One thing all these saints have in common, from the humble Brother Lawrence, to the great Ignatius, and all here to be covered, is the awareness that there is no holiness without first expiating for one's sins and the complete absence of vices earned through the Dark Night of purgation. The illuminative states of prayer cannot happen without this purification, a theme I have stressed over and over in the perfection series.
Life events can purged one of sin, such as hardships, failures, the loss of status. Some have told me that a brush with death saved them and brought them on the road of prayer which leads to purgation.
Not one saint skipped this step, and here, in the life of Blessed Titus Brandsma, we see a great purging brought on, through the Will of God, by suffering and martyrdom.
But, what of the prayers connected to this type of suffering and how can one incorporate such suffering into the daily life of the prayer of the laity?
Are you suffering with a long illness? Are you suffering grief, from the loss of a loved one? Is your family torn apart by sin?
How does such a creative man as Titus Brandsma speak to us in our routines of busyness and even, sadness?
First of all, Blessed Titus was a busy man, and in his writings, he was not afraid. His prayer life, that of a mystic Carmelite, trained in silence and discipline, led him to stand up against the marginalization and finally, planned destruction of the Jews early on in his career. His career as both an educator, where he refused to hand in the names of Jewish children to the authorities, and his career as a publisher, wherein he refused to print the propaganda of the Nazis, led directly to his arrest and death.
A man of action whose life was underpinned by prayer, in the midst of the obvious stages of persecution of Jews, and Catholics who continued to believe and protect the dignity of all--this was Blessed Titus Brandsma.
How does the peaceful retreat-like setting of Carmel feed such a courageous soul?
Prayer which makes one face one's sin makes one totally dependent on God. St. John of the Cross described the terrors of the Dark Night. Titus Brandsma met these in Dachau, but he was ready for such suffering before his arrest.
The desolation of the desert of the spirit-the Dark Night of the senses and spirit, in which one is called to pursue God through faith alone would have prepared Titus for his ordeal.
What has this type of holiness got to do with a busy lay person, a dad, a mum, a student?
Several bullet points:
- No experience should be wasted by non-reflection. Reflect on everything which happens. God speaks daily to us in events, through people, even in nature around us. Waste nothing.
- Remember that love is in the will. One wills to love others, God...Titus would have loved the Jewish people even under threat, not only in his heart but in acts of the will, as times became dangerous for him.
- Being faithful to moral teachings of the Church, as we are witnessing today, means suffering. Titus has to accept this reality by focussing on Christ and not himself.
- Testing in God, like the loss of a job, a spouse, friends, is only as valuable as prayer and reflection make these. Take time to respond to events by examining where, how, when God is involved in your life. Titus grew, most likely, through testing--first in the warnings given to him by the Nazis, then through the warnings he received from his superiors, and finally in the solitude of his prison cell.
- Blessed Solitude. I already feel completely at home in this little cell. I haven’t been bored at all, in fact just the opposite. I am here alone, but never was our Lord so close to me. I could shout for joy that He has again let himself be found by me without me being able to be among people or people with me. He is now my only refuge and I feel safe and happy. I would like to stay here always, If He wills that. I have seldom been so happy and so content.
- How could he be so content, in such horrible conditions? Practice, practice of self-denial. One does not become a saint overnight......
- Now you are asking me what all these has to do with prayer in the home? That Titus Brandsma "held down" full-time jobs and manage to give time to God in order to face martyrdom. We make choices daily for truth and these choices come out of our life of prayer. Of course, Mary, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the patron of the order and much loved by all the Carmelites.
- So, what type of prayer is Carmelite prayer? Like the Benedictines, Carmelites study, read holy books, and meditate on a psalm or an episode from the Life of Christ. Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is also part of Carmelite prayer. The emphasis is not on saying the Divine Office together, but in one's cell, or on one's own, which is a something the lay person can do daily, without a community. The Tertiaries base their prayer on the prayer guidelines from the various constitutions of their groups. By the way, in America, the Tertiaries are now called "Seculars". These Seculars say at least three hours of the Divine Office, on their own daily, plus a half-hour of mental prayer. Titus Brandsma's life would be a great example for all those aspiring to follow the Carmelite.
St. Teresa's guidelines to prayer may be found in her books, already highlighted on this blog.
to be continued....