Quote of the day: 21 February

What I tried to explain in the previous chaptersalthough I digressed a great deal in speaking of other things since mentioning them seemed to me very necessarywas the work we can do through our own efforts and how in obtaining this initial devotion we can help ourselves in some way.

For in thinking about and carefully examining what the Lord suffered for us, we are moved to compassion; and this sorrow and the resulting tears bring delight. In thinking about the glory we hope for, the love the Lord bore us, and His resurrection, we are moved to a joy that is neither entirely spiritual nor entirely of the senses.

But the joy is virtuous and the sorrow very meritorious. Virtue and merit are found in all the things that cause the devotion acquired partly by the intellect, even though this devotion could not be merited or obtained if God did not give it.

The soul can place itself in the presence of Christ and grow accustomed to being inflamed with love for His sacred humanity. It can keep Him ever-present and speak with Him, asking for its needs and complaining of its labors, being glad with Him in its enjoyments and not forgetting Him because of them, trying to speak to Him, not through written prayers but with words that conform to its desires and needs.

This is an excellent way of making progress and in a very short time. I consider that soul advanced who strives to remain in this precious company and to profit very much by it, and who truly comes to love this Lord to whom we owe so much.

As a result, we shouldn’t care at all about not having devotionas I have saidbut we ought to thank the Lord who allows us to be desirous of pleasing Him, even though our works may be weak.

This method of keeping Christ present with us is beneficial in all stages and is a very safe means of advancing in the first degree of prayer, of reaching in a short time the second degree, and of walking secure against the dangers the devil can set up in the last degrees.

Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do.

Saint Teresa of Avila

The Book of Her Life
Chapter 12

cristian-newman-63291-unsplash
Cristian Newman / Unsplash
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, 
ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Quote of the day: 12 February

As St. Paul says: love is patient, it triumphs over all difficulties, and it suffers everything for the sake of the beloved. Therefore we cannot doubt Brother Lawrence’s patience in his infirmities, he who loved God so perfectly. In fact, in keeping with the thought of the same apostle, patience has this fine rapport with love… we will see that he practiced these two virtues during the [three] very painful illnesses with which it pleased God to afflict him.

In the first case, he gave evidence of a desire for death, for when speaking with the physician after his fever went down, he told him, “Ah, Doctor, your remedies have worked too well for me, you only delay my happiness!”

In the second, he seemed to have no preference whatsoever. He remained completely indifferent regarding life and death, perfectly resigned to God’s orders.

I can testify that he gave signs of altogether extraordinary constancy, resignation, and joy during the third illness, the one that separated his soul from his body, uniting it with his Beloved in heaven. He received much consolation from this blessed moment when it finally arrived, because he had longed for it for so long. 

The sight of death that frightens and dismays the most hardy did not intimidate him at all. He regarded it with complete confidence, and you could even say he defied it. When he saw the poor bed prepared for him, having overheard one of his friends say, “It’s for you, Brother Lawrence. It’s time to depart,” he replied, “It is true. There is my deathbed, but someone who does not expect it at all will follow me immediately.”

This is exactly what happened, just as he had predicted. Although this friar [Frère Philibert des Anges, a fellow lay brother] was in perfect health, he became ill the next day and died the same day Brother Lawrence was buried, and the following Wednesday he was buried in the same grave. It seems that love united these two fine brothers in life and did not want them separated at death, for there was no other place [for burial] but the common grave.

Father Joseph de Beaufort

Eulogy

 


Father Beaufort leaves us this simple record of the death of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection: Monday, February 12, 1691, at nine o’clock in the morning, fully conscious, without agony or convulsions, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection died in the embrace of the Lord and offered his soul to God with the peace and tranquility of one asleep.

 

lily jez-timms-Z0AZuN4pjGE-unsplash
Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

 

You can explore our blog posts by and about Brother Lawrence here.

 

 

Lawrence of the Resurrection, B 2015, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God, translated from the French by Sciurba, S, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Quote of the day: 16 January

Several days ago during a discussion with a pious person, I was told the spiritual life was a life of grace that begins with servile fear, that intensifies with the hope of eternal life, and that finds its consummation in pure love; and that there are various ways of ultimately arriving at this blessed consummation. I haven’t followed these methods at all…

During the first years, I ordinarily thought about death, judgment, hell, paradise, and my sins when I prayed. I continued in this fashion for a few years, carefully applying myself the rest of the day—even during my work—to the practice of the presence of God who was always near me, often in the very depths of my heart. This gave me a great reverence for God, and in this matter faith alone was my reassurance. I gradually did the same thing during mental prayer, and this gave me great joy and consolation. This is how I began. I will admit that during the first ten years I suffered a great deal. The apprehension that I did not belong to God as I wished, my past sins always before my eyes, and the lavish graces God gave me, were the sum and substance of all my woes. During this period I fell often, but I got back up just as quickly…

When I accepted the fact that I might spend my life suffering from these troubles and anxieties—which in no way diminished the trust I had in God and served only to increase my faith—I found myself changed all at once. And my soul, until that time always in turmoil, experienced a deep inner peace as if it had found its center and place of rest. Since that time I do my work in simple faith before God, humbly and lovingly, and I carefully apply myself to avoid doing, saying, or thinking anything that might displease him. I hope that having done all that I can, he will do with me as he pleases.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

Letter 2: To a spiritual director (excerpts)

 

Carmelite friar praying the breviary at Lourdes LawrenceOP Flickr 3862034328
A Carmelite friar prays on the banks of the gave de Pau in Lourdes, France | paullew / Flickr

 

 

Lawrence of the Resurrection, B 2015, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God, translated from the French by Sciurba, S, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

St. John of the Cross Novena — Day 6

Whoever flees prayer flees all that is good.

Sayings of Light and Love, 169

 

SCRIPTURE

When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
they, my opponents, my enemies,
are the ones who stumble and fall.

When evil men advance against me
to devour my flesh,
they, my opponents, my enemies,
are the ones who stumble and fall.

Though an army pitched camp against me,
my heart would not fear;
though war were waged against me,
my trust would still be firm.

One thing I ask of Yahweh,
one thing I seek:
to live in the house of Yahweh
all the days of my life,
to enjoy the sweetness of Yahweh
and to consult him in his Temple.

For he shelters me under his awning
in times of trouble;
he hides me deep in his tent,
sets me high on a rock.

And now my head is held high
over the enemies who surround me,
in his tent I will offer
exultant sacrifice.

I will sing, I will play for Yahweh!

Yahweh, hear my voice as I cry!
Pity me! Answer me!
My heart has said of you,
“Seek his face.”
Yahweh, I do seek your face;
do not hide your face from me.

Do not repulse your servant in anger;
you are my help.
Never leave me, never desert me,
God, my savior!
If my father and mother desert me,
Yahweh will care for me still.

Yahweh, teach me your way,
lead me in the path of integrity
because of my enemies;
do not abandon me to the will of my foes
false witnesses have risen against me,
and breathe out violence.

This I believe: I shall see the goodness of Yahweh,
in the land of the living.
Put your hope in Yahweh, be strong, let your heart be bold,
put your hope in Yahweh.

Psalm 27

 

MEDITATION

Let’s have a virtual show of hands: who among us has had an experience where God seemed to be hiding or even absent when we pray? Who among us has ever prayed, “God, where are you?” Has anyone ever said, “prayer isn’t working for me, God doesn’t care about me, I give up”? Has anyone ever experienced dryness in prayer, where you can’t feel anything anymore? Or, has someone ever discovered one day that they drifted away from the fervor of the practice of prayer they once had?

If you answered, “yes” to any one or more of these questions, you are in good company. All of us experience difficulties in prayer. In yesterday’s fifth novena meditation, we read one of St. Teresa’s accounts where she experienced difficulties in prayer; she was going through a moment of tribulation and the practice of prayer that usually brought her encouragement and comfort simply didn’t work.

Growing in friendship with God is a lifelong journey along the way of perfection. There will be many moments when we will stumble and fall. Ask any old friend of God and they will testify to this age-old fact of the spiritual life. The most important lesson that those who travel the way of perfection (or the Little Way of St. Thérèse) must learn is that it’s not a matter of how frequently or infrequently we fall, it’s how quickly we get up again and keep moving along the way. Saint Teresa herself says in the Interior Castle’s Second Mansion (IC II), “if you should at times fall don’t become discouraged and stop striving to advance. For even from this fall God will draw out good.” (IC II:9)

“Don’t become discouraged” is advice we read and hear often in Carmelite spirituality. Here’s what St. Elizabeth of the Trinity said to her younger sister a few months before Elizabeth died:

Darling little sister, you must cross out the word “discouragement” from your dictionary of love; the more you feel your weakness, your difficulty in recollecting yourself, and the more hidden the Master seems, the more you must rejoice, for then you are giving to Him, and, when one loves, isn’t it better to give than to receive? God said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9), and the great saint understood this so well that he cried out: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). What does it matter what we feel; He, He is the Unchanging One, He who never changes: He loves you today as He loved you yesterday and will love you tomorrow. (Letter 298)

St. Teresa was more blunt when writing about those facing discouragement in prayer, especially beginners in prayer:

Ah, my Lord! Your help is necessary here; without it one can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). In Your mercy do not consent to allow this soul to suffer deception and give up what was begun. (IC II:6)

It will seem to you that you are truly determined to undergo exterior trials, provided that God favors you interiorly. His Majesty knows best what is suitable for us. There’s no need for us to be advising Him about what He should give us, for He can rightly tell us that we don’t know what we’re asking for (cf. Mt 20:22). The whole aim of any person who is beginning prayer—and don’t forget this, because it’s very, very important—should be that he work and prepare himself with determination and every possible effort to bring his will into conformity with God’s will. (IC II:8)

We can have all the determination in the world to be devout, faithful, and persistent in our prayer, but our own devotion, fidelity, and persistence alone are not sufficient. We need the Lord’s guidance. Here, St. Teresa refers to acquiring spiritual directors, but her point is more valid than ever: 

Provided that we don’t give up, the Lord will guide everything for our benefit, even though we may not find someone to teach us. There is no other remedy for this evil of giving up prayer than to begin again; otherwise the soul will gradually lose more each day—and please God that it will understand this fact. (IC II:10)

“Provided that we don’t give up,” Teresa writes. “Whoever flees prayer,” St. John of the Cross echoes, “flees all that is good.”

What is this “all that is good” to which John refers?

This time, we will let him answer the question, by sharing an excerpt from his 8 July 1589 letter to Madre Leonor de San Gabriel in Córdoba. A companion of St. Teresa in founding the monasteries of Beas and Sevilla, Mother Leonor was feeling alone in Córdoba without the companionship of Teresa and the sisters she knew and loved the best. St. John of the Cross wrote a letter to encourage her in her new mission as prioress:

Jesus be in your soul, my daughter in Christ.

Thank you for your letter. And I thank God for having desired to use you in this foundation, since His Majesty has done this in order to bring you greater profit. The more he wants to give, the more he makes us desire—even to the point of leaving us empty in order to fill us with goods. You will be repaid for the goods (the love of your sisters) that you leave behind in Sevilla. Since the immense blessings of God can only enter and fit into an empty and solitary heart, the Lord wants you to be alone. For he truly loves you with the desire of being himself all your company. And Your Reverence will have to strive carefully to be content only with his companionship, so you might discover in it every happiness. Even though the soul may be in heaven, it will not be happy if it does not conform its will to this. And we will be unhappy with God, even though he is always present with us, if our heart is not alone, but attached to something else. (Letter 15)

“He loves you today as He loved you yesterday and will love you tomorrow,” St. Elizabeth wrote, echoing the sentiments of St. John of the Cross. But if God is “always present with us”, how can we become present to God, so that our hearts are alone and not “attached to something else”? 

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection tells us what he did:

Thus, after offering myself entirely to God in atonement for my sins, I renounced for the sake of his love everything other than God, and I began to live as if only he and I existed in the world. Sometimes I considered myself before him as a miserable criminal at his judge’s feet, and at other times I regarded him in my heart as my Father, as my God. I adored him there as often as I could, keeping my mind in his holy presence and recalling him as many times as I was distracted. I had some trouble doing this exercise, but continued in spite of all the difficulties I encountered, without getting disturbed or anxious when I was involuntarily distracted. I was as faithful to this practice during my activities as I was during my periods of mental prayer, for at every moment, all the time, in the most intense periods of my work I banished and rid from my mind everything that was capable of taking the thought of God away from me. (Letter 12)

 

NOVENA PRAYER

O St. John of the Cross
You were endowed by our Lord with the spirit of self-denial
and a love of the cross.
Obtain for us the grace to follow your example
that we may come to the eternal vision of the glory of God.

O Saint of Christ’s redeeming cross
the road of life is dark and long.
Teach us always to be resigned to God’s holy will
in all the circumstances of our lives
and grant us the special favor
which we now ask of you:

mention your request.

Above all, obtain for us the grace of final perseverance,
a holy and happy death and everlasting life with you
and all the saints in heaven.
Amen.

 

Arrest of John of the Cross Carmel de Pontoise Palissy POP 95W00981
The Arrest of St John of the Cross
18th c. French
Oil on canvas, 1772 or 1777
Carmel of Pontoise
© Ministère de la Culture (France), Médiathèque de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Diffusion RMN-GP. Used by permission.

 

 

All Scripture references in this novena are found on the Bible Gateway website, with the exception of texts drawn from the 1968 Reader’s Edition of the Jerusalem BibleSelections from the psalter appear in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The novena prayer was composed from approved sources by Professor Michael Ogunu, a member of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order in Nigeria.

All of the citations from the Sayings of Light and Love are drawn from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition (1991), translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

Elizabeth of the Trinity, S 2003, The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity volume 2: Letters from Carmel, translated from the French by Nash, A, ICS Publications, Washington DC

 

Lawrence of the Resurrection, B 2015, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God, translated from the French by Sciurba, S, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

Quote of the day: 16 September

We must continually apply ourselves so that all our actions, without exception, become a kind of brief conversation with God, not in a contrived manner but coming from the purity and simplicity of our hearts.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Spiritual Maxims, 7

 

woman sitting fallen tree trunk in front of a waterfalls
Photo by Stevanus Praska on Pexels.com

 

 

Lawrence of the Resurrection, B 2015, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God, translated from the French by Sciurba, S, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Quote of the day: 1 August

We must carefully examine which virtues are the most essential, which are the most difficult to acquire, which sins we commit most often, and which are the most frequent and inevitable of our falls.

We must have recourse to God with complete confidence at the moment of combat, remain firm in the presence of his divine majesty, adore him humbly, bring him our miseries and weaknesses, and lovingly ask for the help of his grace.

In this way, we will find every virtue in him without our having any of our own.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Practices Necessary to Attain the Spiritual Life, No. 11
The Practice of the Presence of God

 

End of the day Now I lay me - stereograph - Boston Public Library - Flickr
‘Now I lay me’ – At the End of Day
Color photomechanical print on stereo card, ca. 1850-1920
Boston Public Library / Flickr

 

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God.
(Practices Necessary to Attain the Spiritual Life, p. 39; Chapter 2)
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC

Quote of the day: 19 July

We must continually apply ourselves so that all our actions, without exception, become a kind of brief conversation with God, not in a contrived manner but coming from the simplicity and purity of our hearts.

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, O.C.D.
Spiritual Maxims

 

Caille, Leon Emile, 1836-1907; Prayer
Prayer
Léon Émile Caille (French, 1836–1907)
Oil on panel, 1872
Manchester Art Gallery, England
This is a traditional domestic scene of a mother and daughter sitting together in a kitchen. The mother is seated at a stove with a bowl placed in her lap; she has a red-patterned shawl and plain apron around her; the child is dressed in a pinafore and kneels beside her mother, leaning on her lap in a position of prayer. The mother looks down towards her child. There is a bronze kettle at their feet and cooking equipment everywhere in the surrounding stone kitchen.

 

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God.
(Spiritual Maxims, p. 38; Chapter 2)
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC

Marie du jour: 3 May

From the beginning of his novitiate he applied himself to the exercises of religious life with great fervor. He had singular affection for the Blessed Virgin Mary and was especially devoted to her. He had a filial trust in her protection. She was his refuge in all the problems of his life, in the troubles and anxieties that disturbed his soul, and therefore he would call her “his good mother.”

Eulogy in Praise of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, No. 17
Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God

 

Holy Family_POUSSIN_DetroitInstituteofArt
The Holy Family
Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594 – 1665)
Oil on canvas, 1641
Detroit Institute of Arts

 

Excerpt from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God 
Edited by Conrad De Meester, OCD, Translated by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD 
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.

Quote of the day: 16 April

Love is the queen and soul of all the virtues, giving them of necessity their value and worth. We must not be surprised that the virtues possessed by Brother Lawrence were perfect, because the love of God reigned so perfectly in his heart, which, as St. Bernard said, he had turned toward this divine object in all his affections. If faith enabled him to see God as sovereign truth, and if hope enabled him to contemplate God as his last end and ultimate happiness, love enabled him to recognize God as the most perfect of all beings or, more accurately, as perfection itself. Far from loving God for his own profit, his love was so disinterested that he loved God even when there was no suffering to avoid or any reward to gain, wanting only the good and glory of God and making the accomplishment of God’s holy will his paradise. We will see this again during the last moments of his illness when his spirit was so free, even until the last sigh, that he expressed the dispositions of his heart as if he were in perfect health.

Monsignor Joseph de Beaufort
Eulogy for Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God

Brother-Lawrence1
Contemporary sketch of Brother Lawrence | Photo: Carmes de Paris

Monsignor Joseph de Beaufort was a priest of the Archdiocese of Paris who knew Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He was the confessor and counselor of Louis-Antoine de Noailles, the Archbishop of Paris; de Beaufort had served as the Vicar General with de Noailles in Châlons-sur-Marne before de Noailles was nominated to the archdiocesan see.

Excerpt from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God 
Edited by Conrad De Meester, OCD, Translated by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD 
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.

Quote of the day: 10 March

Free me beggar girl
restless_mind / Flickr

You are telling me nothing new, and you are not the only one who experiences distractions. The mind is extremely flighty, but the will, mistress of all our powers, must take hold of it and bring it back to God as to its final end…

Remain before God like a poor, mute paralytic at the door of a rich man

I think the answer to our problems is to confess our faults and to humble ourselves before God. I advise you against long discourses during mental prayer, for they often foster distractions. Remain before God like a poor, mute paralytic at the door of a rich man. Strive to be attentive to God’s presence. If your mind wanders or withdraws occasionally, don’t get upset. Since these disturbances tend to distract the mind rather than focus it, we must use the will to gently collect our thoughts. If you persevere in this manner God will have mercy on you.

If your mind wanders or withdraws occasionally, don’t get upset

An easy way to keep the mind from wandering during the time of mental prayer is to keep it as still as possible—not to let it take flight—during the day. You must keep it faithfully in God’s presence; and once you are accustomed to think of him from time to time, it will be easy to remain calm during prayer, or at least to bring the mind back when it wanders…

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Letter to a nun [no date], excerpts
Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God

 

Excerpt from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God 
Edited by Conrad De Meester, OCD, Translated by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD 
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
BRO LAWRENCE - Death comes only once
We have so little time left to live. Death is at our heels, so be on guard: death comes only once!
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, O.C.D.
The Practice of the Presence of God, Letter 1

Quote of the day: 20 February

I have taken advantage of this opportunity to share with you the experience of one of our friars concerning the admirable effects and continual help he receives from the practice of the presence of God; we can both benefit from it.

He often complains of our blindness and cries out ceaselessly that we deserve sympathy for settling for so little. “God,” he says, “has infinite treasures to give us, yet we are satisfied with a bit of perceptible devotion that passes in an instant.” He complains that “we are blind since we bind God’s hands in this way and halt the abundant flow of his graces; yet when God finds a soul penetrated by an intense faith he pours out his graces in abundance. This torrent of his grace, impeded from running its ordinary course, expands impetuously and abundantly once it has found an outlet.”

Yes, sometimes we stop this torrent by our lack of appreciation for it. We must not stop it any longer, dear Mother; we must turn inward, break through the dam, let grace come forth, and make up for lost time. We have so little time left to live. Death is at our heels, so be on guard: death comes only once!

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, O.C.D.

The Practice of the Presence of God, Letter 1

 


Father Conrad De Meester, O.C.D. who was the editor of the French critical edition of Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God notes these biographic details concerning the uncle whose own Discalced Carmelite vocation inspired Brother Lawrence to enter religious life after military service:

His uncle Jean, his mother’s brother, a native of Hériménil, Jean Majeur entered the Discalced Carmelites as a lay brother at the beginning of October 1633. He took the name “Brother Nicolas of the Conception.” He was professed in Paris on December 9, 1635, and died on February 20, 1652, in his nephew’s monastery in Paris.

 

Resurrection of the Dead BODLEIAN
Detail from Book of Hours, Use of Rome 
Folio 98/254
Meister des Gijsbrecht van Brederode [illustrator]
Netherlands, 1440 – 1460
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
See the entire folio and the complete Book of Hours here

 

Lawrence of the Resurrection, B 2015, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God, translated from the French by Sciurba, S, 
ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Quote of the day: 12 February

If he so loved God during his life, he did not love him any less at his death. He made continuous acts of love, and when a friar asked him if he loved God with all his heart, he answered, “Ah! If I thought that my heart did not love God, I would tear it out right now.”

The next day, Monday, February 12, 1691, at nine o’clock in the morning, fully conscious, without agony or convulsions, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection died in the embrace of the Lord and offered his soul to God with the peace and tranquility of one asleep.

Joseph de Beaufort’s Eulogy for Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
The Practice of the Presence of God

Brother-Lawrence1

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Novena – Day 7

It is this intimacy with Him “within” that has been the beautiful sun illuminating my life… it is what sustains me today in my suffering

Intention

For the grace of a greater intimacy with Christ: it sounds like a wonderful thing, but we may think, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” [Ps 139:6] On the contrary, intimacy with Jesus is a frequent theme in the homilies of Pope Francis, who always emphasizes how close the Lord is to us and how he never leaves us:

The Lord is a friend forever. Even if you disappoint him and walk away from him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; he believes in you even more than you believe in yourself…  The Lord… is always with you and he is happy to be with you. As he did with his first disciples, he looks you in the eye and he calls you to follow him, to “put out into the deep” and to “cast your nets wide” trusting in his words and using your talents in life, in union with him, without fear. Jesus is waiting patiently for you. He awaits your response. He is waiting for you to say “yes”. 

Practicing the presence of God, St. Elizabeth grew in this friendship and intimacy with the Lord to the point that his presence became her sustenance in darkness and suffering. Like St. Paul, she desires that we might grow in this love, too, so that we may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” [Eph 3:19]

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Speaks 

“It is this intimacy with Him “within” that has been the beautiful sun illuminating my life, making it already an anticipated Heaven; it is what sustains me today in my suffering.”

Meditation 

Consider the points of suffering in your life. Jesus loves you infinitely! Are you permitting his love to sustain you in your suffering? Where are you trying to bear your burdens alone? Let him love you and uphold you.

NOVENA PRAYER

O God of bountiful mercy,
you revealed to Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity
the mystery of your secret presence
in the hearts of those who love you,
and you chose her to adore you in spirit and in truth.
Through her intercession
may we also abide in the love of Christ,
that we may see what you see
and love in the way that you love
and thus merit to be transformed
into temples of your life-giving Spirit
to the praise of your glory.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

pine cone kid
Pine cone kid | Kevin Conor Keller
Excerpt from Letter 333, The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity volume 2: Letters from Carmel 
Copyright © 2003 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC
Homily by Pope Francis (full text), Jubilee for Boys and Girls, 24 April 2016

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity Novena – Day 6

I leave you my faith in the presence of God, of the God who is all Love dwelling in our souls

Intention 

For an increase in faith in the presence of God dwelling within: St. Elizabeth of the Trinity was a true daughter of her Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Avila. One of St. Teresa’s most famous dictums concerning prayer that has guided Carmelites through all generations is this: “Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do.” This method of prayer, taught and recommended by the Discalced Carmelite friar of Paris, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, [The Practice of the Presence of God] was well known to St. Elizabeth. Perhaps she knew of St. Teresa’s method of keeping Christ present before she entered the Carmel of Dijon; certainly, she learned this method as she studied the works of St. Teresa, especially The Book of Her Life, Chapter 12, where the Saint explains the beginning stage of prayer. For St. Elizabeth, this practice of the presence of God is the springboard in prayer by which she dives deep into the abyss of mercy, the indwelling presence of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. St. Elizabeth experienced the abiding presence of God; by faith, she knew the truth of St. Paul’s promise to the Romans: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” [Rom 5:5]

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Speaks

“I leave you my faith in the presence of God, of the God who is all Love dwelling in our souls.”

Meditation

Just for today, practice being aware of the presence of God within you. Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you to be mindful of God’s presence.

NOVENA PRAYER

O God of bountiful mercy,
you revealed to Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity
the mystery of your secret presence
in the hearts of those who love you,
and you chose her to adore you in spirit and in truth.
Through her intercession
may we also abide in the love of Christ,
that we may see what you see
and love in the way that you love
and thus merit to be transformed
into temples of your life-giving Spirit
to the praise of your glory.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Berber elder and child
Berber elder and child | Tribes of the World
Excerpt from Letter 333, The Complete Works of Elizabeth of the Trinity volume 2: Letters from Carmel 
Copyright © 2003 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC

A Carmelite response to the sexual abuse crisis

Some have asked if Carmelites have a particular message or word of advice and counsel to offer to the Catholic Church as she passes through a profound crisis concerning sexual abuse, the abuse of power, and the abuse of conscience. Of course, the answer is a resounding, “yes”. Let us turn to the teaching of our Doctors of the Church, and in particular, let us learn from their feminine genius, to be attentive to the wisdom that emanates from Carmel.

Teresa-de-Jesus_Juan-de-la-Misericordia-original
One of three portraits claimed to be the original painted by Fray Juan de la Miseria in 1570

When she was a young nun, Saint Teresa was attached to a priest with fallen morals in Becedas, and she talks about this relationship in Chapter 5 of her autobiography, The Book of Her Life.

“I was so fascinated with God at that time what pleased me most was to speak of the things of God. And since I was so young, it threw him into confusion to observe this; and by reason of the strong love he had for me, he began to explain to me about his bad moral state. This was no small matter, because for about seven years he had been living in a dangerous state on account of his affection and dealings with a woman in that same place; and, despite this, he was saying Mass. The association was so public that he had lost his honor and reputation, and no one dared to admonish him about this. To me, it was a great pity for I loved him deeply. I was so frivolous and blind that it seemed to me a virtue to be grateful and loyal to anyone who loved me. Damned be such loyalty that goes against the law of God! This is the kind of nonsense that goes on in the world, which makes no sense to me: that we consider it a virtue not to break with a friendship, even if the latter go against God, whereas we are indebted to God for all the good that is done to us. Oh, blindness of the world! You would have been served, Lord, if I had been most ungrateful to all that world and not the least bit ungrateful to You! But it has been just the reverse because of my sins.”

“Damned be such loyalty that goes against the law of God!”

Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen
An artist’s rendering of Frère Laurent in the cuisine of the Couvent des Carmes

The wisdom of our Carmelite doctors teaches that practicing the presence of Christ is essential in the Christian life to weather every trial. “Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do,” wrote Saint Teresa (The Book of Her Life, 12:4).

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection agrees: “The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin.” (Maxims, 2:6)

“Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do”

Untitled Design (1)
USAG-Humphreys, South Korea, Full-Scale Exercise, 2012: Hostage Scenario

Saint Teresa teaches us the necessity of avoiding sin at all costs. In her Spiritual Testimonies, No. 20, Saint Teresa describes her 1571 vision of “how a soul in sin is without any power but is like a person completely bound, tied, and blindfolded; for although wanting to see, such a person cannot, and cannot walk or hear, and remains in great darkness. Souls in this condition make me feel such compassion that any burden seems light to me if I can free one of them.”

In the Interior Castle (First Dwelling, Chapter 2) she described the torment to a greater extent: “there’s no darker darkness nor anything more obscure and black… Nothing helps such a soul; and as a result, all the good works it might do while in mortal sin are fruitless for the attainment of glory… Since, after all, the intention of anyone who commits a mortal sin is to please the devil, who is darkness itself, not God, the poor soul becomes darkness itself.”

But, it was her vision of hell in 1560 that compelled her first and foremost to serve God with the greatest fervor, to avoid sin at all costs, and to “give a thousand lives to save one soul” (Way of Perfection, Chapter 1). She explained the horror of the vision in The Book of Her Life, Chapter 32:

[W]hile I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it…

What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe… This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair

I was left terrified, and still am now in writing about this almost six years later, and it seems to me that on account of the fear my natural heat fails me right here and now. Thus I recall no time of trial or suffering in which it doesn’t seem to me that everything that can be suffered here on earth is nothing; so I think in a way we complain without reason… 

Consequently, it is hardly surprising that Saint Teresa shrugged off so many hardships with her “grande y muy determinada determinación“; that is to say, her “great and very determined determination,” a typical Teresian turn of phrase that gives us a glimpse into her unflinching character. Not only was her heart aflame with divine love, but her soul bore the traces of this unquenchable fire and disconsolate despair.

“Souls in this condition make me feel such compassion that any burden seems light to me if I can free one of them”

adolfo-lozano-sidro-99
Santa Teresa de Jesús, Adolfo Lozano Sidro, oil on canvas, ca. 1897

Saint Teresa responded to the Church’s most profound crisis in centuries by practicing prayer, silence, and striving for evangelical perfection. She continues her account of the 1560 vision of hell with these remarkable words: “from this experience [the vision of hell] also flow the great impulses to help souls and the extraordinary pain that it caused me by the many that are condemned (especially the Lutherans, for they were through baptism members of the Church). It seems certain to me that in order to free one alone from such appalling torments I would suffer many deaths very willingly.” (The Book of Her Life, Chapter 32)

When the professor of moral theology at Wittenburg University sent his Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum in a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz on 31 October 1517,  few could have foreseen that the 95 theses in Professor Luther’s Disputatio would wound the Church so deeply, or that the wound would grow so infected that it would spread even to Spain.

Teresian scholars Rodriguez and Kavanaugh describe the context of the times for Saint Teresa: only a few short years after the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Inquisition in Spain promulgated a decree (1525) against the “heresies of Luther”.  The restrictions of the Inquisition in those days were so oppressive that even Saint Ignatius of Loyola was forbidden to preach for three years.

In the months following her harrowing vision of hell, Saint Teresa continued to hear distressing reports concerning the spread of the Lutheran sect, as she called it. While she prayerfully, carefully laid the plans to gather a “few good friends” to found a Carmelite monastery of strict observance, the damnation of Lutherans – made more urgent by the terrifying vision of hell – was her constant concern. As she puts it, she had “some good motives”; we’ll let her explain:

When I began to take the first steps toward founding this monastery…  it was not my intention that there be so much external austerity or that the house have no income; on the contrary, I would have desired the possibility that nothing be lacking. In sum, my intention was the intention of the weak and wretched person that I am — although I did have some good motives besides those involving my own comfort. 

At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused and how much this miserable sect was growing. The news distressed me greatly, and, as though I could do something or were something, I cried to the Lord and begged Him that I might remedy so much evil. It seemed to me that I would have given a thousand lives to save one soul out of the many that were being lost there.

I realized I was a woman and wretched and incapable of doing any of the useful things I desired to do in the service of the Lord. All my longing was and still is that since He has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result, I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same. [The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the evangelical counsels in Nos. 1973 and 1974; a further explanation of the counsels in relation to the Ten Commandments is found at No. 2053.] 

Saint Teresa’s motives, methods, and goals are clear: she hears the distressing news, comprehends the gravity of the situation, and her immediate recourse is to “arise, cry out in the night,” and, clinging to her Spouse, to pour out her heart “like water before the presence of the Lord.” (Lamentations 2:19)

Much in the same way that Elijah stands on God’s holy mountain, speaking to Him when he hears the gentle breeze, rendering an account for his presence and actions saying, “with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts,” (Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum, the motto of the Carmelites), even so Saint Teresa is driven with zealous zeal at this moment. She who desired in her reform to lift up the holy founders of the order as models and exemplars, the “holy fathers of the past, those hermits whose lives we aim to imitate,” (Way of Perfection, Chapter 11) Saint Teresa is following their path into the Wadi ‘Ain Es-Siah to pursue prayer and silence. For Teresa, a rugged hike along the way of perfection is the best remedy to the Church’s greatest crisis of the second millennium.

“I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could”

Pri06r
Saint Thérèse’s Offering to Merciful Love (recto)

In her infinite wisdom, the Virgin of Carmel, who is our sister and teacher, impresses upon us the necessity of prayer for priests.  During her summer vacation in July 1890, Celine Martin writes to her sisters in the Carmelite monastery back home in Lisieux, “Oh! how necessary it is to pray for priests!” (Letter, 7/22/1890)

Nearly five years later, Saint Thérèse took her sister’s urgent request to heart as she penned the first draft of her act of Offering of Myself as a Victim of Holocaust to the Merciful Love of the Good God. The opening lines of her first draft state: “O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love you and make you loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. Finally, my God, I want to make myself worthy of my vocation by helping your apostles to conquer for you all hearts.”

Thérèse eloquently expressed that desire in the final months of her life to the one apostle to whom she confided her deepest dreams and celestial aspirations: the Missionaries of Africa seminarian, Maurice Bellière. In an extraordinary letter dated 24 February 1897, Saint Thérèse plainly states her life’s mission: “If the Lord takes me soon with Him, I ask you to continue each day the same prayer, for I shall desire in heaven the same thing as I do on earth: To love Jesus and to make him loved.” 

The eminent Carmelite authority on the theology of the saints, François-Marie Léthel, O.C.D. expounded upon Saint Thérèse’s deepest desires as the preacher of the 2011 Lenten Exercises for Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. In the seventh meditation, which focuses on the Christocentrism of  Thérèse, he explains, “the light of Christ, which we contemplate with Thérèse in this meditation, is the total Truth of God and Man that shines forth in Love. Inseparable from scientia fidei, the scientia amoris of Thérèse makes him shine; and, by making him loved, she gives him easier access to our hearts.” (La lumière du Christ dans le coeur de l’Eglise, p. 101, blogger’s translation)

This “total truth of God and Man”, which Thérèse loved so passionately that she desperately hoped to die of love, is the same incarnate truth whom she sought so passionately throughout her life. Let’s join her sister, Pauline and the prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague at her bedside after Vespers just before the community gathers to pray as she draws her final, labored breath:

After Vespers, Mother Prioress placed a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on her knees. She looked at it for a moment and said, when Mother Prioress assured her she’d be soon caressing the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus:

“O Mother, present me quickly to the Blessed Virgin; I’m a baby who can’t stand anymore! . . . Prepare me for death.”

Mother Prioress told her that since she had always understood humility, her preparation was already made. She reflected a moment and spoke these words humbly:

“Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth; yes, I have understood humility of heart. . . . It seems to me I’m humble.”

Saints Thérèse and Teresa, these two great Doctors of the Church teach us the immediacy and power of these words: Dios es suma Verdad, y la humildad es andar en verdad (God is supreme Truth; and, to be humble is to walk in truth).

Thérèse embodied the eminent teaching of her Holy Mother Teresa.

“Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth…”

Père-Jacques_headshot
Père Jacques de Jésus (1900-1945)

The holy Martin family’s pressing call to pray for priests was echoed nearly fifty years later by a spiritual brother of Saint Thérèse, the Discalced Carmelite friar Père Jacques of Jesus. A friar from the same province as Brother Lawrence, Père Jacques was the headmaster of the Discalced Carmelite friars’ boarding school in Avon. In September 1943 he preached the annual retreat for the community of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Pontoise, France. In his opening conference of the retreat, he wasted no time in addressing the Carmelite’s call to intercession for priests, in particular for priests in dire need of prayer:

Carmel is a community of human beings who reveal God to other human beings. There should be a Carmel in every city, and then there would be no need of works. One would see God through these human beings who live for him and him alone.

In reading the history of the Church or the history of our own order, like all the other orders, except for the Carthusians, we find periods of decline and need of reform in the wake of intervals of laxity and even scandal. Even among priests and religious, we find cases of spiritual death. We learn that a particular priest grew spiritually cold and left the priesthood, only to embark upon a life of degradation. You need to be aware of such cases and, in turn, to pray for priests. As you can see, it is not enough to experience a period of surpassing spiritual fervor. Gradually, one can abandon retreat instead of intensifying it. Gradually, one can return to the world left behind by readopting its norms instead of embracing God’s standards ever more fully.

Ultimately, it is through embracing the teaching of the Carmelite Doctors of the Church that one finds peace in troubled moments; calm for our fears; reminders of God’s immutable nature and the unsurpassed value of patience; and, the most timely counsel of all: “whoever possesses God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.”

Solo dios basta
God alone is enough

 

Citations from The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila 
Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (unless otherwise noted)
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC 
Copyright © 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Excerpt from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God 
Edited by Conrad De Meester, OCD, Translated by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD 
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC
Copyright © 1994, 2015 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Excerpt from Listen to the Silence: A Retreat With Père Jacques
Translated and Edited by Francis J. Murphy 
Copyright © 2005 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc.
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC

 

Sailing along

“Those who are empowered by the breath of the Holy Spirit sail along even when asleep.”

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

 

The 'Electra' off a Mountainous Coast 
Philip John Ouless (British, 1817–1885)
Oil on canvas, 1866
Maritime Museum, Jersey
Letter 1: To a nun, 1 June 1682
Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, OCD (Nicolas Herman)
Critical Edition by Conrad De Meester, OCD; Translated by Salvatore Sciurba, OCD
ICS Publications
Institute of Carmelite Studies, Washington, D.C. 1994, 2015

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