In bed, settle yourself as though you were in your tomb, think for a moment what your body will look like then, say over yourself, as you would over a dead person, a response, or a Pater Noster, and Ave Maria. As often as you awake during the night say a Gloria Patri, or a Jesu nostra redemptio, or any similar prayer; and each time you hear the clock strike the hour, say: ‘Blessed be the hour in which my Lord Jesus Christ was born, and died for me. Lord, at the hour of my death, remember me’. Then think how you have an hour less of life, and that, little by little, this voyage draws to a close. –St Peter of Alcantara ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’
…the kind of attention we ought to have in prayer. The principal thing is that the heart should not be cast down and listless, but vivacious, intent and raised aloft. However, though it be necessary to maintain this attention and recollection of heart, it is fitting, on the other hand, that this attention be restrained and measured, that it may not injure the health nor impede devotion, for there are indeed some, as we have said, who injure the brain by the excessive efforts they make use of to be attentive to their thoughts. Others there are who, to avoid the hindrance, remain very listless and inert, and easily liable to be swept away by every wind that blows. To avoid these extremes, we must pursue a middle course, neither tiring out the mind by excessive attention, nor yet being so careless and remiss as to leave the mind free to ramble away as it chooses after every thought that comes. We are wont to advise the rider of a restive mount to hold his reins firmly—that is, neither too tight nor too slack—that the animal may not rear backwards on the one hand nor dangerously career forward on the other. So should we contrive that our attention be moderate and not forced, prompt but not straining and anxious. –St Peter of Alcantara ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’
Every now and then, in order to focus, to ground my feet upon my path, the need to dig this verse up from the Tao Te Ching arises. It is powerful for me in developing prayerful mindfulness. I knew it was important to me the first time I read it over twenty-five years ago. The words exploded within consciousness; bombs igniting relevancy, appropriateness, and attention within a young chaotic adult mind.
Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.
Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsence!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting not knowing where I am.
Like a new-born babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.
Other have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea.
Without direction, like the restless wind.
Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.
This is also my counsel to you, strain not after tears, strive not for sentiments of devotion, do not force your heart. Rest rather in interior solitude. Dwell therein quietly, waiting until God’s will be accomplished in you. When it shall please Him to send you tears, Oh how sweet will those tears be, for it is not your impatience that has secured them: they are the fruits of humility and of peace. On your part, then you must receive them with deepest of self-effacement, allowing God to work within you. Note well, that if ever you fancy this desire or the securing of these affections to be in any measure due to yourself, you will infallibly expose yourself to the losing of them. –St Peter of Alcantara ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’.
Reading, enjoying time to read assorted authors due to a lack of work, this paragraph immediately emboldened itself as vital, words to read over and over, meditating upon relevancy. God provided tears of joy driving home from Toledo, returning from a visit with my family. My son is precious, although we hardly see one another anymore. We speak and text on the phone, communicating deeply, knowing one another well. This Thanksgiving, amidst a celebration of gratefulness, I observed my son closely, marveling at the wonder God graced, deeply grateful for his presence. Late into the day, my sister, a devout demanding Christian along with my brother-in-law and their children, including their two adopted preschoolers, plus members from their nondenominational church, met my son, myself, and my son’s first serious girlfriend for a round of evening glow bowling. I have not bowled in decades, thoroughly enjoying myself, while bowling horribly. The bowling came after a lively gathering at my older brothers. I must point out the significance of my son’s girlfriend in regards to my recovery. My struggles in life occurred during the raising of my son. My twenty-five plus years of celibacy, chastity, complete inability to even attempt a romantic relationship amidst a life of severe alcoholism, I am convinced negatively affected my son. His mother told me that he spoke to her, stressing he did not feel he could love another, never commit himself to an intimate relationship. He told her he had no interest in sex. I assumed guilt, convinced I never demonstrated, or taught, my son how to interact in an adult manner regarding intimacy, the expressing of proper love between adults, an adult relationship between a male and female I never showed him. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. My life lacked love, so therefor I could not transfer such Godly maturity to my son. One cannot give what one does not possess. Committed to his career, making responsible, admirable, life choices, I venerated my son, yet watched his personal life closely; wondering–respectively granting him distance, never inquiring, allowing openness and the opportunity for him to present when he discerned appropriateness. Others questioned his lack of dating. Admiring his socially friendly and endearing responsible personality, yet noticing he never presented a romantic interest. I know many questioned his sexuality, whispering about closet homosexuality. He never gave reason for the idle gossiping speculation. Now at thirty, he presents his first romantic interest, his first serious relationship. God is good and all giving. I am stunned by the young lady. Physically beautiful, simple and humble, an unassuming devout Christian, she transfixes my entire family. Bowling, I watched her and my son, spellbound by the maturity and absolute Christian love blossoming between them. All glory to God, my son was and is authentic, sincere in his chastity, remarkable in his emotional maturity and patience in discerning a woman to present to the family. She is absolutely perfect beyond a level I imagined. My son the whole time desired mature and proper Christian affection in his life. It had nothing to do with immature lust, nor emotional squandering, nor any other sign of internal brokenness, a psychological blockage suffering an inability to love on a mature Christian level. She is quiet, easily blending in, comfortable and committed to being my son’s girlfriend. My brother and his wife, all the gathered were focused on her, and she never noticed. She is beautiful and doesn’t even know it. I plied her into conversation, offering her opinion regarding an incident I experienced earlier in the day with two young ladies, publicly cuddling, isolating themselves from group conversation, openly entertaining homosexual intimacy. She came alive, vivid in her determination that if she were present a confrontation would have occurred. No way would she sit at the table and not say something. It went beyond the homosexual issue, simply embracing proper social ethics, for even a straight couple conducting themselves in such a manner would force her disapproval and voicing of concerns of appropriateness. The maturity, intelligence, and clear distinct purpose of being astounded. The young lady knows who she is, while remaining humble, happy to go unnoticed. While bowling, I contrasted her to the other young ladies bowling. The other young ladies, self-conscious, possessed roaming eyes, always seeking attention, attempting to draw eyes upon themselves, needing to be a character and the center of attention. Evening entertainment, many were drunk, making spectacles of themselves. Leslie, thoroughly engaging, fully present for the group she came with, focused upon dignity and respect toward my son as a girlfriend. She never sought undo attention, nor did her eyes explore for young men. It was not an attempt rather a state of being. Her eyes never immaturely dallied about the bowling alley. My sister, an astute observer, snuck up behind me, whispering in my ear, acknowledging my enamored studying of the young lady. My sister remarked: “I am totally impressed. Everyone is. Do you see her social skills, her ability to interact with everyone as a young lady of Christian integrity? My friends are all asking about her. That young lady is remarkable.” I confessed to my sister, “I am astounded. God has blessed me. I am so happy and proud of Zack”. Driving home to Cleveland, on into midnight, I called my mother. She cut the conversation short, telling me, “Zack and Leslie are here. Zack has been fixing my computer while Leslie talks to me in the kitchen. I have to go Jim. Leslie is waiting for me”. I could only laugh, telling her to go to her, admiring the fact the young couple remained with my mother so late into the night. They still had a drive to Ann Arbor to complete. I realized my son has established himself as a source of strength, integrity, and Christian value within my family. It is a mature flowering coming into being after years of giving, proper behavior, loving and caring for everyone. His aunts and uncles and all his cousins he treats with absolute interest and charity. His grandmother he takes care of. The memory of his grandfather he cherishes. His mother’s side of the family receives the same respect, attention, and care. He is a young man proving himself to be a caregiver of morals and values, a provider of goodness and maturity. It is a grace I do not deserve. It is a grace he deserves. God furthers the humbling, demonstrating He is wiser and more capable than I ever imagined. God is truly good and all giving. My son offers as an example the maturity and Christian example I desire within my own life, the advanced level of male/female interaction I aspire to. God works in a truly circular manner, progressing perfection from the younger generation upward. My son presents what I know is right and proper. He demonstrates the mature ways and order of God. God is a God of order and commandments, bringing about such demands for the betterment of our lives, not as a difficult taskmaster. To live within the commandments and order is the fullness of truth, the living of a full and enriching life, the means to mature into a complete person, family, Church, and society–a genuine path to eternal life.
He wished also to reassure His spouse, to give her pledges of this blest possession of glory, that, compassed by this hope, she might traverse gaily the toiling bitterness of life; and that the spouse might hold as certain and assured this hope of blessedness, He left her this ineffable treasure as a pledge, equal in itself to all she hopes for. Thus she need never despair of God giving all to her in that state of glory and of spiritual existence, since He does not refuse it to her here in this valley of tears where she lives in the flesh. –St Peter Alcantara ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’
The spouse is the Church.
I am being steered from one essential reading to another. Moving from Father Gerald Vann to St Peter of Alcantara. Note on Father Vann quote yesterday. Nothing important, yet inspiring. Father Vann quoted Thomas Merton. After posting, I went for a walk in Cain Park, flavoring the walk with a delightful conversation with a friend who invited me Saturday to his one man play detailing the life of Thomas Merton. I have been working so much, it will be my first day off in twelve days, perfect for fascination and entertainment. There will be a dinner before the performance. The coincidence made my heart smile. Now a new book stirs the heart and mind. I am enthralled with the little book printed in 1926. I attained it from the Cleveland downtown main library. It took the library over a week to come up with the relic as it was retired to a remote storage location.
The book, ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’, is the work of St Peter of Alcantara, another Spanish saint from the sixteenth century making an influence. I provided a quick video detailing his life. He is thoroughly brought to light in the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. In the brilliant Spanish television miniseries documenting the life of Teresa of Avila there is a wonderful scene of the hermit Franciscan St Peter entering the city to meet with St Teresa. He would serve as her confessor and spiritual director. Cinematically, the scene marked me. I loved the beautiful Spanish locale, the city dwelling, the protective wall, and the inhabitants residing. Playing, enjoying idle time, the children gather, becoming excited when news spreads of the holy man of the mountains coming to visit. The children joyfully greet the walking man of God. It is simply a movie, yet St Peter visually lifted me spiritually with his cantor and recondite presence, a man full of life, not remoteness nor a solitary strange hermetic unsavory disposition. The hermit is not one rejecting life, he is one absorbed with God and thus radiating life. In his writing, St Peter, similar to the two Alphonsus: Liguori and Rodriguez, embraces the vast domain of Catholicism by supplying wonderful quotes from other saints. It is obvious his teaching arises from a wealth of knowledge attained from within the Church. A man of the Church, he teaches nourished by the Body of Christ here upon the earth.
Two quotes St Peter of Alcantara provides from other saints on the importance of a sound and steady prayer life, the first from a fellow Franciscan Saint Bonaventure and the second from St. Lawrence Justinian. Beyond rambling praise, the individual concepts appeared essential to me while reading. The quotes come within establishing devotion, a focus upon the ways of God, as a vital virtue, while arising within the identification of my sinful nature. Prayer is a process, the ongoing means of attaining perfection. Victory over myself is achieved through a stout prayer life, a devotion to God. I have been considering this a lot, Ann’s influence reasserting itself in disposition. She is correct when she stresses I am out of balance, that I stress too much the spiritual, divulging myself too actively within my prayer life, the consequence being an unstable man prone to a quick temper, an obsessive nature, and out of sorts in my natural life. I agree with the observation, yet the solution is not to discard or diminish my prayer life, rather to elevate my natural life, my coping and living experiences, through my strength in prayer. If equalizing is a process of lowering, it is destruction. On the other hand, if equalizing is attained through elevating, it is construction. My prayer life must be the passive means of allowing God to purify and cleanse my temperament. My natural life does not benefit by diminishing my prayer life. My natural life must be brought to fruition through my prayer life before the Eucharist and within the sacrifice of mass, and thus daily an ongoing process of perfection is maintained. The spiritual life takes time, especially if you are as raw around the edges as I am.
If you would endure with patience the adversities and miseries of this life, be a man of prayer. If you would acquire strength and courage to vanquish the temptations of the enemy, be a man of prayer. If you would crush your self will with all its inclinations and desires, be a man of prayer. If you would know the wiles of Satan and defend yourself against his snares, be a man of prayer. If you would live with a gay heart, and pass lightly along the road of penance and sacrifice, be a man of prayer. If you would drive away vain thoughts and cares which worry the soul like flies, be a man of prayer. If you would nourish the soul with a sap of devotion and have it always filled with good thoughts and desires, be a man of prayer. If you would strengthen and establish your heart in the way of God, be a man of prayer. Finally, if you would uproot from your soul old vices, and plant virtues in their place, be a man of prayer, for herein does a man receive the unction and grace of the Holy Spirit, who teaches all things…”
In prayer the soul cleanses itself from sin, charity is nourished, faith is strengthened, hope made secure; the spirit rejoices, the soul grows tender, and the heart is purified, truth discovers itself, temptation is overcome, sadness takes to flight, the senses are renewed, failing virtue is made good, tepidity disappears, the rust of sin is rubbed away. In it are brought forth lively flashes of heavenly desires, and in these fires burns up the flame of divine love. Great are the excellences of prayer, great its privileges. The heavens open before it, and unveil therein their secrets, and to it are the ears of God ever attentive.