Thursday, November 27, 2014

The First Thanksgiving - the Eucharist

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Today is a day when we set aside time for family and friends and give thanks for the bounty and blessings bestowed upon this country and within our own lives. As Catholics, it is a day when our hearts can swell with joy for the gifts of Our Lord that we have received, and continue to partake in each and every time we receive Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, which itself means 'thanksgiving'. 

Indeed, it can be argued that the Last Supper was the first formal Thanksgiving in which Christ Jesus offered the perfect thanks to His Heavenly Father and ours, 

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke itand gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.24 “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” [Mark 14:22-26]
Today is the day when Our Lord Jesus wishes to establish His Kingdom within our hearts and souls, through the graces He imparts to us by His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, as found in the thanksgiving meal par excellence, the Eucharistic Feast. So today as we enjoy the delicious food and company of loved ones or even experience some disappointment or strain in the company and meal we share with others today, let us remember first and foremost that our hearts are to be cells of perpetual praise and thanksgiving, and our Eucharistic King makes this all possible. With him, we can "Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his Name is exalted. [Is 12:4] 

May a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving permeate our minds, souls, hearts, and words at each and every moment as we celebrate this and every day as a supreme gift given to us by God through the strength bestowed on us in and through the Holy Eucharist. Amen

Altar Prepared for the Feast of Corpus Christi detail from an Antiphonary one of the six “Lodi Choir Books” 580x388 The central role of the Eucharist in the Middle Ages is explored in exhibition at the Morgan

Altar Prepared for the Feast of Corpus Christi, detail from an Antiphonary (one of the six “Lodi Choir Books”), in Latin, Italy, Milan, ca. 1470–95. Commissioned for Lodi Cathedral by Bishop Carlo Pallavicino and illuminated by Francesco Bettini and others. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; MS M.682, fol. 19v. Purchased, before 1921. Photography: Graham S. Haber.

"It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that He comes down each day from Heaven, but to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our soul in which He takes delight.  You must open a little, or rather raise on high your corolla so that the Bread of Angels may come as divine dew to strengthen you, and to give you all that is wanting to you."
- St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Something about those Shoes...

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

There is something about shoes [or lack thereof] and the Carmelite order.  I mean we are called the 'Discalced' Carmelites, which identifies us as shoe-less. Although not exactly walking barefoot, the name given by St. Teresa was intended to denote reform, simplicity and a spirit of material and spiritual poverty and humility. 

A few days ago my 14 year old daughter Mirabelle was reminding me of a very humorous shoe story that transpired in a hoity-toity  boutique in St. Helena, which is a lovely part of Napa Valley. My kids and I were meandering along the main street in this picturesque town as the sun was setting, with its overpriced wines, restaurants, shops, and accommodations when we stumbled upon one lone clothing boutique that was still open for business. Like most young teenagers, my daughter loves to look at high fashion and shoes, and play a more grown-up version of dress-up. The shop was empty, until a sales associate came out from the back to acknowledge our presence, He looked to be taking care of inventory, and not too terribly happy to be there on this slow evening when all the other shops were closed. We told him we would just have a quick look around. Mirabelle spied a pair of very high and outrageous platform shoes that she just had to try on. These $2,000 pair of shoes were designed with a thick platform in front , with multiple straps and a zipper in back hugging her slim and long feet. I was dismayed, but allowed her to have her fun in these 'crazy' heels. After struggling to keep her balance as she walked around, she decided it was time to take them off. 

That is when the real fun began. For not only could Mirabelle not get the shoes off no matter how hard she tried, but neither could my 16 year-old son and I wrestle these ankle boots off of her feet! We had her lie down, sit down, tried various angles, pulled and got an amazing workout while wrestling with this pair of leather shoes. After about 15 minutes and no one in sight from the back of the store, I thought, 'Oh my goodness...I am going to have to pay for these ridiculous shoes and they are going to be stuck on MIra's feet forever!'  I saw visions of embarrassing social gatherings with my daughter in these heels dancing in my head! My imagination really took over!

After a while the sales associate noticed our violent struggle with these shoes, and I mentioned that we might need some help. [i.e. surgery?] He told me he would go get the owner of the store. He came out and exclaimed what luck it would be if Mirabelle got to wear this fabulous pair of shoes for the rest of her life. Well, that was certainly one way of looking at it, I thought, while nervously laughing inside... He went over to her, got the zipper in a certain position, and slowly pulled the zipper down the shoe, taking it off of her feet. It was completely effortless. I mean we were sweating from trying to get this seemingly permanent shoe off of Mira's foot, and here he came and voila. It was done in an instant.

I was thinking about how apropos this is in the spiritual life, most especially as regards the long corridors of life that seem filled with spiritual blockades, darkness, aridity, and other problems of our journeys in general.  We can struggle and try every conceivable means of removing a particular sin, blockage, or darkness and find that it continues to cling to us seemingly regardless of what we try to do to outwit ourselves, the problem, and/or God. During these times, we are reminded of our littleness and that of our own efforts and power we can do little to change these insurmountable tasks, character defects, and life challenges. It is indeed only by God's grace that we find the strength to overcome issues and problems that may seem to be almost ontological - like it is etched in our beings or our lives. Grace is precisely that, 
Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.   [CCC #2023]
Such sanctifying grace can be instantaneous or it can be a slow process over the course of time. It is whatever He wants and intends, and whatever is best for our spiritual progress. Saint Thérèse takes it a step further and tells us that, 'Everything is grace.' Well, indeed. If we are walking on our journey with God and amenable to whatever He sends us, then there is a certain joy and peace that comes from it, no matter how 'stuck' we may be in a particular pattern, sickness, spiritual desert, or family impasse.  

I think that the trick is to keep those Carmelite sandals of humility and simplicity on at all times. I find that when I take them off and trade them in for another fancy, sparkling shoe with lots of bling, I tend to get into trouble.  I am still trying to wear my Carmelite shoes on a permanent basis, without taking them off. Sometimes I find myself looking for and even trying on the ruby slippers of Dorothy as a short cut to take me 'home' to the place of my disordered desires.  In my heart, I know that the only permanent home each of us has is our eternal home in heaven with The Holy Trinity, and the communion of angels and saints. May I find myself empty-handed, and discalced before Our Lord on the day of my departure from this earth, having worn the sandals of littleness and humility. Amen.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Carmelite Virtual Choir Unites the Souls of all the Faithful

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Yesterday I wrote about experiencing God in beautiful music, and how such sacred music can unite our souls with the Blessed Trinity.  Without a doubt, such music moves individual souls and lives towards Our Creator as we recognize its beauty as a reflection of Him. It should be added that there is a communal dimension to sacred music as well. This is almost unspoken and perhaps a given as such music is enjoyed by all attending Holy Mass, as an integral part of the liturgy. Truly, such heavenly sounds can draw entire congregations to higher levels of contemplation, to heavenly truths, and ultimately to God. And in these shared experiences we realize that we are all linked as brothers and sisters in the Mystical Body of Christ.  

Such is the end result of a beautiful virtual choir that was formed with various Discalced Carmelite communities comprised of sisters from all over the globe.  A recent article reports that, 

Ninety-three Discalced Carmelite nuns in 24 countries have reached out of their cloistered monasteries to sing together in a virtual choir honoring St. Teresa of Avila on the 500th anniversary of her birth. This union of voices came together through the musical vision of a Carmelite Sister in Reno, Nev., and the creative imagination of a technical wizard in the Midwest.  The result is two 6-minute videos of the sisters singing on a virtual stage, created by Kansas native Scott Haines. In one video they sing Teresa’s famous words “Nada Te Turbe” (“Let Nothing Disturb You”) in an original composition by Sr. Claire Sokol of the Carmelites of Reno. In the other, some of their Carmelite friars and Secular Carmelites join them in the 11th century “Salve Regina” chant with an added descant written by Sokol.The music is hauntingly beautiful, but it is the moving collage of the Carmelites’ faces as they sing that lifts the sound to greater heights. “It took me to places within myself I didn’t know existed,” said one Carmelite after viewing “Nada Te Turbe” during its premiere in San Jose, Calif. on Aug. 22 as part of the 500th anniversary celebration by Carmelites of the western U.S. “There are no words to describe how I feel,” said another.[See}

St. Teresa would undoubtedly approve of such expressions of love and prayer, as she herself enjoyed music greatly and introduced song into her foundation's required times of recreation, although she continually struggled with learning how to sing for choir and the liturgy! Even more of a reason for her to truly admire her daughters who now exhibit such musical talent!  I am confident that she is interceding for all of us in heaven, and smiling as she sings her praises before the throne of God with all the choirs of angels and saints in heaven, and periodically shakes her tambourine.   

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sacred Music- Helping Create Carmel in our Souls

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

I finally took the plunge, and did it. I decided to become a member of our parish choir, after several years of talking about it, and admiring the beautiful melodies that have lifted my soul to God in the pews Sunday after Sunday.  Practicing these pieces of music and preparing to sing on Sunday has brought new light to the meaning of holy and sacred music to me. Although a neophyte and in need of plenty more practice, music theory/education, and strengthening of my voice, I feel blessed to be participating in something that creates more beauty within the soul, and praises God without barriers. It was Johann Sebastian Bach himself who said, Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”  

When I sing, I feel free and my soul rejoices in expressing itself with such intensity of emotion and heartfelt love. I feel transparent and vulnerable. We are told by the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, that, "Bis orat qui bene cantat" or the oft-stated,  "One Who sings well prays twice." St. Thomas Aquinas tells us in Summa Theologica that, "Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound."  

Indeed. St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians that when they come together to worship, "Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs."[Eph. 5. 18ff] It is easy to recognize the hand print of God in the advent of  sacred music, the most obvious of which is Gregorian Chant, so named after the Pope St. Gregory the Great, "during whose papacy (590–604) it was collected and codified.Charlemagne, king of the Franks (768–814), imposed Gregorian chant on his kingdom, where another liturgical tradition—the Gallican chant—was in common use. During the 8th and 9th centuries, a process of assimilation took place between Gallican and Gregorian chants; and it is the chant in this evolved form that has come down to the present." [Encyclopedia Brittanica]
chant blog 2.28.14

Gregorian Chant is also called the "sung Bible' and seeks to plunge us more deeply into spiritual realities beyond the everyday, to promote spiritual intimacy with God, and reveal His gifts and love for each individual and the Church as a whole.  Now don't get me wrong. We are not singing Gregorian Chant as a choir for every song, but there is an element of it at each Mass, along with other forms of more recently written sacred music. As I have begun to participate more formally in this part of the liturgy, it has caused me to reflect on the role of music in my life and those of the saints. 

When I was very ill a few years ago, I found that a major part of my healing process entailed classical music and chant. It would not only calm and soothe me, but it would order my thoughts. I suffered from severe brain fog and confusion, and when I listened to such music I could feel it realigning my brain synapses and neurons. I would become more clear. Because such music is metered, it is structured and helps the body to get into a peaceful rhythm. There have been many studies on this, but I have experienced it very directly in my own life.  A famous study involving chant was carried out by French Physician, Alfred Tomatis, who was a specialist in the function of the human ear. He was called to conduct an experiment with a Benedictine monastery where the monks were suffering from fatigue and depression. Tomatis discovered that a new decree had halted the usual six to eight hours of chanting the monks had previously observed and, within a short time, the monks were unable to perform their duties. When Tomatis suggested re-instituting their daily chanting, the monks recovered quickly and were able to resume their demanding schedule of work and prayers. Tomatis concluded that chanting actually affects the bones of a human being, stimulated at about 2000 Hz. The sounds of chanting, he concluded, are produced literally from the bones, not the mouth.

The Church celebrated the Feast Day of one of my favorite Carmelite [soon-to-be] saints, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity just last week on November 8th.  At a young age, Elizabeth was an accomplished pianist, renowned in France for her talent. She attended the Conservatory of Dijon from the age of eight, and spent hours every day practicing at the piano.  As she matured and sought God, she translated these beautiful, melodious sounds from the piano into the chambers of her heart, the very strings of her soul.  She recognized that music creates true beauty outwardly thus bringing the soul to communion with the Holy Trinity, and simultaneously can create an even more beautiful inner symphony when the soul sings for God in an unrestrained hymn of thanksgiving and praise.

“A praise of Glory is a soul of silence that remains like a lyre under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit so that He may draw from it divine harmonies; it knows that suffering is a string that produces still more beautiful sounds; so it loves to see this string on its instrument that it may more delightfully move the heart of God…”
-Elizabeth of the Trinity

On November 22nd, the Church will celebrate its patron of music, St. Cecilia.  St. Cecilia was said to have sung a song to Our Lord, while she was at her wedding. St. Therese wrote to her                                                                               sister CÉLINE, October 20, 1893, 

"I cannot think without delight of that sweet saint, Cecilia. What an example she gives us! In the midst of a pagan world, in the very heart of danger, at the moment when she was to be united to a man whose love was so utterly of earth, it seems to me as if she should have wept and trembled with fear. But instead, “during the music of the marriage-feast Cecilia kept singing in her heart.36 What perfect resignation! No doubt she heard other melodies than those of this world; her Divine Spouse too was singing, and the Angels repeated in chorus the refrain of Bethlehem’s blessed night; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill.”37

The Glory of God! St. Cecilia understood it well, and longed for it with all her heart.  She guessed that her Jesus was thirsting for souls … and that is why her whole desire was to bring to Him quickly the soul of the young Roman, whose only thought was of human glory.This wise Virgin will make of him a Martyr, and multitudes will follow in his footsteps. She knows no fear: the Angels in their song made promise of peace. She knows that the Prince of Peace is bound to protect her, to guard her virginity, and to make her recompense…. “Oh, how beautiful is the chaste generation!’ 38 [see] 

So touched was St. Therese by St. Cecilia's inner symphony to Our Lord, that she honored her with a poem entitled the Melody of St. Cecilia.


My point is that the beauty of sacred music not only transforms hearts, souls, and lives by listening to its outward resonance with the senses, but can be further enveloped into one's very being interiorly as a prayer, to become a praise of glory to Our Lord, as Bl. Elizabeth was fond of saying.  In the same letter to her sister as referenced above, St. Therese revealed her desire for her sister to surrender to the Divine Maestro of our lives, our beloved Jesus. She recognized that if we make a dwelling place of lyrical hymns in our hearts, He will do the rest. 

MY DEAR SISTER, - I find in the Canticle of Canticles this passage which may be fitly
applied to you: “What dost thou see in they beloved but a band of musicians in an armed camp?”35 Through suffering, your life has in truth become a battle-field, and there must be a band of musicians, so you shall be the little harp of Jesus. But no concert is complete without singing, and if Jesus plays, must not Céline make melody with her voice? When the music is plaintive, she will sing the songs of exile; when the music is gay, she will lilt the airs of her Heavenly Home….
Whatever may happen, all earthly events, be they happy or sad, will be but distant
sounds, unable to awake a vibration from the harp of Jesus. He reserves to Himself alone the right of lightly touching its strings.

And so, as the Psalmist encourages us, 
1] Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: let his praise be in the church of the saints. [2] Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: and let the children of Sion be joyful in their king. [3] Let them praise his name in choir: let them sing to him with the timbrel and the psaltery. [4] For the Lord is well pleased with his people: and he will exalt the meek unto salvation. [5] The saints shall rejoice in glory: they shall be joyful in their beds. [Psalm 149]

Such outward singing will delight Our Lord, but even more will help establish an interior place of refuge where we sing with our hearts, minds, and souls for love of Our Lord.  Such songs will make our souls beautiful, as a garden of Carmel. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why the Holy Souls in Purgatory Need our Prayers

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Many thanks to a dear friend who sent this to explain purgatory according to St. John of the Cross. As Carmelites, let us meditate upon this and let it sink deeply within. Let us pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory every day and offer Masses. And let us embrace any darkness of spirit or the senses that Our Lord sends our way in order that our time in purgatory may be shortened. Amen.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel with angels and souls in Purgatory. Baroque sculpture from BeniajanSpain

Why do the souls in purgatory suffer so? 

An answer from St. John of the Cross

The month of November is dedicated to the poor souls in purgatory. These holy souls are assured of their salvation and enjoy the possession of the three theological virtues, and yet they suffer greatly. Indeed, excepting only the pains of hell, there is no suffering which can compare with that which the souls endure in the purifying fires of purgatory.
The one consolation of purgatory would be the fact that it is only temporal and not eternal suffering which must be endured. Indeed, every soul in purgatory will eventually enjoy the beatitude of heaven. However, the souls which languish there are not consoled by this thought, for it seems to them that their purgation will go on forever. While they do truly possess the theological virtue of hope (and so are certain of their salvation), yet they are overcome by the thought that their current sufferings will go on forever and that God has abandoned them.
This is the teaching of the mystical doctor, St. John of the Cross. His experience of the dark night of the soul gave him light in this point.

Dark Night of the Soul, book II, chapter 7
Speaking of the sufferings which those who on earth suffer the dark night of the soul must endure in order that they be purged from every evil impulse and desire, St. John of the Cross compares this to the sufferings of purgatory. Indeed, the dark night of the soul is a veritable purgatory on earth, just as the unitive way is a quasi-heaven in the soul even while she remains upon earth.
“This is the reason why those who lie in purgatory suffer great misgivings as to whether they will ever go forth from it and whether their pains will ever be over. For, although they have the habit of the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—the present realization which they have of their afflictions and of their deprivation of God allows them not to enjoy the present blessing and consolation of these virtues.
“For, although they are able to realize that they have a great love for God, this is no consolation to them, since they cannot think that God loves them or that they are worthy that He should do so; rather, as they see that they are deprived of Him, and left in their own miseries, they think that there is that in themselves which provides a very good reason why they should with perfect justice be abhorred and cast out by God for ever.
“And thus although the soul in this purgation is conscious that it has a great love for God and would give a thousand lives for Him (which is the truth, for in these trials such souls love their God very earnestly), yet this is no relief to it, but rather brings it greater affliction. For it loves Him so much that it cares about naught beside; when, therefore, it sees itself to be so wretched that it cannot believe that God loves it, nor that there is or will ever be reason why He should do so, but rather that there is reason why it should be abhorred, not only by Him, but by all creatures for ever, it is grieved to see in itself reasons for deserving to be cast out by Him for Whom it has such great love and desire.”
How greatly do the poor souls need our prayers! They cannot help themselves and they know not how long they must yet suffer. As we come to the end of the month of November, we would do well to gain a plenary indulgence for their succor through visiting a cemetery and offering prayers in their behalf.
Eternal rest grant them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in
Peace. Amen.

Eternal Lives of Saints Fruitful on Earth and in Heaven

JMJT! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever!

Yesterday we reflected on the Communion of Saints! What a joy and inspiration for all of us to reflect on the virtues and heroic prayers and deeds that were exercised and done by those who have gone before us.  So often our focus is on the lives of the saints, and with good reason. They provide us with a road map as to how to reach sanctity in this life, and follow Jesus through the narrow gate. They serve as examplars of how to live our state in life with holiness and intimacy with God regardless of our particular calling or circumstances. From monks, priests and religious, to mothers and fathers, wives & husbands, royalty and impoverished, young or old, male or female, Asian, African, Hispanic, European or American the lives of the saints show us that in God's economy all of His children are special and the soul can ascend to Him regardless of one's station in life.  Reading the lives of the saints is a recommended habit of souls who are seeking to increase in holiness and improve their prayer lives. I would suggest that it is also important to recognize the incredible role that saints play in our lives after their earthly life has ceased and they enter into their heavenly reward.

Several saints have promised that when they get to heaven, their new missions will begin for their brothers and sisters still on earth. St. Therese is remembered as promising her sisters as she lay dying that, " After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth. I will raise up a mighty host of little saints. My mission is to make God loved. Similarly, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity [soon to be saint!] prophesied of her own mission as follows, "I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself." 

At the risk of sounding insensitive or too casual about death and its finality, I was struck by how fruitful death can be recently while traveling in Redwood country in Northern California. As my teenage children and I stood beneath the incredible breadth of these towering trees of such majestic beauty, I was awed and amazed at how many levels of life and ecosystems were a part of each individual tree. When we came to an enormous downed tree that had fallen and died due to flooding, I stunned to read the following explanation of  the Dyerville Giant that went down on March 24, 1991. "Unless fire consumes it, the Dyerville Giant will continue to lie here on the forest floor for many hundreds of years, fulfilling an important role in the healthy life of an ancient forest. As the decay process gains a hold on the Giant, it will become the host, home, and food source to over 4000 kinds of plans and animals that will live on or in it." More life abounds near these giants when they are decaying after death, than when they are alive and seemingly towering in strength above all else in the forest. Whereas there are over 1700 species of plants and animals the depend on a tree during its lifespan, more than three times that amount of living organisms will flourish on a downed and decaying tree. 

St. Therese was an unknown and hidden soul during her lifetime, but God brought her to light after her death.  Her example and autobiography A Story of A Soul have possibly converted and influenced more souls than any other book of the past century! Her fecundity as a saint after death cannot be denied, as her influence has continued to multiply and foster and nourish greater devotion and desire to love and serve the Lord.  This is the precise promise of the Resurrection - that death does not have the last word and that our eternal souls will have special missions in the Heavenly Kingdom, just as we did on earth.   

That is why our celebration of All Saints and All Souls brings to our attention the core purpose of our lives front and center. It is to live life to become a praise of Glory for God as Bl. Elizabeth proposes, and to continue our mission from life into death. This means listening and assenting to the little details, in order that our gardens of Carmel can become beautified and fruitful here, and multiply in its fertility for God in the hereafter.