The Whole World Awaits Mary’s Reply: A Meditation for Advent & Christmas

The Annunciation, Caravaggio, 1608 (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a beautiful meditation from St. Bernard of Clairvaux that was in today’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (iBreviary). May it be a blessing to you as it was to me.

From a homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, abbot, (died 1153.)

The whole world awaits Mary’s reply.

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

Do You Get Bored Praying the Rosary?

Do you find the Rosary hard to pray? Do you feel like you don’t get much out of it? Then you are doing it WRONG! I happened to stumble upon a great video recently by Fr. Daniel McCaffrey, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, that changed my entire view of the Rosary. Even though I’ve encountered some great books on Rosary, I find this video really demonstrates how to make your prayer fly. Essentially, the Rosary is a jumping off point for a deep dialog with Christ and His mother.

Take the time to watch the whole thing to the end. I think you’ll be impressed.

 

7 New Books On The Rosary That Deepen Your Prayer Life & Help You Engage in Spiritual Combat

If you have been praying the Rosary for a long time you realize the blessings that come with it. It is a powerful aid to deepen your prayer life, and also a powerful weapon in spiritual warfare. Lately, I realized that there are a plethora of recently released books about the Rosary discussing both of these topics, and I thought I would share them with you.
Praying the Rosary For Spiritual Warfare – Fr. Dwight Longenecker



The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare – Johnnette Benkovic & Thomas K. Sullivan




The Illuminated Rosary – Gracewatch Media

Living, Leaping Water: The Holy Spirit In Action In Your Life

The wonderful Liturgy of the Hours and Mass readings app iBreviary, includes the hour called the Office of Readings. I love this part of the daily prayer because many times it includes readings from the Early Church Fathers. In preparation for Pentecost, one of the readings this week was from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop in the 300’s. I find it just stunning and thought I would share it with you on this Pentecost.

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of this action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

 From a catechetical instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop
(Cat. 16, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 11-12.16: PG 33, 931-935. 939-942)

Not The Sort of King They Wanted

This is the first of an occasional series of meditations.

Meditation on Mark 15:2-15, Jesus Before Pontius Pilate

The crowds before Pilate wanted an earthly leader. One that would bring them power, glory & free them from the Romans.

In the Old Testament (1st Samuel, Chapter 8) the people rejected God as their king. They wanted a king like the other countries had. Even though Samuel warned them the costs of a king: taxes, being servants to the king, etc., they still wanted someone to lead them into battle, someone they could look up to and lead them to glory. They rejected their Creator, who made the universe and everything in it; the God who rescued them from Egypt and gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. How could they have thought that an earthly leader could protect them better than the creator of everything? They did not trust God. They saw the Red Sea part, they saw the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire lead and protect them as they escaped the servitude of Pharaoh, but they still did not trust.

Then, after one thousand years of heartbreak, and longing for the promised Messiah, Jesus enters the world. Could He be the one they had waited for, the one to deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans? The one to make Israel great and powerful? But then they watch and listen to Him. Sure, he heals people and is popular, but his sayings are hard. And confusing. Love your enemies? (Matthew 5:44) Eat his flesh and drink his blood? Many leave following him because they can’t accept that (John 6:66.) This is not the guy they were expecting. This is “not the sort of king they wanted.“¹

They wanted power, glory and freedom, but they didn’t understand that Jesus is the only one that will bring them true power, true glory, and true freedom – the freedom from sin. It is only because of our hardness of hearts that we don’t recognize how awful sin is – how it separates us from God. How sad God must be that His beloved people reject Him.

Our culture today also does not want the sort of king that Jesus is. We continue to reject God in every part of our society. Our leaders reject Him. Our governments reject Him. Our courts reject Him. Our schools reject Him. Our families reject Him. Even some of our churches reject Him.

We just recently celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of her apparitions to the children of Fatima, for most of this year. During the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, our Blessed Mother, and the angel that preceded her, made it clear that many souls have lost faith and trust in God, and many will be lost. They don’t follow God or even acknowledge Him, they don’t believe in him, and therefore will not be saved. We need to pray for them. Our Lady told us we need to pray and sacrifice as reparation for the sins of the world. It is all our sins that cause the chaos in the world. It is our sins that cause war and famine. Learn the message of Fatima, pray the Rosary for peace around the world. And pray that the world will accept Jesus as their real King.

References:
¹Commentary on Mark 15, from the Navarre Bible Commentary, “Gospels & Acts.”
Fatima For Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope,” Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR

Time Is Short, Fill It With Love For God

In my meditation time today I found this wonderful passage by Fr. Francis Fernandez:

“Our life too is a path full of tribulations and of God’s consolation. We have a life in time which we are now living, and another life outside time to which we are making our way. The time at our disposal is an important part of the inheritance God has left us. Time represents the separation between the present and that moment when we stand before God with our hands either empty or full. Only now in this life can we obtain merit for the next. In fact, each single day of ours is a period given us by God, so that we may fill it with love for him, with love for those around us, with work well done, with putting the virtues into practice; in a word, a life full of good works pleasing to God’s eyes. Now is the time to amass the treasure that never perishes. For each one of us it is the acceptable time. Behold now is the day of salvation. Once it is past there will be no other time.

The time each one of us has at his disposal is short, but long enough to tell God that we love him and to accomplish the work he is given us. For this reason Saint Paul warns us: look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, for soon night comes, when no one can work. Short indeed is our life for loving, forgiving, for making atonement. It is wrong, therefore, to waste it or irresponsibly throw out of the window such a great treasure. We cannot squander this period of the world’s history that God has entrusted to each one of us.

Picture courtesy of WikiArt

Read This! 12 Catholic Books on the Spiritual Life You Should Read in 2016

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1622822285/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1622822285&linkCode=as2&tag=liveca-20&linkId=OHRV37HXG7AUBLES

Here are the books I think you should read in 2016. They are indispensable classics for me and they all sit next to me in my prayer corner or next to my bed. These are ones that have really helped me in my spiritual life. Each is amazing in its own way. Some are easy to read, some are ones you want to take the whole year to read carefully.

1) These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body by Emily Stimpson. When I first saw this book I thought, “Oh no, the difficult Theology of the Body.” Boy, was I wrong. This is super easy to read and brings this great topic to every part of your life. Just reading what the culture thought of man, before the Enlightenment, was breathtaking. It turns out that sex is only a really small part of John Paul II’s teaching on the body. It is a wonderful way to guide your whole life into beauty and holiness. You can tell the author is an expert on the topic and has synthesized years of study on this topic into a really easy to understand and implement teaching. I’m planning on reading it again this year.  I also really enjoy Emily’s website The Catholic Table and recommend you pay a visit. I’m a BIG fan of her Polenta recipe.

2) Worshipping a Hidden God by Archbishop Luis Martinez. I had this book on the shelf for years before I actually read it. I can’t believe I waited so long. Abp. Martinez was a Mexican bishop, poet and mystic and this book completely changed my view of God. It is geared to helping you through problems with prayer and your spiritual life and understanding the nature of God. I cried through several chapters. It was a breakthrough for me and I hope it will help you too.

3) Fatima for Today: An Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R. This book has everything you ever wanted to know about the Marian apparitions at Fatima and what happened afterward. During this time of chaos, confusion, and darkness, the Blessed Mother’s message is more imperative than ever in saving the world from evil. If you have ever wanted to know how or why to do the Five First Saturday devotions, or why the Rosary is so important, this is for you.

4) Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray. This is an excellent explanation of how to pray using the Scriptures. Easy to read and understand.

5) The Navarre Bible: Gospels & Acts by the University of Navarre. This has been my mainstay Bible commentary for years. I use it constantly. I have several volumes of the Navarre Bible but, of course, this is the one I use the most. Other volumes I love are The Pentateuch (The first 5 books of the Old Testament) & the Letters of St. Paul. I highly recommend all the volumes. They have extensive commentary on all the text using lots of writings of Pope St. John Paul II, St. Josemaria Escriva and lots of other saints and Church writings.

6) Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay. Gives advice on finding a spiritual director. What I find the most profitable in this book is the advice in the back third of the book on problems and questions in the spiritual life. I’m definitely going to read this again this year. A related type book is Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey To God. I read this when it first came out a few years ago, but I, unfortunately, don’t own a copy. It is excellent though, and helps guide you in spiritual direction and how to determine your main faults so you can overcome them.

Dan Burke also has several other resources that I can recommend. He has edited two other books that I do own and think you will profit from them: Finding God Through Meditation by St. Peter of Alcantara – St. Teresa of Avila’s spiritual director, which I am reading now; and selected letters of St. Teresa of Avila on prayer, 30 Days With St. Teresa of Avila, which I really enjoyed. He has the bestwebsite on prayer and the spiritual life online (and I don’t say that lightly,) Catholic Spiritual Direction is just excellent. I remember a time when everything online about Catholic prayer was wrong, or vacuous, or tainted with techniques from other religions that were the opposite of what Catholic spirituality taught. You still can find that stuff online, but this website was a revolution, and happily it is filled with excellent advice and direction, and others have followed the lead with the true teachings of Christian prayer. What we now have is a blossoming of the spiritual life. 

Also, check out the related Relevant Radio’s Divine Intimacy Radio show and podcast, among other helps. Another radio show, from Radio Maria is Carmelite Conversations. It is absolutely my favorite podcast and I cannot tout it highly enough for discussions on Catholic spirituality, books, and Carmelite saints. I have learned so much!

7) 33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat In Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC. A very approachable and understandable preparation for consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. It uses teaching from Mother Teresa, Pope St. John Paul II, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Everyone I know who has read it has been very impressed. 

8) Trusting God With St. Therese by Connie Rossini. A lovely book on how St. Thérèse of Lisieux allowed God to guide her through difficult times in her life and how you can trust God in hard times too. 

Other books I can recommend but am not finished with yet:

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. I have the first of the three volumes.
 
The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Timeby Lawrence G. Lovasik 
 
An Introduction to the Devout Lifeby St. Francis de Sales, excellent for beginners. 
 
Spiritual Combat: How to Win Your Spiritual Battles and Attain Peaceby Lorenzo Scupoli. St. Francis de Sales carried this in his pocket for years.

Hymns As Poetry

For quite some time I have been using the iBreviary app for my iPad and iPhone to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. While I do miss having my leather bound book in my hand, some of the things I like about it over using the standard book Christian Prayer is that I don’t have to flip around to find where I’m supposed to be, or think about whether it is a feast day. I also don’t have to fiddle with trying to figure out a hymn.

Now I’m pretty musically deficient because I have, unfortunately, very little musical education. I very rarely see the name of the tune when praying and think, “Oh, I know that one.” So I wind up reading the hymn as poetry. But wow, what poetry. Several times recently I have read the hymn and have been so impressed by how these hymns, several hundred years old, encapsulate the faith and give Christian encouragement.

I have no idea how they decide which hymn to use for the day. I also have no idea if these are a proscribed hymns to use for the day or if the iBreviary people choose them, but they are fantastic.  Here is a sample from yesterday’s daytime prayer:

HYMN

Take up your cross, the Savior said,
If you would my disciple be;
Deny yourself, the world forsake,
And humbly follow after me.

Take up your cross, let not its weight
Fill your weak spirit with alarm;
His strength shall bear your spirit up,
Shall brace your heart and nerve your arm.

Take up your cross then in his strength,
And ev’ry danger calmly brave,
To guide you to a better home,
And vict’ry over death and grave.

Take up your cross and follow Christ,
Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only he who bears the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.

To you, great Lord, the One in three,
All praise for evermore ascend;
O grant us here below to see
The heav’nly life that knows no end.

Tune: Breslau or Winchester New L.M.
Music: (Breslau) As Hymnodus Sacer, 1625, or (Winchester New) Musikalisches Handbuch, Hamburg, 1690
Text: Charles William Everest, 1814-1877, adapted by Anthony G. Petti

Or from yesterday’s evening prayer:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the cross of Christ my God,
The vain delights that charm me most:
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet
What grief and love flow mingling down;
Did e’er such Love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were all the realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Tune: Rockingham L.M.
Music: Adapted by Edward Miller, 1731-1807, from A. William’s A Second Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature, Oxford 1780
Text: Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, slightly adapted

And these are just from one day.  What a rich heritage of music we have!  I could complain about the pablum we get at Mass today, but I will refrain. I think what I will start doing is looking these up online and on YouTube to see if I can listen to them. It would be great to hear these wonderful pieces performed by a real serious choir.  Of course, I love them as poetry too.

Picture: The Convent Choir – Jehan Georges Vibert, 1865

Contemplative Prayer – I Want to Do That!

“Contemplative prayer…I want to learn how to do that…..do any of you do contemplative prayer…what helps you focus? My mind seems to just wander off on this tangent or that and I can never seem to stay on track with my prayer.”

A woman asked this in a Facebook group I belong to. I started to answer and realized it should really be a blog post. So here you go.
OK, first there are a couple of definitions of “Contemplative Prayer.” There is the Ignatian Method. In that method you pick, for instance, a scene in the bible, like the Crucifixion and picture yourself as one of the characters in the scene. See what they see, what would you feel or do, etc. then let it lead to speaking with the Lord. It could only be a few minutes, that’s ok. It is an active type of prayer. The best known of these is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Go to the Ignatian Contemplation webpage for more info.
The other type of Contemplation is “Infused Contemplation” and it is a gift from God to someone who has already an active prayer life in meditation. It is NOT something you achieve, it is a gift. You are basking in the Lord and only lasts a very short time. Do not allow people to tell you so called “Centering Prayer” is contemplation, or is ok. It is not. The problem, and I have researched this quite a bit, is there are many websites online that promote a faulty understanding of contemplation. If a website says to “empty your mind” or uses the term “mantra” or “recite a prayer word” that is not authentic Christian prayer. It has invaded parishes and retreats, and online, but the Vatican says this Eastern type of prayer is not kosher, as it were.  You are trying to build a relationship with God, not empty your mind. St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, and a master of Contemplative Prayer thought this ridiculous.
So, the lesson here is to start praying and don’t let distractions get in the way. If you are distracted just let it fade away and continue praying. A picture of a scene from the bible or other good Christian book may help you focus. The rosary is an aid to prayer too.
Now, here are some resources to help you. First, read this, St. Teresa of Avila: Why You Can’t Seem to Progress in the Spiritual Life. This is exactly what you need to read.
Next, become acquainted with a man who should become your favorite, Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. Fr. Dubay died in 2010. He was a retreat master for religious and laity for decades. He taught authentic prayer in an imminently practical and down-to-earth way. His books are treasures. Start with his Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within. It is easy to understand and follow.
Then, buy Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel-On Prayer. This book is a classic and you should own it and read it in small doses. Reading books by St. Teresa of Avila will be good too, but read this to get ready for that. If they seem a bit over the head for you, then slow down. You will be ready at some point.
Now, a Spiritual Director is very helpful. It is hard to find one. You can ask a very trusted priest, but it takes time to find a director that works for you. Next best is reading Fr. Dubay’s Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within. Now, I found this book to be droll for the first half, because he explains what a spiritual director should be etc. and you wind up wondering where you might find such a rare, amazing person. The second half though is amazing because he uses this section to counsel you in your prayer life, like a spiritual director would. It is a treasure trove of questions you never even thought of and it is very helpful. It explains the steps one progresses in prayer, the downfalls and confusions; it is great.
Fr. Dubay did several series on EWTN (The Global Catholic Network) and one of them was about Contemplative Prayer. You can download the audio to your computer and listen to it on your iPod or listen at your computer. Go to EWTN, at the top choose Faith, then Libraries, then Audio Library. Where it says Series Search type in “Dubay.” What will pop up is his six different TV series. Choose the one that says “Contemplation.” Listen to them carefully. I like to listen to them in the car so I’m not distracted or interrupted. Read his other books too.
For something newer, you might be interested in two resources online and a great book. First, take a visit to the lovely Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles website. Read their blog and about their spirituality. I feel calm and peaceful just going there.
Also, make it a habit to visit the RC Spiritual Direction Website. Sign up for their newsletter and read their stuff. It was founded by Dan Burke, a convert from Judaism and the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register. I know him personally and he is excellent. He wrote the wonderful book you should read, Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. It talks about spiritual direction, but also about making a “Plan of Life,” to further you along in prayer and your life with God. This book is a classic and was sorely needed. I’m so glad he wrote it.
Consider also reading St. Francis de Sales’ classic book Introduction to the Devout Life.  You might want to learn about Lectio Divina too, which is an ancient simple prayer method of using the Scriptures. Read Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray. It’s very good and an easy read.
So, there you have it, just what you need to get started. Don’t be overwhelmed, just start talking to God and let Him lead. And keep asking questions!
Update: Also check out this blog that came out today about the 3 Conversions of the Purgative Way.
 
 
 

4 Websites to Deepen Your Spiritual Life

John William Waterhouse

In my numerous travels online I have found some really great websites that are excellent in helping to further your spiritual life. I could not keep them to myself.

  1. Ascending Mount Carmel. This is a great site by writer and assistant editor of MonkRock, Jason Liske. He comes from the perspective of Eastern Christianity and I love all his profiles of different saints, many I have not heard of, or have forgotten about. His writings about the spiritual life is top notch.
  2. The Cloistered Heart. This is a gorgeous site. I could stare at the art for ages. The posts are simple and short, but deeply meaningful. It is geared toward finding Christ in the monastery of your heart. Author Nancy Shulman does an excellent job of displaying the quiet and solitude that brings us closer to the Lord. I look forward to her email with her latest post every day.
  3. The Catholic Young Woman.  Here is another beautiful site. Geared toward young women obviously, I find it so interesting to read. It shows quite well that there are young, intelligent women who seek Christ deeply and are in the world. Not all the young women in our society are looking for hook-ups or screaming for the right to kill their babies. Here are serious (yet fun) women who are taking to heart Christ’s call to love others and respect themselves. They are searching for the best way to fulfill God’s plan in their lives and explore how to live the virtues. I wish I had known some of them when I was in college and starting out. One seems so alone when you are trying to live for Christ, or at the very least not live by the standards of the times. It is a great site to pass along to the young ladies in your life.
  4. The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles have a lovely site that showcases their mission and a great blog answering people’s questions. It could be a great help to you in your walk with Christ. I always want to stay and linger a little longer.

Update: Here is a bonus. I knew there was another one!  Check out Contemplative Homeschool. Yes, it IS about homeschooling, but also about so much more. Connie Rossini writes from a Carmelite perspective about your spiritual life and how to foster the spiritual life of your children. It’s fantastic.