This homily or conference was given by Father Robert Elias, OCD at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, Oregon as part of a private retreat to friars in formation during the season of Epiphany 2020.
In this conference, Father Robert Elias reminds those pursuing their vocations in the Lord that the reason we remain faithful to God’s true purpose for us is that the love of God has revealed Himself, that we may possess His abundant life. Father Robert uses Father Mark Foley’s The Context of Holiness to further explain that although psychology as a body of knowledge is not sufficient to explain the mystery of the human person, it has much to offer in developing a full picture of the different facets of our one life.
This homily or conference was given by Father Robert Elias, OCD at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, Oregon as part of a private retreat to friarsin formation during the season of Epiphany 2020.
In this homily, Father Robert Elias reminds us that the bounty of God’s divinity is linked to our frail humanity through the bridge of His merciful love. It is there in our woundedness that we are able to encounter the Father’s Love and experience our epiphany and our path to healing.
This homily or conference was given by Father Robert Elias, OCD at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, Oregon as part of a private retreat to friars in formation during the season of Epiphany 2020.
In this homily, Father Robert asks, “How has God inspired a fire in your life? What are the lights that have spoken to your understanding and kindled a fire? These are the stars that have lead to our deeper understanding of who God is.”
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.
SOURCE: The Feast of Christ the King Homily, St. Victor’s Church, San Jose, CA. November 2018)
(Click on the triangle to play)
The Trial before Pilate (John 18:28-38)
28Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.
29So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?” 30They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
31At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” 32*in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.
33So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
37So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.
Today we celebrate a King – not a czar or a political figure – but a King who’s status ranks second to none. To this king belongs the primacy and priority. Another way of understanding a king is a champion, a chief, a master.
As we celebrate the King of the universe, the question for us, is ‘Are you down with the King? Are you willing to lay your life down for Him, as He has laid His life down for you?
Christ the King desires to reign not only in nations, but also in our hearts. His rule is redemption. He restores all things of who I am and who I am meant to be, and I say that speaking for everybody. As soon as I surrender my life to His, He starts to write straight on crooked lines. He begins to turn my wrongs into right. He desires to reign in our hearts for our sakes, and not for His own, so that He can liberate us from all that can shackle our capacity for happiness.
What shackles our capacity for happiness more than anything else? — sin and death – but He also came to liberate us from everything in between. For example, fear in all its forms – the fear of death, or even fear as a sole motive of obedience to God. He wants to set us free even of fear of the Lord if that’s the only motive of why we believe.
For He came that we might be free, so that our obedience can come from a place of freedom and love. In calling us to be free, He is calling us to victory. Our identity as believers in Christ is victory; therefore, we are not called to be victims of anybody or anything – not of our past or of our past choices or decisions. Nothing is capable of limiting us but our own selves.
God’s victory is vast and He has a vast vista, a broad horizon for who we are and what we’re capable of. We’re not to be victims of the past, of persecution, of oppression, or of abuse; we are not to be victims of pain because victory is our birthright and He is the King.
As the Psalms says, ‘His throne stands firm.’ Jesus is still seated on His throne no matter how bad things get; no matter how ugly things get in the world, in the Church or in your personal lives, Jesus’ throne stands firm. He’s still in control, He’s still in charge, and He’s still the chief. He is still writing straight out of crooked lines, bringing good out of everything.
His dominion is everlasting – definitive and indestructible. No one has more authority than Him in the whole universe. How did this King, our King accomplish this victory? – by Himself becoming a victim, out of empathy for our battle, and for the fight that we have to fight in order to be saved.
The victor became a victim. And how did He win this victory? In the second reading, it says ‘to Him who loves us and freed us’ – that’s how we won the victory – by His love. His love is the power that allowed Him to obtain the victory on our behalf. It was love that gave Him the strength and courage to lay down His life for our sake in order to lift us up; He lay down His life to give us the victory that we could never accomplish by our own strength.
He won the victory by His blood and by the sacrifice of His life on the cross. He who was pierced allowed His heart to be broken; He allowed His heart to be pierced in order to open up paradise for us through the forgiveness of our sins and the restoring of our lives.
He who was pierced became the victor. In the Book of Revelations, He says, ‘I am the beginning and the end of all time. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.’
He is the source and summit of everything and everything in between. All life revolves around Him – not us. He is the center of the universe – not me.
The wisest thing we can ever do is to give our lives to worship Him. That’s wisdom, because by worshiping Him, be become united to Him whom we love, and when we’re united to Him whom we love, we’re united to all that belongs to Him. And His life is victory. It is eternal and indestructible.
That’s not simply a hope for our future, like fire insurance or a back-up plan, it is a victory and reality of love; we’re meant to know the power of His love working in our life today, in our concrete circumstances and situation. In whatever challenges you may experience, the presence of Jesus and His victory is taking action, and taking flesh in your particular situation and in the context of your relationships.
Being united and being children of the King means that our blood is royalty. It means we have birthrights to His blessing. We share in His authority.
When we pray, we have the power to pray in the Spirit, to declare His promises over our lives, and to claim His victory in advance in the midst of the trial; knowing that if we trust, the Lord is going to transform this trial into a triumph. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I know He is. We can possess that kind of confidence when we belong to the King because the victory has been won and it just has to be daily reinforced in you and me.
We heard about His majesty prophesied in the first reading from Daniel, centuries before Christ even came to the world. It was prefigured. And in the gospel, Jesus says, ‘For this I was born, and for this, I came into the world to testify to the truth,’ – a truth that is not of this world, a truth that is greater than common sense or natural wisdom, a truth that sometimes might contradict what you might expect, a truth that will really set you free, more than anything or anybody could or can.
This truth will set us free from slavery from a lesser self and a lesser way of living; this truth is not a something but a Somebody, and is all centered in the person of Jesus, the King of the Universe.
Jesus says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ It’s not political but spiritual; not temporal but eternal. Everything belongs to Him, both seen and unseen – in our physical body, on our health, the health of the planet, and all the cosmos. Everything is in His hands.
Therefore, our destiny is not limited to this world. It’s but the training ground and platform. Sometimes, this place where we must work out our salvation can be a battlefield. But Jesus says ‘I am not of this world’ and we too, if we really belong to Jesus, we also have to say, ‘I am not of this world. I belong to the truth. I belong to Somebody who loves me and who has given His life for me.
His victory is my identity; it is my birthright as a believer in Christ. I am called today to share in the victory of Jesus as King and even if we don’t literally win at everything, which is very possible, even if we don’t always win, as long as we learn and rise up – that’s where strength is found. That’s where true victory lies – in the cross.
Jesus referred to that cross as His glory yet it is seen to be far from glory for those who are worldly-wise. And yet He refers to that cross as His glory because it is the means for His resurrection, the means of His victory.
So too is every struggle and cross in our lives, every sacrifice of obedience of God’s law and will, even when it hurts to love in the way we are supposed and are meant to; it’s in the pain that we find the cross that is life-giving. And it’s by the cross that we shall be crowned.
No cross, no crown. Where there is the cross, there will be the resurrection. Jesus desires and He died so that He could crown our lives with His glory – so that His cross may be our anchor.
Are you down with the King? The choice is up to each of us whether or not we are willing to lay down our life in love, for Him who laid down His life for ours.
O lavish Giver of light, You alone are the fullness of life. Teach us to relearn how to listen, so as to be filled with the love of Your wisdom, and abide in the beauty of truth & holiness. Our heart of hearts is the Holy of Holies of Your dwelling, Lord God of Hosts. Enrich us in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s Effervescence. May his blazing radiance take possession of our hearts, now and forever. Amen.
SOURCE: During the San Francisco Rosary Rally after co-celebrating the Mass with Archbishop Cordileone, Father Robert Elias, OCD gave a conference on the meaning of the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
There seems to be two general categories of joy. Natural joy happens in time. It is not a constant condition but rather a feeling that lifts us up for a while. It comes from possessing something good, looking forward to something good, or a pleasure or happiness that results from some basic good. There is joy in doing the right thing, joy in completing a task we have been evading because it is displeasing to us. There is joy that results from the hard work of earning a college degree. Such natural joys can come from planned activities, or come upon us for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Far deeper and richer a gift, however, is supernatural joy. This is a
joy that is eternal. No person has this joy unless he or she prays to
God, living so as to enter ever more deeply into a perfecting union with
him. St. Bonaventure tells us: “In God alone is there primordial and
true delight, and in all our delights it is this delight we are
seeking.” Christian joy is more than pleasure or happiness. It comes
with a price. We must communicate with God, obey his teachings and live
with the intentions of pleasing him. Christian joy, not limited to
positive emotions, is a by-product of knowing God personally and
intimately. It is more like a serene inner glow. Perhaps, we can
visualize it as a tranquil, deep lake hidden, at the bottom of the
soul. When difficulties arise and seem to overwhelm us, we seek solace
and refuge by being submerged in its placid, clear, and restorative
waters. With the help of divine grace, we rise up, refreshed and
invigorated, ready to face our challenges with peace, with faith, and
with love. This illuminates and transforms our spiritual landscape, so
that we can manage whatever life has in-store for us. This sign of the
eternal assures us that we should not fear. Problems purify us, as
prayer draws us closer to the reality for which we were created. Anselm
of Canterbury knew this, stating: “I have not yet thought or said, O
Lord, how much your blessed ones will rejoice. Surely, they will
rejoice in the degree that they will love, and they will love to the
degree that they will know. How much will they know you in that day,
Lord, how much will they love you?”
Jesus is at the center of all our love, all our knowing, all our
rejoicing. This joy flows from him: when we pray, worship, receive his
sacraments, undertake good works, we are living in the light of eternal
salvation—the God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfection of lasting
joy, the sole goal of our Christian life. He is the only person who
gives us the fullness of joy because he is the only one who can
completely fulfill our deepest human needs, desires, and longings.
Christian joy is usually unaffected by external circumstances because
it is a prayerful focus of the heart. True Christian joy is not
something always, or even usually, “felt.” Rather, it is a deep,
settled commitment, secured in God, bonded in hope, and lived out by
Christian principles. It is our anchor in this swirling sea of life.
This disposition does not demand that we be perpetually cheerful. Common
sense tells us that this is simply not real. The sacred is in normal,
everyday life. God is found all around us—from the monastery to the
mortuary, from the corner church to the corner cafe. John Paul II
realized this better than most: “There is no law which lays it down that
you must smile, but you can make a gift of your smile. You can be the
heaven of kindness in your family.”
Christian joy is based on our confidence in being a daughter or son
of God, who loves us tenderly and will never abandon us. Evelyn
Underhill once wrote: “This is the secret of joy. We will no longer
strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to
God’s way, acquiesce in his will, and in so doing, find our peace.”
This is possible when prayer is an all important daily commitment.
Intentional prayer is the proof that we believe in God’s particular and
unique love for us. The only one who will “always be there” for us is
God, loving us always as he loved his own Son. His love is unchanging
and consistent, making it possible for us to trust him in all
circumstances. Our trust in God develops from heartfelt prayer, deep
faith, and a yearning for his intimacy. Our love is, thus, a fruit of
such prayer. St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us how to love this way:
“Give love to your children, your wife or husband, to a next door
neighbor… Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or
happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your
face; kindness in your eyes; kindness in your smile; kindness in your
Joy requires living in peace. Because peace begins with ourselves,
we must make a decision to live, each day, from a joy inherent in our
union with the Trinity, realized through our practice of prayer. Only
by loving, and being loved, by God are we are free to be ourselves, free
to blossom, and free to relish our moments of grace. This freedom
flows underneath the feasts and famines of our days because our constant
strength is in God, in his love: “The greatest honor that you can give
to Almighty God, greater than all your penances and sacrifices and
mortifications, is to live joyfully because of the knowledge of his
love” (Julian of Norwich). Because prayer helps us live in the
company of Jesus Christ, we strive not to be cynical or sarcastic. We
ignore rumors, avoid gossip, and strive to see people as human beings
created in the image and likeness of God. Problems are then
opportunities to collaborate with God, choosing joy each day, and in so
doing, being liberated from the constraints of negativity. Deep
Christian joy that blossoms from the heart, and shared with others,
fosters a common unity and purpose. This is evident when we share
aspects of our Catholic faith, as St. Augustine knew: “When many men
rejoice together, there is a richer joy in each individual, since they
enkindle themselves and they inflame one another.”
Jesus empowers us with his serenity in the midst of personal trials. This is why joy is the greatest sign of God’s presence. Our lifeline with Jesus is prayer, increasing our awareness of his expansive presence. It is important to remind ourselves that prayer is more of the will, and less of feelings or intellect. We often put off praying until we think we have made everything right in our lives, first. However, there is no correct mood for prayer: being distracted or having inappropriate thoughts does not mean we are praying poorly. It means that we are being faithful to the discipline of daily prayer. Prayer is thus an act of the will, wherein we desire to give all our confused thoughts and problems to God Too much reflection on the negatives in our past, wears us down and erodes the joy of the present. We should, therefore, leave the past to God’s mercy, living, instead, in the present. The same holds true for the future: for if we allow the past or future to crash into the present, they inevitably tarnish the grace and sacrament of the present moment. The spirit of joy requires discipline of the mind. We need to control our wandering thoughts, and try, as best we can, to enjoy the life in the gift of today. If we altruistically love ourselves and our neighbor, we are active components of God’s love.
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.