Brother Juan Torres, OCD: Saint Teresa of Avila 2

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A melody to God.

It is always good to return to the sources of our spirituality and vocation, to reflect, and to ask ourselves if we really know the great treasure we have in our saints. Do we really know them? Do we really love their testimony? Do we approach them regularly? How have they helped us to live more consciously, our identities as Catholic Christians, and particularly as Discalced Carmelites, as Secular Carmelites, and as Teresian Carmelites?

These are questions that we can ask ourselves in our groups and churches, but we have to also personally think about how much interest we really have in the life and teachings of our saints. These wonderful saints are Doctors of the Church, and whose spirit and charism we intend to live by. However, one popular saying says, “You cannot love what you do not know.” As members of the Carmelite Order, in particular, we can’t simply know the saints, but we must strive every day to approach them, let them be our teachers, and let them form us and teach us. They can tell us how to become true disciples of Christ to our world today, and how to be true Carmelites.

In August 2015, I saw the places where St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross once lived. The experience made me reflect often of the many ways St. Teresa uses to explain her spiritual process and relationship with God. She uses images like the castle, comparisons like the chess game, natural elements like water and fire, or the transformation of the butterfly.  I too want to use a symbol to explain this spiritual reflection.

Life is like a melody, and every day is a different note that builds our lives’ harmony. For a melody to be complete and above all to make it a masterpiece, different musical notes that give the changes and nuances are necessary. For example, of all Beethoven symphonies, the Sixth Symphony [click on the link to listen–] is one of my favorites; it is a truly beautiful piece. Every one of its movements, each musical instrument and every note plays an important role in the harmony. There are times that the melody seems sad, others when it’s calm and quiet, while others are anxious musical moments that break into glorious moments, but later return to calm.

Similarly, our lives are a melody and every day we live is a musical note; all the notes are important in building a harmonic melody, so that together, every single note is part of a masterpiece; all our experiences are necessary and we must learn to find beauty moment by moment, measure by measure.

More importantly, the melody of our life is not for us, but is a melody that we are creating to delight Someone. This melody of our life is for God; it is a song, a hymn in his honor. And this symphony of our lives will be completed at the end of our days; it is our responsibility to keep composing a beautiful melody and not a musical disaster.

The life of St. Teresa was a song that she entitled “The Mercies of the Lord.” In fact the original title that she gave to the book of her life, was of the “The Mercies of the Lord.” Mother St. Teresa ‘s life was not easy, and it was full of different experiences and situations. Sometimes, the events were joyful but others were very painful. Many of her experiences were of difficulties, while others were of spiritual peace. God was present in her life always – whether she lived in coldness or dryness, and whether she lived the graces of union with God or when the fire of love wounded her heart. She also experienced physical diseases and had to suffer slanders and misunderstandings.

Every note of Teresa’s life was a melody to God. This melody started to be written in Avila on March 28, 1515, and was finished in Alba de Tormes on the evening of October 15, 1582. Today, we have the privilege of seeing, hearing, and learning from this masterpiece. She can inspire us, give us light, and advice us in the creation of our own melody. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

Copyright Brother Juan Torres 2016, All rights reserved

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.’

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40 Days For Life: September 28-November 6

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Virgin with Child: Discalced Carmelite Convent, Segovia Spain. Photo credit:thespeakroom.org

Recently, I participated in a 24-hour Adoration and Procession for Life at a local parish as part of the 40 Days for Life 2016 Fall Campaign. One of the organizers was a secular Carmelite, and I wanted to show some kind of support.

In one sense, nothing happened. After Adoration and Mass, we walked leisurely to the Planned Parenthood nearby, prayed, and sang to the accompaniment of a single guitar. When we stopped at the corner, holding our “Pray to End Abortion” placards up in the air, people would either honk and beam a smile, or yell at us from their windows as they passed.

At first, I blended in with the crowd, and tried not to be noticed by the passersby, but as young women walked up the other set of stairs into the clinic, I was reminded of my community college students, particularly an eighteen-year old girl on the day of her final exams. She was shaking and couldn’t concentrate. I took her outside the classroom, and there she told me, “Yesterday, my grandma forced me to have an abortion. I didn’t want to do it. She made me do it.” I didn’t know what to say. We just embraced for a very long time.

I remembered another one of my students, her eyes aglow with joy as she showed me photos of her two-year old on her iPhone. Despite the tube from a tracheotomy that protruded from her throat, the little girl was laughing. “There she is,” my student said with pride. “She’s the reason I’m in this classroom!”

And then I remembered my own story. In the third month of my fourth pregnancy, I went for the usual round of ultrasounds and check-ups, but there was nothing usual about the results. The doctors had identified a growth in my son’s brain. Within one week of the ultrasound results, I was scheduled for a visit with a genetic counselor who explained to me that the baby I was carrying in my womb would be severely mentally handicapped, and that in all likelihood, he would not survive beyond the age of three. She told me that one of my options was abortion and that she could schedule an appointment the following week. My husband and I looked at each other and refused. We would keep the baby no matter what.

In the two months between my appointments, I would often place my hands on my belly and stare numbly into space. I asked for prayers from anyone who would listen, and rather than trying to imagine the unimaginable, I tried to stay resolute in our decision to keep the baby.

During the next ultrasound appointment, the doctors surprised us when they said that the brain growth had disappeared. The initial result was probably a misreading, they explained. A few months later, my fourth miracle child, a beautiful, healthy boy was born.

My son is now fourteen years old, and has a very sharp, witty mind. I don’t know what life would be like without him. In fact, I have had moments of desolation when holding his hand has felt like my only life raft.

People say that abortion is a freedom and a choice, but my experience is that its availability gives a false choice, a false freedom. I wonder how many women have been offered the kind of choice that I was offered by a professional health practitioner, said yes, and unwittingly aborted a perfectly healthy baby. I wonder what young girls would say, if they even had a glimpse of understanding of the exponential joy children give to those around them. I wonder what they would do if they had the knowledge that with each newborn, God gives special graces to raise that child. Every time each of my children were born, my husband and I thought that for sure, we would not be able to afford it, and that we would collapse in financial ruin, but we were wrong. With each child, the blessings multiplied, as we faced each challenge with our wounded faithfulness and love. I wonder if the young girl I embraced on the last day of school has found freedom from the choice she was forced to make.

With all these memories in mind, as those of us in the Procession for Life started praying the first decade of the rosary, I asked an older woman for her placard, stood boldly at the corner of the intersection, and held up my “Pray to End Abortion” sign, hoping that someone, at least someone, would have second thoughts.

by teresa linda

Lauryn Hill can say the rest….

 

Zion Lyrics

One day you’ll understand
Zion!

Unsure of what the balance held
I touched my belly overwhelmed
By what I had been chosen to perform
But then an angel came one day
Told me to kneel down and pray
For unto me a man child would be born
Woe this crazy circumstance
I knew his life deserved a chance
But everybody told me to be smart
Look at your career they said,
“Lauryn, baby, use your head.”
But instead I chose to use my heart

Now the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion

How beautiful if nothing more
Than to wait at Zion’s door
I’ve never been in love like this before
Now let me pray to keep you from
The perils that will surely come
See life for you my prince has just begun
And I thank you for choosing me
To come through unto life to be
A beautiful reflection of his grace
See I know that a gift so great
Is only one God could create
And I’m reminded every time I see your face

That the joy of my world is in Zion

September 4: the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Painted by Cecile B. at Designxcecile.com
Painted by Cecile B. at Designxcecile.com

In 1989, Edward W. Desmond interviewed Mother Teresa for Time Magazine.   It was one of the last interviews of her lifetime. The full text of was published in The National Catholic Register.  Here is an excerpt:

Time: What did you do this morning?

Mother Teresa: Pray.

Time: When did you start?

Mother Teresa: Half-past four

Time: And after prayer

Mother Teresa: We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. That helps us to put our whole heart and soul into doing it. The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved they are Jesus in disguise.

Time: People know you as a sort of religious social worker. Do they understand the spiritual basis of your work?

Mother Teresa: I don’t know. But I give them a chance to come and touch the poor. Everybody has to experience that. So many young people give up everything to do just that. This is something so completely unbelievable in the world, no? And yet it is wonderful. Our volunteers go back different people.

Time: Does the fact that you are a woman make your message more understandable?

Mother Teresa: I never think like that.

Time: But don’t you think the world responds better to a mother?

Mother Teresa: People are responding not because of me, but because of what we’re doing. Before, people were speaking much about the poor, but now more and more people are speaking to the poor. That’s the great difference. The work has created this. The presence of the poor is known now, especially the poorest of the poor, the unwanted, the loved, the uncared-for. Before, nobody bothered about the people in the street. We have picked up from the streets of Calcutta 54,000 people, and 23,000 something have died in that one room [at Kalighat].

Time: Why have you been so successful?

Mother Teresa: Jesus made Himself the bread of life to give us life. That’s where we begin the day, with Mass. And we end the day with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn’t have four hours of prayer every day.

Time: Humble as you are, it must be an extraordinary thing to be a vehicle of God’s grace in the world.

Mother Teresa: But it is His work. I think God wants to show His greatness by using nothingness.

Time: You are nothingness?

Mother Teresa: I’m very sure of that.

Time: You feel you have no special qualities?

Mother Teresa: I don’t think so. I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s His work. I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. In human terms, the success of our work should not have happened, no? That is a sign that it’s His work, and that He is using others as instruments – all our Sisters. None of us could produce this. Yet see what He has done.

Time: What is God’s greatest gift to you?

Mother Teresa: The poor people.

Time: How are they a gift?

Mother Teresa: I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.

Time: Here in Calcutta, have you created a real change?

Mother Teresa: I think so. People are aware of the presence and also many, many, many Hindu people share with us. They come and feed the people and they serve the people. Now we never see a person lying there in the street dying. It has created a worldwide awareness of the poor. Time: Beyond showing the poor to the world, have you conveyed any message about how to work with the poor?

Mother Teresa: You must make them feel loved and wanted. They are Jesus for me. I believe in that much more than doing big things for them.

Time: What’s your greatest hope here in India?

Mother Teresa: To give Jesus to all.

Time: But you do not evangelize in the conventional sense of the term.

Mother Teresa: I’m evangelizing by my works of love.

Time: Is that the best way?

Mother Teresa: For us, yes. For somebody else, something else. I’m evangelizing the way God wants me to. Jesus said go and preach to all the nations. We are now in so many nations preaching the Gospel by our works of love. “By the love that you have for one another will they know you are my disciples.” That’s the preaching that we are doing, and I think that is more real.

Time: Friends of yours say that you are disappointed that your work has not brought more conversions in this great Hindu nation.

Mother Teresa: Missionaries don’t think of that. They only want to proclaim the Word of God. Numbers have nothing to do with it. But the people are putting prayer into action by coming and serving the people. Continually people are coming to feed and serve, so many, you go and see. Everywhere people are helping. We don’t know the future. But the door is already open to Christ. There may not be a big conversion like that, but we don’t know what is happening in the soul.

Time: What do you think of Hinduism?

Mother Teresa: I love all religions, but I am in love with my own. No discussion. That’s what we have to prove to them. Seeing what I do, they realize that I am in love with Jesus. Time: And they should love Jesus too?

Mother Teresa: Naturally, if they want peace, if they want joy, let them find Jesus. If people become better Hindus, better Moslems, better Buddhists by our acts of love, then there is something else growing there. They come closer and closer to God. When they come closer, they have to choose.

Time: You and John Paul II, among other Church leaders, have spoken out against certain lifestyles in the West, against materialism and abortion. How alarmed are you?

Mother Teresa: I always say one thing: If a mother can kill her own child, then what is left of the West to be destroyed? It is difficult to explain , but it is just that.

Time: When you spoke at Harvard University a few years ago, you said abortion was a great evil and people booed. What did you think when people booed you?

Mother Teresa: I offered it to our Lord. It’s all for Him, no? I let Him say what He wants.

Time: But these people who booed you would say that they also only want the best for women?

Mother Teresa: That may be. But we must tell the truth.

Time: And that is?

Mother Teresa: We have no right to kill. Thou shalt not kill, a commandment of God. And still should we kill the helpless one, the little one? You see we get so excited because people are throwing bombs and so many are being killed. For the grown ups, there is so much excitement in the world. But that little one in the womb, not even a sound? He cannot even escape. That child is the poorest of the poor.

Time: Is materialism in the West an equally serious problem?

Mother Teresa: I don’t know. I have so many things to think about. I pray lots about that, but I am not occupied by that. Take our congregation for example, we have very little, so we have nothing to be preoccupied with. The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not a mortification, a penance. It is joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that. This is the only fan in the whole house. It doesn’t matter how hot it is, and it is for the guests. But we are perfectly happy.

Time: How do you find rich people then?

Mother Teresa: I find the rich much poorer. Sometimes they are more lonely inside. They are never satisfied. They always need something more. I don’t say all of them are like that. Everybody is not the same. I find that poverty hard to remove. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

Time: What is the saddest place you’ve ever visited?

Mother Teresa: I don’t know. I can’t remember. It’s a sad thing to see people suffer., especially the broken family, unloved, uncared for. It’s a big sadness; it’s always the children who suffer most when there is no love in the family. That’s a terrible suffering. Very difficult because you can do nothing. That is the great poverty. You feel helpless. But if you pick up a person dying of hunger, you give him food and it is finished.

Time: Why has your order grown so quickly?

Mother Teresa: When I as young people why they want to join us, they say they want the life of prayer, the life of poverty and the life of service to the poorest of the poor. One very rich girl wrote to me and said for a very long time she had been longing to become a nun. When she met us, she said I won’t have to give up anything even if I give up everything. You see, that is the mentality of the young today. We have many vocations.

Time: There’s been some criticism of the very severe regimen under which you and your Sisters live.

Mother Teresa: We chose that. That is the difference between us and the poor. Because what will bring us closer to our poor people? How can we be truthful to them if we lead a different life? If we have everything possible that money can give, that the world can give, then what is our connection to the poor? What language will I speak to them? Now if the people tell me it is so hot, I can say you come and see my room.

Time: Just as hot?

Mother Teresa: Much hotter even, because there is a kitchen underneath. A man came and stayed here as a cook at the children’s home. He was rich before and became very poor. Lost everything. He came and said, “Mother Teresa, I cannot eat that food.” I said, “I am eating it every day.” He looked at me and said, “You eat it too? All right, I will eat it also.” And he left perfectly happy. Now if I could not tell him the truth, that man would have remained bitter. He would never have accepted his poverty. He would never have accepted to have that food when he was used to other kinds of food. That helped him to forgive, to forget.

Time: What’s the most joyful place that you have ever visited?

Mother Teresa: Kalighat. When the people die in peace, in the love of God, it is a wonderful thing. To see our poor people happy together with their families, these are beautiful things. The real poor know what is joy.

Time: There are people who would say that it’s an illusion to think of the poor as joyous, that they must be given housing, raised up.

Mother Teresa: The material is not the only thing that gives joy. Something greater than that, the deep sense of peace in the heart. They are content. That is the great difference between rich and poor.

Time: But what about those people who are oppressed? Who are taken advantage of?

Mother Teresa: There will always be people like that. That is why we must come and share the joy of loving with them.

Time: Should the Church’s role be just to make the poor as joyous in Christ as they can be made?

Mother Teresa: You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me. Clear.

Time: If you speak to a political leader who could do more for his people, do you tell him that he must do better?

Mother Teresa: I don’t say it like that. I say share the joy of loving with your people. Because a politician maybe cannot do the feeding as I do. But he should be clear in his mind to give proper rules and proper regulations to help his people.

Time: It is my job to keep politicians honest, and your job to share joy with the poor.

Mother Teresa: Exactly. And it is to be for the good of the people and the glory of God. This will be really fruitful. Like a man says to me that you are spoiling the people by giving them fish to eat. You have to give them a rod to catch the fish. And I said my people cannot even stand, still less hold a rod. But I will give them the fish to eat, and when they are strong enough, I will hand them over to you. And you give them the rod to catch the fish. That is a beautiful combination, no?

Time: Feminist Catholic nuns sometimes say that you should pour your energy into getting the Vatican to ordain women.

Mother Teresa: That does not touch me.

Time: What do you think of the feminist movement among nuns in the West?

Mother Teresa: I think we should be more busy with our Lord than with all that, more busy with Jesus and proclaiming His Word. What a woman can give, no man can give. That is why God has created them separately. Nuns, women, any woman. Woman is created to be the heart of the family, the heart of love. If we miss that, we miss everything. They give that love in the family or they give it in service, that is what their creation is for.

Time: The world wants to know more about you.

Mother Teresa: No, no. Let them come to know the poor. I want them to love the poor. I want them to try to find the poor in their own families first, to bring peace and joy and love in the family first.

Time: Malcolm Muggeridge once said that if you had not become a Sister and not found Christ’s love, you would be a very hard woman. Do you think that is true?

Mother Teresa: I don’t know. I have no time to think about these things.

Time: People who work with you say that you are unstoppable. You always get what you want.

Mother Teresa: That’s right. All for Jesus.

Time: And if they have a problem with that?

Mother Teresa: For example, I went to a person recently who would not give me what I needed. I said God bless you, and I went on. He called me back and said what would you say if I give you that thing. I said I will give you a “God bless you” and a big smile. That is all. So he said then come, I will give it to you. We must live the simplicity of the Gospel.

Time: You once met Haile Mariam Mengistu, the much feared communist leader of Ethiopia and an avowed atheist. You asked him if he said his prayers. Why did you risk that?

Mother Teresa: He is one more child of God. When I went to China, one of the top officials asked me, “What is a communist to you?” I said, “A child of God.” Then the next morning the newspapers reported that Mother Teresa said communists are children of God. I was happy because after a long, long time the name God was printed in the papers in China. Beautiful.

Time: Are you ever been afraid?

Mother Teresa: No, I am only afraid of offending God. We are all human beings, that is our weakness, no? The devil would do anything to destroy us, to take us away from Jesus.

Time: Where do you see the devil at work?

Mother Teresa: Everywhere. When a person is longing to come closer to God he puts temptation in the way to destroy the desire. Sin comes everywhere, in the best of places.

Time: What is your greatest fear?

Mother Teresa: I have Jesus, I have no fear.

Time: What is your greatest disappointment?

Mother Teresa: I do the will of God, no? In doing the will of God there is no disappointment.

Time: Do your work and spiritual life become easier with time?

Mother Teresa: Yes, the closer we come to Jesus, the more we become the work. Because you know to whom you are doing it, with whom you are doing it and for whom you are doing it. That is very clear. That is why we need a clean heart to see God.

Time: What are your plans for the future?

Mother Teresa: I just take one day. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today to love Jesus.

Time: And the future of the order?

Mother Teresa: It is His concern.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

 

 

 

Why the speakroom?

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Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

About a year ago from today, my husband and I were asked to be the godparents of a beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed baby boy. “We just want you to pray for him,” was all his parents asked of us. Before becoming a godparent, I had not held a baby for over ten years. Yet in the past year, each time I have carried this adorable child in my arms, I have been struck by the combined sense of newness and familiarity of the experience.

I am reminded of those years I held each of my own children in my arms, stayed up for them night after night in times of sickness, and walked through the drug-infested streets of our West Philadelphia neighborhood, ready at any moment to give my life up for theirs. None of my children remember those early, formative years of their lives. I’ll never forget them.

Every now and then, my children will facetiously say, “Mom knows everything.” I would answer back with a small laugh, “I knew all of you before you knew yourselves!” but I would finish the rest of the sentence in the silence of my thoughts. “That’s what has made motherhood so painful.” In raising four children, I have not only had the joy of celebrating their accomplishments, but I have wept often for them, most of the time without their even knowing it.

Parenthood gives a small window into the ways of our Heavenly Father. He allows us, His children, to come to Him with our own wills and to make our own choices. How it must grieve Him to watch and see many of the self-destructive choices we are making. And yet, He in his great love and tenderness for us provides us the gift of His own Son as a means of adoption, transforming our lives, and thus, transforming our world.

Saint Teresa of Avila wrote of post-Reformation Europe, “The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again. They would raze His Church to the ground. No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.”

Shortly before she was gassed in an Auschwitz death-camp, Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote, “The world is in flames: the fire can spread even to our house.”

And again, even more recently, during the World Youth Day celebration in Poland, Pope Francis said, “The world is at war, but it’s not a war of religions.”  He was referring to a war for money, limited resources, and power.  Pope Francis later added in his last address to the youth that too many young people are unaware of how dark the world really is, and are therefore unprepared to face the battle.

There are more people dying for their faiths and being forced to leave their homes, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. The United States has spent eight trillion dollars (one trillion = a million millions) on a financial bailout that hasn’t helped those who were most affected by the economic collapse.  The list goes on.

How do we respond to this world on fire? Pope Francis says, “The times are becoming increasingly hard, and only in unity can we find the solution to our problems.”

The speakroom is a space where apparent divisions are erased. Historically, the speakroom is a small room in the monastery where cloistered religious can speak to those in the outside world and where the ways of God can be made known to others: secular and consecrated, young or old, from near or far. Remarkably, the grille where St. John of the Cross and Saint Teresa first spoke still bears the holy presence of these two great saints.

In this modern world of war and divisions, and where people are so isolated in many hidden ways, my hope is that ‘the speakroom’ blog becomes a living, breathing space where anyone who has an open heart, can learn, pray, and walk together through the lens of Carmelite spirituality.

In the face of death and Nazi persecution, Edith Stein’s response to a world on fire is the recognition that “above all the flames, the Cross stands on high and it cannot be burnt. The Cross is the way which leads from earth to heaven. Those who embrace it with faith, love, and hope are taken up right into the heart of the Trinity.”

One by one, we must learn to respond from a place of truth, sacrificial love, forgiveness, and fraternal friendship– the way of the cross – which involves both the crucifixion, and thankfully, the resurrection.

By the end of this year, three of my four children will have left for college. They, like my godson, will have my prayers. But I also hope, as I hope for myself and all the readers of this blog, that my children will look to thespeakroom.org as a place for guidance and strength, slowly come to know the depth and breadth of the love of God, and see with a child’s eyes of faith.

Teresa Linda, ocds

Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: our lives, God’s masterpiece

The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org
The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

Where do we get our image of God the Father from?  Our natural father.  Our natural father could have been very militant, a disciplinarian, heavy-handed, short-tempered, or had strong faults.  He could have been verbally abusive without really meaning to do us harm because that was the way he grew up.

But there’s a total correlation between our ability to understand and believe in God as our Father, with our relationship with our own fathers. If our natural father didn’t have a sense of compassion and give affirmation, if he wasn’t attentive to our needs, or wasn’t present to important events – all of this can have a huge capacity and impact on our beliefs about God as our Father.

A significant part of what it means to seek holiness, is to hunger for God so that we can allow His holiness to make us whole. God must undo any damage that was done in our pasts  by giving us a new experience of love, so that we learn what it means to be loved by God the Father.

We have to seek that holiness as the saints, understanding  them as human beings, and not simply as superstars. They were people with real life challenges, just like you and me. Human nature is the same everywhere; it changes very little. Society, culture, technology, the works of our hands – all of that will change. However, we are made of the same substance and human nature of the saints. They are not angels in another form who had special privileges that we don’t have access to. We have access to the same grace of God. We are made up of the same thoughts, the same feelings, and the same types of relationships and potentials as the saints.

Some older hagiographies put the saints on pedestals and make it look like they were able to sail through life with special graces, without really knowing about human suffering and the complexities of what it means to live by faith and not by sight. Yet when we look closely at the lives of the saints through good biographies, we see real life problems and conversions. We must tap into that reality in order for us to know the saints us brothers and sisters in Christ, as companions.

The saints stir us to wonder and bring us back to the one thing that is necessary, and that is, the absolute primacy of God’s love. We are made for this divine love, and this divine love is larger than life. This love enlarges our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength. God’s love leads us into an endless enlargement of our capacity for His greatness. His love enlarges our lives. St. Paul says that this enlargement, this going from one degree of glory to another, this growth process of becoming more and more united to God, makes us more united to His greatness. We are all made for that greatness and enlargement. We are all meant to live life large, in the love of God.

Saint John Paul the II says, ‘Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term, but as we see in Genesis, all men and women are tasked with crafting their own lives. They are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.’   God wants to sanctify you through the Holy Spirit. He wants to make of your life a masterpiece.

Becoming a masterpiece doesn’t mean perfectionism. In other words, to seek the way of perfection does not mean that we must become perfectionists. Perfectionism is a psychological condition that has to do with insecurity because we’re not comfortable with ourselves and are unable to accept ourselves until everything is perfectly ordered. ‘Until everything is right where it has to be, I can’t be at rest. Only when everything is perfect, then I’ll be content and I’ll be able to breathe and accept myself.’ That is dysfunctional and self-defeating.

The way of perfection, as we see in the lives of the apostles and the saints, will inevitably involve falling, and getting back up again. Falling, and getting back up again. This way of perfection involves seeing how God brings good out of everything, and light out of darkness. The end result of the constant struggle and healing, will be a masterpiece. All that is required is the faith and perseverance to let God be God. He is the one who brings about the masterpiece. We just have to be faithful.

Finally, to summarize, spirituality is simply an art of the heart, the art of becoming fully human. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” St. Teresa of Jesus is one of many, but a very important icon of the beauty that we are called to be transformed by. She is a shining example, inviting us to divine intimacy with God through the sacred humanity of Jesus.

The great St. Paul in his magnificent letter to the Ephesians says, “How rich God is in mercy. With what an excess of love He loved us.” We are His design, His work of art. God has created us in Christ Jesus, pledged to such good actions as He has prepared beforehand. May these good actions and becoming His work of art be the employment of our lives. May we become all that we were each made to be — to truly be love’s canvas. END

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘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.’

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Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: paradoxical beauty 2

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Cardinal Ratzinger writes, ‘It’s when we have known Him, from the inside out, not only because we have heard others speak about Him, then we will have known the beauty of truth, of the truth that redeems.’ Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ Himself, other than the world of beauty, by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom His own light becomes visible.

Jesus is not only the perfect icon, the window, of God; Jesus is God’s self-portrait. Not only does He fully reveal to us who He is, but He is also a mirror reflecting for us, who we are capable of becoming as beloved in Him. When we’re called to see Him, to contemplate Him, to look into the eyes of God, to behold Him, to behold His beauty, that face is a mirror of who we are called to be–not in the physical, visible way, but in the beauty of who He is as our beloved. In His Sacred Humanity, God wants to bring in each of us the fullness of life in Him, according to who we are, our background, and where we’re at in our life’s journey.

As the wisdom of St. Thérèse expresses, there’s no amount of sin, pain, failure, shame, weakness or littleness in someone’s past, that can disqualify a person from the work of His love. The wisdom of St. Thérèse says that the more weak I am, the more I see myself as imperfect, the more little I am, the more I am suited to the works, the designs of God’s merciful love.

St. Paul writes, ‘When I am weak, I am strong. When I am weak, Christ’s grace comes to be in abundant measure. Therefore, if I am most strong when I am weak, when Christ is closest to me, then I will boast in my weaknesses. I will see my weaknesses as a treasure and blessing, and not as a curse.’ This became a platform for St. Thérèse’s confidence. She says, ‘Lord, You came for sinners, and you’ve allowed me to become aware of my littleness and weakness. I lift myself up into your arms, knowing that everything that You have expressed about who You are and Your mission through the public ministry of Jesus, shows that You came for the weak, the broken, and those who recognize their need for You. I recognize my need for You. Therefore, I have rights to Your heart. Here I am to take You by the heart.’

The saints are God’s work of art in our world… even more than the beauty of all nature, and nature is magnificently beautiful. It is marvelous, how God has designed creation, from the simplest insect, to the workings of our body, to the stars in the cosmos, to the multiplicity of galaxies; creation is amazing. The earth, among all the planets in our solar system, is spectacular! And yet, as St. Teresa says, none of that can be compared to a single immortal soul, made in His image. St. John of the Cross explains that God cares more for that one soul than all the works of His natural creation. He would be willing to give up all of the natural beauty of creation that He has made to save a single soul. That is how important each human being is to Him.

Yet, the paradoxical beauty is that God, in His love, respects our freedom. Love cannot impose itself on anybody. Love cannot be possessive and controlling. Love is respectful of the other person. God is not a tyrant or dictator; He doesn’t want to dominate our lives. He invites us into a relationship of mutual trust. He is not an abusive father; he is tenderly compassionate, understanding, and patient (to be continued).

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘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.’

If you liked this post, share it by clicking on one of the social media icons. And if you were inspired or have a prayer request, share that too under the ‘comment’ section!

Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: paradoxical beauty 1

The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org
The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

Sometimes, it takes a leap of faith to be able to believe that our life is important to God, that we are sacred in His eyes, that we are part of the redeeming beauty of Christ, and that God looks upon each of us as his Beloved. Where there is love in you, Jesus sees that love as beautiful to Him. ‘Who we are in Christ’s eyes, is who we are alone,’ as St. Francis says. I don’t have to be preoccupied about what people think about me because if I know that I am right with Him, then that is all that matters. I can divest myself from useless concerns that waste precious time and energy.

Cardinal Ratzinger says, ‘We must learn to see Him.’ To go further, we must learn to see Him in ourselves. That is not meant to be self-centered navel gazing, but in our spiritual life, we must have a deepening knowledge of ourselves. St. Teresa says that knowledge of self is the foundation for the spiritual life. If we never go through this journey of inner healing, there will be a serious insufficiency and handicap as we continue in our life of piety and prayer. And we won’t know what is holding us back, much of it in the emotional, psychological, and relational level. The focus can’t be just spiritual, for our spiritual lives are inter-combined with everything else about who we are.

We must learn to see Him, including learn to see Him in ourselves. Whatever is in us, whatever message, whatever we’ve assumed, and have been conditioned to think, about our past, our present, our future; whatever we’ve adopted, whatever stinking thinking about who we are that we have adopted as truth about our possibilities and potentials – that isn’t coherent, consistent, and in harmony with His gospel, His vision, and with what He says about our lives and who we are – must be thrown out. The lies must be renounced and cast out of our lives because they will hold you back from being free.

Truth sets us free, but lies and ignorance enslave us to a lesser self, a false God. We must have no false Gods before us. We must learn to see Him. Ratzinger continues, ‘If we know Him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of His paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know Him and know Him not only because we have heard others speak about Him.’

What does he mean by paradoxical beauty? Very simply, the cross.

Only the eyes of faith, someone who knows Jesus inside and out, can see beauty in the cross. Those for whom Jesus has not come to birth in their hearts will ask, ‘How can you find beauty in the cross?’ It seems like a total contradiction to have a symbol of torture that is also a symbol of religion. It makes absolutely no sense to the natural human mind – unless, of course, it has been blessed and enlightened by faith. Paradoxical beauty. What may seem as total failure to someone else, can be seen as the fullness of love and self-giving to another person with faith. That’s beauty.

To lay down your life for your friends is beautiful. But especially so, when God does it for humanity, for sinners. Oftentimes, what brings out what’s most beautiful in us, happens after we’ve passed through some experience of the cross. From the most ugly, most painful experiences, from the ashes, can arise a fire of a new beauty in our lives. This is the redemption of Christ Jesus alive in the world, at work in each of us, bringing about and renewing in all who have faith, the death and resurrection of Christ, the Paschal mystery. That is paradoxical beauty (to be continued).

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘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.’

If you liked this post, share it by clicking on one of the social media icons. And if you were inspired or have a prayer request, share that too under the ‘comment’ section!

August 9: Feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

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Translated from Italian and published

by Carmel of Maria Regina, Eugene OR

According to The Discalced Carmelite Proper Offices Supplement (2012), “Edith Stein was born of a Jewish family at Breslau on October 12, 1891. Through her passionate study of philosophy she searched after the truth and found it in reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Jesus. In 1922 she was baptised Catholic and in 1933 she entered the Carmel of Cologne where she took the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was gassed and cremated at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942 during the Nazi persecution and died a martyr for the Christian faith after having offered her holocaust for the people of Israel” (157).

Editor’s note:  In honor of yesterday’s Feast Day, here are some selected quotes from a booklet of Edith Stein’s ‘Thoughts’. If you haven’t yet read yesterday’s post by Father Robert Barcelos, ‘holiness means being whole,’ make sure you click on it below.

11. Divine spirit, divine life, divine love means this: he who does the will of God, knows God and loves Him. In fact, at the moment in which we do what God asks, with interior dedication, divine life becomes our life, God is found within ourselves. (Letter 21)

12. The more a person lives recollected in the interior of his soul, the stronger is that radiation which he sheds around him and which draws other souls into his circle. (Letter 21)

14. We have to learn to see others carry the cross and not be able to remove it from them. It is more difficult than to carry our own, but we cannot avoid it. (Letter 45)

20. God leads each one by a particular way; one person arrives more easily and sooner at the goal than another. What we can do, in comparison with what we are given, is always little. But the little we must do: that is, we must pray insistently so that when the way does happen to be indicated, we will be able to follow the grace without resisting. (Letter 56)

114. To belong wholly to God, to give oneself to Him, to His service, for love, this is the vocation, not only of all the elect but of every Christian; whether consecrated or not, man or woman. Everyone is called to follow Christ, and the more each one advances along the way, the more like Christ each one becomes. And since Christ personifies the ideal of human perfection free from every defect and one-sidedness, rich with characteristic traits be they masculine or feminine, free from every earthly limitation, His faithful followers rise ever higher above the confines of nature. (Woman 98)

136. In aridity and emptiness the soul becomes humble. Former pride disappears when a man no longer finds anything that might cause him to look down on others. (Science of the Cross 76)

155. The cross serves as a walking-stick to speed one’s march toward the summit. (Science of the Cross 141)

159. Contemplation is perceived more frequently in the will under the form of love, than in the intellect under the form of knowledge. (Science of the Cross 156)

The desire of our hearts and prayers rise to God for the salvation of all. For those who are called, whether they be Jews or Greeks, we preach Christ Crucified, a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the pagans. But for those who are called, we preach Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God  (Divine Office Supplement 159)

Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: holiness means being whole

Painting by Father Robert Barcelos, all rights reserved 2016
Painted by Father Robert Barcelos (Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved)

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The whole mission of Jesus’s life, His incarnation, and the work of the Church is to enable us to attain to the likeness of God, to become who we are, as being made in the image of God. That process of becoming the best version of ourselves, means that we must become the canvas of God. Let the divine artist paint the beauty of His image in you. That beauty of His image in you is irrepeatable and irreplaceable; there will never be another copy of it again. There are no clones in the economy of God’s salvation. There is only one unique you.

As Matthew Kelly says, ‘Be perfectly yourself.’ That is not meant to be self-centered psychology, or a recipe for self-realization. It is thoroughly Christian, in the sense of knowing who we are as beloved children of God. Because how can we love one another as we love ourselves, if we don’t love ourselves in a healthy way?

One of Dostoevsky’s famous expressions is, ‘Beauty will save the world,’ which is quoted by many people who are not necessarily religious. In his contemplation of beauty, Cardinal Ratzinger explains that people usually forget that Dostoevsky was referring to the redeeming beauty of Christ.

How can we love others if we can’t love ourselves? One of the biggest realizations in my growth as a Christian and as a human being, in my healing and becoming more united to Christ was my realization that I didn’t love myself. Even though I believed in God’s love, there came a point of truth when God helped me to know myself, and to learn that I really didn’t love myself. It took a long time to realize this truth, but it was always subconsciously at work in me. I didn’t really accept myself as I was, and there were very human, natural reasons for that.

My parents divorced before I was two years old. My mother had a very traumatic experience, and it was really challenging for her.  She bore this difficulty while she carried me in her womb, and by the time I was two years old, they separated. (And I don’t blame her for that). Any child of divorce will admit that they subconsciously blame themselves. Likewise, I thought that the divorce was my fault. I wasn’t even two years old, but the belief was ingrained in me. Without my consciously thinking about it, my self-identity was shaped by my belief that I was the one who caused the separation. I was the one to blame. Thoughts like, ‘Had I been good enough, this wouldn’t have happened. Had I been better, my parents would’ve stayed together’ were subconsciously buried in me, but would only come out in certain occasions.

However, these thoughts were a driving force to my broken self-identity. They didn’t keep me from living a happy life, but there was definitely something I was unaware of, that needed to be healed. As a result of this false interpretation of a painful experience, of assuming the blame for my father’s abandonment, I didn’t fully accept myself for who I was.

Human nature is very complicated. As far as I was concerned, there were no issues or problems brought on by my parents’ divorce. However, it all came to light when I realized that I never accepted who I was, because I always thought of who I should be. I didn’t accept the real me. I accepted the ideal me. As a result, because I couldn’t accept myself with all my imperfections and faults, I had a very hard time accepting others with their imperfections and faults. Because I didn’t love myself in the way God loved me, it was a lot harder for me to love my neighbor as God loves them. This lack of reconciliation with myself led to an inability to love others with a greater power of love. For me, knowing this truth, was a very significant part of answering God’s call to holiness.

If we are going to answer God’s call to holiness, He will not only work in our spiritual lives of piety and prayer. No. We are called to be whole, in spirit, soul, and body, and that means the integration and inner unity of our whole humanity – emotionally, physically, psychologically, relationally, and sexually. Our whole identity is to be embraced in God’s redemptive love. Everything about who we is to be redeemed, filled, and encountered by the light of Christ (to be continued).

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘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.’

If you liked this post, share it by clicking on one of the social media icons. And if you were inspired or have a prayer request, share that too under the ‘comment’ section!

Father Robert Barcelos, OCD: humility is truth

The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org
The Crucifixion by Saint John of the Cross. Photo credit: thespeakroom.org

Editor’s note: If you subscribed and did not immediately receive an email indicating that your subscription was complete, please resubscribe below. The link was temporarily broken.  Thank you!

The only thing Jesus required from Peter’s mission of love – was humility, but Peter learns the hard way. Shortly after receiving his new identity, Peter tells Christ, ‘I will never leave you. I will always be there by your side, no matter what happens.’ Peter placed his trust on himself. He did not acknowledge his weakness. However, Jesus responds, ‘Three times, you will deny me.’ Jesus knew, even before Peter fell, that he would fall, but He chose him anyway because He knew that He would bring goodness out of that fall. What was the good? Humility.

Eventually, after betraying Christ three times, Peter comes to know himself at rock bottom; he learns that he is nothing without Christ, and that the gifts he has, do not come from himself, but from Jesus. Left alone, and without Jesus sustaining him, Peter sees clearly how easily everything had slipped through his fingers. Yet Jesus restores him to himself and gives him the opportunity to heal and make reparation for that part of himself that had been hurt by his denial of Christ. When Peter reaffirms his love for Jesus, He elevates him to a new level of love, in his capacity to be Christ for others, that would not have been possible had he not suffered in this way. Only after learning true humility was Peter ready for the mission of mercy. True compassion is not possible without going through the Passion.

According to Saint Teresa, humility is truth; it is knowing who we are in God’s eyes. That truth sets us free to be who we’re truly meant to be, and with God’s help and the Holy Spirit, to be that to the full. As Matthew Kelly says, we have to become the best version of ourselves. To do so, we must go through a great deal of conversion. To become the best version of ourselves, we must go through conversion.

‘It is this crucified and risen Lord who fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear’ writes Saint John Paul II in Evangelii Gaudiuum, (The Joy of the Gospel). This was his favorite quote from the Vatican Council, which he was a part of. It is Jesus who fully reveals man to us and makes clear to us our supreme calling.

(to be continued).

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.

(SOURCE: Denver Retreat, October 2015)

Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All Rights Reserved

‘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.’

If you liked this post, share it by clicking on one of the social media icons. And if you were inspired or have a prayer request, share that too under the ‘comment’ section!