates life, light, and new hope. “They were filled with joy and Spirit,” in the words of the Gospel of Luke. Joy and Spirit spring from within, like a fountain that issues from the depths of the rock. Man is made of this rock: in him there is something very solid, very resistant. But is there room for this solitude in our world, which we now sometimes qualify as “fluid”? Do we want to be solid? Do we really want to resist the winds and currents that beckon, distract, and tempt us? Are we not afraid to be anchored down, when everything seems to let itself be carried away by a sweet drifting? Yet faith is being steadfast, faithfulness is remaining steadfast, peace is being steadfast, not in the sense of being inert or like the peace of a cemetery, but a wanting to profoundly root ourselves in something that is true: constant and trustworthy despite everything. It is the Word, the Logos from which we come, but which “the world did not know.” Many words, too many senses, many paradises attract us.

And lastly, this man that bids us receive him and recognize him is made of flesh: the Word became flesh. This is what the Gospel of John tells us. It does not say: he became man, but rather, he became flesh, even knowing that in a certain way flesh suggests corruption, vulnerability, fragility. Flesh is subjected to cold and heat, hunger and thirst, tiredness and sleep. Flesh has desires and passions. Flesh undergoes shock, trembling, and bleeding. But it also receives caresses and embraces, it receives warmth from fire and enjoys ocean breezes, it is anointed with perfumed oils and covered in linens. Flesh is not a reality to be considered only from a medical point of view or erotic passion. Flesh am I: my feelings, my reactions to the world in which I live, my earthly condition from which we try to protect ourselves or gnostically flee. Therefore, we speak of post-human or post-mortal man or society, following the ideal of the man-machine whose parts can be replaced or transformed. Perhaps we don’t realize that this worldview is subtly overpowering our minds, daily drawing us further away from the body of flesh of which we are made and which contains and cares for our truest self. Because it is the body that is the true subject of the spiritual life and there is nothing better than the mystery of the Incarnation to remind us of that and cause us to meditate on it. Let us not disdain the body; let us not be gnostic, or else along with the body we will also lose the spirit. The body of Jesus is placed in our hands for us to welcome and, with him, also welcome our own bodies with their history, wounds, emotions, and weaknesses. Bodies that ask us to care for them, not only by going to doctors, but also by deeply listening to them, living and savoring to its marrow the reality of our being in the world.

For this did God come into the world, for us to learn to be in him, in truth and grace, without evading but also without chains: free as only men who have learned to be genuinely human can be.

Merry Christmas!
Peace be with you!
Rosemarie of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, ocds

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday with the Saints

DECEMBER 14 (Transferred to the 15 this year)
Happy Feast Day to all Carmelites!

Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love -- God.

When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love."

John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .
(From Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

Some of the Literary works of St. John of the Cross include:

The Ascent of Mount Carmel

Dark Night of the Soul

The Spiritual Canticle

The Tomb of St. John of the Cross

Tomb of St. John of the Cross

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, of the hearts of Jesus and Mary ocds

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spiritual Direction with St. Teresa of Jesus

In this post we will consider the qualities of the person who has entered the third dwelling place of the interior castle. Keep in mind, that this is still far from the seventh mansion where the soul enjoys perfect contemplation and union with God as is attainable in this our earthly life with God.

Concerning souls in the third dwelling place, St. Teresa has this to say:

...They long not to offend His Majesty, even guarding themselves against venial sins; they are fond of doing penance and setting aside periods for recollection; they spend their time well, practicing works of charity toward their neighbors; and are very balanced in their use of speech and dress and in governing their households.
Way of Perfection, Chap. I, No. 5

Do you see yourself in this description?  Do you know someone who fits this description?  I certainly do, and I am humbled when I consider the holy lives they lead. They are true spiritual inspirations to help one keep the course on the way of perfection.

I attended a retreat once in which the priest said that most people who are trying to be good and please God are in the third dwelling place. He said many good Christians, many good Catholics are in this dwelling place. The problem is that most people remain in this dwelling place without seeking to advance in the spiritual life.  They become complacent and settled in their ways, settling for the spiritual life they enjoy at this point. They haven't yet embraced the cross and cultivated a desire to be united with the Crucified and Risen One in the spiritual marriage. 

The soul in the third dwelling place seems just about perfect. Right? They try to avoid venial sins, they perform works of charity, are very modest and balanced people; all this goodness in just the third mansion!  We can only imagine what it must be like to live with or know someone in the higher mansions. 

Let us get back to the lesson at-hand today and consider that the soul who is "stuck" in the third mansion is one who is afraid to leave their spiritual comfort zone. They enjoy a wealth of blessings from the Lord and are not eager to leave this dwelling place. St. Teresa teaches us that the soul in this state is like the rich young man whom the Lord disappointed when he said he must leave his wealth behind to follow him and be perfect. This is the comparison St. Teresa makes about the soul and the rich young man:

We all say that we want this good. But since there is need of still more in order that the soul possess the Lord completely, it is not enough to say we want it; just as this was not enough for the young man whom the Lord told what one must do in order to be perfect. From the time I began to speak of these dwelling places I have had this young man in mind. For we are literally like him; and ordinarily the great dryness in prayer comes from this, although it also has other causes. 
Way of Perfection, Chap. 3, No. 6

Now, St. Teresa begins to speak of the dryness that a soul may experience because one does not want to leave behind the spiritual consolation he is enjoying.  The soul in this state believes he is entitled to entry into the higher mansions. St. Teresa describes this person's attitude:

They cannot accept patiently that the door of entry to the place where our King dwells be closed to them who consider themselves His vassals.
Way of Perfection, Chap. I, No. 6

Then she instructs her nuns:

Enter, enter, my daughters, into the interior rooms; pass on from your little works. By the mere fact that you are Christians you must do all these things and much more. It is enough for you to be God's vassals...Behold the saints who entered this King's chamber, and you will see the difference between them and us.
Way of Perfection, Chap. I, No. 6

During this Advent season, when the entire Church is on retreat, let us take this opportunity to pray for ourselves and each other. Let us pray for the gift of humility that allows our heart to be satisfied with being true servants of the Lord without any desire for a reward. 

May he give us true self-knowledge that comes from prayer and recollection; self-knowledge that lets us see ourselves as we are before him. May he give us the desire to be one with him; to return love for love.

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie of the hearts of Jesus and Mary, ocds