Sunday, June 26, 2016

Spiritual Direction with St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Photo: (C) R. Massaro St. Peter Church North Ridgeville, Ohio

In the life of St. Therese, we learn about the ways in which she overcame herself by practicing virtue. She did this in a very ordinary way by accepting life as it was presented to her each day. As she matured in the spiritual life, her sister, Celine, noticed her virtue and said to her "Oh, when I think of how much I have to acquire." Therese responded, "Rather, how much you have to lose." Therese's few words of wisdom gets right to the heart of the call in Carmel and to all Christians who are seeking perfection: one must be detached from sin and from worldly pleasures and from one's own will, and from one's own desires... We could go on an on identifying and describing detachment.

Therese's deep detachment was a gradual process and the fruition of her cooperation with God's grace to give herself totally to God's merciful love. This desire of detachment so inflamed her that in her written prayer "Act of Oblation to the Merciful Love of God," she writes:

In the evening of life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works...

What an amazing, bold, and spiritually detached statement from this little Doctor!  By this statement we can read between the lines, if you will, and see that her motives must have been totally purified by the Holy Spirit, for she did not do works to be justified before God. She continues in her prayer:

All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

St. Therese is a true daughter of the Church, a true daughter of Carmel. She took to heart and let blossom the spiritual direction of her Father in Carmel, St. John of the Cross, who's teaching on detachment is a light and guide to those who wish to ascend the holy mountain and reach spiritual perfection.  St. John of the Cross uses the symbolism of a bird to explain detachment:

A bird caught in a birdlime has a twofold task: It must free itself and cleanse itself. And by satisfying their appetites, people suffer in a twofold way: They must detach themselves and, after being detached, clean themselves of what has clung to them
The Sayings of Light and Love #22

Sometimes, I think we forget the second part of detachment, the purifying of the effects of our attachments. We must let the Holy Spirit purify and cleanse us from our attachments and the effects. St. John of the Cross is simply describing Purgatory. Those seeking spiritual perfection have a desire to be purified beginning in this life. 

In this Year of Mercy, the Church offers a plenary indulgence to the faithful. One of the requirements to gain the indulgence is to be detached from sin, even venial sin. When we think of detachments, we usually think of something related to the senses. However, we must also consider what the Church requires, detachment from even venial sins. We must ask ourselves if we take pleasure in certain sins. For example, impatience. Perhaps we are attached to being impatient. If we are confessing the same sins over and over in confession, this may be a time to ask ourselves if we are seriously attached to a particular sin.  

St. John of the Cross also teaches that we can become attached to the manner of our prayer. He teaches us that we must be open to the Holy Spirit who may wish to speak to us and give us self-knowledge, perhaps about our attachments. We cannot hear the Lord speaking if we never listen in prayer. Perhaps we are attached to talking in prayer and not giving the Lord an opportunity to speak to us.

In our technologically advanced society, we can certainly be attached to many things and devices. How many of us can disconnect from our computers and cell phones?  It's not easy. 

My prayer is for the Lord to raise up more spiritual ascetics in the church. We need prophets! We need prayerful witnesses. We need to spend time with our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration! We need to go out into the desert for a half-hour or an hour, with no phone or headphones and be totally present to the Lord-standing at attention before him proclaiming: Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!

A person who practices severe self-discipline and abstention.

Photo: R. Massaro   The Prophet Elijah

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS

Wednesday, June 15, 2016



Photo: R. Massaro-Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine North Jackson, Ohio

When one enters an Eastern Catholic Church or Greek Orthodox Church, it is customary to venerate the icon placed before the sanctuary and the altar. Normally, one bows, then kisses the icon. It is proper to kiss the image of the hands and the feet of Christ or the Holy Mother of God. One does not kiss the face of the one represented in the icon. While giving a lesson to our Carmelite community, I mentioned this fact. It fostered a discussion on why one does not kiss the face on an icon. I offered that perhaps it's just more reverent to kiss the feet or the hands of a holy person, as an act of humility. We were sorry that our Byzantine priest and brother in Carmel was not present at this meeting to teach us about this.  

At the next opportunity, I asked Father about this tradition. He asked me, "Who kissed Jesus on the face?" Of course. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. So, that is the reason an icon of Jesus is not venerated with a kiss on the face.

The Byzantine Church has a beautiful preparatory prayer for Holy Communion in which this very act of betrayal is mentioned:

O Lord, I believe and profess that you are truly Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God; for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor will I give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when you shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Master, when you shall come into your kingdom. Remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into your kingdom. May the partaking of your Holy Mysteries, O Lord, be not for my  judgment or condemnation, but for the healing of soul and body. O Lord, I also believe and profess that this, which I am about to receive, is truly your most precious Body and your life-giving Blood, which, I pray, make me worthy to receive for the remission of all my sins and for life everlasting. Amen.

This meditation on venerating icons can be used for an examination of conscience. At the end of the day, we can ask ourselves, how did I betray the Lord today? Was it in my speech? Did I gossip? Did I ruin someone's good name and reputation in the eyes of another?

Did I betray the Lord by giving in to judgmental thoughts about people, places, and situations?

Did I leave the door of my heart unguarded and sin against charity and purity?

Did I betray the Lord in my actions by showing anger and impatience with someone? Did I betray the Lord by being afraid to show that I am a Christian, a Catholic? Was I afraid to pray in public, afraid to be a witness at work or with friends?

Jesus tells us:

Whoever acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before men I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 11:33)

Let us not lose heart if we have deeply and even gravely grieved the Lord. 

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. (Psalm 145:8)

If we are truly sorry, he bathes us in the ocean of his mercy. And we are free to begin anew.We only have to look at the life of St. Peter who betrayed the Lord three times. He was truly repentant, even to the point of weeping over his betrayal. The Lord forgave him completely and put all of his trust in Peter to lead the Church.

When we have betrayed the Lord in any given situation, we can return to his good graces by going to Confession and reciting a simple and heartfelt prayer:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!  Jesus, I trust in you! Yes, I trust in you to forgive me and to help me, a poor sinner.

Let us pray for each other.

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Spiritual Direction with St. John of the Cross

In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and, when I went abroad
through all this valley
I no longer knew anything,
and lost the herd which I was following.

In this poem of St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, he begins to explain what takes place in the depth of this union with the soul and the Bridegroom. He tells us:

This wine cellar is the last and most intimate degree of love in which the soul can be placed in this life...and we can assert that there are seven of these degrees or wine cellars of love. They are all possessed when the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are possessed perfectly according to the soul's capacity for receiving them.
The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 26, No. 3

In our Carmelite tradition, we have many saints who teach us that heaven begins now. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity is a holy Carmelite who speaks about this in her writing.  As Secular Carmelites, we must make the effort now to be holy, so that when the Lord comes unexpectedly he will find us ready for the Kingdom. 

In your circle of friends, family, and co-workers, do you know anyone who possesses a gift of the Spirit in its fullness, in its perfection? Do you know someone who is perfectly patient? Do you know someone who has perfect peace, gentleness, and kindness? Do you know someone who is perfectly loving and charitable, despite being persecuted? If you do, then you know a saint!  These are how the blessed in heaven live and move and have their being in union with God. 

When people come to our community who are interested in Carmelite spirituality, I tell them, yes, it is a way of life, but more importantly, we are striving for a state of being, a state of holiness. We want to begin the process of spiritual purification now, because we want to see God immediately when we die. As St. Therese teaches, if we love perfectly in this life, we do not have to go to purgatory.  This desire does not stem from a fear of purgatory, but flows from a heart that is completely in love with God and is waiting and longing to see him face-to-face.

Let us pray for the souls in purgatory, who long to see God face-to-face. They need our prayers so that they can be filled with all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. Once they enter the final depth of the "wine cellar" they will be in a glorious state of being, one of holiness, ready to experience the beatific vision and experience the union with God they so long for.

Let us pray for our world and for the conversion of sinners. One only has to read the news to see that God is not loved in the world, that many do not revere him or fear him. Our world needs the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that he renews the face of the Earth!

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son, let the might of your love be more and more felt in the hearts of men. Let your light shine more and more on souls that are wandering in the darkness far away from God. Turn them to the light-giving Heart of Jesus and to the healing stream of His Precious Blood. Strengthen souls that love you. Perfect in them your Seven Gifts and your Twelve Fruits, and so make them your temples here that you may be adored in them forever. Amen.

Peace be with you!
Rosemarie, OCDS