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101. Humility vs. Vainglory
(May I Walk Humbly With Jesus)
Elisha bade the poor widow “borrow vessels, even empty vessels not a few, and pour oil into all those vessels,” and so in order to receive God’s Grace in our hearts, they must be as empty vessels–not filled with self-esteem. The swallow with its sharp cry and keen glance has the power of frightening away birds of prey, and for that reason the dove prefers it to all other birds, and lives surely beside it,–even so humility drives Satan away, and cherishes the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit within us, and for that reason all the Saints–and especially the King of Saints and His Blessed Mother–have always esteemed the grace of humility above all other virtues.
We call that vainglory which men take to themselves, either for what is not in them, or which being in them is not their own, or which being in them and their own yet is not worthy of their self-satisfaction....
You may test real worth as we test balm, which is tried by being distilled in water, and if it is precipitated to the bottom, it is known to be pure and precious. So if you want to know whether a man is really wise, learned, generous, or noble, see if his life is molded by humility, modesty and submission. If so, his gifts are genuine; but if they are only surface and showy, you may be sure that in proportion to their demonstrativeness so is their unreality. Those pearls which are formed amid tempest and storm have only an outward shell, and are hollow within; and so when a man’s good qualities are fed by pride, vanity and boasting.
—St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, (CCEL)
Humility, modesty and submission are needed; not pride, vanity and boasting. Every morning for more than ten years I pray that God removes my self-will and pride (the king of sins). As long as I can honestly pray "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” I am not likely to stray far from the narrow path.
How genuine is my humility? To what extent is it only a surface quality and showy?
102. An Important Step: Becoming Entirely Ready
(What Profit If I Gain the World and Lose My Soul?)
Oh love! How I would want to say this word everywhere because love alone is that which can dare say with the bride, I am my Beloved’s. He gives us permission to think that He, this true Lover, my Spouse and my Good, needs us. Since He gives us permission, let us repeat, daughters, my Beloved is mine and I am my Beloved’s. You are mine Lord? If You come to me, why do I doubt that I will be able to serve You? From here on Lord, I want to forget myself and look only at how I can serve You and have no other desire than to do Your will.
But my desire is not powerful, my God; You are the powerful One. What I can do is be determined; thus from this moment I am determined to serve You through deeds.
—St. Teresa of Avila, Meditation on the Song of Songs, (JTG)
St. Teresa sounds like she is making a sixth-step in a 12-Step recovery program. She is becoming entirely ready to have God remove her self-will and to serve Jesus with deeds. This willingness is necessary before she can ask for God's help to change. What is to encourage her? The words of Jesus: What if I gain the whole world and lose my soul in the process? What can I give in exchange for my soul? Is my self-will worth it?
Have I become "entirely ready" to ask Jesus to help me follow Him?
103. Obedience is the Key
(Obedience, Not Sacrifice)
Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God ...and perfect love of God means complete union of our will with God's. It follows then, that the more one unites his will with the divine will, the greater will be his love of God. Mortification, meditation, receiving Holy Communion, acts of fraternal charity are all certainly pleasing to God--but only when they are in accordance with His will. When they do not accord with God's will, He not only finds no pleasure in them but He even rejects them utterly and punishes them.
Why should we perform actions for God's glory if they are not going to be acceptable to Him? God does not want sacrifices...but He does want obedience to His will. The man who follows his own will independently of God's is guilty of a kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God's will...he adores his own.
In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God’s will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love.
We must unite ourselves to God’s will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man...On these occasions we must remember that while God does not will the sin, he does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be. It is certain and of faith, that whatever happens, happens by the will of God. We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God’s hands.
—St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, Uniformity With God’s Will, CCEL
These are very difficult readings for me. When I read them, it helps me to understand why the Gnostics of the early Christian centuries did not believe that Yahweh was the king of Gods. It seems like He has a decidedly nasty human streak. I would rather believe that this “nastiness” had more to do with the writers and interpreters of this history than God Himself. Saul is rejected as King of Israel by God because he does not utterly destroy his enemy–including cattle! A warrior of Israel makes a stupid pledge and believes that he is forced, by his oath, to offer his young daughter as a burnt offering to Yahweh! St. Alphonsus notes that mortification, meditation, receiving Holy Communion, and acts of fraternal charity will be rejected by God and punished if not in accord with His will!
What does this all mean? I suspect that St. Alphonsus may have meant that, for example, if I am a family man, I cannot spend my whole day in prayer and charitable acts–it is not appropriate for my station in life. I wouldn’t be surprised if the story from the Judges is what prompted Jesus to preach against making oaths (“Let your yes be yes and your no be no–everything else is from the evil one”). In addition to the importance of doing God’s will, the story about Saul may have had to do with ulterior motives regarding the spoils of war.
Am I willing to struggle with and learn from the difficulties I have with the earlier salvation history?
104. First Experience of Divine Love
(Lord, May Your Gifts Not Make Me Proud)
I cannot tell you how astonished I was when I felt my heart grow warm for the first time. It was a real warmth, too, not an imaginary one: I seemed kindled with a fire that I could feel with my senses. I was astonished by the way this heat broke out in my soul, bringing with it a rich consolation that I had never experienced before. I kept feeling my chest over and over again to see if this burning sensation had a physical cause. But when I realized that it came entirely from within myself and that this fire of love had no sensual or sinful origin but was a gift from my Creator, I melted with joy and wanted my love to increase still more, especially because of the pleasurable sensations of interior sweetness that poured into my soul with this spiritual flame. Before my heart had been flooded by this devotion, which was more comforting than any other I had experienced, I did not think it was possible to feel such divine warmth during this exile of ours. It set my soul ablaze, as though a real fire was burning there.
—St. Richard Rolle of Hampole, The Fire of Love, VOG
The experience of St. Richard reminded me, though much less dramatic, of the ecstatic frenzy experienced by early Old Testament prophets and those who came into their presence. I guess that it can only be described as a kind of divine spiritual fire that is sometimes out of control. God may give these experiences as a gift to someone for their growth if it is His will. However, these spiritual experiences are not things that I would strive for as ends in themselves since there can be much of the ego in them that may result in pride. I believe that this can be true as well of more common spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues. The gifts can also become a kind of spiritual thrill-seeking that becomes more emotional than spiritual.
Are spiritual experiences more important to me than the basics of faith, hope and love? In what ways?
105. Dealing With Distractions
(I Will Submit To God)
Once you feel that you have done everything you can to put your life straight according to the laws and judgments of Holy Church, you must immediately put yourself to work. (If memories and other distractions come) . . . try to cover them with a thick cloud of forgetting as though these things never happened or occurred to you or anybody else. If they persist...there are special methods, techniques and spiritual strategies that you can use to get rid of these distractions.
Do everything in your power to behave as though you were unaware of these distractions .....Try to look over their shoulders...as though you were looking for something else: that "something"...is God who is enclosed in the cloud of unknowing. If this technique is properly understood, I believe that it is simply a yearning and desire for God, a longing to experience and see Him as clearly as we can in this life.
Here is another technique you can try if you wish. When you feel that thee is no way that you can suppress these distractions, cower beneath them as though you were a prisoner or coward defeated in battle. Tell yourself that it is pure stupidity to contend with them any longer; thus you will give yourself up to God, while you are in the hands of your enemies and feel that you have been permanently destroyed. Please give this method your full consideration, because if you try to put it into practice you are bound to fade away completely, and indeed it seems clear to me that if this technique is properly understood it is simply an accurate understanding and experience of yourself as you really are: a filthy wretch who is worse than nothing. This experience and perception is humility, which will always succeed in forcing God Himself to come down...to take revenge on your enemies, to raise you up and to wipe the tears lovingly from the eyes of your soul, just as a father does when his child is about to die...
—The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapters 31-32, VOG
Another way of dealing with distractions is to let them swirl around me like a stream around a stone, or to step lightly out of their way, letting them come and go, like birds flying overhead. Not contending, not fighting with my own power, is a form of humility.
What methods of dealing with distractions work best for me? Do I humbly acknowledge to God the need for His help in dealing with distractions?
106. Salvation For All Creation
(God Will Sum Up All Things In Christ)
All men who are going to be saved must rely upon this communion of Christians. For, in my view, God is everything that is good and He has made the whole of creation and He loves what He has made. Anybody who loves his fellow Christians for God's sake, loves everything that exists. For everything is included in that portion of humanity who are going to be saved--by that I mean the whole of creation and the Maker of everything too! For God is in man and God is everything. And I hope, by God's grace, that anyone who looks at it like this will be instructed correctly and get whatever consolation he needs.
—St. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 9, VOG
"He has made known to us the mystery of His will: to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth." In some way, the destiny of Christians (i.e., the Church) is tied up with the salvation of the world and all of creation. What a destiny!! Can anything be more profound? Thanks be to God for the grace He has bestowed upon us ,through Jesus, to be a part of so wonderful a plan of love!
Can I recognize how important my holiness is to the plans of God? How much must God love us to want us to be a part of His plan of salvation for all creation?
107. Types of Prayer
(The Lord Trains Whom He Loves)
You must understand that there are three kinds of prayer; the first consists of words that God has composed Himself, like the Lord's Prayer and those that have been prescribed for everybody by Holy Church. There are also those that have been composed by holy men that have been addressed to our Lord, our Lady, and the saints. This kind of prayer is especially helpful to somebody who has just embarked on the spiritual life, and it is better than any other kind of spiritual exercise.
The next kind of prayer also uses words but does not consist of any definite or particular utterances. This happens when a man or woman experiences the grace of fervor as a special gift from God and during this experience speaks to Him as though He were actually present, using those words that come from his mind to express the feeling in his heart after he has counted his sins and realized his wretchedness, perceived the malice and wiles
of the enemy or experienced the goodness or mercy of God.
The third kind of prayer arises only in the heart. It comes softly, using no words, together with great peace and quiet of body and soul. Anybody who has ambitions to pray like this must have a pure heart, because it comes to those men and women who have achieved peace of soul either after a long struggle of soul and body or by the sharp blows of love that I have just mentioned. Their passions have been transformed into a taste for spiritual things that enable them to pray without ceasing in their hearts and to love and praise God....
—St. Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection (14th century), VOG
“After a long struggle of soul and body, the passions have been transformed into a taste for spiritual things.” This long struggle may be experienced as a correcting or training by God in the same way that parents guide and correct their children. If I accept the corrections as an act of love, for my own good, my unruly, natural passions will lead me closer to God and His will for me.
How are my painful experiences considered acts of training and love? Am I willing to accept the discipline and correction?
108. Death of the Ego
(Lord, Make Me Perfect As You Are Perfect)
Everybody has a special reason for grief, but the person who has a deep experience of himself existing far apart from God feels the most acute sorrow. Any other grief seems trivial in comparison.
If this sorrow is genuine, it is full of holy longing. Otherwise, nobody could bear it. Unless a soul is nourished from time to time with some of the consolations of contemplations, he would never endure this knowledge or experience of his nature. Whenever he longs to have a true experience of God in purity of heart...,inevitably he finds that he experiences instead this foul, putrid, lump of self, which he must entirely reject and forsake if he would be a true disciple as God himself taught... Thus, he is doomed to become almost mad with grief, so much so that he weeps and wails, struggles, curses and reviles himself, and,....it seems that the burden of self is so insupportable that he doesn’t care what happens to him as long as God's will be done. And yet...he never wants to stop living, because that would be an insanity inspired by the devil and a rejection of God Himself. Rather, he wants to go on living and he is fully determined to be grateful to God for the great gift of His creation, even though he longs ceaselessly to loose all sense of his own existence.
—Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 44, VOG
"Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." When I read these words, I used to feel hopeless and futile. I will never be perfect. Thinking like this only makes me neurotic. I've come to believe that while God wants my ultimate perfection, He accepts me where I am and is happy with my improvements over time. My experiences with ego death during periods of depression have taught me that God only wants me to release the diseased parts of my character. While this felt like a fire and death, I've come through and did not die. I've changed in ways that lead slowly toward Perfection. While I don’t like depression, I’ve learned that if I embrace it with the right attitude and with lots of God's grace, it can help to purify my character more quickly than almost anything I can imagine.
What parts of my character need to be "killed"?
109. Meditation: Seeing the Truth About Myself (Temptation...Desire...Sin...Death)
There are three established ways of achieving contemplation: the study of scripture and doctrine, spiritual meditation and constant and devout prayer. You are not really able to read the scriptures for yourself, so you must rely on prayer and meditation. By meditation, you will come to appreciate how weak you are in virtue, and prayer will help you to acquire it. In meditation you will see what a poor creature you are and discover your sins and failings--pride, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, the wicked emotions of envy, anger, hatred, gloom, irritability, bitterness, laziness, and irrational depression. You will also realize that your heart is full of false regrets and fears that spring from a worldly, carnal outlook. All these emotions will well up from your heart as water flows constantly from the spring of a polluted well and they will block your spiritual vision so that you can neither see nor experience the pure love of Jesus Christ.
—St. Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection, Chapter 15, VOG
"By meditation, I will come to appreciate how weak I am in virtue but prayer will help me acquire it." Unless I sit still and become aware of my "inner environment,” I have little idea how noisy and chaotic I am. It does seem like "demons" are rummaging around my head, but, it is mostly my own undisciplined mind which is creating the trouble. While I must be determined to organize this clutter, I am powerless to do it without God's help. I ask for this help by prayer; asking God to empower my feeble efforts at self-discipline. Slowly over time, some semblance of clarity emerges--like the clearing of a turbid stream.
Am I willing to work consistently at calming and clarifying my turbid and disorganized mind? How will I do this?
110. God Does Everything
(God Is My Light And Salvation: Who Do I Fear?)
A man regards some things as well done and others as evil, but our Lord does not regard them like that. For as all natural things have really been performed by God, so everything that has been done has somehow been done by God...All this is due to the plan that God ordained from all eternity. He is the only one who acts.
And he revealed all this to me and filled me with happiness. It is as though He were saying: Look! I am God! Look! I am in all things. Look! I do everything. Look! I do everything. I hold my work always in my hands and I will never let them fall. Look! I am guiding everything to the end I ordained for it from before the beginning of time, with the same wisdom, power and love with which I created it! So how can anything be amiss?
—St. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter 11, VOG
In some mysterious way, all things ultimately work out according to God’s plan. I read salvation history as recorded in the Bible and I am amazed that anything good has come out of that torturous process. But God’s will plays out in spite of man’s stupidity, greed, pride, envy, lust and every other undesirable trait.
So, the Lord are my light and salvation....what need I fear?
111. The Acid Test of Spirituality
(Lord, Grant Me What Is Best For My Soul)
Many times it will happen that proper medical attention or effective remedies will be lacking, or even that the doctor will not rightly diagnose our case. In such instances, we must unite ourselves to the divine will which thus disposes of our physical health. The story is told of a client of St. Thomas of Canterbury, who being sick, went to the saint’s tomb to obtain a cure. He returned home cured. But then he thought to himself: “Suppose it would be better for my soul’s salvation if I remained sick, what point then is there in being well?” In this frame of mind he went back and asked the saint to intercede with God that he would grant what would be best for his eternal salvation. His illness returned and he was perfectly content with the turn things had taken, being fully persuaded that God had thus disposed of him for his own good.
Sickness is the acid test of spirituality, because it discloses whether are virtue is real or sham.
—St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, Uniformity of God’s Will, Chapter 5, CCEL
I've often wondered what I would be like if I had normal eyesight. Would I be more worldly and less caring? Would an ability to drive a car allow me to be more useful? Since I never had normal eyesight, I don't miss it. A dozen years ago, when I nearly lost my remaining sight virtually overnight for a period of three years, I was stunned and unhappy. From this, I assume that what I am and what God has given me is best for my spiritual growth, including the times when I nearly lost it all.
Would I pray for ill-health if that were best for my spiritual growth?
112. Christ Is All
(Jesus Is The First And Last)
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
—St. Patrick, The Shield of St. Patrick, CCEL
Revelations 1:17-18 Colossians 2:9-10
All things are summed up in Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is within everyone and all things, including me! This is one of the reasons why meditation and knowing myself is so important. I can know nothing better than I know myself. My soul is made in the image of God.
Are there pieces of me that I am still afraid of knowing?
113. Conversing With God
(I Have Strength Through Him Who Empowers Me)
The devout Fr. John Tauler relates this personal experience: For years he had prayed God to send him someone who would teach him the real spiritual life. One day, at prayer, he heard a voice saying: "Go to such and such a church and you will have the answer to your prayers." He went and at the door of the church he found a beggar, barefooted and in rags. He greeted the mendicant saying: "Good day, my friend."
"Thank you, sir, for your kind wishes, but I do not recall ever having had a bad day."
"Then God has certainly given you a very happy life."
"That is very true, sir, I have never been unhappy. In saying this I am not making any rash statement either. This is the reason: When I have nothing to eat, I give thanks to God; when it rains or snows, I bless God's providence; when someone insults me, drives me away, or otherwise mistreats me, I give glory to God. I've said I never had an unhappy day, and it’s the truth, because I am accustomed to will unreservedly what God wills. Whatever happens to me, sweet or bitter, I gladly receive from his hands as what is best for me. Hence my unvarying happiness."
"Where did you find God?"
"I found him where I left creatures."
"Who are you anyway?"
"I am a king."
"And where is your kingdom?"
"In my soul, where everything is in good order, where the passions obey reason and the reason obeys God."
"How have you come to such a state of perfection?"
"By silence, I practice silence towards men, while I cultivate the habit of speaking with God. Conversing with God is the way I found and maintain my peace of soul."
Union with God brought this poor beggar to the very heights of perfection. In his poverty he was richer than the mightiest monarch; in his sufferings, he was vastly happier than worldlings amid their worldly delights.
—St. Alphonsus de Ligouri, Uniformity With God's Will, Chapter 3, CCEL
My Lord Jesus, though I don't talk to You directly often enough as friends would talk, I thank You for Your daily companionship and guidance whenever I remember You. I trust You Lord, in Your love, that You will not allow anything to happen to me that is not for my highest good. I ask Lord that You remove from me my self-indulgent will and allow me to be a healing vessel for Your glory and my joy! I praise You my God, Friend, Lord, and Brother. Amen.
How much conversation do I have with God? As much as I would have with a friend? Do I suspect that I would not have a friend-relationship with someone with whom I communicate as little as I talk to God?
114. Call To A Missionary
(Lord, Hear Us)
And again after a few years I was in Britain with my people, who received me as their son, and sincerely besought me that now at last, having suffered so many hardships, I should not leave then and go elsewhere.
And there I saw in the night the vision of a man, whose name was Victoricus, coming as it were from Ireland, with countless letters. And he gave me of them, and I read the opening words of the letter, which were, “The voice of the Irish”, and as I read the beginning of the letter I thought that at the same moment I heard their voice–they were those beside the Wood of Voclut, which is near the Western Sea–and thus did they cry out as with one mouth: “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.”
And I was quite broken in heart, and could read no further, and so I woke up. Thanks be to God, after may years the Lord gave to them according to their cry.
—St. Patrick, The Confessions, CCEL
While I may not be called to minister to the Macedonians as were Saints Paul and Luke, nor to the Irish as was St. Patrick, I am called to minister to my family, friends, co-workers and community. This ministry may not be formal preaching or religiously oriented at all. It may be offering a compassionate ear to a co-worker with a very sick daughter, attending a city council meeting, hosting a dinner for single friends, inviting some lonely individuals to Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, offering a young neighbor a job to help pay for a trip or babysitting a grandchild. While I may not have visions of whole peoples calling me to minister, the individual voices are all around me?
Am I willing to listen to the voices of those around me who need a little time, talent or treasure? How do I fulfill my ministry?
115. Thanksgiving Of A Missionary
(I Am With You Always)
Hence, then, I give unwearied thanks to God, who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I can confidently offer Him my soul as a living sacrifice– to Christ, my Lord, who saved me out of all my troubles.....So indeed I must accept with equanimity whatever befalls me, be it good or evil, and always give thanks to God, who taught me to trust in Him always without hesitation, and who must have heard my prayer so that I, however ignorant I was, in the last days dared to undertake such a holy and wonderful work–thus imitating somehow those who, as the Lord once foretold, would reach His Gospel for a testimony to all nations before the end of the world. So we have seen it, and so it has been fulfilled: indeed, we are witnesses that the Gospel has been preached unto those parts beyond which there lives nobody.
—St. Patrick, The Confessions, CCEL
"I must accept with equanimity whatever befalls me, be it good or evil, and always give thanks to God, who taught me to trust in Him always without hesitation.." The joy and faith contained in St. Patrick's Confession can be felt. He learned to trust God and, at the end of his days, he saw all the good that God accomplished through him. Would he have been so happy or have had such an inspiring life if he had not immediately heeded the Call?
Do I immediately answer God's call whether convenient or not? Am I thankful when I do whether or not I feel so at first?
116. All Revelation Is Complete In Christ
(The Lord Has Placed All Things Under Jesus’Feet)
Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would not only be guilty of foolish behavior but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.
God could respond as follows: If I have already told you all things in My Word, My Son, and if I have no other word, what answer or revelation can I now make that would surpass this? Fasten your eyes on Him alone, because in Him I have spoken and revealed all, and in Him you shall discover even more than you ask for and desire.....
If you desire Me to answer with a word of comfort, behold My Son, subject to Me and to others out of love for Me, and you will see how much He answers. If you desire Me to declare some secret truths or events to you, fix your eyes on Him, and you will discern hidden in Him the most secret mysteries, and wisdom, and the wonders of God, as My Apostle proclaims: In whom are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Col. 2:3).
—St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chapter 22, JTG
Jesus “is enthroned far above every power or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but in the age to come.” If I “fix my eyes upon Him, I will discover in Him the most secret mysteries, wisdom and wonders of God.” When I think I need more spiritual excitement, or new knowledge, or flashy experience, these readings get me back to the basics. I need to fix my eyes on Jesus.
In what ways am I still spiritually thrill-seeking? When I crave something new, will I focus on Jesus and trust what I receive from Him?
117. The Need For Spiritual Reading
(The Scriptures Teach Salvation Through Faith In Jesus)
I am always encouraging you, and I am not going to stop encouraging you, to pay attention not only to what is said here in church, but also, when you are at home, to continue constantly in the practice of reading the divine Scriptures...Let not anyone say to me those silly, contemptible words, "I'm stuck in the courthouse all day". "I'm tied up with political affairs."..."I've got a wife." "I'm raising kids." "I'm responsible for a household." "I'm a businessman." "Reading the Bible isn't my thing. That's for those who are set apart, for those who have made the mountaintops their home, who have a way of life without interruptions." What are you saying, man? It's not your business to pay attention to the Bible because you are distracted by thousands of concerns? Then Bible reading belongs more to you than to the monks!...You are always standing in the line of battle and are constantly being hit, so you need more medicine...Numerous powerful inducements to anger and anxiety, to discouragement and grief, to vanity and loss of sense surround us on every side. ...And so we constantly need the whole range of equipment supplied by Scripture...
—St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on Lazarus 3, JTG
“All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives, and training them to be upright.” In addition to Scripture, I also study the lives and writings of the saints; those whose lives have been transformed through the study and meditation on the Scriptures. These are the “medicine” and “equipment” needed to stand on the firing line of the spiritual battle. If the inducements to give up this battle were powerful in the second century, how much worse are they today?
How can I add more spiritual reading to my daily routine?
118. Prayer to the Shepherd
(The Lord Is My Shepherd, I Lack Nothing)
Come therefore, Lord Jesus, to look for your servant, to search for the tired sheep. Come, O Shepherd, and look for me....Your sheep has gone astray while you dwelt in the mountains. Leave there the ninety-nine other sheep, and come after the one who strayed away. Come without the dogs, without the bad workers, without the hirelings to uncouth to enter through the door. Come without help and without being announced: long have I waited for your arrival. I know that you will come.... Come, not with a whip but with charity and gentleness of heart. Come to me for I am disturbed by the incursions of the ravening wolves. Come to me, for I have been cast out of Paradise...I have wondered far from the herd grazing on the heights...You have placed me there, but the wolf roaming by night drove me away from the fold. Come to look for me, for I am seeking You. Search for me, find me, gather me to You, carry me. You can find the one You seek: deign to welcome the one You find, and to place him on Your shoulders...Come yourself to look for your sheep, rather than send servants or hirelings to do the searching. Draw me to You in this flesh which failed in Adam, draw me to You, not from Sarah... but from Mary. Carry me to Your cross which is the salvation of the lost and the only rest of the weary, to Your cross by which whoever dies can live again.
—St. Ambrose, Reading Scripture With The Church Fathers, JTG
As I hike in the Smoky Mt. National Park, the words of Psalm 23 come to mind: “In grassy meadows He lets me lie...by tranquil streams He leads me...to restore my spirit and sooth me.” Nature is one of the ways that God calls to and searches for His “tired sheep” that have “gone astray while (the Lord) dwelt in the mountains.” It is on such trips that God has often “come to look for me, find me, gather me and carry me” to my next needed life experience.
When I am tired, do I find God calling me to the mountains and streams of His beautiful creation? Do I respond often enough?
119. Human vs. Spiritual
(The Word Is The Real Light)
Now the more the mind is concerned about thinking and dealing with what is merely lower and human, the more it is separated from the experience in the intimacy of devotion of what is higher and heavenly, while the more fervently the memory, desire and intellect is withdrawn from what is below to what is above, the more perfect will be our prayer, and the purer our contemplation, since the two directions of our interest cannot both be perfect at the same time, being as different as light and darkness. He who cleaves to God is indeed translated into the light, while he who clings to the world is in the dark. So the supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to God that all his soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that he becomes one spirit with him, and remembers nothing but God, but with all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone.
—St. Albert the Great, On Cleaving To God, CCEL
“Who could ever have known (God’s) will, had (God0 not given wisdom, and sent (His) Holy Spirit from above.” Thus: “His Word was made flesh.” “The supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to the (Word) that all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone.” Jesus teaches me how to be both fully human and God-like.
In what ways is my thinking still too absorbed with the world?
(Who Will Rescue Me From This Body Doomed To Death? ””God..)
Above all, therefore, it is necessary that things heard, seen, done and said, and other such things, must be received without adding things from the imagination, without mental associations and without emotional involvement, and one should not let past or future associations, implications or constructs of the imagination form and grow. For when constructs of the imagination are not allowed to enter the memory and mind, a man is not hindered, whether he be engaged in prayer, meditation, ire reciting psalms, or in any other practice or spiritual exercise, nor will they recur again. So commit yourself confidently and without hesitation, all that you are, and everything else, individually and in general, to the unfailing and totally reliable providence of God, in silence and in peace, and he will fight for you. He will liberate you and comfort you more fully, more effectively and satisfactorily then if you were to dream about it all the time, night and day, and were to cast around frantically all over the place with the futile and confused thoughts of your mind in bondage, nor will you wear out your mind and body, wasting your time, and stupidly and pointlessly exhausting your strength.
—St. Albert the Great, On Cleaving To God, JTG
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? God””thanks be to Him””through Jesus Christ our Lord.” No less a person than St. Paul had trouble with detachment in fighting off those mental associations and emotional attachments that bind us to worldly things and events. But, as St. Albert has indicated, if I commit myself confidently to the providence of God, He will fight for me and liberate me. He will do for me what I cannot do for myself. Praise His Name!
In what ways am I a prisoner ...attached to the outcome of events and owned by the things that I own?
121. Free Will
(I Will Choose Life)
If our free will is in truth preserved with innumerable inclinations towards virtue or vice , toward either duty or its opposite, its future must like other things have been known by God , before coming to pass, from the world’s creation and foundation ; and in all things prearranged by God in accordance with what He has seen of each act of our free wills. He has with due regard to each movement of our free wills prearranged what also is at once to occur in His providence and to take place according to the train of future events. God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of all future events including those that are to have their efficient cause in our freewill guided by impulse.
—St. Origen, On Prayer, CCEL
"Look! I am offering you life and prosperity or death and disaster. Choose life." Human free will is powerful. Just look at the World Trade Center/Pentagon disaster that just took place. Some deliberately choose death. While free-will is real, St. Origen has noted a cause for hope, even in the midst of intentional calamity: "(God) has with due regard to each movement of our free wills prearranged what also is at once to occur in His providence and to take place according to the train of future events." God's grace and providence will always move in the direction of life, love and healing and this movement will be stronger than death and hate as proved by the resurrection of Jesus.
How convinced am I that good will ultimately come from evil according to God's providence? In what ways do I tend to choose death?
122. Particular and Daily Examen
(The Harvest Of The Spirit Is Eternal Life)
It contains in it three times and two to examine oneself.
The first time is in the morning, immediately on rising when one ought to propose to guard himself with diligence against that particular sin or defect which he wants to correct or amend.
The second time is after dinner, when one is to ask of God our Lord what one wants, namely , grace to remember how many times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect, and to amend himself in the future. Then let him make the first Examen, asking account of his soul of that particular thing proposed, which he wants to correct and amend. Let him go over hour by hour , or period by period, commencing at the hour he rose, and continuing up to the hour and instant of the present examen , and let him make (note of as many) times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect. Then let him resolve anew to amend himself up to the second Examen which he will make.
third time: After supper, the second examen will be made, in the same way, hour by hour, commencing at the first Examen and continuing up to the present (second) one, and let him make (note again of the) times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect.
--St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, CCEL
“Bear one another’s burdens and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” While each of us is responsible for our own behavior, St. Paul indicates that we can help each other through loving correction. We can ask for help in performing our daily examination of conscience.
How often do I examine my conscience? Is it possible to find a friend and do some “fifth step” work? (Admit to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.)
123. On Gentleness Toward Ourselves
(I Will Admonish Myself Gently As I Would My Child)
One important direction in which to exercise gentleness , is with respect to ourselves, never growing irritated with one’s self or one’s imperfections, for although it is but reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our own faults, yet ought we to guard against a bitter, angry, or peevish feeling towards them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the way for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection. What we want is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults. (Problems) arise solely because men do not judge themselves by the light of reason, but under the influence of passions.
Believe me....as a parent’s tender affectionate remonstrance has far more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.
If anyone does not find this gentle dealing sufficient, let him use sterner self-rebuke and admonition, provided only, that whatever indignation he arouses against himself, he finally works it all up to a tender, loving trust in God ....
So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marveling that you fell””there is no reason to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity, infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.
—St. Francis de Sales, An Introduction to the Devout Life, CCEL
“Do not provoke your children so that they will not become discouraged.” St. Francis de Sales makes a good point: If I train myself lovingly, as I would train my child, my repentance will be deeper and longer lasting. The results will be real changes in my attitude and behavior. In addition, by treating myself gently, I will very likely treat others gently regarding their shortcomings. Ultimately, harshness begats an unrealistic perfectionism but gentleness begats realistic growth.
How can I be both firm and loving with myself regarding my imperfections?
(I Will Be An Example By The Way I Speak And Behave)
If your desire and aim is to reach the destination of the path and home of true happiness, of grace and glory, by a straight and safe way then earnestly apply your mind to seek constant purity of heart, clarity of mind and calm of the senses. Gather up your heart’s desire and fix it continually on the Lord God above. To do so you must withdraw yourself so far as you can from friends and from everyone else, and from the activities that hinder you from such a purpose. Grasp every opportunity when you can find the place, time and means to devote yourself to silence and contemplation, and gathering the secret fruits of silence, so that you can escape the shipwreck of this present age and avoid the restless agitation of the noisy world. For this reason apply yourself at all times to purity, clarity, and peace of heart above all things, so that, so far as possible, you can keep the doors of your heart resolutely barred to the forms and images of the physical senses and worldly imaginations by shutting off the doors of the physical senses and turning within yourself. After all, purity of heart is recognized as the most important thing among all spiritual practices, as its final aim, and the reward for all the labors that a spiritual-minded person and true religious may undertake in this life.
—St. Albert the Great, On Cleaving To God, CCEL
“Be an example to all the believers in the ways you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith and your purity.” Purity of heart comes by fixing your eyes on the Lord. Clarity of mind comes by reading the Scriptures. Calmness of the senses come by silence and contemplation. “Be conscientious about what you do and teach, persevere in this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those that listen to you.”
In what ways can I purify my heart?....Clarify my mind?....Calm my senses?
125. The Saints: The Army of Christ
(If I Persevere, I Will Reign With Christ)
We depict Christ as our King and Lord, then, and do not strip Him of His army. For the saints are the Lord’s army... For if the saints are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, they will also share in the divine glory and dominion. If they have partaken in Christ’s suffering, and are His friends, shall they not receive a share of glory from the Church on earth?
Therefore, since they are truly gods, not by nature, but because they partake of the divine nature, they are to be venerated, not because they deserve it on their own account, but because they bear in themselves Him who is by nature worshipful. We do not back away and refuse to touch red-hot iron because of the nature of iron, but because it has partaken of what is hot by nature. The saints are to be venerated because God has glorified them, and through Him they have become fearful to the enemy, and are benefactors for the faithful. They are not gods and benefactors by their own nature, but because they were loving servants and ministers of God, they have been endowed with boldness before Him. Therefore we venerate them, because the king is given honor through the worship given to his beloved servants. They are obedient servants and favored friends, but they are not the King Himself. When someone prays with faith, offering his petition in the name of such a favored friend, the King receives it, through the intercession of the faithful servant, because He accepts the honor and faith which the petitioner has shown to His servant. Thus, those who approach God through the apostles enjoyed healing, for the shadow of the apostles, or even handkerchiefs and aprons touched to them, gushed with cures.
—St. John of Damascus, On The Divine Images, JTG
2 Timothy 2:11-13 Sirrah 44:1-15
“If we die with Him, we shall live with Him. If we persevere, we shall reign with Him.” What does St. Paul mean? “The saints are to be venerated because God has glorified them...they bear in themselves Him who is worshipful.” God, by His own authority, has delegated His power to the saints both living and dead. As Jesus indicated: Those with faith will do as (He) did; even more.
Am I ready to perform the work that Jesus delegates to me both now and in the next life?
126. Imitating Christ
(Jesus Went About Doing Good...I Will Do The Same)
"He who follows me walks not in darkness" says the Lord (John 8:12). By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.
The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
--Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, CCEL
Jesus went about doing good; therefore, my chief effort must be to study His life and pattern my whole life on His. What did Jesus do? He taught, He healed, He prayed, He gave His life for those He loved. It would be helpful to ask in any situation in which I find myself: What would a true disciple of Jesus do in this situation?
what ways can I more fully pattern my life on Jesus’?
127. Spiritual Preliminaries
(Faith Calls Froth Grace)
All things are possible to one who believes, even more to one who hopes, and still more to one who loves; but all things are even more possible to one who practices these three virtues and perseveres in them. All who are baptized believers have made the first step on the road that leads to perfection, and will be perfect providing they persevere in the practice of the following guides to their conduct:
First: We must always keep our eyes on God and His glory in all we do, say or undertake.
...Resolve firmly to overcome, by the grace of God, all the difficulties found in the spiritual life.
Second: When we undertake the spiritual life we must consider in depth who we are, and we will find ourselves worth of all scorn, unworthy of the name of Christian, and subject to all sorts of afflictions and countless misfortunes... We will find ourselves among those whom God chooses to make humble through an abundance of suffering and travails, both within and without..
Third: We must believe beyond any doubt that it is to our advantage to sacrifice ourselves to God and that He is pleased by our sacrifice.... Without this submission of heart and spirit to the will of God, there can be no devotion or going on to perfection.
Fourth: A soul is all the more dependent on grace as it aspires to higher perfection, and the help and assistance of God are all the more necessary to us every moment because without Him the soul can do nothing. The world, the flesh and the devil all combine to make such a strong and continual war against the soul that without the very present help of God and our humble and necessary dependence upon Him, they would carry it away in spite of itself. To our nature this seems harsh, but grace takes pleasure in being dependent upon God and finds its rest in Him.
-Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, The Practice of the Presence of God, The Spiritual Maxims, RJE
Romans 3:21-27 Philipians 1:6
"All are justified by the free gift of (God's) grace through being set free through Christ Jesus." It is this grace, through faith, that protects us from the flesh, the world and the devil. Without faith and the grace that it calls forth, I would not be able to resolve to overcome the difficulties that may be necessary to fulfill God's will for me.
How can I increase my faith? How can I more fully cooperate with God's grace?
128. Bearing With the Faults of Others
(Testing Of Faith Produces Perseverance)
Until God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus- perhaps to try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties you should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.
If, after being admonished once or twice a person does not amend, do not argue with him but commit the whole matter to God that His will and honor may be furthered in all His servants, for God knows well how to turn evil to God. Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you may also have a fault which others must endure.
If all were perfect, what should we have to suffer from others for God's sake? But God has so ordained, that we may learn to bear with one another's burdens, for there is no man without fault, no man without burden, no man sufficient to himself or wise enough. Hence we must support one another, console one another, mutually help, counsel, and advise, for the measure of every man's virtuous best revealed in time of adversity--adversity that does not weaken a man but rather shows what he is.
—Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, CCEL
"Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others because you also may have a fault which others must endure." It is odd to consider that my shortcomings may be a spiritual good to others by giving them practice with the virtues of patience and perseverance! Of course, I need to work on eliminating these faults but it is comforting to know that God can create blessings from my not-so-holy characteristics. Much depends on my attitude and that of those around me.
In what ways am I patient with others because I know that they need to be patient with me? Do I remember that those around me act much like mirrors by reflecting back my own unpleasant characteristics?
129. The Call: Adoring and Loving God
(Lord, Work With Me)
-Thou knowest well that it is not Thy gifts that I look for and desire...but it is Thyself and I can be content with nothing less.
-Believe and count as lost all the time that is not spent in living God.
-This sums up our entire call and duty: to adore God and to love Him, without worrying about the rest.
-My God, since You are with me, and since it is Your will that I should apply my mind to these outward things, I pray that you will give me the grace to remain with You and keep company with You. But so that my work may be better, Lord, work with me, receive my work and possess all my affections. Amen.
–Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, The Practice of the Presence of God, RJE
2 Theselonians 3:7-9 Colossians 3:23
"Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others." "Imitate us for we did not act in a disorderly way among you." Brother Lawrence asks God to work with him so that his work will be better. St Paul indicates that one should work for the Lord and not to please others. For my part, I pray every work morning that God will be my supervisor by guiding and directing me in my daily tasks. While this doesn’t ensure that I will do the right thing, it does give my work a greater sense of meaning at a higher level.
In what ways would having Jesus as my supervisor influence my attitude and behaviors surrounding work?
130. Thoughts on Death
(I Will Seek What Is Above, For I Have Died With Christ)
Very soon your life here will end, consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live, tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!
Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow?
How happy and prudent is he who tries now in life to be what he wants to be found in death. Perfect contempt of the world, a lively desire to advance in virtue, a love for discipline, the works of penance, readiness to obey, self-denial, and the endurance of every hardship for the love of Christ, these will give a man great expectations of a happy death.
The present is very precious; these are the days of salvation; now is the acceptable time. How sad that you do not spend the time in which you might purchase everlasting life in a better way. The time will come when you will want just one day , just one hour in which to make amends, and do you know whether you will obtain it?
Ah, foolish man, why do you plan to live long when you are not sure of living even a day? How many have been deceived and suddenly snatched away? How often have you heard of people being killed by drownings, by fatal falls from high places, of persons dying at meals, at play, in fires, by the sword, in pestilence, or at the hands of robbers! Death is the end of everyone and the life of man quickly passes away like a shadow.
Keep yourself as a stranger here on earth, a pilgrim whom its affairs do not concern at all. Keep your heart free and raise it up to God, for you have not here a lasting home. To Him direct your daily prayers, your sighs and tears, that your soul may merit after death to pass in happiness to the Lord.
—Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, CCEL
I was walking into the hospice room expecting to see a ghastly sight-- a 75-year old woman with terminal cancer near the end of its course. I was amazed when I saw her! She was beautiful. She had bright blue eyes, and translucent skin that seemed to glow from within. She had a calm and peaceful disposition. She told me that she was a woman of faith all of her life and that her daughter was a minister. The woman was not afraid of death. She was flushed with a youth that hinted of eternity. I knew I was seeing parts of her that would continue on into the afterlife.
How am I living my life as if this were my last day? In what ways would my life be different if I knew I were to die in one year?
131. What Causes a Loss of Virtue?
(Uprightness Is My Master)
The multitude then having erroneous opinions imagine that there are many different things which ruin our virtue: some say it is poverty, others bodily disease, others loss of property, others calumny, others death; and they are perpetually bewailing and lamenting these; and while they are commiserating the sufferers and shedding tears they excitedly say to one another “What a calamity has befallen such and such a man!”
Let us determine what is the virtue of man, and let us regard that alone as an injury which is destructive to it. What then is the virtue of a man? Not riches that he should fear poverty ;nor health of body that he should dread sickness, nor the opinion of the public, that he should view an evil reputation with alarm, nor life simply for its own sake, that death should be terrible to him; nor liberty that he should avoid servitude, but carefulness in holding true doctrine, and rectitude in life. Of these things not even the devil himself will be able to rob a man, if he who possesses them guards them with the needful carefulness-: and that most malicious and ferocious demon is aware of this.
—St. John Chrysistom, A Treatise To Prove That N0o One Can Harm The Man Who Does Not Injure Himself, CCEL
"Once you were a slave to sin...(but now) you took uprightness as your master." "What is the virtue of a man?...holding true doctrine and rectitude of life." These readings remind me that I can't blame my poor behavior on circumstances. I always have the freedom to act uprightly and believe correctly. The choice is mine.
In what ways do I blame my behavior on my circumstances? In what ways can I change my thinking so as to believe correctly?
132. Spiritual Chemotherapy
(May My Spirit Be Saved)
It should be known that the onset of prelest has three main causes: pride, the envy of demons and permission for punishment. Of these, the cause of pride is vain heedlessness (or vanity); of envy--desire of success; of permission for punishment–sinful life. Prelest coming from envy and proud conceit is quickly cured, especially if one humbles oneself. But the prelest due to punishment–deliverance to Satan through sin–God often permits, by forsaking a man, to last until death. It happens sometimes that even the innocent are delivered to the torment of demons for the sake of their salvation. It should be known that the spirit of proud conceit himself prophesies in those who do not keep careful attention on the heart.
—St. Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart
This is one of the most startling concepts, to me, in the New Testament; being turned over to Satan for physical destruction to save my soul! Wow! It does sound like spiritual chemotherapy where the cure may be physically as destructive as the disease itself. There is one difference, however. The purpose of this cure is to save the soul, an infinitely greater good than the body. And, as with chemotherapy, it is only used if the alternative is death; in one case physical and the other spiritual.
Do I recognize that my soul is more important than my body? In what ways do I live as if I believe this?
133. Jesus Christ: The Way
(In Will Arise And Walk Toward Jesus)
“I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:16). Every man desires truth and life, but not every man finds the way. That God is life eternal, immutable, intelligible, intelligent, wise, and bestowing His wisdom, even some philosophers of this world have seen. They saw, indeed, but from afar, the fixed, settled, unwavering truth in which are all the governing principles of all created things. They saw, but they were in error and hence did not find the way to reach so great and ineffable and beatific a possession.
But Christ, who is with the Father, is the truth and the life...As we had no way to go to the truth, the Son of God, who is in the Father and ever the truth and the life, became the way for us by assuming man’s nature. Walk by Him the man, and you will come to God. You go by Him, and you go to Him. Do not look for any way to come to Him except by Himself. For if He had not deigned to be the way, we would have always gone astray. Therefore He became the way by which you could come to Him. In do not tell you, look for the way. The way itself has come to you. Arise and walk.
—St. Augustine, Sermon 141, JTG
Jesus commands that I arise and walk toward Him and to give up my spiritual crippledness. He wants me to arise and walk toward Him for forgiveness, for salvation, for meaning in life, for healing, for guidance, for love and for anything else I can think of.
At this moment, what does I need to walk toward Jesus to receive?
134. The Power of Baptism
(Jesus, May You Wash Away My Blindness)
Once I lay in darkness and in the depths of night and was tossed to and fro in the waves of the turbulent world, uncertain of the correct way to go, ignorant of my true life, and a stranger to the light of truth. At that time and on account of the life In then led, it seemed difficult to believe what divine mercy promised for my salvation, namely, that someone could be born again and to a new life by being immersed in the healing water of Baptism. It was difficult to believe that though I would remains the same man in bodily form, my heart and mind would be transformed.
But after the life-giving water of Baptism came to my rescue and washed away the stain of my former years and poured into my cleansed and purified heart the light which comes from above, and after In had drunk in the heavenly Spirit and was made a new man by a second birth, then amazingly what In had previously doubted became clear to me. What had been hidden was revealed. What had been dark became light. What previously had seemed impossible now seemed possible. What was in me of the guilty flesh now confessed it was earthly. What was made alive in me by the Holy Spirit was now quickened by God.
—St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, Born to New Life, JTG
When St. Cyprian was baptized, it seems like the waters washed away a spiritual blindness and he became enabled to see in more than the physical sense. When St. Paul baptized the group of men at Ephesus, they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. Baptism is more than a symbol. It is a sacrament of power that is dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit in union with my faith.
In what ways have my eyes been opened as a result of my faith in Jesus? In what ways has my lack of faith hindered the action of the Holy Spirit in my life?
135. The Blessed Name
(In Will Trust You, Lord)
Write your blessed Name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain so indelibly engraved, that no prosperity, no adversity shall ever move me from your love. Be to me a strong tower of defense, a comforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, a very present help in trouble, and a guide to heaven through the many temptations and dangers of this life. Amen
-Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, P
This prayer of St. Thomas makes an interesting point. Even if it is not true, I might feel that God has abandoned me if bad things happen, such as, according to the psalmist, if one is abandoned by one's parents. St. Thomas brings up the opposite point that no prosperity can remove me from the love of God. The implication is that, in good times, I may not feel that I need God. God, however, will never abandon me. I will grow distant from Him.
In what ways would prosperity cause me to move away from God? Do I
understand that what I consider adversity may help me to grow closer to God?
136. In Desire What In Love
(O God, In Long For You)
O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire thee with our whole heart, so that desiring thee we may seek and find thee; and so finding thee, may love thee, and loving thee, may hate those sins which separate us from thee, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
—St. Anselm, P
“My heart thirsts for you as a land parched, dreary and waterless.” Without You, Lord, life, even when it is good, is more dead than the most extreme desert. It is survival at best. With You, life, even when it doesn’t feel good, becomes alive with hope and possibilities. Teach me, Lord, to hate those things which may seem to contain life giving water but, in fact, are mirages. Amen.
What are my favorite “mirages”; earthly things that seem to contain life but are in fact illusions?
137. A Steadfast Heart
(The Lord Will Preserve Me From Evil)
Grant me O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.
Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—St. Thomas Aquinas, P
“The Lord guards my comings and goings, henceforth and forever.” The Lord offers me not only a steadfast, unconquered and upright heart, but wants to bestow on me understanding, diligence, wisdom and faithfulness. I need simply to accept and cooperate with God’s gifts.
In what ways can I accept and cooperate with God’s gifts which he offers me henceforth and forever?
138. God Is Everywhere
(In Him We Live, Move, And Have Our Being)
You know the general principle: that God is everywhere; on the throne of his glory among the blessed, indeed, but also throughout the whole universe which he fills, governs and preserves, ruling it by his wisdom and grace. This we learn in our infancy, as in all of our memory in childhood. Yet, in the practice of life, we live along as if we scarcely remembered that God sees us.
God is so infinitely present to us that he is in every part of our life and being. Nothing can separate us from him. He is more intimately present to us than we are to ourselves, and whatever we do is done in him...As birds in changing their places find the air wherever they fly, and fish who live in the water are surrounded by that element wherever they swim, so wherever we go, we must find God everywhere. He is more within us than we are in ourselves.
—St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, EAS: A Woman of Prayer, LF
God has decreed the times and limits of our habitation in this world so that we might seek and find Him. In addition, “He is more within us than we are in ourselves.” God has given us an awareness of how short are the number of our days to give us a sense of urgency to search for and determine what is most important in life; union with God. And since God is everywhere, including within ourselves, He is leading us to examine ourselves and discover our souls.
Do I recognize how limited my days are and how urgent is the call to search for God? In what ways am I aware that God is within me and that this is the place where I have the greatest opportunity of finding Him?
(In Will Soar As With Eagle's Wings)
True devotion presupposes a thorough love of God and therefore it is simply true love of God. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine majesty. Insofar as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity.
When we arrive at that degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this diligently, frequently and readily, it is called devotion.
Ostriches do not fly; chickens fly in a faltering fashion; but eagles, doves and robins fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. Sinners do not fly up to God but lie mired in the earth filled with earthly objects. Good people who have not as yet achieved devotion fly toward God by their works but do so seldom or slowly.
Devout souls ascend to him promptly, more frequently and go on to lofty heights. In fact, devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or through which we work quickly, cheerfully and lovingly.
—St. Francis de Sales, Introduction To The Devout Life, LF
"They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." St Francis de Sales indicates that devout souls ascend to God promptly, more frequently, and go on to lofty heights working quickly, cheerfully and lovingly. Hoping in the Lord leads to these wonderful qualities and gifts.
Do I become discouraged when things do not turn out the way that I would like them to? How can I increase my hope in God's promises and plans?
140. My Vocation Is Love
(God Is Gracious And Merciful)
In consideration of my weakness, you found a way to fulfil my childhood's ambitions, and you've found a way now to fulfil these other ambitions of mine, world-wide in their compass.
I was still being tormented by this question of unfulfilled longings and it was a distraction in my prayer, when In decided to consult St. Paul's epistles in the hopes of getting an answer. It was the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of First Corinthians that claimed my attention. The first of these told me that we can't all be apostles, all of us be prophets.....It was a clear enough answer but it didn't satisfy my aspirations, didn't set my heart at rest...Reading on to the end of the chapter, In met this comforting phrase: "Prize the best gifts of heaven. Meanwhile, I can show you a way which is better than any other."
What was it? The Apostle goes on to explain that all the gifts of heaven, even the most perfect of them, without love, are absolutely nothing; charity is the best way of all, because it leads straight to God. Now I was at peace,....charity--that was the key to my vocation. Love was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act....Love, in fact, is the vocation which includes all others...Besides myself with joy, In cried out: "Jesus, my Love! I've found my vocation, and my vocation is love."
—St. Therese of Lisieux, Autobiography,PWST
I am often concerned about my vocation. Am I doing God's will or my own? Am I wasting my time? How important are feelings in a vocation? How important is it to be constantly busy? How important are results? Am I more like St. Theresa, ecstatic with joy that love is my vocation regardless of the actual tasks I am called to do, or, am I more like the reluctant prophet Jonah, running away from the divine call to do a specific service because it doesn’t fit into my self concept or conception of God? (Should God really hate sinners?) It is obvious that St. Theresa has learned the lesson while Jonah has not.
Do I accept the fact that love is a legitimate vocation that is more important than the specific skills used or tasks accomplished?
141. The Means of Acquiring the Presence of God
(In Cannot Serve Two Masters)
First: The first means is living a very pure life.
Second: The second is remaining very faithful to the practice of this presence and to the interior awareness of God in ourselves.
Third: We must take care to glance inwardly toward God, even for a moment, before proceeding with our outward actions.
Fourth: It would not be out of place for those who are beginning this practice to inwardly form a few words. But those who are beginning should be wary lest their minds should stray and return to the creature when they should be keeping them on God alone.
Fifth: Practicing the presence of God is a little difficult in the beginning, but when it is done faithfully, it secretly works marvelous effects in the soul, bringing a flood of graces from the Lord, and leads it without its knowledge to gaze simply and lovingly at God and find His presence everywhere.
Sixth: Please notice that to arrive at this state, we have to mortify our senses, since it is impossible for a soul which still has some creature-satisfaction, to fully enjoy this divine presence. To be with God, one must leave absolutely all created things behind.
—Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Spiritual Maxims, RJE
Jesus says to remain in Him as He remains in us while Brother Lawrence indicates that we should glance inwardly toward God before acting outwardly. Jesus says that you cannot serve two masters, while Brother Lawrence indicates that, to be with God, we need to leave all created things behind. Thus, the essence of practicing the presence of God is remaining close to God in all things while reducing our attachments to outcomes and worldly things.
How can I increase my awareness of God in my life? How can I reduce my attachment to worldly things?
142. Not Working For Personal Gain
(The Lord Knows Every Plan And Thought)
For the good is not good if it is not rightly done. It is really good only if it is not done with the purpose of receiving some reward: as, for instance, the search for popularity or glory may be rewarded by fame, or by excessive gain, or by something else that is wrong. God is not interested in what happens to turn out to be good or in what appears to be good. He is interested in the purpose for which a thing is done.
—St. John of Damaskos, On the Virtues and Vices, Philokalia
He who does something good and expects a reward is serving not God but his own will.
—St. Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness By Works, Philokalia
"The Lord scrutinizes all hearts and understands whatever plans they may devise." "He is interested in the purpose for which a thing is done." My motives are always mixed and the honest thing to do is to accept this and know that God knows my true motivations. This is true even in regard to having this manuscript published. While I am doing it for God's glory and my joy, am I also doing it for my own glory? I would be lying if I said that it hasn't occurred to me. I suspect that my motives will never be truly pure in this life. I know, however, that God wants me to strive for this purity of purpose even if I don't succeed.
Am I willing to be honest with God and others regarding my motivations? How can I decrease my ulterior motivations?
143. Experiencing Freedom
(God’s Peace Shall Not Depart)
Strive to receive a sure, unequivocal pledge of salvation in your heart, so that at the time of your death you will not be distraught and unexpectedly terrified. You have received such a pledge when your heart no longer reproaches you for your failings and your conscience stops chiding you because of your fits of anger; when through God’s grace your bestial passions have been tamed; when you weep tears of solace and your intellect prays undistracted and with purity; and when you await death, which most people dread and run away from, calmly and with a ready heart.
—St. Theognostos, On the Practice of the Virtues, Philokalia
"My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you." I will experience God's freedom when I accept, unconditionally, in spite of my feelings, that God's love, peace and mercy will never leave me. When I accept this, my willingness and God's grace will accomplish His work in my life. My heart/conscience will no longer plague me, my animal passions will be calmed, I will have a tame mind that will pray without distraction, and I will not fear physical death when it comes.
In what ways can I train myself to know, in my heart, that God's love and mercy are always with me if I accept them?
(God Withholds No Good Thing From Those Who Do What Is Right)
St. John Chrysostom says: “A man’s readiness and commitment are not enough if he does not enjoy help from above as well; equally help from above is no benefit to us unless there is also commitment and readiness on our part. These two facts are proved by Judas and Peter. For although Judas enjoyed much help, it was of no benefit to him, since he had no desire for it and contributed nothing from himself. But Peter, although willing and ready, fell because he enjoyed no help from above. So holiness is woven of these two strands. Thus I entreat you neither to entrust everything to God and then fall asleep, not to think, when you are striving diligently, that you will achieve everything by your own efforts.
—St. Theodor us the Great Ascetic, A Century of Spiritual Texts, Fallaciously
Psalm 84:11 two Corinthians 8:9
"You know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich." "Thus, I entreat you neither to entrust everything to God and then fall asleep, nor to think, when you are striving diligently, that you will achieve everything by your own efforts." If I am to accomplish anything of value in my life, I must always remember that I am God's instrument, to be used by Him when He wishes. My job is to be ready to be used through the training that He provides me through my daily living. The life of Jesus shows me how to do this.
How can I become increasingly ready to do God's work? How will I know when He is using me?
145. Distinguishing Ego From True Self
(Flesh Begets Flesh, Spirit Begets Spirit)
As Antony, the great servant of God, said: “Holiness is achieved when the intellect is in its natural state.” And again, he said: “The soul realizes its integrity when its intellect is in that state in which it was created.” And shortly after this he adds: “Let us purify our mind, for I believe that when the mind is completely pure and is in its natural state, it gains penetrating insight...”
—St. Hesychios the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness, Philokalia
Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment. So we shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labors we refine our material nature.
—St. Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, Philokalia
"Whoever loves the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God." "We shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labors refine our material nature." The "immaterial perception" noted by St. Diadochos is "the light" indicated by Jesus. How do we refine our material nature? By choosing to see the truth revealed by Jesus; that we our spiritual beings living temporarily in material bodies. We can choose to live to develop our spiritual powers instead of choosing mere survival and gratification of the senses.
In what ways do I still choose "darkness" (material) over the "light" (spiritual)?
146. Dying and Being Reborn
(Lord, Give Me A New Heart And Spirit)
He who loves God consciously in his heart is known by God, for the degree that he receives the love of God consciously in his soul, he truly enters into God’s love. From that time on, such a man never loses an intense longing for the illumination of spiritual knowledge, until he senses its strength in his bones and no longer knows himself, but is completely transformed by the love of God. He is both present in this life and not present in it; still dwelling in the body, he yet departs from it, as through love he ceaselessly journeys toward God in his soul. His heart now burns constantly with the fire of love and clings to God with an irresistible longing, since he has once and for all transcended self-love in his love for God...
—St. Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, Philokalia
"One believes with the heart and is so justified, and one confesses with the mouth and is so saved." Because of this, "his heart now burns constantly with the fire of love since he has once and for all transcended his self-love in his love for God." St. Paul indicates a modern psychological truth. What one thinks and believes controls ones perceptions and life. This is particularly true when one does this consciously (confessing with the mouth). If I choose this love of God, I will naturally, over time, diminish my self-centered love.
Am I willing to believe in my heart and confess with my mouth all that Jesus teaches? How much fear do I have about losing my self-love?
147. Forgetting About Preferences
(The Just Man, Because Of His Faith, Shall Live)
If you patiently accept what comes, you will always pray with joy.
—St. Evagrios the Solitary, On Prayer, Philokalia
He who opposes unpleasant events opposes the command of God. Unwittingly. But when someone accepts them with real knowledge, he waits patiently for the Lord.
He who prays with understanding patiently accepts circumstances, whereas he who resents them has not yet attained pure prayer.
...For patient acceptance of whatever happens kindles the remembrance of God, whereas refusal to accept weakens the spiritual purpose of the heart and so makes it forgetful.
—St. Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness by Works, Philokalia
"Anyone whose heart is not upright will succumb, but the upright will live through faithfulness." "He who opposes unpleasant events opposes the command of God but he who patiently accepts what comes will always pray with joy." Obviously, patience with and acceptance of what one considers to be unpleasant events is very difficult for those in a country where so many good things and graces are taken for granted. If I live with gratitude, counting my blessings every day, and faith, trusting that God will bring the best of outcomes even if it doesn’t appear that way to me, my life will be filled with joy.
Start a gratitude list and add one thing each day. What am I particularly grateful for today? What am I dealing with that requires much faith?
148. Goodness And Peace In Man
(Jesus, Give Us Your Gift Of Peace)
First keep peace with yourself; then you will be able to bring peace to others. A peaceful man does more good than a learned man. Whereas a passionate man turns even good to evil and is quick to believe evil, the peaceful man, being good himself, turns all things to good.
The man who is at perfect ease is never suspicious, but the disturbed and discontented spirit is upset by many a suspicion. He neither rests himself nor permits others to do so. He often says what ought not to be said and leaves undone what ought to be done. He is concerned with the duties of others but neglects his own.
Direct your zeal, therefore, first upon yourself; then you may with justice exercise it upon those about you. You are well versed in coloring your own actions with excuses which you will not accept from others, though it would be more just to accuse yourself and excuse your brother. If you wish men to bear with you, you must bear with them. Behold, how far you are from true charity and humility which does not know how to be angry with anyone, or to be indignant save only against self!
It is no great thing to associate with the good and gentle, for such association is naturally pleasing. Everyone enjoys a peaceful life and prefers persons of congenial habits. But to be able to live at peace with harsh and perverse men, or with the undisciplined and those who irritate us, is a great grace, a praiseworthy and manly thing.
Some people live at peace with themselves and with their fellow men, but others are never at peace with themselves nor do they bring it to anyone else. These latter are a burden to everyone, but they are more of a burden to themselves. A few, finally, live at peace with themselves and try to restore it to others.
Now, all our peace in this miserable life is found in humbly enduring suffering rather than in being free from it. He who knows best how to suffer will enjoy the greater peace, because he is the conqueror of himself, the master of the world , a friend of Christ, and an heir of heaven.
—St. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, CCEL
“Live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” “All of our peace in this life is found in humbly enduring suffering rather than in being free from it.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” I would dearly love to be at peace and to be able to impart this to others. I cultivate this by accepting the Peace of Jesus and learning to live in peace. In addition, there is a more mental component to this; the acceptance of suffering and having the faith to trust in God’s outcomes.
In what ways do I strive for peace in myself and others? Is my concept of peace realistic by accepting suffering as a natural part of life and growth?
149. Letting Go Of Thoughts
(To Be Spiritually Minded Is Life And Peace)
If we truly wish to please God and to enjoy the grace of His friendship, we should present to Him an intellect that is stripped bare–not weighted down with anything that belongs to this present life...
—St. John of Karpathos, Texts For the Monks In India, Philokalia
The intellect cannot dally with any sensible object unless it entertains at least some kind of passionate feeling for it.
—St. Thalassios, On Love, Self-Control and Life in Accordance With the Intellect, Philokalia
You cannot attain pure prayer while entangled in material things and agitated by constant cares. For prayer means the shedding of thoughts.
—St. Evagrios the Solitary, On Prayer, Philokalia
“Those sown among thorns are people who hear the Word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit.” “The intellect cannot dally with any sensible objects unless it entertains at least some kind of passionate feeling for it.” What I concentrate my mind on most in life becomes my “god,” a substitute to take the place of the real God. Jesus makes that really clear. Anxiety, lures and cravings, intensified by my thinking, inhibit the work of God in my life. I must reduce my attachment to worldly things and outcomes. The mind is the place to start.
What anxieties, lures and cravings most occupy my mind? What steps can I take to reduce these tendencies?
150. Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose
(In Will Still My Soul Like A Weaned Child)
A man is raised from the earth by two wings–simplicity and purity. There must be simplicity in his intention and purity in his desires. Simplicity leads to God, purity embraces and enjoys Him.
If your heart is free from ill-ordered affection, no good deed will be difficult for you. If you aim at and seek after nothing but the pleasure of God and the welfare of your neighbor, you will enjoy freedom within.
If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life for you and a book of holy teaching, for there is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God. If inwardly you were good and pure, you would see all things clearly and understand them rightly, for a pure heart penetrates to heaven and hell, and as a man is within, so he judges what is without. If there be joy in the world, the pure of heart certainly possess it; and if there be anguish and affliction anywhere, an evil conscience knows it too well.
As iron cast into fire loses its rust and becomes glowing white, so he who turns completely to God is stripped of his sluggishness and changed into a new man. When a man begins to grow lax, he fears a little toil and welcomes external comfort, but when he begins perfectly to conquer himself and to walk bravely in the ways of God, then he thinks those things less difficult which he thought so hard before.
—St. Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, CCEL
“I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in its mother’s arms, like a little child, so In keep myself.” “A man is raised from earth by two wings-simplicity and purity.” This simplicity and purity come across wonderfully in Psalm 131. The simplicity and purity are that of a small baby in its mother’s arms! When I watch my four-month-old grandson, he is full of delight and wonder. He seems to be learning from every little thing he sees and hears. He also seems so full of trust. He knows that if he has a need, there are many loving arms to help him meet them. Thus, he sleeps in peace.
In what ways can I simplify my intentions in life and purify my desires?
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