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1. Prayer to the Holy Spirit
(Holy Spirit Come)
Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred bond of the Father and the Son, hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving rule. Enkindle in my lukewarm soul the fire of your love so that I may be wholly subject to you.
We believe that not only that you dwell in us, but that you prepare a dwelling for the Father and Son. Come to me Consoler of abandoned souls and protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering.
Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
—St. Augustine (Prayers for Urgent Occasions)LF
When I pray, I rarely think of the Third Person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Do I pray to Jesus? -Absolutely. Do I pray to the Father? -Sometimes. Prayer to the Holy Spirit? -Somehow this gets lost even though this is the main contact between God and humanity in this world. As I listen to the Holy Spirit, I will pick up many of the Holy Spirit’s characteristics (also characteristics of Jesus)including holiness, intelligence, subtlety, incisiveness, lucidity, benevolence, friendliness, steadfastness, dependability and peacefulness (Wisdom 7: 22-23).
Am I becoming more “Spirit-like”?
2. Words to Memorize
(Be Not Afraid)
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
Though all things pass,
God does not change.
Patience wins all things.
But he lacks nothing
Who possesses God;
For God alone suffices.
—St. Teresa (her bookmark)JTG
These few words of this great saint must have been very important to her since she wrote them on the bookmarker of her Bible. She wanted to see the words often and remember them and absorb them. This saint died at the age of 22 years, in great pain and with nearly no spiritual light in her last months. How she needed to know of the constancy of God in a changing world in spite of her feelings.
Do I still become frightened (the opposite of love) by daily events?
3. Benefits of Being Part of the “Family”
(Rejoice My Soul)
Mine are the heavens
And mine is the earth
The angles are mine
And the Mother of God;
And God himself is mine and for me,
Because Christ is mine
And all for me.
Yours is all of this,
Go forth and exult
In your glory!
Hide yourself in it and rejoice!
—St. John of the Cross (JTG)
When I read these words of St. John, I feel shocked! This sounds like grandiosity and pride--certainly not characteristics that I would strive for. Then I remember the words of St. Paul indicating that I am a child and heir of God and a joint-heir and a younger brother of Jesus. Maybe it is pride and grandiosity, in a sort of negative way, not to accept my status and heritage in Jesus.
Am I afraid to live up to my responsibilities as a younger brother of Jesus?
4. God, a Garden?
(God, My Beloved)
As for that part of the Garden, my beloved,
which is situated so gloriously
at the summit of that height
where dwells the Glory,
not even its symbol
can be depicted in man’s thought;
for what mind
has the sensitivity
to gaze upon it,
or the faculties to explore it,
or the capacity to attain to that Garden
whose riches are beyond comprehension.
—St. Ephrem of Syria (Hymns on Paradise)JTG
Song of Songs 4:12-15
As a man, I have a hard time referring to God (a masculine connotation) as my “beloved” (a female connotation). Using the symbol of a “garden” to describe God as rich, fruitful and living is a little easier to accept. According to the Song of Songs, however, God uses the same image of a garden to describe His Beloved (protected, watered, bearing exquisite fruit). Since God’s Beloved is His Church of which I am a part, do I feel protected, cared for and, as a result, bear lavish fruit?
Am I being creatively fruitful as a result of my close contact with God’s fruitfulness? Am I allowing myself to be a branch since God is the Vine?
5. The Savior’s Darkness
(God is Love)
For a huge mass of troubles took possession of the tender and gentle body of our most holy Savior. He knew that His ordeal was imminent and just about to overtake Him; the treacherous betrayer, the bitter enemies, binding ropes, false accusations, slanders, blows, thorns, nails, the cross, and horrible tortures stretched out over many hours. Over and above these, He was tormented by the thought of His disciples’ terror, the loss of the Jews, even the destruction of the very man who so disloyally betrayed Him, and finally the ineffable grief of His beloved mother. The gathered storm of all these evils rushed into His most gentle heart and flooded it like the ocean sweeping through broken dikes.
—St. Thomas More (The Sadness of Christ) JTG
At Gethsemane, and the remainder of the Passion, we see the most human side of Jesus’ nature. It is hard to imagine the intensity of his feelings of grief, sadness and anxiety. His feelings were so intense that He sweated blood. He could have had feelings of fear (the opposite of love) and abandonment (by God, His disciples, His friends). These are the two things that, according to modern thought, create most of this world’s psychological “problems.” The real issue, though, the one that separates the human side of Jesus from the Godly side, is not that He had these “feelings” but what He did: He did God’s will in spite of them.
Am I willing to go beyond my feeling and do what is right instead?
6. Love Letters to God
(I Hunger for You)
At last I love you alone, you alone do I follow, you alone do I seek. You alone am I ready to serve, for you alone, by right, are ruler. Under your rule do I wish to be. Command me, I pray you, and order what you will, but first heal and open my ears that I may hear your commands, heal and open my eyes that I may see your every movement. Remove all unsoundness from me so that I may recognize you. Tell me where to look so that I may look upon you, and I shall hope to do all the things you command!
Too late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient and yet so new! Too late have I loved you. And behold, you were within me and I was away outside, and there I searched for you, deformed, plunging, absorbed in those beautiful things which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you, things which would not have existed at all except for you. You called, you shouted, and burst in on my deafness. You shone and gleamed brightly at me and dispersed my blindness. You breathed forth fragrances, and I drew in my breath, and still I pain for you. I tasted much, and I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
—St. Augustine (Soliloquies and Confessions, Book 10)JTG
John 3:16, Song of Songs 8:6-7
What love poetry! St. Augustine almost makes me blush. He searches for his love everywhere, in all created things, not realizing that God was with him all along; calling him, shouting to him, bursting in on his deafness, dispersing his blindness, perfuming his spiritual breath with His fragrance. Augustine still hungers, thirsts and burns for the love of God. God responds because He so loved the world that He gave His only Son.
Do I know how much God loves me? In what ways do I love God? Is there any balance between the two?
7. The A-B-C’s of Spiritual Growth
(Faith is Love in Action)
There are means in which a contemplative apprentice should be occupied...reading, thinking and praying. These three are so coupled together, that unto them that be beginners...thinking may not goodly be gotten, without reading or hearing coming before. Without reading or hearing of God’s word, it is impossible to man’s understanding that a soul that is blinded in custom of sin should see the foul spot in his conscious. If this spot be any special sin, then is this well (to clean the soul) Holy Church, and this water confession... If it be but a blind root and a stirring of sin, then is this well merciful God, and this water, prayer... And thus may you see that no thinking may goodly be gotten in beginners without reading or hearing coming before: nor praying without thinking.
-Anonymous, Cloud of Unknowing (14th century), CCEL
As a body without breath is dead, so is faith without good deeds. One must study the spiritual life and pray in order to grow in faith. To study the spiritual life, one must have and think about living and written examples of how to live the faith. Prayer requires practice.
Am I willing to face the discipline of growing in faith and of living the holy life?
8. Love Silence
(Light Will Dawn)
Love silence above everything else, for it brings you near to fruit which the tongue is too feeble to expound. First of all we force ourselves to be silent, but then from out of our silence something else is born that draws us into silence itself. May God grant you to perceive that which is born of silence! If you begin in this discipline I do not doubt how much light will dawn in you from it.
After a time a certain delight is born in the heart as a result of the practice of this labor, and it forcibly draws the body on to persevere in stillness. A multitude of tears is born in us by this discipline, at the wondrous vision of certain things which the heart perceives distinctly, sometimes with pain, and sometimes with wonder. For the heart becomes small and becomes like a tiny babe: as soon as it clings to prayer, tears burst forth.
—St. Isaac of Syria (The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria)JTG
Evidently, Jesus began every day in prayer and silence; especially on those days when big decisions needed to be made (picking the apostles for instance) or when strength was needed (performing miracles in places He was inspired to visit). According to St. Isaac, this silent time is a creative time when “light will dawn”. This is evidently a reference to an intuition of God’s plan and will. I find that while I have every reason to pursue this “silence,” it is often difficult. I find it humbling that I, an engineer, one who was trained to think with discipline, lacks the discipline to do the most important thing in life!
Am I willing to practice the discipline of silence every day, whether or not it is easy or convenient?
9. The Voice of Jesus: the Still, Small Voice
(God is Within)
I have often reminded you, my dear sister, about the remembrance of God, and now I tell you again: unless you work and sweat to impress on your heart and mind this awe-inspiring Name, you keep silence in vain, you sing in vain, you fast in vain, you watch in vain. In short, all a nun’s work will be useless without this activity, without recollection of God. This is the beginning of silence for the Lord’s sake, and it is also the end.. This most desirable Name is the soul of stillness and silence. By calling it to mind we gain joy and gladness, forgiveness of sins, and a wealth of virtues. Few have been able to find this most glorious Name, save only in stillness and silence. Man can attain it in no other way, even with great effort. Therefore, knowing the power of this advice, I entreat you for the love of Christ always to be still and silent, since these virtues enrich remembrance of God within us.
–Theophan the Recluse (Quoted in the Art of Prayer) JTG
It is hard to imagine how to be still, silent and still live an active life. When I think of Elijah the prophet listening to the “still, small voice” at the Mountain of God, I see a man of major action and power: walking (or running!) for forty days, anointing kings, fighting single handedly against the evil ambition of King Ahab to wipe out the worship of the Lord. I suspect that to reconcile these readings is what Brother Lawrence calls the Practice of the Presence of God: being in constant conversation with Him and living in His Peace while living an active life doing God’s Will.
How often do I “talk” with God during the day?
10. Trust and Zeal–A Martyr’s Encouragements
(I Trust God)
All brothers must pray very much and well. Work with fervor and don’t worry too much about us, because nothing can happen to us without the permission of God and the Immaculata.(1)
Let us promise to let ourselves be led more and more completely how and when the Mother of God wishes, so that, fulfilling our duty to the utmost, we may through love save all souls. (2)
—St. Maximilian Kolbee (1-postcard 3/13/41, 2-postcard 5/12/41)JTG
Wow! What faith it must take to be able to trust Providence, fulfill one’s duty and, through love, to save souls while in a German concentration camp! St. Kolbee did his duty and save souls; he gave his life, through starvation, to save the life of a fellow prisoner. When Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says to “set your heart on the Kingdom first and on God’s saving justice and all these other things will be given you as well” and “will not God look much more after you of little faith?”, he evidently doesn’t mean that one will necessarily live a long life or die a pleasant death. He means that God will take care of me in all the ways that are truly important for all eternity.
To what extent do I trust God?
11. Forgiveness and the Interior Life
(Forgive Me Lord)
Without an interior life, we will never have strength to persevere in sustaining all the difficulties inseparable from any apostolate, the coldness and lack of cooperation even on the part of virtuous men, the calumnies of our adversaries, and at times even the jealousy of friends and comrades in arms...Only a patient virtue, unshakably based upon the good, and at the same time smooth and tactful, is able to move these difficulties to one side and diminish their power.
—St. Pious X (Encyclical Manete in Me (Remain in Me), 1905)JTG
Motives have always been a problem for me, especially ulterior motives. Why do I do “good deeds?” In addition to wanting to do God’s will and to be a “healing vessel,” I also want to be loved, appreciated and esteemed. When I have these other motivations, these “ego add-ons,” they often come to light in some public way and I am mortified and embarrassed. The most important thing I need do is to be aware of these ulterior motivations. This requires an interior life of reflection. Secondly, I need to accept these motivations as a part of my personality/character that I really want to change. Thirdly, I must cooperate with God’s grace to change. A part of the change process is forgiveness: “if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours.”
What ulterior motivations of the Ego do I have when I do good works?
12. A Great Act of Forgiveness
(I Love My Enemies)
The dreaded words having been uttered, More was given one final opportunity to speak- a chance to plead for mercy customarily given to convicts after sentencing. But More did not ask for mercy, instead he offered forgiveness:
More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed Apostle St. Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present, and consented to the death of St. Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now both twain holy Saints in heaven, and shall continue their friends forever, so I verily trust, and shall therefore right heartily pray, that through your lordships have now here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.
—St. Thomas More (Quoted in The King’s Good Servant But God’s First)JTG
I am struck by the similarity in attitude between St. Thomas More and St. Stephen. Neither were afraid of death and both were truly forgiving of their executioners””just as Jesus was. Both believed that truth was more important than this life and both had a powerful hope in the life to come.
Would I be willing to die for the truth? Is my faith in the words of Jesus stronger than this life? Would I be able to forgive my “executioners?”
13. Complete Charity
(Jesus Doesn’t Judge)
All our religion is but a false religion, and all our virtues are mere illusions and we ourselves are only hypocrites in the sight of God, if we have not that universal charity for everyone–for the good and for the bad, for the poor and for the rich, and for all those who do us harm as much as for those who do us good.
—St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars (Quoted in Voice of the Saints)JTG
I must always be careful of projection. Whenever I find myself judging someone, unless they are standing on my feet and punching me in the face, they are doing nothing to me! Most often, I am trying to disown a piece of myself that I am not proud to take ownership of. Often when I do take ownership of the characteristic, I find my judgment about the person disappears! Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Do I know how to love? Can I do good to my enemies? Can I pray for those who persecute me? Can I “rain” blessings on the “bad” and the “wicked?” Who are “bad” and “wicked” anyway? When I judge someone as “bad” or “wicked,” am I sure I am not projecting some of my own imperfections onto others? Am I “perfect” like my heavenly Father?
14. The Source of Humility
(Jesus Learned Humility)
Now humility of heart comes about in a person for two causes: either from precise knowledge of his sins, or from recollection of the greatness of God. I mean, how exceedingly the greatness of the Lord of all lowered itself, so that in such ways as these he might converse with and admonish men. He humbled himself so far as to assume a human body; he endured men and associated with them, and showed himself so despised in the world, he who possesses ineffable glory above with God the Father, and at whose sight the angels are struck with awe, and the glory of whose countenance shines throughout their orders.
—St. Isaac of Syria (The Heart of Compassion: Daily Readings With St. Isaac of Syria)JTG
Jesus was humble through choice. His persecutors tried to humiliate him but were unable to do so. Jesus already learned humility: He considered Himself a brother and a servant of all; especially the poor, the rejected, and the despised. He was “every man”; one of us by His own choice! He never exalted Himself. By the power of His love for Himself and His Father, He never forgot who He was in spite of what was happening to Him. Because of this love for Himself and His Father, He never lost His dignity and His love for others was unbounded.
How do I build myself up by not being who and what I really am? Is being humiliated the only way for me to stop this game of the Ego?
15. Great Love
No good is possible except by an exceedingly great love. This we can see from the story of the woman in the Gospel, who was a sinner: God in his great mercy granted her the forgiveness of her sins and a firm union with Him, “for she loved much” (Lk. 7:47) . He loves those who love Him, He cleaves to those who cleave to Him, gives Himself to those who seek Him, and abundantly grants fullness of joy to those who desire to enjoy his love.
To kindle in his heart such a divine love, to unite with God in an inseparable union of love, it is necessary for a man to pray often, raising the mind to Him. For as a flame increases when it is constantly fed, so prayer, made often, with the mind dwelling ever more deeply in God, arouses divine love in the heart. And the heart, set on fire, will warm all the inner man, will enlighten and teach him, revealing to him all its unknown and hidden wisdom, and making him like a flaming seraph, always standing before God within his spirit, always looking at Him within his mind and drawing from this vision the sweetness of spiritual joy.
—St. Dmitri of Rostov (Quoted in The Art of Prayer)JTW
Since 1991, the year I got sober, I’ve spent an hour each morning in prayer and spiritual reading. On most nights, I try to do the same. In the interim years, I’ve experienced divorce and depression at various times. During that time, I’ve become, amazingly, kinder and more loving. If I didn’t keep “asking, knocking and seeking,” I suspect I would have become bitter and less loving. The “flame” that St. Dimitri mentions felt like a fire burning away some of my ego and purifying me.
Am I willing to be purified through legitimate suffering if that is required for my spiritual growth?
16. The Foundation of Our Life
(The Lord Is My Shepherd)
Our good Lord protects us with the greatest of loving care when it seems to us that we are almost forsaken and abandoned because of our sins and because we see that we have deserved it. And because of the meekness that we obtain from this, we are raised very high in God’s sight by his grace. And also God in his special grace visits whom he will with such great contrition, and also with compassion and true longing for him, that they are suddenly delivered from sin and from pain, and taken up into bliss and made equal with the saints. By contrition we are made clean, by compassion we are made ready, and by true longing for God we are made worthy...
Peace and love are always in us, living and working, but we are not always in peace and in love; but God wants us to take heed that he is the foundation of our whole life in love, and furthermore that he is our everlasting protector, and mightily defends us against all our enemies.
—Julian of Norwich (Showings) LF
“Peace and love are always in us, living and working, but we are not always at peace and in love.” These words of St. Julian of the 14th century sound almost revolutionary to me in the 21st century. I do not have to feel love in order to be loving! I do not need to feel peaceful in order to exude peace! Feelings are not facts, as recovery people are apt to say. It is only important that my foundations in faith are strong and secure.
Are my feelings more important than doing what is right?
17. God Wants Nothing But to Be Loved
(God Is Love)
Love is a great thing; as long as it returns to its beginning, goes back to its origin, turns again to its source, it will always draw afresh from it and flow freely. In love alone, of all the movements of the soul and the senses and affections, can the creature respond to its Creator, if not with an equal, at least with a like return of gift for gift. For example, if God is angry with me, can I return his anger? Not at all; I shall be afraid and tremble and beg for pardon. If he accuses me, I shall not return his accusation, but concede that he is right. If he judges me, I shall not judge him but adore him. And in saving me he does not seek to be saved by me in return, nor does he need to be set free by anyone in return when he frees all....Now you see how different it is with love. For when God loves, he wants nothing but to be loved; he loves for no other purpose than to be loved, knowing that those who love him are blessed by their very love.
—St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Selected Works)LF
The mighty Yahweh of the Old Testament, thank God, has a tender side! While it doesn’t often show in the Old Testament, I suspect that this was due more to an inability of the “vessels” transmitting knowledge of the Lord then that the Lord became more tender over time. Evidently tenderness, especially in men, was not very common in ancient times. It is not particularly common even today! As a man, one of the most difficult things for me to ask for was for love! (How unmanly!).
Am I willing to grow in tenderness and admit my needs to others?
18. Avoiding the Dark Path
(The Lord is My Soul’s Guide)
How different are your ways, O Lord,
from what our feeble minds imagine!
When a soul is resolved henceforth to love you,
and to deliver itself into your hands,
you want from it nothing more than obedience
and that it should be well informed
as to what it means to really serve you
and to seek only that!
It has no need to seek paths
and choose between them,
since from now on its will is yours.
It is you, my Lord,
who undertake to be its guide
along the path that is to its best advantage.
—St. Teresa of Avila (Praying With St. Teresa) LF
Both St. Teresa and the psalmist agree that “the soul has no need to seek paths and choose between them since from now on its will is the Lord’s” or “delights in the love of the Lord and murmurs its law day and night.” By relying on the Lord’s will/Law, many of the forks in the road will disappear and, instead, the clear way will emerge. By practicing the avoidance of the negative, only the positive will remain.
Am I willing to be considered a “Pollyanna” by shaping my perceptions to perceive more of the good in others and events?
19. Healing And Faith
(Heal Me Lord–Within and Without)
Not as an unknowing examiner, but as a questioner who knew everything beforehand, Jesus drew his petitioner into the center of attention. She was silent, making suggestions only by her thoughts, in ready waiting behind his back for the measures by which he exercised his powers. He made her stand before all so that she who had gained health for herself might also bring faith for all; that she who had his power might acknowledge his majesty; that she who had made him so fully known might not go away again unknown, herself, as she expected.
While she was blushing over her wound and with so much concern fearing him as God, the woman found her faith getting darkened. Clouds of confusion obscured the light in her mind. Therefore, the voice of her questioning Lord, like a salutary wind, drove the clouds away, dispensed the mists, and enlightened her faith. It made her who had recently been in darkness of the night brighter than the very sun. For, she shines throughout the whole world, is resplendent in the whole of the Church, and is glorious among its members. Is she, then, less than a sun? If she had returned unseen-give me leave to say it-she would have escaped her Physician, not tested him. She could have ascribed what she obtained to herself rather than to her Healer. She would have believed that she had drawn her cure from the hem of his garment, not from his penetrating understanding.
—St. Peter Chrysologus (M)
The purpose of healing, aside from reducing the suffering of a person, is ultimately to bring faith to others and glory to God through Christ. This is a lesson for me. My light (good works) is not to be “hid under a basket” but to be shown openly, “declared from the rooftops,” not to win fame for myself but to bring Jesus to others for their growth in faith.
Am I willing to let God have all the credit for any good that I do and be content that I am being used as a channel of God’s blessings?
20. Being With Jesus
(Thy Kingdom Come)
Leaving the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word that was delivered to us from the beginning “watching unto prayer,” and persevering in fasting; with supplication beseeching the all-seeing God “not to lead us into temptation.” As the Lord has said, “The spirit truly is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold steadfastly to him who is our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, even Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in his own body of the tree; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth,” but suffered all for us, that we might live through him. Let us, therefore, imitate his patience, and, if we suffer for his name, let us, glorify him; for this example he has given us by himself, and so have we believed.
—St. Polycarp to the Ephesians (a pupil of St. John) (M)
Like father, like son. Like teacher, like pupil. In this reading from St. Polycarp, I hear an echo of his teacher St. John, the beloved apostle. In the reading of St. John, I hear an echo of Jesus, his teacher and brother.
In this trail of tradition and testimony, will those I meet hear the echo of Polycarpa, John, Jesus, in me? Am I spreading the message of the Gospel?
21. The Power of Prayer
(Lord, Hear My Prayer)
The reason why the priest utters a greeting in church is this: that he may show that he is at peace with the whole assembly of the faithful...And so the priest before he offers sacrifice and prayers to God shows by this mutual greeting that he is bound to the faithful by the bond of brotherly love; he does this so that he may make this commandment of the Lord clear by his outward actions, as well as keeping it in his heart. Because of this, he sees as present with the eyes of the spirit all those for whom he prays, whether or not they are actually there in the flesh, he knows that all who are praying with him are present in spiritual communion. And so the eye of faith directs the words of his greeting and he realizes the spiritual presence of those whom he knows to be near at hand. Therefore let no brother who lives alone in a cell be afraid to utter the words which are common to the whole Church; for although he is separated in space from the congregation of the faithful yet he is bound together with them all by love in the unity of faith, although they are absent in the flesh, they are near at hand in the mystical unity of the Church.
—St. Peter Damian (M)
When Abraham interceded for the Sodomites, he must have "seen as present with the eyes of the spirit all those for whom he prayed..." Others must have also been "praying with him in spiritual communion.” This is a story of the "mystical unity" of the community of Israel and its power--the actual power of God!
How strong is my experience of the "communion of saints?”
(My Sins Are Forgiven)
If anyone had reason for complaint, it was the invalid. As though cheated he might well have asked: ” Have you come to heal something else then? To put right a different malady? How can I be sure that my sins are forgiven?” In fact, however, he said nothing of the sort, but surrendered himself to the healer’s power.
The scribes, on the other hand, feeling left out and envious, plotted against the good of others. Jesus therefore rebuked them, but with forbearance. He said, “If you do not believe the first proof, and regard it as an empty boast, then see, I offer you another by revealing your secret thoughts; and to this I will add a third.” What is the third to be? The healing of the paralytic.
Jesus did not give a clear manifestation of his power when he first spoke to the paralytic. He did not say, “I forgive you your sins” but: Your sins are forgiven. When the scribes forced him, however, he showed his power more clearly, that you may know, he said, that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.
Before doing this Jesus asked the scribes: Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Pick up your mat and go home?” This was the same as asking:” Which seems easier to you, to heal the body, or to forgive the soul its sins? Obviously, it is easier to heal the body. Indeed, as far as the soul is above the body, so far does the forgiveness of sins surpass physical healing. However, since the one is invisible, but the other visible, I grant you as well this lesser, visible miracle as proof of the one which is treated but invisible”. Thus he showed by his deeds the truth of what John had said of him: that he takes away the sins of the world.
—St. John Chrysostom (M)
St. John's comment is interesting: "As far as the soul is above the body, so far does the forgiveness of sins surpass physical healing.” Evidently, this is true. Elisha was able to raise to life the dead son of his hostess. Was he able to forgive his sins as well? I don't think so but since physical healing is often a sign of spiritual healing, I would like to believe that God forgave his sins as well. It is just not obvious in the clamor of a raising from the dead!
Do I want to believe that spiritual healing is more important than physical healing?
23. Healing and Preaching
(Lord, Increase My Faith)
Oh my soul, when our corrupted nature overpowers, when we are sick of ourselves, weakened on all sides, discouraged with repeated relapses, wearied with sin and sorrow, we gently, sweetly, lay the whole account at his feet, reconciled and encouraged by his appointed representative, yet trembling and conscious of our imperfect dispositions, we draw near the sacred fountain-scarcely the expanded heart receives its longing desire than wrapped in his Love, covered with his Righteousness, we are no longer the same- adoration, thanksgiving, love, joy, peace, contentment- unutterable mercy.
Take this from me-though now the happiest of poor and banished sinners- then most, most wretched desolate-what would be my refuge-Jesus is everywhere, in the very air I breath. Yes, everywhere-but in his sacrament of the alter as present actually and really as my soul within my body in this sacrifice daily offered, as really as once offered on the cross- merciful Savior, can there be any comparison to his blessedness-could any other plan satisfy offended Justice- form an acceptable oblation to your eternal Father, or reconcile us to yourself?
Adored Lord, increase my faith-perfect it-crown it your own, your choicest, dearest gift, having drawn me from the pit, and borne me to your fold, keep me in your sweet pastures-and lead me to eternal life.
—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (M)
"Adored Lord, increase my faith-perfect it-crown it your own, your choicest, dearest gift... Jesus is everywhere, in the very air I breathe...but in his sacrament of the altar (the Eucharist) as present actually and really as my soul within my body..." When I read the story of the foreshadowing of the Eucharist, the feeding of the five thousand, the one in the crowd with the greatest amount of childlike faith and love is the young boy who gave his family's dinner at the request of the Preacher not knowing what He would do but trusting, none-the-less, that all would be well.
If the boy had not the faith to offer his sustenance, would the crowd have been fed with this miraculous bread? Increase my faith, Lord. Perfect it and crown it your own.
24. The Gospel Sense of Duty
(May I Imitate the Virtue of the Saints)
The Lord puts such great power into operation through his saints. He wants to confound, by the weight of his own condemnation, those acts of diabolical wickedness which are perpetrated through wounding blows and invisible tears. He also wants to disapprove and check the attractions to sin which lie hidden in the authority of some torturers. What wise man, aware that he must face those attractions, would not immediately deplore whatever infidelity he finds in himself? Mindful of his condition, would he not through his unceasing sense of duty very properly honor the memory of the saints? Clearly, he can easily understand what place those men have with the Lord, or in what honor we should hold them, to whom, as he sees, a favorable judgment has been awarded because of consideration of their martyr’s palms.
Therefore, dearly beloved, the examples of these saints should be followed, and their faith pursued, and their virtue imitated, it is not difficult for anyone to accomplish all this, if you think about the crown that is promised as a reward, you will find it easy to overcome every injury of the persecution.
—St. Valerian (M)
"The example of the saints should be followed, their faith pursued and their virtue imitated" because "the bride of the Lamb has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen made of the good deeds of the saints." Since the bride of the Lamb is the Church, the saints make the Church more and more beautiful to Jesus, her Husband.
In what ways am I helping to beautify the Body of Christ?
25. Crumbs of Grace
(May I Grow In Holiness)
Make me, in loving contrition and humble repentance always, like a little dog, gnaw on my sins and on the imperfect works caused by my defects so that, after this life, I may receive that most dulcet crumb, the most dulcet fruition of the mellifluous face of my Jesus. And then, through you, let me be satisfied in eternal gladness when the glory of my Jesus appears.
O stable love, strong and insurmountable, may your sagacity teach me to cherish Jesus with unconquerable steadfastness and to serve him with unconquered perseverance. And, aroused by you and agitated by you, may I always be prepared when my Lord comes in the first or second watch so that I may not be listless or sleepy when the cry is made at midnight, but, moving forward with you and under your guidance, may I worthy enter into the nuptials with the Lamb. Ah, and then with you taking care of me, let my lamp be found full of the oil of charity, full of cherishing conflagration, full of the splendid light of the works of living faith that, through you, I may possess the delights of eternal life.
—St. Gertrude the Great (M)
This passage from St. Gertrude seems both very old (it is from the Middle Ages) and odd (bordering on scrupulosity). The idea of “gnawing” on my sins and imperfect works bothers me and seems very pre-Vatican II. Why do I need to harp on my imperfections and belittle my works? While it is true that God will forgive me for my imperfections “seven times seventy times,” I need to be careful of presumption; taking God’s love and mercy for granted. If I don’t keep this in mind, I could find myself saying, for example: “Why would God care that I save up so much money for retirement when I do so many other good works “for His glory?” Or: “Why does God care about my “ulterior motives” when I’m trying to be a “healing vessel?”. I must not ignore my weaknesses and remember that it is only the grace of God that allows me to accomplish anything of value with my life and His gifts.
What flaws and weaknesses in my character and behavior do I try to make excuses for?
26. The Necessity of Prayer
(Lord, My Time Is Yours)
Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love–nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorance, or the will from its perverse affections. It is as a healing water which causes the roots of our good desires to send forth fresh shoots , which washes away the soul’s imperfections, and allays the thirst of passion.
But especially I commend earnest mental prayer to you, more particularly such as bears upon the Life and Passion of our Lord. If you contemplate Him frequently in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with Him, you will grow in His Likeness, and your actions will be molded on His.... Children learn to speak by hearing their mother talk, and stammering forth their childish sounds in imitation, and so if we cleave to the Savior in meditation, listening to His words, watching His actions and intentions, we shall learn in time, through His Grace, to speak, act and will like Himself. Believe me....there is no way to God save through this door.
—St. Francis de Sales, An Introduction to the Devout Life (CCEL)
Regardless of what I say is important to me, my actions, what I spend my time doing, tells it all. If I have spent so much time listening to and trying to obey my mother even long after she died, should I not spend my time listening to and obeying her Teacher, who lives forever?
What in my life deserves more time than developing my relationship with Jesus and learning to imitate Him?
27. “Small Deposits of Faith” for God
(Lord, May You Accept My Offering)
Give an hour every day in meditation before dinner, if you can, let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered, and fresh after the nights rest. Begin all prayer, whether mental or vocal, by an act of the Presence of God. If you observe this rule strictly, you will soon see how useful it is. You should ...study them (the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, etc.) diligently ...so as thoroughly to gather up the meaning of these holy words, which must be used fixing your thoughts steadily on their purport, not striving to say many words so much as seeking to say a few with your whole heart. If you have a gift for mental prayer, let that always take the chief place, so that if, having made that, you are hindered by business or any other cause from saying your vocal prayers, do not be disturbed, but rest satisfied with saying the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelic Salutation, and the Creed after your meditation. If, while saying vocal prayers, your heart feels drawn to mental prayer, do not resist it, but calmly let your mind fall into that channel, without troubling because you have not finished your appointed vocal prayers. The mental prayer you have substituted for them is more acceptable to God, and more profitable to your soul. If it should happen that your morning goes by without the usual meditation, either owing to a pressure of business, or from any other cause, ... try to repair the loss in the afternoon, but not immediately after a mea, or you will perhaps be drowsy, which is bad both for your meditation and your health.
—St. Francis de Sale, An Introduction to the Devout Life (CCEL)
I've heard it said that as a person deposits small amounts of money regularly into a savings account can make a large withdrawal when needed, so it is with prayer. One who daily deposits prayer and devotion into his spiritual account can summon a great response in time of trouble. This is the case with King Hezekiah. His daily devotion and prayer to the Lord won not only the protection of his country but the adding of fifteen years to his life as well.
Do I pray enough?
(Happiness Equals Good Deeds)
We say a goal is within our grasp when it is close enough for us to have sure hope of attaining it. What brings us close to the blessing of eternal happiness is exercise of the virtues and especially the gifts. So the blessings pronounced by Christ in the Gospels and called beatitudes are not dispositions distinct from the virtues and gifts, but actions exercising them. Certain actions are proposed in these blessings as deserving happiness and disposing us to possess it, either inchoately or perfectly, and what is presented as reward for those actions is either the perfect happiness of the life to come, or some inchoate beginning of it found in perfect men here and now. Thus the kingdom of heaven can be taken to mean the start of the reign of the Spirit in wise men, the possession of the land to mean the heart’s repose in desire of a sure and everlasting inheritance, and so on. All of which will be perfectly realized in our heavenly home. A life devoted to pleasure is a false happiness which hinders the true happiness of the life to come, but the happiness of a life active in doing good prepares for true happiness, and the happiness of a contemplative life is already true happiness beginning. The contemplative life does not so much deserve blessing as constitute it.
—St. Thomas Aquinas (M)
"The happiness of a life active in doing good does not so much deserve blessing as constitute it." This is essentially the same as the modern aphorism that says that joy is not something that one pursues directly but is the result of "doing the right thing" on a regular basis. Doing the right thing is its own reward!
Do I feel blessed when I am meek, merciful, a peacemaker, a pursuer of justice?
29. Judging By God’s Standards
(I Will See the Good In Others)
Only God is good by nature, but with God’s help man can become good through careful attention to his way of life. He transforms himself into what he is not when his soul, by devoting its attention to true delight, unties itself to God, in so far as its energized power desires this. For it is written: “Be good and merciful as your father in heaven”.
Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other has not, except when we give it existence through our actions.
All men are made in God’s image; but to be in his likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God. For only when we do not belong to ourselves do we become like him who through love has reconciled us to himself. No one achieves this unless he persuades his soul not to be distracted by the false glitter of this life.
—St. Diadochos (M)
I've learned from experience about the power of my perceptions and attitudes. I see what I choose to see. If I expect to see evil in someone, I will see it even if it is not really there. If I choose to see the good in someone, the good characteristics will come to my attention. I also have a strong tendency to project my own less than ideal characteristics into others. I tend to judge them even though the actual "problem" may be in me! This is what I believe Jesus means when He says that the standard that I use to judge others will be used to judge me. When I judge someone, I am really saying more about me than the other person. I am judging myself!
How accurate are my attitudes and perceptions? Am I sure?
30. Purifying Our Hearts
(Jesus, Make Me Aware)
Some of the saints have called attentiveness the guarding of the intellect; others have called it custody of the heart of watchfulness, or noetic stillness, and others something else. All these expressions indicate one and the same thing.
Attentiveness is the sign of true repentance. It is the soul’s restoration, hatred of the world, and return to God. It is rejection of sin and recovery of virtue. It is the unreserved assurance that our sins are forgiven. It is the beginning of contemplation or, rather, its presupposition, for through it God, descrying its presence in us, reveals himself to the intellect. It is serenity of intellect or, rather, the repose bestowed on the soul through God’s mercy. It is the subjection of our thoughts; the palace of the mindfulness of Go, the stronghold that enables us patiently to accept all that befalls. It is the ground of faith, hope, and love. For if you do not have faith you cannot endure the outward afflictions that assail you, and if you do not bear them gladly you cannot say to the Lord, “Thou art my helper and my refuge.” And if the Most High is not your refuge you will not lay up his love in your heart.
–Nikiphoros the Monk (M)
To me, attentiveness is awareness in action. I am aware of my frailty and God's strength; my short span of life and God's eternity; my fear and self-centeredness and God's universal love. I actively ask God to let me see the truth about my life so that I can reduce my needless suffering, which results from my false self-image, and increase my joy in life by accepting my status: a beloved child of God!
In what ways do I create my own misery? How can I change my attitude to create more joy in my life?
31. How to Pray: Practice
(Lord, Teach Me To Pray)
It may be...that you do not know how to practice mental prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected nowadays. I will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it...And first of all, the Preparation, which consists of two points: first, placing yourself in the Presence of God; and second, asking His Aid. And in order to place yourself in the Presence of God, I will suggest four chief considerations which you can use at first.
First, a lively earnest realization that His Presence is universal; that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in a all, and that there is no place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most
Holy Presence, so that, even as birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where we will, meet with that Presence always and everywhere.
The second way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call to mind that God is not only present in the place where your are, but that He is very specially present in your heart and mind, which he kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of your heart, Spirit of your heart.
The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, Who in His Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who pray, over whose doings He keeps watch.
The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary imagination, picturing the Savior to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if he were beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends and fancy that we see or hear them at our side.
—St. Francis de Sale (An Introduction to the Holy Life) (CCEL)
The prayer of Queen Esther is similar to the prayers in the Books of Daniel, Tobit and Judith. These deutro-canonical prayers are beautiful and teach me how to pray in the quiet of my own room by placing myself in the Presence of God. They teach me much about faith, penance, both personal and communal, and how they lead to action bringing salvation to Israel and glory to God.
How can I improve my own prayer life by studying these great Old Testament prayers?
32. Overlooking Faults in Others
(Lord, May I Examine My Own Behavior)
You detect little problems in others, but overlook big problems in yourself. You quickly feel and weigh what you suffer from others, but ignore what others suffer from you. Look at your own behavior carefully; that you keep you from finding so much in others to judge. If you are a Christian in your heart, put the nurture of spirit above everything else. When you look after your heart diligently, you find keeping silence about others easy. The test of genuine religion is this: Overlooking faults in others; Examining faults in yourself.
—Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ–paraphrased by Donald E. Demaray) (LF)
Overlooking faults in myself while judging failings in others is a part of the "projection" problem that I am often chagrined by. I've learned to ask myself automatically, when I find myself judging or criticizing another: "What do I see in this person that I do not want to see in myself?" If I'm willing to accept the painful truth, I've learned, amazingly, that those around me act as "mirrors" to my attitudes and perceptions. If I don't ask myself "The Question,” I may well find myself treated like the unforgiving servant in the parable.
What are the characteristics of my darker side?
33. Becoming Children of Mary
(Teach Me Brother Jesus)
He who was born of the Father before all ages was of more noble birth and had no need to be born in time from a mother. And he was not even born for the angels. They had him great among them and had no need of a little child. He was born for us, therefore, and given to us because we need him. Now that he has been born and given to us, let us accomplish the purpose of this birth and this donation. He came for our good, let us use him to our good, let us work out our salvation from the Savior. Look, a little child is put in our midst. O little child so desired by your children! You are indeed a little child, but a child in evil-doing, not a child in wisdom. Let us make every effort to become like this little child. Because he is meek and humble in heart, let us learn from him, lest he who is great, even God, should have been made a little man for nothing, lest he should have died to no purpose, and have been crucified in vain. Let us learn his humility, imitate his gentleness, embrace his love, share his sufferings, be washed in his blood. Let us offer him the propitiation for our sins because for this he was born and given for us.
-St. Bernard of Clairaux (M)
We are to become like our older brother and teacher by learning His humility, imitating His gentleness, embracing His love, sharing His suffering and washing each other’ feet by becoming a servant. If I don't learn the lessons from my wise older brother, I will have to learn them by trial and error and pain. My elder brother wants me to learn them in the easiest way possible.
Am I humble enough to learn the lessons from the experience of the wise?
34. Total Abandonment to Christ
(I Cannot Be a Saint By Halves)
Sometimes Jesus is pleased to reveal his secrets to the littlest one, and the proof is after reading your first letter of October 15, 1895, I thought the same thing as your director: You cannot be a saint by halves, you will have to be one totally or not at all. I felt that you had to have a courageous soul, and it was for this that I was happy to become your sister.
Do not think you frighten me by speaking “about your beautiful, wasted years”. I myself thank Jesus, who has looked at you with a look of love as, in the past, he looked at the young man in the Gospel. More blessed than he, you have answered faithfully the Master’s call, you have left all to follow him, and this at the most beautiful age of your life, at eighteen. Ah! Brother, like me you can sing the mercies of the Lord, they sparkle in you in all their splendor. You love St. Augustine, St. Magdalene, these souls to whom “many sins were forgiven because they loved much”. I love them too. I love their repentance, and especially their loving audacity! When I see Magdalene walking up before the many guests, washing with her tears the feet of her adored Master, who she is touching for the first time, I feel that her heart has understood the abysses of love and mercy of the Heart of Jesus, and, sinner though she is, this Heart of love was not only disposed to pardon her but to lavish on her the blessings of his divine intimacy, to lift her to the highest summits of contemplation.
—St. Therese of Liseux (M)
I cannot be a saint by halves. I will be one totally or not at all. This is echoed in the call of Elisha by Elijah. I must immediately give all, renouncing my past to pursue the beckoning voice of God.
What is stopping me from following the Voice right now?
35. Invocation, the Second Point of Preparation
(My Hope Is In You Jesus)
Invocation is made as follows: your soul, having realized God’s Presence, will prostrate itself with the utmost reverence, acknowledging its unworthiness to abide before His Sovereign Majesty; and yet knowing that He of His Goodness would have you come to Him, you must ask of Him grace to serve and worship Him in this your meditation. You may use some such brief and earnest words as those of David: “Cast me not away from Thy Presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me”. ...Dwell too upon the thought of your guardian Angel, and of the Saints connected with the special mystery you are considering, as the Blessed Virgin, St. John, the Magdalene, the good thief, etc. , if you are meditating in the Passion, so that you may share in their devout feelings and intention,-and in the same way with other subjects.
—St. Francis de Sale (An Introduction to the Devout Life) (CCEL)
Lord, my life is a puff of wind. What am I to hope for? My hope is in You, Jesus. I acknowledge my unworthiness yet knowing that You would have me come to You! May You grant me the grace and strength to serve You in this brief span of life. Amen.
Knowing the brevity of my life, how should I use my remaining time?
36. The Vision of the Crucified
(Thank You Jesus For Your Love)
One day there appeared to her (St. Catherine of Genoa) inner vision Jesus Christ incarnate crucified, all bloody from head to foot. It seemed that the body rained blood. From within she heard a voice say, “Do you see this blood? It has been shed for your love, to atone for your sins.” With that, she received a wound of love that drew her to Jesus with such trust that it washed away all that previous fright, and she took joy in the Lord.
She was also granted another vision, more striking yet, beyond telling or imagination. God showed her the love with which He had suffered out of love of her. That vision made her turn away from every other love and joy that did not come directly from God.
In that vision, Catherine saw the evil in the soul and the purity of God’s love. The two never left her. Had she dwelt on that vision any longer than she did, she would have fainted, become undone.
—St. Catherine of Genoa (The Spiritual Dialogue) JTG
St. Catherine saw clearly the evil of the soul and the purity of God's love. The cruelty that man, made in God's image, is capable of vs. the radiant self-giving and forgiveness that God is telling man to imitate.
What does it mean to me to turn from every love and joy that does not come directly from God?
37. A Guide to Meditation
(Worship...Reverence...Adoration to the Lord)
Whenever you call upon God, three ideas should guide your act of worship: first, to humble your heart in reverence and adoration of God; second, to expand your heart with good will and thanksgiving and third, to lift up your heart in delight in that converse between lover and beloved.... If this be done well, such wonderful peace and joy result that they transport the soul from the realm of the senses, causing her to say: “It is good to be here”.
To be moved to reverence, look upon the divine immensity–then consider yourself, see your own littleness. To be filled with good will, look upon the benevolence of God and your own unworthiness. To be raised unto the union of love, remember the charity of God and your own lukewarmness. Only by such comparisons will you go beyond the things of the senses.
Once you are moved to the reverence for God, it should be manifested in three ways: first, reverence to the Father–it is He who made you what you are, second, reverence to the Son–it is He who redeemed you from the dungeon of hell’s prison, who has journeyed with you to the vineyard of the Father; and third, reverence to the Judge–for you have been accused before Him, you have been convicted before Him, you have confessed your guilt. The first type of reverence mentioned above should be intense, the second yet more so, and the third most intense of all. In the first, we subject ourselves, in the second, we are made humble, but the third is the first two and more–complete submission to the will of God might best explain it.
In order to expand our heart with good will and thanksgiving, in other words, with benevolence to God, three things are necessary: we must consider our unworthiness, we must consider the greatness of His grace, and we must consider the vastness of His mercy. Observe the things which God has given to us; think of the many times He has forgiven our sins; how very much He has promised us...
We must raise our hearts in quietude, we must attain a certain complacency of spirit; and this, too, is done in three steps: first, that our love be so conformed with that of our Creator that we are enraptured by the very fact that only God is pleasing to us; second, that our heart be joyful because we ourselves are pleasing only to God; and lastly, that we be happy to see others sharing and partaking in this same complacency.
Do we not see here a love which is gratuitous; a love which is due in justice; a love which is a combination of both? In the first, the world is crucified to man, in the second, man is crucified to the world, in the third, man is crucified for the world so that he wishes to hang upon the wood of the world, to die for all–But for one reason: that they, too, may be pleasing to God.
This, my dear soul, is the ascent and the state of purest charity. Unless you have attained it, never consider yourself perfect! You are closest to the attainment of this perfection when the heart is not only willing but even eager to die for salvation–the salvation of fellow men! But one does not reach this perfect love of neighbor unless he first has attained a perfect love of God: this follows from reason. For who can love the creature without loving the Creator more?
—St. Bonaventure (JTG)
As I read the brief guide to meditation of St. Bonaventure, the first thing that comes to my mind is Psalm 139. It is a comparison of the greatness of God and the lowliness of man. Humility in reverence and adoration of God should guide my worship. I should look upon the divine immensity and my own littleness. Reverence should be manifested in complete submission to His will. Why? Because God knows me through and through, my being holds no secrets from Him. He created my inmost self and knit me together in my mother's womb. His eyes could see my embryo. This is especially striking to me today; the day of the birth of my first grand child!
What mighty works does God have planned for this child?...and me?
38. The Physician’s Care
(Heal Me Lord)
The tyrant Quintianus ordered Agatha back to prison, and forbade the jailers to allow any physician to care for her or anyone to bring her food or water. But toward the middle of the night an aged man, preceded by a boy carrying a light, came to her. He brought various medications to Agatha . “Though this mad consul has inflicted torments on you, the way you have answered him has tormented him even more, and though he has caused your breasts to be injured, his exuberance will turn to bitterness. I was there when all this was done to you, and I saw that your breast could be healed”. Agatha: “I have never applied any material remedy to my body, and it would be shameful to lose now what I have preserved for so long.” The aged man said to her: “I am a Christian, so you need not be ashamed.” Agatha: “How could I be ashamed, since you are so old and a grandfather, and I am so cruelly mangled that no one could possibly desire me? But, I thank you, kind sir and father, for deigning to have such solicitude in my regard.” “But why”, the old man asked, “why do you not allow me to heal you?” “Because I have my Lord Jesus Christ,” Agatha replied, “and he by a single word can cure everything and by his word restore all things. If he so wills, he can cure me instantly.” The aged man smiled, “I am his apostle,” he said, “and he sent me to you. Know that in his name you are healed.” And Peter the Apostle vanished. Agatha knelt in thanksgiving, and found that all her hurts were healed and her breast restored to her bosom.
–Blessed Jacobus DeVoragine (M)
In the reading from Acts, an angelic visitor, ministering in the name of God, rescues St. Peter from prison. In the second reading, St. Peter, ministering in the name of God, heals St. Agatha while in prison.
Who is the angelic visitor being sent into my life to rescue me from my self-made prison? To whom am I to be an angelic visitor to rescue in the name of God?
39. Jesus Wonderful in His Miracles
(May the Lord Heal My Blindness)
“He is the one who alone does marvelous things.” He transforms the elements, multiplies the loaves of bread, walks upon the sea, and calms the waves, he curbs the demons and puts them to light, he cures the sick, cleanses the lepers, and raises the dead, he restores sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, the power to walk to the crippled, sensation and movement to the paralytic and those withered limbs.
To him our sinning conscience calls out like the faithful leper. Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean. Now like the centurion: Lord, my servant boy is lying at home paralyzed and is suffering intensely. Now like the woman of Canaan: Have mercy on me, Son of David. Now like the woman with the issue of blood: If I touch the hem of his garment, I will be cured. How with Mary and Martha: See, Lord the one you love is ill.
—St. Bonaventure (M)
Jesus brings both physical and spiritual sight to the blind. Fifteen years ago, I almost became totally blind for a period of three years. The suffering associated with losing my sight at age 34 opened me up to a spiritual healing through the recovery process several years later. When I was willing to accept my spiritual "blindness", God restored my physical sight as well.
In what ways am I still blind?
40. Trusting in God During Darkness
(I Will Not Fear)
If there is no one to understand these persons, they either turn back and abandon the road or lose courage, or at least they hinder their own progress because of their excessive diligence in treading the path of discursive meditation. They fatigue and overwork themselves, thinking that they are failing because of their negligence or sins. Meditation if now useless for them, because God is conducting them along another road, which is contemplation and which is very different from the first. For the one road belongs to discursive meditation and the other is beyond the range of the imagination and discursive reflection.
Those who are in this situation should feel comforted; they ought to persevere patiently and not be afflicted. Let them trust in God Who does not fail those who seek Him with a simple and righteous heart; nor does He fail to impart what is needful for the way until getting them to the clear and pure light of love. God will give them this light by means of that other night, the night of spirit, if they merit that He place them in it.
—St. John of the Cross (The Dark Night, Book 1, Chapter 10) (JTG)
"My God...why have You forgotten me?" Jesus cried from the Cross. St John's insight here, I assume, is a reflection on this as well as on his own life. "Let them trust in God who does not fail those who seek Him with a simple and righteous heart, nor does He fail to impart what is needful for the way until getting them to the clear and pure light of love. God will give them this light by means of the night of the spirit, if they merit it."
How do I feel about this "night of the spirit" being a good thing for my spiritual growth?
41. Christ the Friend in the Darkness
(Be Not Afraid)
Alone I was, without a single friend to give me a word of encouragement. I could neither pray nor read, but there I remained, for hours and hours together, uneasy in mind and afflicted in spirit on account of the weight of my trouble, and of the fear that perhaps after all I was being tricked by the devil, and wondering what in the world I could do for my relief. Not a gleam of hope seemed to shine upon me from either earth or heaven, except just this: that in the midst of all my fears and dangers I never forgot how Our Lord must be seeing the weight of all I endured.
O my Lord Jesus Christ! What a true friend You are, and how powerful! For when You wish to be with us, you can be, and You always do with it, if only we will receive You. May everything created, O Lord of all the world, praise You and bless You! If only I could tramp the whole world over, proclaiming everywhere with all the strength that is in me what a faithful friend You are to those who will be friends with You! My dear Lord, all else fails and passes away. You, the Lord of them all, never fail, never pass away. What You allow those who love You to suffer is all too little. O my Lord, how kindly, how nobly, how tenderly, how sweetly You succeed in handling and making sure of Your own! Oh, if only one could secure that one would love nothing but just You alone! You seem, my dear Lord, to put to the trial with rods and agonies one who loves You, only that, just when You have brought her to the last extreme of endurance, she may understand all the more the boundless limits of Your love.
—St. Teresa of Avila (Autobiography, Chapter 25) (JTG)
The reading from St. Teresa reminds me of how important faith is and how changeable and how unreliable feelings are. If faith followed feelings, there would be no faith! While Jesus began reciting Psalm 22 (1-8) on the Cross, I’m sure He also knew verses 19-34: You who fear the Lord pray to Him for He has not turned away His face but has listened to the cry for help.
How do I bolster my faith when feelings fail?
42. A Saint Approaches Death
(I Choose To Believe)
When I want to rest my heart, wearied by the darkness which surrounds it, by the memory of the luminous country to which I aspire, my torment redouble; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me, “You are dreaming about the light, about a country fragrant with the sweetest perfumes, you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these things; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Dream on, dream on; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for, but even deeper night, the night of nothingness.”
I may perhaps appear to you to be exaggerating my trial. In fact, if you go by the sentiments I express in my little poems composed this year, I must appear to you as a soul filled with consolations and one for whom the veil of faith is almost torn aside. It is no longer a veil for me, it is a wall which reaches right up to the heavens and hides the starry firmament. When I sing of the happiness of heaven, of the eternal possession of God, I feel no joy in this, for I sing simply for what I want to believe.
—St. Therese of Lisieux (The Story of a Soul) (JTG)
It is encouraging to me that Christ appeared to 500 people at one time and that most were still alive when St. Paul wrote his letter. I suspect that he talked with many of them and learned from their experiences. In the same way, I suspect that St. Teresa gained hope from St. Paul in spite of the fact that she felt nearly no spiritual comfort before her death. She believed because she choose to.
How can I best increase my faith in spite of feelings?
43. All Manner of Things Shall Be Well
(The Lord Will Reconcile)
One time, our good Lord said: “All things shall be well.” And another time, He said: “You shall see for yourself that all manners of things shall be well.” The soul understood several things from these two sayings.
One was this: that it is his will that we should understand that not only does He take care of great and noble things but also of little and humble things, simple and small...And this is what He means when He says: “All manners of things shall be well.” For he wants us to understand that the smallest thing shall not be forgotten.
Something else I understood was this: that we see such evil deeds done, and such great harm caused by them, that it seems to us that it is impossible that any good deed should come out of them. And we look on them, sorrowing and mourning over them, so that we cannot find rest in the joyful sight of God, as we ought to.
The trouble is this: that the range of our thinking is now so blinkered, so little and small, that we cannot see the high, wonderful wisdom and the power and goodness of the blessed Trinity. And this is what He means when He says: “You shall see for yourself that all manners of things shall be well.” It is as if He said: “Have faith, and have trust, and at the last day you shall see it all transformed into great joy.”
—Julian of Norwich (Revelation of Divine Love) (JTG)
St. Paul indicates that God will reconcile all things through Jesus while St. Julian says “Have faith and have trust and at the last day you shall see it (all evil deeds) transformed into great joy." Thank God!
In what ways do I doubt that God cares for the smallest details of life? Do I doubt that God will reconcile all things to Himself so that "all will be well”?
44. Exhortation to Various Graces
(Lord, May You Transform My Human Anger)
For I trust that you are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet grasped. It is declared then in these Scriptures, “Be angry, and do not sin” and “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity, and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who “raised Him from the dead”. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that you may be perfect in Him.
—St. Polycarp to the Philippines (a pupil of St. John) (EECL)
According to both of these readings anger, in its unpurified forms, must be relinquished. St. Paul indicates that “human anger, hot temper and malice” must be given up. St. Polycarp notes two scriptural readings that imply the same thing: “be angry but do not sin” and “let not the sun go down on your wrath.” What does this leave? Godly anger doesn’t last long, doesn’t lead to sin, and is not of human origin. Perhaps Jesus felt and acted on such anger when he cleared the Temple and denounced the scribes and Pharisees.
Do I feel capable of Godly anger? Under what circumstances would such anger be warranted?
45. Prayer After Communion
(Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus)
We offer thanks, Holy Father,
For your holy name which fills our hearts
And for the knowledge, faith, and eternal life,
You made known to us through your servant Jesus;
Yours is the glory forever.
Almighty Master, You created all things for Your own purpose;
You gave men food and drink to enjoy,
That they might give You thanks;
But to us You freely give spiritual food and drink,
And eternal life through Your Servant.
Foremost, we thank you because You are mighty;
Yours is the glory forever.
Lord, remember Your church,
To deliver it from everything evil
And perfect it according to Your love,
And gather it from the four winds,
Sanctified for Your Kingdom which You have prepared for it;
For the power and glory are Yours forever.
Let Your grace come,
And let this world pass away.
Hosanna to the God of David!
May all who are holy come;
Let those who are not, repent.
–Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, first century) (Ivan Lewis, 1998)
This non-canonical relic from the first century notes the importance of the Church and communal prayer. An echo of Jesus can be heard: Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My name, there am I with them.
How important is the Body of Christ to my religious experience?
46. The Wonderful Constancy of the Martyrs
(May I Serve Night and Day)
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according to the will of God. For it becomes us who profess greater piety than others, to ascribe the authority over all things to God. And truly, who can fail to admire their nobleness of mind, and their patience, with that love towards their Lord which they displayed? –who, when they were so torn with scourges, that the frame of their bodies, even to the very inward veins and arteries, was laid open, still patiently endured, while even those that stood by pitied and bewailed them. But the reached such a pitch of magnanimity, that not one of them let a sigh or a groan escape them, thus proving to us all that those holy martyrs of Christ, at the very time when they suffered such torments, were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord then stood by them, and communed with them. And, looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them. For them kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and never will be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to those good things which are laid up for such as enduring, things “which ear hath not heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,”- but were revealed by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but had already become angels. And, in like manners, those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds full of spikes, and subjected to various other kinds of torments, in order that, if it were possible, the tyrant might, by their lingering tortures, lead them to a denial of Christ.
—The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnium (second century) (CCL)
The passage from Revelations indicates that the saints are serving God night and day. The non-canonical epistle indicates that the saints are no longer men but angels; messengers of God. In either case, I find the idea of working for the salvation of others, even after my physical death, a very comforting one. In my current life, I pray that God will use me as a healing vessel for His glory and my joy. May this service continue in the next life as well.
How do I see myself being used in the life to come?
47. Meditation on Death
(Death, Where Is Thy Sting?)
1.Place yourself in the Presence of God
2. Ask His Grace.
3. Suppose yourself to be on your deathbed, in the last extremity, without the smallest hope of recovery.
1. Consider the uncertainty as to the day of your death. One day your soul will quit this body–will it be in summer or winter? In town or country? By day or by night? Will it be suddenly or with warning? Will it be owing to sickness or an accident? Will you have time to make your last confession or not? Will your confessor or spiritual father be at hand or will he not? Alas, of all these things we know absolutely nothing: all that we do know is that die we shall, and for the most part sooner than we expect.
2. Consider that then the world is at end as far as you are concerned, there will be no more of it for you, it will be altogether overthrown for you, since all pleasures, vanities, worldly joys, empty delights will be as a mere fantastic vision to you. Woe is me, for what mere trifles and unrealities I have ventured to offend my God? Then you will see that what we preferred to Him was naught. But, on the other hand, all devotion and good works will then seem so precious and so sweet.–Why did I not tread that pleasant path? Then what you thought to be little sins will look like huge mountains, and your devotion will seem but a very little thing.
3. Consider the universal farewell which your soul will take of this world. It will say farewell to riches, pleasures, and idle companions, to amusements and pastimes, to friends and neighbors, to husband, wife and child, in short to all creation. And lastly it will say farewell to its own body, which it will leave pale and cold, to become repulsive in decay.
4. Consider how the survivors will hasten to put that body away, and hide it beneath the earth- and then the world will scarce give you another thought, or remember you, any more than you have done to those already gone. “God rest his soul!”, men will say, and that is all. O death, how pitiless, how hard thou art!
5. Consider that when it quits the body the soul must go at once to the right hand or the left. To which will your soul go? What side will it take? None other, be sure, than that to which it had voluntarily drawn while yet in this world.
C)Affections and Resolutions
1. Pray to God, and throw yourself into His arms. O Lord, be Thou my stay in that day of anguish! May that hour be blessed and favorable to me, if all the rest of my life be full of sadness and trial.
2. Despise the world. Forasmuch as I know not the hour in which I must quit the world, I will not grow fond of it. O dear friends, beloved ones of my heart, be content that I cleave to you only with a holy friendship which may last for ever, why should I cling to you with a tie which must needs be broken? I will prepare for the hour of death and take every precaution for its peaceful arrival, I will thoroughly examine into the state of my conscience, and put in order whatever is wanting.
Thank God for inspiring you with these resolutions: offer them to His Majesty: entreat Him anew to grant you a happy death by the Merits of His Dear Son’s Death. Ask the prayers of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. OUR FATHER, etc.
Gather a bouquet of myrrh.
—St. Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life) (CCEL)
The last hospice patient I ever saw at the hospital was waiting for me even though she didn’t know me or or know when I was going to see her. When I entered her room, she said that she was waiting for me to pray with her and that I would be the last person she would ever see. I held her hand and prayed with her. After a short while she closed her eyes as I continued to pray. There was no movement or sound from her. I removed my hand from hers, touched her cheek and left.
Am I prepared to meet my Lord?
48. Christ Among the Poor
(Lord, May I Be Willing To Give Up All To Follow You)
The poor have no need of our pity. The poor need our help and assistance. What they give us is more than we give them. Christ said: “I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.” He hungered not only for bread but for love that makes one understand that one is loved, is known, is somebody for someone. He was naked not only in reference to clothing but also in reference to human dignity, because of the injustice that is done to the poor, who are disdained simply because they are poor. Christ knew the abandonment of those in prison, those who are rejected, those who are not wanted, those who walk through the world devoid of all help.
—Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Quoted in Teresa of Calcutta: A Pencil in God’s Hand)(JTG)
This gospel reading makes me nervous. While I am not rich, I have more than enough to live on. If Jesus came to me and said “Sell your retirement savings, give it to the poor and follow me,” I would flinch and I am not totally sure that I could do it. It’s not that I expect to live like a king when I retire. I expect I will volunteer a great deal of time to charity. It’s just that I want some control over the situation. I do not want to be on the “needy” side of the ledger. I want to be a giver. But, as Mother Teresa says: What we get from the poor is more than we give them. I know that giving feeds my ego life in some ways.
How can I learn to be a gracious receiver as well as a giver?
49. Trust in the Darkness
(With God, All Things Are Possible)
The times of desolation and dryness is the best for gaining merit. A soul that seeks God easily bears this state and rises above all that passes before the imagination and in the interior part of the soul where consolation is mostly to be found. It does not cease to love God, to humble itself, and to accept this state even forever. There is nothing so dangerous and so much to be suspected as sweetness. Sometimes we attach ourselves to it, and when it is past we find we have less instead of more fervor in doing good. It is a real consolation for me to think that in the midst of aridity and temptation my heart is free and that it is only by my heart (that is, my will) that I can merit or demerit, that I can neither please nor displease God by things which are beyond my control, such as sensible sweetness and importunate thoughts which come into my mind in spite of myself.
Therefore during this time of suffering and desolation I say to God: My Lord, let the world and even the devil take for themselves what I cannot prevent them having, but they shall never have anything to do with my heart, my will that thou hast left in my possession–this belongs to thee: take it, it is thine, and do what thou wilt with it. A man to whom God has given a real desire to please him need never trouble about anything. “Peace to men of good will”.
—St. Claude de la Colombiere, Retreat Notes, 1674 (JTG)
I am currently recovering from a 1Â½ year bout with depression. Why am I depressed? I have received many consolations in recent years regarding the use of my talents for the glory of God (as I see it). I went to college for a degree in Social Work to do God's work (as I see it) and burned out in the process. I feel I have nothing left to give. What I thought I had, I’m no longer sure that I have. St. Claude notes that there is nothing so dangerous and to be suspected as "sweetness" (spiritual consolations, feelings). If one attaches himself to them (the consolations), when they pass one may end up with less instead of more fervor to do good. This is evidently what happened to me. When Jesus says "How difficult it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” He may not just be talking about money. He may also be talking about those that are rich in spiritual consolations. St. Claude indicates that it is only by the will that one can merit or demerit. I must continue to will to do God's will in spite of spiritual dryness and desolation.
In what ways does my ego get involved with and dependent upon spiritual consolations? In what ways can I still grow in holiness even when the joy is gone?
50. God Leads the Soul
(The Lord is My Shepherd...I Shall Not Want)
If God intends to lead the soul on, He does not put it in this dark night of spirit immediately after its going out from the aridities and trials of the first purgation and night of sense. Instead, after having emerged from the state of beginners, it usually spends many years exercising itself in the state of proficients. In this new state, as one liberated from a cramped prison cell, the soul goes about the things of God with much more freedom and satisfaction of spirit and with more abundant interior delight than it did in the beginning before entering the night of sense. Its imagination and faculties are no longer bound to discursive meditation and spiritual solicitude, as was their custom. The soul readily finds in its spirit, without the work of meditation, a very serene, loving contemplation and spiritual delight. Nonetheless, since the purgation of the soul is not complete (the purgation of the principal part, that of the spirit, is lacking, and without it the sensory purgation, however strong it may have been, is incomplete because of a communication existing between the two parts of the soul which form only one suppositum), certain needs, aridities, darkness, and conflicts are felt. These are sometimes far more intense than those of the past and are like omens or messengers of the coming night of the spirit.
—St. John of the Cross (The Dark Night, Book 2, Chapter 1) (JTG)
I am mystified and filled with wonder and fear when I read St. John of the Cross. His lucid first hand descriptions of the spiritual journey through the dark nights of the senses and soul are far beyond anything I can comprehend as are the experiences of Jesus in the desert. My only literal wilderness experiences of this type are from long periods of hiking and camping in the barren areas of the national parks. I have had pieces of songs or pieces of conversations torture me for days at a time. I know that it is because my mind craves distractions which it so readily finds in civilization. Not finding it, it repeats things over and over. Many times I felt I was losing my sanity and had to sing the Lord’ Prayer to break the pattern. I’ve learned from these experiences and I am sure that God leads me through these as he lead St. John and Jesus. The important point is that God is leading the soul to growth.
In what ways have I had miniature “dark nights” of various kinds?
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