Tag Archives: prayer

Seeds of Renewal: The Hermits of Our Lady Of Mt Carmel

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From the gofundme site of The Hermits

Pennsylvania is now at the center of the scandal of clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church. A grand jury recently released a report on credible abuse allegations going back as far as 1947.  More information has also come to light about abuse in other regions, including the sexual abuse of seminarians, and the unchaste behavior of bishops and cardinals.

In these times of trial it is worth remembering that there are healthy, growing branches of the Church. And they need our help. In the Diocese of Harrisburg, we are blessed to have two relatively new Carmelite communities near Gettysburg, Pa. Carmelites, in brief, are members of a religious order who live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer.  It is a very simple life.  No luxuries, no idleness. They wear the habit, fast regularly, and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

This post spotlights The Hermits of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, which was recognized by the local Bishop earlier this year. This is a community of men who apparently observe the original Carmelite tradition, which is usually referred to as The Ancient Order of Mt. Carmel. They follow the Rule of St. Albert, which means a heavily structured day of prayer, worship, fasting and manual labor. Unlike some monasteries, they do not run any businesses, and are dependent on alms or donations. They will be praying and fasting in reparation for the many sins of the clergy.

Their website is here. You can donate there.

The order is young and growing, and has also started a gofund me campaign for the seminary studies of its new members at this link.

Thanks for any help you can give them.

 

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Donative Prayer: Speaking to God in the margins of the day

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Just sharing a prayer tip from one mediocre Christian to another, particularly those who regret they don’t pray enough.

We Catholics like organization, and our Catechism groups prayer into five categories: Blessing/Adoration, Petition (help for ourselves), Intercession (help for others), Thanksgiving and Praise. I have seen other types listed elsewhere, the two most common being prayers of Penitence and  prayers of Oblation (offering oneself to God).

I sometimes offer a prayer that does not seem to easily fit into one of these forms. This is the prayer of the busy, the distracted or the tired mind. It’s the spoken, rote prayer when you can’t form any mental purpose or dip into contemplation. You might call it donative prayer. It is perhaps the lowest form of prayer, but some days it’s the only kind I say. Arguably it may fit into the Oblation category. Oblation does apparently derive from a Latin word meaning “to offer.”

It’s the Our Father I might say while waiting for the red light to change, or a series of Hail Marys you pray while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on a bridge. If you are me, you might discretely cover your mouth with your hand so that the person looking at you in their rear view mirror doesn’t think you are talking to yourself, or to them (I worry about such things). It’s the Glory Be you recite for no specific reason as you nod off to sleep.

I can’t say that this prayer meets the criteria of any of the listed categories. I speak them without a purpose in mind. I am not asking for anything, and am not consciously thanking or praising God in any way, or even offering something up to Him.  Sometimes I am just in a bad mood and would rather recite a prayer from memory than do anything else.

I would like to think that I am donating the prayer to God,  the prayer treasury of the Church, and the Communion of Saints to use as they will, for whatever pleases them. I am donating a speck of my time and will, if nothing else.  It beats listening to talk radio… right?

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A Quiver Full of Glory

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St. Therese as Joan of Arc

Three sisters stand around a table.

It is quiet but for the the tap tap tapping

shoe of the little one.

Three glasses in a line across the table. A very large one in the middle.

A smaller one to the right, and a child’s one to the left.

The eldest pours water into each.

“You see, each is full of glory.”

The three little sisters grow up to be Sisters

who do not wear shoes.

In time the youngest becomes the greatest. She stayed little.

She says: “When I die, I will work even harder. I will rain down a shower of roses from heaven.”

And she dies. Everyone looks up.

 

It is now my time to die.

The old rose-bush is cut down by the gardener.

The withered branches, leaves and flowers go into the bonfire.

The thorns crackle as they burn.

One rose remains.

I am planted in the garden of Our Lady, one of many.

Red rose martyrs, innocent whites, mystics in blue.

A flower is small, quiet and still. Obedient.

A flower knows how to listen,

and accepts the light and water without complaint. It grows.

It is a place of rest.

In the cool of the day the Child Jesus plays in the garden.

Sometimes he plucks me with some others, and makes a crown for his Mother.

On some days a bouquet. When they are done playing he puts me back in the soil.

A flower does not protest.

One day the Child Jesus brings a friend to the garden, a young lady in armor.

“Gather your arrows” he says,

And presents her with a bow and quiver.

“Am I to be your Cupid?” she asks.

“No, my Eros.”

For the Greeks were nearer to his Heart than the Romans.

(He had longed to sail for Greece.

“Come over here and help us,” said the man in the dream.

Another would make the journey.)

And so the Little One gathers the roses into her quiver.

We are a little Communion of Saints. We are sharp,

though we have lost our thorns.

He points, and she draws me from the quiver.

She listens with the ear of her heart for the prayer. Loose!

A rainbow parabola,

The arc of history bends from Heaven to Earth.

That flutter in your heart is me striking home.

And when you pray, or hope, or love, you send me

winging skyward.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence.

 

For the Little Therese, and with apologies to 

Charles Peguy.

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Going to the Margins with Georges Bernanos in Mouchette

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This installment in my ongoing review of Georges Bernanos bibliography is about his novel Mouchette, published in 1937. In the French publication it is titled as Nouvelle Histoire de Mouchette. Bernanos decided to reuse the name of a female character from his first novel, Under the Sun of Satan, for the title of this book and its main character. Unlike much of the Bernanos bibliography, Mouchette is in print and available through bookstores.

I will introduce the review with following Bible passage:

If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

1 John 3:20

One of the expressions that Pope Francis is known for is “Going to the margins” of society. That is, we must reach out and help the poor, the mentally ill, the imprisoned as part of our love of neighbor. Those most difficult to reach should deserve special attention. Another popular expression of the Pope’s is that the Church must “accompany” those in particularly difficult situations.

The story begins with Mouchette at school, and her discomfort  with singing along with the rest of her class. They are singing the lines from a French poem, Three Days of Christopher Columbus. The first two lines, translated to English:

“Hope! … No more Hope!”

Three Days, Columbus told them, and I give you a world.

The lines apparently describe a conversation with Columbus and his despairing crew. I think Bernanos was alluding to the three days in the tomb and the Resurrection.

Mouchette has no such attention or accompaniment in her life. She is a fourteen year old girl in rural France. She is poor, and the daughter of an alcoholic father and terminally ill mother. She wears her older brother’s oversized wooden clogs everywhere, and the clopping sound they make might as well be the nails going into her very own Cross. She has no friends, and really, by the end of the novel, no hope. She can’t wait three more days. Again, deliberately, I think Bernanos chose to break up this novel of 127 pages into only three chapters.

Overall, it is a meditation on the pity of God for those on the margins, those whom God does not seem to help out of respect for our free will in ordering the affairs of the world.  Bernanos deliberately gives the reader a God’s eye view, and invites us to accompany this person on the margin of society.

A brief except to give you a flavor of Bernanos’ style in this book:

Her attention was so absorbed and so tender that it seems to be an extension of her own life. It did not occur to her to find Arsene’s face handsome. It was simply that it was made for her, and seemed as easy and natural in her gaze as the handle of her old knife in her hand, the old knife which she had found on the road one evening, and had shown to no one, and which was the only thing in the world which she possessed. She would have liked to touch his face, but its golden color, as warm as that of bread, was enough to make her happy.

 

This is a particularly good book if you are (like I hope I am not anymore) a little too quick to judge people based on the worst day of their life or after the biggest mistake they might ever make.  We don’t really know how they got there. Only God does. My local newspaper has gone mostly electronic, and its home page is steadily updated throughout the day with an endless list of crimes, deaths and various misadventures.  The people who comment on these stories are often rather cruel, criticizing the person or their family for what happened. It is far better to say a prayer for these strangers you never knew in this life … you might be the only one who does.

So you can accompany those on the margins through prayer, if nothing else is possible.

The novel was adapted into a film by the highly regarded French director Robert Bresson in 1967. The screenplay is largely faithful to the plot, though the story has been shifted forward a few decades to post-WW2 France. Bresson uses his familiar, minimalist style and relied on locals and unknowns to fill out the cast. Most of the bad stuff is not directly shown, but still, it’s not for children. It is available with subtitles. I don’t believe it won any major awards, but it was well regarded enough that the Critetion Collection decided to restore and reissue it in 2007.

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Field notes on the Jubilee Year of Mercy as Mediated by Han Solo

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The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy concluded on November 20, 2016.  I am certainly not qualified to give unsolicited advice, but if you wish to compare notes, or are seeking, what follows was my experience. This is longish.

The Han Solo theme is a reflection on what my older self could tell my younger self, or any young people looking for advice from someone who’s been on the journey a bit longer.  Though I have to admit I’ve been more a Kylo than Rey or Finn in my life. I had opportunities to break away from the path I was on at a younger age, as Finn did, but missed them. Fortunately God’s mercy is never-ending.

Why did I participate? What was this Extraordinary Jubilee Year anyway?

I was very excited when Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Jubilee last spring, as I had not participated, to my regret, in the Great Jubilee of 2000. There have only been 27 such years. Briefly, a Jubilee is a special year of prayer that a focuses on the forgiveness of sins and the associated punishment.

I have always been interested in “Last Things”, and for a Catholic, this inevitably involves the subject of Purgatory. Essentially, even though Jesus has redeemed us, Catholics believe that a final purification of the person will occur after death before one is admitted into Heaven and sees God face to face. The degree of purification is believed to correspond to how faithful you have been in following the path the Lord has set out for us. It involves some degree of suffering, and it is taught that you can do nothing to reduce this experience after you die. However, it is accepted that you can mitigate your purification by certain actions taken in this life.  A Jubilee Year provides an extra special opportunity of obtaining this mitigation, which is called an “indulgence.” By satisfying the conditions laid out, which involve pilgrimage to a Holy Door, prayer, confession, communion, and works of mercy, one can potentially obtain a partial or full remission of the punishment associated with your confessed sins.

I have sinned much, and accordingly I found this opportunity to be most welcome. I recognize that there is a fair amount of skepticism around this topic, even for Catholics, but, to be blunt, what did I have to lose?

My Preparation

I did not wait for the Jubilee Year to officially begin, and began going to Confession regularly before it started (Never put off what God’s grace might allow you to do today).  For me this was a hard step, as I had not been to confession in 20 years. However, God provided a special delivery of grace last July, and this gave me the courage to go back.  This involved a pretty detailed examination of conscience, and given the quantity of things I wanted to talk about, I forgot to mention a few things on my first trip. I went back the next day, same priest, to finish it properly.

This also involved avoidance of serious sin. For example, I took care to arrange my schedule to I could go to Mass every Sunday and the other Holy Days of Obligation, and to take Communion on each occasion when I was reasonably confident I was in a state of grace.  I also began to spend more time in prayer, and make an effort to pray the Rosary from time to time.

Fortunately for me, I live near a Cathedral that had Holy Door, and was able to participate in the diocese’s procession and ceremony when the Jubilee Year began in November of 2015.

What I learned: Main Points 

  • We must be Christocentric in our faith.  “No one sees the Father but through Me” as the Lord says. I think my early formation in faith suffered because I spent too much time thinking and pondering God the Father without developing a firm, more intimate friendship with his Son. The members of the Trinity are equal, and Our Lady, the angels and the Communion of Saints are important, but for me the establishment of bond with the Lord was a necessary foundation. In my first hour in Heaven, I would like nothing better than to rest my head on the Lord, like St. John at the Last Supper, and listen to the Metronome of the Universe that beats beneath His breast.

 

  • Follow The Rules. They work and are there for your benefit.

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While Baptism is the first Sacrament, Confession is the key that unlocks nearly everything else. Can you imagine going through a marriage without ever saying your sorry or apologizing to your spouse for anything? Nobody’s marriage would last.  But many of us rarely if ever go to Confession while still taking Communion regularly. Judas took Communion directly from the Lord’s hand, but he had not repented his treachery. It did him no good.  It gets easier the more you do it, and I go every 3-5 weeks now. I am now receiving showers of grace from making good Communions that I was not getting before

  • If you work or live in an urban area that has a nearby Catholic Church, going to an extra Mass or two during the work week is a great “low hanging fruit” to obtain.  I am lucky enough that my schedule has a regular lunch break, and can walk to a Cathedral in 10 minutes. Weekday masses are shorter, no more than 30 minutes I have found.  You can give praise  to God, obtain more grace for yourself (or ask God to donate it to someone else), and thus can better serve others. I have become acquainted with the General Roman Calendar, and am working to collect all the Feast Days, a la Pokémon Go. I find that the more I go to Mass, the more I appreciate and enjoy it.

 

  • The above is especially important, if like me, you often find yourself too tired for meaningful prayer time at the end of the day. I made many resolutions to say the Rosary on certain days, and often failed to do it because of the tyranny of schedule, family and professional obligations, etc. I have an extra Rosary at work now, and may try to fit this in over lunch. I am lucky enough to have an office with a door.

 

  • Prayer and Contemplation can be very effective when done in silence and darkness. Cardinal Sarah discusses this in God or Nothing. My prayer life up till recently had mostly been spoken, petitionary prayer. I have tried just before sleep, kneeling and emptying my mind, and just listening. I don’t hear anything, but according to Sarah and others, this provides the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in you. I often wake up in the middle of the night, and find it fruitful just to lie there and let the mind take in whatever God wants to impart. I think most of the best received stuff I have written came to me between 3 and 5 am during these interludes.

 

The Result

“Its true, all of it.” Han to Rey and Finn.

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Newton’s Third law provides that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” However, God is far more generous. For every movement we make to him, he advances much farther towards us, like the Father running to greet the returned prodigal son.

I think that the last 18 months has been the best “year” of my life. I had some significant personal, professional and health challenges, but God’s grace carried me through. I had my peaks and valleys, being subject to the “Law of Undulation” as C.S. Lewis describes in his The Screwtape Letters. However, I found myself much less bothered by things, less angry, more forgiving, and did not shoot anyone first, even bounty hunters!  And writing as a man, sexual temptation will always be a key struggle, but the grace I have received provided a measure of calm and peace to my carnal nature that I thought would be impossible to experience in this life.

I also found my interest in popular culture has waned dramatically. I am much less interested in watching TV, sports, movies, and listening to talk/sports radio. I am loyal to my sports teams as much as any guy, but no longer feel the compulsion to watch the games. I have also cut down on a lot of the casual fiction reading that I often did just to fill the time (“beach reads”). I was also able to tune out a lot of the election noise and political chatter over the past Spring and Summer, but did get sucked in too much in the past few months. And yes, I will see “Rogue One”, but I don’t have to go opening night.

Instead, I find that I like to do a lot of religious reading (e.g. scriptural commentaries, spiritual reflections, etc.).  I probably learned more about our faith in the last 18 months than in all the prior years. A surprising side effect is a new-found appreciation of Classical music. I do not play an instrument and have never seriously studied music, but I find that’s what my radio is set to in the car these days.

What’s Next

This blog was my attempt at performing “works of mercy” for the Jubilee Year.  It is sad to see how many people in the West have fallen away from the faith compared to prior times, and that a smaller percentage of the younger generations are being raised in the faith.  How can we communicate with people in humble way about what they are missing?

I think one way has to be stories. While the daytime soaps have faded, our imagination has been captured by cable series, Netflix, comic books, movies, music videos, novels, etc.  Even our sports and politics revolve around the story structure. There is a beginning, middle and end, with a cast of characters, various crises, and a conclusion.

I have tried my hand at short fiction over the last year or so as a means to convey my own experiences and thoughts in hopefully a humble and interesting way. This blog has a small following, but as I said in my very first post, if one person is helped, then its been worth it.

The creative well dried up over the summer, and I have gotten away from fiction and done some books reviews and spiritual reflections instead. I have tried not to force it, as most of the early stuff just came to me without a lot of conscious effort. So perhaps that’s all God intended for this effort. Also, one who tries to write for the Lord will often ask himself whether its just vanity, or really for the Glory of God. I certainly ask myself that question a lot.

So, perhaps this is the last post. If you have followed along this last year or so, thanks for your time. I will pray and reflect on this, and if it is in accord with God’s will, I may continue the blog. I would like to try more fiction, but if that’s not where the Spirit leads me, this blog may shift to doing book reviews, spiritual reflections, etc.

And no matter what happens, stay true, you will have your happy ending. This thing we call “life” is the Way of the Cross. But Time itself is subject to the Lord, and He makes all things new, and will give you true life to the fullest.

 

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The Envelope, Please

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Lucius and Marcellus looked up at the tiny disc of light from the bottom of the well. It was very dark down there, and the cold water was about their ankles. The sides of the well were slick, and there was no way to climb out.  They had already tried several times and failed. There was certainly no ladder to be had.

Lucius was leaning against the side of the well, his fingers threaded and resting on his head. Lucius lowered his hands and looked at his friend, “Do you remember the story of the crow and the pitcher?”

Marcellus replied, “I think so, … where are you going with this?”

“We cannot climb out, but maybe we can rise just the same. I have an idea,” Lucius replied, and snapped his fingers.

A large white envelope appeared in his hand, and Lucius opened it.

“What are you going to do with that?” Marcellus asked.

“I am going to lighten the load, so to speak. First, I’m going to enclose my complaint about being down here.” Lucius concentrated for a moment, and the envelope swelled in size, and became so big so quickly that it slipped from his hands into the water with a giant splash.  The level of the water rose up to their armpits as the envelope sank.

“Uh, Lucius, I am not so sure this is a good idea,” Marcellus said, looking down a bit nervously.

“Patience, friend.” Lucius whistled this time, and a second envelope appeared in his hand. “Now, I am going to deposit my doubts about the efficacy of the method.” Again, the envelope swelled, and Lucius cast it on the water, and it quickly sank. The water rose again, and now they were floating. They were closer, however slightly, to the light.

“Lucius, I can’t tread water forever,” Marcellus gasped. He was rather out of shape after all.

“Stop fighting it, just roll on your back and relax,” Lucius replied, taking the new position. Marcellus did, and stretched his arms away from his sides, and began to breath in and out slowly.

“Ok, your turn, Marcellus.”

Marcellus closed his eyes, and an instant later an envelope appeared between his clenched teeth.

“Mmmm, mmmf, hffmmf, mmelf, hrmm, mrmm.”

“What? Speak up Marcellus!” Lucius laughed.

He spit out the envelope, which sank like a stone. “I said, I put inside my question about why I am the way that I am. The one that’s been bugging me all my life. You know what I mean, Lucius.”

“I do. Well done, friend.  I think the water level rose a lot with that one.” And it was true, the light at the top of the well was noticeably bigger.

“Why is this working?” Marcellus asked.

“We bring a lot of self-centered questions, doubts and complaints to our contemplation of the light. Its not wrong that we do that. But after we’ve raised them,  we need to hand them over once and for all. If you don’t, its like walking around with a big armful of packages that you never set down. You can’t see where you are going.”

Lucius continued. “He will answer our questions and complaints at the time of his choosing. If we keep complaining about the same thing over and over, doesn’t that show a lack of trust? There’s nothing wrong with his hearing. And there’s lots of other things to talk about … giving thanks … other people.”

The two friends took turns after that, summoning an envelope and enclosing old questions, doubts and complaints, and then letting them go. With each one, the water rose higher, and before long they reached the top of the well. They climbed out, Lucius helping the weaker Marcellus to dry land.

The light was very bright up here, and the surroundings were beautiful.

“And we can contemplate this view for as long as we live?” Marcellus asked.

“We can. We just have to keep the weight off, or we might slip back in.”

“Remind me, Lucius, how did the story of the crow and the pitcher end?”

“When the water reached the top, the crow drank until he was full. And I’d like to think he was never thirsty again.”

 

 

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