Sunday, September 30, 2012

St. Therese's Little Brother


JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Our Little Sister's Feast Day is upon us. We celebrate St. Therese's death and new life in Christ today (the date she died) and tomorrow (her official Feast Day in the Church). I am posting a beautiful account of how St. Therese spiritually adopted a young man named Brother Marcel Van, C.Ss.R. from North Vietnam.  I cannot provide a better overview of how St. Therese's Little Way of love has influenced and helped so many other souls reach the heights of sanctity. Let us pray that we will be open to her intercession to realize her way of love in giving each present moment in joy to Our Lord.  Happy reading!

Brother Marcel Van -Spirtual Brother of St Therese of Lisieux (This entire post is taken from

The Servant of God, Brother Marcel Van C.Ss.R. (Redemptorist)-The little spiritual brother of Saint Therese of Lisieux

Brother Marcel Van was born Joachim Nguyên Tan Van on March 15, 1928, in a village in North Vietnam (Tonkin). He lived with his older sister Le and was later joined by a younger sister, Te. His father was a tailor and his mother was a housewife who sometimes worked in the rice paddies. His mother was a very devout Catholic, and was meek, kind and charitable towards everyone. Sadly however, as Van’s childhood years progressed, his father took to gambling and alcohol, causing the family much suffering. As a child, Van was a kind and sensitive boy, full of love and tenderness and did not like to be separated from his mother.

From a tender age, Van showed a remarkable early piety and devotion, and as a child he organized processions in honor of the Blessed Virgin with his younger sister Te, along with his cousins and playmates. From an early age he loved to pray with his mother, and they would often say a rosary together. At age six, he joyfully received First Holy Communion. He would later write of this blessed day:
“The hour has come, the moment so greatly desired has arrived... I gently draw out my tongue to receive the Bread of Love. My heart is overcome by an extraordinary joy... In an instant, I have become like a 'drop of water' lost in the vast ocean. Now there remains only Jesus, and I am Jesus' little nothing.”

From this day on, Van would receive Communion most every day. Shortly thereafter, he received the sacrament of Confirmation. A future prospect took shape in his heart as he later wrote: “I longed to become a priest, so as to bring the Good News to non-Christians.” He discovered later in life that to be a priest was not the will of God for him.

He began school at age seven, however his first teacher was excessively severe with the students, beating them with a cane at every turn. Van's health began to fail: "I became thinner and more pale by the day," he later wrote in his autobiography, “and it is because of the very strict educational system that I have came to such a state of exhaustion.”

Van is called to sufferVan's mother then entrusted him to Father Joseph Nha, the parish priest in Huu-Bang. This priest ran a “House of God” which was an institution where young boys started more in-depth schooling in religion, while continuing their studies and helping the priest. The most capable among them could be admitted to the Minor Seminary, a goal which Van aspired to since he was hoping to become a priest. For Van, everything started well. He was very fond of his new life, and became a star student. But one of his teachers (called “masters”) named Vinh, would take Van into a private room and beat him repeatedly with a cane, stating that he was training him in what he called “the perfect life”. He threatened him and made him submit to the beatings in secret. After two weeks, the priest's laundrywoman noticed traces of blood on Van's clothes, and Father Nha, made aware of the situation, had the child see a doctor and strictly forbade Vinh from any contact with Van.

At times, Father Nha would present Van as an example to the lukewarm catechist students, which of course drew unfriendly attention to him. The catechists, now jealous of Van, organized a sort of tribunal to “try” him. After several humiliating scenes, they criticized him for receiving Communion every day. This reproach brought about a spiritual crisis: “I was disturbed and I suffered terribly to think that, without being worthy like the saints, I had had the boldness to receive Communion every day... I then saw the faults from my early childhood return.” In this difficult trial, Van turned to Mary and recited his Rosary with a deep devotion.

Each night after evening prayers, the catechists would open the “tribunal” and would question and accuse Van, and for punishment would beat him with a cane, or strip him of his clothing. Along with the “master” (teacher), some of these same student catechists often took to drinking alcohol, and would invite girls of the neighborhood to join them in the Presbytery when Father Nha was absent. Father Nha himself seemed to forget his one time favorite catechist student, and more and more removed Van from his studies and made him his servant.

During this same period tragedy struck at home. Floods had destroyed some of his family's property and possessions, and making matters worse his father squandered what little left that they had on gambling and drinking, leaving his mother, brother and sisters in utter poverty. His mother could no longer send money or clothes, which left him in poverty and under the complete care of Father Nha, who now looked at Van as a servant, instead of a student.

Eventually, Van left the “House of God” with several other catechists, in hopes of entering a seminary and becoming a priest, however unable to find any seminary or work that would accept him, he was obligated to return. The atmosphere at the house did not change much—alcohol, gambling, foul language, the presence of shameless girls. Van had to devote the majority of his time to manual labor. When he reached the age of twelve, he received his certificate of studies” , but he was not allowed to advance to the next level of his schooling, and all his time was spent working.

Eventually, he ran away to return to his parents' home, but because of their poverty they sent him back to Huu-Bang. Two months later, Van ran away again and began living as a beggar on the streets. “My profession,” he wrote, “consisted from then on of holding my hand out to passers-by... After a week of this life, I was unrecognizable. My hands and feet were thin, my skin was tanned by the sun and my cheeks were hollow... And yet I found this life of a poor vagabond not at all difficult. On the contrary, I felt a peaceful joy in suffering for God. I knew that by escaping, I had avoided sin, I had avoided what grieves the Heart of God.”

A terrible temptationConcerning this period he wrote: “I came to consider myself a despicable creature. The devil made this thought develop in me—if people could no longer endure me, how could God still endure me? I'm going to die soon and I will have to go to Hell.”
As always, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary remained his hope, and he continually gained comfort and peace through praying the rosary. One day, he opened his heart to a priest who comforted him with these words: “Willingly accept all these trials and offer them to the Lord. If God has sent you the cross, it is a sign that He has chosen you.”

A calling from the LordThanks to a friend, Van was admitted to the Minor Seminary in Lang-Son in 1942. Six months later, for lack of funds, the institution had to close its doors, but Van was able to continue his studies in the parish of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Quang-Uyên, under the direction of two Dominican fathers. He strongly desired to become a saint, but was frightened at the austere sacrifices that he thought were necessary: “In spite of my great desire to attain holiness, I was certain that I would never achieve it, because to be a saint, you have to fast, lash yourself with a whip, wear a rock around your neck and little chains covered with spikes, a coarse horsehair shirt, endure the cold, the scabies, etc...My God, if it is like this, I give up... All that is way too much for me.”
The appearance of St Therese of Lisieux –The Story of a SoulOne day, Van spread out on a table books on the lives of many Saints. He said a prayer, asking God to guide him, promising that he would read whatever book his hand fell upon. Then, with his eyes closed, he put his hand down at random. “I opened my eyes. My hand was resting on a book I had never read before—“The Story of a Soul “ by Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.”

Marcel Van quickly looked over the book—one that he had never read before, but dismissed it as containing nothing unusual. But he soon reproached himself saying “Ah, by acting like this, you have broken your promise!” I then took the book again with my head full of muddled questions—‘What is this “Story of a Soul”??? Who is this St. Therese of the Child Jesus??? Where did she come from???’ What is certain is that is that she resembles many thousands of other saints.’
“Then I summarized her life in an amusing manner in these terms---'Since her birth until her last breath she had many ecstasies, and performed a number of miracles. She fasted on bread and water only taking one meal a day. She spent the night in prayer and gave herself to discipline until she bled. After her holy death her body emitted a very pleasant fragrance and many extraordinary things happened at her tomb. Finally she was canonized by the holy Church...etc...’
“Today I see clearly how rash these statements were without knowing anything about St. Therese. I had dared to sketch out her life in such a summary manner. Oh my dear sister, you must necessarily be a Saint of great courage to put up with the erroneous judgments that I have held on your life!”

As promised, Van then began to read the book. He states:
“I had scarcely read a few pages when two floods of tears were flowing down my cheeks...What moved me so deeply was little Therese's reasoning:
'If God only stooped to the level of the most beautiful flowers, the symbol of the Holy Doctors, His love wouldn't be quite absolute, because it is Love's nature to stoop to the farthest limit... Just as the sun shines at the same time on the cedars and on every little flower as if it were the only one on earth, so does Our Lord take care of every soul as if there were no other soul like it'

“I understood then that God is Love... Like St Therese, I can sanctify myself through all my little acts... A smile, a word or a look, provided that everything is done in love. What happiness!....From now on, sanctity will no longer frighten tears were flowing like an inexhaustible spring.”

“I had received therefore, that afternoon, a source of grace and happiness. “The Story of a Soul” had become my dearest friend, and followed me everywhere and I did not cease reading or rereading it, without ever getting weary of it. There was nothing in this volume which did not conform to my thoughts, and what pleased me even more in the course of my reading was to see clearly the spiritual life of Therese was identical to mine. Her thoughts, even her yes or no were in harmony with my own thoughts, and the little events of my life. Truly, never in my life have I met a book which was so well adapted to my thinking and feelings as is “The Story of a Soul”. I can confess that the story of Therese's soul is the story of my soul....”

The next morning, Van woke up and kneeled before the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayed: “... Blessed Virgin, my Mother: Today is truly the first day that I have been given to taste such a sweet happiness; the day which introduces me to a new way.... From now on, my Mother, guide me in my new way to teach me to love God perfectly, and to offer myself to Him in total confidence. I dare to express a wish to you: That I may be wrapped in your love, as was formerly Therese, the Little Flower. I even wish you to give me this Saint as my guide in her “Little Way”. Oh what happiness there would then be for me since I feel that my life cannot free itself from the feelings of childhood that God has engraved in my soul as an innate gift”

Then turning to Jesus, he prayed: “Oh Jesus, my only and beloved master, you know that I love you and look only to respond to your wishes. You have aroused in my mind the desire to become a saint. Then, you made me find, in a very simple manner, the “Little Way” by which you guided St. Therese of the Child Jesus. You have used the hand of this little Saint to write for the use of souls, the sweet councils to which you have led her on her little way. Today, I know that you love me, and that in your immense love you behave towards me as with a little child. Oh, how you deserve to be loved in return! From now on I have decided to follow in your footsteps as you wish, and so that each of my steps conforms to your Will, I wish, oh my God, that you grant me this favor: Give me St. Therese of the infant Jesus is my guide, so that she can teach me to love you as I ought, since I am very ignorant. Grant me also the grace to persevere in your love right to the end, so as to love you afterwards eternally, in the homeland of love reserved for those who love you.”
Van becomes the little spiritual brother of St ThereseSoon afterwarsa, Van went on foot to a nearby hill. Suddenly, in the silence, he was startled by a voice that was calling him. “Van, Van, my dear little brother!” But, no one was around him! The voice spoke again: “Van, my dear little brother!” ‘I was stunned into little troubled, but I remained calm and guessed immediately that this voice which called me was a supernatural voice—I then let out or hurried cry of joy—“Oh, it's my sister Therese!”— “Yes, it is indeed your sister, Therese... From now on, you will personally be my little brother, just as you have chosen me to be your big sister... From this day on, our two souls will be just one soul, in God's one love... from this moment I will let you know all my beautiful thoughts on love that which has occurred in my life, and has transformed me in the infinite love of God.... it is God himself, who has arranged this meeting. God wants the lessons of love that He taught me before in the secret of my soul to live on in this world, and He has deigned to choose you as a little secretary to carry out His work, which He wishes to entrust to you.... ”

“...God our Father watches over the slightest details of our lives... God is Father and this Father is Love. His goodness and kindness are infinite... But ever since the day that our first parents sinned, fear has overcome the heart of man and has taken away from him the thought of a God who is our infinitely good Father... So God sent his Son... Jesus came to tell His brothers on earth that the Father's love is an inexhaustible source... We are immensely fortunate to be the children of God. Let us be thankful of this and never give in to excessive fear... Never be afraid of God. He is all loving Father. He knows only how to love, and He wishes to be loved in return.. Do not be afraid to speak familiarly with God as with a friend. Tell Him about everything that comes to your mind—your marble games, a mountain climb, the teasing of your friends, your outbursts, your tears, or the little fleeting pleasures'...”—But little sister, God already knows all these things"...'That's true, little brother... However, to give and to receive love, He must stoop and He does this as if He has forgotten that He knows everything, in the hope of hearing an intimate word burst forth from your heart.'

'When you feel joy, offer him this joy which swells your heart, and by doing so you will transmit your joy to Him. Can there be a greater happiness than a couple loving one another and exchanging all that they possess? To act in this way with God is to say ‘thank you’ to Him, which pleases Him more than thousands of touching canticles. If on the other hand, you are invaded by sadness say to Him again with an honest heart: ‘Oh my God, I am really unhappy’ and ask Him to help you to accept this sadness with patience. Believe this: Nothing gives as much pleasure to the good God than to see on this earth a heart which loves Him, and who is sincere with Him with each step, and with each smile; as well with tears as with as with little momentary pleasures.”

This first appearance of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus went on for quite sometime, and one should read "The Autobiography of Marcel Van" to read it in its entirety.

Before leaving Van on this first occasion, St. Therese says in closing: ‘I love you because you are a soul who is a member of my friends of Love. As for you my little brother, my only wish is to see accomplished the works that the divine Love desires so ardently for you. So, little brother, listen to me: from now in your relations with our heavenly Father, do not fail to follow my advice. Now, it is getting late, so allow me to end our conversation here, since it is already mealtime. Tam and Hien are waiting for you, and Tam is getting impatient..... I am giving you a kiss.....We will have plenty of opportunities to talk together again. And we can do it no matter where, without fear that anyone might know.’
“Therese stopped talking, and I was like someone coming out of a dream; half anxious and half happy, and when she said ‘ I am giving you a kiss’ , I immediately felt as if a gentle breeze was likely touching my face. And I was overcome by such a joy that I momentarily lost consciousness. Some of this sweet joy stays with me today, but I do not know what to compare it with exactly.”

A call to religious lifeFrom then on, St Therese became Van’s close companion and spiritual director, intimately guiding him in his spiritual life and his ascent towards God. As stated earlier, Van had always wanted to become a priest. “For that” he wrote, “I had sacrificed everything by imposing many spiritual and physical labors upon myself.”
But one day Therese told him, “Van, my little brother, I have something important to tell you... But it will make you very sad... God has made it known to me that you will not be a priest.” Upon hearing this, Van began to cry and said “I will never be able to live if I am not a priest...”

“Van”, Therese resumed, “if God wants your apostolate to be carried out in another field, what do you think of that?... What remains most perfect is doing the will of our Father in Heaven... You will be above all an apostle through prayer and sacrifice, as I myself was before.” Therese then guided Van's gaze to this very important passage from the Story of a Soul: “I understood that Love alone put the members of the Church in motion... I understood that Love contains all vocations, that Love was all, that it embraced all time and all places... in a word, that it is Eternal.”
Van was wondering what all this meant-- “Therese, my sister, what does this hidden vocation involve, if I am not to become a priest?”—“You will enter a monastery where you will devote yourself to God.”
One night during the winter of 1942-1943, Van had a mysterious dream. "I saw someone coming towards the head of my bed... This person dressed completely in black was rather tall, and his face reflected great kindness... He asked me the question-- 'My child, do you want to...?' But before he could finish I spontaneously answered, 'Yes.' “ Several days later, Van discovered a statue in the house that bore a strange resemblance to his dream.

It was a statue of Saint Alphonsus of Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists. Soon afterwards, St. Therese confirmed his vocation to be a Redemptorist Brother, then gave him notice of new trials. “Little dear brother, you will encounter thorns on the way, and the sky that is now calm will be covered with dark clouds...You will shed tears, you will lose your joy and you will be like a man reduced to despair... But remind yourself that the world treated Jesus like this and that a Redemptorist resembles his Savior... Nevertheless, do not be afraid. During this storm, Jesus will continue to live in the boat of your soul... Little brother, you will no longer hear me talk so familiarly with you as I do now. Do not think that I am abandoning you. On the contrary, I constantly remain close to you like a big sister should... In this world, suffering is the proof of your love, and suffering gives your love all its meaning and value.”

Thereafter, he asked to be admitted to the Redemptorists in Hanoi. Van was received at the Redemptorists in Hanoi first as a household helper and, on October 17, 1944 he was finally admitted as a postulant and received the name Brother Marcel. The day after his religious profession, Brother Marcel Van had heard Jesus tell him: “My child, for the love of mankind, offer yourself with Me so that they might be saved.”Thus assured of the value of suffering united to that of Christ, he wrote: “Jesus wanted to use my body to endure suffering, shame, and exhaustion, so that the flame of Love that consumes His divine Heart might spread in the hearts of all men on earth.”
After an initial period of joy, crosses appeared, especially in the form of his confreres' ridicule. Starting in his novitiate, at his spiritual director's request, he wrote his autobiography. For two years, Jesus, Mary, and Therese favored him with intimate conversations. But on September 9, 1946, the day after his first profession, Jesus told him, "My child, your portion now is to sacrifice the moments of sweet intimacy with me, to allow me to go in search of sinners... Then, my little Van, know that you will have to suffer because of your Superiors and Brothers. But these trials will be the sign that you are pleasing to My Heart. I am begging for all these sufferings to unite you to Me in the work of sanctification of priests.”
Like his spiritual sister St. Therese, his vocation, in part, was to suffer for Priests. And soon came the “night of the soul” for Brother Marcel. For the most part, most of the mystical graces and consolations disappeared and only the monotony of sacrifice in pure faith remained. In 1950, the young Brother was sent to Saigon, Vietnam, then to Dalat. In July 1954, North Vietnam was handed over to the Communists. Many Catholics fled for the South. Several Redemptorists remained in the house in Hanoi to take care of the Christians who stayed. Brother Marcel understood that Jesus was asking him to join them. “I am going there,” (to Hanoi) he wrote, “so that there might be someone who loves God in the midst of the Communists.” After several weeks, he wrote to his sister Anne-Marie: “Quite often I am overcome with sadness, and I only think, 'Oh, if only I hadn't come to Hanoi... But there was so much insistence in Jesus' voice!”

On Saturday, May 7, 1955, as he was going to the market, he was arrested and taken to the criminal investigation office, then jailed. Five months later, he was transferred to the central prison in Hanoi, where he met many Catholics and priests. He wrote to his Superior: “If I wanted to live, it would be easy for me. I would only have to accuse you. But don't worry, I will never agree to it.” Then, to his confessor: “In the last months, I have had to struggle as hard as I can and endure all the torture of brain-washing. The enemy has used many tricks to make me capitulate, but I have not allowed any weakness.” And to his sister: “Nothing can take the weapon of love from me. No affliction is capable of removing the kind smile that I let appear on my thin face. And who is the caress of my smile for, if not for Jesus, the Beloved?... I am the victim of Love and Love is all my happiness, an indestructible happiness.”

One year after his arrest, calm and self-controlled, he appeared before the court in Hanoi. Upon his refusal to confess that he had electioneered for the president of South Vietnam, he was condemned to 15 years of imprisonment in a “re-education” camp. He was taken to Camp No. 1, where he came across many Catholics. He wrote: “I am very busy, like a little parish priest. Apart from the hours of forced labor, I must constantly welcome the people who come one after the other looking for comfort from me... God Himself has made known to me I am doing His will here. Many times, I have asked of Him the favor of dying in this camp, but every time, He has answered me: “I am ready to follow your will as you always follow Mine, but there are souls that still need you...” Each time Brother Van would submit to God's will.

In August 1957, Brother Marcel Van was transferred to Camp No. 2. After an escape attempt to go look for consecrated Hosts, he was recaptured, beaten, and locked up in an unhealthy cell. Everything became harder for him—no more visits, no more mail, and, at the beginning of 1958, he spent three months in irons, alone, without support and without light, except for that which shone in his heart. Consumed by tuberculosis and beriberi, he flew to God at midday on July 10, 1959, at the age of 31 years, 4 months.

The Cause for the Beatification of Brother Marcel Van as a confessor of the faith opened on March 26, 1997, in the diocese of Belley-Ars, France. Click here for more info on the proposed Beatification of Marcel Van.
Primary sources for this article:
-“The Autobiography of Brother Marcel Van” Gracewing Publishing, 2006.


For more information on Brother Marcel Van, contact: Les Amis de Van, 15, Rue de l’ Orangerie, 78000 Versailles, France
Les Amis de Van French website:

~Brother Marcel Van, pray for us!

"I am the victim of Love, and Love is all my happiness--an indestructible happiness..." -Servant of God, Br. Marcel Van

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuán Shows us How to Love

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

It is one week after the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, and about ten days before the feast day of perhaps the most beloved saint of our times, St. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus.  The science of the Cross shows us that the greatest love can be accomplished in our darkest hours. So many saints have shown us the way.  Edith Stein spoke of the Science of the Cross, and first explained St. John of the Cross' dark night of the soul and spirit, and then lived it. St. Therese offered herself to it in her Oblation of Merciful Love, and St. Teresa of Avila knew that all was passing away and only one thing remained.

I saw in the Zenit News that the Vatican honored the 10 year anniversary of the death of Servant of God Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuán. I wanted to share with you a little bit about what was said last week, and then post Cardinal's Ten Rules of Life. For any Carmelite Christian these can be a source of deep meditation and a well of great wisdom.  Our Holy Father points out that there is also a profound link between the new evangelization and upcoming year of faith that we are entering into, and the Cross.  Although a bit lengthy, it is profound and well worth the read. I hope you enjoy it!
Vatican Official Remembers Cardinal Van Thuán on 10th Anniversary of His Death
ROME, SEPT. 17, 2012 ( Here is a translation of a homily given by Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, last Friday, to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuán
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The 10th anniversary of the death of the beloved Servant of God Cardinal Van Thuán -- we still have the vivid memory of his burial a few months ago in this church of Santa Maria della Scala – is being observed with this Eucharist on the day of the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Now very close are the Synod of the month of October, dedicated to the New Evangelization, and the opening of the Year of Faith.
Hence, we cannot fail to realize that this year the memory of Cardinal Van Thuán is characterized by ecclesial and pastoral references that are particularly dense with meaning.

In particular, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross enables us to recall Cardinal Van Thuán as an heroic witness of the love of Jesus Christ, of that total and faithful love that led him to suffer the torture reserved for slaves.
The Cross is the place where Jesus Christ showed the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of his love for the Father and for humanity.
Thanks to such a measureless love, which surpasses all knowledge, He fulfilled the will of God and redeemed humanity, enriching it with the capacity to love proper to God.

During the years of harsh imprisonment, the Servant of God Van Thuán drew strength from the love of the crucified Christ. He immersed himself in it celebrating the Eucharist in its greatest essence, moved by an ardent faith. He wished to represent such a suffering love to himself by making, piece by piece, the pectoral cross that, when he was released, he carried hanging from his neck, showing it to everyone, especially his refugee and emigrant fellow countrymen, as a sign of hope.

In his preaching he often quoted the liturgical prayer: O Crux ave, spes unica: Hail O Cross, our only hope.

The Cross, or better, the supreme love of Jesus Christ manifested on it, is the hope of the world. Only such a love redeems and transfigures persons, brings full prosperity to peoples. Only the total love of Christ for the Father and for humanity, received and lived, can make it possible to be reborn from the moral point of view and to found the life of the city-state on love of the other, rather than on hatred and on fear of one’s fellow men.
While he worked at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Servant of God Cardinal Van Thuán continued to look at the love of Christ crucified as the outstanding source of the humanizing and liberating renewal of culture, of politics, of the economy, of finance, of the family of peoples, of the mass media.
We all know that the New Evangelization is carried out only thanks to community or to Christian laity that live an intense faith. Such a faith is able to become a new culture and new practice if it is fully received, wholly thought-out, faithfully lived and celebrated with a passionate love of Jesus Christ.
A New Evangelization introduces and supports believers in the new life of love that Jesus Christ shows and carries out in a supreme way on the Cross, so that they become heralds and witnesses.

Hence, there is a close nexus between the New Evangelization and the Cross of Christ. The New Evangelization seeks to have us encounter Jesus Christ, to live with Him, to live his crucified love, a faithful love of God and of man.

Today’s world, especially the European, which shows signs of de-Christianization and an enfeebled faith, is in need of a New Evangelization, of looking at the Cross of Christ to be healed, as the Israelites did who, mortally bitten by “fiery serpents,” we healed by looking at the bronze serpent, placed on Moses’ staff (cf. Numbers 21:4-9).
Drawing from the love of Christ dead on the Cross, it is possible to overcome the evil poison of those “fiery serpents” that, on the plane of the interior and spiritual life are: the desire to be absolute owners of truth, the desire to dominate others, the lack of fraternity, and hatred and that, on the plane of the new ideologies, are: materialistic consumerism, mercantilism, technocracy.

Thanks to the holy gift of love of the crucified Christ that, as Benedict XVI teaches in Caritas in veritate, is love full of truth, Christianity will show the fullness of its brilliance, of its inspirational force of a new ethos and civilization, and will not be held as a simple reserve of good sentiments (cf. Caritas in veritate, n. 4).

Taking part in today’s Eucharist, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us allow ourselves to be drawn into the transcendent dynamism of the love of Christ who in a certain way makes himself a “slave” of God and of humanity, making a total gift of his life, so that no one is lost. Let us look at the example of Cardinal Van Thuan who became an eminent witness of it.

May the Cross on which Jesus stretched his arms, gathering Jews and pagans into one people, help us to be, as the Servant of God Van Thuan, heralds of unity and peace.
O Crux ave, spes unica!
+ Mario Toso

This next section is taken directly from Servant of God Van Thuan's website for his cause:

My dear friends,
I do not wish to speak about the negative aspects of captivity. I offered all that up to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What will interest you most is sincere, fraternal sharing of my experience - understanding God’s liberating power in my day to day existence.
During those thirteen years I became aware of all my weaknesses, physical as well as mental. There were moments when I could not concentrate at all, when I could not even pray. Jesus then sent me light. "I must live the testament of Christ" - In his testament, just before dying, Jesus left me his word, his body, his mother, his Church, his priesthood, his new commandment, his mission, the duty to make all things one. Several times a day, I repeated to myself, "I must live the testament of Christ" - It’s simple, it’s inexhaustible. I will try to explain how I received the strength of God’s liberating power by citing 10 rules.
Ten rules of life

1. I will live the present moment to the fullest.
2. I will discern between God and God’s works.
3. I will hold firmly to one secret: prayer.
4. I will see in the Holy Eucharist my only power.
5. I will have only one wisdom: the science of the Cross.
6. I will remain faithful to my mission in the Church and for the Church as a witness of Jesus Christ.
7. I will seek the peace the world cannot give.
8. I will carry out a revolution by renewal in the Holy Spirit.
9. I will speak one language and wear one uniform: Charity.
10. I will have one very special love: The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Explanation of the Ten Rules of life
1. I will live the present moment to the fullest
On August 15th 1975, on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, I was invited to the Palace of Independence, the President’s Palace in Saigon, only to be arrested. The motive was that Pope Paul VI had transferred me from my diocese in Nhatrang where I had been bishop for 8 years, between 1967 and 1975, to Saigon, to become Archbishop Coadjutor. For the Communist government this transfer, made one week before their arrival in Saigon, on April 30, 1975, was proof of a conspiracy between the Vatican and the Imperialists.
From the very first moment of my arrest, the words of Bishop John Walsh, who had been imprisoned for 12 years in Communist China, came to my mind.
On the day of his liberation Bishop Walsh said, "I have spent half my life waiting"
It is true. All prisoners, myself included, constantly wait to be let go.
I decided then and there that my captivity would not be merely a time of resignation but a turning point in my life.
I decided I would not wait. I would live the present moment and fill it with love. For if I wait, the things I wait for will never happen. The only thing that I can be sure of is that I am going to die.
I was removed far from my diocese and was taken to the village of Cay-Vang, 400 km from Saigon. Day and night I was obsessed with the thought of my people. How was I going to stay in touch with my people? Just at the time when they needed their pastor most. The separation was heart-breaking.
One night, light came: "It’s simple, imitate the example of Saint Paul when he was in prison. He wrote letters to the various communities. The very next morning, I called to Quang, a little boy who was coming home from Mass. "Go and tell your mother to buy some old calendars". When evening came, Quang brought me the calendars and every night during the months of October and November 1975, I wrote down my message from captivity for my people. Every morning the boy took the torn-off pages home and his brothers and sisters recopied the message. That is how the book "The Road of Hope" came to be written, and it has been published into six languages: Vietnamese, English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. God’s liberating power gives energy to work to accomplish even in the most desperate moments.
No, I will not spend time waiting. I will live the present moment and fill it with love. "A straight line consists of millions of little points". Likewise, a lifetime consists of millions of seconds and minutes joined together. If every single point along the line is rightly set, the line will be straight. If every minute of a life is good, that life will be holy. The Road of Hope is paved with small acts of hope along life’s way. A life of hope is born of every minute of hope in that lifetime." (RH978).
In 1980, in obligatory residence in Giang xa’ village in North Vietnam, I continued to write other books always during the night and in secret: "The Pilgrims on the Road of Hope" and "The Road of Hope in the Light of God’s Word and the Vatican Council"..
2. I will discern between God and God’s works
Alone in my prison cell, I continued to be tormented by the fact that I was forty-eight years old, in the prime of my life, that I had worked for eight years as a bishop and gained so much pastoral experience and there I was isolated, inactive and far from my people... (1700km)
One night, from the depths of my heart I could hear a voice advising me:
"Why torment yourself? You must discern between God and the works of God. Everything you have done and desire to continue to do, pastoral visits, training seminarians, sisters and members of religious orders, building schools, evangelizing non-Christians. All of that is excellent work, the work of God but it is not God! If God wants you to give I all up and put the work into his hands, do it and trust him. God will do the work infinitely better than you; he will entrust the work to others who are more able than you. You have only to choose God and not the works of God!"
This light totally changed my way of thinking. When the Communist put me in the hold of the boat, the HAI-PHONG along with 1500 other prisoners and moved us to the north, I said to myself, "here is my cathedral, here are the people God has given me to care for, here is my mission: to ensure the presence of God among these, my despairing, miserable brothers. It is God’s will that I am here. I accept his will". And from that minute onwards, a new peace filled my heart and stayed with me for thirteen years.
3. I will hold firmly to one secret: prayer
When I was let out of prison, several people remarked that at least I had had lot of time to pray! It’s not as simple as you may think. God allowed me to see all my weaknesses, both physical and mental. Time passes so slowly in prison, particularly during solitary confinement. A week, a month, two months are exceedingly long but as they turn into years, it becomes an eternity! There were days when I was not able to recite a single prayer.
A story came to my mind, the story of old Jim. Every day at twelve o’clock, Jim went into church and after not more than two minutes, he left. The sacristan was intrigued. One day, he grabbed Jim and asked, "What do you come in here for every day?"
"I come in say prayer"
"That’s impossible. What kind of a prayer can you say in 2 minutes?"
"Me ignorant old man; pray to God my own pray."
"But what do you say?"
"I say, "Jesus, here Jim" and I go out"
Years go by. Jim grows old becomes ill and enters the hospital, in the ward for poor people. After a time, they see that Jim is going to die and the priest and a nurse are with him at his beside.
"Tell us, Jim, why is it that since your arrival in the ward everything has changed for the better? The men are happier and friendlier."
"Dun no. When I could walk, I went around and visit everybody, say hello, talk a bit. When I’m laid up. I call to everybody from my bed, laugh a lot, make everybody happy. Jim always happy."
"But why are you always happy?"
"When you get a visit every day, you happy, right?
"That’s right. But who comes to see you? We’ve never seen anyone."
"Jesus. He come every day at twelve o’clock."
"And what does he day to you?"
"He says, Jim, here Jesus!"
As Jim was dying, he gestured and smiled broadly and pointed to the chair beside his bed, inviting someone to sit down. After a short time, he smiled again, closed his eyes and died.
At times, when my strength failed and I could not even recite my prayers, I repeated, "Jesus, here Francis". Consolation came and I knew that Jesus was replying, "Francis, here Jesus".
Praying is being with someone, with Jesus.
You ask, "what prayers were you able say?"
I prayed with the word of God, the Psalms. I said the prayers I had recited in the family chapel every evening when I was a child. The liturgical songs came back to me. I often sang the Veni Creator, the hymns of the martyrs, the Sanctorum Meritis, the Credo... To truly appreciate those beautiful prayers, it is necessary to have experienced the darkness of incarceration, conscious of the fact that your suffering is offered for faithfulness to the Church. In particular I call two prayers my prayers of liberation.
The Litany of the Saints:
From all evil, Lord save your people.
From every sin, Lord, save your people.
From everlasting death, Lord, save your people.
By your death and rising to new life, Lord, save your people.
By your gift of the Holy Spirit, Lord, save your people.
The Beatitudes
On one hand, I share the misery of the poor, of those who shed tears those who are persecuted for justice’ sake. On the other, I contemplate God’s mercy and strength which frees them. The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
"Why are there crises in the Church?"
"Simply because people do not take prayer seriously anymore" (RH 134)
4. I will see in the Holy Eucharist my only power
"Were you able to say Mass in prison" - is a question I have been asked many, many times.
And when I say "Yes", I can foretell the next question, "How did you get the bread and wine?"
I was taken to prison empty-handed. Later on, I was allowed to request the strict necessities like clothing, toothpaste, etc. ... I wrote home saying "Send me some wine as medication for stomach pains". On the outside, the faithful understood what I meant. They sent me a little bottle of Mass wine, with a label reading "medication for stomach pains", as well as some hosts broken into small pieces. The police asked me: "Do you have pains in your stomach?" "Yes" "Here is some medicine for you!" I will never be able to express the joy that was mine: each day, three drops of wine, a drop of water in the palm of my hand. I celebrated my Mass.
The six Catholics in my group of fifty prisoners tried to stay together. We lined up the boards we were given as beds; they were about 20 inches wide. We slept close together in order to be able to pray during the night. At nine-thirty every evening when lights out rang everyone had to be lying down. I bent over my wooden board and celebrated Mass, by heart of course, and distributed Communion to my neighbors under their mosquito nets. We made tiny bags from cigarette paper to protect the Blessed Sacrament.
Every week there was an indoctrination session which all 250 prisoners attended. At the break we could smoke a cigarette or chat. My Catholic companions took advantage of the break to pass around the Blessed Sacrament to other groups. Jesus Christ was at work, curing physical and mental suffering. Many of the others who had lost their faith came back during those days.
At night, he prisoners took turns and spent time in adoration. The Blessed Sacrament helped tremendously. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians were converted. The strength of the love of Jesus is irresistible. The darkness of the prison turned into light, the seed germinated silently in the storm.
I spent nine years in solitary confinement and during that time I said Mass every day at three o’clock, the hour of Jesus death on the cross. I was all alone and could sing and chant whatever I wished, in Latin, in French and Vietnamese. I always carried with me the same tiny bag containing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, "You in me and me in you".
They were the most beautiful Masses of my life. From 9 to 10 PM during the hour of adoration, I sang Lauda Sion, Miserere, Te Deum. In spite of the fact that the loudspeakers continued to bark from 5 AM to 11:30PM, every single day, I felt a singular peace of mind and heart and joy in the company of Jesus and Mary. I sang the Salve Regina and the Salve Mater and became one with the universal Church. I could see from my cell the entire Church, without boundaries, and in the rage of criticism and accusation against the Church, I sang "Tu es Petrus - You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church" The presence of Jesus in the Eucharist consoles and unites us, vivifies and transforms us like the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus.
You believe in one power: the Blessed Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Our Lord which make you live. "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). As the manna fed the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land, so will the Blessed Eucharist nourish you as you travel on the Road of Hope.
5. I will have only one wisdom: the science of the Cross
When I look back on my past, it’s hard to understand the meandering of the path I traveled. I walked on nettles and rocks, I sang with joy as I moved ahead, groping my way in the darkness. Yet Jesus was there, walking with me, guiding me, carrying me when I could no longer move, when I was inches from death. It was at those moments that I would turn my thoughts to Jesus crucified and abandoned. He could no longer teach or cure the sick or raise his friend from the dead. He was in absolute immobility. In the eyes of the world he had lost, he was useless and frustrated. But in God’s eyes, Jesus, on the Cross, had accomplished the greatest act of all; he had shed his blood to save humanity.
I was liberated by the thought of Jesus crucified. When I was crushed by pain, disdain, unjust accusations, ingratitude and incomprehension, I prayed to unite myself to Jesus on the Cross and I knew that this was the most important act of my life. I often sang "O crux ave, spes unica mundi salus et gloria!" . Jesus, save the World!
You have one wisdom: the science of the Cross. (1 Cor 2:2). Look to the Cross and there you will find the solution to all the problems which are worrying you. If the Cross is the standard by which you make all your choices and decisions, your soul will be at peace (RH 989).
What is foolishness in the eyes of men is wisdom in the eyes of God. 1 Cor 3:19 and 1 Cor 1:27 (RH 106).
The Church was born on the Cross. The Church grows by continuing the passion of Jesus until the end of time. If you put your trust in money, in diplomacy, in power and influence, or in campaigns of any kind, you will be very sadly misled (RH 258).
6. I will remain faithful to my mission in the Church and for the Church as a witness of Jesus Christ.
In his testament, Jesus left me his Church but at the same time he entrusted me with a mission. "Be my witness unto the ends of the earth." (Act 1:8). I cannot be faithful to the testament of Jesus unless I carry out my mission within the Church and for the Church: "Love the Church. Obey the Church. Be loyal to the Church. Pray for the Church (RH 253). There are various kinds of Catholics, the Catholic who makes use of the Church, the Catholic in name only; there is the opportunist and the honorary Catholic looking for status. But Our Lord accepts only those who are one hundred percent Catholic, those who accept him unconditionally. "They left all and followed him" (Lk. 5:11).
I was accused of being involved in the conspiracy between the Vatican and the Imperialist against the Communists merely because Pope Paul had transferred me to Saigon one week before the arrival of the Communist troops. I was imprisoned without trial, without sentence.
I repeated often, as did Paul VI, "For the Church, for the Church".
How can I be a witness of Christ? One day I told a Communist cadre who was criticizing the Church: "We have two different meanings for the same words. If you sincerely wish to understand the Church, to dialogue with Catholics, I propose to write an index of religious vocabulary in Latin, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Chinese with Vietnamese definitions. If you accept my offer, please give me some paper and a pen. He agreed and I began, from "About to Zizania".
When the cadre returned, I explained a few words of the index to him, the meanings, the history and development of the Church, for instance, - what is an abbot - an abbey - life in an abbey - silence, poverty, obedience, chastity, fasting, manual work, pastoral and intellectual work, etc... His curiosity was aroused. Very slowly, I continued to explain the index, a kind of intensive catechism for Communist cadres! It was a way to dialogue in truth and love instead of debate and criticism.
I did the same with my guards who asked me to teach them foreign languages. They brought me French books. While teaching them French history, civilization, literature and culture, I was able to explain the impact of the gospel on France and on European history and its culture.
The role of the apostle in our times is to be in the midst of the world, not of the world, but for the world making use of the facilities of the world (RH 340).
7. I will seek the peace the world cannot give
When I began to discern between God and God’s works, when I chose God and his will and left everything else in his hands when I learned to love others, especially my enemies as Jesus loved me, I felt great peace in my heart. Deprived of freedom, of absolutely everything and living in extreme poverty in my dark cell, I was at peace because I could say, "My God and my all".
The peace that the world cannot give brought me great joy. "Holiness consists in being continuously joyful because we possess God" (RH 532).
"Why are you unhappy? It must be that something disturbs your relations with God" (RH 534). "You forget that you have the gift of happiness to present to others, the gift of peace which this world cannot give, your treasure of joy which knows no bounds" (RH 540). In the light of these thoughts, I laughed at myself and at the world. The things that seemed so important ten years ago appeared foolish. Why did I let those things disturb my interior peace? They were all vain, infantile, ambitious, anxious yearnings that separated me from God.
I will say with Mother Teresa: "My message is smile" The by-pass that can cure my heart is called "everything passes". On my Episcopal ring, two words are inscribed: "Todo pasa". Saint Teresa of Avila wrote that, "Todo pasa, solo Dios basta".
8. I will carry out a revolution by renewal in the Holy Spirit
Jesus Christ came into the world to bring fire to burn all waste, a sword to cut all the bonds that hold us in slavery. He brought Truth because Truth alone can set us free. He died to free us from death. He rose from the dead to give us life in abundance.
How do we carry out this revolution? "You desire to carry out a revolution, namely the reform of the world. You will carry out this precious and noble mission which God has entrusted to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every day, prepare a new Pentecost around you" (RH 979).
I have lived in a country which suffered through 40 years of war, which experienced the failure of Communist ideology and the frustrations of consumerism. The lyrics of the song "Empty Chairs, Empty Tables" from Les Miserables echo in my mind, after a frustrated and failed revolution:
"Here they spoke of revolution,
Here it was they lit the flame!
Here they sang about tomorrow
And tomorrow never came!"
Where are we going? - Church, Quo vadis?
Where do we find a new way of being the Church?
In Asia? In the USA?
Pope Paul VI clearly expressed this challenge to follow the Spirit in his encyclical Populorum Progressio n.13:
"...As far as experience in human affair is concerned, the Church, without attempting in any way to interfere in the politics of states... seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit" (GS n.3).
What is the new path shown to us by Pope John Paul II? It is the idea of New Evangelization.
"Every day, re-evangelize your mind and heart with reading and meditation; immerse yourself in the everlasting Word so that the gospel will gradually permeate and take deep root in every cell and every fiber of your body. That is renewal: the most enduring revolution." (RH646) "The most solid barrier is not a fortress; it is not a fence. It is indifference" (RH 652).
When Jesus saw the fear of the apostles and the trembling of his disciples as they received the mission he entrusted to them, "Be my witness unto the ends of the earth", Jesus simply said, "Do not be afraid! (Mt 17:7) "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you and then, you will be my witnesses" (Act 1:8).
9. I will speak one language and wear one uniform: Charity
Prisoners held captive for very long periods, without trial and in oppressive conditions retain bitter memories and sentiments of hate and vengeance. That’s a normal reaction everywhere.
I was in prison for 13 years, 9 of which in solitary confinement.
Two guards watched me but never spoke to me; just yes and no.
But I knew that after all, they were my brothers and I had to be kind to them. I had no gift to offer as a prisoner I had nothing at all, nothing to please them. What to do? One night, a thought came. "You are still very rich. You have the love of Christ in your heart. Love them as Jesus loves you". The next day I set to work, first, by showing gladness and by smiling. I began to tell stories about my journeys in countries where people live in freedom and enjoy their culture and great technical progress. That stimulated their curiosity and they asked many, many questions. Slowly, very slowly, we became friends. They wanted to learn foreign languages. My guards became my disciples! The atmosphere of the prison changed considerably. The quality of our relationship changed for the better.
At that time, in another part of the area, a group of twenty people were learning Latin to be able to read Church documents. Their teachers was a former catechist. One of my guards was in the Latin class and one day he asked me if I could teach him songs in Latin.
"There are so many ", I replied, "And they are all so beautiful".
"You sing and I’ll choose " he retorted.
And so I sang Salve Regina, Salve Mater, Lauda Sion, Veni Creator, Ave Maris Stella - You’ll never guess the song he chose. The Veni Creator!
I can’t begin to tell you how moving it is to be in a Communist prison and hear your guard, coming down the stairs at 7 AM every morning on his way to the gymnastics yard for physical exercises, singing the Veni Creator.
I will speak one language: Charity.
While at prison in Vinh-Quang in the mountains of North Vietnam, I was sawing wood one afternoon. I asked my ever-present guard, who had become my friend, if I could ask him for a favor.
"What is it? I’ll help you"
"I want to saw off a small piece of wood in the form of a cross."
"Don’t you know that’s strictly forbidden to have any sign of religion whatsoever?"
"I promise to keep it hidden."
"But it would be extremely dangerous for the both of us." "Close your eyes, I’ll do it right now and I’ll be very careful"
He turned his back and left me alone. I sawed a small cross which I later hid in a piece of melted down soap. I have kept it always and had it mounted in a piece of metal and it has become my pectoral cross.
In another prison in Hanoi, I became friends with my guard and was able to request a piece of metal wire. He was terrified. "I studied in the University of Police that when someone wants electric wire he want is to kill himself!" he cried. I explained the Christians, and most of all priests, do not commit suicide.
"And so what are you going to do with electric wire?" he asked."
"I need a chain to wear my cross."
"But how can you make a chain from wire?"
"If you bring me two little pincers, I’ll show you."
"Much too dangerous!"
"But we’re friends!"
He hesitated and finally said, "It’s too hard to refuse. Tonight at 7 PM we’ll do it. But we have to finish before 11. I’ll have my companion take the evening off. If he knew, he’d denounce the both of us.
That evening, with the tools he brought, we cut and shaped and worked together to make my chain and we finished it before 11 PM!
This cross and chain are not only my souvenir of captivity, as precious as that may seem. They are a constant reminder that only Christian charity can bring about a change of heart. Not arms, not threats, not the media. It was very hard for my guards to understand when I spoke about loving our enemies, reconciliation and forgiveness.
"Do you really love us?"
"Yes, I really love you."
"Even when we cause you pain? When you suffer because you’re in prison without trial?"
"Look at all the years we’ve spent together. Of course, I love you!" "And when you get out, will you tell your people to find us and beat us and hurt our families?"
"I’ll continue to love you even if you wish to kill me" "But why?"
"Because Jesus taught us to love always; if we don’t, we are no longer worthy to be called Christians."
There is not enough time to tell you all the other moving stories which are proof of the liberating power of the love of Jesus.
"You wear one uniform and speak one language - Charity. "Charity is the sign by which you will be recognized as one of our Lord’s disciples. (John 10:10). It is a badge which costs little but is most difficult to find. Charity is the most important language. Saint Paul regarded it as far more important than being able "to speak the languages of men and even of angels" (1 Cor 13:1) (RH 984).
10. I will have one special love: the Blessed Virgin Mary
The harsh years in prison pass very slowly. While suffering humiliation and abandonment, my only support and hope was the love of Mary, Our Blessed Mother. The wonderful servants of Mary, Grignon de Montfort, Don Bosco, Maximilien Kolbe were my companions on the road of hope. They inspired me and gave me unwavering trust in the love of Mary, the Queen of the Apostles and Martyrs.
I said this prayer to Mary. "Mary, my Mother, if you know that I cannot be of any more use to the Church, grant me the grace to die here in prison and consummate my sacrifice. If you know that I can still be of use to the church, grant me the grace of freedom on one of your feast days. In fact, on November 21, 1988, I was cooking my meal when I heard my guard being called to the phone.
I had an idea it might be because of me. A few minutes after, the guard called to me. "Mr. Thuan, have you finished eating?" "No, not yet."
"Right after your meal, go and see the chief... and good luck!"
I was taken to meet the Minister of Police and after a brief conversation, he asked, "Do you wish to express any request?"
"Yes, Mr. Minister, I wish to be let free!"
The Minister feigned surprise but I knew the day had come. It was the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple and she was answering my prayer.
To counter the Minister’s surprise I replied, "You see, Mr. Minister, I have been in prison for three pontificates: Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II. I have been here during the offices of four Secretary Generals of the Communist Party, Bhreznev, Andropov, Tchernenko and Gorbachev."
His eyes opened wide. "Yes" that’s right. All right. Your request is granted. You are free.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Triumph and Exaltation of the Cross

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

What a Feast Day this is, when we come face to face with the contradiction of our salvation! Who can understand it? As St. Paul tells us, to non-believers it all looks like folly.  "The message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to those of us who are on the way to salvation it is the power of God.... The Jews demand signs (miracles), and the Greeks wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified - to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18,22).

There simply is no other way. We may hem and haw and try to run and hide, but it is through the Cross and being united with Christ Crucified that we are made whole and clean and pure for God. This is because at those moments all else, all distractions, false idols, lies, sins, and abominations in our lives are shown for what they are - vanity and pure nothingness with no means of bringing us fulfillment or true and abundant life.  That is why this traditionally marks the day when Discalced Carmelites begin to fast, along with so many other religious orders, until Easter.  We have an opportunity to renew our commitment to Jesus, through renewing our consecration and vows to Him in Carmel, and embracing Our Cross with fervent and zealous hearts. We are surrounded by sorrow, violence, chaos, hatred, disease, loneliness, despair. We might be tempted to think, "What can I possibly do?"  I say, we can't do much, but Our Lord can. Offer yourself wholly to Him, and see what happens. See what changes and differences start to occur in your daily life, in your family, in the little world around you where God has planted you.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross understood this Feast exceptionally well. She has a prescient notion of where the rise of Nazism would lead her to, but did not falter. She remained steadfast in keeping her eyes focused on Jesus Crucified. She knew that not only was Our Lord's Passion and Death to be remembered and etched in our hearts, but so too His Resurrection and Ascension. He was lifted up three times: on the Cross, from the tomb, and into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. These were the events of Ascent for Jesus. Most others were events of personal descent and becoming "little less than a slave". I hope that you enjoy these two meditations from our beloved saint. I encourage you to be bold today, pick up your cross, and follow Him who walked before us.
III.3 THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB For September 14, 1940
Venerunt nuptiae Agni et uxor eius praeparavit se (Rv 19:7). "The marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has prepared herself." This is certainly what echoed in our hearts on the eve of our holy profession and should be echoing again as we solemnly renew our holy vows. Mysterious words that conceal the deeply mysterious meaning of our holy vocation. Who is the Lamb? Who is the Bride? And what kind of marriage supper is this?

"And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Rv 5:6). When the seer of Patmos had this vision, the unforgettable day on the Jordan when John the Baptist showed him the "Lamb of God" who "takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29) was still fresh in his memory. At that time, he had understood the word and now he understood the image. He who had once walked along the Jordan and who now appeared to him in white raiment with flaming eyes and with a judge's sword, the "first and the last" (Rv 1:17) he had in truth accomplished what the rites of the Old Covenant had suggested symbolically. When on the most momentous and holiest day of the year the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, into the supremely holy place of God's presence, he had previously taken two goats from the people: one on which to lay the people's sins, which were then carried out into the wilderness; the other to sprinkle its blood on the tent and ark of the covenant (Lv 16). This was the sin offering for the people. In addition, he had to provide a young bullock for himself and his house as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. He also had to sprinkle the throne of grace with the blood of the bullock. When he had prayed, unseen by human eyes, for himself and his house and for all the people of Israel, he came out to the waiting people, and sprinkled the outer altar to cleanse it from his sins and those of the people. Then he sent the living goat into the wilderness, brought forward his own burnt offering and that of the people, and had the rest of the sin offering burned before the camp (and later before the gates). The Day of Atonement was a monumental and holy day. People remained in the holy place praying and fasting. And in the evening when everything had been accomplished, there was peace and joy in their hearts because God had taken away the burden of sin and given grace.

But what had effected the reconciliation? Not the blood of the slaughtered animals and not the high priest of Aaron's descent St Paul made this so compellingly clear in his letter to the Hebrews but rather the real sacrifice of reconciliation which was anticipated in all these legally prescribed sacrifices, and the high priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was represented by the priests of Aaron's line. He was also the true Passover Lamb for whose sake the angel of death passed over the houses of the Hebrews when he slew the Egyptians. The Lord himself made the disciples understand this when he ate the lamb of sacrifice with them for the last time and then gave himself to them as food.

But why did he choose the lamb as the preferred symbol? Why did he continue to reveal himself in this form on the eternal throne of glory? Because he was innocent as a lamb and meek as a lamb; and because he came in order to allow himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53:7). This, too, John had witnessed when the Lord permitted himself to be bound at the Mount of Olives and nailed to the cross at Golgotha. There on Golgotha the true sacrifice of reconciliation was accomplished. Thereby the old sacrifices lost their efficacy; and soon they ceased entirely, as did also the old priesthood when the temple was destroyed. John had witnessed all of this. Therefore, he was not surprised at the Lamb on the throne. And because he was a faithful witness to the Lamb, the Bride of the Lamb was also shown to him.
He saw "the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband" (Rv 21:2 and 9ff.). As Christ himself descended to earth from heaven, so too his Bride, the holy church, originated in heaven. She is born of the grace of God, indeed descended with the Son of God himself; she is inextricably bound to him. She is built of living stones; her cornerstone was laid when the Word of God assumed our human nature in the womb of the Virgin. At that time there was woven between the soul of the divine Child and the soul of the Virgin Mother the bond of the most intimate unity which we call betrothal.

Hidden from the entire world, the heavenly Jerusalem had descended to earth. From this first joining in betrothal, there had to be born all the living building blocks to be used for the mighty structure: each individual soul awakened to life through grace. The Bridal Mother was to become the mother of all the redeemed. Like a spore from which new cells stream continually, she was to build up the living city of God. This hidden mystery was revealed to St John as he stood beneath the cross with the Virgin Mother and was given over to her as her son. It was then that the church came into existence visibly; her hour had come, but not yet her perfection. She lives, she is wedded to the Lamb, but the hour of the solemn marriage supper will only arrive when the dragon has been completely conquered and the last of the redeemed have fought their battle to the end.

Just as the Lamb had to be killed to be raised upon the throne of glory, so the path to glory leads through suffering and the cross for everyone chosen to attend the marriage supper of the Lamb. All who want to be married to the Lamb must allow themselves to be fastened to the cross with him. Everyone marked by the blood of the Lamb is called to this, and that means all the baptized. But not everyone understands the call and follows it. There is a call to following more closely that resounds more urgently in the soul and demands a clear answer. This is the vocation to the religious life, and the answer is the religious vows.

For the person whom the Savior calls away from all natural ties from one's family, one's people, and occupational circles to cling to him alone, the bridal connection with the Savior also becomes more prominent than for the general host of the redeemed. They want to belong preeminently to the Lamb for all eternity, to follow him wherever he goes, and to sing the song of the virgins that no one else can sing (Rv 14:1-5).
When the attraction to religious life awakens in the soul, it is as if the Lord were courting it. And if she consecrates herself to him by profession of the vows and harkens to the "Veni, sponsa Christi!" ["Come, spouse of Christ!"], it is like an anticipation of the heavenly marriage feast. Nevertheless, this is but a prospect of the eternal feast of joy. The bridal happiness and fidelity of the soul consecrated to God must stand the test in open and hidden battles and in the everyday flow of religious life. The spouse whom she chooses is the Lamb that was killed. If she is to enter into heavenly glory with him, she must allow herself to be fastened to his cross. The three vows are the nails. The more willingly she stretches herself out on the cross and endures the blows of the hammer, the more deeply will she experience the reality of her union with the Crucified. Then being crucified itself becomes for her the marriage feast.

The vow of poverty opens one's hands so that they let go of everything they were clutching. It fastens them securely so they can no longer reach toward the things of this world. It should also bind the hands of the spirit and the soul: the desires, which again and again reach for pleasures and things; the cares that want to secure earthly life in every respect; busyness about many things which endangers the one thing necessary. Living in superfluity and secure comfort contradicts the spirit of holy poverty and separates us from the poor Crucified One. Our sisters in the early times of the reform considered themselves happy when they lacked necessities. When the difficulties had been surmounted and enough of everything was at their disposal, they feared that the Lord had withdrawn from them. There is something wrong in a monastic community when concerns for the outer life take up so much time and energy that the spiritual life suffers. And there is something wrong in the soul of the individual religious who starts to take care of herself and to go after what she wants and likes instead of abandoning herself to divine providence and gratefully receiving what it gives her through the hands of the sisters in charge. Naturally, one should, after conscientious consideration, let the superior know what one's health requires. But having done that, one is relieved of further concern. The vow of holy poverty is intended to make us as carefree as the sparrows and the lilies so that our spirits and hearts may be free for God.
Holy obedience binds our feet so that they no longer go their own way, but God's way. Children of the world say they are free when they are not subject to another's will, when no one stops them from satisfying their wishes and inclinations. For this dream of freedom, they engage in bloody battles and sacrifice life and limb. The children of God see freedom as something else. They want to be unhindered in following the Spirit of God; and they know that the greatest hindrances do not come from without, but lie within us ourselves. Human reason and will, which would like so much to be their own masters, are unaware of their susceptibility to be swayed by natural inclinations and so to be enslaved by them. There is no better way of being freed of this slavery and receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit than that of holy obedience. In the poem of Goethe most informed by the Christian spirit, he has his heroine say, "Obedient, my soul felt free indeed." Genuine obedience is not content merely to avoid manifestly overstepping the prescriptions of Rule and Constitutions or the precepts of the superiors. It actually determines to deny one's own will. Therefore, the obedient person studies the Rule and the Constitutions, not to ferret out how many so-called "freedoms" are still permitted, but to recognize more and more how many small sacrifices are available daily and hourly as opportunities to advance in self-denial. Such a one takes them on as an easy yoke and a light burden, because doing so deepens the conviction of being closely bound to the Lord who was obedient to death on the cross. To the children of this world such action probably appears as useless, senseless, and petty. The Savior, who for thirty years filled his daily work with such small sacrifices, will judge differently.

The vow of chastity intends to release human beings from all the bonds of natural common life, to fasten them to the cross high above all the bustle, and to free their hearts for union with the Crucified. This sacrifice, too, is not accomplished once and for all. Of course, one is cut off, externally, from occasions that can become temptations outside, but often much that distracts the spirit and the heart, robbing them of their freedom, cleaves to the memory and fantasy. Besides, there is also a danger that new ties establish themselves within the protective cloister walls and hinder full union with the Divine Heart. When we enter the Order, we again become members of a family. We are to see and respect, as head and members of the Mystical Body of Christ, our superiors and the other sisters. But we are human, and something all too human can easily become mingled with holy, childlike, and sisterly love. We believe we see Christ in the people we look up to and fail to notice that we attach ourselves to them humanly and are in danger of losing sight of Christ. But human attraction is not the only cloud on purity of heart. Too little love is a worse offense against the Divine Heart than too much. Every aversion, any anger and resentment that we tolerate in our hearts, closes the door to the Savior. Involuntary stirrings naturally arise through no fault of our own, but as soon as we become aware of them, we must relentlessly oppose them. Otherwise we resist God who is love and do the devil's work. The song sung by the virgins attending the Lamb is surely one of purest love.

The cross is again raised before us. It is the sign of contradiction. The Crucified looks down on us: "Are you also going to abandon me?" The day for the renewal of vows should always be one of serious self examination. Have we lived up to the promises made in our first fervor? Have we lived in a manner befitting brides of the Crucified, the Lamb that was slain? In the last few months one has often heard the complaint that the many prayers for peace are still without effect. What right have we to be heard? Our desire for peace is undoubtedly genuine and sincere. But does it come from a completely purified heart? Have we truly prayed "in the name of Jesus," i.e., not just with the name of Jesus on our lips, but with the spirit and in the mind of Jesus, for the glory of the Father alone, without any self-seeking? The day on which God has unrestricted power over our hearts we shall also have unrestricted power over his. If we ponder this, we will no longer dare to judge anyone else. But neither will we be discouraged if, after living in the Order for a long time, we must admit we are still bunglers and beginners. The fountain from the heart of the Lamb has not dried up. We can wash our robes clean in it even today as the thief on Golgotha once did. Trusting in the atoning power of this holy fountain, we prostrate ourselves before the throne of the Lamb and answer his question: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). Let us draw from the springs of salvation for ourselves and for the entire parched world. Give us the grace to speak the bride's words with a pure heart: Come! Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon!

III.4 EXALTATION OF THE CROSS September 14, 1941

In his Holy Rule, St. Benedict ordained that the fasts for religious begin with the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The long-extended Easter joy and the solemn feasts of summer culminating in the crowning of the Queen of Heaven could possibly cause the image of the Crucified to fade in us or to recede, as it remained hidden during the first centuries of Christianity. But when its time came, the cross appeared gleaming in the heavens, prompting the search for the buried and forgotten wood of humiliation that was to be recognized as the sign of salvation, the emblem of faith and the mark of the faithful. Every year, when the church again raises it before us, we are to recall the challenge of the Lord: Anyone who would follow me must take up his [or her] cross...! To take up one's cross means to go the way of penance and renunciation. For us religious, to follow the Savior means to allow ourselves to be fastened to the cross by the three nails of the holy vows. The Exaltation of the Cross and the renewal of vows belong together.

The Savior has preceded us on the way of poverty. All the goods in heaven and on earth belonged to him. They presented no danger to him; he could use them and yet keep his heart completely free of them. But he knew that it is scarcely possible for people to have possessions without succumbing to them and being enslaved by them. Therefore, he gave up everything and showed more by his example than by his counsel that only one who possesses nothing possesses everything. His birth in a stable, his flight to Egypt, already indicated that the Son of Man was to have no place to lay his head. Whoever follows him must know that we have no lasting dwelling here. The more deeply we feel this, the more zealous we are in striving for the future, and we rejoice at the thought that our citizenship is in heaven. Today it is good to reflect on the fact that poverty also includes the readiness to leave our beloved monastery itself. We have pledged ourselves to enclosure and do so anew when we renew our vows. But God did not pledge to leave us within the walls of the enclosure forever. He need not do so because he has other walls to protect us. This is similar to what he does in the sacraments. For us they are the prescribed means to grace, and we cannot receive them eagerly enough. But God is not bound to them. At the moment when some external force were to cut us off from receiving the sacraments, he could compensate us, superabundantly, in some other way; and he will do so all the more certainly and generously the more faithfully we have adhered to the sacraments previously. So it is also our holy duty to be as conscientious as possible in observing the precept of enclosure, to lead without hindrance a life hidden with Christ in God. If we are faithful and are then driven out into the street, the Lord will send his angels to encamp themselves around us, and their invisible pinions will enclose our souls more securely than the highest and strongest walls. We do not need to wish for this to happen. We may ask that the experience be spared us, but only with the solemn and honestly intended addition: Not mine, but your will be done! The vow of holy poverty is to be renewed without reservation.

Your will be done! This was the content of the Savior's life. He came into the world to fulfill the Father's will, not only to atone for the sin of disobedience through his obedience, but also to lead people back to their destiny by the way of obedience The created will is not destined to be free to exalt itself. It is called to come into unison with the divine will. If it freely submits itself to this unison, then it is permitted in freedom to participate in the perfection of creation. If a free creature declines this unison, it lapses into bondage. The human will continues to retain the possibility of choice, but it is constrained by creatures that pull and pressure it in directions straying from the development of the nature desired by God, and so away from the goal toward which it itself was directed by its original freedom. With the loss of this original freedom, it also loses security in making decisions. It becomes unsteady and wavering, buffeted by doubt and scruples or obdurate in its error. There is no other remedy for this than the following of Christ, the Son of Man, who not only promptly obeyed his heavenly Father, but also subjected himself to people who imposed the Father's will on him. The obedience enjoined by God releases the enslaved will from the bonds of creatures and leads it back to freedom. Thus, it is also the way to purity of heart.

No chains of slavery are stronger than those of passion. Under its burden body, soul and spirit lose their strength and health, their clarity and beauty. Just as it is scarcely possible for one impaired by original sin to own things without clinging to them, so there is also the danger that any natural affection may degenerate into passion with all of its devastating consequences. God has provided two remedies for this: marriage and virginity. Virginity is the more radical and precisely therefore probably the easier way. But this is surely not the deepest reason why Christ set us an example of it. Marriage is already a great mystery as the symbol of the bond between Christ and the church and at the same time as its instrument. But virginity is a still deeper mystery. It is not only the symbol and instrument of bridal union with Christ and of the union's supernatural fruitfulness, but also participates in the union. It originates in the depths of the divine life and leads back to it again. The eternal Father in unconditional love has given his entire being to his Son. And just as unconditionally does the Son give himself back to the Father. The passage of the God Man through temporal life could alter nothing of this complete surrender of Person to Person. He belongs to the Father from eternity to eternity and could not give himself away to any human being. He could only incorporate the persons who wanted to give themselves to him into the unity of his Incarnate Divine Person as members of his Mystical Body and in this way bring them to the Father. This is why he came into the world. This is the divine fertility of his eternal virginity: that he can give souls supernatural life. And the fruitfulness of the virgins who follow the Lamb consists in the ability to assume the divine life in unmitigated strength and undivided surrender and, in union with the divine Head, to pass it on to other souls, so awaking new members for the Head.

Divine virginity has a characteristic aversion to sin as the contrary of divine holiness. However, this aversion to sin gives rise to an the indomitable love for sinners. Christ has come to tear sinners away from sin and to restore the divine image in defiled souls. He comes as the child of sin his genealogy and the entire history of the Old Covenant show this and he seeks the company of sinners so as to take all the sins of the world upon himself and carry them away to the infamous wood of the cross, which thereby therefore becomes the sign of his victory. This is precisely why virginal souls do not repulse sinners. The strength of their supernatural purity knows no fear of being sullied. The love of Christ impels them to descend into the darkest night. And no earthly maternal joy resembles the bliss of a soul permitted to enkindle the light of grace in the night of sins. The way to this is the cross. Beneath the cross the Virgin of virgins becomes the Mother of Grace.

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