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Love her like a sister: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

We are holding hands as we walk together along a rocky path on a hot July evening. We are talking about this and that. She asks me questions, listens thoughtfully as I talk about my life. She has a lot going on too, these days, and she unburdens her heart to me about her work, about her children. I squeeze her hand and we pray together as tears gather in her eyes. I know she works hard for her children, and prays constantly for their needs, for their good, for their souls. I am glad she will talk to me about things that concern her, that she finds my company a comfort at times. We lapse into comfortable silence. 

She gathers up the brown skirt of her habit a little as we reach an incline, and I smile that she is barefoot like me. Of course she is. 

 People say we resemble one another, especially around the eyes. All of Carmel shares the family resemblance to Mary, our sister, as we share everything else with her. 

Some might say that ours is a curious Marian devotion, this Carmelite love of Mary not only as mother and queen, but as sister.

Carmelite Marian devotion is primarily about the imitation of Mary.  We see ourselves as “the other Mary,” and we view our Carmelite life of prayer and simplicity of heart as a reflection of the interior life she lived and still lives.

More than reflecting on Mary, we tend to simply see through her eyes, to love Jesus with her heart, to share in her hidden work in the world; in the silent drawing of her Immaculate Heart of all peoples toward her Son.

Siblings share confidences, and understand each other in a special way. They tell each other everything. In intimacy and cooperation with Mary, we receive a double portion of Christ’s spirit, because she magnifies the Lord, and together with her, we treasure His words and His life continually in our hearts, in union with her.

 A sister can share our lives, walk beside us, trust in us, and we in her.

Mary doesn’t have to knock; she practically lives at our house. When she comes over, she might even fold some of our laundry with us. 

We are always welcome at Mary’s house, too. We are allowed to pick the roses in her garden. She doesn’t mind.

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photo by Fr. Gregory Ross, O.C.D.

Living with her as a sister keeps us in touch with the precious, pure humanity of Mary. It keeps her close by our side, walking with us in a familiar, loving way.

We are less likely to only look up to her, but more likely to unconsciously reflect her- maybe around the eyes, yes, certainly in our ways, surely in the joyful depth of our inner lives in Christ.

As we walk, I notice more and more that there are many others around us. I recognize that it is the craggy path of the ascent of Mt. Carmel we travel with our many brothers and sisters, following Jesus with Mary, our sister, in our midst. She is smiling, enjoying the company, glad we are following her Son all together.

On the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (July 16,) the family of Carmel invites you to love Mary like a sister.

If you’ll be her brother
She’ll kiss you like a sister
She’ll even be your mother for now…

I will be her brother
Kiss her like a sister
Come and be my mother forever.

~ Sixpence None the Richer from their song,  “Sister Mother”

 

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A Meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Biblically, the heart is the center of the human being, the seat of decision, the place of prayer to which one withdraws. It is where God comes to make His home in us. The heart is the place of longing, and spiritual thirst, the place of encounter, the place of union.*

Incarnate in Jesus, God now has a human heart, at one with His divine nature, a Heart which we call “The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Some version of this representation of Him adorns nearly every Catholic Church and home. Usually the image is of St. Margaret Mary’s apparition of Our Lord with a visible Heart which is on fire with divine love, radiant like the sun, surrounded by the thorns that symbolize His suffering and death, and topped by the cross, the symbol of His victory.

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This is a very dearly loved image of Jesus, and one of great power for us. Jesus’ heart is the center of His being, the seat of His human consciousness, the abyss of His Divine love, mercy, and compassion.

We find in the Scriptures, and we experience, in the practice and grace of prayer, that Christ has thirsted for us, has loved us first. He can easily be found by our withdrawing in prayer into our own hearts, where we are, where He is.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is one in love with the sacred heart of you, the sacred heart of me, our hearts reflecting His, and His ours, living within one another. We need only be conscious of this to make this truth part of our lives of love, prayer and service, and to look for and find Him in every human heart. 

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Christ living within us has experienced our loves, humiliations, rejections, our own sufferings, deaths and resurrections. We, living in Him, as His Body and Bride, the Church, have experienced His life, too. The Sacred Heart in religious art can also be seen as a symbol of this solidarity and union, this communion and humanity we share with Christ, as well as the mystical union we have with His divinity. More obviously it is a symbol of His love for us, which is the heart of prayer, which is the Heart of our lives.

Sometimes it is hard to remember that Jesus suffers with us and takes our pain upon Himself. In the midst of the extremes of life’s suffering love, we need to know that His tears are mixed with ours, that we have a God who knows sorrow, a God who is Love, a God who wants to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, and share with us His divine life in the Trinity forever.

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In my times of deepest pain, it does not help much to ask why. It helps a lot more to “look” silently at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, into the tender darkness to which I withdraw, into the ruins of my heart, made sacred by His dwelling there, so it can be re-built to His purpose. In that gaze, “why” doesn’t matter, as much as Who this is Who loves me, and is my God. That’s where trust comes from; accepting the Heart of this Lord, Who is Love. What else is there? What more could we need, than to know and live in this Heart, allowing Christ’s Heart to live in us.? What more could we give anyone else, than the knowledge, by our love and presence, that this is so, and that the Heart of Jesus lives in us for them and in them for us? What more could we give our beloved Lord than to “Return love for Love”  as He asked us through St. Margaret Mary, by being attentive to His holy presence in our hearts?

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Jesus took up the cross, the Scripture says, “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him.” It’s easy to think about His joy as His future Resurrection and glory with His Father in Heaven. But we forget sometimes, that part of the joy that lay before Him, was ourselves. Being with us was worth it to Him. After all, this is also why He came to begin with, from the glory He had from the beginning, to take on our humanity, to be with us, to capture our hearts, to transform,redeem and raise us, to be one with us, that our hearts might burn with divine fire. May we  be willing to wear the crown of thorns that love often requires of us, until we share in the victory of the cross, and in His divine life itself, bringing many with us.

Let’s withdraw into the silence of our hearts and find His own beating there as often as possible. We can do this in the moments of recollection we can find through the day, and in the time we set aside to give Him, in silent love, especially before the Blessed Sacrament.  May we grow always and everywhere in awareness of His indwelling, nurture His presence in us, love Him better, be His joy.

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Happy June, month of the Sacred Heart.

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised, adored, and loved, in the tabernacle of every human heart, to the end of time, and forever in the the life to come! Amen.

 

*see CCC Section 4 “Christian Prayer”

Also by me regarding the Sacred Heart: Jesus, give us Your Heart! Make us strong to love!

Living the sacredness of Ordinary Time

My daughter, Maire, got in trouble at her Catholic middle school for wearing green nail polish, which was against the rules. (Only clear or light pink nail polish allowed, if I remember right.) When asked about her indiscretion, she said, “It’s for Ordinary Time!”

I laughed hearing about that. At least she remembered what season we were in as Church, and it meant something to her.

We have just begun Ordinary Time, that big section of green, the liturgical color of the current Church  season, that fills most of the wheel illustrating the Liturgical Year.

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We have special things we do at other seasons in the Church year. What about Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time has it’s own feel. I associate its’ post Pentecost beginning with that first breath of cool air from the church door as I step into the intimate hush of daily Mass on a hot Summer day. This season is a contrast of calm and peace after the penance of Lent and the holy fire of Easter and Pentecost. It’s a return to the simple holiness of daily life. 15039609_10211644917782949_4725375496342074872_o

 

One of our family albums is titled, “Ordinary Time.” It is a scrapbook of our family life during a few months of Summer and Fall. Into it I recorded our daily “rule of life;” (or sometimes not-so-rule,) song lyrics to music we were listening to at the time, the every day prayers we prayed, the silly things we did on the spur of the moment like a spontaneous family dance in the middle of dinner, as well as our little celebrations of the feasts of Ordinary Time, such as the Nativity of Mary (September 8.)

We always made Mother Mary a birthday cake. “Chocolate. What other kind of cake would she eat, right?” the caption  says in green ink.

We remembered this part of the Church year by keeping green candles on our family alter. We prayed a “kid version” (when the kids were younger,) of the Liturgy of the Hours I put together for family prayer, which always reflected the current season.

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Ordinary Time at Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Dubina

At Mass, the vestments and alter cloths will be green or have green trim. My mom, always the gardener, used to say this was because “green is the color of life.” In Ordinary Time, the focus shifts from the culminating moments in the life of Christ and His Church; the birth of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and then Pentecost, to the space in between where most of life is lived.

 

“Ordinary” comes from the word, “Order.” So we enter into the daily order of the Church at this time of year, and the emphasis of the Gospel readings is on the ministry of Jesus; His preaching and healing, His daily encounters with people, His conversations, his journeys.

Ordinary time can be a time we pay special attention to our own encounters, conversations, and the events of our own lives, and how God speaks to us in these. How does the life of Jesus unfold in your own?

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What do you do every day? I know I spend a lot of time coping, and sometimes I need to cultivate more conscious awareness of life so it doesn’t just happen to me and I miss it.

I am not by nature a very rule or schedule oriented person. But I do know paying attention to my loosely interpreted cadenza of a life, makes it more of a little holy rule instead of a stream of consciousness in which I might forget to practice the presence of God. * When I can lightly observe the rhythm of the day with holy intention, I feel peaceful and connected.

Ordinary Time is a great time to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to read the daily mass readings, (or maybe just the Gospel each day, as my youngest adult daughter and I do.) It’s a good time to get in the habit of sanctifying time by stopping, or at least pausing, in our day, to pray, even for a moment. It’s a good time to remember to look around and notice how beautiful God is, and how He is everywhere represented and speaking to us.

Now is a great time to carry Jesus into the work we do, and to consciously do all we do as it truly is; through Him, with Him and in Him. We can try doing every task with gentleness and love. Whether we sit, or lie down, or are talking to our children, whether we are in our house, driving our car, doing the shopping or at work, when we are sitting with friends, or going for a walk, we can try always to be remembering the nearness of God, even in our breathing.

“God is alive. I am standing in His presence.” ~Antiphon from The Carmelite Proper for the feast of Elijah the Prophet (July 20)

We can each day seek to understand how it is that His yoke is easy, His burden light, His Heart meek and humble. We can slowly begin to incorporate that lightness, that easiness, that meekness and humility of heart into our lives as we become more aware of the sweet companionship of His spirit every day.

This is how we enjoy life as people who consciously live in God; by bringing the remembrance of Him into the sacred Ordinariness of our time.

from my out door reading grove :)

“See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.

~ Revelations of Divine Love by St. Julian of Nowich

* The Practice of the Presence of God is a term coined by the Carmelite mystic, Brother Lawrence, and is the title of a collection of his writings.

on our family land outside of College Station
Green, the color of life

 

 

 

Praying the News with Mary

I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!thumbimage

During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.

He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”

This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?

 

 

For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.

What I eventually found, as I developed  spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.

 

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Mary did not and does not sit out on  God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out.  With that idea in mind,  I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.

With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the  world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.

Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.

How is this done?

It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.

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Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?

Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?

Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?

Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?

If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.

You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.

Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?

Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.

 

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       By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us.
       In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.

       Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.

       Jesus  lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.

As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.

She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple

She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.

She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.

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After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.

She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.

What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ, and Christ to the world.

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This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “

In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore  in ours as well,  through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.

We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.

We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)

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Luke Interviews Mary: The Annunciation

 

After the breaking of the Bread and the Prayers in the house of John the Apostle, when all the others had left, Mary sat me down, bringing me water and a plate of olives. She walked quickly through the house, putting things away, straightening mats, stirring a stew she was making for John and me for dinner. Finally, after much motherly bustle, she sat down, smiling at me expectantly.

I marveled at the way her gently lined face still looked like the face of a little girl, and wished I could see all that her kind and peaceful eyes had seen.

“So, you understand why I came, and what I am working on?” I asked her.

“Yes, how wonderful!”

I took my writing materials out of my bag.

I was nervous but felt calmed by the comfortable, child like enthusiasm on her face.

She wanted to know everything about my work.

I went over with her the information I had gathered in my process of talking to eye witnesses of the events, my list of parables, details of healings, outlines of teachings, the order I proposed for the narrative, my sources, one of which I hoped would be herself.

She asked good questions, gave thoughtful replies, made helpful suggestions. She was wise, warm and encouraging.

“Luke! You have done so well already!  I am sure God has chosen you for this!”

“Mother, I will need to include some truths about you that will help me show the nature of your Son, and to record events only you can tell about. Especially important is… the way Jesus was conceived, and how it came about. The Church needs that story. We need it from you.”

I could see she was troubled.

She looked out of an open window, to the quiet garden outside, to the sky above.

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A light breeze moved, as if in consoling answer to her inward prayer, rustling a tendril of her hair, stirring the air, stirring my heart. I remembered what I had heard: The presence of the Holy Spirit is felt when one is with the mother of Jesus.

Then, she looked at me and smiled, touching my wrist lightly to reassure me.

“It would be easier for me if we walked. Walk with me?”

I rose, alive with excitement that I was perhaps about to hear things no one else had ever heard.

“You must pray and decide what to leave in and what to leave out,” she said, as she took her wrap and draped it over her shoulders.

Outside she put a small hand on my arm, and I saw that she still wore her wedding ring, a simple band of carved stone. It touched me to think of her love and faithfulness to Joseph. How she must miss him. How she must miss her Son.

“How can I ever do her justice?” I thought.

At times we walked in silence. At times she spoke.  When I had to, I  asked questions. At some of the things she said, I caught my breath and tears came to my eyes.

I had not known, no one had known, just how this conception had come about.

Ah, the Angel Gabriel? Of course, how fitting. The Book of Daniel came to mind, and its implications.

She stopped and turned to me at certain points in her story, as if to make sure I heard what she said,

“He shall be great…. And shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David! And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!”

She would squeeze my hand, nod at me, and we would walk on while she thoughtfully considered what to tell me next.

The hardest part for her to talk about was the experience of her conception of Jesus. She almost could not do it.

She had been overcome with holy fear, she said. As Abraham was filled with godly dread in the night before his visitation and the sealing of God’s covenant with him, so it was with her when Gabriel appeared to her, and said, “Hail, full of grace!” She had not known what it meant, she had been overwhelmed, overcome completely.

But when the Angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” she found that she was not afraid at all. She was allowed, she said, to gaze in wonder.

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In reply to the astonishing request the Angel brought from the Almighty, and the announcement about the coming of the Messiah through her, she had been perplexed. She and Joseph had felt so strongly guided by God to remain virgin. They had made a vow. How was this child to come to her?

After her questions had been answered by the Angel, she had said, in a rush of love, exultation, and understanding, “Yes! The Lord knows everything! He knows that I love Him, that I love His people!”

She stopped walking now and closed her eyes, stretching her arms forth in prayer, remembering, “Then I said, with great joy of heart, ‘Mighty Gabriel, see, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Amen! Let it be done to me as you have said.”

 

She rested her hand on my shoulder, we began to walk again. I thought of  Sarah, and of Hannah, of daughter Zion, as a light breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees around us, rippling the hem of her veil. I enjoyed the light of both the sun and the glow of inner joy on her face.

“Holy Gabriel had said the Lord was with me. I thought, ‘I must have been made for this.’  But… I didn’t quite know what to do when the angel left me. I prayed, what happens now?”

Mary closed her eyes, her hand on her heart, our steps slowing on the path.

“I felt the great and tender Spirit of the Lord, asking me to welcome Him. I said in my heart, ‘I don’t know how. Show me. Command me to receive You, and it will happen.”

She said that suddenly her senses and inner faculties were suspended, all was still, and she knew only Love, only God, only tenderness, as if light flooded her soul, even her body; light so bright, she was inwardly blinded.

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For the first time she was aware that God was One God in Three Persons, as He revealed His very nature to her- like three suns rising in her heart as one.

He never left her.

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She cried trying to tell me this, and she said she knew she had not gotten it right, not expressed it as it should be told, but she trusted that I would know what to say in the Spirit.

Yes, I knew. I thought of the Scriptures about the Arc of the Covenant and the cloud of the Lord’s presence, the shekinah glory that would settle over the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the Temple. I knew what I would say. It would be simple.

I would protect the secret of her soul, except what I must write in Jesus’ Name, of what the Angel himself had said, that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. 

 

In the days to come the holy mother would tell me many more stories of the Lord. She trusted me for the sake of the Gospel.

I believe I came to know her heart in those hours spent with her in the garden behind the house of John. Some of what she said was to remain with me, some of it was a gift for the Gospel. I let the Holy Spirit decide which was which.

I am often asked about my time with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Christian soul, child of Mary, you may ask her in the Spirit anything you like. I have said what is mine to say.

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Among the Lilies: A Resurrection Encounter

All night … I looked 

 for the one my soul loves; 

I looked for him but did not find him. 

I will go through the streets of the city, 

I will search for him my soul loves. 

The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.

I asked them, 

Have you seen my love?”  

The angels pitied me.

They said to me,

“Search among the lilies…

He is not here!

He lies not in darkness

Nor in the folds of the cloth.”

But I could not breathe, so sick was I with love,

So I asked the gardener,

“Where have you taken him? Tell me!”

“Woman,” he asked,” why do you weep,

Your beloved is yours and you are his.

He feeds his flock among lilies.

…Miriam… Mary!”

“Rabonni!”

I rose, a rose unfolding, lilies opened at my feet

My love was so complete, my love was so complete

Grave flowers sprang up living, blossoming at our feet

Our love was so complete, our love was so complete.

In that love, I found him, I held him, and I would not let him go.

“Oh! Come to me, Miriam!…but cling not

Don’t grieve for the world past and gone..receive my Heart

Receive the Lily!”

Oh woman who brings the great tiding to Zion

Get thee to the high mountain…

Lift up your voice with strength

Be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah,

“Behold your God!  Behold your God! Behold your God!”

That Miriam found among the lilies.

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* See: Song of Songs 3: 1-4a, John 20:11-18 ,Song of Songs 2:16, Isaiah 40:9

 

Note:

The relationship expressed in this poem is in the Catholic tradition of Bride Mysticism, explained here http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09703a.htm

In no way do I intend to present any other idea about the life of St. Mary Magdalene, but that which the Catholic Church believes and teaches about her through Scripture and Tradition. (See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm  for a history of the Church’s thought on St. M.M., “Apostolora Apostolorum” Apostle to the Apostles)

Meditating on the Word: a lesson from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

The Eucharist is the Word of God made flesh that we take into our bodies and souls with greatest reverence. As Jeff Cavins says, The Bible is “… the Word of God made text,” that we take into our eyes, ears and minds.  We are to let it dwell in us richly, living and active in us, abiding in us, hidden in our hearts.

One way to allow Scripture to truly live and work within us, is to memorize passages, and not only come to know the words, but cherish them in our hearts in prayer and meditation.

 

The Desert Fathers and Mothers * lived lives of radical simplicity in order to be more attentive to God. They spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture so they would  have it within them.

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Internalizing Scripture is itself a form of prayer. This is different than reading it analytically or studying it.

God’s Word is alive. (Hebrews 4:12a)

“Meditatio Scripturarum” is simple, based on faith in the power and life of God’s Word. In this prayer we take a passage of Scripture we have memorized and hold it in our hearts, turning it over and over. We leave what it does up to God, whose Word never returns to Him void, but always does what He sends it to do. We silently “hear” it, and cherish it intentionally in our hearts as a communion with God.

“Ponder [the Word] without analyzing it. Give it space to speak.” (Christine Paintner) We allow the Sower to sow the seed, prayerfully tending the soil to encourage deep roots.

Desert Father, Abba Poemen  said, “The nature of water is soft; that of stone is hard. But if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. ” When we continually ponder the Word of God, it will surely soften and open our hearts to its mystery.

cactus bloom from the desert garden of Donalee Dox

Choosing a Passage: To begin with, choose a passage you especially love, or feel drawn to, or one that seems to speak to your current life situation. Make it the average length of a Psalm or Canticle: not too short, not too long. If you are in crisis or in discernment about something, you may want to humbly ask someone else to prayerfully choose a passage for you:  a spiritual director, a priest or a friend, trusting in the Holy Spirit to work through that person. You may want to follow the Lectionary and let the Holy Spirit lead you in the daily Mass readings of the Liturgical Year. We should make sure we don’t habitually pick passages that suit our self will, but remain receptive so we can be good soul soil.

Memorizing: I like writing a passage out and keeping it in my pocket all day to read and go over again and again. You can take turns with a friend at work giving each other a passage now and then, quizzing each other when you have a chance, until it is memorized. Read it right before going to sleep and repeat it to yourself as you head into that twilight just before you slip into the unconscious. Sometimes the passage will go with you into sleep. Work on it when you’re filling the car with gas, standing in line at the grocery store, or at a boring meeting.

Meditating: Set aside time to be alone with the passage once it is memorized well. Sit in a quiet, private place, in a position in which you can be both alert and relaxed. Once you are recollected, begin to go mentally over the passage very slowly- not too slowly but don’t rush through it, either. You will find your perfect pace and phrasing. “…He…humbled… himself…. taking the form… of a slave…. being born… in the likeness… of men… “

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Let the phrases be like a string of rosary beads slipping slowly through your fingers. When you get to the end of your verse, phrase or passage, begin again.

If you are distracted just bring yourself gently back to the words. A small distraction merits gentle redirection. But if the mind has completely left the passage and is doing its own thing, patiently let it know that when it does this, you will be starting again at the beginning of the passage, and then do. The mind doesn’t like that but it won’t rebel too much. You will find it runs off much less often as you practice, once it learns you mean business.

This is time you spend in intimacy with God, attentive to His Word, quietly and tenderly abiding in Him and allowing Him to rest also in you.

How much time you decide to  spend on this prayer is up to you. Thirty minutes is customary but even five can do. The most important part is to do it and to practice it every day you can, for however long. Then His language will be your language and His thoughts will become your thoughts. When you call He will answer- often with the perfect verse.

When you are ready, move on to another passage. And another.

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Blessed are those who hear the word of God

 –and cherish it in their hearts.

(Responsory from the Liturgy of the Hours)

*Desert Fathers, and Mothers: early Christian hermits and communities of semi-hermits, whose practice of simplicity, work, prayer, counsel to spiritual seekers, and hospitality in the Egyptian desert, beginning in the 3rd century, formed the basis of Christian monasticism.

A reflective guide to Confession

When I first came into the Church, the Sacrament that stumped me the most was Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It wasn’t the idea of it. It wasn’t the theology of it. It wasn’t even claustrophobia. It was learning how to contain myself into this little ritual. This was difficult for me because of my lack of experience and also because I couldn’t seem to narrow down what it was right to confess. My confession should not be a wild arrow that misses the Heart of Jesus or a list that makes Him sleepy. I want to hit the bull’s eye and sink the arrow deep. I had a hard time with my archery for a long time and I think for Jesus, my attempts to participate in this sacrament made me a crazy moving target hard for Him to hit.

I had some memorable reactions from priests to my confessions that puzzled me: everything from, “That’s not really a sin.” to “You sound like a monophysite,” to simply bursting out laughing.
I needed to find a way to contain myself in the narrow field of what I was supposed to actually do with Confession in order to let it be the conscious encounter with Jesus that it should be. I realized going to Confession was not just about me and my feelings. It was something I did for Jesus and for the good of the Church as well. I really needed to find a way to hit the mark and hit it in a way that was more transformative and open to grace.

The power of God is not limited to our personal perceptions of course. But the Sacrament isn’t “magic” either. It’s a real encounter with Jesus and His merciful love. I need to participate as fully as I can.

“Art…consists of drawing the line somewhere.” (G.K. Chesterton) I needed a way draw some lines, within the ones given to us by the Church, and still have my confession come from the heart.

Over the years I developed a way of ordering my examination of conscience and my confession into a more meaningful and sensible form that fits into the confessional “box” better than the disorganized, emotionally based way I had been doing it before.

 

How I prepare for Confession

First I ask Jesus what He wants me to Confess. It doesn’t have to be about everything in the world down to spilling my milk (not a sin by the way.) It could be about one particular situation God wants to work with me in. I try to be receptive as I think about my life. I pray to be guided and trust that I will be.

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I write down the basic issues that come up. Then I look in the Scriptures and/or the Catechism to see what the Word and the Magisterium have to say about these things. I reflect on what I have read- especially a word or phrase that really stands out to me. A lot of the time I can see more deeply into a situation and where I am at fault, what graces and virtues I need to pray and work for, and where I need to make amends in my relationships, when I do this. I make a brief outline of what I have found out. Then I make a prayer about each sin I need to confess. After all, the priest is in persona Christi and this is a holy sacrament so why not make my whole confession a prayer? It helps me a lot to do it this way. I think I am more guided and I am more likely to find meaning and grace when I take my time to do this in a reflective way, making use of the Bible and the Catechism along with receptive prayer. Also this way I don’t lose track of what I am doing when I am there (as I often used to do.)

Let’s take an example of a sin I have often committed as a parent, though I’m sure none of you ever do; freaking out and yelling at my kids. The prayer I write out for that may look like this:

“My God, in Your Word, You have said “Do not be harsh with your children but admonish them in the Lord.” For all the times I have lost my temper with my children lately, I am sorry. Please forgive me and help me to be as gentle with them as You are with me. “

Or this: “Lord, You have taught through Your Church that parents are the primary educators of their children. For the times I have failed to teach my daughters patience and gentleness by modeling these things for them, the times I gave them a bad example instead by losing my temper and being harsh, I am sorry. Please forgive me. Grant to me the grace of patience and help me to do better.”

In the Confessional

Confessional at San Salvador Mission, Bryan

When I am in the confessional, I tell the priest before I begin that I have written out my confession this way. I have never had any one of them mind about that. Otherwise, of course, The Sacrament of Reconciliation proceeds as usual.

I do think a personal, devotional act adds to the experience, (as long as it doesn’t detract from it.) It can bring us closer to love, and give us a sense of the fact that we are entering into something sacred. My friend, Shawna, takes her shoes off and kneels when she begins Confession. I think that is beautiful. Things like that remind us of our devotion, give us the sense of the fact that we are entering into the sacred, and help us to be humble in God’s presence.

Like my friend, Shawna, I like to kneel too- not during my confession but during absolution. Why I don’t take my shoes off the way she does I will leave to your imagination.

There is a saying, “The narrower the field the deeper the dig.” That has been true for me in Confession. I don’t need to dig all over the place; just enough in the right spot, in the right way, to find that Pearl of Great Price that I am willing to sell everything else to possess.

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Let yourself be loved: a challenge for Lent

The sunlight obscures him in its intense brightness on the horizon, but I can still see his figure walking ahead as I follow at a distance. I have to run a little just to keep him in sight. I am wondering if he wanted some desert alone time and whether I should let him be. He seems to sense my hesitation. He turns to glance back at me, stops right away, turns on his heal and heads toward me more quickly than I would have thought walking would bring him.

“Follow me. I have something I want to teach you this Lent.”

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We walk in silence for a while. Eventually he leads me to where he has set a camp fire in front of a small cave. I am surprised he seems to be cooking. I thought we were fasting. He has made me a simple meal of lentils and bread.

He explains to me that he knows that for me, especially at this time of shock, grief, and upsetting change in my life, eating is harder for me than fasting. This is why he asks that, for now, I take up the discipline of eating, of letting him feed me. This brings us to a larger issue that he wants to sit and talk over as we eat.

He hands me a clay cup full of water and we sit on the warm ground to eat our meal.

Even though we are quiet after the meal blessing, I sense that he wants me to remember that he understands what I am going through and that he experienced it himself. Briefly I remember it as he remembers it, that he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief of every kind. He wants me to remember so that I will feel deeply understood by him, and I do.

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He wants me to let go of what anyone else is doing, and of what unfolds around me, even and especially the things that hurt me the most.

“Just seek healing for these forty days. Care for yourself as I care for you, let yourself be loved, and pay attention to your prayers. I want you to stop worrying about things that are mine to take care of. I would like you to stop wasting energy doing things I am not asking you to do, and to say yes to doing as I am asking. When you do what I have not asked, you wear yourself down for nothing. When you do as I am asking, I will give you all you need to accomplish everything.”

I have to think about this. Then I start worrying about certain situations in my life. “Trust me. Get out of my way and let me care for you in all those situations that are not really yours to do anything about, but mine.”

I have to think about this, too.

photo Maire Manning-Pauc

He says he has heard my prayers asking what he would like me to do for Lent.

His answer is that he wants me to take care of myself in ways that are hard for me right now.

He goes over with me his idea of my to-do list.

Me eating on a regular basis seems to interest him a lot. Me paying my bills on time and taking care of other things that are mine to take care of are high on the list. Me standing up for myself in certain matters that he wants me to seems important to him, too.

He wants mercy in this: that I let other people love me, that I let him love me, that I take care of myself and my life with love for his sake.

Well, this is different than what I was thinking. But I can see he’s serious. He has given me a lot to think about. In fact, I feel a bit upside down right now.

The lunch he made is good and we eat in appreciative silence next to the fire in the shade of a rocky hill. I glance into the cave at his simple belongings- a bag of some kind, a sleeping mat.

He catches my eye, and I look at him across from me, chewing casually on his piece of bread. Then I catch my breath because suddenly his eyes go straight to my heart, his gaze like a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, laying my broken inner world open before me. I can see it in metaphor; a bombed-out building I have been trying to live in as if it were not rubble. I see the chaos from the outer world that I have let in like a flood of bad water over what little I had left to live on.

I see that I did not welcome him when he came to pay his mourning call to me to comfort me.

I had given him his usual seat, I had sat near him, so to speak, but did not allow more than his proximity most days. I did not care for myself, nor did I let him care for me. I did not see him cry for me. I was not looking.

I don’t even know how to fix this problem; not this broken heart, not my inability to open it right now.

He gently helps me understand that even this is not mine to do. I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be willing.

I feel at peace as I look up and see only him, still chewing on his bite of bread, gently brushing off an ant.

“In silence and in hope will be your strength,” crosses my mind.

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He says, “Just don’t move without my will.”

He shows me myself moving in tune with him through my days as I set about my house work, my bill paying, my phone calls, my cooking, driving, working, my encounters with others; in all these allowing him to care for me in how I care for myself.

He shows me myself quiet in my prayer, breathing his gentle love, his presence, his mercy, his holy Name, into my broken heart, allowing him to rebuild, to redefine, to transform.

The tenderness I feel from him is almost frightening right now, and I realize it is because of all the pain I have been feeling but trying to carry alone without realizing that was what I was doing. I need to trust him. I need to let him in more to the places that hurt. That is what he wants.

He says, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirit is crushed, he will save.”

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I understand what he is asking me to do.

I have to do what I am supposed to do in life right now, and it isn’t very much. He will take care of the other things.

He will protect my heart.

He will defend my heart.

He will heal my heart, no matter how impossible it may seem, or how many times it must be renewed or even remade.

He will do what it takes.

He already did all this with his willingness to have his own heart, his own life, broken for my sake. I understand that he stepped radically into my sorrow, inhabiting it himself in his incarnation, his life, suffering and death.

“Let yourself be loved,” wrote St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.

“You are not your own,” says St. Paul. We are each bought at an infinite price and are of unspeakable value to the Lord of love.

To love ourselves perfectly in God, through God, and for love of God, is the fourth and highest degree of love, that signifies union with him, wrote St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

It seems to me the deepest and most humble of surrenders.

This is my challenge to grow toward for Lent 2018.

I look up at the bright sky, and suddenly he showers me with rose petals of every color. They smell beautiful as they fall around me and over me, sticking to my face and shoulders, piling up in my lap, getting between my toes.

He is laughing. I smile. Jesus is Lord. He can laugh and dump rose petals over my head if he wants to.

I will just have to get used to it.

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Something related you might like to try: 

Prayer of the Heart (in the Eastern Orthodox tradition)

Sit quietly and recollect yourself.

Imagine your heart, visualize it and keep your attention there.

Lead the mind from the head into the heart, and say mentally, with your breath, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” slowly and reverently. Imagine you are breathing “Lord Jesus Christ.” into your heart. Then on the out breath, think, “have mercy on me.”

If your mind starts doing its usual job, thinking, gently bring it back to the prayer and continue mentally repeating it, visualizing your heart and keeping your attention there.

Be patient and peaceful, spending some quiet time with God in this way.

 

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