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Monday 8 December 2014

Perfection Series VIII Part XVII Raissa on A Roll

I could call this post, "Even the desert is a place".

Several significant lines from Raissa's Journal seem to fit into the ongoing discussion on perfection.

The first entry relates to the post earlier on philosophy and the training of the intellect. Raissa makes it clear that now is the time (1919) for the Faith to be defended by the Intellect. 

And, it is now.

Like the Benedictines, she makes the connection between the pursuit of the love of Truth, the love of God, and study.

Obedience to God in the Faith must be rational. Raissa quotes Pascal, "Submission and use of reason, in which true Christianity consists."

Who among Catholics know this, believe this? I hope my readers have come to this, if they did not know it already.

What we witnessed recently in the Synod were anti-intellectualism, the lack of reason, and the lack of obedience to Church teaching. 

Here is Raissa in her own words: Truth is the rule of the intellect and of the will, it has an absolute and legitimate power over the whole man. Not to follow the truth which the intellect shows us is to disobey God; for the intellect is, in us, a certain similitude of the uncreated light. (St. Thomas).

Then, she writes something which I could have written if I were more intelligent, for this is my experience. God meets me in my intellect and always has.

I remember a day in Bristol, when I was studying and teaching at the University, when I was working on the poetry of David Jones. I can remember the moment as if it happened yesterday.

Sitting at my desk in Wills Hall, facing west, out the large latticed window, I was struck with Beauty and taken up into the Presence of God. The study of the beauty of the words of poetry brought me directly into contact with Beauty Himself. That the intellectual pursuit for Truth and Beauty leads to God has been known by many. Here is Raissa again....

I give thanks to God who put in my heart such an ardent love of truth when, ignorant of the divine Truth, I lived among skeptics and atheists. That desire which the physical sciences could not satisfy because they are partial, and which modern philosophies completely frustrated by their relativism, was fulfilled by the revelation of Catholic doctrine and of Thomistic philosophy.

Her way was through theology and philosophy. But, she had to endure great suffering as well.

As I sit in bed trying to get warm, because I cannot afford heat, suffering from aches and pains, tendinitis, caused by the cold and pain in old frostbite areas, which hurt in the cold, and having chilblains flare up from the cold, I am struck that Raissa had to suffer while being purified in her intellect and heart. I get headaches from the cold, and pains in my fingers. She experienced many severe illnesses. She was almost constantly ill some years.

Why? Look at the saints who have had to suffer both physical and existential pain. The list is long.

The connection cannot be denied. When I first read her so long ago, I was attracted to her because she suffered, like I do, from very painful sciatica and other illnesses. Today, I had an asthma attack from the cold as well.  I was so disappointed, as my prayers for healing have not been answered. Raissa's illnesses were chronic and many days she had to spend in bed from weakness. Thankfully, I only need a "down day" here and there.

Her suffering was a part of her Dark Night. She admitted that she was in Purgatory for one year, 1918-1919, without consolation, with dryness in prayer, not being moved by sermons, with a shattered soul.

Why suffering must accompany this deep desire for Truth is explained by Raissa in one line.

"It is the sublime but everyday truth of Christianity that suffering united to love works salvation."

This is it....pure and simple. All metaphysical or existential suffering, physical or spiritual suffering, heart or head suffering, when coupled with love, becomes redemptive, not only for us, but for others.

In the past two weeks, when my active contemplation was a chore, dry and hard because I could not concentrate on God or His Attributes, it dawned on me, through a small moment of grace in the Adoration Chapel in Sliema, that this was exactly what God wanted--me to be in the driest of deserts before Him, trusting and loving without images, or any response from that Vulnerable God, who was before me under the Species of The Host.

This is my mortification-active contemplation without results. Raissa explains this as well, "Total abnegation is my path (so badly followed by me). All possible mortification, interior. In fact, it depends entirely on myself to create the 'desert'".

Several days ago, before I read this line as if I were reading it for the first time this morning, I came to the same realization in prayer at Adoration. I had to be content with the desert.

I had to create the desert interiorly, the nothingness of my own self, joined with the via negativa which has been my life. No permanent home, no companionship, no security, no family near me, very few things...which fit into two suitcases.

I knew this in 1985, so long ago, but I fought it over and over and over. To embrace the via negativa is to choose to be in the desert constantly, with aridity of soul and body. I wanted the via affimativa. but one does not choose the way God makes one holy. But, as a poet, a writer, I am plunged into the affirmation of life, of beauty, of symbols and images. That is another suffering, to be torn in one's gifts and ministry in the pursuit of contemplation. To go against one's natural instincts to find the nothing which is all.

But, now I know to rest in the desert. If there are no words, nothing but rocks and sands, I am content.

This is God's Will and once I really accepted it, the peace came like waves in the sea.

This is the peace which passes all understanding, not a peace because one is experiencing goodness, kindness or comfort, but a peace when one is suffering intensely on many fronts, including pain in the heart, including grief.

Create your own desert, in a way similar, to which you have been called by me through St. Catherine of Siena to create the cell in your soul. where you can go.

Now, I understand what was told to me at the beginning of this stay in Malta, that the Garden of Eden is the Garden of Gethsemane-only in pain and suffering can some of us find Love and perfection.

Raissa spoke to me so long ago, but I had to travel many paths to get to the place she found in 1921-the interior desert. She was 38.

Pray that God gives me stability in order to be able to rest in this desert, for even a desert is a place.

Let me close this post with Raissa's words from July 13th, 1921,

To love. To abandon oneself. Nothing else is necessary to sanctification.  No, nothing, not even silence with God if that is rendered impossible by real obstacles, interior or exterior...Love God, love, love. That is the one thing necessary.

to be continued....

The second beautiful thing from being out this day...

As I had lunch outside by the sea, which was rough today because of the wind, I had a thought which occurred to me earlier, while here in Malta.

Each wave is totally unique and will never appear again. Each wave either out at sea, against the rocks, or on the shoreline will never happen again in the exact same way.

So, too, is each one of us. We are like the waves, distinct from all others, and never to be repeated.

God has a purpose in each wave. I do not know what the purpose of each wave is, but such waves are beautiful to behold and cause me to praise God.

Likewise, each one of us has been created to praise God in a particular way. This is the main service of our lives, to praise God by our very beings. The main reason for the road to perfection is to help us be what God intended so that we can praise Him and be in union with Him.

Valletta's streets were stuffed with people today, families, couples, children, enjoying the sun, being together on this national holiday.

Many shops were open, so I suppose some people did Christmas shopping today. But, as it is a holy day, the reason for the national holiday, of course, I went to Mass. More people than usual attended Mass, thank God; the memory of times when Mary was venerated by the whole island, remained in some people's hearts and minds.

But, the vast majority were not going to Mass. Those individuals did not realize that the great love for Mary which Our Lord showed us, and which the Church teaches by honoring her, was the main purpose of this day-a day to show Mary love and honor.

The waves of people on the street had less purpose than the waves in the sea. The sea waves praise God by being, but too many people withhold praise to God and honor to Mary.

Like the birds which act by instincts created in their beings by God, wind and clouds and sea and sky give praise to God by being.

We are different in that we choose to praise God or not to do so.

The beauty of the waves could have been matched by the beauty of the people, but not will is sacred to God. He will not overwhelm our freedom to shop or to go to Mass.

The beauty of that freedom turns to dust and ashes in the streets of Malta. We all should be like the waves of the sea, and praise God in our very beings.

In 2011, I attended the procession which honors the icon of Our Lady of Carafa, on the side of this blog. Sadly, when I was in Valletta today, I found out that the organizers had changed the time by several hours and that it was not to occur until after dark. I cannot go out alone after dark or come back home alone in the dark. I had to skip this procession which seemed important to walk, through the streets of the capital. I was going to share the details with you.

The men who carry the large and heavy icon make an oath to do this. They have to stop several times in order to rest, as it is so heavy. I remember the procession clearly in 2011, but then I was staying in Valletta just minutes from the Cathedral. At that time, all involved said the rosary and people came out of the shops to join in a few minutes of prayer as the icon was carried by in great state.

I sincerely hope that many people attended. When I went in 2011, there were less than 100 people honoring Mary on this, the national feast.

to be continued...

The Virtue of Studiosity

Father Chad Ripperger has been one of the most influential priests in my life via his amazing set of talks and some personal input. He is the reason I am in the third order which he started. His intellect and spiritual insights are gifts from God.

One of the things he has pointed out is something I have written on this blog-the sin of curiosity.

This sin causes people to run after approved and unapproved apparitions. We do not need to concern ourselves with visions, but we do need to study our faith.

Recently, Father noted that curiosity is a vice, even when it is connected to wanting to know the latest about certain apparitions, even approved ones.

The virtue which is the opposite of this vice is studiosity, the virtue connected to temperance, which is a search for the truth which is disciplined and ordered. 

We are responsible for knowing the Faith, and we are also responsible for dulling our own intellects.

Raissa, as I noted, cried out in her diary for people to know their religion, the Catholic religion.

Without knowledge of the Faith, one easily falls into many other vices, and we are responsible for that type of falling away.

Studiosity is a virtue. If one is an adult and never studies the Faith in the Catechism or the encyclicals, or other excellent books, one is committing two sins at least. One is sloth and the other is neglect of conscience.

Ask yourselves honestly in your examination of conscience whether you are studying. If one merely chooses one author, such as St. Alphonsus, or the Pope Emeritus, or St. Augustine, or St. Therese of Liseiux, one is doing one's duty.

But the virtue demands that we study not only spirituality and prayer, but doctrine and dogma.

Studiosity is connected to the great virtue of temperance, the virtue which strengthens our reason. Temperance prepares us to combat temptation. Studiosity allows us to know the Faith so that we can avoid temptations and prepare for holiness.

Are you studying anything solid with regard to the Faith?

For those caught up with seers and visions, even approved ones, I challenge you to set those books aside and begin to study your Faith.

We are required to do this, and the fact that there is a virtue which helps us do so should be comforting.

Thomas Aquinas makes this distinction between curiosity, which actually is connected to lust and greed, and studying.  Curiosity connects us with the senses, not the intellect. Whereas studying increases our knowledge in order to help us know God and ourselves.

To be constantly distracted by trivia may be an indication that one has fallen into the vice of curiosity.

to be continued...

NYTimes article on a school

One of the two exciting things today I promised earlier--------Panaghia Damaskiní

The icon of Our Lady of Damascus hangs in the Greek Catholic Church in Valletta. This morning, I had the great pleasure of not only praying there, but having a nice talk with the parish priest, Father George Mifsud Montanaro. There has been a parish priest on this site from 1579, and the icon has been in Malta since 1523. However, this icon of Our Lady of Tenderness dates back to at least the 11th century, and was claimed by the Knights who saw it when it first came that they had seen it in Damascus-hence, the name. One expert dates this icon as earlier than the famous Vladimir Madonna, a favorite of mine.

Father George told me how the entire church was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII, and rebuilt by the faithful Greek Byzantine Catholics. It is a sweet little church and the icons are truly beautiful.

In a corner behind the iconostasis is another ancient icon, which was almost completely destroyed in WWII, not hidden away like Our Lady of Damascus. It was painstakingly remade, thankfully having the original faces of Mary and Jesus, which had not been touched by the bombing.

For those in the area, on Christmas Eve, there are Greek solemn vespers in the Church.

Alleluia and Sequence for Today's Feast

Duruflé "Tota pulchra es, Maria"

ad libitum: SEQUENCE for The Feast of The Immaculate Conception

Dies iste celebretur,
In quo pie recensetur
Mariæ conceptio.
Virgo mater generatur,
Concipitur et creatur,
Recta vena veniæ.
Adæ vetus exilium
Et Joachim opprobrium
Hinc habent remedia.
Hoc Prophetæ præviderunt,
Patriarchæ præsenserunt,
Inspirante gratia.
Virga florem conceptura,
Stella solem paritura,
Hodie concipitur.
Flos de virga processurus
Sol de stella nasciturus,
Christus intellegitur.
O quam felix et præclara,
Nobis grata, Deo cara,
Fuit hæc conceptio.
This day shall be celebrated,
On which we piously remember
The Conception of Mary.
The virgin mother is made,
Conceived and created.
A true conduit of forgiveness.
Adam’s ancient exile
And Joachim’s shame
Hence have remedies.
This the prophets have foreseen
The Patriarchs forefelt
Through the inspiration of Grace.
The rod that is to conceive a flower,
The star that is to give birth to the Sun,
Is today conceived.
As the flower that shall come from the rod,
As the sun to be born from the star,
Christ is understood.
O how happy and famous,
Welcome to us, dear to God
Was this conception.
Terminatur miseria,
Datur misericordia,
Luctus cedit gaudio.
Nova mater novam prolem,
Nova stella novum solem,
Nova profert gratia.
Genitorem genitura,
Creatorem creatura,
Patrem parit filia.
O mirandam novitatem,
Novam quoque dignitatem,
Ditat matris castitatem
Filii conceptio.
Gaude, Virgo gratiosa,
Virga flore speciosa,
Mater prole generosa,
Plene plena gaudio.
Quod præcessit in figura,
Nube latet sub obscura,
Hoc declarat genitura,
Semel matris virgo pura,
Pariendi vertat jura,
Fusa mirante natura,
Deitatis pluvia.
Triste fuit in Eva væ,
Sed ex Eva formans Ave,
Versa vice, sed non prave,
Intus zelans in conclave,
Verbum bonum et suave.
Nobis mater virgo fave,
Tua frui gratia.
Omnis homo sine mora,
Laude plena solvens ora,
Istam colas, ipsam ora,
Omni die, omni hora,
Sit mens supplex, vox sonora,
Sic supplica, sic implora,
Hujus patrocinia.
Misery is ended, Mercy is given,
Mourning maketh way for joy.
Through new grace,
The new mothers bringeth forth a new child,
The new star a new sun.
She shall give birth to the progenitor,
The creature to the creator,
The daughter to the father.
O wonderful novelty
And new dignity,
The conception of a son maketh rich
The mother’s chastity.
Rejoice, Virgin full of Grace,
Thou rod with a beautiful flower,
The mother noble through the child,
Fully full of joy.
What had happened before in an image,
Being hidden under a dark cloud,
This explaineth she who shall give birth,
At the same time a mother and a pure virgin,
Turneth around the laws of childbirth,
Who is, to the astonishment of nature,
Joined together with the rain of the Godhead.
In Eve the ‘væ’  was sad,
But, forming ‘Ave’ From ‘Eva’,
Turning it round, but not perverting,
By mightily acting inside in the chamber
The good and sweet word,
Be graceful to us, mother and virgin,
That we may enjoy thy grace.
Any man, without delay,
Shall release the mouth full of praise,
Venerate her, ask her,
Every day, every hour.
Be our mouth praying, our voice resounding,
So ask her, so implore,
For her protection. 
Tu spes certa miserorum,
Vere mater orphanorum,
Tu levamen oppresorum,
Medicamen infirmorum,
Omnibus es omnia.
Te rogamus voto pari,
Laude digna singulari,
Ut errantes in hoc mari,
Nos in portu salutari,
Tua sistat gratia.
Thou certain hope of the miserable,
The true mother of the orphans.
Thou art the relief for the oppressed,
The medicine for the sick,
Art everything to everyone.
Thee we ask of one accord,
Worthy of singular Praise,
That thy grace may place us,
Erring in this Sea
In the port of salvation. 

Tomás Luis de Victoria - Ave Maria for Your Meditation Today

Thoughts on The Immaculate Conception

Today, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this psalm comes to my mind, as one of my favorite psalms relating to each one of us Christians. We are all called to forget our father's house, the old ways of the world, and choose Christ and His Church as our home.

However, in a mysterious way, these words can apply to Mary, Our Mother, who, as a Jewess, became the Mother of the Messiah, the King, the Savior of Israel.

Mary also became, and is the Mother of God, and the Mother of all Christians in a special manner. Many Christians forget that Jesus is a Jew, and that Mary is the bridge between the Old Testament worship and the New Testament. The Old Covenant finds fulfillment in Christ through Mary.

But, Mary had to leave Nazareth, her home, and go to Bethlehem, the place of Joseph's ancestor, David, the King who most likely wrote this psalm. Mary was called out of her own people to begin a new people, the Church, through Her Son Jesus Christ. Mary had to leave the house of Joachim and Anna and move into Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the House of the Bread of Life, Christ, Who we now share in the Eucharist. 

Mary's journey from the house of her earthly father to the House of the Bread of Life, is our journey as well, from earthly attachments to detachment, from human families, to the Family which is the Church. Mary, as Mother of the Church, as given to us by Christ on the Cross, is our Mother and Queen of our hearts.

Thus, she is the most beautiful, the pure one, the woman without any sin, clothed in gold, prepared from the moment of her existence as the Immaculate Conception.

She is the Queen Mother, who stands near Christ, who is the first woman re-born in grace, the new Eve. Her Son is the most beautiful of all men, the truly Begotten One of God the Father, from all ages King and God, sent to earth to bring us all in His train, in His court, to the Father.

Mary's Magnificat shows us that she does not forget her father's house, nor her Father's house. But, she moves beyond the Old Covenant by being the Mother of the New Covenant.

All of us who listen to the Word of God, follow Mary, who listened, and was holy from the beginning of her being. We must become as perfect as God has called us to be uniquely. 

Today, we "entreat" her, we pray to her as our intercessor, our Mediatrix, to ask Christ to have pity on us and lead us to perfection. She alone is the most perfect of all creatures. leading all to Christ through her purity and goodness.

We, too, are called to forget the houses of our fathers in the world and follow Mary to Christ, and, therefore, to God the Father.

Today, as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, let us, like those in this psalm, rejoice that we have been called. This psalm is echoed in the Magnificat, as all generations call her blessed.

Praise God in all things.

Psalm 44 Douay-Rheims 

44 Unto the end, for them that shall be changed, for the sons of Core, for understanding. A canticle for the Beloved.
My heart hath uttered a good word I speak my works to the king; My tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly.
Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee for ever.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O thou most mighty.
With thy comeliness and thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign. Because of truth and meekness and justice: and thy right hand shall conduct thee wonderfully.
Thy arrows are sharp: under thee shall people fall, into the hearts of the king's enemies.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness.
Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
Myrrh and stacte and cassia perfume thy garments, from the ivory houses: out of which
10 The daughters of kings have delighted thee in thy glory. The queen stood on thy right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety.
11 Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father's house.
12 And the king shall greatly desire thy beauty; for he is the Lord thy God, and him they shall adore.
13 And the daughters of Tyre with gifts, yea, all the rich among the people, shall entreat thy countenance.
14 All the glory of the king's daughter is within in golden borders,
15 Clothed round about with varieties. After her shall virgins be brought to the king: her neighbours shall be brought to thee.
16 They shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the king.
17 Instead of thy fathers, sons are born to thee: thou shalt make them princes over all the earth.
18 They shall remember thy name throughout all generations. Therefore shall people praise thee for ever; yea, for ever and ever.

Perfection Series VIII Part XVI Trials and Contemplation

The need for contemplation becomes obvious in trials. Raissa's experience of living through two world wars and frequently being separated from her husband, as well as a life of illness, helped her to realize that contemplation could not merely be seen as a tool which leads one to unity, but a tool which allows one to cope with horrible situations.

I do not think people understand, on the whole, the great need for spiritually preparing for the hard times to come.

One of the reasons I started the perfection series three years ago (next January) was to stir people to get ready spiritually so that we all could face severe persecution, even death.

A month ago, I had a strange week wherein I felt impatient and irritated by little things. I needed more silence and solitude. But, God showed me that week how one must learn to transcend all negativity and respond with love in all situations. Small things which normally did not bother me caused me to be angry. Ah, God was showing me this deep-seated pride which would not be able to withstand the anger of hateful people if I was faced with martyrdom.

The martyr can only respond in love to the enemies of Christ, who would be his or her enemies as well.

Confessing this released me from the week of irritation and brought me back to peace. One cannot respond to those who are rude, hateful, even violent with any negativity at all. One must love, always.

Raissa knew this, coming from Jewish background and having to face the horror of persecution for herself, her sister, and others.

To transcend hate, one must go deep inside one's self and find God's love, which is there, but hidden under our layers of sin and weaknesses.

Raissa's contemplation allowed her to face possible death with peace, and the love which passes all understanding.

She notes in her diary that this peace which passes understanding involves physical pain, suffering, even the absence of consolation from God. This is like St. Therese's "unfelt joy".  Peace can exist with deep suffering, and contemplation helps one in this regard. Contemplation leads to union, but it also leads to the ability to love those who hate and to live in suffering.

Can we not see how God wants to prepare us now by leading us to contemplation?

Raissa states as well that no matter if a person is busy in the world, or hidden, in silence or in noise, this contemplation is possible to all in some way.

We are all called to be saints. We are all called to be in union with God.

We ignore this call at our own peril. Could we love the enemy who hates Christ and His Church with equanimity?

to be continued...

Perfection Series VIII Part XV Philosophy

Well, I started reading Raissa's Journal after I had studied both philosophy and theology. In fact, I would state that I love teaching philosophy greatly, as then I can teach people how to think.

Raissa notes two things in her diary which may help parents in the training of their children.

The first is this, that one cannot trust the reasons of the heart if these are not based on the intellect. In other words, the intellect validates the heart. Sadly, in our age of Catholic anti-intellectualism, few want to discuss this.

That Raissa would know, even when she was an atheist, that the heart cannot be trusted until it is purified, was sheer grace.

Her second comment I want to highlight, which follows this entry, is that girls should study philosophy as it keeps them from falling into the evils of the world by creating a simplicity of thought.

I totally agree with this. One's good sense and faith are strengthen by the study of philosophy.

Raissa writes, and again I agree with this wholeheartedly, that too many women are trained merely to please people, and thereby fall into discouragement and error. The girl who studies philosophy learns to reflect, and can "cultivate" the intellect in humility. Raissa knows that knowledge increases charity.

I have seen many women's lives ruined by this training to please others before pleasing God. They have a fear of rejection because their minds have not been trained to think independently of the opinion of others and to be quiet and reflect. They concentrate on looks rather than the soul, and on money, rather than virtue.

I taught logic, both formal and material, as well as the history of philosophy and history of ideas.

Whether my female students avoided the pitfalls of so many women in merely playing up to men and allowing themselves to be manipulated, I do not know. A teacher rarely sees students beyond one semester.