MYSTICISM: The Mirror Of Simple Souls (part one), by Evelyn Underhill

From The Essentials of Mysticism

The Mirror of Simple Souls – a rare work on the spiritual life, of which manuscripts exist in the British Museum, the Bodleian, and one or two other public libraries – has so far received little or no attention from students of religious literature.  Yet it may turn out to possess great importance, as one of the missing links in the history of English mysticism: for it is a middle-English translation, made at the close of the fourteenth century or beginning of the fifteenth, of the lost work of a French thirteenth-century mystic.  It shows, therefore, that the common view of French medieval religion as unmystical needs qualification; and further indicates a path by which the contemplative tradition of western Europe reached England and affected the development of our native mystical school.

The Mirror of Simple Souls, as we now have it, is a work of nearly 60,000 words in length.  So far from being simple, it deals almost exclusively with the rarest and most sublime aspects of spiritual experience.  Its theme is the theme of all mysticism: the soul’s adventures on its way towards union with God.  It is not, like the Melum of Richard Rolle, or Revelations of Julian of Norwich, a subjective book; the record of personal experiences and actual “conversations in Heaven.”  Rather it is objective and didactic, a work of geography, not a history of travel; an advanced textbook of the contemplative life.  Only from the ardor and exactitude of its descriptions, its strange air of authority, its defiance of pious convention, can we gather that it is the fruit of first-hand experience, not merely of theological study: though its writer was clearly a trained theologian, familiar with the works of Saint Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite, whom no mystic of the Middle Ages wholly escaped, and apparently with those of Saint Bernard, Hugh and Richard of Saint Victor, and other medieval authorities on the inner life.

I have said that the Mirror, as we have it, purports to be the translation of an unknown French treatise.  This translation, so far as we can judge from its language, was probably made in the early years of the fifteenth century, perhaps at the end of the fourteenth.  Its author, then, lived at the close of the golden age of English mysticism: he was the contemporary of Julian of Norwich, who was still living in 1413, and of Walter Hilton, who died in 1395.  Himself a mystic, he was no servile translator; rather the eager interpreter of the book which he wished to make accessible to his countrymen.  Our manuscripts begin with his prologue: an ingenuous confession of the difficulties of the undertaking, his own temerity in daring to touch these “high divine matter,” his fear lest the book should fall into unsuitable hands and its more extreme teachings be misunderstood.  It appears from this prologue that our version of the Mirror is a second, or revised edition; the first having failed to be comprehensible to its readers.

The character of the translator, as disclosed for us in his prologue, is itself interesting.  Clearly he was a contemplative; and the “high ghostly feelings” of which he treats are to him the strictly practical objects of supreme desire, though he modestly disclaims their possession.   He appears before us as a gentle, humble rather timid soul: often frankly terrified by the daring flights of his “French book,” which he is at pains to explain in a safe sense.  One would judge him, from the peeps which he gives us into his mind, a disciple of the devout and homely school of Walter Hilton, rather than a descendant of the group of advanced mystics which produced in the mid-fourteenth century The Cloud of Unknowing, The Pistle of Private Counsel, and other profound studies of the inner life.  These books were written under the strong influence of Dionysius the Areopagite; whose Mystical Theology, under the title of Dionise Hid Divinite, was first translated into English by some member of the school.  But to the translator of the Mirror his author’s drastic applications of the Dionysian paradoxes of indifference, passivity, and nescience as the path to knowledge teem with “hard sayings.”  His attitude towards them is that of reverential alarm: he fears their probable effect on the mind of the hasty reader.  They seem, as he says in one place, “fable or error or hard to understand” until one has read them several times.  He is sure that their real meaning is exceptionable; but terribly afraid that they will be misunderstood.

Here, then, is the prologue which sets forth his point of view.

To the worship and laud of the Trinity be this work begun and ended!  Amen.

This book, the which is called The Mirror of Simple Souls, I, most unworthy creature and outcast of all other, many years gone wrote it out of French into English after my lewd cunning; in hope that by the grace of God it should profit the devout souls that shall read it.  This was forsooth mine intent.  But now I am stirred to labor it again new, for because I am informed that some words thereof have been mistaken.  Therefore, if God will, I shall declare these words more openly.  For though Love declare the points in the same book, it is but shortly spoken, and may be taken otherwise than it is meant of them that read it suddenly and take no further heed.  Therefore such words to be twice opened it would be more of audience [understanding]: and so by grace of our Lord, good God, it shall the more profit to the auditors.  But both the first time and now, I have great dread to do it.  For the book is of high divine matters and high ghostly feelings, and cunningly and full mystically it is spoken, and I am a creature right wretched and unable to do any such work: poor and naked of ghostly fruits, darkened with sins and defaults, environed and wrapped therein oft times, the which taketh away my taste and my clear sight; so that little I have of ghostly understanding and less of the feeling of divine love.  Therefore I may say the words of the prophet: “My teeth be nought white to bite of the bread.”  But Almighty Jesu, God that feedeth the worm and gives sight to the blind and wit to the unwitty; give me grace of wit and wisdom in all times wisely to govern myself, following away his will, and send me clear sight and true understanding well to do this work to his worship and pleasaunce: profit also and increase of grace to ghostly lovers that be disposed and called to this high election of the freedom of soul.

He goes on to the difficulty which dogs all writers on mysticism; the impossibility of making mystic truth seem real to those who have no experience of the mystic life.  It has been said that only mystics can write about mysticism.  It were truer to say that only mystics can read about it.

Oh ye that shall read this book! do ye as David says in the Psalter, Gustate et videtethat is to say, “Taste and see.”  But why trow ye he said, taste first, e’er than he said see?  For first a soul must taste, e’er it have very understanding and true sight; sight of ghostly workings of divine love.  Oh full naked and dark, dry, and unsavory be the speakings and writings of these high ghostly feelings of the love of God to them that have not tasted the sweetness thereof.  But when a soul is touched with grace, by which she has tasted somewhat of the sweetness of this divine fruition, and begins to wade, and draweth the draughts to her-ward, then it savors the soul so sweetly that she desires greatly to have of it more and more, and pursueth thereafter.  And then the soul is glad and joyful to hear and to read of all thing that pertains to this high feeling of the workings of divine love, in nourishing and increasing her love and devotion to the will and pleasing of him that she loves, God, Christ Jesu.  Thus she enters and walks in the way of illumination, that she might be taught into the ghostly influences of the divine work of God, there to be drowned in the high flood, and oned to God by ravishing of love, by which she is all one spirit with her spouse.  Therefore to these souls that be disposed to these high feelings Love has made of him this book in fulfilling of their desire.

But even for those who have been initiated into this way of illumination, the translator acknowledges that many things in the Mirror are difficult and obscure: “Often he leaveth the nut and the kernel within the shell unbroken, that is to say, that Love in this book leaves to souls the touches of his divine works privily hid under dark speech, for they should taste the deeper the draughts of his love and drink; and also to make them have the more clear insight in divine understandings to divine love, and declare himself.”  Therefore he has added his own explanations to the more difficult passages.  “Where meseems most need I will write more words thereto in manner of gloss after my simple cunning as meseems best.  And in these few places that I put in more than I find written I will begin with the first letter of my name, M., and end with this letter, N., the first of my surname.”

He ends with a gentle complaint of the badness of the text from which he worked, and the confession that he has allowed himself a certain amount of editorial liberty.  “The French book that I shall write after is evil written, and in some places for default of words and syllables the reason is away.  Also in translating of French some words need to be changed, or it will fare ungoodly, not according to the sentence.  Wherefore I will follow the sentence according to the matter, as near as God will give me grace; obeying me ever to the correction to Holy Kirk, praying ghostly livers and clerks that they will vouchsafe to correct and amend there that I do amiss.”

So much for M.N., the English mystic.  The prologue of the author, which comes next, tells us all that we know about the anonymous French writer of the book.  This person was of a very different temper from M.N.  As a Catholic scholar has observed of Saint Teresa, “L’auteur ne se faisait pas illusion sur le mèrite de son oeuvre.”  Like Teresa, he believed himself to have written under immediate divine inspiration; a fact which somewhat excuses his complacency in regard to the result.  This is a common claim with the mystics, in whom subconscious cerebration is always exceptionally active, and whose writings often exhibit an automatic and involuntary character, seeming to them the work of another mind.  Jacob Boehme, Madame Guyon, and Blake are obvious cases in point.  The author of the Mirror, however, was anxious that his claim to inspiration should be endorsed.  He therefore – most fortunately for us – sent his work to various “learned clerks,” persons of importance in the theological world, and chronicles their appreciatory remarks in the prologue; which becomes in his hands a form of medieval “advance-notice.”  It will be observed that his critics share the opinion of M.N., that though full of “ghostly cunning” this is a dangerous work to put into the hands of the plain man.

Of these critics, “The first was a Friar Minor of great name, of life of perfection.  Men called him Friar John of Querayne.  He said soothly that this book is made by the Holy Ghost.  And though all the clerks of the world heard it,  but if they understand it, that is to say, but if they have high ghostly feelings and this same working, they shall nought wit what it means.  And he prayed for the love of God that it be wisely kept: and that but few should see it.  And he said thus, that it was so high that himself might not understand it.  And after him, a monk of Cisetyns [Citeaux] read it, that hight Dan Frank Chantor of the Abbey of Viliers: and he said that it proved well by the scripture that it is all truth that this book says.  And after him read it a Master of Divinity, that hight Master Godfrey of Fountaynes: and he blamed it nought, no more than did the other.  But he said thus, that he counselled nought [sic] that few should see it; and for this cause, for they might leave their own working and follow this calling, to the which they should never come, and so they might deceive themselves, for it is made of a spirit so strong and so cutting, that there be but few such or none.  For the peace of auditors was this proved, and for your peace we say it to you.  For this seed should bear holy fruit to them that hear it and worthy be.”

Of the three persons here mentioned, Friar John and Dan Frank still remain unidentified: but Godfrey of Fountaynes is almost certainly the Master of Divinity, called Doctor Venerandus, who was a prominent member of the University of Paris at the end of the thirteenth century.  He was at the height of his fame about 1280-1290, and died about 1306.  “Grande lumen studii magister Godefridum de Fontanis,”  he is called in a letter of 1301.  In the great war between Friars and Seculars which divided the university at the end of the thirteenth century, this Godfrey was one of the bitterest opponents of the Mendicant Orders.  He wrote against them, and attacked them in the Synod of Paris in 1283.  We see therefore that the author of the Mirror, in placing Godfrey’s testimonial beside that of Friar John, secured with a cunning other than ghostly a friend in each of the opposing camps.

There is, however, one obvious and significant omission in this list of patrons.  There is o name which emanates directly from the great school of Saint Thomas Aquinas; supreme at that moemnt in the university, and the custodian of orthodox philosophy.  There is, indeed, little trace of scholastic influence in the Mirror, which is far more in harmony with the mystical theology favored by Saint Bonaventura, and continued during hte following century in the Franciscan schools: a fact which explains at once the guarded approbation of Friar John, and the absence of Dominican patronage.  In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Franciscans were eager students of and commentators on Dionysius the Areopagite: and the order which produced and upheld the hardy speculations of Duns Scotus might well look with indulgence on the most extravagant statements of The Mirror of Simple Souls.

The original version of this book, then, was probably written in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, and certainly before 1306.  Its writer was therefore the contemporary of Eckhart and Jacopone da Todi, the great mystical lights of the Preaching and the Minor Friars.  He was no provincial recluse, but a person in touch with the intellectual life of his time.  He had connections with the University of Paris, but the names of his patrons prove him to have been neither a member nor an enemy of the Mendicant Orders.  It is probable that he was a monk, possible that he was a Carthusian; a strictly contemplative order celebrated for its mystical leanings, which produced in the later Middle Ages many students of the Dionysian writings, and many works upon contemplation.  He was widely read, and many parallels could be established between his doctrines and the classics of Christian mysticism.  His lost book is so far our only evidence that abstruse prose treatises of this kind were already written in the vernacular; and this alone gives it great interest from the literary point-of-view.  He was, so far as we know, the first French mystic to write in French; the forerunner of Saint Francis de Sales, of Madame Guyon, of Malaval.  If we except the semi-mystical writings of Gerson, we must wait till the seventeeth century to provide him with a worthy successor.

PRAYER: Thanksgiving, by Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette

From Blessings of the Daily

Come, ye thankful people, come;
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter’s storm begin.
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
(Henry Alford)

Toward the end of November, farmers and gardeners begin to complete their fall work.  Our animals seek shelter in a warm barn, woodpiles are assembled near the monastery building, hay is stored in the barn, and the last vegetables are harvested from the garden.  Another full cycle arrives at its completion, and all of us move on to the annual celebration of Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving day, we sing in the monastery the Te Deum, in it solemn tone, at the conclusion of the morning Office.  The Te Deum is our prayer of praise and gratitude to the Lord for the miracle of a good harvest.  Thanksgiving provides us the opportunity to thank God not only for the miracle of the harvest, but also for all the blessings and small miracles of everyday life accorded to us throughout the entire year.  With Thanksgiving, we reach the peak of our fall celebration.  After today, we begin to feel autumn’s steady decline as it merges with the rapidly arriving winter.  Very soon, Advent shall be knocking upon the door, and we must begin to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s coming.  Today, our Thanksgiving prayer is expressed in the words of the early Christians:

Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, you have beautified the sky with a crown of stars and illuminated it with the sun and the moon.  You have also adorned the Earth with its fruits to be of service and use to humankind.  You have willed that all your people should rejoice in the bright shining of the sun and moon and be nourished by the fruits of the soil.  Grant, we beseech you, to send us rains in abundance and to bless the Earth with rich harvest and great fertility.  We ask this of your goodness through your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.


POETRY: In The Hands Of God, by Teresa of Avila

Majestic Sovereign,
Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What is your order for me to do?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
And abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace.
What is your order for me to do?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What is your order for me to do?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abundance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What is your order for me to do?

Good Lord, what is your order for me to do,
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave, to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What is your order for me to do?

If you want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor,
I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What is your order for me to do?

In Your hand
I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What is your order for me to do?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What is your order for me to do?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness,
Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What is your order for me to do?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
David pained
Or exalted high,
Jonas drowned,
Or Jonas freed:
What is your order for me to do?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What is your order for me to do?

Silent or speaking,
Fruit bearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting,
You alone live in me:
What is your order for me to do?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What is your order for me to do?

POETRY: The Heaven Of Glory And The Heaven Of Faith, by Elizabeth of the Trinity

Voice of Heaven

We who are bathed in Light, within the “Three”—
The Face of God, the splendor of its rays—
See, by those shinings, into Mystery:
They ever show new secrets, Heaven’s days.

Infinite Being! Depth unsoundable!
Delighted, lost in Your Divinity—
O Trinity, God thrice-immutable,
We see Yourself in Your own clarity.

Voice of Earth

The saints in Heav’n… but, also, here below
Souls come and merge themselves in such a Love,
In mystery and night this happens so—
God satisfies: in dark, in Day above.

Through everything… on earth: already we’re
Possessing You, our Peace and vision! (for,
As in one light we gather, there and here,
We lose ourselves in God, for evermore!)

Voice of Heaven

As sharers, now, in God’s own Essence, you
Possess all we possess in Heaven… See!—
You have not yet the joy we have, that’s true:
But as for giving—you give more than we.

And when one loves, how good it is to give!
(You can be giving, every hour and place.)
Oh, give God glory while on earth you live—
By self-oblation. Seize on this high grace!


My mind is a funny thing.  Sometimes watching it do its thing, I’m amused.

Sometimes I am amazed.  Sometimes I am horrified.

Lately, though, as it has been doing its thing, I’ve been impressed.

Something it does best is sort.  Categorize.  Order.

When I was young I used to have a recurring thought that were I God, this universe would be better ordered.  Too much chaos all the time all over the place.

Let’s get it cleaned up.  Everything in its place.

Right.  No chance of that.

But I always have my thoughts that I can play with.  And play with them, I do.

All of a sudden, one day, my categorization of evil expanded, revealing different aspects of the evils.  And even to approaches to them.



I’m excited.

I should have a chart of all this, but this is a blog, so writing is expected.  And writing is more fun in the long run.

So, years ago, frustrated with having to study evil and finding the study akin to walking in a blinding snowstorm, with force and intent evident, but with reason and mechanics beyond my grasp, I decided to get serious.  And I studied.  And studied.  And studied.

And I came up with three categories of evil that pleased me very much.

First, Ordinary Evil: everyday evil, things that we do that please us but, in truth, bring harm to those around us.

Second, Monstrous Evil: when we view another person as having no value and justify our harming him.

Third, Invisible Evil: the force of evil that can permeate us and our institutions, making us blind to the evil around us.

Fine.  Evils divided.

But, then, all of a sudden, the subject opened up to me, like a book.  A little three-volume work.  On the nature of evil.

How thrilling.

You see, opposing the Holy Trinity are the three major baddies: the devil, Satan, and the antiChrist.

Three evils.  Three baddies.

And just connecting those two concepts up explained a lot to me about how each one works.

Think of Hugh Hefner as the devil.  What does Hugh do?  He tempts us.  Look what I can let you do to make yourself feel good.  Doesn’t that look good?

Well, to me Ordinary Evil comes in a form such as drug use.  If you listen to kids who do drugs, invariably they say, It doesn’t hurt anyone.

And if you point out to them that that is not the truth, that real people die all the time in drug wars around the world, Eh, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that this drug makes me feel good.

It’s an illusion.

To me, the devil is the master of a bunch of bits and pieces of broken toys that roam the universe waiting for us to get entangled with them.

Foolishness that harms.  That tricks people into thinking that they are fun to play with, but that slice your soul up and leave you damaged.

Drug use.  Irresponsible sexuality.  Anything that gets ahold of you and keeps dragging you down and down and down.

Until, as addicts say, you hit bottom.

Your relationships are damaged.  Your world around you has crumbled.  And you are filled with despair.

Now, Monstrous Evil is when we say, Oh, that person over there, he’s not a real person.  I can do whatever I want to him.  I can starve him.  Beat him.  Kill him.

We see this in corporate ways such as slavery and terrorist attacks.  But it’s also in personal relationships, such as spousal abuse.

The “Other” is reduced to having less value than the abuser.  And the abuse is justified.

Satan is the bad guy that works to create a group soul, like a mushroom.  It’s the one that possesses souls.  It appeals to people who are desperate to feel a profound sense of belonging, like kids who join gangs.  The works of harm they commit binds them to the group.  Blood brothers.

Only with Satan, it’s soul brothers.  And sisters.

And the binding affects their whole being.  Their thoughts.  Their emotions.  Their actions.

As their soul strength is lessened, flowing into Satan, the possessed soul becomes increasingly dependent on the group.  And they seek their “nutrition” in their acts of harm.  The soul energy they can derive from their victims, that is then passed onto to the whole soul structure.

So while Ordinary Evil is illusory (you think it’s OK, but it’s not), Monstrous Evil is about absorption.  A possessed soul is absorbed by Satan into the communal soul structure, and then commits acts of terror, like rape, in order to absorb the victim’s soul energy.

Last, but certainly far from least, is Invisible Evil.  The Force.  The antiChrist.

The antiChrist is like that character in movies and books that makes deals with you.  Want this?  I’ll give it to you.  Just sign here.

What’s the deal?  You get whatever you get, and the antiChrist gets your soul.  Sometimes in bits.  Sometimes in gobs.  Sometimes all at once.

And what is the upshot of going through this kind of transaction?  Well, you begin by becoming willing to condone the evil that is done around you.  Eventually though, you lose your ability to even see the evil.

So this is an evil of rearrangement.

The sinner rearranges his thinking, his view of life, in order to accommodate his sin.  Whenever you are talking with someone about something evil that is going on and you hear the word, Well, followed by a poignant pause, then you know you are talking with someone who has been dealt with.  You know if you stay in the conversation what you will hear is some sort of justification for the evil.  Or even a flat-out denial of its existence.

So three evils:

Ordinary, affiliated with the devil, characterized by illusions.
Monstrous, affiliated with Satan, characterized by absorption.
Invisible, affiliated with the antiChrist, characterized by rearrangement.

So, what do we do?

For most of my life, I have been taught that there really are three aspects of God: God, the Father (creation); God, the Son (reconciliation); and God, the Holy Ghost (healing).

Our churches seem to struggle in remembering that the Holy Ghost, or Spirit, is an actual part of The Church.

It is the responsibility of the Holy Ghost to address the issues of evil.

And I have always been taught that, basically, that’s a woman’s job.

It’s one of the reasons that I get so angry about women who think they are priests.  Who spend their time in the realm of Jesus, reconciling man to God and God to man.  It’s a vocation of repetition, of contact, of compassion, of establishment.

Which is not what women’s souls were designed for.

People don’t question that women’s bodies were designed for procreation.  But who cares about what our souls were designed for?

Women’s souls are the warrior souls.  Not the meek-and-mild souls that are designed to find ways to bring people to God, and God to people.

Not tender.

Not tender at all.



It’s the difference between a nurse and a chaplain.  The nurse will do what she has to do to save her patient.  The chaplain will do what he has to do to comfort the patient.

Get it?

I’ve been thinking about this, oh, about my whole life.

So I added women to the mix of evil.

What skills do women have for these three expressions of evil?

And there goes my brain.  Right to the task.

Makes me laugh.

Ordinary Evil: illusions.  But not any kind of illusion.  The illusions of the devil.  How could we handle little bits and pieces of broken toys, harmful indulgences?

With a broom, of course.  Women have historically been wise-women, folk healers, witches.  Brooms are a big part of a witch’s costume.

And what do we do with brooms?  We sweep.

And in the case of Ordinary Evil, we sweep the evil out of the universe.

Yes, it can be done.  I’ve done it myself.

Monstrous Evil: absorption.  So the focus of healing a possessed soul is to get it back to where it can feel God again.  Feel love, welcomed, accepted.

What can women wear (spiritually speaking) to convey that message?

An apron.

A starving person sees an apron, he knows that food is nearby.

An apron tells the starving man, Come.  Eat.  This is where you belong.

And then there’s Invisible Evil: rearrangement.  What can be done with someone who has forgotten how to see God in the world?  Or pretends that what he is seeing is God, when it’s the farthest thing from God imaginable?

How can we call a soul back to the body where it belongs?

We can sing.  We can learn the song that will catch the soul’s “ear,” and lead it home again.

We can be the voice of God, in our own way.

Not in what we put out into the world, but what we draw to us.

Evil.  It’s affiliations.  It’s characterization.   It’s remedies.


SACRAMENTS: The Memory Of Baptism, by Gertrude the Great of Helfta

If, at the close of your life, you wish to present the Lord with the robe of baptismal innocence without reproach and the seal of the Christian faith whole and unbroken, set apart some time in each year to recall the memory of your baptism, if possible around Easter or Pentecost.  To perform this exercise proficiently, you should encourage a sincere desire to be born again to God by the holiness of a renewed life, and to enter once more into a restored infancy.  Say: “God be merciful to me and bless me; look kindly and have mercy on me.  May my heart praise the Lord in sincerity and truth; let the whole Earth of my heart tremble and be moved before the presence of the Lord; may my spirit be recreated and renewed by the Spirit of his mouth; and may that good Spirit bring me to the land where justice reigns.”

Then recite the Creed and remember the sign of faith which was first impressed on you at baptism.  Make the sign of the cross on different parts of your body, as you do on your forehead and on your chest, saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Dearest Jesus, my crucified Love, impress the sign of your cross on my forehead and on my heart, so that I may live under your protection from now on and forever.  Give me a living faith, so that I can fulfill your Heavenly precepts; enlarge my heart, so that I may follow your commandments; and make me fit to become the temple of God and the home of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Ask our Lord to bless and protect you, and to send your angel to be your guide throughout the voyage of life, saying: “Jesus, Prince of Peace, Angel of the Great Counsel, be ever at my right hand as my leader and my guardian throughout my pilgrimage.  Let me never be confused or deflected from my course, or wander far from you.  Send your holy angel from Heaven to take charge of me as the minister of your loving care for me, to lead me onwards as you wish, to help me to walk in your ways, and to bring me at length to you, perfect and complete.  Amen.”

Welcome and greet this holy angel, saying: “Hail, holy Angel of God, guardian of my soul and of my body.  By the sweetest heart of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shelter me in your faithful and fatherly care, for the love of God whose creation you are, and as I am, and for the love of the Lord who put me into your charge on the day of my baptism.  Help me to cross, unharmed and unsullied, the fierce-flowing, and hazardous torrents of this life, until I am admitted to behold, like you and with you, the incomparable beauty of the supreme King, the sight of which infinitely transcends the highest joy of our hearts can conceive.  Amen.”

Turn to Mary, the Mother of God, and ask her to obtain a complete renewal of your life for you.  Recall the moment when you were plunged into the water in the sacred font in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: “O Jesus, Fountain of Life, allow me to drink the living water that pours from you, so that I shall thirst after you alone forever.  Plunge me into the depths of your loving mercy.  Baptize me in the holiness of your liberating death.  Renew me in the blood with which you saved me.  Use the water flowing from your pierced side to eradicate all the sins I have committed since baptism.  Fill me with your Spirit, and take possession of me completely in purity of soul and body.  Amen.”

Recall the holy chrism with which you were anointed on emerging from the water of baptism, and ask our Lord to teach you everything you should know through the blessing of his Spirit: “Holy Father, through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, you have remade me with water and the Holy Spirit.  Grant me perfect and entire forgiveness of all my sins, and of your loving kindness take me into everlasting life by the anointing of your Spirit.  Amen.  May your peace be with me now and forever.  Amen.”

Say the following prayer in memory of the white robe with which you were clothed: “Jesus, Sun of Justice, clothe me with yourself, so that I can live as you wish.  Enable me from now on to keep the robe of my baptismal innocence white and unsullied in holiness, so that I can show it in all perfection at the seat of judgment and wear it then throughout eternity.  Amen.”

Think of the taper which was put into your hand, and pray for inward light: “Jesus, Unfailing Light, kindle the glowing lamp of your love in me.  Keep it always alight within me, and teach me how to make sure that my baptism remains pure and without reproach, so that I can appear in all humility and confidence when I am summoned to be found worthy to enter into the joys of everlasting life, and see you, the True Light, and the beauty of your divine countenance.  Amen.”


PRAYER: Prayer For Forgiveness Of Adult Children, by Stormie Omartian

From The Power of Praying For Your Adult Children

Lord, I pray you would teach me how to intercede for [NAME CHILDREN].  Thank you for loving my children and me, and hearing my prayers for them.  Set me free from all worry and concern I have about them so I can have peace.  I know you are greater than anything they face.  Thank you for your love and power that are poured out in me, giving my prayers for them power.

Help me not blame myself for things that go wrong in their lives.  Where I have made mistakes I confess those to you and ask that you would redeem them all and release me from guilt.  Help me to forgive [NAME CHILDREN] for everything they have done to hurt or disappoint me.  Help me to forgive [NAME OTHER PARENT] for everything I feel he/she does wrong in raising them.  Help me to forgive everyone who has hurt [NAME CHILDREN] in any way.  Help me to forgive myself for any time I feel that I have not been the perfect parent.

Lord, I know you are the only perfect parent.  Thank you for loving [NAME CHILDREN] as much as I do.  Thank you for hearing my prayers for them.  Give me faith to believe and patience to wait for the answers.  Today I say, “For these children I prayed,” and you, Lord, have heard my prayers and granted my petition.  I give you all praise and glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,


MEDITATION: Perfect Union, by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen

From Divine Intimacy

PRESENCE OF GOD – I implore you, my God, to let nothing trouble my union with you.


One.  The yes of perfect consent has surrendered the whole human will to God, placing it completely under the vivifying influence of the divine will.  Yet there are still found in the sensitive part of the soul disturbances which tend to withdraw it from the governance of God’s will: this sensitive part is subjected to the spirit only with difficulty, in consequence of the disorder produced by original sin.  Even while the soul is by its will entirely conformed and united to the divine will, the sensitive part is always pulling in its own direction, carrying the affections along with it, sometimes stirring up repugnances and difficulties which can render continual adherence to God’s will painful and trouble the peace of the soul.  Sensitiveness can still subject the soul to impressions and emotions which are a little too lively and expose it, when it does not succeed in wholly dominating them, to commit faults through inadvertence of frailty.  Nor is the devil excluded from making use of the movements of the sensitive part to assail the soul, to hinder its progress, or, quite simply, to make it turn black, which, unfortunately, is always possible as long as we are in this life.  The soul suffers from these trials, and ardently sighs to be freed from them, for it sees how they can disturb its union with God, and it desires this union to be more intense and perfect than ever.  Only God can re-establish in man the harmony destroyed by original sin, and he does not refuse this sublime grace to a soul which is truly faithful to him.  He grants it by means of a more intimate and complete union with himself, wholly dominating the soul by his powerful influence, as if taking it into his possession.  This is total union, called by the mystics “spiritual marriage,” the highest degree of union with God possible in this life.

Oh! with what fervor the loving soul longs for this sublime state in which it can give itself entirely to God, and can be wholly possessed and directed by him, without being troubled by the turbulence of sensibility.

Two.  “Spiritual marriage,” writes Saint John of the Cross, “is a total transformation in the Beloved, wherein on either side there is made surrender by total possession of the one to the other with a certain consummation of union of love.”  It is a total transformation in God; that is, the transformation which at first – in the spiritual espousals – was realized only in the will, is now extended to the other faculties as a result of that mutual, perfect giving of God to the soul and of the soul to God.  God gives himself to the soul as if he were its possession; he establishes himself in it as the active principle, not only of its will, but of its whole being, directing its entire life, and inspiring it in all that it does.  This is the result of an ever more intense influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that pervades all the faculties of the soul, entering even into its sensitive part, which remains henceforth completely subject to the spirit.  The soul possesses its God as one who vivifies, moves, and governs it; it possesses him as its principle of life, as its support, its strength, its all; it exclaims spontaneously with Saint Paul: “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.”  It feels that its life is much more the life of God than its own life; in fact, since God has given himself wholly to the soul, it is precisely in virtue of the singular plenitude of the divine gift that the soul has given itself wholly to him.  It is no longer only the perfect gift of the will; it is the gift of the entire being, magnificently harmonized by the full actuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This gift, this total surrender of the soul to the Beloved, effects, as it were, the transfer of the life of the soul into God, whom it loves more in him than in itself, “more in him whom it loves than in the body which it animates.”  Like the mystical spouse of the Canticle, the soul, which has arrived at this state, can repeat in all truth: “My Beloved to me, and I to him.”

The union of the soul with God is henceforth so perfect, so full, that only the beatific union of Heaven can surpass it.  Total union is Heaven anticipated, Heaven offered to generous souls who spare neither pain nor sacrifice in order to give themselves wholly to God.


“Great is this favor, my spouse, and this delectable feast, this precious wine that you give me, one drop of which makes me forget all created things, and withdraw from creatures and from myself, and no longer desire the satisfactions and joys which until now my senses have longed for.  Great is all this and unmerited by me.

“Let worldlings come with all their possessions, their riches, their delights, their honors, and their feasts: even if all these could be enjoyed without the trials that they bring in their train, which is impossible, they could not in a thousand years cause the happiness enjoyed in a single moment by a soul whom you have elevated to this state.

“No, I do not see how it is possible to compare the base things of the world with these delights so sweet that no one could merit them, with this union so complete with you, my God, with this love so ineffably shown and so blissfully experienced.”  (Saint Teresa of Jesus)

“O Lord my God, who is there that seeks thee in pure and true love who does not find thee to be the joy of his will?  It is thou who art the first to show thyself, going forth to meet those who desire thee.

“O my God, how sweet to me thy presence, who art the sovereign Good.  I will draw near to thee in silence.  I will rejoice in nothing till I am in thine arms.  O Lord, I beseech thee, leave me not for a moment because I know not the value of my soul.” (Saint John of the Cross)

SATURDAY READING: Strength In Weakness, by Martin McGee

From Christian Martyrs for a Muslim People

The White Fathers of Tizi-Ouzou

Jean Fisset, an elderly White Father, was deeply moved by the funeral of his assassinated brothers in Tizi-Ouzou:

Like Jesus, I was overwhelmed and I turned towards the Father, giving thanks during the burial of my brothers, the four victims of Tizi Ouzou.  I recall the closed shops along the route of the funeral cortège, and the silent crowd who joined it as far as the cemetery.  Imagine, four Christian missionaries led to their resting place by a crowd of about 4,000 Muslims; and even more, on entering the cemetery, this crowd emitting youyous and applauding as if for their own martyrs.

Msgr. Teissier, before all those present, was able to find the words which expressed fully the meaning of this demonstration by affirming: “The mission of the church is to find and raise up brothers.”  That’s exactly, it seems to me, what this gathering expressed, a witness to a love which had been recognized and shared.  This moment will remain the summit of my missionary life, a luminous memory until the end of my existence.

On December 27, 1994, it was the turn of four of the White Fathers in Tizi-Ouzou to suffer a brutal ending.  About midday six armed men disguised as policemen made their appearance at the gate of the house that, during the day, was open for anyone to enter.  Four of the men entered the courtyard and locked up those working on the construction of a new library and those who had come to seek help from Fr. Jean Chevillard.  Fr. Jean, aware that these weren’t policemen from the town, tried to resist and to raise the alarm.  He was shot five times at point blank range, once directly into the heart.  The other three priests, attempting to escape, were likewise killed before they could reach the gate.  It is possible that the fundamentalists were hoping to kidnap the four priests as a reprisal for the killing of four Islamists who had hijacked an Air France plane at Algiers airport a few days earlier on December 24.

The Glory of God

Martyrdom has always held a fascination for Christians as the closest conformity to the life of Jesus and to his death on the cross.  Thus the day after Christmas we celebrate the death of the first martyr, Stephen.  We are told that Stephen “gazed into Heaven and saw the glory of God.”  The martyr wishes to participate in the “glory of God” through a close identification with the sacrificial death of Jesus who gave his life that others might live.  It was the irresistible pull of this “spirit of glory,” this sharing in Christ’s suffering, which from the start attracted the candidates who joined the Missionaries of Africa, better known as the White Fathers, founded in 1868 in Algiers by Cardinal Lavigerie.  One of the first candidates who sought admission to the novitiate had his papers signed by the Cardinal, Visum pro martyrio, “authorized for martyrdom.”  Lavigerie had no illusions about the difficulties facing those who joined his missionary society: “I can only offer poverty, abnegation, the perils of a land almost unknown and until now impenetrable, and at the end of it all, perhaps the death of a martyr.”  Martyrdom has been part of the challenge that has faced the White Fathers since the beginning of the society.  In the first thirteen years of the society, ten White Fathers were killed and six more met their deaths as a result of exhaustion.

Alain Dieulangard

What motivated the most recent of the martyred White Fathers in their service of the Algerian church and people?  Alain Dieulangard, aged 75, was the eldest of those slain.  He was born on May 21, 1919, in Brittany, one of ten children, five of whom became religious.  His studies were interrupted by the Second World War and after demobilization he obtained a bachelor’s degree in law at Rennes.  He then joined the White Fathers and was ordained a priest at Carthage in 1950.  He wanted to go as a missionary to Uganda but providence decided otherwise, and after studying Arabic for two years in Tunis he was posted to Kabylia in Algeria.  Reserved and endowed with a good sense of humor, Alain was known affectionately, even when young, as grand-père, grandfather, in recognition of his wisdom.  In all, he spent a total of forty-four years in Kabylia, during which time he mastered the language.

Alain was a born pastor who knew how to listen to the joys and sorrows of those Christians and Muslims whom he met as he traveled about Kabylia visiting his scattered parishioners.  With the nationalization of the church’s schools and various institutions in 1976, Alain felt the attraction of a more silent and contemplative lifestyle.  He also thought that a more contemplative approach would suit the new way of being present, which the changed circumstances now demanded of the White Fathers in Algeria.  He spent six months in solitude and silence at Vénasque in France but his superior discouraged his wish to prolong this experience.  Alain’s service of others was rooted in a real, living relationship with the Father.  Writing to a friend after the assassination of Br. Henri and Sr. Paul-Hélène, he remarked: “The future?  It is in the hands of God.  I hope that we will continue at least to assure a minimum presence in the church until peace returns, which will eventually happen.”  Eric Bladt, who had lived with Fr. Alain at Tizi-Ouzou, summed up the good pastor this way: “He put a lot of love into whatever he did.”  His only motivation had been to serve the Algerian people as an expression of his love for Christ.

Charles Deckers

Charles Deckers, born in Anvers, Belgium, on December 26, 1924, was one of nine children.  Ordained for the White Fathers in 1950, Charlie was to spend a total of twenty-one years in Kabylia.  While valuing the study of the language and culture, he also greatly appreciated personal contact and relationships as a means of getting to know a people.  By 1955 he had set up a youth hostel and a Center for Professional Training for young people in Tizi-Ouzou.  As a result of his closeness to the Berbers and his support for their culture and language, he fell foul of the local government and in 1976, despite having obtained Algerian nationality, he was forbidden to live in the silaya or county of Tizi-Ouzou.  In 1977, after a short stay in Algiers, he was put in charge of a center for Christian/Muslim dialogue, El Kalima, in Brussels.  His genius for forming relationships led him to become involved in helping out North Africans who were in trouble.  From there, in 1982, he went to work in the Yemen for five years with the Catholic Relief Service.  His total availability was especially appreciated by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.  Each week he made a long four- to five-hour bus journey in order to say mass for them.  In 1987 he returned to Algeria to be chaplain at Nore-Dame’d’Afrique in Algiers, where he welcomed pilgrims to the Basilica, the majority of whom were now Muslims.  He also said daily mass at 6:30 a.m. for the Poor Clares and was constantly at the service of people in trouble, whether they were illegal African immigrants or old ladies who needed a lift up the hill to the Basilica.

On December 26, 1994, he reluctantly agreed to a community celebration of his seventieth birthday.  The following day was to be his last.  He had also hoped to have a second celebration the following day in Tizi-Ouzou, the feast day of his good friend, Jean Chevillard, a member of the Tizi-Ouzou community.  As usual the day started with mass for the Poor Clares.  The nuns remarked on the special fervor with which he said his final mass, “At the moment of elevating the host, it seemed as if he wished to become part of it.”  And, of course, Charlie’s life of generosity and service had its source and fulfillment in the life of Jesus, a life freely given for others.  Earlier that year, on March 26, he had written to his family, “More than ever, I think that acts speak louder than words, even if the acts are no more than a presence, remaining on with the people.  I place my fate in the hands of the Lord.”  This witness did not go unnoticed by his Muslim friends, one of whom wrote from Oran after his death: “We are touched to the very depths of our being by the loss of a great friend, a friend of whom we can never say often enough how much we admired him for all his virtues: his nobility, his generosity, his tolerance.  This friend was Fr. Deckers, a servant of the humble who loved passionately this land of Algeria.”  He had scarcely reached Tizi-Ouzou when those who were to take his life arrived to do their bloody deed.

Jean Chevillard

Jean Chevillard, like Alain and Charlie, also came from a large family.  He was born in Angers on August 27, 1925, the sixth of fifteen children.  He entered the White Fathers at the age of sixteen and was ordained a priest in 1950.  He was a person with first-class organizational and people skills.  These skills would later be put to good use in his role as director of a center for professional training for young people, El-Harrach, on the outskirts of Algiers.  The enrollment in this center peaked at 525 students, including 350 boarders.  These same talents led to his appointment as Bursar for the White Fathers in Algeria and as Assistant Superior in France and Superior in Algeria.  In 1985, he was happy to be sent to Tizi-Ouzou.  He commented, “This is a community that prays.”

One of his jobs involved helping people with social benefits claims and other bureaucratic procedures.  His tenacity and quick temper were both useful assets, as was his playful sense of humor.  Great perseverance was needed to overcome official inertia in many of the cases that he had to untangle.  One year after the death of Jean a beautiful tribute arrived in the post from someone who had known him more than thirty years earlier.  The letter writer, as a young Muslim, had met Jean on his release from a detention camp in 1959 and was then full of hate, not unlike those young people who were later to take Jean’s life.  He wrote:

Fr. Jean did not make me a Christian but he led me to God without taking me by the hand, without speaking to me in language used by religious people.  It was enough for me to watch him live and to meditate on his conduct to be convinced that God’s banner is one, whatever the color which people here or there may give it, and I was able to exorcise the evil which possessed me.  My reason and my youthful heart gave way before this uprightness and this extreme goodness which I didn’t think existed among the others.  For all these last thirty years, his luminous and all so peaceful gaze has never been far from my mind.”

Fr. Jean had indeed witnessed both in his life and in his death to the love of Christ.

SURRENDER: Surrender Is Everything, by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

From  The Joy of Full Surrender

During the days of Jesus’s life on Earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Hebrews 5:7)

Surrender of the heart to God includes every possible way of obedience to God, because it means giving up one’s very being to God’s good pleasure.  Since this surrender is effected by unalloyed love, it includes in its embrace every kind of operation his good pleasure may bring to pass.  Thus at every moment we practice a surrender that has no limits, a surrender that includes all possible methods and degrees of service to God.  It is not our business to decide what the ultimate purpose of such submission may be, but our sole duty is to submit ourselves to all that God sends us and to stand ready to do his will at all times.

What God requires of the soul is the essence of self-surrender.  The free gifts he asks from us are self-denial, obedience, and love.  The rest is his business.  It does not matter whether the soul is carefully fulfilling the duties of one’s state in life, or quietly following the leadings it is given, or submitting peacefully to the dealings of grace either to the body or to the soul.  In all this, the soul is exercising within the one overall act of self-surrender.  It is not a matter of single, isolated incidents or the duty of one moment, but the act always carries with it the full merit and good effect which a sincere will always has, although the outcome does not depend on the single act of surrender.  What the soul desires to do is done as in the sight of God.

If it happens that God’s will sets a limit to the exercise of some particular faculty of ours, he sets no limit on our wills.  The good pleasure of God, God’s being and essence are the object of the will, and through the exercise of love it is united with God without limit, manner, or measure.  If this love results in the exercise of only one faculty or another for a certain object, this means that the will of God goes only so far, it contracts itself, so to speak, restricting itself to the specific needs of the moment, engaging the faculties and then going on into the heart.  Finding the heart pure, untrammeled and holding nothing back, he communicates his will fully to it, because his love has given it an infinite capacity by emptying it of all created things and making it capable of union with God.

O Heavenly purity!  O blessed emptying!  O unreserved submission!  Through you God is welcomed into the very center of the heart!  It matters not what my abilities may be then, provided that I possess you, Lord.  Do what you will with this insignificant creature.  Whether it be that I should work, or become inspired, or be the recipient of your impressions, it is all the same.  Everything is yours, everything is from you and for you.  I no longer have anything to be concerned about, anything to do.  I have no hand in the arrangement of one single moment of my life; everything belongs to you.  I do not need to add or subtract anything, nor to seek after or mull over anything.  It is for you, Lord to regulate everything: direction, humiliations, sanctification, perfection and salvation – all are your business, Lord.  Mine is to be satisfied with your work and not to demand the choice of action or condition, but to leave everything to your good pleasure.

BELIEF: I, Like The Thief, by Leo Tolstoy

Five years ago I came to believe in Christ’s teachings, and my life suddenly changed; I ceased to desire what I had previously desired, and began to desire what I formerly did not want.  What had previously seemed to me good seemed evil, and what seemed evil seemed good.  It happened to me as it happens to a man who goes out on some business and suddenly decides that the business is unnecessary and returns home.  All that was on his right is now on his left, and all that was on his left is now on his right; his former wish to get as far as possible from home has changed into a wish to be as near as possible to it.  The direction of my life and my desires became different, and good and evil changed places. (A Confession)

I, like the thief on the cross, have believed Christ’s teaching and been saved.  This is no far-fetched comparison, but the closest expression of the condition of spiritual despair and horror at the problem of life and death in which I lived formerly, and of the condition of peace and happiness in which I am now.  I, like the thief, knew that I had lived and was living badly.  I, like the thief, knew that I was unhappy and suffering.  I, like the thief to the cross, was nailed by some force to a life of suffering and evil.  And as, after the meaningless sufferings and evils of life, the thief awaited the terrible darkness of death, so did I await the same thing.

In all this I was exactly like the thief, but the difference was that the thief was already dying, while I was still living.  The thief might believe that his salvation lay there beyond the grave, but I could not be satisfied with that, because besides a life beyond the grave, life still awaited me here.  And I did not understand that life.  It seemed to me terrible.  But suddenly I heard the words of Christ and understood them, and life and death ceased to seem evil, and instead of despair I experienced happiness and the joy of life undisturbed by death. (What I Believe)

POETRY: This Bread I Break, by Dylan Thomas

This bread I break was once the oat
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

PRAYER: Novena To Saint Paul Apostle



Special request: An increase of faith and our urgent human needs.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

Romans 1:8-11 “First of all, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because of your faith that is being proclaimed throughout the world. God is my witness – whom I serve with my spirit by proclaiming the good news of his son – that I continually mention you in my prayers and ask that somehow by God’s will I’ll finally manage to come to you and to share with you some spiritual gift in order to strengthen you, that is so we may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, both yours and mine.”

Romans: 15:13 “May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace through your belief in Him, so that you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:30-33 “I beg you, my brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle so that I may be delivered from unbelievers … and that my service in Jerusalem will be acceptable to the saints so that God willing, I’ll come to you full of joy and find rest with you. May God who gives peace be with you all.”


Saint Paul from your place in Heaven we ask you continually to pray for us in the manner you prayed for the Romans. May our faith and love of the Gospel bring light into our families, parishes, community, and the entire world. May our witness even be a cause for increasing the joy of the angels and saints who surround you. We, however, are surrounded by unbelievers and are assailed on every side. May you come to us with some spiritual gift in order to strengthen us. May we on Earth encourage one another in the faith. May we be strong even though we feel so weak and inadequate. So often we know the right thing to do but find ourselves doing just the opposite yet you assure us that ultimately nothing can separate us from Christ. When you were in this world you sought to address the human as well as the spiritual needs of people. You aided the poor of Jerusalem in powerful and practical ways knowing the physical aid you brought them would make it easier for them to have faith and trust in the God of love. With confidence we ask you to help us with our urgent natural obligations and our needs of food, shelter, clothing, and health. More than that, however, we ask you to draw us closer to Jesus, crucified and risen, who is the way, truth and life for the world. In this way, we will be filled with peace, joy, and that hope that comes from God, which the world can never understand or destroy.



Special request: Achieving and maintaining peace in our families and communities.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

Ephesians 1:16-19 “I give unceasing thanks and mention you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation by which you’ll come to a knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened so you’ll come to know what the hope is to which He calls you, how rich the glorious heritage which will be shared among the saints, and how extraordinary is his great power for us who believe.”

Ephesians 3:13-19 “Therefore I ask you not to lose heart because of the afflictions I’m suffering on your behalf – this is your glory.  Because of this I bend my knees to the Father. From him every family in the heavens and on Earth is named, so that from the riches of his glory he may grant you inner strength and power through his Spirit. May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, firmly rooted and established in love, so that with all the saints you may be able to understand the breath, the height, and the depth, and know Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge so that you may be filled with God’s fullness. Now to him, who is able to do so much more than we can ask for or imagine, by the power of the work in us, to him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus for all generations forever and ever.”


Saint Paul, as you stand before the Father and the Lord Jesus in eternity, pray for us unceasingly just as you prayed for the Ephesians when you were on Earth. Pray that we gain wisdom and knowledge. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we can see the world as God sees it. As you bend your knees before the Father in Heaven, pray for our families here on Earth that we may live in harmony as we grow in the humility, gentleness, patience, and the love that comes from the Holy Spirit. If we are angry let it be without sin and never let the sun go down on our anger. Saint Paul, beloved apostle, pray that we be delivered from all bitterness, wrath, angry shouting, slander, and malice. If we are frightened by the powers of darkness and sin, help us put on the armor of Christ. When we are afflicted, may we unite our sufferings to Christ just as you did but, if it is God’s will, deliver us quickly from our sorrows so that they might never crush us, who are so weak, and we might sing the praises of God for his mercy towards us. Help us to be rooted and established in love so that we can gain some understanding of the height, breath, and depth of Christ’s love for us that surpasses our imagination. When we feel alone, misunderstood, and even abandoned it will be this knowledge that will give us inner strength and power so that we might walk in love all the days of our lives.



Special request: Leading lives of joy and generosity while receiving the help we need.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

Philippians 1: 3-11 “I give thanks to my God every time I think of you. Whenever I pray for you I pray joyfully, because of your partnership in the good news from the first day to the present. Of this I am convinced, that the one who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the Day of Jesus Christ. It is right that I should feel this way about you because I have you in my heart, and because you all share my grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the good news. For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that your love will increase more and more with knowledge and every manner of insight so that you will be able to discover what’s best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”


Beloved Saint Paul, help us live our lives with such integrity, purity, and innocence that you will rejoice before the throne of God as you remember us in your prayers. Deepen our love, broaden our knowledge and sharpen our insight. May your prayers aid us in the work God has begun in us so that we may grow in grace day by day and share with our fellow believers a partnership in spreading the news of God’s love on Earth. When we feel trapped by the hardships and limitations this life imposes upon us, may we remember how you handled your own imprisonment and suffering. Help us to face the difficult challenges in our lives with a sense of divine confidence. We understand that all true righteousness comes from Jesus, our Lord and Savior. On the basis of his power we hope to be found blameless on the day we meet Christ in eternity for our own judgment. We know that you have an affection for us similar to the one you had for the Philippians. Help us return your love and live in the intense way that you did serving God and neighbor. May you rejoice in us as we live and act with one mind and spirit. We stand in the midst of a twisted and perverted generation, but by the grace of the Christ, whom you served so well, we are confident that we will be able to live our lives in such a way that we will be like stars in the midst of the darkness. When you were hungry and imprisoned, the Philippians came to your aid.  You in turn prayed that all of their needs would be filled from the fullness of the riches of Christ. May we learn to help those in need around us and may you petition the Lord of Life to send people into our midst to help us with the our spiritual and physical needs. Pour out the riches of Christ upon us so that we may share them with others.



Special request: Persevering in prayer in times of struggle and hardship.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

Colossians 1:3-14 “When we pray for you we gives thanks through the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we’ve heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints which comes from the hope stored up for you in heaven … Therefore, from the day we heard of you we haven’t ceased praying for you. May God fill you with the knowledge of his will through wisdom and all manner of spiritual understanding that you might conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord and fully pleasing to him – fruitful in every type of good work and increasing in knowledge of God. We pray that you will be strengthened with all the power of his glorious might so that your steadfastness and patience will be perfected and you may joyfully give thanks to the Father who made you worthy to share in the portion of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of his son by whom we are redeemed and our sins forgiven.”


Saint Paul, please never cease praying for us, who are in such dire need. Through your intercession may we grow in wisdom and all manner of spiritual understanding so that we may conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord. Multiply our good works and help us be steadfast in our resolve to live and love the way the Lord has taught us. More than anything else we, too, want to share in the light of the saints both now in this darkened world and eventually with you in eternity. May we not be misled by empty philosophies or mere human traditions. May we avoid being confused by spurious visionaries but cling to sound doctrine. May we be free from a scrupulosity that would fill our lives with endless rules and regulations and rob us of joy.  However, let us recognize the evil of sin and avoid fornication, evil desires, malice, greed, wrath, obscene language, and slander. May we be clothed in compassion, humility, patience, gentleness, and the capacity to forgive others and bear with one. Above all else, through your intercession, may we be clothed in love. Help us persevere in prayer with a sense of thanksgiving even in hard times. When you were chained and imprisoned you were able to bless your persecutors and sing the praises of God. From your prison cell you were able to teach people how to be truly free. Give us this freedom and aid us in those everyday struggles that might wear us down. Help us so that we will be in a position to help others.



Special request: Finding and maintaining gainful employment and comforting us in time of grief.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

1 Thessalonians 1:2 “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly calling to mind before our God and Father your active faith, your loving labors and your steadfast hope in the Lord Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23 “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who calls us is faithful and he will do it! Brothers pray for us too!”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 “We pray always that this will come to pass for you, that God will consider you worthy of his call, and that by his power He will fulfill every desire for goodness and every work of faith, so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in it, in accordance with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”


Beloved Apostle Paul, may our faith, labor, and hope be a cause for you to give thanks to God in eternity. Like the Thessalonians, we desperately need your prayers so that we can be kept sound in body, soul, and spirit, and face the day of the Lord with a clean conscience. We know that God will always remain faithful, but we fear our own weakness and inconstancy. You rejoiced because the Thessalonians accepted you as a brother and adopted you as one of their own, and you, in turn, were as gentle with them as a mother nursing her infant. We sincerely invite you into our families and our lives so that you can nurture us with the Gospel. You urged the Thessalonians to live quiet lives of productive labor supporting themselves and their families. Help us do the same. When unemployed, help us find work. When working, help us share what we can with others. Assist us and our family members in overcoming the vice of laziness and every other evil that tempts us. Help us especially carry out the works of faith so that God can be made manifest in our lives. Saint Paul, pray for us that we may prove worthy of the call God has given us even in times of sorrow and grief. When we are heartbroken because we have lost someone in death, pray for us and console us with the truth of the resurrection just as you comforted the Thessalonians when you were on Earth. This consolation will help us be constant in hope and steadfast in our faith. This is the faith that gives us a peace that the world can never understand or grasp. Through our faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus we hope one day to be with you in eternity praising the God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine.



Special request: A prayer for political leaders to be just and Church leaders to be holy.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

1 Timothy 2:1-2 “First of all I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men – for the kings and all those in positions of authority – that we may lead a peaceful quiet life, holy and respectable in every way.”


Saint Paul, you taught, strengthened, and encouraged Timothy by word and example. You formed him into an effective leader and servant of the church. Your wisdom was an indispensable aid to him as you supported him in his vocation. You reminded him of his primary duty to be a person of prayer. His prayer was not only to be for the flock he tended but for all of humanity and especially the leaders and those in authority in this world. Only through such a life of prayer can we hope to experience the peace we all long for. Saint Paul, pray with us for the political leaders whose power and responsibility is so great. Pray for the diplomats so that they can find ways to resolve conflict without war. Pray for the leaders of democracies so that they can act in the long-term interest of their people rather than think only of short-term political gain. Pray for the dictators of the world so their hearts of stone will be softened and they will learn how to share power with their people and pave the way for more humane ways of organizing society. We pray with you, Saint Paul, that theocracies may allow minority religions to exist in peace and have authentic freedom to worship and speech. We pray that political leaders will fight corruption, check crime, and provide genuine security for their lands. We understand that a stable just society is the responsibility of every person and ultimately must be supported by a sense of justice that is truly Godly and life affirming. You reminded Timothy that the love of money is the root of so much evil in the world, and you urged those who were wealthy to use their riches to perform good deeds. Saint Paul, help us use our influence and resources well and wisely. However, often we do not have the temptations that come from having excessive wealth but are struggling to just get by from day-to-day. Aid us in our struggles so we will not succumb to temptation and despair. Saint Paul, pray to the Lord to send into our midst religious sisters and brothers, deacons, priests, and bishops who, like Timothy, will be above reproach, temperate, sensible, peaceful, gentle, sober, sound in doctrine, and humble. Pray with us Saint Paul, that our church may truly be holy and our civil society truly just.



Special request: Prayer for freedom in the midst of an unjust oppressive world.

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

Philemon 1:3 “I always give thanks to God when I mention you in my prayers, for I hear the faith and love you have for the Lord Jesus in all the saints, and I pray that the fellowship in the faith may serve to lead you to a deeper understanding of all the good that we have in Christ. Your love has been a great joy and comfort to me because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.”


Saint Paul, in your Heavenly glory you are completely free. Chains can never bind you. Pray, however, for our freedom. First of all, pray that we be delivered from the slavery of sin and vice. Next we ask you to intercede for so that we might obtain the freedom that comes from faith, hope, charity, courage, prudence, temperance, and a knowledge of justice. Finally, give us a prayer life that embraces the entire world and goes beyond our own immediate needs. Unite our prayers with yours, as together we plead for an enslaved and struggling humanity. Saint Paul, remember those who are forced into literal slave labor of one form or another. Pray with us for those who are sexually exploited and abused and moved like commodities around the nation and the world to fulfill the evil desires of men. Saint Paul, you labored with your hands so as not to be a burden to anyone. Remember in your prayers those individuals working long hours in unsafe factories, sweatshops, and mines around the world just to survive. Pray, Saint Paul, that the migrant workers be treated fairly and with respect as they move from place to place to support their families. May we pray for those unjustly imprisoned, victims of war, crime, civil strife, and racism. Saint Paul, pray with us for victims of famine, pestilence, floods, fires, and other natural disasters. In a special way Saint Paul, remember all the parents of this world who are at this moment are watching their children die of illness and starvation. We know that Jesus our Divine Master hears the cry of the poor and the desperate prayers coming from billions of people around the world. In love we want to offer our prayers along with yours, Saint Paul, to the Savior who sets us free. In doing this we are confident that the Father and Son together will send the Holy Spirit into our lives to meet the challenges that we face which are important to us but in the greater scheme of things are relatively minor.



Special request: Prayer for a generous spirit and unity of heart.

Luke’s Account:

Acts 20:31 “So stay awake; remember that for three years, both day and night, I didn’t cease exhorting each one of you with tears. And now I commend you to God and His word of grace which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all his holy ones. …. In every possible way I have shown you that we must help the weak by working hard like this, mindful of the word of the Lord Jesus himself, ‘It’s more blessed to give then to receive.’ After saying this he got on his knees and prayed with them all. They all wept a great deal and embraced Paul and kissed him because they were especially pained by what he said about never seeing his face again.”


Saint Paul, while on Earth you were forced to say goodbye to those you loved. Now you live in the kingdom where love is the only reality and you have no more tears to shed. We ask you to be lovingly united to us who are in the midst of the battle for salvation in a world filled with personal sin, vice, and social injustice. We need your strength and wisdom to guide us and we are confident that you will continually intercede for us so that our great pilgrimage on Earth may be successfully concluded one day before the throne of God. Help the church today to be united in spirit and affection. May we who worship together live in harmony and recognize, as you did, that everyone has unique roles to play in building up the kingdom of God on Earth. May our parishes, dioceses, religious communities, and the universal church be united in heart as well as doctrine so that the nonbelievers will say, “See how they love one another.” In your life you faced conflicts, disagreements, and misunderstandings with your fellow saints here on Earth. Now all of you are worshiping together before the throne of God. Help us see the goodness and grace that fills the believers around us and teach us to reverence one another so that we will truly be prepared to live with one another in eternity. Saint Paul, you who now contemplate the face of God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Teach us to see that face reflected in our fellow human beings who were created in God’s image and likeness. Help us see beyond the disfigurement caused by sin and with the eyes of faith see in those around us and ourselves the handiwork of God. Saint Paul you were a great sinner, but the blinding, eye-opening light of Jesus transformed you into a great saint. Intercede for us so that we too may become the children of God we are truly called to be. May God the Father see and love in us what he sees and loves in his son, and may we be filled with the Holy Spirit that transforms us into one body on Earth.



Special request: Devout reception of the Eucharist

Saint Paul’s Prayers and Thoughts:

1 Corinthians 11:23-34 “For I received from the Lord what I handed down to you, that on the night he was betrayed the Lord took bread and after blessing it he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me!’ In the same way he took the cup after he had eaten and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me!’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.  Therefore, if anyone eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, he’ll be answerable to the body and blood of the Lord. Each of you should first examine yourself and then eat the bread and drink from the cup, for whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body and drinks judgment to himself. That is why so many of you are weak and ill, and a considerable number have died.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, doesn’t boast, isn’t arrogant. Love is not dishonorable, isn’t selfish, isn’t irritable, doesn’t keep a record of past wrongs. Love doesn’t rejoice at injustice but rejoices in the truth. Love endures all things, love has complete faith and steadfast hope, love bears with everything.”


Saint Paul you reminded the Corinthians of the reality of the Eucharist and all that it truly is. You urged them to remember that they should examine themselves carefully and then approach the reception of the body and blood of the Lord with the greatest reverence possible. Help our parishes and religious communities always come together in love. Pray that we be patient with one another and endure each other’s shortcomings. But most of all help us approach the agape meal, the Mass, with a sense of awe knowing that as we eat Christ’s body we are gaining eternal, and if we fail to recognize what we are doing we will be eating and drinking our own condemnation. We rely on the forgiveness of Christ that comes from the sacrament of reconciliation and also the plea for mercy that is an essential part of the Eucharistic celebration from, “Lord Have Mercy,” to, “Lord I am not worthy.” We trust, however, in the Lord, our Savior, whose word is able to heal us. In the celebration of the liturgy, Saint Paul, we invite you and all the angels and the saints to join us. As we approach the altar, we will remember that this great gift of the Eucharist was handed down to us through the apostles and their successors We pray that the priests and bishops of the church will be holy in their service to us and that all of us together will one day join with the Lamb of God and all the saints in that feast that will never end.



BAPTISM: Repent, by William Willimon

From On a Wild and Windy Mountain

John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance. (Mark 1:4)

The church of today lives in an ethically debilitating climate.  Where did we go wrong?  Was it the urbane self-centeredness of Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking and its therapeutic successors?  Was it the liberal, civic-club mentality of the heirs to the Social Gospel?  Now we waver between evangelical TV triumphalism with its Madison Avenue values or live-and-let-live pluralism which urges open-mindedness as the supreme virtue.  And so a recent series of radio sermons on “The Protestant Hour” urged us to “Be Good to Yourself.”  This was followed by an even more innocuous series on “Christianity as Conflict Management.”  Whatever the gospel means, we tell ourselves, it could not mean death.  Love, divine or human, could never exact something so costly.  After all, our culture is at least vestigially Christian and isn’t that enough?

The first week of Lent begins with old John the Baptist.  His sermons could not be entitled, “Be Good to Yourself.”  This prophetic “voice crying in the wilderness” appears “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  He is not the Christ.  John is the one who gets us ready.  How does one prepare for this new age?  Repent, change your ways, and get washed.

Like the prophets of old, John’s word strikes abrasively against the easy certainties of the religious Establishment.  He will let us take no comfort in our rites, tradition, or ancestry.  Everybody must submit to be made over.  Everybody must descend into the waters, especially the religiously secure and the morally sophisticated.  God is able to raise up children even from stones if the Chosen fail to turn and repent.

How shocked was the church to see its Lord appear on the banks of the Jordan asking John to wash him too.  How can it be that the Holy One of God should be rubbing shoulders with naked sinners on their way into the waters?  The church struggled with this truth.  Why must our Lord be in this repenting bath?

When Jesus was baptized, his baptism was not only the inauguration of his mission, but also a revelation of the shockingly unexpected nature of his mission.  His baptism becomes a vignette of his own ministry.  Why so shocking?  On two occasions, Jesus uses “baptism” to refer to his own impending death.  He asks his half-hearted disciples, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?”

As he submits to John’s bath or repentance, Jesus shows the radical way he will confront the sin that enslaves humanity.  Jesus’s “baptism,” begun in the Jordan and completed on Golgotha, is repentance, self-denial, metanoia to the fullest.  John presents his baptism as a washing from sin, a turning from self to God.  Jesus seeks even more radical metanoia.  

His message is not the simple one of the Baptist, “Be clean.”  Jesus’s word is more painful – “Be killed.”  The washing of this prophetic baptism is not cheap.  “You also must consider yourselves dead,” Paul tells the Romans.  In baptism, the “old Adam” is drowned.”  “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

To be baptized “into Christ” and “in the name of Christ” means to be incorporated into the way of life which characterized his life, and life of the empty one, the servant, the humble one, the obedient one, obedient even unto death.

That day at the Jordan, knee deep in cold water, with old John drenching him, the Anointed One began his journey down the via crucis.  His baptism intimated where he would finally end.  His whole life was caught up in this single sign.  Our baptism does the same.

The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns.  Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf.  It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation.  Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do.  So Paul seems to know not whether to call what happened to him on the Damascus Road “birth” or “death” – it felt like both at the same time.

In all this I hear the simple assertion that we must submit to change if we would be formed into this cruciform faith.  We may come singing, “Just as I Am,” but we will not stay by being our same old selves.  The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed, unless conversion of life and morals becomes our pattern.  The status quo is too alluring.  It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the six-thirty news, our institutions, theologies, and politics.  The only way we shall break its hold on us is to be transferred to another dominion, to be cut loose from our old certainties, to be thrust under the flood and then pulled forth fresh and newborn.  Baptism takes us there.

On the bank of some dark river, as we are thrust backward, onlookers will remark, “They could kill somebody like that.”  To which old John might say, “Good, you’re finally catching on.”

MYSTICISM: Being Contemplative In The Midst Of Chaos, by Joan Chittister

From Illuminated Life

This book talks about your life – the one you fear is not spiritual because of its complexities and concerns.  Spirituality, you are certain, is the province of those who manage to escape from the pressures of life.  But if withdrawal is of the essence of the spiritual life, then whole generations of spiritual sages have been wrong.  This book is about qualities the world’s most ancient of seekers say are the cardinal components of a contemplative life.  And “escape,” you will notice, is not one of the elements of this long-standing spiritual alphabet.  The truly spiritual person, tradition teaches us, knows that spirituality is concerned with how to live a full life, not an empty one.  Real spirituality is life illumined by a compelling search for wholeness.  It is contemplation at the eye of chaos.  It is life lived to the full.

All we have in life is life.  Things – the cars, the houses, the educations, the jobs, the money – come and go, turn to dust between our fingers, change and disappear.  Things do not make life, life.  The gift of life, the secret of life, is that it must be developed from the inside out, from what we bring to it from within ourselves, not from what we collect or consume as we go through it, not even from what we experience in the course of it.  It is not circumstance that makes or destroys a life.  Anyone who has survived the death of a lover, the loss of a position, the end of a dream, the enmity of a friend knows that.

It is the way we live each of the circumstances of life, the humdrum as well as the extraordinary, the daily as well as the defining moments, that determines the quality of our lives.  Rich people are often deeply unhappy.   Poor people are often blissfully contented.  Old people know things about life that young people have yet to learn.  Women have a different perspective on life than men do.  Young people have hopes that old people cannot claim.  Men have a sense of living that women are only now beginning to learn.  Yet, all of them, each of them – each of us – has the latitude to live life either well or poorly.  Ironically, enough, it is a matter of decision.  And the decision is ours.

Centuries ago, some men and women intent on living life beyond the obvious developed a life style, a set of values, an attitude of mind, a way of going through life designed to bring life to life.  These monastic wisdom figures reaffirmed for every generation the balance which becoming whole requires.  This book is about those values.  Those attitudes, those insights, have been tried over time and found to be true.  Most of all, they can be developed by anyone in any situation.  They tell us how to keep things in perspective, how to live life well, how to see the life beyond life.  Those qualities are available to us yet.  They make us contemplatives in the midst of chaos.

Time presses upon us and tells us we’re too busy to be contemplative, but our souls know better.  Souls die from lack of reflection.  Responsibilities dog us and tell us we’re too involved with the “real” world to be concerned about the spiritual question.  But it is always spiritual questions that make the difference in the way we go about our public responsibilities.  Marriage, business, children, professions are all defined to keep contemplation out.  We go about them as if there were no inherent spiritual dimension to each of them when the fact of the matter is that no one needs contemplation more than the harried mother, the irritable father, the ambitious executive, the striving professional, the poor woman, the sick man.  Then, in those situations, we need reflection, understanding, meaning, peace of soul more than ever.  People from all states of life, in all periods of time have known the need, have pursued the presence of God in the most ungodly of times and situations.  This book recalls those qualities and applies them to the present.

Religion is about ritual, about morals, about systems of thought, all of them good but all of them incomplete.  Spirituality is about coming to consciousness of the sacred.  It is in that consciousness that perspective comes, that peace comes.  It is in that consciousness that a person comes to wholeness.

Life is not an exercise to be endured.  It is a mystery to be unfolded.  Life comes from the living of it.  The attitudes we bring to it and the understandings we take away from each of the moments that touch us constitute the depth of soul we bring to all the most mundane events of life.  They measure the quality of our lives.  The truth is that life is the only commodity each of us actually owns.  It is the only thing in the universe over which we have any real control whatsoever, slim as that may be.

It is a busy world.  A frightfully busy world sometimes.  We live in a world the speed and pressures of which consume us, drain our souls, dry out our hearts, damp our spirits and make living more a series of duties than a kind of joyful mystery.  We spend time making telephone callbacks, doing the shopping, hauling the laundry, running errands through narrow, crowded streets, grinding through routines, going to meetings, answering question after question, doing repetitive motions, standing in lines of one kind or another, making the long commute, falling into bed late – too late – day after day, night after night.  We close our eyes at the end of the day and wonder where life has gone.

We spend life too tired to garden, too distracted to read, too busy to talk, too plagued by people and deadlines to organize our lives, to reflect on our futures, to appreciate our present.  We simply go on, day after day.  Where is what it means to be human in all of that?  Where is God in all of that?  How shall we ever get the most out of life if life itself is our greatest obstacle to it?  What does it mean to be spiritual, to be contemplative, in the midst of the private chaos that clutters our paltry little lives?  Where can we go for a model of another way to live when we have no choice but to live the way we do?

The desert monastics, alone in the wilderness of fourth-century Egypt, wrestled with the elements of life, plumbed its basics, tested its truths, and passed on their wisdom to those who sought it out.  Thousands of people saw the difference in their stripped-down, simple lives and trekked out to their small monasteries to ask what it was that could wring such meaning out of such apparent deprivation.  The abbas and ammas, the spiritual fathers and mothers of the desert, left words for the ages to live by.  Fifteen centuries later, their words still ring through time, calling each of us to take as rudders and as beacons a series of values meant to bring depth, meaning, and happiness to the most cluttered, most pressured, most parched of us.

Illuminated Life is a summons.  It invites us to quit looking for spiritual techniques and psychological quick-fixes to give substance to our lives.  It asks us to remember again the spiritual direction that has stood the test of time.  It asks us to go inside ourselves to clear out the debris of the heart rather than to concentrate on trying to control the environment and situations around us.  It leads us to see into the present with the eye of the soul so that we can see into the glimpse of Heaven that each life carries within itself.  It takes us inside ourselves and leads us back out of ourselves at the same time.

Abba Sisoes said: “Seek God, and not where God lives.”  We live and breathe, grow and develop in the womb of God.  And yet we seek God elsewhere – in defined places, in special ways, on mountaintops and in caves, on specific days and with special ceremonies.  But the life that is full of light knows that God is not over there, God is here.  And for the taking.  The only question is how.

PEACE: Imagining God, by John Dear

From Living Peace

Part One

The culture of violence would have us believe that just as we are violent, God must also be violent.  It portrays God as vengeful, waiting to throw us into the eternal fires of hell.  Such a god must surely justify and bless our wars.  Instead of God the peacemaker, we have been taught to believe in god the warmaker.  Since we were children, we have been presented with these false images of God.  This fearful figure still lingers in the back of our minds.

Because of this, many reject God.  Who would want anything to do with such a terrifying prospect of “divine violence”?

The Bible is filled with images of a violent god.  From the wrathful god who orders the rains to flood the Earth and kill everyone except those in Noah’s Ark, to the war-making god who smites Pharaoh’s armies, to the god of the Psalms who hears our prayer to crush the skulls of our enemies’ babies, we read not about the God of nonviolent love but the god of violent retribution.

I think the Hebrew scriptures show the Jewish people struggling with their new faith in God against the culture’s faith in the false gods of empire.  As the stories and books progress through the centuries, a more radical image of God emerges.  Beginning with the prophets, we hear of God as the God of poor, the God who loves justice, the God who leads us to beat swords into plowshares.  With the breakthrough of Christ in the Christian scriptures, we are presented with the image of God as a loving father, as the God who sends sunshine and rain on both the just and the unjust, and in Christ, as a nonviolent activist who heals the sick, resists injustice, and refuses to retaliate.  As a Christian, I believe that Jesus reveals finally the true face of God as the God of nonviolence, love, and peace.  In Jesus, we realize that God does not hurt us or ever wish us harm.

Over the past few decades as I have tried to engage in the struggle for peace and justice, I have sought out the roots of our spiritual problems, including the world’s wars and injustice.  Over time, I have concluded that our spiritual problems as a people result from our basic misunderstanding of the nature of God.  Because we live in a culture addicted to violence that blesses wars and makes weapons of mass destruction, we have grown accustomed to violence, killing, and death.  This getting used to violence has infected our spirituality, and even become the center of our spirituality.  Without consciously doing so, we have accepted the culture’s presupposition that the Creator of the universe must be violent, as the Hebrew scriptures describe, since the world is so brutal.

But the revelation of Christ is that the living God is very different from us and very different from the world.  According to the Gospels, God loves us unconditionally, suffers for us, longs to give us peace, wants each of us to live, and showers us with compassion.  According to Jesus, God is a God of love and peace who forgives us and desires that we all live in love and peace with one another.

If this Christian revelation of God is true – and I believe it with all my heart – then we need to reexamine our image of God in the context of our culture’s violence.  We need to notice how the culture distorts the God of peace, leads us to distrust God, and creates an image of God who wants our enemies dead and maybe us as well.  Then we as a people need to turn back to the living God of peace and start walking God’s path of peace.

The question is: What is our image of God?  Is the God we worship angry, violent, scheming to throw us in to hellfire?  Is our God, in other words, the god of war?  Does our God bless the suffering around us, want the poor to starve or the homeless to freeze?  Does our God support dictators, allow genocide, permit nuclear weapons, or side with armies?

Or is our God completely opposed to all violence, and so different from ourselves that we cannot understand what God is like?  Has the living God been the victim of bad press?  Isn’t God a God of nonviolence, compassion, reconciliation, and boundless mercy?  Doesn’t it make sense that our God would be humble, gentle, and generous?  Because we have known nothing but war, isn’t it possible that we have blinded ourselves to the peace of God, indeed, of God of peace?

POETRY: Boy. Child Without Legs. Getting Off A Chair, by Oliver de la Paz

Photographed 1887, Eadweard Muybridge

The boy raises himself up by his arms
and follows a sequence of intentions.

Thrusts his hips out. In this action,
he is no longer a boy but a bell. The clapper,

the weight of his leg stumps. He rocks himself
and sets his body down on his haunches.

Then draws his arms slightly up and forward
again. Palms against the wooden studio floor. Perhaps

he feels the grit of sand between his fingers
or the lacquer blackening his nails. Regardless,

the intent to move is paramount because the line
between frames demands consecutive action.

Air on the bare and rounded ends of his legs
shears the speed of his movement. His bell peals

its silent toll. Rings a sound which is not a sound
but a heft. A series of sways this way and that.

His legs slow the swing of his pendular body to a wild
suspension aloft as the camera demands. Palms

against the floor as his trunk, again, thrusts forward
into the darkened wood. He sails, again aloft.

To mount the chair, the boy moves forward,
keeps his distance from the chair at arm’s length.

He turns and raises his body up with one hand
on the ground, one on the chair. His absent legs

high in the air as if twirling a cartwheel.
The boy slowly wheels into the seat of the chair.

And slowly as if his body is the lip of a bell, done
ringing its one song, returns downward through

the will of gravity. And still, the camera snaps
while the chair has no intention or sequence. It is

idle and it is where the boy sits, turns to the camera,
and smiles. The shadows carve his muscled torso as

he contorts. As he turns himself again. Both arms
press to the floor and he lowers his haunches down.

Perhaps the black of the lens snaps its slow frame
audibly to usher the time. To urge the dismount from

the chair. And so the boy listens to his own peal.
The sound of his heart thickened

by the stress of such simple gestures. The reel
clicks its repetitions. While the breath of the man

behind the camera syncopates with the boy’s own
swaying legs. In this frame, he is sitting still.

In this frame he flies.

POETRY: On The Swag, by R. A. K. Mason

His body doubled
under the pack
that sprawls untidily
on his old back
the cold wet dead-beat
plods up the track.

The cook peers out:
“oh curse that old lag—
here again
with his clumsy swag
made of a dirty old
turnip bag.”

“Bring him in cook
from the grey level sleet
put silk on his body
slippers on his feet,
give him fire
and bread and meat.

Let the fruit be plucked
and the cake be iced,
the bed be snug
and the wine be spiced
in the old cove’s night-cap.
for this is Christ.”

FAITH: Evil, a conversation with Elie Wiesel

From Evil and Exile (Philippe-Michaël de Saint-Cheron is a French journalist)

Philippe-Michaël de Saint-Cheron: How do you reconcile the ideas of providence and silence, or what Buber called the eclipse of God?  Do you feel that providence died during the Shoah [holocaust]?  What possible meaning can it have today, when it is clearly so sorely lacking?

Elie Wiesel: There are some paradoxes that I have to accept.  I simply have no choice.  That particular one is essential, and it is equally essential to face it, though I have found no way to resolve it.  I do not understand it now, and I never will.  I first asked this question more than forty years ago, and it is as valid today as ever.  My only answer is that I would not like to see any one point of view prevail over the others.  On the contrary, this must remain an open question, a conflict.

You would not argue that theodicy died in Auschwitz or that providence no longer exists?

I certainly do not agree with those who say: faith alone exists, faith stands above all else.  That would amount to saying: have faith, and that’s that.  But neither would I agree with the claim that theodicy is dead.  The moment an answer is given, I get suspicious; as a question, I accept it.

Isn’t it true that every human being’s life is dominated by the accident of having been born in one place and not in the other?

On the contrary, in the Jewish tradition we believe that there is divine intervention, almost a divine choice. God foreordains each soul before its birth; each soul is his treasure, and he watches over it personally. There are no guardian angels. It is the Lord himself who takes charge of his souls. In the midrashic legend, there is a sort of image depicting God giving life to a soul. It is he who wanted you to be born in one place and I in another. That is why I like to think that in this instance chance is not involve at all.

But consider the death of so many thousands of children, in places like Ethiopia and Somalia, Vietnam and Cambodia.  Doesn’t that attest to the absolute meaninglessness, the fundamental absurdity, of the human condition, after what you call the Event? How can you reconcile this basic absurdity with the meaning of Jewish faith? 

Yes, it is absurd, tragically absurd. It shows that our world has learned nothing. Perhaps there is nothing to learn; perhaps it is so far beyond our understanding that we cannot draw any conclusions. But we have to make the effort, and today even that is lacking. The fact that there is still so much suffering and so much agony, so many deaths and so many victims, shows that we – and all our contemporaries – have failed to bring man’s deeds into line with his capacities.

Isn’t this a terrible failure of human thought, and perhaps also of religion?

In this case the issue is not religion, but thought. The failure of religions came earlier, during the Whirlwind. It was then that we realized religion was no longer an effective pillar or source of strength or truth. For the most part, the killers had been baptized. They had been reared under Christianity, and some of them even went to church, to mass, and probably to confession.  Yet still they killed.  That showed that there was no barrier in Christianity preventing the killers from doing their evil.  What we are seeing today, on the other hand, is a failure of humanity, perhaps a failure of rationalism, but certainly a failure of politics and commitment, a failure of all systems, of philosophy, and of art.

Can this meaninglessness be reconciled with the meaning of religious faith?

My view is that faith must be tested.  If is is unbroken, then it is not whole.  “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart,” Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav once said.  But in our epoch, I would say, there is nothing so whole as broken faith.  Faith must be tested.  But it must not remain severed or sundered.  We must press on, facing up to what happened in the past and what is happening in the world today.  We can no longer simply accept faith as such.  We must first pass through a period of anguish, then one of respite, ultimately recovering and rediscovering the faith of our masters.  Because without faith we could not survive.  Without faith our world would be empty.

In the terrifying twenty-sixth chapter of Vayikra (Leviticus), the word queri occurs seven times in succession.  Most translations render it as “defiance,” or “with harshness, stubbornness.”  But Rabbi Ben Ouziel in the Talmud, Maimonides in his epistle to Yemen, and André Neher (among others) have translated this word as chance.  Neher, for instance, translates: “If you choose the covenant, I will be with you in the covenant.  If you choose chance, I will yet be with you in chance.”  How do you interpret this duality, this counterposition between Obedience and Chance, between the choice of Covenant and the choice of Chance?

I agree.  In my view, this is the only meaning: queri means chance.  On another level, it also connotes chaos, which is the enemy of everything the Jewish religion holds dear.  Chaos is worse than chance, worse than anything, because if there is chaos, then Good is not good and Evil is boundless.  It is the original tohu va bohu [Let there be light/shapeless and formless].  Queri is therefore chance, and with chance anything is possible.  Covenant, on the contrary, is a response to chance.  We have a choice between Covenant and Chance, and it is incumbent upon us to formulate that choice, to accept it, and to make it.  Moreover, it is a choice that must be made daily.  Each and every day we have the power, the privilege, of saying to ourselves: today either I partake of Covenant or I am here by chance.

Isn’t this the first question we ask ourselves within faith itself?

Except that within faith we must sometimes take our stand against chance, but never against Covenant.  In other words, I can protest against God within the Covenant, but not outside it.

Recently you said, “it is my faith, my confidence in God and his promises, that has been shaken.”  On the other hand, you have also said that although you are sometimes for God and often against him, you are never without him.

That is exactly how I would describe my relationship to my faith.  I have never forsaken it, and it has never forsaken me.  Whatever has been shaken has been shaken within faith, for faith has always been present.  The question was: what is happening in the world, why is it happening, according to what design?  So yes, there is a shaking of faith, but there is also faith, and there is protest against faith precisely because it has been shaken.

Have you ever found it impossible to say certain prayers?

Not any more, but it used to happen to me often.  Today I know that heartbreak exists, and that prayer is tied to heartbreak.  In the morning prayer, for instance, there is a phrase that says Ashrenu ma-tov ‘helkenu,’: “Happy are we with our destiny!  How pleasant is our fate!  How precious is our heritage!”  When I think that I recited that prayer in the camp, along with hundreds of my comrades, that we said it again and again!  How could we have said such a prayer?  Yet we did.  So I tell myself that if we said it in the camp, what right do I have to stop saying it today?

Yet there are dreadful – perhaps even dreadfully unutterable – prayers in the Rosh Hashana [New Year] ritual, in which we say that on Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement] the book of God records the fate of those who will live and those who will die in the course of the year, whether by illness or famine, war or fire, flood or epidemic.  How can we recite such prayers? 

Nevertheless, I accept them.

But shouldn’t they be understood metaphorically and allegorically rather than literally?

Of course they should be understood metaphorically.  Which simply means: I believe that there is some connection between what we do and what happens to us.

But what is the connection between these prayers and the thousands of starving people of Africa and elsewhere?  Could they prevent famine by doing something different, by believing in something else? 

It is our duty to see to it that these thousands of people suffer less, and that fewer of them – or none at all – die of famine.  Which simply means that in one way or another, we are responsible for their fate.

In the darkest and most terrible moments of doubt and despair, what was your response to the summons in Davarim (Deuteronomy): “Choose life that you may live”?  In particular, what meaning do you attach to the second clause of the verse: that you may live?  Why the repetition?  Could one choose life that one might not live?

One could choose life so as not to live and one could live life so as to proclaim the end of life.  Nietzscheans and the philosophers of the absurd speak of life against life.  What the Torah is saying is that one must choose life in order to live, and to sanctify life.  In my view, we must first of all say, “choose life.”  And second: “choose the living.”  A single living being is more important than all the dead who have gone before.

In this sense, your memory and your work are for the living?

I write for the living, but I would also like to reconcile them to the dead, for in our century a terrible breach has opened between the living and the dead.  It may be that the two are also divided by a terrible rage, and that’s why I think it is high time to try to reconcile them.

PRAYER: Prayer For And To The Dead, by Donald Spoto

From In Silence

Praying for those no longer living is among the most ancient forms of prayer, as is evident from the Egyptian Book of the dead and the witness of the ancient Near East.  It is linked not only to social and familial continuity, but also to belief in a life beyond this world and to the notion that the dead are somehow in process of reaching a final state of being.  African tribal rituals, for example, often included prayers to the dead:

O good and innocent dead, hear us: attend to us, you guiding ancestors, for you are neither blind nor deaf to this life we live.  You did yourselves once share it.  Help us, then, for the sake of our devotion, and for our good.

As for intercessory prayer on behalf of the dead: perhaps we do not pray so much for the dead as we pray that we may maintain a relationship with those who have preceded us.  We find them in God, we meet them in prayer, for those we knew and loved are not apart or remote but rather alive in God – and hence not separated from us.  That may be the deepest meaning of the tradition of prayer to the saints of old.  Our honor toward them, our communion with them in the reality of the Spirit, our meditation on their example and our friendship with them can only deepen the life of faith and affirm our relationship to everything that is in God.

This sort of veneration is very different from the unfortunate deviation that occurred in the Middle Ages, when emphasis on Christ as eternal judge brought the saints (and especially Jesus’s mother, Mary) to the foreground of faith and invoked them as intercessors, more accessible to us poor mortals than God is, and “more human” than Jesus.  Against this, biblical faith has always claimed that there is “one mediator between God and humankind – Christ Jesus, himself human.”  But there is perhaps a valuable balance to maintain – the saints, like all those we loved in this life, are part of our religious inheritance.  It is not, therefore, inappropriate to honor them, for they live in God.

In this spirit, it is important to understand that the cult of the mother of Jesus was not only a result of the era of courtly love: it was also very much a healthy counterstatement to the cruelty toward and exploitation of women.  The gentleness and maternal qualities of God took form in and remain reflected in the person of Mary and in the iconography that honors her and, through her, the motherhood of God.  Perhaps it was at least partly in this belief that medieval English bishops enjoined the Ave Maria on all Christians.  (The first part of the venerable prayer known as the “Hail, Mary,” is drawn from the gospel of Luke 1, verses 28 and 42; the second part is a simple invocation for the help of Mary, mother of Jesus, during one’s own life and at the time of death.  But this prayer must not be considered as distinct from a plea to God himself.  Friendship and advocacy with those who have preceded us, and with those once particularly close to the event of Jesus Christ, are part of the legacy of faith, but God alone is the source and giver of meaning, and he alone bestows eternal life.)

Our connection with those who have died can be as real as with those who are alive – sometimes even more real, in fact.  This relationship is not a poetic metaphor or a reverie about our ancestors and their benevolent influence on us.  It is, rather, a profound sharing in the life of God, which is always of the present.  Encountering God means meeting who and what are always present in him.  And the bond of love conjoining all who are created by God includes not only the formally canonized saints of the heroes of old, but all of our ancestors and old friends; all are gathered in the eternal love of God.  It is always God who hears our prayers – for the dead, to the saints, for the living.

SERMON: The Earthly And Heavenly Citizenship, by Isaac Williams

…No one serves an Earthly master so faithfully, no one honors an Earthly king so truly as a good Christian, because he does it for the sake of a Divine Master and a Heavenly King.

Now this the Gospel sets before us in a very memorable incident and divine saying, to which it gave rise. When our Lord was teaching in the temple, a few days before his death, we read, Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?

They feigned themselves just men; as if troubled by a point of conscience, they wanted him to relieve them of their doubts; for, of course, they said, he had no fear of the Romans, and would plainly tell them the truth. For Herod having been made king of Galilee by the Romans, the Herodians, or party of Herod, maintained that they ought to submit to the Romans. But the Pharisees on the contrary contended that the sacred nation, as the people of God, ought not to be under Roman governors. And they thought that if Christ maintained himself to be the long-expected King of the Jews, surely he would not have them to submit to a heathen yoke; and if they could but entrap him by his answer to say this, then at once they would ask the Roman governor to put him to death. For much as these political parties hated each other, they both hated Christ – the true Light – far more.

Now, in reading this account, what, I think, must most strike us, is not their malice and envy against Christ, although he was love and goodness itself; so much as the little, low, Earthly thoughts which possessed them. Our Lord speaks of the great things of eternity, of loving God with the whole heart, of being made his children forever, and as the angels which are in Heaven. But their hearts are so full of things Earthly, of their petty disputes about this world’s politics, that they have no room there for him. Like Judas weighing in the balance Earth and Heaven, putting in one scale thirty pieces of silver, and in the other an eternal weight of glory; and finding that the thirty pieces outweighed it. Surely, my brethren, such things as these were enough to make an apostle weep to think of; yea, and to make one, who is no apostle, weep to think how often he has forgotten the same.

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, – their crafty design in pretending a scruple of conscience in this insidious question, – and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? shew me the tribute money. And they brought him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words they marveled, and left him, and went their way. They marveled to see the crafty web they had woven so soon scattered to the winds.

The answer seems to imply, You accept Caesar’s money, you submit to his sway; your duty therefore is simple and obvious, as far as that is concerned; but stop, rendering tribute to Caesar is not all; remember there is something infinitely higher and more important. Render unto God the things which are his. Give not over unto Caesar your religion, your conscience, your Savior. For this both of you, Pharisees and Herodians, are combining together to do.

But our Lord’s calling for the tribute money seems to imply that the matter of duty in such eases is generally a very simple and easy one. And if there should be any doubt, our Lord has taught us on another occasion what is the better part. When asked at Capernaum to pay the tribute money for the temple, he explained to Saint Peter that from him, as the Son of God, it was not really due, but nevertheless, by a miracle of divine power, he paid the same, that he might not offend them.

But now, if these Jews had but known themselves to be citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem, how different would their conduct have been? Taken up with the thoughts of the earthly Jerusalem, they lost that and the Heavenly also. As for the Roman Caesars they were always raising tumults and seditions against them, and yet they rendered up to them the things of God. The reason which they gave for putting Christ to death was, lest the Romana should come and take away their place and nation, while by that very circumstance they brought upon them destruction from the Roman Caesars.

And now to apply all this to ourselves; what numberless perplexities, and difficulties, and dangers shall we escape by having our conversation in Heaven; and thereby making God, as the Collect says, “our refuge and strength”? Many cares and temptations under which we now sink would at once vanish away, if we considered ourselves as citizens of Heaven; and if our only joy was that our names were written there. But how can we expect that Heaven should be our portion hereafter, unless our heart and our treasure are there now?

Our blessed Savior wept, and his Apostle wept, because with “many” it was not so; and surely that “many” has been increasing ever since, while the world goes on to its end. So that now there are “very many.” And which of us may not be of that number? The Spirit of God it was that made his saints so sorrowful at this thought, because the Spirit of Truth alone fully knew how many there are who now weep not for themselves, but shall do so throughout a long – long – long – eternity. Oh! what shall that sorrow be which our Lord speaks of as the “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” at being shut out from that kingdom? O sorrow of all sorrows! O sea of all bitterness, which that weeping shall be, which shall then begin, but shall never know an end!

Surely this is nearer to us than we think for, because those whom it hath overtaken have always been those who have least thought of it. So was it with those of whom Saint Paul spoke. He would not have wept for them, if they had wept for themselves; if they had thought themselves in danger he would not have so despaired of them.

So was it with those who came flocking around our Blessed Lord with captious ensnaring questions; their conversation was assuredly not in Heaven, but was with evil spirits; yet they trembled not. They stood on the brink of the bottomless gulf, with none but Christ to rescue them, but they cared not for it.

How many are there among ourselves who walk erect as if all were well with them, who know not what it is to bow their heads and humble themselves; whom neither warnings, nor afflictions, nor mercies of God, nor words, nor example, seem to have any power to move and subdue; and to all appearances nothing but the sound of the last trumpet itself will do so. Nay, many there are, our Lord himself has declared to us, whom not even that sound itself nor the very coming of the Judge, will move and humble; who will be taken by surprise even at the last, and will doubt even the Judge’s own words, when he shall say, “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity!”

SATURDAY READING: Just A Red-Blooded American Male And Miracle Worker, by Patricia Treece

From Nothing Short of a Miracle

Sixteen-month-old Elizabeth Fanning lies listlessly in her mother’s arms.  Anxiously, draw-faced Mrs. Fanning coaxes her child to take even a spoonful of the liver soup recommended by doctors.  But although Elizabeth’s swollen belly and twiglike limbs make her look like a starvation victim, the lethargic baby has no interest in food of any kind.  Little Betsy, as her parents call her, has a fatal disease in 1940: the blood cancer known as leukemia.  What makes her case especially tragic is that the illness may be the result of new medical technology.  Born in August 1938, Elizabeth appeared normal.  But, three or four days later, a thick red growth appeared on her cheek, while a red birthmark marred the child’s neck.  To stop the growth and prevent the spread of the unsightly birthmark, a series of radium treatments were given.  The cheek growth disappeared, and the birthmark’s spread was halted.  But after this “success” the child simply stopped growing normally.  She seemed lifeless.  Even her hair drooped and grew no more.

A specialists’s deadly diagnosis was only confirmed by a trip from the Fannings’ Dearborn, Michigan, home to Minnesota’s renowned Mayo Clinic.  The baby’s spleen should be removed, all doctors consulted agree, but the Mayo physicians in Rochester warn that the baby is already too weak to live through such an operation.

The rich nutrition of liver soup may buy a little time, but the doctors all warn Mrs. Fanning there can be but one outcome to childhood leukemia.  The mother must prepare herself that she may simply find the child dead in her crib at any time.  So sure is Elizabeth’s death that her doctors in Dearborn waive any further fees.

Then Mrs. Fanning’s aunt, who belongs to a spiritual group affiliated with St. Bonaventure’s Franciscan Capuchin monastery in Detroit suggests little Betsy be taken to a lively, seventy-year-old priest there called Fr. Solanus Casey.

“He’s a saint, and he heals people all the time,” Mrs. and Mrs. Fanning are told.  With no Earthly possibility for their dying daughter’s recovery, the Fannings drive to Detroit.  They carry the child, who at a year and a half cannot walk, up to the door of St. Bonaventure’s.

The Franciscan who greets them so warmly wears the Capuchin brown robe, its pointed hood thrown back on his skinny shoulders.  In spite of his untrimmed white beard, the old priest has the shining face of a happy child, his blue eyes as innocent as their baby’s.

As he listens to their personal tragedy, Fr. Solanus’s face radiates loving compassion.  In spite of the many other sufferers waiting to speak with him, the Fannings sense that he is totally – and peacefully – at their disposal.  The only thing, he assures them, that can stop the power of God at work in our lives is our own doubts and fear.  He urges the parents to make concrete acts that will foster their confidence in God’s goodness.  Let them try to overcome their sadness and anxiety, which “frustrates God’s merciful designs.”  He even recommends they thank God now for what he will do in the future, whatever that may be.  This kind of confidence in God “puts him on the spot,” he explains with a grin.  He tells them of some healings he has witnessed, cases just as “hopeless” as their daughter’s.  The Fannings enroll Betsy in the Capuchin Order’s Seraphic Mass Association to benefit from hundreds of Mass prayers with a donation to the missions.  Each also makes a personal promise to God of a spiritual nature.  (Samples: an infrequent Protestant churchgoer commits to go every Sunday; a Catholic who goes to Communion weekly commits to go twice weekly; spiritual reading is promised, in one case from the Bible, in another from the work of a saint.)

Now, in his unusually high-pitched yet whisper-soft voice (the leftover, it is believed, of childhood diphtheria, which killed two of his sisters), Fr. Solanus talks to listless Elizabeth for a few minutes.  Then he says matter-of-factly, “You’re going to be all right, Elizabeth.”  Ignoring her skeletal appendages and distended stomach, he hands her a piece of candy as if the child he sees is well.

Elizabeth Fanny has been leukemic almost her entire short life.  She has never done the things babies do, any more than she has ever attained the rosy looks of normal babyhood.  But as her parents begin the drive home to Dearborn, Elizabeth has a new alertness.  For the first time in her life, she watches everything with interest.  She smiles.  She sits up.

Her parents are startled, almost shocked, but are so happy at the sudden, inexplicable change that they stop at a restaurant “to celebrate.”  Mrs. Fanning says: “The place was crowded – and Betsy – who only an hour before had been lying in my arms as limp as a rag doll – immediately became the “life of the party.”  She waved to the people about us, jumping up and down.  She was full of life.”

Soon she was walking.  In the late 1960s, when Betsy’s mother was interviewed by James Patrick Derum for his book on Fr. Solanus, The Porter of Saint Bonaventure’s, Mrs. Fanning recalled: “When I brought her back to the doctors, they were incredulous.  She looked so different – healthy, lively, and her once wispy, lifeless hair was now curly.”

“That’s not Betsy!” they exclaimed.

But it was.  While childhood leukemia remained a fatal disease for many years after 1940, little Betsy Fanning simply didn’t have it anymore after visiting Fr. Solanus Casey.

“You’ll be all right,” the Capuchin priest had said simply.  Betsy was no isolated instance of his prophecy proving correct.  For half a century, Fr. Solanus’s gift of healing was so great that, beginning in November 1923, when he was stationed at Our Lady Queen of Angels Monastery in Harlem, New York, his superiors asked him to keep a notebook of prayer requests and answers.  Always obedient, he tried.  But “the holy priest,” as people referred to him even in his first priestly assignment at Sacred Heart Monastery in Yonkers, New York, in 1904, had so many demands for prayers, it proved impossible to record them all, even in his eighteen- or nineteen-hour days.  This became clear after his death, when scores of people were interviewed regarding physical cures and other favors they said they received after Fr. Solanus had enrolled them in the Seraphic Mass Association, the organization that combined mutual prayer support, including prayers and remembrances at Mass by all the Capuchins, with aid to the missions.  Even the six thousand notes from just his twenty-one years in St. Bonaventure’s must be only a fraction of the Detroit total, since only a few of the cures that interviewers found in that city had been recorded.

About one in ten of these notes has a follow-up entry.  Many of the healed either never took the trouble to come back and report or Fr. Solanus never got around to entering their statements.  Known cures, whether logged or not, include everything from cancer to heart disease, from deafness to diabetes, from polio to bone disease, from broken backs to infertility.  A few samples from the log, which include a follow-up, are given pretty much verbatim but without addresses:

March 8, 1925 — Mrs. Stella Sherwin, 47, from McKeesport, Pa., suffering from gall stones when, on Feb. 10, her daughter, living in Detroit, enrolled her in S.M.A. and sent her the certificate.  The time of her cure corresponded with that of the issuance of the certificate.

July 26, 1926 — Russel Jay, 17,… 49 inches tall is enrolled… (non-Catholic).  Asks Fr. Solanus to “make me grow.”

Jan. 2, 1927 — Today Russell Jay reported he grew 4-1/2 inches — 1st change in 12 years — Now developing normally.

Oct. 12, 1931 — Mrs. Mary E. Reynolds, 59, of Clinton, Ont.  17 years with epileptic seizures.  Enrolled about July 25th.  Has not had a shadow of an attack since.  Deo Gr.

Dec. 9, 1932 — Doraine Innes, 8, of Montreal.  At 4 had meningitis of brain — then paralysis and curvature of spine and cross-eyes.  Enrolled in 1930.  Since day of enrollment has been able to walk without crutches.

August 8, 1935 — Floyd McSweyn, now 24, of Merrill, Mich.  In May 1933, fell 18 feet to cement floor, received to all reckoning fatal skull fracture.  His mother tells us today that Fr. assured her “the boy will be better inside of five hours.”  [He was] blind and dumb and toally paralyzed at time mother phoned… Completely and permanently recovered — save hearing in one ear.

Dec. 29, 1937 —John Charles Kulbacki, 6, blind since 3 weeks old; was enrolled in S.M.A. 6 weeks ago.  On Xmas Day when at “Crib” here in Church, was almost frightened as he exclaimed — pointing to the lighted “crib”: “Look, Mama.”  Deo Gr.

Nov. 19, 1938 — Thanks — Marlene, 6, was inward bleeder [note: hemophiliac] before she came… A year ago was prayed for and enrolled — had 5 hemorrhages day before — has never bled since.  Deo Gr.

Oct. 27, 1943 — Patrick McCarthy, 44,… lip cancer.  Threatened starvation.  Nov. 9 Dr. Wm. Koch… hardly able to speak from emotion at the wonderful improvement [in McCarthy]…

Jan. 7, 1945 — Robert Hamilton, 44, enrolled last Wed. expecting brain tumor operation on Friday.  Drs. who had x-rayed his head were astounded at finding no tumor.

Modesty wouldn’t have prevented recording any cures.

MYSTICISM: The Mysticism Of Human Communion, by Mother Maria Skobtsova

The most doubtful, disputable, and satisfying thing about all the concepts of “Christianity turned toward the world,” “social Christianity,” and similar trends that have been put forward in modern times, is their secondary character, their incommensurability with the idea of Christian life understood as communion with God.  Something of the “second sort,” applied, appended, is not bad in itself, but is also not necessary – and in any case cannot exhaust the fullness of Christian life.  Primary Christianity, on the other hand, exhausts everything, because it is oriented toward authentic spiritual life, that is, toward communion with God.  In this characterization there is undoubtedly a portion of truth, because all the trends of social Christianity known to us are based on a certain rationalistic humanism, apply only the principle of Christian morality to “this world,” and do not seek a spiritual and mystical basis for their constructions.

To make social Christianity not only Christian-like but truly Christian, it is necessary to find one more dimension for it, to bring it out of flat soulfulness and two-dimensional moralism into the depths of multi-dimensional spirituality.   To substantiate it mystically and spiritually.  It seems to me that this coincides precisely with what Orthodoxy – which has not yet spoken in this area – can and must say; it will give greater depth to Catholic and Protestant attempts to turn a Christian face to the world.

An extraordinary similarity of extremes can be observed in regard to the question of the world.  On the one hand, worldly people are essentially separated from the world by an impenetrable wall.  However much they give themselves to the joys of the world, whatever bustle they live in, there is always an impassable abyss in their consciousness: “I” and the world, which serves me, amuses me, grieves me, wearies me, and so on.  The more egoistic a man is, that is, the more he belongs to the world, the more the world is some sort of inanimate comfort for him, or some sort of inanimate torture, to which his uniquely animate “I” is opposed.  If he loves the world, science, art, nature, family, friends, politics, it is with what may be called lustful love – “my family,” “my art,” “my nature,” “my politics.”  All this reveals, embodies, reflects, realizes a single excessive “I.”  In this relation to the world there exist insuperable, high walls that separate man from man, nature, and God.

We may boldly say that the most worldly man is the most separated and disconnected from the life of the world.  But in Christianity, where two God-given commandments – about the love of God and the love of man – should resound, we often run into the same separation from man and from the world.  It would seem that a Christian cannot say: “I love God, and therefore man is indifferent for me.”  The apostle John answers him severely: “Hypocrite, how can you love God whom you have not seen, if you scorn your brother who is near to you?”  But even if the Christian does not put it so crudely, still there is certain possibility of harming one’s love of man because of one’s love of God.  Love of God – that is the chief and only thing.  All the rest is just obedience, just a “job,” which in any case should not diminish the chief thing.  As a result, man has his own monastery – in his spirit, behind high white walls.  There he abides in the fullness and purity of his communion with God, and from there, by way of some sort of condescension, some sort of patronizing, he descends into the sinful and suffering world.  He fulfills his duty of obedience before it, a duty that has a very strict and precise boundary.  It must not disturb the inner rhythm of his life in God, a certain sacred comfort; it must not captivate him in the depths of his spirit, because in those depths abides the divine Holy of Holies.  Pity, love, work, responsibility for the human soul, willingness to sacrifice – these are all necessary elements of obedience, but one must know moderation in them.  They should not be allowed to overwhelm and disperse the spirit.  Compared to the chief thing, it is all not a deed but a job.  Otherwise, one might lose one’s “I,” scatter it through the world.  This “I” is, in a certain sense, opposed to the world.  And the world either simply lies in evil, or is the field where we exercise our virtues – in any case, it is outside the “I.”  Separation from the world occurs on different principles here than with worldly people, but it is no less complete for all that.  In this isolation of the “I” from the world, opposites meet.

Here we must add the reservation that there is, of course, work that can essentially be called a “job.”  When hermits wove mats and fashioned clay pots, it was a job.  When we peel potatoes, mend underwear, do the accounts, ride the subway, that is also a job.  But when the monks of old, by way of obedience, buried the dead, looked after lepers, preached to fallen women, denounced the unrighteous life, gave alms – that was not a job.  And when we act in our modern life, visiting the sick, feeding the unemployed, teaching children, keeping company with all kinds of human grief and failure, dealing with drunkards, criminals, madmen, the dejected, the gone-to-seed, with all the spiritual leprosy of our life, it is not a job and not only a tribute to obedience that has its limits within our chief endeavor – it is that very inner endeavor itself, an inseparable part of our main task.  The more we go out into the world, the more we give ourselves to the world, the less we are of the world, because what is of the world does not give itself to the world.

Let us try to substantiate this theologically, spiritually, and mystically.  The great and only first founder of worldly endeavor was Christ, the Son of God, who descended into the world, became incarnate in the world, totally, entirely, without holding any reserve, as it were, for his divinity.  Did he hold back his divinity and himself?  Was he in the world merely as the obedient son of the Father?

In his worldly obedience he emptied himself, and his emptying is the only example for our path.  God who became a child, God who fled into Egypt to escape Herod, God who sought friends and disciples in this world, God who wept from the depths of his spirit over Lazarus, who denounced the pharisees, who spoke of the fate of Jerusalem, who drove out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, who finally, and most importantly gave his flesh and blood as food for the world, lifted up his body on the cross between the two thieves – when and at what moment did his example teach us about inner walls that separate us from the world?  He was in the world with all his Godmanhood, not with some secondary properties.  He did not keep himself, he gave himself without stint.  “This is my body, which is broken for you” – shed to the end.  In the sacrament of the eucharist, Christ gave himself, his God-man’s body, to the world, or rather, he united the world with himself in the communion with his God-man’s body.  He made it into Godmanhood.  And it would sound almost blasphemous if he had wanted to isolate some inner, deep Christ who remained alien to this God-man’s sacrifice.  Christ’s love does not know how to measure and divide, does not know how to spare itself.  Neither did Christ teach the apostles to be sparing and cautious in love – and he could not have taught them that, because he included them in the communion of the eucharistic sacrifice, made them into the body of Christ – and thereby gave them up to be immolated for the world.  Here we need only learn and draw conclusions.  It might be said paradoxically that in the sense of giving himself to the world, Christ was the most worldly of all the sons of Adam.  But we already know that what is of the world does not give itself to the world.

I think that the fullest understanding of Christ’s giving himself to the world, creating the one body of Christ, Godmanhood, is contained in the Orthodox idea of sobornost.  And sobornost is not only some abstraction, on the one hand, nor is it, on the other hand, a higher reality having no inner connection with the individual human persons who constitute it: it is a higher reality because each of its members is a member of the body of Christ, full-grown and full-fledged, because he is that “soul” which is worth the whole world.  Each man, manifested to us from the moment of the first Old Testament revelations as the image of God, in Christ discloses still more strongly and concretely his connection with God.  He is indeed the image of God, the image of Christ, the icon of Christ.  Who, after that, can differentiate the worldly from the Heavenly in the human soul, who can tell where the image of God ends and the heaviness of human flesh begins!  In communing with the world in the person of each individual human being, we know that we are communing with the image of God, and, contemplating that image, we touch the archetype – we commune with God.

There is an authentic, and truly Orthodox, mysticism not only of communion with God, but also of communion with man.  And communion with man in this sense is simply another form of communion with God.  In communing with people we commune not only with like-minded people, friends, co-religionists, subordinates, superiors – not only, finally, with material for our exercises in obedience and love; we commune with Christ himself, and only a peculiar materialism with regard to Christ’s appearing and abiding in the world  can explain our inability to meet him within the bustle, in the very depth of the human fall.  Here indeed the point of the matter is not only the symbol of meeting with Christ – an act limited in time – but the reality of feeling our connection with the body of Christ, of being in Christ all the time, of associating ourselves indissolubly with him in his God-manly abiding in the world.  He foresaw our rationalistic and proud lack of faith when he prophesied that, to his accusation, people would ask in perplexity: “Lord, when did we not visit you in the hospital or in prison, when did we refuse you a cup of water?”  If they could believe that in every beggar and in every criminal Christ himself addresses us, they would treat people differently.  But the point is precisely that our communion with people passes mostly on the level of Earthly encounters and is deprived of the authentic mysticism that turns it into communion with God.  And we are given a perfectly real possibility in our communing in love with mankind, with the world, to feel ourselves in authentic communion with Christ.

And this makes perfectly clear what our relations to people, to their souls, to their deeds, to human destiny, to human history as a whole should be.  During a service the priest does not only cense the icons of the savior, the mother of God, and the saints.  He also censes the icon-people, the image of God in the people who are present.  And as they leave the church precincts, these people remain as much the images of God, worthy of being censed and venerated.  Our relations with people should be an authentic and profound veneration.

There are notions in Orthodoxy that attract our hearts but are not always clear to us, are not revealed to the end.  We are like it when the “churching” of life is discussed, but few people understand what it means.  Indeed, must we attend all the church services in order to “church” our life?  Or hang an icon in every room and burn an icon-lamp in front of it?  No, the churching of life is the sense of the whole world as one church, adorned with icons that should be venerated, that should be honored and loved, because these icons are true images of God that have the holiness of the living God upon them.

Just as fascinating, though enigmatic, for us is the expression “liturgy outside the church.”  The church liturgy and the words spoken in it give us the key for understanding this notion.  We hear: “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess….”  And further on: “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, on behalf of all and for all.”  These “others” whom we love with one mind in the church also work with us outside the church, rejoicing, suffering, living.  And those who are his and of him, offering unto him on behalf of all and for all, are indeed “all,” that is, all possible encounters on our way, all people sent to us by God.  The wall of the church did not separate some small flock from them all.  On the other hand, we believe that the eucharistic sacrament offers up the Lamb of God, the body of Christ, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  And, being in communion with this sacrificial body, we ourselves become offered in sacrifice – “on behalf of all and for all.”  In this sense, the liturgy outside the church is our sacrificial ministry in the church of the world, adorned with living icons of God, our common ministry, an all-human sacrificial offering of love, the great act of our God-manly union, the united prayerful breath of our God-manly spirit.  In this liturgical communion with people, we partake of a communion with God, we really become one flock and one shepherd, one body, of which the inalienable head is Christ.

To clarify everything, we must make a few more reservations.  Only this approach to the world and to man makes it impossible to say that the world distracts us, that man devours our concentration with his bustle.  It is our own sinful distraction that distracts us and our own sinful bustle that devours our concentration.  We get from the world and from man what we count on getting from them.  We may get a disturbing neighbor in the same apartment, or an all-too-merry drinking companion, or a capricious and slow-witted student, or obnoxious ladies, or seedy old codgers, and so on, and relations with them will only weary us physically, annoy us inwardly, deaden us spiritually.  But, through Christ’s image in man, we may partake of the body of Christ.  If our approach to the world is correct and spiritual, we will not have only to give to it from our spiritual poverty, but we will receive infinitely more from the face of Christ that lives in it, from our communion with Christ, from the consciousness of being a part of Christ’s body.

And it seems to me that this mysticism of human communion is the only authentic basis for any external Christian activity, for social Christianity, which in this sense has not been born yet, for a Christianity turned toward the world, and so on.  Social endeavor should be just as much a liturgy outside the church as any communion with man in the name of Christ.  Otherwise, even if it is based on Christian morals, it will merely be Christian-like, essentially secondary.  Everything in the world can be Christian, but only if it is pervaded by the authentic awe of communion with God, which is also possible on the path of authentic communion with man.  But outside this chief thing, there is no authentic Christianity.

Such, it seems to me, are the difficult demands Christianity must place before all attempts at building life.

Having begun with what is biggest and most absolute, let us throw a bridge across to our everyday destiny, to each fact of our small, concrete lives – and they are emigrant lives, which means that we cannot really talk about any great perspectives.

However, each of us is given a destiny which is no whit smaller and no less tragic because it is given us in Paris and not in Moscow.  It was given each of us to be born, to love, to have friends, to thirst for creativity, to feel compassion, justice, a longing for eternity, and to each of us will be given death.  We stand before the truth of the Lord and want to fulfill its commands.

And the truth of the Lord tells us that the heavens cannot contain it, but it is contained in the manger in Bethlehem; that it creates and upholds the world, and falls under the weight of the cross on the way to Golgotha; that it is more than the universe, and at the same time does not scorn a cup of water offered by a compassionate hand.  The truth of the Lord abolishes the difference between the immense and the insignificant.  Let us try to build our small, our insignificant life in the same way as the Great Architect builds the planetary system of the immense universe.

People make a choice between the sorrowful face of Christ in the name of the joy of life.  He who rejects the sorrowful face of Christ in the name of the joys of life believes in those joys, but tragedy is born at the moment when he discovers that those joys are not joyful.  Forced, mechanized labor gives us no joy; entertainment, more or less monotonous, differing only in the degree to which it exhausts our nerves, gives us no joy; the whole of this bitter life gives us no joy.  Without Christ the world attains the maximum of bitterness, because it attains the maximum of meaninglessness.

Christianity is Paschal joy, Christianity is collaboration with God, Christianity is an obligation newly undertaken by mankind to cultivate the Lord’s paradise, once rejected in the fall; and in the thicket of this paradise, overgrown with the weeds of many centuries of sin and the thorns of our dry and loveless life, Christianity commands us to root up, plow, sow, weed, and harvest.

Authentic, God-manly, integral, sobornoe Christianity calls us in the Paschal song: “Let us embrace one another.”  In the liturgy we say, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess….”  Let us love – meaning not only one mind, but also one activity, meaning a common life.

It is necessary to build our relations to man and to the world not on human and worldly laws, but within the revelation of the divine commandment.  To see in man the image of God and in the world God’s creation.  It is necessary to understand that Christianity demands of us not only the mysticism of communion with God, but also the mysticism of communion with man.

SUFFERING: Recapturing A Sense Of Mystery, by Basil Hume

From The Mystery of the Cross

In our day we need to recapture a sense of mystery.  Pascal made the distinction between a mystery and a problem, and it is one we have tended to forget.  A problem is an obstacle, a conundrum something that can in principle be formulated and solved.  A mystery is utterly different.  It lies beyond us; it is too rich for our understanding.  It can be entered into, explored, even inhabited; but it can never be exhausted or fathomed.

Our age dislikes intensely the idea of mystery, because it directly exposes our limitations.  The thought that there could be something, or someone, beyond human comprehension or imagining is, of course, exciting, but it is also belittling.  It puts us in our place, and that place is not at the center.  Science has played an important role here, at once dispelling apparent mysteries and solving problems, and continually pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge.

The experience of suffering and, very important, the experience of failure bring us face-to-face with mystery.  They are stern but effective teachers of the ways of God, unless, of course, they lead to bitterness and rancor.  They cause us to question our priorities; they bring a new perspective and lead us sometimes from desperation to seek and find a different meaning and purpose in our lives.  Coming to us as unwelcome visitors, suffering and pain can, if handled well, turn out to be friends.


I am a pilgrim walking through life, and from time-to-time I like to think that the “cloud of unknowing” lets a chink of light through to warm my heart and enlighten my mind.  At times I find this pilgrim way not at all easy.  In fact it can be pretty rough and an uphill business as I try to make my way along it.  Then I hear those words: “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me,” and I realize that I cannot get to the end of the journey except by going over that hill which they call Calvary.

So the cross is part of my life.  Suffering, pain, and anxiety are part of the human condition, of course, but I need to make them part of my ministry.

I had been invited to lunch one day by Pope Paul VI.  While I was there one of the priests took me into the chapel and showed me a crucifix made for the Holy Father when he was Archbishop of Milan.  It had no crown of thorns, and when Paul VI remarked on this to the artists he replied: “No, the Lord has laid that on the head of the Archbishop of Milan.”  When he became Paul VI the Archbishop of Milan took the crown of thorns off the head of the Lord and carried it himself.


What are the Articles of Faith to you and me?  They are pointers to the mystery, entries into mystery.  They are starting points for endless exploration, right down the ages, and that exploration is never completed, either by the church itself, or by us individually.  One of the problems in the church today is that there are people who think that doctrine does not evolve.  But I was encouraged when I read these words by a Greek Orthodox theologian:

We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.  God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.

I have often prayed, as I am sure you have prayed: “Lord, I do believe, help thou my unbelief.”  What a marvelous prayer that is.  I used to confess, from time-to-time, sins of doubt until I realized that doubt was my friend and not my foe.  Doubt is the instrument to purify my faith.  There is no growth in love unless faith is purified.

Why? What is the meaning?

Sometimes, on my pilgrim way, I find myself sitting on the roadside looking round at my brothers and sisters and am appalled at the magnitude of the suffering that there is in the world.  I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has not been carrying deep inside them some sadness, some sorrow, and I ask myself: What is the meaning of this?  I am now confessing to one of the biggest problems in my life – to know why.  It is the biggest single proof, for me, against the existence of God.  I know all the answers, but I do not understand.  Many events have focused my mind on the problem.  For instance, if I am sitting with a young widow who has just lost her husband, or a mother who has lost her child, the suffering seems inexplicable.

A way of entering into the mystery

I have said on many occasions, in different situations, that I cannot fully explain the existence of evil and natural disasters.  If I had that kind of knowledge and understanding, I would be God.  But Our Lord has given us, and certainly given me, a way of entering into the mystery to try to discover some meaning, and that is his own death on the cross.  It is only by looking at the crucifix that we begin to discover some kind of solution.  There, and there alone, is the solution, because behind the crucifix you see, with the eyes of faith, the outline of the risen Christ.  That is the point and that is why a crucifix is such a lovely thing.


A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life
for his friends.
(John 15:13)

How hard it is for us to understand why it was that God who became man had to suffer and die in that ignominious and cruel manner.  Down the ages Christian thinkers have reflected on these great events.  They have meditated on the words of the Gospel and the comments of Saints Peter and Paul – and yet, I believe, the mystery is never totally explained.  We never quite see why it was that God-made-man should have to die.  Every Christian, each one of us, has to spend a lifetime thinking about it and wondering, trying to understand just a little bit more why it was that God who became man had to suffer so cruelly and die so ignominiously.

It is just as difficult to understand the existence of evil in a creation that was originally perfect and intended to give glory to God.  We, remarkably, are the crown of that creation made in the image and likeness of God.  Yet we have not lived up to that image.  Is it perhaps something to do with our refusal to accept God’s love?

So it is that our minds, feeble and limited, simply cannot understand all these things.  But through our faith, through that gift of his, that initiative of his, we can begin to wonder and pray, and in our wondering and praying find some, though only some, understanding.

But one thing is certain: the real solution to the problem of evil – the fundamental solution to all human problems, especially sin, suffering, and death – is in his death, in his suffering, because it ended in his resurrection.

POETRY: Children Walk On Chairs To Cross A Flooded Schoolyard, by Patrick Rosal

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees,
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground.

POETRY: Judge Not, by Theodore Roethke

Faces greying faster than loam-crumbs on a harrow;
Children, their bellies swollen like blown-up paper bags,
Their eyes rich as plums, staring from newsprint,—
These images haunted me noon and midnight.
I imagined the unborn, starving in wombs, curling;
I asked: May the blessings of life, O Lord, descend on the living.

Yet when I heard the drunkards howling,
Smelled the carrion at entrances,
Saw women, their eyelids like little rags,
I said: On all these, Death, with gentleness, come down.

REFLECTION: The Problem With Being A Mystic

I was very young, not even in school yet, when I was first seized by God.  Frozen.  Held.  Captured.

And learning to recognize what was happening to me after that, learning how to connect on a regular basis, as though it was a natural thing to do.

And it was for me.  Natural to talk with God.

More natural than running around with other children.  Or being a part of the family.

Real life, real people, was a real part of me, and I endured it the best I could.  But it was those times sitting on my grandmother’s high wall beside her house, snuggled under a spreading tree, or sitting with my back against a tree at the edge of an open field with the blue sky dabbed with clouds above me, that made me feel whole.

There was so much to it.

The challenge of the lessons.  The freedom to ask questions, and have them answered.  Being shown how to reach through time and know the future.

And the consistent, gentle respect.  Nothing varying.  Consistent love.

Never any impatience with my inabilities and ignorance.

Twice in my childhood I found myself wanting something.

And twice, as though this is how life worked, what I wanted rolled into my life.

I sat on the lap of God when I was a child.  I listened.  I even managed to understand.  It took work and concentration, and I was more than willing to give this relationship all I had to give.

But I grew up.  As children do.

And I became acutely aware of how different I was.  How differently I functioned in the world.

I didn’t come across anyone I could be easy with talking about who I was.

And, then, there was that.

Who I Was.

Those lessons began a period of profound confusion for me.

I knew I had to live in this world.  I knew I had to be part of family and society and world.  So how could I be what God says I am?

It couldn’t be.

I was just a stupid girl, now faced with having to know if what had happened to me as a child was real.

Or insanity.

So I walked away from God.

I wanted to know where I started in my life and God ended.  Who was me.  And who was God.

And what was God.

And where was God.

I guess you could say that that time was a time of me going undercover.

I’m not a mystic, oh no.  Never heard of God.

But staying ever alert to anyone who mentioned having a relationship with God.  A vision of Jesus.  A miracle that came as an answer to a prayer.

Mapping the landscape of God on Earth.

There were lessons, as a child, that I didn’t take to.

Evil, for one.

What was the purpose of it, really?

Silly stuff.

It really wasn’t until I was so much older, when I was studying the disciples and saw how most of them were just wiped away from their work with the sweep of a hand.  I “saw” Evil chomping down on them as easily as we eat potato chips.

And my reality about the world changed then.

Evil suddenly mattered.

Evil was in front of us.

And behind us.

And in us.

I grew up.


Surrendering, in the end, to the reality that I am a mystic.  I do have a very active relationship with God.  I can “do” things that I don’t notice others being able to do.

And so I settled into accepting who I am, and knowing that I am some kind of freak.

Nothing special.

Just a misshapened human.  I began to enjoy reading the prophets.  And books about mystics in times long ago.  Weird people.  Fanatics.  Lunatics, even.

Emotional.  Not following the rules.  Letting themselves be destroyed because they wouldn’t let go of who they were.

And so I settled into it all.

Well, perhaps not all.

There was always the issue of Who I Am.

That I always kept my back to.

Door firmly closed.  Locked.  Multiple times.

No entry.

No exit.

But it has only been very recently, now an old lady with gray hair and achy knees, that I realized the real problem of being a mystic in the world.

The most important relationship I have had in my life is with someone, something that doesn’t exist in a tangible way.

There is no impatience.  No lost temper.  No misunderstandings.  No woundings.

Just persistency and consistency on his side.

And stridency and lowered horns on mine.

Yes, we tussled.  But it was done in silence.  In safety.

In time.

Things would be resolved in time.

Most things, anyway.

And there was the 100% absolute proving, day after day, how completely ignorant I am.  How slow to learn anything.  How fully human.

Yet not part of humanity.

Not really.

That’s the problem.

I’m having to learn, awkwardly, always awkwardly, that I can be right about things.  With other people.

That I can assert myself, be disagreed with, and still keep on succeeding with what I want to get done.

I’m not the child on the lap.  I’m not the one given these immense graces.

I’m a person who can do this and that.  Perhaps good at some things.  Horrible at others.

But that’s the problem.

I have known all my life that I can trust God.  That I can rely on him to be there.  Even in the silence.  That I have ways to get things done with him.

And I’m learning only now in my life that perhaps there is a person that I can trust on Earth the way I trust God.

It’s not an easy lesson for me, studying mankind instead of God.

It’s very, very difficult in fact.

Not that I ever didn’t complain about how hard certain lessons were.  But this study of mankind has its own challenges.  Very unlike what it is like to study God.

Because God is everything.

And we are not.

We have edges and corners and decayed walls that form barriers.  While God is infinite, we are only infinite in our smallness.  In our unlikeness to God.

And yet, there is light here and there.

Light that we have God in us.

And how is that for a study?

In the form of man, there is God.

Somehow.  Somewhere.

We can reach out of our littleness and touch.

We can heal another person.

We can help another person.

We can save another person.

We can love another person.

And that’s the problem with being a mystic.

I have to stop now and learn to reach out to others as God reaches out to us. 

I have to learn to be me on Earth.


PRAYER: The Prayer Of Oneself, by Edward M. Hays

From Secular Sanctity

This is a story about the Our Father.  As all stories seem to do, it begins many years ago in happy days.  In that time, the Our Father lived a comfortable, religious life.  He prayed at rosary wakes and was present at both morning and evening prayers.  It seemed that he was a perpetual prayer at the times of confessional penance where he usually appeared in sets of three: “Say three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers.”  He was always an important part of every Mass, whether he was recited or sung.  His prayer in Latin rang out strong, “Pater noster, qui es in caelis….”  Many years ago, he was secure and comfortable, and the Our Father was at peace with his spiritual life.  Then came the mid-sixties and its great ground-swell of change.  For the past ten years or so, he had begun to experience feelings of doubt about his prayer life.  A sense of hollowness and a lack of meaning had become like a shadow that followed him each time he went to pray.  Whatever the reason, he now began to pray from a sense of obligation.  It was his duty, his responsibility, to pray, but deep within his heart he knew that this could not be a true motive for long.  Since at heart he was a deeply spiritual person, he decided that something must be done about his problem with prayer!

He began by reading books on “How to Pray.”  He read articles and attended conferences – but without success.  He made a 30-day Jesuit-directed retreat.  While it was an excellent experience, at the end of the 30 days he felt that he still had his problems.  Next, he became a member of a Charismatic Prayer Group.  He was baptized in the Spirit and even received the gift of tongues; yet it seemed that his prayer life was incomplete.  Since the hollowness remained, he now sought out an Indian Guru and became his devoted disciple.  Hours on end he would sit in the lotus position and meditate.  He stopped eating meat and learned yoga.  While feeling a sense of peacefulness in life, he still felt incomplete whenever he went to prayer.

His search for meaning in prayer expanded as he made a Marriage Encounter and then a Cursillo Weekend.  These were all to no purpose, as his prayer life remained as barren as the Sahara.  So in frustration, like so many others, he completely abandoned praying and became involved in social reform.  He marched with the Farm Workers, with Women’s Rights groups and joined ecologists at sit-ins at nuclear powerplants.

While doing good and feeling needed, his emptiness at prayer was still part of him.  After having tried so many different methods, he finally gave up on methods and simply retreated to the Rocky Mountains.  There in a lonely cabin he lived for a year in solitude as a hermit.

The year of solitude came to an end and he began his journey on foot down the mountain.  He was aware that his problem with prayer, like a shadow, was still with him, and a great sadness filled his heart.  Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke overhead and the rain began to descend like a river.  Seeking to escape the downfall, he sought shelter in an old mountain cabin.  The cabin was perched on a giant rock beside a roaring mountain stream.  It was pale grey with age and in the doorway stood an equally aged old man.  The cabin and the man’s clothing indicated that he had not found any gold or silver, but his eyes danced with an inner light that revealed he had found a more valuable treasure.  The old man welcomed the wet and dripping stranger into his cabin.

The rain-soaked clothing was hanging on the back of a three-legged chair that stood by the wood-burning stove.  As he sipped a cup of tea and warmed himself by the stove, the stranger decided that he would share his story of frustration with the old man.  He told the old mountain man of his numerous attempts to find a way to pray, his futile attempts at various methods, and even his long years in solitude.  At the end of the story, the old man said, “I didn’t catch your name, stranger.”  “My name is, ‘Our Father,’ although some call me, ‘The Lord’s Prayer.'”  The old man arched his eyebrows like a roller coaster and said, “Why, son, you are prayer.  You don’t have to learn how to pray.  You simply have to be who you are!”

And he continued, “I am a prospector and my trade is to look for gold.  But I have learned that there are many kinds of gold.  Things like wisdom and truth, as well as those little pieces of yellow rock, are kinds of gold.  For the past thirty years, I have searched for gold in that mountain stream out there, and I have also searched in those.”  With that, he pointed to the other end of the cabin.  From the floor to the ceiling there were shelves upon shelves of books.  There were books of all sizes and shapes.  The old man stood up from his chair by the fire and walked over to the book-lined wall.  With care he took down a large, leather-bound volume with a faded letter “A” on its binding.  He carried the book back to the stove and opened it to a certain page.  He handed it to the man and said, “Here read this.  Perhaps your problem is not one of method, but rather it is something else.”

As the rain drummed away on the cabin roof, the weary pilgrim of prayer read, “Aphasis: one of the most serious problems of speech resulting from brain damage or inadequate functioning of the nervous system.  This illness shows itself in persons who are unable to speak.  The person knows the words he wants to say but cannot negotiate them in speech.  Such a person is said to be word-deaf.  Aphasia as an illness is caused by an injury to the head.  This injury can be a blow or a fall, or perhaps a brain tumor or stroke.  The illness can also be congenital.”  He closed the book and look perplexed as he handed it back again to the old man.

“You are prayer,” said the old prospector.  “You are a special and a sacred word of God made flesh.  To pronounce your own unique word is to pray the most beautiful, if not holiest, of prayers.  You are like the other victims of aphasia.  You suffer from the inability to pronounce yourself – to make flesh your own word!  Don’t feel bad; it is a worldwide sickness and an ancient disease caused by a “fall.”  In you, like all the others, it is congenital and passed on at birth.”

The old man rose from his chair and poured his guest another cup of tea and continued, “The first word of God made flesh was creation.  God said, ‘sun,’ and it became flesh – real.  And so on with moon, stars, trees, flowers; they became living prayers.  Then God thought a most beautiful thought.  God spoke the word and the word became flesh – Adam and Eve.  They became God’s first human prayers made flesh.  But then there came this ‘fall,’ this original injury that has been passed down from generation to generation.  People became unable to pronounce their own word.  They were and they are – word-deaf.

“God doesn’t create things; God only creates prayers.  Men, women, bugs, grass, birds, and flowers are created prayers of God.  All of them, each of them, are inspirations of God made flesh or feather or fin.  To learn how to pray is not to learn new and poetic words.  To learn how to pray is to learn how to pronounce your own sacred word – to speak yourself!  To learn to pray is not to learn some method.  It is to know who you are and to be who you are supposed to be.  For example, Jesus was a prayerful man, not because he prayed prayers which he did, but because he was a prayer!  Jesus was true to the Word that came from his Father, the Word that was himself.  In being faithful to who he was supposed to be, he found a cure for the ancient sickness of aphasia.  That cure lies in speech therapy and in being true to his word and to your word.  Remember, he said, ‘Anyone who loves me will be true to my word.'”

There was silence in the old cabin as the stranger thought about what had been said by the old man.  Finally he spoke: “I understand, I think, but how do I cure myself of this aphasia?”  The old man twisted his white beard in his fingertips and said, “First, you must learn to be quiet both outside and inside.  There is so much shouting today and so much noise that folks cannot hear their own special unique words.  Everybody seems to be shouting who you should be so loudly that it is difficult to hear for yourself your own special word.  A million star-years ago, God whispered in the soul of everyone a sacred and unique word.  It continues to vibrate, but oh so softly, so softly!  Therefore, your speech therapy must begin with the therapy of no speech – of silence.  For only if you are quiet will you hear your own word that resounds within you.  You must find quiet places and learn how to be quiet within if you wish to hear your special word.

“The next part of your therapy is learning how to pronounce the word once you hear it.  That is the difficult part of the cure, being true to your special personality.  You can begin by being grateful for yourself.  You must be deeply thankful that you exist, that the Earth is more beautiful, simply by your presence.  This part of the cure is most important.  You must see yourself as you are – beautiful and good.  Everything about the original you is to be seen as good.  God does not have bad ideas!”

At this point the old man was leaning closer to his guest.  His voice was filled with enthusiasm.  “What I mean, stranger, is that you must be able to see everything about you as good – your shyness, your intelligence, your creativity, your physical size, the tone of your voice, the shape of your nose, and even your baldness.  There must be no apologies or regrets.  You must not wish to be that word or this word, but rather totally accept and be grateful for that unique word of God which is flesh in you!  This is a most important part of the cure, for unless you can begin to embrace and be thankful for the word of God made flesh in you, you can never be true to it.  You will engage in that destructive wishing of desiring to some other word.”

Again, there was silence in the small cabin.  Outside the rain seemed to have stopped, but they grey clouds hung low over the tree tops and thunder rumbled on the other side of the mountain.  The old prospector rocked back and forth slowly in his old chair as he watched the face of his guest.  Once again, the old man began to speak, “But if you wish to be true to your word, you will have to be strong.  Otherwise you will betray your word in the face of the threats and pressures of society.  To be true to yourself and who you are supposed to be is perhaps the ultimate responsibility we each have to bear in life.  If God has entrusted us with a creative and unique gift and if it is God’s will that we be that special word, then we must summon all the power we have to not be forced into some common mold.  Speak your own word loudly and with dignity.  That is what it means to submit to the will of God.  To do the ‘Will of God’ and to pronounce your own special word, your own special self, is pure prayer.  It is also how we pray always, day and night.

“Once you know these things that I have spoken, know them not with your head but with your heart.  Then you can read any book and it will be a holy book.  Then you can sing any song and it will be a sacred song.  For when you are true to your special word and when you are also true to his word, then what Jesus said will be true in your life – that he and the Father will come and make their dwelling place with you, always!  Then you don’t go to church, you are Church.  Then you don’t receive the sacraments, you are Sacrament!”

Having said that, the old, white-bearded man was silent.  He closed his eyes and rocked silently in his chair.  The rain had stopped and now the sun in yellow ribbons fell between the dripping branches of the green pine trees.  The guest rose and began to put on his dried clothing.  For a long time he stood before the tall Victorian mirror that hung by the cabin door.  He stood there in silence looking at himself in that old milk-edged mirror for minutes, or maybe it was for hours.  He had no way of knowing how  long he had stood there.  A profound sense of peace and an abiding sense of communion with God came upon him.  It was a peace that was never to leave him again.  Still standing in front of the old mirror, he began to speak with conviction and profound prayerfulness: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done.”

PRAYER: I Would Like To Rise Very High, by Michel Quoist

From Prayers

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly realms.  In Christ he chose us before the world was founded, to be dedicated, to be without blemish in his sight, to be full of love; and he destined us – such was his will and pleasure – to be accepted as his sons through Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-5)

He has made known to us his hidden purpose – such was his will and pleasure determined beforehand in Christ – to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, all in Heaven and on Earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

I would like to rise very high, Lord;
Above my city,
Above the world,
Above time.
I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.

I would then see the universe, humanity, history, as the Father sees them.
I would see in the prodigious transformation of matter,
In the perpetual seething of life,
Your great Body that is born of the breath of the Spirit.
I would see the beautiful, the eternal thought of your Father’s Love taking form, step by step:
Everything summed up in you, things on Earth and things in Heaven.
And I would see that today, like yesterday, the most minute details are part of it.
Every man in his place,
Every group
And every object.
I would see a factory, a theater, a collective-bargaining session and the construction of a fountain.
I would see a crowd of  youngsters going to a dance,
A baby being born, and an old man dying.
I would see the tiniest particle of matter and the smallest throbbing of life,
Love and hate,
Sin and grace.
Startled, I would understand that the great adventure of love, which started at the beginning of the
world, is unfolding before me,
The divine story which, according to your promise, will be completed only in glory after the
resurrection of the flesh,
When you will come before the Father, saying: All is accomplished. I am Alpha and Omega, the
Beginning and the End.
I would understand that everything is linked together,
That all is but a single movement of the whole of humanity and of the whole universe toward the
Trinity, in you, by you, Lord.
I would understand that nothing is secular, neither things, nor people, nor events.
But that, on the contrary, everything has been made sacred in its origin in God
And that everything must be consecrated by man, who has himself been made divine.
I would understand that my life, an imperceptible breath in this great whole,
Is an indispensable treasure in the Father’s plan.
Then, falling on my knees, I would admire, Lord, the mystery of this world
Which, in spite of the innumerable and hateful snags of sin,
Is a long throb of love towards Love eternal.

I would like to rise very high, Lord,
Above my city,
Above the world,
Above time.
I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.