Friday, March 9, 2018

Being Nursed in the Desert

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

So we find ourselves about half-way through our forty-day journey of Lent. Some of us may be feeling invigorated while others may be weary and worn or at a stand-still.  For many, it can be a time of desolation, deeper interior struggles and temptations, or just a time of increased silence.  As Hosea reminds us, Our Lord seeks this time of a one-on-one encounter as a time to solidify our relationship and gift us with clarity, light, and truth amidst such spiritual nakedness, if only we will consent to it. "Therefore, behold I will allure her, and will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart." [Hos 2:14]

The goods news is that even in the seeming barrenness of the desert, there is a very subtle and sometimes unseen support system.  The nurse plant is one such example of a natural shelter that can be almost imperceptible or unnoticeable, but is very much present and essential to the growth of cacti and other desert dwelling plants.  The nurse plants are according to Science Direct  those plants, "that facilitate the growth and development of other plant species (target species) beneath their canopy because they offer benign microhabitats that are more favorable for seed germination and/or seedling recruitment than their surrounding environment. Nurse plants have been mainly used to restore vegetation in arid and sub-arid zones." [See] Another publication states that, "Facilitation by nurse plants is a common interaction in harsh environments and this positive plant–plant interaction may promote vegetation recovery in ecosystems affected by human activities."

Aah...What an image of relief this brings to my inner being.  I think we can all relate to sometimes feeling spiritually or emotionally fatigued and beat up by our modern-day culture and environment, or just in need of a boost in the midst of the much-needed purgation and purification commonly experienced in the spiritual life.  First, it is helpful to consider the word 'nurse' itself.  According to etymology, it is of late Middle English as a contraction of earlier nourice, from Old French, from late Latin nutricia, feminine of Latin nutricius ‘(person) that nourishes,’ from nutrixnutric- ‘nurse,’ from nutrire ‘nourish.’ The verb was originally a contraction of nourish, altered under the influence of the noun. I believe that the key phrase here is to nourish While we are out in the desert, we remain nourished, even if it be impercibly by the living waters of grace, the seeds of prayer and hope that are granted to us even if they are hidden and buried in the midst of the dust of aridity.  Such shelter may be found amongst three primary sources, I believe.

First and foremost, we are nourished by the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that  this Sacrament "nourishes the disciple with Christ's Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ." Yes. Even if we receive Our Lord's body, blood, soul, and divinity and remain steeped in aridity, its supernatural grace sustains and elevates our spirit. It nurses us to life, to purification, and transformation. It enables us to listen more clearly when Our Lord approaches us in the silence of the desert, 'to speak to our hearts.'  Furthermore, As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins.231 By giving Himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him. [1394] What better spiritual canopy could we have, than this supernatural bread that enables the virtues to germinate in our hearts?

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Saint Pope JPII furthers this concept in his encyclical letter "Ecclesia Eucharistia" that tells us that through partaking in Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist, 

We are reminded of his words: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55).  

Furthermore, we are promised that through  our communion in his body and blood, that Christ also grants us his Spirit. Saint Ephrem writes: “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit...  He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit... Take and eat this, all of you, and eat with it the Holy Spirit. For it is truly my body and whoever eats it will have eternal life”.27  This is confirmed in the Roman Missal when the celebrant prays: “grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ”.29 

Thus, by the gift of his body and blood Christ increases within us the gift of his Spirit, already poured out in Baptism and bestowed as a “seal” in the sacrament of Confirmation. [#16, 17] It is evident that given this divine sacramental gift, we are truly never alone. 

The second nurse plant in our Lenten journey in the desert is the Word, which forms the very foundation of the sacraments. We know that the the sacraments are prepared and instituted through the Living Word by the faith, and that Jesus is the Word. [See CCC # 1122]  How profound are the first few lines of St. John's Gospel, which declare the most sublime of truths and mysteries:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it. 

We are reminded in Hebrews, "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." [Heb 4:12]  As a consequence, when we are out in the desert perhaps feeling the utmost of vulnerability and a lack of preparedness, we have this moving and dynamic Word which creates all things, which blows like the wind in the howling desert. Despite our greatest fears, it is not without purpose, but instead sustains and fortifies even in the darkness and solitude of our hearts.   "The wind blows (breathes) where it wills; and though you hear its sound, yet you neither know where it comes from nor where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8

The third nurse plant that surrounds and shelters our very being is our beloved Blessed Mother.  She assures us that she seeks to protect us and has been given permission to 'crush the head of Satan' when temptations arise or we feel accosted by fear, doubt, or even despair.  In her fourth apparition to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe, as he approached the perimeter of the desert-like landscape of Tepeyac hill and sought to avoid meeting her due to his uncle's severe illness, she listened to his concerns and then responded,

"Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightens you, what afflicted you is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness nor any other sickness, nor any sharp or hurtful thing. Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your Mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?" [See Anderson, C. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, p. 16]
Our Lady's very words drip with nurturing warmth, and the desire to protect and take care of us as our nurse.  What words of comfort and wisdom St. Juan Diego received that day, and which we gather into our hearts now.  She is our Celestial Mother and Queen, and she seeks to nurse our wounds and bring us ever closer to Her Beloved Son, the Word and source of nourishment itself as found in the Eucharist.  

Related to this image of our Lady as Nurse, It should be noted that Our Lady Nursing or Our Lady of Milk/Lactan, was a very popular image depicted throughout the Middle Ages.  As a Mother nurses her young, so she wishes to nourish and nurture us at her breasts. 

Brussel Hours, see
Brussel Hours, see

St. Ephraem wrote in Hymns on the Nativity:
Mary bore a mute Babe
though in Him were hidden all our tongues.
Joseph carried Him,
yet hidden in Him was a silent nature older than everything.
The Lofty One became like a little child,
yet hidden in Him was a treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
He was lofty
but He sucked Mary's milk,
and from His blessings all creation sucks.
He is the Living Breast of living breath;
by His life the dead were suckled, and they revived.
Without the breath of air no one can live;
without the power of the Son no one can rise.
Upon the living breath of the One Who vivifies all
depend the living beings above and below.
As indeed He sucked Mary's milk,
He has given suck -- life to the universe.
As again He dwelt in His mother's womb,
in His womb dwells all creation.
Mute He was as a babe,
yet He gave to all creation all His commands.
For without the First-Born no one is able to approach Being,
for He alone is capable of it.
As we continue the second half of our Lenten journey, let us remember the prophetic words of Isaiah, "Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her, 11That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, That you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom." 12For thus says the LORD, "Behold, I extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; And you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees.…"  [Is 66:10-12] 

Indeed, we may be out in the furthest reaches of the desert, but we are never lost or left without a nurse plant that shields us, protects and shelters us . We are promised a King, who "will be like a refuge from the wind And a shelter from the storm, Like streams of water in a dry country, Like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land. " [Is 32:2]

May we carry on our way in confidence, utilizing the nuse plants given to us by Our Lord and Holy Mother Church as found in the Eucharist, the Word, and Our Blessed Virgin Mary..May we gather at her abundant breasts and be assured of Her shelter and protection from harm, and know that upon the arrival of Eastertide, "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new." [2 Cor 5:17]

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Shrove Tuesday- The Bread of the Holy Face

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

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How time flies! Here we are in the second week of February, and within 12 hours Lent begins! This Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is often referred to as Mardi Gras which means "Fat Tuesday,  "Pancake Tuesday', or Carnival, and is often associated with great license for excesses of the flesh. For those following the King of Kings, not so!  

Today is a day that is now widely associated with devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, as given to Discalced Carmelite nun Sr. Mary of St. Peter.  Our Lord Himself revealed to this humble religious sister that Devotion to His Holy Face is a means of making reparation for blasphemies against His Most Holy Name, as well as against Communism, profanation of the Sabbath, and other grave untruths against the faith.   One such prayer given to Sr. Mary is as follows:  ETERNAL FATHER, we offer You the Holy Face of Jesus, covered with blood, sweat, dust and spittle, in reparation for the crimes of communists, blasphemers, and for the profaners of the Holy Name and of the Holy Day. AMEN.

Devotion to the Holy Face would bring great comfort to our Heavenly Father,and furthermore appease and comfort the Sacred Heart of Jesus from which a torrent of graces flow for the salvation of sinners.  Specifically, the Golden Arrow Prayer provides great comfort similar to St. Veronica's Veil placed upon His Holy Face during the Passion. 


This devotion was revealed as the highest of devotions by Our Lord who promised souls who practice it that they will 'fly like eagles' in interior prayer and union with Him.  This brings me to the Bread of the Presence, or Bread of the Holy Face. In the Old Testament,  three times a year the priests in the Temple would “remove the Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence from within the Holy Place so that the Jewish pilgrims could see it.” (Exodus 34:23; 23:17) Then the priest would elevate the holy bread before the people saying, “Behold God’s love for you!”  The Bread of the Face [which is how this is translated in Hebrew from lehem ha panim], was a sign of God’s love because it was a sign of His everlasting covenant.  “…this holy bread was a living visible sign of God’s love for his people, the way earthly people could catch a glimpse of the ultimate desire of their hearts: to see the Face of God and live, and to know that He loved them.”  “And just as the old Bread of the Presence was also the Bread of the Face of God, so now the Eucharist would be the Bread of the Face of God.”  Since the Israelites were told that 'no one can see the face of God and live," this was a means of  experiencing His Holy Countenance or His Holy Face just as Moses did on Mt. Sinai.  This is the precursor to the Holy Eucharist, which enables us as Catholics to encounter Jesus fully in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  It reveals His Holy Face to us and it is through His Holy Face that we enter into a covenental relationship with God. [For more information on this see Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Dr. Brant Pitre.]

Therefore, we as Carmelites are once again summoned to the heights of Mt. Carmel to experience intimacy and union with Our Lord and to commune with His Holy Face, through the most personal of exchanges - the partaking of Our Lord Jesus' Eucharist as a fully transformative and immersive exchange of the essence of our very selves.  As we devote ourselves to His Holy Face, He transforms our hearts.  Let this Lenten season be fruitful and efficacious, as we stare into the eyes of our Savior, and comfort His Face in so many afflictions and modern-day rejections. Amen. 

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Being Attentive to Unlikely Messengers - Encountering King Cyrus of Persia

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.

It is always fascinating when we read about or encounter someone who unexpectedly does something seemingly out of character, or obliterates our preconceived notions and judgements.  The Gospels are resplendent with such examples with such unlikely characters as Levi the tax-collector who becomes Matthew, the beloved apostle; Mary Magdalene, the worldly prostitute, turned contemplative who chooses the better part; and the murderous Saul, who becomes the spirit-filled Paul.  Perhaps no one causes me more pause than King Cyrus of Persia who we read about today in our First Reading from Ezra which recounts how this seeming enemy of the Jewish people during their exile in Babylon, is the very instrument through which God restores the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. 

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah,
the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia
to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom,
both by word of mouth and in writing:
"Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia:
'All the kingdoms of the earth
the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me,
and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem,
which is in Judah.
Therefore, whoever among you belongs to any part of his people,
let him go up, and may his God be with him!
Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt,
be assisted by the people of that place
with silver, gold, goods, and cattle,
together with free-will offerings
for the house of God in Jerusalem."

So profound was the Jewish sense of gratitude towards this unexpected liberator, that they refer to him as King Cyrus the Great. His generosity and willingness to not only decree this, but to provide for the needs of the Temple with precious stones and raw materials gives one even more pause.  

I have been pondering a variety of headlines and little vignettes I have recently read or been informed of through my teenaged  children about well-known celebrities and world leaders, and some unlikely comments that they have made.  One pop star has publically stated that she is getting back to her Catholic roots and praying her Rosary diligently since chronic pain has debilitated her skyrocketing career. Another pop star known to have been battling an addiction to weed has been communicating with fans that he needs a break from touring so that he can concentrate on his spiritual awakening.  Some political leaders speaking tough political rhetoric one moment have then professed their love for Our Lord and Our Lady the next.   Although certainly not liberating an entire people, these are individuals who can profoundly impact and influence others.  At first glance, these individuals may have displayed behaviors quite contrary to the Gospel, and may continue to do so, but with some moments of grace they begin to make choices that indicate another side and reveal God within.

On a more personal level, it is sometimes those in my life with whom my spirit bristles that are sometimes the very ones who serve as unexpected messengers of God.  You know, the person that drives you crazy with their incessant complaining or whom you feel no natural affinity.  The individual who does not look like you, is outside your social and/or educational circle, or speaks in a brisk or abrupt manner.  These are the very ones who ofttimes bring the very message that God intends for my soul.  Like the time when a young man who was working at a property I was managing began to cry after explaining how he had been in prison and separated from his twin children for a year. Behind his expletive-laced speech, and plentiful tattoos, I saw a soul pining for love...Love of God and of family.  At a time when my life was not balanced and work was dominating my waking moments, he voiced God's call back to what was important.  As unlikely as it may have seemed, this ex-con was the voice of God in that moment. That is why we absolutely cannot judge another, and we must keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open for the inspirations of the Holy Spirit that may very well come in unexpected ways. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, "For the love of God, keep free from partialities however holy they may be. They are like poison."

The Jews could have held King Cyrus in suspicion and not interacted with him. They could have rebelled or been close-hearted.  Instead, they received words of freedom from a most unlikely source.  Let us allow God to use each person and situation as a call to holiness, and an invitation to build a little oratory or temple within our hearts.  By seeing each human being as equally loved and of equal dignity before God, we can harness the grace needed to exercise unconditional love over time.  We can hear the still small voice of God in the most unlikely of places and from the most unusual people. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

St. Albert's Rule & Today's Gospel Message of Divine Mercy

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Today is the Feast Day of St. Albert of Jerusalem, who gave the Carmelite Order a Rule of Life between the year 1206-1214.  In 1205, Albert was appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem and a little later nominated Papal Legate for the ecclesiastical province of Jerusalem. He arrived in Palestine early in 1206 and lived in Acre because, at that time, Jerusalem was occupied by the Saracens. In Palestine, Albert was involved in various peace initiatives, not only among Christians but also between the Christians and non-Christians. During his stay in Acre he gathered together the hermits on Mount Carmel and gave them a Rule. This written code of conduct would enable the monks who were living in the contemplative spirit of Elijah on Mt. Carmel to eventually become a mendicant order as they were forced to flee their homeland and move closer to Western European cities. It is the shortest Rule of all religious orders and based primarily on the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

The spirit of the order stresses living a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ "pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master" (no.2)   This entails the following:

  • Seeking the Face of God in contemplation and in every present moment
  • Living as brothers and sisters in a spirit of charity
  • Meditating on the law of the Lord day and night and to "pray without ceasing" as St. Paul exhorts us
  • Praying together or alone several times a day
  • Celebrating the Eucharist daily, is possible
  • Doing manual work, if possible
  • Purifying oneself of every trace of evil
  • Embracing a spirit of poverty, materially and spiritually, placing all in common
  • Loving the Church and all people
  • Discern and accept the Divine Will of God in faith and carry it out in life

This links in well with the Parable of the Merciless Servant as told by Jesus to Peter in today's Gospel of Matthew.   In it, Jesus stresses the absolute importance of forgiveness that one must freely give to one another without measure and repeatedly. He suggests that one must forgive seven times seventy denoting full perfection in time.

unforgiving servant
The servant who cannot pay his debts, in a 17th-century 
French painting by Claude Vignon

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?" 
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt. 
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan. 
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount. 
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
But he refused. 
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt. 
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair. 
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! 
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?'
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt. 
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

unforgiving servant
The unforgiving servant choking the man who owes 
him money; an Italian 17th-century painting by Domenico Fetti

In our quieter moments of prayer and solitude, it can seem easy to offer oneself to God and pledge our fidelity and willingness to lay down our lives for Him, as St. Peter promised just prior to Our Lord's Passion. Although his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak, and he failed to submit himself to that promise out of fear.  It can be romantic to tell ourselves that we are uniting our sufferings to Christ for souls, and experience a great desire for souls. But I have found that the greatest test is within my own home, life, and vocation.  If I cannot fully forgive and die to myself and my pride as a grain of wheat falls to the ground and perishes, how can I possibly be efficacious for the salvation of other souls? 

The Carmelite Rule tells us that we must live in community in a spirit of charity, which includes forgiveness seven times seventy.  It is easy to excuse a stranger and have compassion and longings for their souls. It is harder, I would argue, to live day in and day out with one another human being, being hyper-aware of each other's faults, and still extend charity,  love, forgiveness, prayer.   My final analysis is this - the Rule of the Carmelite starts at the hearth of one's home, whether it be in family or community life.  We must always carry before us that Our Lord has forgiven each one of us more times that we can remember or deserve. Jesus has paid the entire debit for us and shown us mercy and compassion "while we were still enemies'.  So we must do the same for one another.  If we do not, we risk erecting spiritual and physical blockages within our selves and find ourselves unable to heal and be one with Christ. Forgiveness and mercy leads to pure freedom and sanctity on our path to union. Let us not forget that we are debtors and must extend the alms of mercy to all others in our lives ad continuum.  So be it. Amen. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe's Love for the Little Flower, St. Therese

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Today marks a beautiful memorial of a more modern-day saint who has captured the world's attention, due to his willingness to lay down his life for a stranger. When at Auschwitz, Maximilian volunteered to take a Jewish family man's place in the starvation bunker with 9 other men, which was punishment for a failed escape attempt of another prisoner. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for one's friends." [Jn. 15:13] Maximilian indeed accomplished some great deeds in life by establishing a magazine dedicated to the Immaculata, establishing a missionary presence of his Conventual Franciscan friar order in Japan and India, and founding an evangelical movement known as Militia Immaculata which encourages members to consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in order to defeat evil in the world and enemies of the Church, and to usher in the triumph of the united hearts of Jesus and Mary.  

Despite, these undeniably grand accomplishments, St. Maximilian referred to St. Therese's Little Way and Oblation to Our Lord's Merciful love in his letters and notebooks frequently. He saw this little saint as a key component and exemplar of the movement of consecration to Jesus through Mary, by the writings and spirituality that she taught and lived so heroically. He was so impressed by her life, that he visited the Basilica at Lisieux dedicated to her, while it was still being constructed.  He set foot inside the monastery church where she died and noted that, "on the main altar the statue of St. Therese has been lit up; beside her tomb, at the foot of the Immaculata - yes- I prayed. In my mind, I commended everyone and everything..." [Daily Notes, Notebook III 1930 #990 C]

When he arrived in Southeast Asia in 1933 seeking to establish mission churches there, he sought to head "first to the church of St. Therese of the Child Jesus" which the Chinese of Singapore had recently built in her honor...Inside, he reports that Jesus was in center in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and there was 'a large statue of the little saint against the backdrop of a stained-glass window, depicting episodes of her life.' He comments on how his prayer time was spent speaking with this young girl who was 'Patron of all missions' and noted that 'She was able to carry out missionary work, so much so that the yellow, almond-eyed citizens of the far away Singapore even built her a temple. Yet she never cast her gaze beyond the walls of the small convent in Lisieux." [Daily Notes, Notebook IV 1930-1933 #991 T]

He viewed St. Therese as a great intercessor working with Our Lady to bring lost souls to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart. He noted that a terminally ill patient was resisting receiving confession and extreme unction and was close to death, despite the hospital nurses' best efforts.  He was asked to convince the stubborn man to prepare his soul for his seemingly certain, impending death.  He first gave him a Miraculous Medal and then prayed to St. Therese to interceded for this patient, in order for him to come to the Fountain of Merciful Love.  Indeed, when he returned the next day, it seemed that the patient's heart was changed, he became willing to wear the Miraculous Medal and to have his confession heard. Yet another Pranzini snatched from death without the contrition. [Rycerz Niepokalanej "The Victories of the Immaculata" August, 1924 p. 148-150]

In another article written for his calendar of Rycerz Niepokalane in 1926, St. Maximilian called St. Therese "The Little Flower of the Divine Mother" [p. 62-83, Articles #1109]  It is of such import and shows his devotion and pure belief in the help of our little Carmelite saint that it bears being copied here:

Who does not know the 'little Therese'? St. Therese of the Child Jesus, secluded for most of her life in the solitude of a monastery, has, today, sent from heaven in every part of the world a 'shower of roses,' of graces. Like all saints, so too this 'little flower of the Divine Mother" - as she wished herself to be called - grew in love for God and perfected this love under the powerful protection of the Immaculata, Queen of heaven and earth. Here are her confessions, relative to the most importants of her life.

- In childhood the Divine Mother heals her back to health.
- After the first Holy Communion, she consecrates herself to the Blessed Virgin.
- She entrusts to the Divine Mother the problem of her entrance into the monastery.
- During the trip to Rome she visited Paris, where, however, nothing interests her except the Blessed Virgin.
-During her last illness, she expresses her love for Jesus and Mary. [p. 1110]

What a beautiful kinship and connection these two saints offer to us, as we seek to ponder the Face of Jesus by imitating the ways of Our Lady and consecrate ourselves to Her Immaculate Heart.

St. Maximilian Kolbe...Pray for us...

St. Therese of the Child Jesus...Pray for us!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lessons from Lourdes on Community

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JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

As I sit down to write this, I am still marveling at the graces and blessings received from our family trip to Belgium and France in general, and the pilgrimage I made with my 16 year old daughter to Lourdes, in particular.  I will be reviewing and unpacking the gifts received for the rest of my life, I am certain.  I feel compelled to share something that happened immediately upon arriving, and which is connected with our OCDS Constitution, our rule, and the 6 M's [Mass, Mary, Mission, Meetings, Meditation, Morning and evening Prayer] that we study at the very beginning during the aspirancy period of formation. 

My family was finishing our 2 weeks together traversing BENELUX, the Normandy region of France, and Bastille Day spent in Paris with wonder and a keen sense of gratitude, as we prepared to separate with the 'boys' returning to the States, and my daughter and I continuing on to Lourdes.  We had witnessed incredible art, architecture, churches, scenic drives, and an abundance of good food together. Our eyes were filled with awe and wonder as we watched the fireworks display at the base of the Eiffel Tower illuminate the Parisian sky and celebrate their independence with dramatic color and flair.  Amidst all of this joy and excitement, early the next morning, I experienced a medical complication that was unplanned and unprecedented.  My husband and I contemplated whether I should be taken to the hospital or if I could move forward on flying to Lourdes. Doubt and fear was cast on these plans, but I knew that I could never give up my dream of visiting Our Lady's special place in the Pyrenees. So we cautiously persevered and my daughter and I got on the plane from Orly to Lourdes with a bit of trepidation and concern, but also filled with anticipation and excitement. We were relieved to land without incident to our destination, and were able to get ourselves settled in our hotel and over to the Information Center for a wheelchair and then on to the breathtaking Basilica to begin to take it all in!

Upon entering the Basilica, I read a sign that there would be an ordination of 3 Discalced Carmelites the following day, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. That was indeed exciting as I had never been able to attend an ordination, and now had this special opportunity! As we explored the basilica and prayed at the various altars, a Carmelite friar named Brother Gabriel approached me and introduced himself. We began to speak quietly and he soon brought us outside in order to the introduce us to the two brothers who were to be ordained deacons the following day. I explained that I was a member of OCDS from Phoenix, Arizona. There was much excitement, and it was decided on the spot that the two of us would be their special guests throughout their pilgrimage to Lourdes, and the upcoming ordination. We were promptly taken around Lourdes, brought to the Carmelite convent perched on the hill overlooking the grotto, where Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette for the very last time on July 16th, and introduced to the Carmelite sisters there. We were brought to all of the events which included the candle-lit Rosary Procession in the evening, as well as the Eucharistic Procession the next day following the Ordination. We were shown the baths, the Stations of the Cross, and the Adoration chapel.  I was invited to attend the talks about St. Elizabeth of the Trinity with the entire Toulouse OCDS community, one of which was given by Marie-Paul Stevens, the very woman who was cured of her disease through the intercession of St. Elizabeth! [See] 

Members of the OCDS Community even shared their picnic lunches with my daughter and I following the beautiful ordination, as we were unprepared and had no food. Everyone was greeting us, welcoming us to their special weekend of prayer and celebration, and interested in who we were and how we came there.   My teenage daughter immediately commented on how friendly every person in the Carmelite community was towards us and others. They radiated a joy and a spirit of generosity and love that was palpable.  Despite the two of us being unannounced and uninvited guests, we were made to feel that we were an immediate part of their group and family. There was no question that we were to be with them to celebrate this special occasion and that we belonged there.  

This struck me to the core, as recently ordained Deacon Kelvin kept reiterating that we were Our Lady's gift to him that weekend. This was indeed a mystery as he and his faith-filled companions and community had done all of the work, while we just received!  He insisted that his job as a deacon is to serve, and that Mirabelle and I had given him that opportunity. 

As we parted and went our separate ways after celebrating the Mass of the Martyrs of Compiegne on July 17th, there was sadness but also a resounding sense of unity and togetherness.  I knew that I had just encountered the unity, peace, and hospitality that Our Lord and Our Lady desire for all people in the world. On a smaller scale I saw the call of Carmelite community expressed and manifested as St. Teresa of Avila intended it.  We are told in our OCDS Constitution that, "As Carmelite Seculars, sons and daughters of Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, they are called to “stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God”, by means of a life of prayer, of service to evangelization and by means of the witness of a Christian and Carmelite community. “All the laity as a community and each one according to his ability must nourish the world with spiritual fruits (cf. Gal 5:22). They must diffuse in the world that spirit which animates the poor, the meek, the peace makers - whom the Lord in the Gospel proclaimed as blessed (cf. Mt 5:3-9). In a word, Christians (and Carmelites) must be to the world what the soul is to the body .

Upon joining Carmel, it is explained that meetings are an essential part of the Carmelite journey, in order to foster this sense of community and support for one another.  Priests, religious brothers, religious sisters and the secular order members are all a part of the same family. We are members of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and share the same charism, without any separation. We are a religious family in a sense, with the order as an umbrella over all of us.  Fr. Aloysius Deeney comments in 'Welcome to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites' that, 'You have Community. It is one thing to know the Carmelite Spirituality and another thing to be a member of the Order. They are two different things.."  He points out that one can be an expert in Carmelite saints and spirituality, but not a member of the order. He underscores the importance of this sense of community further, "So being part of the Community, being involved in forming the Community is what happens at meetings. Because you, Secular Order members, have meetings where you meet and talk with other people, and you decide things about your Carmelite life together and are responsible for forming yourselves as members of this religious family. Your part in that now is very much to take responsibility...So formation, information, fellowship- these are the three things that happens in meetings." [p. 34] 

My daughter and I encountered the fruit of this sense of Carmelite community. We were the recipients of this gift.  This was the first of many gifts granted to us during our pilgrimage to Lourdes. For this, I will be eternally grateful and never forget the sense of interconnectedness with other OCD and OCDS members throughout the world.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel... Pray for us!

Our Lady of Lourdes...Pray for us!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Carmelite Connections with Lourdes

Image result for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel 18th apparition at Lourdes

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

As I write this, I am counting the hours until my husband, daughter, and I board our plane to embark upon a combined trip to Brussels, Belgium to visit our 18-year old son who is interning there, and to visit the sites of Normandy, Paris, and finally to make a pilgrimage with my daughter at the end of our trip to Lourdes. My spirit has been yearning for the living waters of Lourdes where we are invited to bathe in the purifying healing springs given by Our Lady to her children, through St. Bernadette for several years.  My heart is filled with gratitude and anticipation that we will be present for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which was the date of the final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette in 1858.  It is said that Our Lady said nothing at all, but radiated an intense beauty.  Many have since interpreted this last vision of our Blessed Mother in silence, as a call to embrace silence as a means of hearing God's promptings as that small, still voice.  The importance of this call to quiet in order to hear God speak in our lives is an integral component of the Carmelite call and dates back to the prophet Elijah, when he heard the voice of God not in the earthquake or fire, but as a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19:12]

In my further musings and consideration of this last apparition, I remembered reading a fascinating article about some deep connections between Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in its beginnings as it became a place of pilgrimage.  I was able to dig up the article in an old issue of Carmelite Digest which explains this interweaving between the two.  Father Tadgh Tierney, ocd recounts how Hermann Cohen, the great Jewish pianist, who was miraculously converted to the Catholic faith and later became a Carmelite priest named Fr. Augustine Mary of the Blessed Sacrament [now Venerable], was to lead the very first pilgrimage to the front of the grotto, while barricades blocked access to the holy site. This occured on September 20, 1858 when he and father Rozier led a group of devotees to the site. At 3 am they celebrated holy Mass, prayed, and recited the Magnificat and other such prayers.  [Bernadette of Lourdes & The Carmelite Connection- 1858-2008].

At this time, an unusual miracle happened when Fr. Augustine dropped his breviary into the basin as he bent down to drink from the spring in the grotto. Fr. Rozies who accompanied him and witnessed it reported in a letter as follows, "A lady quickly tried to retrieve it, and the priest also looked to see if the pages had gotten wet. There was one particularly beautiful picture of Our Lady, which he expected to find soaked; but not only was the colored picture of Our Lady not spoiled, but a perfect  copy of it was imprinted on the blank page of his breviary."   Some years later, Fr. Augustine [Hermann[] would receive another miracle from Our Lady of Lourdes when his failing eyesight was fully restored after beginning a novena. His pain and all symptoms of his disease vanished, and he was able to resume his life in the desert dwellings of Carmel in nearby Tarasteix. 

The final apparition of Our Lady to St. Bernadette, depicted in the 'Gemmail' style
of layered stained glass typically found in Lourdes.

In fact, the connectedness between these two devotions to Our Lady run so deep that a Carmelite convent exists adjacent to the property. Its history is explained as follows: 

The Carmelite Monastery in Lourdes was founded 18 years after the apparitions on 16th July 1876 by nuns from the Carmel of Tulle in central France. The Mother Foundress, coming to Lourdes to find a suitable site for the future monastery, was very attracted by the land facing the Grotto on the other side of the River Gave. However, the terrain was on a narrow band of rock where any construction would be very difficult. Despite its proximity to the Grotto, previous visitors to the site had decided against anything being built there. The Mother Foundress had the idea of transporting soil to even out the level of the slope. This idea was accepted by the building contractors, and so the Monastery was built in a very privileged location overlooking the Grotto.

In the years following the foundation, the number of vocations grew considerably. The community swelled to such a size that in 1893 a number of sisters went to found a Carmel at Le Havre in northern France. [see]

In fact, many of our beloved Carmelite saints in the past 150 years have taken pilgrimages to Lourdes seeking graces and healings from Our Mother.  St. Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese, comes to mind as she sought healing from the breast cancer that was wracking her body with pain.  She was totally surrendered to the Divine Will of God, and although she did not obtain a cure there, she was granted a gift of great peace and calm to embrace the final months of her journey in life. Hers was an emotional and spiritual healing. So too do we see that St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and her mother and sister, Guite, all sought the graces of Lourdes. At the age of 18, Elizabeth would offer herself and her vocation to Our Lady at Lourdes, and wrote in a poem to Our Lady asking, "May his will be mine; that is what you must obtain for me."

Indeed, I pray that my spirit may be filled with the docility of Venerable Hermann, St. Zelie, and St. Elizabeth as my daughter and I journey to this place of refuge in the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady. May she continue to form and mold me, and may His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May we be healed according to His perfect Will as He desires in mind, body, soul and spirit. Amen.