Category Archives: Reflections
Mrs Beeton, in her well-known book on household management, wrote: ‘spring is the usual period set apart for house cleaning and removing all the dust and dirt, which will…accumulate during the winter months…’ A worthwhile spring-clean takes planning, perseverance and hard work. For us Ash Wednesday begins a period when we embark on a spiritual ‘spring-clean’. St John Chrysostom, by way of preparing us for the season of Lent, wrote: “When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual springtime, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travellers set out on the journey towards heaven, and as wrestlers strip for contest. For the believer is at once a harvester, a sailor, a soldier, a wrestler and a traveller.’
We know, deep down, that our hearts are given over to a certain hardness and resistance to God and his loving plan for our lives. We need to be renewed and transformed because, in living our lives in the world, we get tired, weary and dirty. We need to be cleansed, purified and healed. As we undertake this spring-clean, we rid ourselves of all the clutter and rubbish in our lives that hinders and prevents us knowing God’s love.
The very goal of the Christian life is to love God. St Augustine once said, ‘In the long run there will be two kinds of people: those who love God and those who do not.’ Loving God is, then, our goal and our raison d’etre. We love God because God loves us: “The reason for loving God is God himself; the measure of loving God is to love him beyond measure’ (St Bernard of Clairvaux).
In order that we may better love the Lord our God, with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we practise self-denial and acts of penance, and strive to reform our lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible the heart is understood as the apex or very essence of our being, and it is the heart that needs renewing. As St Benedict Joseph Labre once said: “To love God, you need three hearts: a heart of fire for him, a warm heart towards our neighbour and a heart of bronze towards ourselves.’
‘It is always springtime in the heart that loves God.’ (St John Vianney)
(Taken from Bible Alive for Ash Wednesday. I am grateful to Bible Alive for all their words of wisdom over the years.)
May each one who opens this message have a wonderful lent and as Easter comes close may each one come closer to the Lord in his/her life.
To help the Church grow in love and faithful witness to God, Pope Francis has declared the third Sunday in Ordinary Time to be dedicated to the Word of God. “The Bible is the most widely distributed book, but it is also perhaps the one most covered in dust because it is not held in our hand,” an archbishop said. Francis said, “a day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a yearlong event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. We need to develop a closer relationship with sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, struck as we are by so many forms of blindness. The third Sunday in Ordinary Time falls during that part of the year when the Church is encouraged to strengthen its bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian Unity. That means the celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God has ecumenical value, since the Scriptures point out, for those who listen, the path to authentic and firm unity.”
On the same subject from The Spiritual Way of the Carthusian Order ‘When Silence Speaks’ by Tim Peeters:
Nourished by the Word: lectio divina in the Carthusian order
According to Dom Marcellin Theeuwes, the rediscovery of the Scriptures is one of the greatest gifts for the Church in the past decades. Lectio divina, or the spiritual readying of the Bible, is
no theological or exegetic approach to the text, but rather a meditative reading in order to give one’s own personal existence an enlightened understanding about God, salvation, inner repentance and a conversion towards the Spirit. In the lasting contact with the sacred text, the divine and Christian significance of human existence and reality will slowly appear. One discovers how God really desires to meet his people. The biblical revelation becomes a personal revelation. God acts in the same way with all who are called by Him and at the same time He acts quite personally with each of them. The sense which is given to history in the Scriptures is also the sense of our personal life…In this spirit, the reading of the Bible received a central place in the life of the ancient monks under the magnificent name lectio divina. A divine reading not only of the sacred text, but through the text of your own person and life. The Spirit who inspired the sacred text transforms the Word of the Scripture into a personal Word in our heart. For this reason, the reading of the Bible was no secondary occupation for the ancient monks, but it unites with silent prayer as the two sides of a coin or as the same movement up and down. God and humanity, who search for each other and who speak with each other from heart to heart.
It was Saint Paul more than anyone else who showed what man is and how great is the nobility of our nature, as well as what capacity for virtue this human animal has. Every day he advanced in stature, every day he fought with ever-renewed keenness against the dangers threatening him; he showed this when he said: ‘I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.’ When he was expecting to die he summoned others to share his joy, saying, ‘You also should be glad and rejoice with me.’ Again he actually leaped with joy at the dangers and insults and every dishonour which pressed on him, as he wrote to the Corinthians, ‘I am content with weaknesses, insults, persecutions.’ He called these the weapons of righteousness, showing that from them the greatest benefits are reaped.
Therefore he was always undefeated by his enemies. Everywhere he was beaten, insulted, and reviled. He treated it all as though it were a triumphant procession setting up trophies of victory everywhere on earth, glorying in them, giving thanks to God, saying, ‘Thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us to triumph.’ So he sought dishonour and insults in his preaching of the gospel more readily than we seek honours. He sought death more than we seek life, and poverty more than we seek riches; and he looked for work to do more than others look for rest. It was not simply that he looked for more, he looked for much more.
There was one thing, and one thing only that he feared and shunned, and that was to give offence to God. Just as there was one thing he longed for, to please God.
He was rich with the love of Christ which was the greatest of all things to him. While he had this, he reckoned himself the most blessed of men. Without it he had no wish to be numbered among princes and rulers and powers. Possessing love he wished to be among the lowliest of men, among those being chastised, rather than without love to be among the loftiest and honoured. There was one torment for him, to fall away from this love. That for him was hell, that was damnation. That was the sum of all evils.
Even so to find this love was joy. This to him was life, it was the whole world, his angel, things present, things to come, the kingdom and the promise. This was the sum of all blessings. Anything else which was not concerned with this he regarded neither as painful nor as pleasant. Things visible he considered of no more worth than withered grass. Tyrants or peoples breathing fury seemed to him like gnats. Death, torture, and a thousand torments he thought of as child’s play, provided only he could endure something for Christ’s sake
A reading from a homily by St John Chrysostom Hom 2 on St Paul.
It says in the Bible Alive for 25 January: ‘At the very heart of everything that Paul wrote and did was his lucid and clear understanding of what happened to him on the road to Damascus’. Everyone has this moment of conversion when we were going one way and we turned and went another. Why? It says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1428 that it is a movement of a “contrite heart,” drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first. It happened to me. It happens to you. That moment should be nurtured, remembered, and dwelt on often as Paul could not be separated from that moment he met Jesus.
This great mystery of your love, of how you come to us, each of us, of how you come to share our lives, in spite of all our unworthiness, in spite of our preoccupation with so many worldly things!
This indescribable wonder of how You, Lord of all, have a place for each one of us in your heart, in your kingdom, and how you wish to share your life with us, your divinity, and of how you wish us to share our lives with you to find a place for you in our hearts!
Such is the infinite wonder of your unbounded love for us.
This is the inside page of a little booklet called Light of the World – a treasure for anyone and written by The Prayer Trust www.theprayertrust.org.uk.
These thoughts appear in the front cover of the booklet called Light of the World by THE PRAYER TRUST www.theprayertrust.org.uk.
Albert Einstein was once at a lecture in New York when, as it finished, a student who wanted to go and study for a doctorate asked him what area of study he could recommend. Einstein replied, “Study prayer; we have got to find out more about prayer.” The student, himself a scientist, was gobsmacked; he thought the Nobel Prize winner and world famous physicist would point him towards nuclear studies or further work on the atom but no, he recommended prayer.
Today we encounter Jesus’ teaching on prayer, which is more radical, challenging and life-changing than we may at first realize because it encourages an approach or attitude to prayer which we might not share or even appreciate. The Lord Jesus positively and unambiguously encourages a bold, confident, even brazen attitude towards approaching God in prayer. The Lord wants us to cultivate a way of praying that is hopeful, expectant and sure of God’s goodness and generosity.
No prayer captures this more beautifully and perfectly than the Our Father, which the Lord himself taught us to pray. The Our Father is the Magna Carta, the blueprint, for all prayer. Despite being so short and compact, it encapsulates the essence of prayer and the very heart of our relationship with God. St Augustine said of the Our Father: “If you run through the petitions of all holy prayers, I believe you will find nothing that is not summed up and contained in the Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus further uses the story about a bold and persistent neighbour, who has the hind of a rhino and simply refuses to take no for an answer, to reveal that God the Father is not like the unwilling neighbour, but is a generous, kind and benevolent provider for his children’s needs.
‘Who is God?’ and ‘What is God like?’ are the most important questions we can ask. Today’s Gospel sheds a dazzling light on these eternal questions. We discover who God is more through prayer than any other spiritual exercise, for it is in prayer that the Spirit works in us to expand not just our minds but our hearts, our imagination and our horizons.
‘The Lord’s Prayer is the best of all prayers. All prayer requires five excellent qualities which we find here – our prayer needs to be confident, ordered, suitable, devout and humble.’ (St Thomas Aquinas)
Extract from Bible Alive for Sunday 28th July 2019 – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
I can no longer believe in any kind of external God who will shrink my tumour just because I bombard him with prayers, pilgrimages, sacrifices and repeated religious routines. But I believe more and more in the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the love-energy of whatever I’m called to endure, to suffer, to accept and to be transformed by. As you read these pages of personal meditation you will notice this recurring insight as I try to cope as best I can with my current situation. The key to so much of our dis-ease, our wisest religions insist, is that we want life to be other than the way it is, “Wisdom begins”, wrote Jean Vanier, “when we stop wanting to fight the reality of the present as if it should not exist, and start to accept it as it is”. As I’m swiftly learning to my cost, the secret of Christianity, too, is to learn how to live as one with the daily unfolding of what happens. No more, no less. Rather than asking for miracles from above, my prayer now must be about how to gladly accept what is happening in the here and now. This insight, in Buddhist teaching too, is on the Noble Truths about how to lessen our suffering.
As these reflections flow in and out of my consciousness, I can’t help wondering how these thoughts affect my current darkness and fear. The nearest I can get to some kind of peace is to continue surrendering whole-heartedly to that all-embracing Reality, that river of love, that God beyond God, that whole divine milieu that holds and caresses everything that lives, everything that grows, everything that keeps happening at every second of evolution: personal and universal.
Richard Rohr reminds us that this kind of total trust is achieved through a moment by moment choice and surrender. This reminder always gives me hope. Total trust takes time. Too often we think that the grace of sacramental vision, of the new way of seeing, of the desired intimacy with God, comes suddenly and then stays with us. In a sense that is true; all we have to do is to become aware of this sublime gift. But awareness takes time. God’s incarnate grace is, in a sense, bound by the laws, times and tempo of an evolving and developing Creation.
St Paul mentions the light of God’s eyes that we try to reflect each day until, after much practice, we begin to become the light itself. Ours is an Incarnation-inspired spirituality. It has its own timing. We awaken slowly from the sleep of our limited conditioning to know the transforming potential that is latent within us all. A huge problem is that this rude awakening usually comes with an All-Mighty and tragic shock. If this is true, does it make you desire to take your life really seriously before being forced to do so when the bad times come?
Dancing to my death with the love called cancer. The last masterpiece from the bestselling author Daniel O’Leary
This book was written when Fr Daniel O’Leary was dying. I bought the book because I had watched some of the Astonishing Secret which is a book and a video. Coming to Dancing to my death – I found it very heavy but the chapters are short and often quote other writers and has also stories in it. It is well worth reading and I am sure you can get the feeling from this 26th chapter that what I say is true. Carmen
The experience of the love flowing to us from the Father and the Son and back from us to the Father and the Son is common to all Christians.
This enables us to live in unity with one another and to love one another.
None the less, we must also exercise our own wills. We must decide to love one another and overcome all disunity between us, drawing upon the power of love living within us, the power of the Spirit.
By relying on the divine love indwelling within us and by drawing on its power, we shall attract others to believe in Jesus for they will see Jesus, living within us, as the source of our unity and our love for one another.
Taken from Bible Alive for 13th June 2019
“At eventide they will examine you in love.” – St John of the Cross, Spiritual Sentences and Maxims, n. 57.
The six of them arrived simultaneously at the Gate of Heaven. The angel Penuel, who was on duty at that time, received them in his usual, efficient manner. Apparently he had done his homework because, as he approached each one of them in turn for a warm embrace, he rattled off each one’s biodata.
“Ah,” he said, spotting a rather youngish man with a camera hanging from his neck, “Carlos de la Cruz. Chilean journalist. Atheist. Fought against political tyranny. Died in jail. Yes, very nice. Welcome to heaven. Oh, by the way, you will not have much use for your camera here. Too much light, you know, especially when you come in the vicinity of God.”
The man did not say anything, still under the shock of having discovered that there was a God, after all.
The angel went on to the next arrival.
“Ingrid Svenson. Swedish. Lutheran. Unmarried. Spent your life taking care of an invalid brother. Welcome, my dear, welcome!”
The girl obviously felt a bit lost, not having any more to push her brother’s wheelchair everywhere she went. She seemed shy and quiet, but very capable.
Penuel pass on to the figure next to her.
“Seseko M’Butu. Congolese. Animist. Spent your life trying to preserve some endangered species of fauna in your country. Welcome, dear brother.”
The man quietly received his welcome with the natural dignity of a prince. Apparently, he was quite used to dealing with spirits.
“Raju Divarkar. Indian. Buddhist. As a bonze you confined your life within the austere walls and duties of a monastery. You are most welcome, brother.”
The monk bowed slightly, one hand held upright in front of his chest in the Buddhist sign of peace.
“Hideki Yamamoto. Japanese. No religion. Artist. Painted birds and flowers all your life. May you enjoy our own birds of paradise, dear brother.”
The man bowed deeply several times, overwhelmed by the angel’s gracious manner. Meanwhile Penuel had turned towards the last of the party.
“Luigi Cardinal Rampolla. Catholic. Spent most of your life in the Vatican Curia. Died as a Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature. Welcome, brother.”
The Cardinal was a bit surprised not to receive the red carpet treatment he had grown used to, but he kept his peace, being a born diplomat.
“Now,” the angel said, stepping back and overlooking the whole group, “the five of you may enter immediately. As for you”, he added, speaking to the Cardinal, “I am afraid there will be a slight delay. But, I assure you, your stay in Purgatory should not be too long.”
The Cardinal was astounded. Had he heard clearly?
“Are you saying,” he asked in his cultured voice, “that these – these – persons are to take precedence over me, a Cardinal, a prince of the Church?”
“Why, yes,” Penuel answered blandly. “Is there any problem?”
The Cardinal swallowed hard, trying to keep his patience.
“Don’t you think,” he asked as suavely as he could, “that this is pushing ecumenism a bit too far?”
“Not at all, my dear brother,” the angel answered innocently. “You see, these – persons, as you call them, have amply deserved to inherit eternal bliss, whereas you have not. At least, not yet.”
“And why not?” the Cardinal asked in an acid tone. He really felt affronted by the whole procedure.
“Because,” the angel replied patiently, “they have dedicated their whole lives to loving someone or something selflessly. They are what we call here True Lovers. And here love is the only thing that counts, you know. Whereas you dedicated most of your energies to furthering your career, using not-too-loving expedients to climb the ecclesiastical ladder – if you know what I mean.”
The Cardinal blushed. He knew what Penuel meant. And he had to admit that his ambition had often gotten the better of his Christian charity. Nevertheless, he felt somewhat cheated.
“But does it count for nothing that I belong to the Catholic religion, the only true faith?” He was mentally comparing himself to his companions – whose religious background seemed to him quite unsatisfactory.
“Not really,” Penuel answered kindly. “Up here orthodoxy does not have a very high priority. What impresses us here is rather the way a person lives. As for being a Catholic, well – that in itself is not a recommendation.”
“But Jesus Christ was a Catholic!” the Cardinal exploded. This conversation was getting him nowhere and his temper was getting short.
“Let us say,” the angel said with infinite tact, “that Jesus Christ was a reformed Jew. The term Catholic, as you probably know, is not even found in the Bible.”
The other five persons present, although not understanding the finer points of this exchange, were nevertheless aware that their poor companion in fine scarlet robes would be left behind if something was not done. And so, being genuinely loving people, they began to intercede for him. Carlos de la Crus, the atheist journalist, was the first to speak up.
“Senor Penuel,” he said with his charming Latin smile, “you know I never liked priests very much. But this one doesn’t seem a bad fellow. Why don’t you give him a chance and let him in with us?”
All the others joined in, adding their fervent plea to that of the journalist. Even the quiet Ingrid interjected her soft appeal amid the chorus of her companions.
The angel was secretly pleased. This kind of thing happened all the time at the Gate of Heaven and it enabled a fair number of dubious characters to be admitted on the insistence of their companions. A routine case of the Communion of Saints. God always applauded this sort of thing. However, a minimum of justice still had to be preserved.
“Very well! Very well!” he shouted over the clamour of the group. “Just give me a chance to make the proper arrangements!”
They all calmed down, curious to see what would happen.
“All right, Luigi.” The Cardinal winced interiorly at being addressed with such familiarity. But he knew he might as well get used to it because in heaven people did not seem to be very impressed by titles. “Since you never deserved to be made a Cardinal in the first place, you just cannot enter heaven dressed like one. In fact, you will be allowed to go in with your companions only because their merits will cover your spiritual nakedness, as it were. And, in order to signify this, you will have to exchange your clothes with their.”
Naturally the Cardinal was aghast at this turn of events, but what could he do? Besides, deep down in his heart of hearts, he knew he had a lot of things on his conscience he was not too proud of. So he complied meekly.
He gave his precious episcopal ring to Ingrid and took hers (it was her mother’s wedding ring, which she had inherited). He traded his purple cassock and cape for Raju’s saffron robe (this was done discreetly, behind a cloud). He gave his fine Italian leather shoes to Seseko and put on the latter’s old sandals. He exchanged his skullcap for Hideki’s straw hat, and his pectoral cross for Carlos’ camera, which hung at his neck by a leather strap.
And so, on that day, five True Lovers entered triumphantly in Heaven – followed by a shamefaced Cardinal in a rather strange attire. Nevertheless, once again love had had the last word.
By Fr Nil Guillemette