St Alphonsus Rodriguez

Obedience: a sign

…St Simon Stylites chose for his retirement to live upon a pillar forty cubits high and practiced such penance there as the like had never been known before. He was continually exposed to all the inconvenience of heat and cold; he passed whole Lents without eating or drinking, and added so many other austerities to these, that some, thinking it impossible for a man to undergo such rigorous penances, doubted whether or not he was really a man. Several fathers of the desert hearing of this strange new way of living, met to consul about it; and the result of their debate was to send a messenger to him in their names, who should say to him: What new kind of life is this that you lead? Why have you forsaken the high road marked out to us by so many saints, and taken this by-way which never man trod before? The fathers of the desert, from whom I come, have met in full assembly about you, and command you to come down from your pillar, to live like them, and to distinguish yourself no longer by such singularities…..He (messenger) had scare finished his words, “the fathers of the desert have ordered you to come down from your pillar,” but the saint put himself in a posture of descending and obeying their orders. The messenger seeing this great obedience, put the second part of his commission into execution, and spoke thus to the servant of God: “Take courage, father, and continue this sort of life with the same generosity you have begun to embrace it; it is God that has called you, your obedience declares it, and all the fathers of the desert are of this opinion.” Let us take notice here, on the one hand, how readily Stylites obeys, how soon he abstained from a holy action, to which he really believed God had called him; and on the other, in what esteem the ancient fathers held obedience and submission, since they really believed they needed no other proof of God’s having called him; and on the contrary, they require no other sign but disobedience to their orders, to conclude that his vocation was not from heaven. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection III’

St Alphonsus Rodriguez

St Alphonsus Rodriguez

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Awake amidst slumber

It is of so great importance to dwell a long time upon the affectionate motions of the will, that the masters of a spiritual life say, that prayer is then in its sovereign degree of perfection, when no longer recurring to meditation, in order to excite in us the love of God, our heart being penetrated with this love it sighs after it, enjoys it and reposes itself therein, as in the only end of its researches and desires.  It is this the spouse teaches us, by her own example in the Canticles, when she says, “I have found him whom my soul loves; I will hold him fast, and will not let him go” and what she imitates to others by these words, “I sleep, but my heart is awake.”  For in perfect prayer, one’s understanding (reasoning/discursive thought) is as if it were asleep, because all its functions are, in a manner suspended; but the will and heart are awake, and melt with tenderness for the heavenly spouse.  His sleep also of the spouse is so agreeable to her beloved, that “he conjures the daughters of Jerusalem not to disturb the repose of his spouse, and not to awake her until she awakes herself.”  So that meditation, and all those other functions of the mind in prayer, are all made use of, and directed to contemplation, and are so many steps to help us to ascend to it.  –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection’

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Properly empty the vessel

“Pour out your heart as water in the presence of the Lord.” (Lamentations) …. When we pour oil out of any vessel, there always rests something in the bottom; and when it is wine or vinegar we pour out, the vessel retains at least the smell thereof; but if we empty a pitcher of water, there remains neither smell nor anything in the bottom; it has no more smell or taste than if nothing had been in it. It is in this manner you must pour out your heart in giving an account of your conscience; you must do it so as nothing may remain behind–no, not the least scent of anything whatsoever. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection’

Alphonso Rodriguez

St Alphonsus Rodriguez

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Mindfulness

He perceived also that the angels chiefly at the Te Deum were very desirous that the religious should sing it devoutly, and he saw as it were flames issuing from the mouth of those who performed it with fervor. Let each one reflect upon himself, and take notice after what manner he makes his prayers; to see whether he deserves to be written in gold or silver letters, or with ink or water; or in fine, to see whether it deserves to be noted at all. Let him observe whether the flames of his heart issue through his mouth by fervorous aspirations, or whether he yawns through laziness and disgust; and in fine, let him reflect, whether he be there present in body only, but elsewhere in mind, having it dissipated with the thoughts of his studies, with the care of his affairs, or with other things still more condemned. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection’.

St Alphonsus Rodriguez

St Alphonsus Rodriguez

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Patience in formation

…it seems that we are never to cease being novices; our profession is deferred so long, that almost our whole life, passes in a noviceship and probation before the society (Jesuits) admits and acknowledges us to be true and fit workmen in the vineyard of our Lord.  It does this because the matter in question is the conferring upon us what is of the greatest importance in the world; and therefore it is necessary to have a good trial beforehand, to see what we are and what we are capable of.  The thing in question is, to charge us, not only with the conversion, but with the perfection also, of our neighbor; and therefore it is necessary we should first have laboured very well for our own.  Hence it is easily seen how much those are deceived who seem to think these probations too long or even useless, and who, from the first ray of light they receive in prayer—from the least spark of piety they feel in their heart—would on a sudden thrust themselves into the offices of preaching and hearing confessions.  St Ephraim deplores this abuse, and says it is a sentiment that springs, not from the spirit of God, but from the spirit of presumption and pride.  “They would begin,” says he, “to teach before they know anything themselves.  They would intrude themselves to give laws and rules to others, before they have learned the laws and rules themselves; they would take upon them to give their opinions in everything; before they have begun to spell; and before they are capable of receiving correction, they take upon them to correct others”. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection III’

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St Alphonsus Rodriguez, a man who endured much, including failure and heartbreak, before settling into the life of a religious, espouses upon the importance of patience in regards to religious formation.  The patience and fortitude to allow an inner transformation, an imitation of Christ bringing into being a divine unification, to create within my life a man worthy of carrying the message of Christ.  At this time, I am exactly where I need to be.  I am exactly who I am.  However, I am also open to the possibility of change, new and improved ways to strengthen the natural in order to serve God greater.  Holding decisions lightly, discerning within patience, counsel, and prayer, I am able to explore opportunities for a greater future, allowing the process of their coming into being the time to profoundly develop.  I am not in a hurry, nor forcing free will upon life.  I am not inflicting discontent, confusion, and chaotic ways upon others. Through a lack of proper formation, I am not bewildering, and possibly harming, others.  In a world of confusion, I do not spread confusion.  In a selfish broken world of individuals striving for ascendency, a world dominated by individuals desperate to establish identity, a world overwhelming in opinions, I become a humble man of depth, comfortable within my own skin, expressing above all things faith, hope, and charity.  My aspirations, insecurities, hopes, desires do not shape my disposition.  I strive to remain calm, prayerful, at peace with myself and God at all times.  My dedication to faith, hope, and charity does not seek solace through the tongue.  A reputation amongst others does not delight my fancy.  Boredom does not subdue me into shallowness, curious and wanton in interest and activity, the constant pursuit of secular entertainment.  I am not all over the place trying to be all things for all people.  I do not see myself as a charismatic blossoming personality—a person always selling himself.  In the above passage from St Alphonsus Rodriguez, he wrote shortly beforehand of the importance of a religious community concentrating upon the formation of those recruited, rather than focusing upon the bringing in of new members—quality rather than quantity.  Formation is a slow tedious process, extremely at odds with a fast paced dynamic world of dazzling entertainment, a plethora of stimulating ideas, an endless possibility of worldly and spiritual avenues to explore, a multitude of new people to engage and busy ourselves with.  Mature formation dictates that authentic potentialities usurp glittering and astounding possibilities.  At all times, I endeavor to remain quiet and still in nature, reposed before God–singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts–recognizing the presence of God within all things.  In the process becoming virtuous in the core of my being, thus able to act with dignity within my recognized imperfections and strengths, to truly be a messenger of God.

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Weekend appraisal

I am looking forward to this weekend dominated by the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Sunday is the feast day of St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the Eucharistic community. The weekend presents three incredible saints for celebration. Friday, July 31st, honors St. Ignatius of Loyola. Saturday, the opening of August, the Doctor of the Church St. Alphonsus Liguori is granted acclamation. The weekend itinerary involving the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament presents a communal Holy Hour with prayer before the Blessed Sacrament Friday evening. Saturday will be a full day of instruction, concluding with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sunday, Jim Brown will preach during mass. The approachable, amiable gentleman made the initial impression of a mature intelligent man of faith, humble within worldly success and authoritative position. Sunday the community will also open its doors to the public as a part of the Diocese’s concentration upon the consecrated life. It is really edifying to experience the various religious communities existing throughout the Cleveland area. My friend Carol and I have developed pleasing camaraderie in pursuit of the Diocesan agenda. I will be privileged with her company this Sunday. I am also going to extend an invitation to my therapist/spiritual director. Another community opening their doors is the Poor Clares of Colettine. I have not attended their Sunday Benediction in quite a while. Since moving to the East side, I have lost touch with this blessed Sunday afternoon tradition. The Poor Clares offer a quaint, bright white, holy chapel, truly a Thin Place, a space naturally to lose one’s self within prayer. The final community to be explored is the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary at the St Adalbert Parrish of Cleveland. I must say I am really intrigued to explore the sister’s life. Originating from Uganda, the sisters in 2014 began ministering through the St Adalbert Parrish. I found a video online that absolutely melted my heart. It should be a splendid weekend.

I met with Father Roger, my favorite Tanzanian priest, yesterday. Hopefully moving forward in resolution of a complexity proving to be an obstacle in my prayer life. Every aspect of my life is focused upon greater efficacy in worship and prayer. Alone, I can accomplish the endeavor, however, in truth and reality that is proving to be impossible. Cloaking myself with maturity, consultation is embraced. A determination is made with the respected priest. I belong at St Paul’s Shrine. If the abiding religious men and women question my authenticity or my ways in any regard, I want to know. I am small before all, especially the consecrated. I know who I am. I know who others are. If I am not welcome, I will seek solace within another church. I was touched when one of the extern sisters, seeing me walk past with Father Roger, came out to thank me so earnestly for providing and assisting with the open house Sunday. How could she not know, she provided so much by allowing me to be of service. So I will continue worshipping and adoring at St Paul’s Shrine, absolutely unsure I will be able to contain my wrath.

St Alphonsus Rodriguez spiritually directs:

Another advantage which temptation brings with it is, that it makes us more attentive to our duties of obligation, hinders us from being remiss in them, and causes us to stand more upon our guard; like men who are every hour on the point of engaging.

…one day St. Gertrude, bewailing bitterly a fault she was subject to, and begging of God most earnestly to free her from it; our Lord, with great bounty, answered her thus; “Why wouldst thou, my dear daughter, deprive me of great glory, and thyself of great reward? Every time that thou art sensible of thy fault, and dost purpose to amend it for the future, it is a new merit thou acquires; and as often as one endeavors to overcome any fault for the love of me, he does me the same honor as a brave soldier does his king, in fighting courageously against his enemies, and endeavoring to conquer them”.

Video of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary now stationed at St Adalbert’s Parrish in Cleveland.

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Spiritual Direction

We read in the Chronicles of St Francis, that a secular asked a good religious, why St John Baptist, having been sanctified in his mother’s womb, should retire to the desert, and lead there such a penitential life as he did. The good religious answered him, by first asking this question: pray why do we throw salt upon meat that is fresh and good? To keep it the better, and to hinder it from corruption, replied the other. The very same answer I give you, says the religious, concerning the Baptist; he made use of penance as of salt, to preserve his sanctity from the least corruption of sin as holy Church sings of him, “that purity of his life might not be tarnished with the least breath.” Now, if in time of peace, and when we have no temptation to fight against, it is very useful to exercise our bodies by penance and mortification, with how much more reason ought we do so in time of war, when encompassed with enemies on all side? St Thomas, following Aristotle’s opinion, says that the word chastity is derived from “chastise,” inasmuch as by chastising the body we subdue the vice opposite to chastity; and also adds, that the vices of the flesh are like children, who must be whipped into their duty, since they cannot be led to it by reason. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian and Religious Perfection’.

Chastise: 1. To discipline, especially by corporal punishment. 2. To criticize severely. 3. Archaic to restrain; chasten. 4. Archaic. To refine; purify.

St Alphonsus Rodriguez writes guidance for the religious, yet I find his harsh, demanding perspective practical in contemplative pursuits as a layperson, while also touching upon a consideration into living a fully consecrated life. We are either fully in, or we are out. No dabbling. This is not a game of casualness, times of allowing explorations into the secular and nonreligious without salting ourselves. If we are not fully in, we must respect those fully in. Consideration and kindness are deeper than being casual and brash. Defenses must be up, ramparts in place, when journeying through life. I am reading a novel, ‘All We Know of Heaven” by Remy Rougeau, a Canadian Benedictine monk writing about a nineteen year old entering a Cistercian monastery. The novel captures me with its concise matter-of-fact, drab delivery; a boringness to the entire endeavor that pleases. Brutally honest realism, I suppose, with respect to Thomas Merton’s ‘Seven Story Mountain’. Poignantly ironic, I find the work of fiction realistic, and the biography delusional. In the novel there is not an underlying need for the author to establish himself as a recognized intellectual, an academic authority, a pop culture religious/literary celebrity. This is simply a monk telling a simple story. There is no great exploration of larger than life ideals, no religious history, nor romanticizing through flowery language, no desiring to expose the mystical and supernatural (a criticism I should consider reflectively), no tendency toward psychological self-absorbing introspections, no exposing of one’s inner-most being, no long sentences—saying so many things in a quick spewing. It is a simple realistic view into the occurrences within the life of a young man entering a Canadian Trappist monastery. Ordinary, yet set apart, an original thing in the world. Things can be defined by what they are not. “He walked into the house (his parent’s home after a week at the monastery) and felt as though he had returned from a foreign country; the television seemed a very odd contraption.”

No time, and thoughts are not coming out. I was aiming for the idea that God did not sacrifice His Son over two thousand years ago, and aside from the Church, basically disappear from the ways of man accidently. A God of order, there is a divine plan in place. It is difficult, demanding penance, mortification, and dedication, obviously trust and confidence, as well as obedience and surrender, the following of the ways of the Church if serious depth is to be achieved. Within and through the ordinary, the boring and mundane, we come into actualization, yet the process is difficult, the ways of the saints rigorous, brutal, and nearly impossible in regards to application.  Divine assistance please subtly abide. The extraordinary existing within the ordinary takes a fine process of revealing; romantic traps, emotional enticements, egotistical needs, the desire for intellectual gratification, artistic expression, boredom, and the flesh are always posed for a gradual or immediate devouring.  Not sure I am pleased with this entry, struggling personally with respect to perfection and longing for Ann–some days are difficult, yet never will I fully concede defeat, for as St Liguori teaches, the greatest defeat is to lose hope. My friend with the Catholic bookstore has a sign above her front door, above a holy water dispenser, ‘All yee who enter, abandon despair’. Always through faith, hope, charity and GRADUALNESS within fortitude, perseverance, and understanding–‘gratefulness for progress achieved’ maintained as a driving force, I move forward. To dabble or sit casually still is to die.  The sitting still must be done with precise purpose, adorably and prayerfully in the presence of the Eucharist. Dentist appointment this morning, natural world calls, salting performed.

All We Know of Heaven

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