Father Robert Elias, OCD: October 15, St. Teresa’s Feastday

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Photo credit: The Speakroom

(REPOST from October 2017)

Teach me your ways, oh Blessed Trinity

Teach me your ways, oh Creator of earth,
Born before the beginning of time.
In your cavernal womb,
Envelop me in loving secrecy.
Breathe into me the cool breath of life
From walls that have carried waters and springs eternal.
That I may never forget,
In the beginning, I was dust,
Formed into beauty by the Word,
Hidden beneath the stillness of Grace.

Here am I, Lord.
For I am nothing,
and You are everything
In all that I am,
and in all that I will be.- TL

Editor’s note: Saint John of the Cross’s sepulcre is located on the grounds of the Segovia Carmelite Friars Monastery.  St. John spent his later years praying in caves like the one in this photo, which is the same as mentioned in Father Robert’s homily below.  This homily was Father Robert’s final talk of the 2015 Pilgrimage to Spain in celebration of Saint Teresa’s Centenary. I wrote the prayer above after spending an extended time of silence in this cave.

Saint Teresa’s soul was prepared and marinated, like the meat Wisdom speaks of at the beginning of Proverbs, by the gifts of the Spirit. What does it mean to marinate meat? Those of you who have had more experience than I have know all the different spices that have to come in – oregano, the wine to receive the juices. Then it has to be refrigerated overnight to allow the meat to marinate, to soak up the juices of all the spices and flavors of the choice wines.

This is how our soul must be. Carmelites [pray novenas and] go to pilgrimages so as to marinate our souls in the spirit of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila. We haven’t yet begun to fully see the effects these experiences can have on us. The fruits are still concealed when we return home and to our daily lives. The effects of how, our prayerful experiences in some way have imprinted itself upon us in order to shape us in some fashion will not be obvious. That spiritual growth and change usually takes place as an experience of God, but that encounter and experience is not necessarily going to be something overwhelming, something that can be fully grasped by our senses. That experience and encounter can be very subtle, very gentle, and even hidden from ourselves. Nevertheless, it is real, living and active in our spirits.

In Segovia, there is a large cave with a curtain at its entrance, and if you go into that cave, it is very dark. You don’t see anything that would really engage the senses. It doesn’t have all the baroque, gorgeous displays of the grandeur of God, as can be seen in many churches. In fact, the cave is the opposite; it’s poor, it’s barren, it’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s empty. Yet in the midst of that emptiness is a plump Presence and a supernatural peace. In that darkness, is the center of where God dwells. Hidden, unseen, and yet living and active, and ever so present.

When God speaks in the depths of our spirit, our senses cannot perceive how He is present, but He is certainly present. In the midst of His hiddenness, God is marinating us. He is planting seeds and the change, the effects, the fruits of the conversion that this encounter is meant to have isn’t necessarily going to be something extreme or clearly radical. It’ll be very subtle as well. We will see it in the subtlety of our choices, the subtlety of our drive, in the orientation of our desires, the subtlety of all the decisions that we make, in all the different opportunities, in how we move our senses, and in what we allow our eyes to look at and to not be engaged in; the subtlety of our choices on what we choose to respond to, and to hold back our tongue; the subtlety of our choices when we have a variety of options and we choose not simply what is good, but what is best. We choose to go from good to better and not settle for less.

This is conversion. This is the kind of change and transformation that is more common and more realistic when conversion takes place. Conversion happens in three primary stages and St. Teresa talks about this in The Interior Castle. There are always different degrees of conversion. St. Teresa herself experienced the fullness of conversion. She is a great theologian of the heart, the theologian of love, a teacher of love and life, a great master of wisdom. She teaches us the way of love, the way of the heart as a way to God through faith, hope, and love. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

Toledo, Spain 2015 (Last Pilgrimage Homily) – transcribed by TL

Copyright 2016, Father Robert Barcelos

Novena to Saint Teresa of Avila (written by St. Alphonsus of Liguori)
O most amiable Lord Jesus Christ! We thank Thee for the great gift of faith and of devotion to the Holy Sacrament, which Thou didst grant to Thy beloved Teresa; we pray Thee, by Thy merits and by those of Thy faithful spouse, to grant us the gift of a lively faith, and of a fervent devotion toward the most Holy Sacrament of the altar; where Thou, O infinite Majesty! hast obliged Thyself to abide with us even to the end of the world, and wherein Thou didst so lovingly give Thy whole Self to us.

Say one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be.

V. St. Teresa, pray for us:

R. That we may become worthy of the promises of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: Graciously hear us, O God of our salvation! that as we rejoice in the commemoration of the blessed virgin Teresa, so we may be nourished by her heavenly doctrine, and draw from thence the fervour of a tender devotion; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

‘Arm yourselves with the armor of faith and the sword of truth.  Pray for the grace to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – and for the healing of wounded bodies and souls.’

Carolyn Humphreys, ocds: perfect joy & St. Francis

St Francis of Assisi by El Greco

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One winter day, St. Francis of Assisi (Feast Day, October 4) was traveling to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) in Perugia, Italy, with Brother Leo. The bitter cold made them both suffer keenly.  St. Francis called to Brother Leo, who was walking ahead of him a bit: “Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor in every country give a great example, and integrity, and good edification, nevertheless, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”

When he had walked on a bit, St. Francis called him again, saying: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb and, what is more, brings back to life a man who had been dead for four days, write that perfect joy is not in that.”

Going on further, St. Francis called out again in a strong voice: “Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages, and all sciences, and Scripture, if he also knew how to prophesy, and to reveal, not only the future, but also the secrets of consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”

As they continued to walk for a while, St. Francis called Leo again forcefully: “Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar Minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars, and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if he knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that.”

Going on a bit farther, St. Francis called again strongly: “Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that he should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not there.”

Now, when he had been talking this way for a distance of two miles, Brother Leo, in great amazement, finally asked him: “Father, I beg you, in God’s name, to tell me where perfect joy is.”

St. Francis replied: “When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud, and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: “Who are you?”  And we say: “We are two of your brothers.”  And he contradicts us, saying: “You are not telling the truth.  Rather, you are two rascals who go around deceiving people, and stealing what they give to the poor.  Go away!”  And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls—then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled, and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that the porter really knows us, and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there.”

“And if we continue to know, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying, ‘Get away from here, you dirty thieves—go to the hospital!  Who do you think you are?  You certainly won’t eat or sleep here’—and if we bear it patiently, and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, Oh, Brother Leo, write that this is perfect joy!”

“And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and painful cold, with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg him to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says: ‘Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians.  I’ll give them what they deserve.’  And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the ground, rolling us in the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds—if we endure all those evils and insults with joy and patience, reflecting that we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ patiently for love of him, Oh, Brother Leo, write: that is perfect joy!”

“And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo.  Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to his friends, is that of conquering oneself, and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ.  For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God’s, as the Apostle says: ‘What have you that you have not received?’  But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: ‘I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’”

Francis accepted suffering in the way of the Beatitudes.  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained how the poor, hungry, mourning and suffering people are tenderly loved by God, blessed by God, because they hope despite overwhelming circumstances.  St. Francis makes very real that perfect joy does not come from many talents and abilities, since these are never ultimately ours, but are gifts from God.  Francis, therefore, believed that the only really true gifts we can give to God, which are not originally from God, are our sufferings.

On the natural level, we, of course, do not want suffering in our life, but having reached the state described in the Beatitudes, we can accept suffering with joy.  Instead of trying to avoid pain and trials, we can accept them in a spirit that would allow us to offer this rarely-appreciated human gift back to God.  This is the cause of St. Francis’ perfect joy: he found the only thing that he had which he could give back to the Lord.  This is how to live the Beatitudes, how to live on a supernatural level, able to say, “I will not glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Perfect joy is found in fidelity and in constant prayer, patiently enduring all the gifts we give to God.  Joy is an interior state, independent from that which affects us externally.  For beneath all the hardships is the fundamental reality of joy.  The background to all suffering is total faith in the ultimate triumph of the Cross of Christ.

Hymn to Joy

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed, Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

(Text: Henry Van Dyke; Music: Ludwig van Beethoven; Arr. by Edward Hodges; Tune: HYMN TO JOY.)

About Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS
Carolyn Humphreys, OCDS, OTR, is a Discalced Carmelite Secular, and a registered occupational therapist. She is the author of the books: From Ash to Fire: A Contemporary Journey through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, Carmel Land of the Soul: Living Contemplatively in Today’s World, Mystics in the Making: Lay Women in Today’s Church, and Living Through Cancer, A Practical Guide to Cancer Related Concerns. Her latest book is Everyday Holiness: A Guide to Living Here and Getting to Eternity. You can find her reflections online at contemplativechristianityorg.wordpress.com.

Father James Geoghegan, OCD: Stairs to the Risen Christ and St. Thérèse

(REPOST from May 2017)

Carmel

At the age of 15, Thérèse entered the Carmel in Lisieux. It was a poor convent, damp at times, and always cold in winter. She tells us that her little cell filled her with joy. Rising from the corridor where she lived, there was a circular staircase leading to the cell for the prioress, Mother Gonzague, whom she loved very much. As a young novice, Thérèse felt a deep attraction to her prioress; and she often tried to find an excuse to go to visit her. Perhaps she needed the attention and affection she had had back at home. Thérèse realized the danger of false affection; at times she had to hold onto the banisters to stop herself from going up those stairs. This heroic self-discipline bore rich fruit. Instead of being spoiled and dependent, her relationship with Mother Gonzague grew into a pure, strong love between two independent, respectful, mature women.

The love Thérèse had for the prioress is evident in the section of the autobiography written for her. When going through a deeply traumatic time after the difficult election of 1896, it was Thérèse who was able to comfort and strengthen the older woman. The battle with immature love on the stairway yielded a rich bounty later on.

Under Mother Agnes, Thérèse was practically the mistress of novices; and she lived with the novices upstairs in the Novitiate. This wing was on the opposite side of the quadrangle from where most of the community lived. On cold winter nights, the sisters gathered around the fire in the community recreation room. To go to her cell, Thérèse had to traverse the open cloister in the cold night air and climb the stair. She spent hours trying to sleep but was unable to do so because the cold went right through to her bones. As her tuberculosis developed, she suffered more from the freezing weather.

As she climbed the stairs, she must have offered the painful, breath-consuming steps for her beloved missionaries. Turning a bend in those stairs, she saw each time a saying boldly written over the window: “Today a little work, tomorrow eternal rest.” Though exhausted emotionally and physically and dragging her weakened body Thérèse could not accept that pious saying. For her, heaven was not eternal rest but, in the words that Florence Nightingale said at this time, “an immense activity.”

Elevator

Stairs were a fact of life for Thérèse. She used them as metaphors at various times. As her desire for sanctity grew, she sought a direct and easy way for little souls to ascend to God. She remembered an experience she and Celine had in Paris on their way to Rome. In a big department store, they discovered an elevator. One can imagine the excitement of two teenagers, tired from shopping and sightseeing, riding the elevator from floor to floor. They were fascinated by this new invention. Thérèse would find in the elevator a new metaphor for her little way. A weak child did not have to ascend to God by climbing the steep stairs. The elevator was the merciful arms of the good God, carrying the child aloft in confidence and love. Thérèse even wrote to her missionary brother, a man plagued with a sense of weakness and inadequacy, “Ascend the elevator of love, not the stairs of fear.”

Years after Thérèse’s death, her novice mistress, Sister Mary of the Angels wrote: Thérèse teaches and enlightens me. I ask her continually to help me enter her Little Way so that in death Jesus will truly be my elevator.

SOURCE: Carmelite Digest, Autumn 1997, reprinted with permission

Copyright 1997, Father James Geoghegan, OCD