On Cleaving to God

The reading for 4/12/17’s Ex Libris is an excerpt from On Cleaving to God by St. Albert the Great (though it’s said that others have contributed to this body of work, too).

Chapters 9-12 Cleaving to God by St. Albert the Great (and others)

http://www.catholicfirst.com/thefaith/catholicclassics/stalbertthegreat/cleavingtogod.html

Chapter 9: How much the contemplation of God is to be preferred to all other exercises

Now since all things other than God are the effect and work of the Creator himself, their having ability and being is a limited power and existence, and being as they are created out of nothing, they are circumscribed by the effects of their nothingness, while their tendency of themselves towards nothingness means that we receive our existence, preservation and activity moment by moment from the Creator himself, along with whatever other qualities created things may have, just as we receive their insufficiency to any action of themselves, both with regard to themselves and to others, in relation to him whose operation they are, they remain as a nothing before something which exists, and as something finite before what is infinite. For this reason let all our actual contemplation, life and activity take place in him alone, about him, for him and towards him who is able and capable to produce with a single nod of his will things infinitely more perfect than any that exist now.

No contemplation and fruition of love, whether intellectual or affective, is more useful, more perfect and more satisfying than that which is of God himself, the Creator, our supreme and true Good, from whom, through whom and to whom are all things. He is infinitely satisfying both to himself and to all others, who contains within himself in absolute simplicity and from all eternity the perfection of all things, in whom there is nothing which is not himself, before whom and through whom remain the causes of all things impermanent, and in whom dwell the unchanging origins of all changing things, while even the eternal reasons of all temporal things, rational and irrational, abide in him. He brings everything to completion, and fills all things, in general and in particular, completely and essentially with himself. He is more intimately and more really present to everything by his being than each thing is to itself, for in him all things are united together, and live in him eternally.

What is more, if someone, out of weakness or from lack of intellectual practice, is detained longer in the contemplation of created things, this supreme, true and fruitful contemplation may still be seen as possible for mortal man, so that there may take place an upward leap in all his contemplations and meditations, whether about created things or the Creator, and the appreciation of God the Creator himself, the One and Three, may surge up with in so that he come to burn with the fire of divine love and the true life in himself and in others, in such a way as to make him deserving of the joy of eternal life.

Even in this one should bear in mind the difference between the contemplation of faithful Catholics and that of pagan philosophers, for the contemplation of the philosophers is for the perfection of the contemplator himself, and consequently it is confined to the intellect and their aim in it is intellectual knowledge. But the contemplation of the Saints, and of Catholics, is for the love of him, that is of the God they are contemplating. As a result it is not confined in the final analysis to the intellect in knowledge, but crosses over into the will through love. That is why the Saints in their contemplation have the love of God as their principal aim, since it is more satisfying to know and possess even the Lord Jesus Christ spiritually through grace than physically or even really but without grace.

Furthermore, while the soul is withdrawn from everything and is turned within, the eye of contemplation is opened and sets itself up a ladder by which it can pass to the contemplation of God. By this contemplation the soul is set on fire for eternal things by the heavenly and divine good things it experiences, and views all the things of time from a distance and as if they were nothing. Hence when we approach God by the way of negation, we first deny him everything that can be experienced by the body, the senses and the imagination, secondly even things experienceable by the intellect, and finally even being itself in so far as it is found in created things. This, so far as the nature of the way is concerned, is the best means of union with God, according to Dionysius. And this is the cloud in which God is said to dwell, which Moses entered, and through this came to the inaccessible light. Certainly, it is not the spiritual which comes first, but the natural, (1 Corinthians 15.46) so one must proceed by the usual order of things, from active work to the quiet of contemplation, and from moral virtues to spiritual and contemplative realities.

Finally, my soul, why are you uselessly preoccupied with so many things, and always busy with them? Seek out and love the one supreme good, in which is all that is worth seeking, and that will be enough for you. Unhappy therefore is he who knows and possesses everything other than this, and does not know this. While if he knows everything as well as this, it is not from knowing them that he is better off but because of This. That is why John says, This is eternal life, to know Thee,etc. (John 17.3) and the prophet says, I will be satisfied when your glory becomes manifest. (Psalm 17.15)

Chapter 10: That one should not be concerned about feeling tangible devotion so much as about cleaving to God with one’s will

Furthermore you should not be much concerned about tangible devotion, the experience of sweetness or tears, but rather that you should be mentally united with God within yourself by a good will in your intellect. For what pleases God above everything is a mind free from imaginations, that is images, ideas and the representations of created things. It befits a monk to be indifferent to everything created so that he can turn easily and barely to God alone within himself, be empty for him and cleave to him. For this reason deny yourself so that you can follow Christ, the Lord your God, in nakedness, who was himself poor, obedient, chaste, humble and suffering, and in whose life and death many were scandalised, as is clear from the Gospel accounts.

After all, a soul which is separated from the body pays no attention to what is done to its abandoned body – whether it is burned, hanged, or reviled, and is in no way saddened by the afflictions imposed on the body, but thinks only of the Now of eternity and the One Thing which the Lord calls necessary in the Gospel. So you too should treat your body as if you were no longer in the body, but think always of the eternity of your soul in God, and direct your thoughts carefully to that One Thing of which Christ said, For one thing is necessary. (Luke 10.42) You will experience because of it great grace, helping you towards the acquisition of nakedness of mind and simplicity of heart.

Indeed this One Thing is very much present with you if you have made yourself bare of imaginations and all other entanglements, and you will soon experience that this is so – namely when you can be empty and cleave to God with a naked and resolute mind. In this way you will remain unconquered in whatever may be inflicted on you, like the holy martyrs, fathers, the elect, and indeed all the saints who despised everything and only thought of their souls’ security and eternity in God. Armed in this way within, and united to God through a good will, they spurned everything of the world as if their souls were already separated from their bodies.

Consider from this how much a good will united with God is capable of, when by means of its pressing towards God the soul is effectively separated the body in spirit and looks on its outward man as it were from a distance, and as not belonging to it. In this way it despises everything that is inflicted on itself or on its flesh as if they were happening to someone else, or not to a human being at all. For He that is united with the Lord is one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 6.17) that is with him. So you should never dare to think or imagine anything before the Lord your God that you would blush to be heard or seen in before men, since your respect for God should be even greater than for them.

It is a matter of justice in fact that all your thoughts and thinking should be raised to God alone, and the highest point of your mind should only be directed to him as if nothing existed but him, and holding to him may enjoy the perfect beginning of the life to come.

Chapter 11: How one should resist temptations and bear trials

Now there is no one who approaches God with a true and upright heart who is not tested by hardships and temptations. So in all these temptations see to it that even if you feel them, you do not consent to them, but bear them patiently and calmly with humility and long suffering. Even if they are blasphemies and sordid, hold firmly on to this fact in everything, that you can do nothing better or more effective against them than to consider all this sort of fantasy as a nothing. Even if they are the most vile, sordid and horrible blasphemies, simply take no notice of them, count them as nothing and despise them. Don’t look on them as yours or allow yourself to make them a matter of conscience. The enemy will certainly take flight if you treat him and his company with contempt in this way. He is very proud and cannot bear to be despised and spurned. So the best remedy is to completely ignore all such temptations, like flies flying around in front of your eyes against your will.

The servant of Jesus Christ must see to it that he is not so easily forced to withdraw from the face of the Lord and to be annoyed, murmur and complain over the nuisance of a single fly, that is, a trivial temptation, suspicion, sadness, distraction, need or any such adversity, when they can all be put to flight with no more than the hand of a good will directed up to God. After all, through a good will a man has God as his defender, and the holy angels as his guardians and protectors. What is more, any temptation can be overcome by a good will too, like a fly driven away from a bald head by one’s hand.

So peace is for men of good will. Indeed we can offer God nothing more valuable than a good will, since a good will in the soul is the source of all good things, and the mother of all virtues. If anyone is beginning to possess that good will, he undoubtedly has what is necessary for leading a good life. For if you want what is good, but cannot do it, God will make good the deed.

For it is in accordance with this eternal law that God has established with irrevocable firmness that deserts should be a matter of the will, whether in bliss or torment, reward or punishment. Love itself is a great will to serve God, a sweet desire to please God, and a fervent wish to experience God. What is more, to be tempted is not a sin, but the opportunity for exercising virtue, so that temptation can be greatly to a man’s benefit, since it is held that the whole of a man’s life on earth is a testing. (Job 7.1)

Chapter 12: How powerful the love of God is

All that is said above and whatever is necessary for salvation cannot be better, more immediately and more securely achieved than by love, through which whatever is lacking of what is necessary for salvation can be made good. In love we possess the fullness of all good and the realisation of our highest longing is nor denied us. After all it is love alone by which we turn back to God, are changed into God, cleave to God, and are united to God in such a way that we become one spirit with him, and are by him and through him made blessed here by grace and hereafter in glory. Now love is such that it cannot rest except in the beloved, but it does when it wins the beloved in full and peaceful possession. For love, which itself is charity, is the way of God to men and the way of man to God. God cannot house where there is no love. So if we have love, we have God, for God is love. Furthermore nothing is sharper than love, nothing is more subtle, nothing more penetrating. It will not rest until it has by its very nature penetrated the whole power, the depth and the totality of the loved one. It wants to make itself one with the beloved, and itself, if it were possible, to be what the beloved is too. Thus it cannot bear that anything should stand between itself and the beloved object, which is God, but pressed eagerly towards him. As a result it never rests until it has left everything else behind and come to him alone.

For the nature of love is of a unitive and transforming power which transforms the lover into what he loves, or alternatively, makes the lover one with the other, and vice versa, in so far as is possible. This is manifest in the first place with regard to the mental powers, depending on how much the beloved is in the lover, in other words depending on how sweetly and delightfully the beloved is recalled in the mind of the lover, and in direct proportion, that is, with how much the lover strives to grasp all the things that relate to the beloved not just superficially but intimately, and to enter, as it were, into his innermost secrets. It is also manifest with regard to the emotional and affective powers when the beloved is said to be in the lover, in other words when the desire to please the beloved is found in the will and established within by the happy enjoyment of him. Alternatively, the lover is in the beloved when he is united with him by all his desire and compliance in agreement with the beloved’s willing and not willing, and finds his own pleasure and pain in that of the beloved. For love draws the lover out of himself (since love is strong as death), and establishes him in the beloved, causing him to cleave closely to him. For the soul is more where it loves than where it lives, since it is in what it loves in accordance with its very nature, understanding and will, while it is in where it lives only with regard to form, which is even true for animals as well.

There is nothing therefore which draws us away from the exterior senses to within ourselves, and from there to Jesus Christ and things divine, more than the love of Christ and the desire for the sweetness of Christ, for the experience, awareness and enjoyment of the presence of Christ’s divinity. For there is nothing but the power of love which can lead the soul from the things of earth to the lofty summit of heaven. Nor can anyone attain the supreme beatitude unless summoned to it by love and yearning. Love after all is the life of the soul, the wedding garment and the soul’s perfection, containing all the law and the prophets and our Lord’s teaching. That is why Paul says to the Romans, Love is the fulfilling of the law, (Rom. 13.8) and in the first letter to Timothy, The end of the commandment is love. (1 Timothy 1.5)

Advertisements

Excerpts from Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, SJ

The reading we’ll be discussing on Wednesday is a slight departure from our usual texts, but still about saints, and still awesome 🙂

Download a printable copy here, or check out the passages below.

Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints
by James Martin, SJ – excerpts from Chapter 7: All Saints

The most important spiritual insight I’ve learned since entering the Jesuits is that God calls each of us to be who we are. “For me to be a saint means for me to be myself,” said Thomas Merton…  When I was studying theology, our Jesuit community had a small poster hanging in our living room that offered this little saying about four great founders of religious orders:

Bernardus valles,
Colles Benedictus amavit,
Oppida Franciscus,
Magnas Ignatius urbes.

That is:

Bernard loved the valleys,
Benedict the hills,
Francis the small towns
And Ignatius the great cities.

Each of these four saints found his home in a place suited to his likes and desires, and so was moved to accomplish his own particular task. Their individual desires shaped their vocations. Ignatius Loyola, for example, the founder of the Jesuits, would probably have felt his ambitious plans stymied in a small town. And Francis of Assisi, the apostle of the poor, would certainly have gone crazy trying to run a large religious order from a busy office in Rome!

God awakens our vocations primarily through our desires. A man and woman, for examples, come together in love out of desire and so discover their vocation as a married couple. Out of desire, a husband and wife create a child, and discover their vocation as parents in this way. Desire works in a similar way in the lives of the saints, drawing them to certain types of works, giving rise to special vocations and leading to particular styles of holiness. Henri Nouwen became a priest because he desired it. Therese of Lisieux entered the convent because she desired it. Dorothy Day entered the Catholic Church because she desired it. Ultimately, one’s deepest desires lead to God and the fulfillment of God’s desires for the world.

That insight lies behind one of my favorite passages in The Seven Storey Mountain. Shortly after his baptism, Thomas Merton is speaking with his good friend Bob Lax. Merton tells his friend he wants to be a good Catholic. “What you should say,” says his friend in reply, “is that you want to be a saint.” Merton tells the rest of the story:

A saint? The thought struck me as a little weird. I said:
“How do you expect me to become a saint?”
“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply… “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe God will make you what He created you to be, if you consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

The next day Merton speaks with his mentor, Mark Van Doren, the esteemed professor of English at Columbia University, and mentions his confusing conversation. Van Doren’s response is both direct and disarming.

“Lax is going around telling everyone that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to become one.” “Of course,” said Mark.

Following these individual desires and inclinations led each of the saints to a distinctive type of holiness. As Thomas Aquinas, the great thirteenth-century theologian said, grace builds on nature. Ignatius Loyola ended a military career in sixteenth-century Spain to follow God, while Joan of Arc began one in fifteenth-century France. Dorothy Day founded a newspaper to spread the Gospel, while Bernadette Soubirous, the famous visionary of Lourdes, shrank in horror from the idea of her story being publicized in the press. Thomas Aquinas spent his life surrounded by books, while Francis of Assisi told his friars not to own even one lest they become too proud. The multiplicity of desires leads to a multiplicity of paths to God.

But here’s an important point: even the saints and holy persons faced difficult and often painful challenges before realizing their own brand of holiness. Some struggled for a long time before they truly understood their own vocation. Thomas Merton, as I mentioned, spent years trying to cast off the “bandages” of his false self before he could begin living as his true self. Henri Nouwen did not find his place among the disabled at L’Arche, did not find his home, until the age of fifty-four.

Some of the saints faced seemingly insurmountable odds even after they embraced their vocations: Aloysius Gonzaga, though he was sure about his Jesuit vocation, had first to convince his father, a powerful nobleman, who initially threatened to have him flogged for wanting to join the Jesuits. The mother of Thomas Aquinas sent her other sons in pursuit of Thomas to prevent him from joining the Dominicans. Waylaying him on the road one day, they captured Thomas and forcibly returned him to his family, who had him imprisoned in the family castle for two years, hoping that he would change his mind. (He didn’t.)

There are also a surprising number of stories from the lives of the saints that show that some of their deepest desires were frustrated. That is, they seemed prevented from becoming who they wanted to be. After her famous visions at the Grotto of Lourdes in 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, who had wanted to continue her old life as a shepherdess, was more or less pushed into a convent by her otherwise well-meaning pastor. (The idea that a future saint would want to be a shepherdess — and worse, possibly married — was anathema to the religious people of the day.) A few years later, in her Carmelite convent, Therese of Lisieux confessed her ardent desire for ordination to the priesthood in her book, Story of a Soul: “I feel in me the vocation of the priest,” she wrote. This, of course, was something that would not occur in her lifetime. And Thomas Merton had to face the continual frustration of not having the opportunity for more solitude, until the end of his life, when he was granted permission to become a hermit on the grounds of the abbey.

In other words, finding one’s true self can be a long, arduous, and even confusing journey.

Still, throughout these painful spiritual trials, these men and women continued to pray over the ways that God was calling them to be themselves, even in the midst the frustrations and roadblocks that life put in front of them. Not able to be a priest, Therese grew in holiness. Not able to marry, Bernadette still grew in holiness. Not able to have the solitude he craved, Merton still grew in holiness. In the midst of their disappointments, God still enabled them to move closer to their true selves.

At this point you still may be thinking, “Well, I’m not like any of the people just mentioned. I’m neither a social activist like Dorothy Day, nor a contemplative like Thomas Merton, nor a writer like Henri Nouwen, nor a founder of a religious order like Mother Teresa, nor a visionary leader like Bernadette Soubirous. Holiness is beyond me. My true self is not meant for sanctity.”

I disagree. I believe that sanctity is God’s goal for all of us, our telos, our endpoint. As Mother Teresa said, “Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone’s duty: yours and mine.” That’s pretty abstract, so let’s make things more concrete.

Despite the recent emphasis on every person’s call to holiness, many Christians, I would wager, still believe that sanctity is reserved only for people who are long dead, like Peter or Mary Magdalene, or the professionally religious person, like Henri Nouwen or Therese of Lisieux or Thomas Merton. Or those who die for their faith, like early Christian martyrs. Or maybe, just maybe, the extraordinary layperson, like the parent who dedicates his or her entire life to caring for the poor, like Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche movement. But the idea of the holy person in everyday life still strikes many people as strange.

Let’s say that you’re a young married woman with two little children, ages four and six. When the alarm clock jolts you awake in the early morning, you realize that you’re still weary from the day before. As usual, your two children are already awake. One is crying her eyes out because she’s had a bad dream. Your other child is already calling for a drink of water, and for his favorite stuffed animal, which he tossed out of his bed last night. And let’s say that your husband is away on a business trip, and can’t help you with the kids that morning. Let’s also say that you have a job outside the home as well, and have to make breakfast and get the kids ready for school, before leaving for another hectic day at your office.

As you lie in bed for a few seconds, staring at the ceiling, you think about all the things you have to do for your family today, all of the things you have to do for your boss at the office, and none of the things you can do for yourself. You wonder how you’ll be able to accomplish even half of what you need to do today. Sometimes, during these early-morning moments, you lament the fact that you don’t have time for things like prayer or meditation. You wish you lived a holier life, a more religious life. Recently you read a magazine article about your favorite contemporary saint, Mother Teresa. You say to yourself, sadly, “I’ll never be like her.” But that’s the problem. You’re not meant to be Mother Teresa, you’re meant to be yourself.

Here’s where Merton’s description of the true self and false self is particularly useful. As I have mentioned, the false self is the person that we present to the world, the one that we think will be pleasing to others: attractive, confident, successful. The true self, on the other hand, is the person that we are before God. Sanctity consists in discovering who that person is and striving to become that person.

In other words, the working mother is not meant to be Mother Teresa. She is meant to be a woman who loves her children, loves her husband, loves her friends and coworkers, and finds meaning in her own world. She is meant to experience the presence of God in her life and in the lives of the people with whom she lives and works. Sometimes this means doing big things with love, like raising children. And sometimes it means doing smaller things with love. (Therese of Lisieux called this the “Little Way.”) For the young working mother, this could mean, for example, keeping a lid on her temper at work or at home (no matter how justified it may be to lose her temper).

Part of this process means that this young woman has to let go of her desire to be someone else. Because, in reality, she might be lousy at the type of work that Mother Teresa did. But, just to underline the point, Mother Teresa might have been lousy at the work that this working mother is doing!

Saint Francis de Sales, the sixteenth-century bishop of Geneva, touched on this idea in his book The Introduction to the Devout Life, when he reflected on the ways that people from different walks of life experience the transcendent.

When God the Creator made all things, He commanded the plants to bring forth fruit according to its own kind. He has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion… in accord with their characters, their stations and their callings… Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

Thomas Merton took this one step further. He believed that the person engaged in the “active” life, that is, the laborer or parent or student or caregiver, could lead lives that were in fact more holy, more devout, and more sanctified than those of “professionally religious” people, like the cloistered monk or nun. Merton proposed this in a posthumously published book, The Inner Experience, in an essay entitled “Kinds of Contemplation.”

These are many Christians who serve God with great purity of soul and perfect self-sacrifice in the active life… They know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labors in which they are able to remain in His presence all day long… They lead lives of great simplicity in which they do not need to rise above the ordinary levels of vocal and affective prayer. Without realizing it, their extremely simple prayer is, for them, so deep and interior that it bring them to the threshold of contemplation. Such Christians… may reach a higher degree of sanctity than other who have been apparently favored with deeper inner life.

Merton calls these men and women “hidden contemplatives” who enjoy a kind of “masked contemplation.” Their ability to do so hinges on their willingness to find God not by trying to be cloistered monks, but by discovering the divine spark in their own busy lives.

God’s invitation to live out our individuals vocations is part of what makes the world so marvelously rich. “How gloriously different are the saints!” wrote the English writer C.S. Lewis. The problem comes when we begin to believe that we have to be someone else to be holy. We use someone else’s map to heaven when God has already planted in our soul all the directions we need. In that way, we ignore our own call to sanctity. When admirers used to visit Calcutta to see Mother Teresa, she would tell many of them, “Find your own Calcutta.” In other words, bloom where you are planted. Discover sanctity in your own life.

This is not to say that we aren’t called to emulate the saints or, more to the point, Jesus. Reading the Gospels and the lives of the saints are terrific ways of discovering new paths to holiness. That is part of the discovery process that Merton speaks of: finding yourself within God’s conception of yourself. Through prayer and conversation and reading, the working mother gradually finds herself, thanks to God’s grace, growing closer to the person she is meant to be. But she is not meant to become Mother Teresa. She is meant to become herself.

At the heart of this is accepting who you are before God. “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” in the words of Psalm 139. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (13-14). The beginning of sanctity is loving yourself as a creation of God. And that means all of yourself, even the parts that you wish weren’t there, the parts that you wish God hadn’t made, the parts that you lament. God loves us like a parent loves a child — often more for the parts of the child that are weaker or where the child struggles or falters. More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God.

“So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,” wrote Saint Paul, “so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10).

The notion that everyone is called to be a saint has profound implications for daily life. An acceptance of what the Second Vatican Council called the “universal call to holiness” can imbue even the quietest moments of one’s life with a special grace. In a beautiful essay called “Sacraments,” the American writer Andre Dubus reflects on encountering the holid in his daily life. The author, who died in 1998, had lost the use of both of his legs in an accident that occurred when he was a middle-aged man. One dark night he was standing by the side of a highway, helping a person whose car had broken down, when he was struck by another automobile.

In his essay, Dubus, a devout Catholic, describes the laborious process of making sandwiches for his young daughter to carry with them to school. As he maneuvers his large, bulky wheelchair around his cramped kitchen, as he reaches for the utensils, as he tries to open cabinet doors from his awkward position, and as he cuts the sandwiches, he realizes what he is doing for his children.

Each moment is a sacrament, this holding of plastic bags, of knives, of bread, of cutting board, this pushing of the chair, this spreading of mustard on bread, this trimming of liverwurst, of ham. All sacraments…

And he grasps the need for an awareness of this reality.

If I remember it, then I feel it, too.

The universal call to holiness is an invitation to be ourselves. It’s also an invitation to remember the sacramentality of everyday life and to realize the great goal that God has set for us: sanctity. It is what the saints came to realize, sometimes all at once, sometimes over the course of many years, whether they were born in first-century Palestine like Peter or in twentieth-century America like Dorothy Day. Whether they lived in a quiet cloistered monastery like Therese of Lisieux, or in the grand papal palace like Pope John XXIII. Whether they wrote rafts of books like Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen, or left us with only a handful of their words, like Bernadette Soubirous. Whether they worked alongside the poorest of the poor in Calcutta like Mother Teresa, or with the plague victims in Rome like Aloysius Gonzaga.

Perhaps more to the point, the call to holiness comes whether we work in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan or as a housewife in a small house in Iowa. Whether we are caring for a sick child late at night or preparing a church dinner for hundreds of homeless men and women. Whether we are listening to a friend tell her problems over a cup of coffee or slogging late hours at work in order to help put our children through school. Whether we are patiently spending long hours listening to people in the confessional in a small church, or spending long hours memorizing our lines for a small part in a big Broadway show. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, straight or gay: all of us are called to our own brand of personal holiness.

2000 World Youth Day Prayer Vigil Address by St. John Paul II

Happy New Year! We’re kicking 2017 off with a classic for Ex Libris 🙂 Enjoy and see you this Wednesday at 7PM!

(Printable document can be found here)

1. “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15).

Dear young people, it is with great joy that I meet you again at this Prayer Vigil, during which we wish to listen together to Christ whom we feel present among us. It is he who is speaking to us.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples this question near Caesarea Philippi. Simon Peter answers: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). The Master then turns to him with the surprising words: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17).

What is the meaning of this dialogue? Why does Jesus want to know what people think about him? Why does he want to know what his disciples think about him?

Jesus wants his disciples to become aware of what is hidden in their own minds and hearts and to give voice to their conviction. At the same time, however, he knows that the judgment they will express will not be theirs alone, because it will reveal what God has poured into their hearts by the grace of faith.

This event which took place near Caesarea Philippi leads us, in a sense, into the “school of faith”. There the mystery of the origin and development of our faith is disclosed. First there is the grace of revelation: an intimate, ineffable self-giving of God to man. There then follows the call to respond. Finally there comes the human response, a response which from that point on must give meaning and shape to one’s entire life.

This is what faith is all about! It is the response of the rational and free human person to the word of the living God. The questions that Jesus asks, the answers given by the Apostles, and finally by Simon Peter, are a kind of examination on the maturity of the faith of those who are closest to Christ.

2. The conversation near Caesarea Philippi took place during the time leading up to the Passover, that is before Christ’s passion and resurrection. We should also recall another event, when the Risen Christ checked the maturity of faith of his Apostles. This is the meeting with the Apostle Thomas. He was the only one not there when, after the resurrection, Christ came for the first time into the Upper Room. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he would not believe it. He said: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25). A week later, the disciples were gathered together again and Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the closed door, and greeted the Apostles with the words: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:26), and immediately he turned to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (Jn 20:27). Thomas then answered: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The Upper Room in Jerusalem too was a kind of “school of faith” for the Apostles. However, in a sense, what happened to Thomas goes beyond what occurred near Caesarea Philippi. In the Upper Room we see a more radical dialectic of faith and unbelief, and, at the same time, an even deeper confession of the truth about Christ. It was certainly not easy to believe that the One who had been placed in the tomb three days earlier was alive again.

The divine Master had often announced that he would rise from the dead, and in many ways he had shown that he was the Lord of life. Yet the experience of his death was so overwhelming that people needed to meet him directly in order to believe in his resurrection: the Apostles in the Upper Room, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the holy women beside the tomb. . . Thomas too needed it. But when his unbelief was directly confronted by the presence of Christ, the doubting Apostle spoke the words which express the deepest core of faith: If this is the case, if you are truly living despite having been killed, this means that you are “my Lord and my God”.

In what happened to Thomas, the “school of faith” is enriched with a new element. Divine revelation, Jesus’s question and man’s response end in the disciple’s personal encounter with the living Christ, with the Risen One. This encounter is the beginning of a new relationship between each one of us and Christ, a relationship in which each of us comes to the vital realization that Christ is Lord and God; not only the Lord and God of the world and of humanity, but the Lord and God of my own individual human life. One day Saint Paul would write: “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach. Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:8-9).

3. The readings of today’s Liturgy describe the elements of the “school of faith” from which the Apostles emerged as people fully aware of the truth which God had revealed in Jesus Christ, the truth which would shape their personal lives and the life of the Church throughout history. This gathering in Rome, dear young people, is also a kind of “school of faith” for you, the disciples of today; it is the “school of faith” for all who proclaim Christ at the beginning of the Third Millennium.

You can all sense in yourselves the process of questions and answers that we have just been talking about. You can all measure the difficulties you have in believing, and even feel the temptation not to believe. But at the same time you can also experience a slowly maturing sense and conviction of your commitment in faith. In fact, there is always a meeting between God and the human person in this wonderful school of the human spirit, the school of faith. The Risen Christ always enters the Upper Room of our life and allows each of us to experience his presence and to declare: You, O Christ, you are “my Lord and my God”.

Christ said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29). There is something of the Apostle Thomas in every human being. Each one is tempted by unbelief and each one asks the basic questions: Is it true that God exists? Is it true that he created the world? Is it true that the Son of God became man, died and rose from the dead? The answer comes as the person experiences God’s presence. We have to open our eyes and our heart to the light of the Holy Spirit. Then the open wounds of the Risen Christ will speak to each of us: “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”.

4. Dear friends, to believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first Apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the past, that we take a stand for him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the divine Master, to follow “the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev 14:4). It is not by chance, dear young people, that I wanted the witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century to be remembered at the Colosseum during this Holy Year.

Perhaps you will not have to shed your blood, but you will certainly be asked to be faithful to Christ! A faithfulness to be lived in the circumstances of everyday life: I am thinking of how difficult it is in today’s world for engaged couples to be faithful to purity before marriage. I think of how the mutual fidelity of young married couples is put to the test. I think of friendships and how easily the temptation to be disloyal creeps in.

I think also of how those who have chosen the path of special consecration have to struggle to persevere in their dedication to God and to their brothers and sisters. I think of those who want to live a life of solidarity and love in a world where the only things that seem to matter are the logic of profit and one’s personal or group interest.

I think too of those who work for peace and who see new outbreaks of war erupt and grow worse in different parts of the world; I think of those who work for human freedom and see people still slaves of themselves and of one another. I think of those who work to ensure love and respect for human life and who see life so often attacked and the respect due to life so often flouted.

5. Dear young people, in such a world is it hard to believe? Is it hard to believe in the Third Millennium? Yes! It is hard. There is no need to hide it. It is hard, but with the help of grace it can be done, as Jesus explained to Peter: “Neither flesh nor blood has revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17).

This evening I will give you the Gospel. It is the Pope’s gift to you at this unforgettable vigil. The word which it contains is the word of Jesus. If you listen to it in silence, in prayer, seeking help in understanding what it means for your life from the wise counsel of your priests and teachers, then you will meet Christ and you will follow him, spending your lives day by day for him!

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not alone. With you there are your families, there are your communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and through the Lord’s grace are winning!

6. Dear friends, at the dawn of the Third Millennium I see in you the “morning watchmen” (cf. Is 21:11-12). In the course of the century now past young people like you were summoned to huge gatherings to learn the ways of hatred; they were sent to fight against one another. The various godless messianic systems which tried to take the place of Christian hope have shown themselves to be truly horrendous. Today you have come together to declare that in the new century you will not let yourselves be made into tools of violence and destruction; you will defend peace, paying the price in your person if need be. You will not resign yourselves to a world where other human beings die of hunger, remain illiterate and have no work. You will defend life at every moment of its development; you will strive with all your strength to make this earth ever more livable for all people.

Dear young people of the century now beginning, in saying “yes” to Christ, you say “yes” to all your noblest ideals. I pray that he will reign in your hearts and in all of humanity in the new century and the new millennium. Have no fear of entrusting yourselves to him! He will guide you, he will grant you the strength to follow him every day and in every situation.

May Mary most holy, the Virgin who said “yes” to God throughout her whole life, may Saints Peter and Paul and all the Saints who have lighted the Church’s journey down the ages, keep you always faithful to this holy resolve!

To each and every one of you I offer my blessing with affection.

Excerpts from Uniformity with God’s Will by St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Here are two lovely passages from St. Alphonsus de Liguori for Wednesday’s (11/9) Ex Libris session at 7PMA printable version of this reading can be found at tinyurl.com/uniformitywill

Section 2. Uniformity in all things

The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God’s will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God. St. John of Avila used to say: “One ‘Blessed be God’ in times of adversity, is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity.”

Furthermore, we must unite ourselves to God’s will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man—for example, contempt, injustice, loss of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of persecution. On these occasions we must remember that whilst God does not will the sin, he does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be. It is certain and of faith, that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: “I am the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating evil.” From God come all things, good as well as evil. We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God’s hands: “Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord hath not done?” “Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches are from God.”

It is true, when one offends us unjustly, God does not will his sin, nor does he concur in the sinner’s bad will; but God does, in a general way, concur in the material action by which such a one strikes us, robs us or does us an injury, so that God certainly wills the offense we suffer and it comes to us from his hands. Thus the Lord told David he would be the author of those things he would suffer at the hands of Absalom: “I will raise up evils against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy face and give them to thy neighbor.” Hence too God told the Jews that in punishment for their sins, he would send the Assyrians to plunder them and spread destruction among them: “The Assyrian is the rod and staff of my anger . . . I will send him to take away the spoils.” “Assyrian wickedness served as God’s scourge for the Hebrews” is St. Augustine’s comment on this text. And our Lord himself told St. Peter that his sacred passion came not so much from man as from his Father: “The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”

When the messenger came to announce to Job that the Sabeans had plundered his goods and slain his children, he said: “The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away.” He did not say: “The Lord hath given me my children and my possessions, and the Sabeans have taken them away.” He realized that adversity had come upon him by the will of God. Therefore he added: “As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We must not therefore consider the afflictions that come upon us as happening by chance or solely from the malice of men; we should be convinced that what happens, happens by the will of God. Apropos of this it is related that two martyrs, Epictetus and Atho, being put to the torture by having their bodies raked with iron hooks and burnt with flaming torches, kept repeating: “Work thy will upon us, O Lord.” Arrived at the place of execution, they exclaimed: “Eternal God, be thou blessed in that thy will has been entirely accomplished in us.”

Cesarius points up what we have been saying by offering this incident in the life of a certain monk: Externally his religious observance was the same as that of the other monks, but he had attained such sanctity that the mere touch of his garments healed the sick. Marveling at these deeds, since his life was no more exemplary than the lives of the other monks, the superior asked him one day what was the cause of these miracles.

He replied that he too was mystified and was at a loss how to account for such happenings. “What devotions do you practice?” asked the abbot. He answered that there was little or nothing special that he did beyond making a great deal of willing only what God willed, and that God had given him the grace of abandoning his will totally to the will of God.

“Prosperity does not lift me up, nor adversity cast me down,” added the monk. “I direct all my prayers to the end that God’s will may be done fully in me and by me.” “That raid that our enemies made against the monastery the other day, in which our stores were plundered, our granaries put to the torch and our cattle driven off —did not this misfortune cause you any resentment?” queried the abbot.

“No, Father,” came the reply. “On the contrary, I returned thanks to God—as is my custom in such circumstances—fully persuaded that God does all things, or permits all that happens, for his glory and for our greater good; thus I am always at peace, no matter what happens.” Seeing such uniformity with the will of God, the abbot no longer wondered why the monk worked so many miracles.

Section 4. God wills our Good.

O the supreme folly of those who resist the divine will! In God’s providence, no one can escape hardship: “Who resisteth his will?” A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life: “Who resisteth him and hath had peace?” The screaming rage of the sick man in his pain, the whining complaints of the poor man in his destitution—what will they avail these people, except increase their unhappiness and bring them no relief? “Little man,” says St. Augustine, “grow up. What are you seeking in your search for happiness? Seek the one good that embraces all others.” Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next.

God wills only our good; God loves us more than anybody else can or does love us. His will is that no one should lose his soul, that everyone should save and sanctify his soul: “Not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance.” “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” God has made the attainment of our happiness, his glory. Since he is by his nature infinite goodness, and since as St. Leo says goodness is diffusive of itself, God has a supreme desire to make us sharers of his goods and of his happiness. If then he sends us suffering in this life, it is for our own good: “All things work together unto good.” Even chastisements come to us, not to crush us, but to make us mend our ways and save our souls: “Let us believe that these scourges of the Lord have happened for our amendment and not for our destruction.”

God surrounds us with his loving care lest we suffer eternal damnation: “O Lord, thou hast crowned us as with a shield of thy good will.” He is most solicitous for our welfare: “The Lord is solicitous for me.” What can God deny us when he has given us his own son? “He that spared not even his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?” Therefore we should most confidently abandon ourselves to all the dispositions of divine providence, since they are for our own good. In all that happens to us, let us say: “In peace, in the self same I will sleep, and I will rest: Because thou, O Lord, hast singularly settled me in hope.”

Let us place ourselves unreservedly in his hands because he will not fail to have care of us: “Casting all your care upon him, for he hath care of you.” Let us keep God in our thoughts and carry out his will, and he will think of us and of our welfare. Our Lord said to St. Catherine of Siena, “Daughter, think of me, and I will always think of you.” Let us often repeat with the Spouse in the Canticle: “My beloved to me, and I to him.”

St. Niles, abbot, used to say that our petitions should be, not that our wishes be done, but that God’s holy will should be fulfilled in us and by us. When, therefore, something adverse happens to us, let us accept it from his hands, not only patiently, but even with gladness, as did the apostles “who went from the presence of the council rejoicing, that they were accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.” What greater consolation can come to a soul than to know that by patiently bearing some tribulation, it gives God the greatest pleasure in its power? Spiritual writers tell us that though the desire of certain souls to please God by their sufferings is acceptable to him, still more pleasing to him is the union of certain others with his will, so that their will is neither to rejoice nor to suffer, but to hold themselves completely amenable to his will, and they desire only that his holy will be fulfilled.

If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God’s will. For the future, embrace God’s good pleasure and say to him in every happening: “Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight.” When anything disagreeable happens, remember it comes from God and say at once, “This comes from God” and be at peace: “I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.” Lord, since thou hast done this, I will be silent and accept it. Direct all your thoughts and prayers to this end, to beg God constantly in meditation, Communion, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament that he help you accomplish his holy will. Form the habit of offering yourself frequently to God by saying, “My God, behold me in thy presence; do with me and all that I have as thou pleasest.” This was the constant practice of St. Teresa. At least fifty times a day she offered herself to God, placing herself at his entire disposition and good pleasure.

How fortunate you, kind reader, if you too act thus! You will surely become a saint. Your life will be calm and peaceful; your death will be happy. At death all our hope of salvation will come from the testimony of our conscience as to whether or not we are dying resigned to God’s will. If during life we have embraced everything as coming from God’s hands, and if at death we embrace death in fulfillment of God’s holy will, we shall certainly save our souls and die the death of saints. Let us then abandon everything to God’s good pleasure, because being infinitely wise, he knows what is best for us; and being all-good and all-loving—having given his life for us—he wills what is best for us. Let us, as St. Basil counsels us, rest secure in the conviction that beyond the possibility of a doubt, God works to effect our welfare, infinitely better than we could ever hope to accomplish or desire it ourselves.

Excerpts from the Diary of St. Faustina

Happy feast day of St. Faustina! In her honor, we’ll be reading entries from her diary at the next Ex Libris on October 12, 2016.

A printable copy of the reading is at tinyurl.com/diarysoul.

78: Once when I was being crushed by these dreadful sufferings, I went into the chapel and said from the bottom of my soul, “Do what You will with me, O Jesus; I will adore You in everything. May Your will be done in me, O my Lord and my God, and I will praise Your infinite mercy.” Through this act of submission, these terrible torments left me. Suddenly I saw Jesus, who said to me, I am always in your heart. An inconceivable joy entered my soul, and a great love of God set my heart aflame. I see that God never tries us beyond what we are able to suffer. Oh, I fear nothing; if God sends such great suffering to a soul, He upholds it with an even greater grace, although we are not aware of it. One act of trust at such moments gives greater glory to God than whole hours passed in prayer filled with consolations. Now I see that if God wants to keep a soul in darkness, no book, no confessor can bring it light.

129: Satan always takes advantage of such moments; thoughts of discouragement began to rise to the surface – for your faithfulness and sincerity, this is your reward. How can one be sincere when one is so misunderstood? Jesus, Jesus, I cannot go on any longer. Again I fell to the ground under this weight, and I broke out in a sweat, and fear began to overcome me. I had no one to lean on interiorly. Suddenly I heard a voice within my soul, Do not fear; I am with you. And an unusual light illumined my mind, and I understood that I should not give in to such sorrows. I was filled with a certain strength and left my cell with new courage to suffer.

130: Nevertheless, I began to grow a bit negligent. I did not pay attention to these interior inspirations and tried to distract myself. But despite the noise and the distraction, I could see what was going on in my soul. The word of God is clear, and nothing can stifle it. I began to avoid encounters with the Lord in my soul because I did not want to fall prey to illusions. However, in a sense, the Lord kept pursuing me with His gifts; and truly I experienced, alternately, torture and joy.

131: But I will simply mention here that these various sufferings had come to a peak, and I resolved to put an end to these doubts of mine before my perpetual vows. Throughout my probation, I prayed for light for the priest to whom I was to open up my soul to its depths. I asked God that He himself would help me and grant me the grace to be able to express even the most secret things that exist between me and Him and to be so disposed that, whatever the priest would decide, I would accept as coming from Jesus himself. No matter what judgment he would pass on me, all I wanted was the truth and a decisive answer to certain questions. I put myself completely in God’s hands, and [all] my soul desired was the truth. I could not go on living in doubt any longer although, in the depths of my soul, I was so very sure that these things came from God, that I would lay down my life for this. However, I placed the confessor’s opinion above all, and I made up my mind to do as he thought best and to act according to the advice that he would give me. I looked forward to that moment which would decide the course of my actions for the rest of my life. I knew that everything would depend on this. It mattered little whether what he would say to me would be in accord with my inspirations or quite the contrary; this no longer mattered to me. I wanted to know the truth and follow it. Jesus, You can help me! From this moment, I have begun anew. I conceal all the graces within my soul and await whomsoever the Lord will send me. With no doubt in my heart, I asked the Lord himself to deign to help me during these moments, and a courage of sorts entered my soul.

140: Pure love is capable of great deeds, and it is not broken by difficulty or adversity. As it remains strong in the midst of great difficulties, so too it perseveres in the toilsome and drab life of each day. It knows that only one thing is needed to please God: to do even the smallest things out of great love-love, and always love. Pure love never errs. Its light is strangely plentiful. It will not do anything that might displease God. It is ingenious at doing what is more pleasing to God, and no one will equal it. It is happy when it can empty itself and burn like a pure offering. The more it gives of itself, the happier it is. But also, no one can sense dangers from afar as can love; it knows how to unmask and also knows with whom it has to deal.

143: I have wasted many of God’s graces because I was always afraid of being deluded. God drew me to himself so powerfully that often it was not in my power to resist his grace when I was suddenly immersed in him. At these moments, Jesus filled me with such great peace that, later on, even when I tried to become uneasy, I could not do so. And then, I heard these words in my soul: In order that you may be assured that it is I who am demanding all these things of you, I will give you such profound peace that even if you wanted to feel troubled and frightened, it would not be in your power to do so today, but love will flood your soul to the point of self-oblivion.

147: Let the soul be aware that, in order to pray and persevere in prayer, one must arm oneself with patience and cope bravely with exterior and interior difficulties. The interior difficulties are discouragement, dryness, heaviness of spirit and temptations. The exterior difficulties are human respect and time; one must observe the time set apart for prayer. This has been my personal experience because, when I did not pray at the time assigned for prayer, later on I could not do it because of my duties; or if I did manage to do so, this was only with great difficulty, because my thoughts kept wandering off to my duties. I also experienced this difficulty: when a soul has prayed well and left prayer in a state of profound interior recollection, others resist its recollection; and so, the soul must be patient to persevere in prayer. It often happened to me that when my soul was more deeply immersed in God, and I had derived greater fruit from prayer, and God’s presence accompanied me during the day, and at work there was more recollection and greater precision and effort at my duty, this was precisely when I received the most rebukes for being negligent in my duty and indifferent to everything; because less recollected souls want others to be like them, for they are a constant remorse to them.

148: A noble and delicate soul, even the most simple, but one of delicate sensibilities, sees God in everything, finds Him everywhere, and knows how to find Him in even the most hidden things. It finds all things important, it highly appreciates all things, it thanks God for all things, it draws profit for the soul from all things, and it gives all glory to God. It places its trust in God and is not confused when the time of ordeals comes. It knows that God is always the best of Fathers and makes little of human opinion. It follows faithfully the faintest breath of the Holy Spirit; it rejoices in this Spiritual Guest and holds onto Him like a child to its mother. Where other souls come to a standstill and fear, this soul passes on without fear or difficulty.

149: When the Lord himself wants to be close to a soul and to lead it, He will remove everything that is external. When I fell ill and was taken to the infirmary, I suffered much unpleasantness because of this. There were two of us sick in the infirmary. Sisters would come to see Sister N., but no one came to visit me. It is true that there was only one infirmary, but each one had her own cell. The winter nights were long, and Sister N. had the light and the radio headphones, while I could not even prepare my meditation for lack of a light. When nearly two weeks had passed in this way, I complained to the Lord one evening that I was suffering so much and that I could not even prepare my meditation because there was no light. And the Lord said that He would come every evening and give me the points for the next day’s meditation. These points always concerned His sorrowful Passion. He would say, Consider My sufferings before Pilate. And thus, point by point, I meditated upon His sorrowful Passion for one week. From that moment, a great joy entered my soul, and I no longer wanted either the visitors or the light; Jesus sufficed me for everything. The superiors were indeed very solicitous for the sick, but the Lord ordained that I should feel forsaken. This best of masters withdraws every created thing in order that He himself might act.

294: Once the Lord said to me, Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently. You too should not back away and say that you are not worthy of receiving greater graces when I give them to you. I know you are unworthy, but rejoice all the more and take as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry, for then you will please Me more. And I will tell you one more thing: Take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy. Oh, how I love those souls who have complete confidence in Me. I will do everything for them.

303: Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love which lends value to our actions. And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will cease to be a suffering for us; it will become a delight! By the grace of God, I have received such a disposition of heart that I am never so happy as when I suffer for Jesus, whom I love with every beat of my heart. Once when I was suffering greatly, I left my work and escaped to Jesus and asked Him to give me His strength. After a very short prayer I returned to my work filled with enthusiasm and joy. Then, one of the sisters [probably Sister Justine] said to me, “You must have many consolations today, Sister; you look so radiant. Surely, God is giving you no suffering, but only consolations.” “You are greatly mistaken, Sister,” I answered, “for it is precisely when I suffer much that my joy is greater; and when I suffer less, my joy also is less.” However, that soul was letting me recognize that she does not understand what I was saying. I tried to explain to her that when we suffer much we have a great chance to show God that we love Him; but when we suffer little we have less occasion to show God our love; and when we do not suffer at all, our love is then neither great nor pure. By the grace of God, we can attain a point where suffering will become a delight to us, for love can work such things in pure souls.

390: He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart.

392: The Lord God grants His graces in two ways: by inspiration and by enlightenment. If we ask God for a grace, He will give it to us; but let us be willing to accept it. And in order to accept it, self-denial is needed. Love does not consist in words or feelings, but in deeds. It is an act of the will; it is a gift; that is to say, a giving. The reason, the will, the heart-these three faculties must be exercised during prayer. I will rise from the dead in Jesus, but first I must live in Him. If I do not separate myself from the Cross, then the Gospel will be revealed in me. Jesus in me makes up for all my deficiencies. His grace operates without ceasing. The Holy Trinity grants me Its life abundantly, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Three Divine Persons live in me. When God loves, He loves with all His Being, with all the power of His Being. If God has loved me in this way, how should I respond I, His spouse?

1033: When I see that the burden is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze it or probe into it, but I run like a child to the Heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: “You can do all things.” And then I keep silent, because I know that Jesus himself will intervene in the matter, and as for me, instead of tormenting myself, I use that time to love Him.

1157: The third is prayer and deeds of mercy, without any obligation of taking vows. But by doing this, these persons will have a share in all the merits and privileges of the whole [congregation]. Everyone in the world can belong to this group.

1158: A member of this group ought to perform at least one act of mercy a day; at least one, but there can be many more, for such deeds can easily be carried out by anyone, even the very poorest. For there are three ways of performing an act of mercy: the merciful word, by forgiving and by comforting; secondly, if you can offer no word, then pray-that too is mercy; and thirdly, deeds of mercy. And when the Last Day comes, we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict.

Excerpts from Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales

The September 14, 2016 edition of Ex Libris featured a great one, as always – if I do say so myself 😛  The full text of St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life can be found online at http://www.catholicspiritualdirection.org/devoutlife.pdf

A printable version of the excerpt is located at tinyurl.com/introdevoutlife.

Part III: Containing Counsels Concerning the Practice of Virtue

CHAPTER VIII. Gentleness towards others and Remedies against Anger.

THE holy Chrism, used by the Church according to apostolic tradition, is made of olive oil mingled with balm, which, among other things, are emblematic of two virtues very specially conspicuous in our Dear Lord Himself, and which He has specially commended to us, as though they, above all things, drew us to Him and taught us to imitate Him: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” Humility makes our lives acceptable to God, meekness makes us acceptable to men. Balm, as I said before, sinking to the bottom of all liquids, is a figure of humility; and oil, floating as it does to the top, is a figure of gentleness and cheerfulness, rising above all things, and excelling all things, the very flower of Love, which, so says S. Bernard, comes to perfection when it is not merely patient, but gentle and cheerful. Give heed, then, daughter, that you keep this mystic chrism of gentleness and humility in your heart, for it is a favourite device of the Enemy to make people content with a fair outside semblance of these graces, not examining their inner hearts, and so fancying themselves to be gentle and humble while they are far otherwise.

[…] Having thus gently exerted yourself, follow the advice which the aged S. Augustine gave to a younger Bishop, Auxilius. “Do,” said he, “what a man should do.” If you are like the Psalmist, ready to cry out, “Mine eye is consumed for very anger,” go on to say, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord;” so that God may stretch forth His Right Hand and control your wrath. I mean, that when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.

Moreover, when there is nothing to stir your wrath, lay up a store of meekness and kindliness, speaking and acting in things great and small as gently as possible. Remember that the Bride of the Canticles is described as not merely dropping honey, and milk also, from her lips, but as having it “under her tongue;” that is to say, in her heart. So we must not only speak gently to our neighbour, but we must be filled, heart and soul, with gentleness; and we must not merely seek the sweetness of aromatic honey in courtesy and suavity with strangers, but also the sweetness of milk among those of our own household and our neighbours; a sweetness terribly lacking to some who are as angels abroad and devils at home!

CHAPTER IX. On Gentleness towards Ourselves.

ONE important direction in which to exercise gentleness, is with respect to ourselves, never growing irritated with one’s self or one’s imperfections; for although it is but reasonable that we should be displeased and grieved at our own faults, yet ought we to guard against a bitter, angry, or peevish feeling about them. Many people fall into the error of being angry because they have been angry, vexed because they have given way to vexation, thus keeping up a chronic state of irritation, which adds to the evil of what is past, and prepares the way for a fresh fall on the first occasion. Moreover, all this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection. What we want is a quiet, steady, firm displeasure at our own faults. […] All this arises solely because men do not judge themselves by the light of reason, but under the influence of passion.

Believe me, my daughter, as a parent’s tender affectionate remonstrance has far more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.

For instance:—Let me suppose that I am specially seeking to conquer vanity, and yet that I have fallen conspicuously into that sin;—instead of taking myself to task as abominable and wretched, for breaking so many resolutions, calling myself unfit to lift up my eyes to Heaven, as disloyal, faithless, and the like, I would deal pitifully and quietly with myself. “Poor heart! so soon fallen again into the snare! Well now, rise up again bravely and fall no more. Seek God’s Mercy, hope in Him, ask Him to keep you from falling again, and begin to tread the pathway of humility afresh. We must be more on our guard henceforth.” Such a course will be the surest way to making a steadfast substantial resolution against the special fault, to which should be added any external means suitable, and the advice of one’s director. If any one does not find this gentle dealing sufficient, let him use sterner self-rebuke and admonition, provided only, that whatever indignation he may rouse against himself, he finally works it all up to a tender loving trust in God, treading in the footsteps of that great penitent who cried out to his troubled soul: “Why art thou so vexed, O my soul, and why art thou so disquieted within me? O put thy trust in God, for I will yet thank Him, Which is the help of my countenance, and my God.”

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marvelling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.

CHAPTER X. We must attend to the Business of Life carefully, but without Eagerness or Over-anxiety.

THE care and diligence due to our ordinary business are very different from solicitude, anxiety and restlessness. The Angels care for our salvation and seek it diligently, but they are wholly free from anxiety and solicitude, for, whereas care and diligence naturally appertain to their love, anxiety would be wholly inconsistent with their happiness; for although care and diligence can go hand in hand with calmness and peace, those angelic properties could not unite with solicitude or anxiety, much less with over-eagerness.

Therefore, my daughter, be careful and diligent in all your affairs; God, Who commits them to you, wills you to give them your best attention; but strive not to be anxious and solicitous, that is to say, do not set about your work with restlessness and excitement, and do not give way to bustle and eagerness in what you do;—every form of excitement affects both judgment and reason, and hinders a right performance of the very thing which excites us.

Our Lord, rebuking Martha, said, “Thou art careful and troubled about many things.” If she had been simply careful, she would not have been troubled, but giving way to disquiet and anxiety, she grew eager and troubled, and for that our Lord reproved her. The rivers which flow gently through our plains bear barges of rich merchandise, and the gracious rains which fall softly on the land fertilise it to bear the fruits of the earth;—but when the rivers swell into torrents, they hinder commerce and devastate the country, and violent storms and tempests do the like. […] Accept the duties which come upon you quietly, and try to fulfil them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only cumber yourself with your own exertions, and by dint of perplexing your mind you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.

In all your affairs lean solely on God’s Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part work on in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that if you have trusted entirely to Him you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.

Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside hedge. Even so, while you gather and use this world’s goods with one hand, always let the other be fast in your Heavenly Father’s Hand, and look round from time to time to make sure that He is satisfied with what you are doing, at home or abroad. Beware of letting go, under the idea of making or receiving more—if He forsakes you, you will fall to the ground at the first step. When your ordinary work or business is not specially engrossing, let your heart be fixed more on God than on it; and if the work be such as to require your undivided attention, then pause from time to time and look to God, even as navigators who make for the haven they would attain, by looking up at the heavens rather than down upon the deeps on which they sail. So doing, God will work with you, in you, and for you, and your work will be blessed.

Excerpts from Come Be My Light by St. Teresa of Kolkata

On August 10, 2016, we read portions of [at the time] Mother Teresa’s letters found in Come Be My Light. Now, we can celebrate her sainthood! The scanned reading can be found at tinyurl.com/comebemylight.

So the darkness is so dark and the pain so great, but in spite of it all – my retreat resolution was the same:

A hearty “yes” to God

A big “Smile” to all… Pray for me, that I may just keep the two words “Yes” and “Smile”.