Father Kevin Joyce introduces the writings of Saint John of the Cross. He wrote four books, which are commentaries of his poems, where he describes in detail, the spiritual experiences that are possible for people to experience on earth: The Dark Night of the Soul, The Ascent to Mount Carmel, Spiritual Canticles, and The Living Flame of Love.
In these works, Saint John of the Cross explains that our spiritual journey is a process of transformation that takes place in which “the soul becomes God through participation in God, and in God’s attributes.” How is such transformation possible? This is the subject of Father Kevin Joyce’s second conference on Saint John of the Cross.
In this conference, Father Kevin Joyce explains the influences that brought Saint John of the Cross to his Carmelite vocation. What attracted Saint John of the Cross to the Carmelites was their contemplative spirit, as explained in one passage that touched him deeply: “Part of the Carmelite’s goal, is to taste, somewhat in the heart and to experience in the soul, not only after death, but even in this mortal life, the intensity of the divine presence and the sweetness of the glory of heaven.” This is the vocation of all Carmelites.
SOURCE: September 2019, Day of Recollection, Santa Clara Discalced Carmelite Secular community of the Infant Jesus
When I got home from our Holy Land pilgrimage, one of the first things I did was call Asima, a seventy-something year old Arab who was once one of my best friends. I meant to call her before the pilgrimage to let her know that I would be visiting her homeland, but for some reason, I didn’t. I was hoping that calling her soon after the trip would suffice.
“So what is the news?” she asked, since I had rarely spoken to her since she moved out of the neighborhood five years ago.
“Asima, I visited Jordan!” I replied with excitement.
But rather than responding with joy, she asked with hurt in her voice, “Why didn’t you tell me?! Hmm?…I lived in Jordan. My daughter lives in Jordan. Hmm…Did you forget? Did you forget?!”
Asima was born in Jaffa Tel Aviv when it was called Palestine, but in 1948, when Israel was established as a state, she and her family, along with countless Palestinians, were forced to leave their homes and lands behind, and they moved to Jordan. She eventually came to the United States with her two unmarried sons due to the persecution of Christians.
We had a hidden friendship, one that was shared and experienced by just the two of us, and it began when she started taking care of my three-year old daughter. I belonged to an inter-denominational Women’s Bible Study that met weekly with the goal of going through all the books of the Old Testament in seven years.
About four years into our study, I could feel the exhaustion of motherhood and being away from my extended family weighing on me, and I turned to Asima for help. She led the Evening Women’s Bible Study for a small group of Arab women, but during the day, she took care of her grandson and helped with childcare at the church. Providentially, she also lived in an apartment just two blocks from our house and the grandson she was taking care of was the same age as my daughter.
I would try to simply drop off my daughter, but true to Arabian hospitality, Asima would not let me leave unless I sat down with her and had tea and anise cookies, or pita and hummus sprinkled with olive oil.
(“We are a people of the desert,” our tour guide from Jordan once said. “You cannot enter a home without being offered everything that we are able to give you. That is our way.”)
And we could not sit down at the kitchen table without Asima talking about the way of Jesus and the Prophets, as they moved through her homeland, a terrain that was so unimaginable to me, but one that Asima knew through the many generations of blood and family before her who lived there.
Soon, she was also giving me extemporaneous Bible Study lessons when she passed by my house and found that I was home.
I would come along on her leisurely walk around the block and together we would talk about scripture, rescue lemons fallen from bushes, and pick apricots from the tree on the side of my yard. In early spring, she would come with scissors to cut the young grape leaves off our terrace.
In exchange for the harvest from our yard, Asima would return a few days later with dolmas made of grape leaves, tabouli sprinkled generously with lemon juice, or a small jar of apricot jam.
“Asima, I didn’t forget you. I thought about you the whole time I was in the Holy Land,” I tried to explain to her. Every bite of hummus, the scent of anise and sesame seeds, and parsley and lemon that pervaded the places we ate in –constantly reminded me of her.
And everywhere we went, I heard her voice, telling different stories from both the Old and New Testament.
When we walked through Petra, the majestic city built in the red stone cliffs of Jordan by the Edomites, I heard Asima speaking. “Did you read the book of Obadiah? It’s only one chapter from the Old Testament. Obadiah spoke about Petra. The people who live in Petra, they were very proud because they are living inside the high mountains, and when the enemy comes, they must walk the narrow way. When the people of Petra see men coming to fight, what do they do? They attack from the top of the mountains.
‘And who lived there before? Esau’s children. His brother is Jacob. Jacob used to live on the Palestine side, and Esau lived in the Jordan side. When the enemy comes to fight Jacob’s children, they asked Esau’s children if they can come around to their side, but they refused. They started to laugh. For this reason, Esau’s children do not get blessed by God.’
“Go to Obadiah verses two and eighteen. Read it.” I would then leaf through the Bible and find the scripture passage as fast as I could, while Asima would almost immediately open to the page. While I read, she ran her finger from right to left on her bible’s Arabic script.
“Now I make you least among the nations; you are utterly contemptible. The pride of your heart has deceived you – you who dwell in mountain crevices, in your lofty home…The house of Jacob will be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau a stubble…none will survive of the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken,” I would read.
“You see,” she would exclaim. “To this day, Petra is empty except for tourists.”
She would then share modern-day stories, those shared by word of mouth from one friend to another about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the stories sounded too barbaric and unreal to me then, but they have today, become an accepted part of the news.
“But God is perfect and knows all. Jesus was born at exactly the right time. Go to Galatians, chapter 4, starting at verse three. What does Paul say?”
I would read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”
“Why does Paul say ‘the fullness of time?’ After the Greek empire, the Romans came. And after the Romans came, they couldn’t change the language. The Greek language spread. And what did the Romans do? They fixed the roads. ‘All roads go to Rome!’
‘Now look how God prepared the way. One language, and Paul knows the language. He speaks Greek, and he’s educated. He has a Roman passport, and the roads are open. Yanni, it helps Paul to go every place to talk about Jesus. For this reason, it says ‘the fullness of time.’”
Asima was one of the first people to visit me when my youngest child was born. She would smile at the baby in her arms, and fondly say, “Habibi!” Then she would sing to him, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”
Our times together dwindled when I had to return to work to support my husband through graduate school and my children through several private schools. The endless weekends of grading papers and prepping, and all the demands of being a mother of four children while working full-time, made times with Asima less possible, and it began to seem that the friendship was really not so important.
But everything about Asima and the intimacy of our friendship came rushing back at me when we visited the Holy Lands. It wasn’t just the smells, the landscape, and the sound of her voice telling a story behind every holy site – our tour guide in Israel even ended up being part of her extended family!
(“Oh, I know Asima,” he nonchalantly told me. Then he pulled up a photo of a relative Asima introduced me to fifteen years ago, and his baby).
The Holy Spirit was constantly prompting me to remember because He didn’t want me to forget who Asima was to me — for Asima reminded me of who I was before the Lord.
“You are like my other daughter,” she would often tell me with gleam in her eyes. “And you are also God’s daughter. For this reason, always, you are beautiful. He loves you so much — He knows the number of the hairs on your head.”
I didn’t so much forget Asima, as much as I had forgotten who I was.
O Mary, my Mother, be my model during this holy season. Christ was alive within thee during the first Advent. We want Him to be more alive within us than ever during this Advent. May we not merely possess our precious Catholic Faith-rather, may It take complete possession of us, so that wherever we go, whatever we do or say, it will be the Christ Child that inspires us.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.
I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.
EXODUS 3:1-14 Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb. 2There the angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. 3S Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.b 6I am the God of your father,* he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.c Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
9Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you
Homily at Memorial Church of Moses, Mount Nebo (Madaba, Jordan) – loose transcription below
Moses was chosen by Adonai, our Holy God to be the mediator of the communion between his holiness and his people. He was a beloved of God and was chosen for a mission of liberation.
In the first reading, we heard about this emancipation from slavery to freedom and new life when God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.
This was a process that took a long time. When we ask for God’s intervention, we expect results immediately, but his plan for his people’s happiness took a long, long time. And what prolonged the blessings to be received? – the disposition and attitude of his people, their wayward thinking; their deceiving and their negative speaking put up roadblocks and prolonged their arrival to the Promised Land.
Moses represents the holiness of God amidst of his people. He is a prophet of God’s presence, who hears the cries of the poor, knows their afflictions, and desires our liberation. God wants us to be happy just as any parent desires for their children.
Mount Sinai is is a place of Moses’ extraordinary experience of God and Mount Nebo is where he saw the fulfillment of the promise of Sinai from a distance:
Deuteronomy 34:1-6 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo,a the peak of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and the LORD showed him all the land—Gilead, and as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3the Negeb, the plain (the valley of Jericho, the City of Palms), and as far as Zoar. 4The LORD then said to him, This is the land about which I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you shall not cross over. 5So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the LORD, died as the LORD had said.
Moses was a prophet of liberation and freedom. His encounter with God gave him the strength and endurance to journey for forty years. It is from Mount Sinai, where God manifested himself as a bush and revealed himself as ‘I am who am,’ a mystical expression of his identity. It was so holy that his name couldn’t even be pronounced or expressed in a single name.
There are countless names that reveal God’s majesty, but the greatest name that Jesus revealed to us is Abba – Father. God doesn’t want us to be afraid to come near him and know his majesty and merciful love, which is expressed through a filial love, so that we know his majesty with a heart-felt affection.
The same access of love that Jesus has for the father is our birthright. We have rights to God’s heart as our father. We have to know our real father. And Jesus wants to set us free from that which causes fear and intimidation. He is the new Moses who brings about the ultimate revolution of new life – and the cost was Himself.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent so that anyone who looked at it would be healed, we too have to face our fears. The Israelites were bit by the snake of their own complaining, which created a bitterness that was killing them from the inside out. In order to be freed from the sickness of their heart, they had to face their fears by looking at what they feared the most.
John Paul II said that the first thing we should do to discover our own exodus is to be not afraid; open wide the gates of your heart to Christ. The truth is that he will not hold back anything; there is no price he will not pay for our reconciliation.
The cross saves. This sacrifice saves us, but to enter into that sacrifice, we must embrace the cross of our own lives. Only by doing so can you be healed from it. In that cross is the wisdom and power. But you must face the enemy to experience the emancipation and liberation of the crossing of the Red Sea.
God wants us to have our own salvation history. And Jesus is the new Moses who brings about this new-found liberty.