Father Robert Elias, OCD: the divine time of Holy Week

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SOURCE: Lent 2019, Conference to Santa Clara, CA OCDS, Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD

Palm Sunday, often known as Passion Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week.  It is when our Blessed Lord entered into Jerusalem in triumph. It was a foretaste, a prefiguring of His victory of the resurrection.  But He knew that the same people who were praising and celebrating Him would turn their backs on Him, totally backstab Him, and cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

We as the body of Christ who love Jesus, in reading that long gospel on Palm Sunday, and in taking the parts of the people –  it hurts us to have to say those words. 

During Holy Week, we are called to enter into one, the reality of His Divine Mercy and two – into our responsibility to enter into this grace; recognizing that because of our human woundedness, when we fail in charity and true love for others, as our expression of true love of God -–, we too are subconsciously crying out ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!”

This understanding calls us to conversion, to allow Jesus to give us heart surgery, that He may take out what is not of His Spirit and put in what is. Holy Week is calling us to enter into the holiness of God’s heart as perfectly revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s so hard for most people, who aren’t brought up in the faith, who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and God -Man, to recognize that Jesus is more than just a teacher, an important religious figure, a spiritual hero, a holy man, a western version of the Buddha, a prophet – or any representation of Him. He is more than Muhammad; He is more than Elijah.

It takes the grace of the Holy Spirit through the enlightenment of the Father to recognize that Jesus, as Hebrews Chapter 1 says, is the perfect image of God’s divine being, the refulgence of His glory in human form.

Colossians, Chapter 1, says that the whole universe came into existence and being through God’s Beloved Son, His Eternal Word.  That revelation recognizes that everything came into being, and received its life through the Divine Word of God’s only-begotten son. In His self-communication, He came in as the second person of the Blessed Trinity and He would become incarnate, taking on the name Yeshua – Yahweh saves; Immanuel -the Divine Reality of God in our midst.

It takes the grace of God to recognize that Jesus is more than just an awesome human being.

When we enter into Holy Week, in order for it to have its full impact, we must come with this understanding as the basis of our faith. But then there’s a second part.  We must not only recognize Jesus as Lord, but recognize that He is Lord now, today. 

Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.
Jerusalem towards Mount of Olives. Photo credit The Speakroom. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2019.

He is present now in the celebration of the sacred mysteries through the Divine Liturgy, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, through the Mass – Missa – the Mission of God – the communication of God. God is bringing back to life, today, here and now, the reality of who He is and what He did once and for all.

Who He is and what He did in embracing all of us on the cross and lifting all of us personally through the resurrection – is being made present, real, and alive again.  It is being given again as if we were Jesus’ contemporaries.
How is this happening? This is the Theology of the Sacraments, the Theology of Mysticism – the mystery of Christ in our midst.  We’re called to enter into this mystery of God embracing us through Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

When we celebrate Passion Sunday, when we celebrate Holy Thursday, the continuation of Jesus’ priesthood through His ministers, the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, His Divine Presence in the Eucharist; when we celebrate Good Friday, His life-giving death – that death may not be the end of the story, but the transition of our story to our total destiny; when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, especially during the Easter Vigil, when it is celebrated with reverence – all of these aspects of the Liturgy is Jesus bringing back to life again, the most sacred mystery that ever happened on this planet. 

God wants that most sacred gift of Himself to be our possession. He wants to possess us through the Holy Spirit.

The Theology of the Sacraments teaches that God’s sacred gift happens, not in a physical or literal way. Jesus isn’t suffering or being crucified again. The spiritual significance of what he did, is being given to us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit by way of signs – every thing that we use physically and materially to express the mystery.

For instance, in the sacrament of Baptism we use water; in the Eucharist, we use bread and wine, at the Easter Vigil, we use candles; we have chrism oils.  All of these are signs that point to the perfect reality that God is giving Himself to us and through these signs, God gives us the actual grace – the Holy Spirit.  He manifests Himself.

Baptism is such a simple sacrament. The ideal method is immersion, because it expresses our immersion into the life of God. But even with just the sprinkling of a few drops of water, the same reality happens.  It is totally invisible to our senses.  We don’t see the transformation, but in the essence of that person’s soul, a metamorphosis takes place.  The Word is made flesh. Through faith, we receive this grace, though our senses don’t perceive it.

Another understanding of entering Holy Week to worship God in spirit and in truth is that we receive from the Liturgy what we put in it through faith. In the measure that we have an understanding and knowledge of what is happening intellectually or intuitively, our heart’s faith is fueled to enter into the mystery that we may allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus here and now. 

The measure of our understanding allows Him to take possession of our lives, and to have His mystery be enfleshed in our lives; it allows His cross and resurrection to transform our lives in the way that the cross is already present.

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin (1846)

How is the cross present in your life? 

It is already there.  You don’t’ have to look for one. It’s in your son who doesn’t go to church, who gives you a hard time, and pushes you to witness to your faith by your actions rather than by your words – more than by your nagging him to go to Church.  It’s in your daughter who is sick with illness like cancer.  It’s in your husband who, when you get home, is just asleep on the couch; but your dog gives you more joy than your husband does! 

It’s there in countless ways when your heart, which is made for love, is disappointed.

It’s there in every way that your love is challenged.  It’s there every way you experience your own brokenness and limitation and inability to love with freedom.  The cross is everywhere.

The question is, what do we do with it?

Do we dismiss it as an inconvenience and a contradiction? As a nuisance and a curse? Or do we embrace it and accept it as a blessing in disguise? Do we accept it as the wisdom and power of God? As a promise to something better, as a potential that can teach us something and ignite passion in our hearts? 

The cross is already there.

How we embrace the cross will make the difference in how beautiful our crown will be.  You can have a little itty-bitty crown – if you want a little cross. If you want a big crown, you need a big cross.  Simple as that.  The bigger your cross, the bigger your crown.

The more you concretely participate in the sacrifice of Jesus through your choices, the more you will share in His victorious glory.  The choice is ours. May He strengthen us to have courage.  May he strengthen us to have the faith to persevere. May he strengthen us to become saints.

Father Robert Elias, OCD – Carmel & Elijah’s Spirit of Prophesy

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SOURCE: Lent 2019 Formation Conference for Carmelite Novices & Postulants by Father Robert Elias, OCD. Mount Saint Josephs Monastery, San Jose, CA

(Below is a loose transcription of the audio)

The spirit of prophesy is embedded in Carmel’s identity. It is the breath of Carmel in the Holy Spirit. Elijah is the greatest prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures and he embodies for us what the life of a prophet looks like at its greatest. It takes on different forms and we all have a different calling to a spirit of prophesy in Carmel..

As our spiritual father, and as Edith Stein says in a short article on Carmelite spirituality, the presence of Elijah as our spiritual father is not some type of legend or myth.  He isn’t simply a historical figure of our imagination. He’s a real presence and communication of Christ’s grace that is personal and relatable.

Elijahis capable of befriending and fathering us in Carmel; much like a more modern and contemporary saint like Padre Pio, who is more relatable, is acknowledged today by many as a spiritual father.  Elijah is just as much as real as a saint and father to us. But this understanding is harder for us in the Western Church to acknowledge than  those in the Eastern Church.

The spirit of prophesy has always intrigued me. My first personal introduction to the vocation of the prophet before I came to know Jesus Christ as Lord is through  the book The Prophet written by Kahlil Gibran, who was a Lebanese poet and artist, probably of Maronite Christian descent. This understanding of prophet has remained a vital part of my soul’s quest for union with God. 

What does it mean to be a prophet?

Throughout scripture from Genesis to Apocalypse, we see a spirit of prophesy. The spirit of prophesy is very much part of the Judea-Christian tradition. When we look at comparative mysticism in other religious, in the eastern mystical religions, like  Hinduism and Buddhism, their understanding does not have a prophetic tradition in the way we do in the Judeo Christian understanding, with Elijah as our model.

In the Old Testament, Moses prayed that his spirit of prophesy would be bestowed on the 72 elders, when his father-in-law said that he needed to delegate his duties and to pray that what God had given him would be given to others.  Because only a person that has a spirit of prophesy can give the spirit of prophesy.  You can’t give what you don’t have.

But what did he give them? It says in scripture that ‘The spirit came upon them and they prophesied.’

What did that mean? That question has always been a curiosity that has led me to a quest in finding this treasure.

The Wisdom literature describes a prophet as an intimate friend of God, someone who has a personal experience, and direct contact with the living, transcendent God, and who has a heart knowledge of this Divine Being. And as a result of this friendship, they are called, often reluctantly, to communicate to a people who are deaf and not listening.

The relationship first involves contemplative prayer, which is then shared.  The prophet bears the burden of divine mercy, according to Thomas Merton. You’ve experienced a cutting of your heart and now that you’ve allowed this healing, God asks that you communicate this same grace to others. 

But here’s the catch.  They may kill you as a result because they are blinded by the sin like the prodigal son. You have the responsibility now that you know God intimately, to communicate a truth, which will be an inconvenience and a controversy to the people.  That’s the burden of divine mercy.  That’s one of the vocations of the prophet of Carmel. 

One of the great wisdoms of Eastern Christian mysticism, teaches that a lay person can have a spirit of prophesy more than a priest – neumaticos – a person anointed with the Spirit to pray with power. ‘This power is not human eloquence or wisdom,’ as St. Paul says.  St. James in the fifth chapter of his letter, says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful indeed and he says, ‘remember Elijah who by his very words called fire upon heaven to consume the idolatrous offerings’

The power of prayer can only be inspired by God. St. Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and those who pray by the power of the Holy Spirit, pray by the anointing of God.  This praying with power is what Jesus calls us to.

But we first have to believe in the power of God’s word, and that faith will empower us by the Holy Spirit, having penetrated and changed our lives by the renewal of our mind with truths that are not of this world.

The prophet isn’t zealous for the law in of itself.  The prophet is zealous for the spirit of the law.  The prophet has the wisdom, insight, and spiritual vision to see the presence of God and what His will is in different situations, and desires His will.

St. John of the Cross is the best example of someone with the evangelical spirit of prophesy.  The prophet is not a legalist or a Pharisee. St. John says that there is no cookie cutter, sound byte that will fit every soul.  Every soul is unique and you have to be open to the mystery of how God is working in each person.

That doesn’t mean relativism, but that God’s spirit is incarnate in people uniquely and is given as gift in each soul in the order of their ability to understand.  The spirit of prophesy is not based on externals or obsessed with accidentals; it is not pharisaical,  but it longs for the essence, the pure spring.

The Carmelite Rule mentions the Spring of Elijah – the spring of the Holy Spirit by which we are able to enter into the gift of God as I a who Am – Love. The spirit of prophesy is that  of simplicity, humility, and purity of heart to be able t o realize with Easter eyes, the true presence of Jesus – in His essence, in the Holy Spirit.

For example, Carmel’s cry in the wilderness, it’s longing can be expressed in the two words – ‘God Alone.’ These wordsexpress a heart knowledge of God as the ground of life, as I am who Am, as the absolute Absolute.  And the one thing necessary is to love Love with all one’s life. Everything else is a distant second to that.

Carmel finds this pure love in silence – in the nada – that holy nothingness of entering into communion with God that is beyond anything that can limit His gift of Himself to us – the transcendent God.

To enter into a pure gift of God’s love is to pray with power, with the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy of Holies. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to that place, that Holy of Holies.

An interior life with God is the essence of the spirit of prophesy.  It means Faith in the power of prayer, confidence in god’s faithfulness, and taking Him and his promises at His word.  He does not abandon his children. He does not divorce his bride.

The prophet proclaims God as divine mercy, not as laws. He’s not fixating in anything but God alone. Our religion isn’t a matter of a list of rules. The rules are indispensable, especially Jesus’ commandment to love God and to love your neighbor – but these rules are for divine communion.

 At the same time, when the prophet sees commandments desecrated in culture, the prophet is called by God to awaken people’s consciences to something that God sees as important about our humanity and our moral life.

This is why many prophets are martyrs.  One author said, ‘The purpose of life is to love with your whole being and might. And if you do it, they’ll kill you.’  Even though we are made to know and love God, those who actually communicate this love – the saints- will have to suffer for it.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate example.

A prophet is called to witness to God’s mighty love. Transformation in this divine love is the ultimate longing of the prophet and the heart of Carmel. This grace possesses two wings– silence and solitude.  That is how we are called to live the Carmelite Mystical and Prophetic charisms.

The Mystical expresses the gift of God – the Prophetic aspect expresses the responsibility – the demands this love makes so that we can become who we are in Christ.  Love is a gift and a responsibility. It’s not easy. It requires true death to the ego and sacrifice.

As members of Carmel, we are descendants and heirs of prophets.  Saint Elijah,  our father, stands as a bedrock; he is our source of inspiration as he burns with zeal for God’s glory. As Catholics we don’t question that idea as a Protestant would.

When Protestants hear that anyone other than Jesus is a source of inspiration, it’s taken as idolatry. But for Catholics, we see Elijah as Jesus in miniature. Jesus is the new Elijah – His ministry and miracles are a perfection of what God did in Elijah. The saints are an echo of Christ, an extension of Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us.

As Carmelites, we celebrate people like Elijah because he exudes Jesus to us and embodies Him.  We praise God for friends in these places.  Elijah means ‘My Lord is God’ – his name describes his identity and essence. God is the substance, not the substitute – of his life.

Luther venerated Mary very much, but the rationale behind the protest of the Protestants was that many uneducated Catholics would make the saints the substance of their lives and not Jesus – and yes that was idolatry. To make anyone the substance of one’s life is a substitute.  We’re called to make God alone as the substance, the center of our lives, and we are not to give that holy of holies to anyone else.

The prophet is called to cast out the false god in people’s lives, and to break the chains of attachments that enslaves us to a lesser self.   And the truth is the sword by which chains are broken in Jesus’s name.  The truth unmasks the lie and imparts the faith that allows God to work the miracle of freedom in our lives.  This is the teaching of Saint John of the Cross, a contemplative way that sets us free from our attachments. And like Jesus he didn’t despise anything that God made in itself – the problem is not a person or a material thing, but how our heart relates to it.

The ultimate false god in this world is money.  Our Lord says you can’t love  both God and money, because money can mislead our hearts into a mindset that is not of God. But the error is to make the false conclusion that money is evil.  That is not holistic Christian thinking – scripture says the LOVE of money, not the money itself, which leads to evil.

I am very aware that my tongue can be used for great good or great harm in regards to using it in anger. Scripture says that ‘life and death are in the power of the tongue.’ Because I have sinned with my tongue in a moment of righteous indignation, chopping off the head of others,  the way Elijah did,  with my tongue – I am sinning. That is not pleasing to God because charity is being sinned against. The ultimate rule of life is Jesus Christ and his commandment to love your neighbor. It is better to be righteous than to be right. 

But does that mean I should cut off my tongue – of course not. The right way of relating to something the evil is not the thing itself, but how it is used.  The Prophet is called to set captives free from their slavery and a prophet can do that in prayer, but there’s usually a time when a prophet is called to speak, and their mouth is meant to be the instrument of God’s Holy Spirit of grace and of  Jesus Christ saving souls.

Zelos zelatus sum – with zeal I have been zealous for the Lord.  Elijah is the man of zeal, the prophet of fire who is a champion of the true God, and a herald of God’s mercy.  He is spiritual warrior who breathes the fire of God.  We are called to breathe the same fire of Elijah– the fire of the Holy Spirit. And we too will have to be purified in the interior deserts of life.  There is no true prophet who has not experienced deep purification and healing.  Prophets are often led into the desert so that God can work in them, and so that He can use them to help others in a way that builds and exhorts.

To conclude, we pray that the Holy Spirit lavish upon  us, Jesus’ divine love,  that the humanizing power of the gospel stir us to be zealous with passion for the Lord God of hosts who loves us fervently unto the full.  Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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Father Robert Elias, OCD: Lent & the Carmelite desert identity

 

By Romero Zafra

(40 minutes) – To listen to this audio, click on the triangle.

SOURCE: Lent 2019. Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD at Mount Saint Joseph’s Monastery, San Jose, California.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Lent & the Divine Physician

Photo credit: the Speakroom

Luke 5:27-32: Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

NOTE: Click on the triangle to listen to Father Robert’s conference.

What is our Lord saying to us about our observance of Lent in the scriptures? The scriptures of the Liturgy of the Mass give us guidance for spiritual growth; our call to penance, to conversion is a call to health.

Jesus says those who are healthy do not need a physician. The practice of Lent, in adopting for ourselves exercises of deeper prayer, of fasting, and works of mercy is for the sake of our own healing, the healing of humanity, with its disordered desires – to bring true health to the soul.

Whenever St. John of the Cross talks about purification in his spiritual teachings, for example in The Dark Night, he always talks about this purification, this refiner’s fire bringing about a new health in the soul, healing the soul. And the Divine Physician is our Blessed Lord in His divine love, who says, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Those who are self-righteous never think that there is any sickness in them. The closer we draw to the light of God’s love in a genuine devotion of conversion of heart, the more we see what is unhealthy in us, what is in need of healing, the more we see the sickness that we are sinners.

We are an interesting mix. All of us as human beings are a mix of light and of darkness; we are a living contradiction. In the one sense, we are sinners but on the other hand, we also possess the seed of eternal life and of divine life through grace in Christ. We have both of these realities – a broken human condition and a potential to share in the divine nature.

Lent is a time for healing, for the aligning of our wills to what God wants of us. For this reason, the psalm says, ‘Teach me your ways, oh Lord” – not my way, and not the world’s way. Teach me your way of the best manner of life, the best way to live. Show me what it means to live the best life I can live. Show me how to become my best self and your way in bringing about your dream for my life. Teach me. I need to be taught. I need to learn from You.

It is the humble of heart, and not the self-righteous who can make this prayer to allow oneself to be coachable by the Lord of what it means to walk in His truth. If we are humble, we realize in one level, that in a sense, we all have to go back to the beginning, the genesis. We are all beginners, and we all have to go back to the fundamentals, the basics of what it means to be a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ.

We have to go back to the simple gospel of The Beatitudes. Teach me, Lord, how to live this. Teach me Lord how to understand this. Show me daily. Be my personal life coach from the moment I wake up until the moment I take my last breath, show me and teach me through everything.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord wants to teach us His way of mercy, par excellence. So many times in both the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures, we hear Jesus say, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ It’s not that sacrifices aren’t important, or that there’s no need anymore for asceticism, but the purpose of sacrifice is for the sake of learning mercy. This is the way, the will of the Lord, the manner in which we grow in wisdom – that we learn what it means to be merciful.

The scribes and the Pharisees were far from being merciful as the Lord is merciful. Their pride and self-glorification blinded them from God’s wisdom of mercy. It blinded them from the will of God. They were hyper-religious, but their religiosity was something of their own performance and their own ego. Christ calls us to be converted from that tendency.

To be true disciples of Christ is to be true friends of the Lord and this means the way of mercy. When we begin to walk this way of mercy through humility, Jesus promises that we can become like a watered garden; we can become a spring with the holy spirit. Jesus promised that fulfillment. ‘Whoever believes in me, from their hearts shall flow waters of living waters, bursting forth into eternal life.’ You won’t be able to contain it and hopefully it will just come out in praise and jubilation, glorifying God.

We can’t always live at such a peak experience at every moment of our day, but there should come some moments when the presence of the Holy Spirit takes on a high pitch and becomes piping hot – to be zealous for the Lord and on fire for God.

We embrace the purification, that we may be transformed into fire, the living flame of love, where we may delight in the Lord as he leads us into his heights.

Lent is a desert journey; like the climbing of a mountain, we’re called to ascend to the heights of a new communion with Jesus Christ, the most high who became the most low in His humility. The most high, transcendent God emptied himself and became the most low. The only thing God competes with us for is the lowest position. He is always competing for the last seat – not because he wants to sit at the back of the church – but because he’s the most humble slave.

SOURCE: Lent 2019 Homily, Mount Saint Joseph Monastery, San Jose, Califormia

Father Robert Elias, OCD: The truth of the cross

1 Cor: 15:54-58

Brothers and sisters:
When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility
and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters,
be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Basilica grounds, Iria de Cova Fatima. Photo credit, The Speakroom

Saints John of the Cross and Saint Teresa loved the Gospel of John as the most contemplative gospel and as one written by a friend of the Lord who contemplated His life, and the mysteries he had experienced in his encounter with Christ.

St. John the evangelist is symbolically represented as the eagle, the bird that flies the highest and a most majestic creature. Eagles soar at the highest altitudes and can see the furthest. This is symbolic of St. John’s soul as the beloved, the divine, the theologian. He is not just someone who is smart, but someone who has a heart knowledge of God and has been enlightened to penetrate the understanding of God as God.

This knowledge comes, not just through intellectual reasoning, but through a deep love which prepares the way to revelation, and opens the gates for God’s glory to come upon us so that we can come to know God through the depths of our hearts.

This divine intimacy is true theology – St. John is a true spiritual master in his relationship with God through a life of hope, faith, and love.

In Luke Chapter 6, one of the themes was that no disciple is greater than the master. [“No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher”] (Luke 6: 40).

In this gospel, we see an iconography, as we see in the iconographies in the Eastern Churches, where it is difficult to distinguish Jesus from the apostles among the written images. Why? This shows that true friends of God begin to look like the Master and to radiate the Master because God has been en-fleshed in their lives.

St. Symeon the New Theologian [949-1022 AD] was a mystic of fire and light, of the Divine Word. The eternal Word of God became flesh through the ‘Yes’ of Mary and was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. St. Symeon points out that though the whole of creation and the world came into being through Christ, the Holy Spirit did not take on a humanity as Jesus did. However, the Holy Spirit’s manifestation becomes flesh, is incarnate, in the lives of the saints, who are the hypostasis [the fundamental reality and substance] of the Holy Spirit.

This is the mystical life of grace that St. John and St. Teresa talks about, which is best reflected in the Gospel of John. [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be] (John 1:1-3).

In John 14-17, Jesus gives his Farewell Discourse to his disciples and tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (John 14:1) and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus is preparing his disciples for His departure and is building their spirits before they are to face seeing their Savior being crucified – in order to root them to be stable amidst the storm on the way. This final discourse is given in the context of The Last Supper.

Just before this, Jesus gives his Bread of Life Discourse, when He says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6: 35). Thus, the anchor of hope and strength for perseverance is found in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

John’s understanding of who Christ is has to be balanced with our experience of the cross in our lives, and the wisdom and power of God working through that cross. St. Paul boasts in the cross of Christ in Galatians 6:14 when he says, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He again exclaims that the cross is the wisdom and power of God in First Corinthians, Chapter 1.

Archbishop Sheen has said that before we can have wine and bread at our altar, it had to first be found in the fields of grapes and wheat, which start off as seeds until they mature to bring about a new kind of life. The wheat and the grapes must then be crushed and destroyed before they can become bread and wine.  These external forms, regardless of a priests holiness or not, becomes Jesus present in the Sacrament – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

In the same way, interiorly we will feel crushed. But out of that, God brings transformation, something better than before. From death emerges new life, just as the grapes and wheat takes a new life, the life of Christ.

Death to self leads to conversion; in the midst of death is hidden a victory and that victory is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and I couldn’t have accomplished this victory on my own. Only God could’ve done it, using external instruments to bring about the chiseling of a masterpiece from the marble. Only He can make a masterpiece out of the mess.

Life will emerge from the cross. We need to face this truth head-on and we will have to face the cross. Yet the cross is God’s instrument for metamorphosis, where the soul can become divine, and our humanity becomes united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. In today’s second reading in First Corinthians, Saint Paul says, ‘Oh death, where is your sting? O death where is your victory?’ This miracle of life despite death cannot happen without the cross.

The truth of the cross passes the test of time and experience. I have found tremendous consolation in this truth, which has helped me in the deserts and steep mountains that I have had to cross and climb. With each new difficulty, I remind myself of these truths and am able to draw vitality – like an umbilical cord, my source of life – from the heart of God, to be able to pick up my cross, knowing that Jesus makes all things new — and I am able to keep going.

There’s a lot of power when we profess the truth of God in our lives because the enemy will try to provoke fear and frustrations subtly to master our emotions. Once we realize that ‘I’m being worked on here by the enemy’ and that ‘He is attacking my woundedness to keep me stuck,’ once I realize this, I have to make a choice.

Stand on the rock foundation to squash the lies and renounce them in Jesus’s name, professing Christ’s truths – ‘I am with you always’ …‘Peace be with you’ – the words of Christ come from the Word made flesh, and His words are our inheritance

When you do this, something deep inside of you that wasn’t there before will grow and erupt because you made an act of faith. Truth is what strengthens faith – not feelings. That act of faith allows Jesus to manifest.

Only God can tell us who we are, and it is our prayer that throws light on previously unexamined parts of our souls. All falsehood becomes more apparent as we ground ourselves in the truth.

Sometimes, when we have been given enough tools of faith to face a challenge, it feels like we are alone to fend for ourselves, especially in the beginning, during the Purgative Way, and much later in our spiritual journey, during the Dark Night of the Spirit. In these times, we are aware only of our own capacity to sin, the rawness of our fallen condition, and how broken our humanity is.

This darkness exposes the roots of our condition for healing by the Divine Physician. He is healing us at our core – as we will the good despite what we feel, freeing us from attachments, all aspects of our false selves, our idols, and the chains that we weren’t even aware we relied on – all through prayer.

Contemplation is openness to God’s love, even though His ways come in ways that feel dark and we experience loneliness. Yet His transforming love is working.

John’s gospel and his other writings don’t wallow in suffering –they are victorious. Night is a truer guide than the day. God works His greatest miracles because of the cross and not through the periods of consolation.

The flame that once burned and cauterized will one day bring healing. Carmel testifies that God’s love is always present in the debris of life, and only faith can give us the eyes to see this.

SOURCE: March 2019, Secular Discalced Carmelite community meeting, Santa Clara, CA

Living our identity

LIVING OUR IDENTITY
(Teresa Linda, 2/2019)

You, oh Lord,
Who multiply out of nothing
Are our God and King.
And we thank You and praise You,
For every gift you have given creation.

How is it, our Lord,
That in the perfection of your Fatherhood,
Through the power of the Spirit,
And with the incarnation of Your Son, the Christ,
We have come to be your adopted children?

We desire, our God and King
To live this identity – in this life
Not just in the life to come – but in this life

For You who have promised and willed,
On earth as it is in heaven,
Have made all truth come to pass.

Only, let us not get in Your way, oh Lord,
And give us the grace to move
In You, with You, and through You
In our every breathing

Father Robert Elias, OCD: The Lord wept

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

Luke 19: 41-44. The Lament for Jerusalem.41 As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, 42saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. 44They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

If you notice this chapel is in honor of dominus flevit, the Latin for ‘The Lord Wept.’ Who wept – the Lord, referring to the sacred name of God revealed in Sinai – the eternal one who has no origin or end, who is the beginning, the middle and the finality of all things.

This is the Lord who wept. This is Jesus of Nazareth.

This chapel is in the shape of an upside-down tear, like the tear that came down from Christ’s face. All the shapes of the ceiling, the arches, the windows, is reminiscent of tears falling down from Jesus’s Holy face. And above on the pillars on the four corners on the ceiling are vases. I interpret that to mean, the collection of our Lord’s tears, just as the angels, would have spiritually collected every drop of His precious blood that came from his sacred humanity during His Passion, so too must the angels have spiritually collected the tears that came from the Holy Face of the incarnate Word of God.

But also, our guardian angels, each collect the tears that we have shed in our pilgrimage of our spiritual life journey, and we know that is not an easy path. The way of the cross is never easy. To follow our Good Shepherd means that we will inevitably have to follow Him in valleys of darkness in order to find new pastures of renewed life in the Lord.

We too will inevitably have to shed tears, whether it’s like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, tears that come spontaneously from the times in which we lose a loved one, as Jesus so loved Lazarus; or also like the tears that he shed here – where He suffered tears of rejection and His love was misunderstood. The miscommunication of love, where His love was not accepted, was a source of sorrow for Him.

Anything can make some people cry – a good movie, an emotional experience. Some people can cry very easily. But the tears that come from a movement of the Spirit, whether it’s contrition or compunction, a true sense of sorrow for our sins that doesn’t come from a false guilt, which usually happens because of damaged emotions, a malformed conscience – that’s not the kind of contrition I am talking about.

True repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we call metanoia – a conversion of life. To have the gift of tears that comes from a metanoia experience or a catharsis experience, is to have cleansing, saving tears. That is living water – that’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. To have the gift of tears in this respect is an anointing from heaven that shows salvation is happening in the soul. A baptism is happening in the soul of that person that is coming out in tears. That is a grace of God.

I don’t have that gift. Saint Teresa had the gift of tears. Many monks in the Eastern Church talk about the gift of tears as an expression of metanoia. That’s a wonderful gift. I wish I had it, but I don’t. This gift brings about a new birth; it’s the water of a new birth taking place in the soul, a deeper conversion, a deeper communion with God as a result of our hearts being, as it were, crushed in order to be resurrected.

One thing from the first reading from Isaiah to point out – when our Lord prayed here, He says, ‘Would that you knew what would avail you for peace. I came to bring you peace but you have rejected it.’ As a result you will be the ones to suffer. You will be inviting more problems into your life. I came, not to free you from your problems but to be a medicine to give you the strength to overcome them.

The rock where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jerusalem, 2018)

In other words, in Hebrews, Jesus’s presence of salvation doesn’t mean that we will be immune to problems. When Jesus says ‘Follow me,’ He doesn’t say, ‘Follow me and all your problems will go away. You will never experience any suffering.’ That is not His promise. His promise is, ‘I will be with you always; no matter what you go through, it will grow you.’

He will bring all things into subjection into Himself. If He allows it, He can redeem it. He will bring good out of it. He will bring that poison in your life, and turn it into medicine. He will use it for your healing; the very thing that most afflicted you, and that was the greatest cause of your tears, he will use as a cause of your transformation.

This is the promise of salvation. Redemption. Bringing good out of evil. But there’s a time of visitation, he says, a specific time in which He allows the grace to be available to us, and he calls us to not be afraid to enter into that; to not postpone the moment of grace; to not wait until tomorrow; today, to take advantage to receive the grace and His Spirit; today, I ask; today, I allow you to work in my soul.

The prophet Isaiah says, ‘Let my eyes stream with tears over the destruction that overwhelms over the incurable wound of my people.’ He continues, ‘We waited for healing but terror came instead. Why have you struck as a blow that cannot be healed? For your name’s sake spurn us not, remember your covenant with us and break it not. Disgrace not the throne of your glory.’ Isaiah expresses the plea of God’s people in moments that seem insurmountable.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when the problem seemed so big, that it seemed unresolvable? Of course you have; we all have. We think, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get out of this one; there’s no way I‘ll be able overcome this; there’s no way that God can bring good out of this one; it all ends here.’ These tears are seeds of salvation to bring forth a new harvest of grace in our hearts of God’s presence

This is an expression of the sympathy of God in being able to know our tears, and his angels collect them in a vase as sacred jewels. There is a time of our visitation. The remedy doesn’t happen immediately, but it does happen! It doesn’t happen according to our schedule, our time frame, our expectations, our impatience, or our itinerary. But it does come.

We often have an itinerary of what we propose, but God is the one who disposes. Man proposes, God disposes. In our itinerary of our pilgrimage of life, ‘I propose, God disposes.’

And what God has planned is always better than what we do. And every penance, and every inconvenience along the way, is only part of the greater construction of the final action, the final communion, the final effect of His grace in giving us what we came to look for – God’s face. We see the brightness of this beautiful face after having experienced some kind of brokenness. Passing through the brokenness we come to a new place in what it means to see God’s face.

Every tear is a seed for a harvest. Blessed be God who transforms our crying into dancing, and our mourning into a new anointing. Alleluia.

Saint Paul & and Karl Rahner: on Love

THIS WEEK’S SUNDAY GOSPEL: 1 Cor 12:31-13:13

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.
At present I know partially;
then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

Image credit: Cecile Basnage (Cruz de Ferro, Camino de Santiago, Spain 2018)

Only in love can I find you, my God

by Karl Rahner excerpted from Encounters With Silence

Only in love can I find you, my God.

In love, the gates of my soul spring open,
allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom
and forget about my own petty self.

In love, my whole being streams forth
out of the rigid confines of narrowness
and anxious self-assertion,
which makes me a prisoner of my own
poverty and emptiness.

In love, all the powers of my soul flow
out toward you,
wanting never more to return,
but to lose completely in you,
since by your love you are the
innermost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself.

But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self and
leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar and from the outside
upon your unapproachable brightness, and much more
when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One, have become
through love the inmost center of my life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you,
O mysterious God, and with myself,
all my questions.

Father Robert Elias, OCD: Homily at Cana in Galilee

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds.  (Cana in Galilee 2018)

JOHN 2:1-11 – There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”

And Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it.

And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from — although the servers who had drawn the water knew —, the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him.

There’s a lot in this scripture to capture the significance of this vocation of marriage. In God’s providence, He chose to manifest His Divine identity in the context of a wedding. In the Old Testament, God refers to His covenant with His chosen people as a spousal relationship. Isaiah refers to our God and our maker, as the Bridegroom.

God has a love for His people as a husband has a love for His wife. And Jesus came to bring about this mystical marriage between our humanity and God.

Byzantine marriage (Wiki Commons)

This Mass is going to be for the couples who are here present, number one. Two, for those of you who are married but your spouse isn’t present, I invite you also to renew your covenant with your spouse who is back at home. And as the couples here renew their vows, hold your hand with your wedding ring and renew your vows with your spouse. Invite the Lord to bring healing into your relationship, if there is need of emotional healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, or of resurrection in your relationship with your spouse.

The third intention is for those who are widowed; pray for the eternal rest of your spouse that they may rest in the peace of God. The fourth intention is for those who are divorced. Love your enemies and your persecutors, whether they’re remarried or not. Some divorces are really traumatic and hard, so pray for healing. In some divorces, you just divorce as friends and you go your separate ways, and you have a friendship for the sake of the children. Pray for your ex-spouse, but pray especially for your children because they experience the effects of the divorce differently than you do.

And fifth, for those who are single and are still open to the possibility of marriage: if that is God’s divine will for you, pray that God will bring the right person in your life, the person that He knows will be the best for His plan for your happiness. For those who are called to the single life, and didn’t want to have a single life, who wanted to be married but never found the right person –pray for the peace of acceptance because God’s vocation of love is ever alive in your life.

Pray for the acceptance in your life, knowing that you are not any less lovable in God’s eyes. You’re not in any way less than those who are called to marriage. Pray for that acceptance in discovering God’s vocation of love for you because God needs you to flourish in the gift of love that you have to offer, whatever it may be.

Pray for the acceptance that ‘Yes, God has chosen me for a vocation of love and it doesn’t mean that I am any less qualified for marriage than anyone else, but that God needs me where I am, and where I’ve been planted.’ Pray for the acceptance to grieve for the fact that ‘I may not have been able to be married and be a parent.’ Grieve this gift of experience that you may be free to live the gift of where you are called to now.

As we celebrate the Eucharist, and as these couples renew their covenant, let us renew our covenant, first and foremost, to God because He is the love of all loves and the only love of our lives that is important.

Those who are married know that to love is a battle. Sometimes, those who are married wish they weren’t married, and those who aren’t married wish that they were. We’re always admiring the ones on the other side. We hear from the scripture that love is a battle. It’s not easy and we need God’s grace.

And ultimately it’s God’s love that is the only love that does not disappoint. As human beings, we are so flawed and broken that we make mistakes. Inevitably, we will let down those who rely upon us. There is no perfect person and we have to learn to be comfortable with the imperfect, to accept the weakness and to find grace in the midst of it.

It is with faith that we celebrate love, especially the love of God who is the center of all of our lives.

Photo Credit: Lorelei Low, ocds.  (Cana 2018)