Al Pie de la Cruz: Vivir la Resurrection

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Trusting in Yourself? Or Trusting in the Heart of Jesus?

When Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina on April 30, 2000 and proclaimed the Second Sunday after Easter to be officially called Divine Mercy Sunday, he urged everyone to make her beautiful exclamation—Jesus, I trust in You— our own.  We cannot view an image of the Divine Mercy without being reminded of this thought.  Jesus himself requested that it be written on this image of his merciful Heart.  So what is so significant about this inscription that every copy of the Divine Mercy image exhorts us to trust in Jesus?

Trusting in Jesus:  do we really do this in our daily lives?  Recently, I came across an analogy on trust that was poignant but easy to understand.  It was a small demonstration that a Christian pastor used with his congregation to get across the concept of trust in Jesus.  He placed his small two year old son on a high table and took a few steps back, inciting his son to jump into his arms.  Without any hesitation, the little one leaped with joy into his father’s awaiting arms.  To prove his point, the father again put his son back on the table and asked him to repeat what he just did.  With faith that his daddy would catch him, the toddler leaped with gusto.  The point of the demonstration was simple enough:  will we trust our heavenly Father?  Will we trust his Divine Son, Jesus with our lives?  Or will we choose to stay on the table of self-reliance, self-security, self-willfulness over our belief that Jesus is always there for us to help us, to rescue us, to be our guide, protector and savior?

The little boy in the story above undoubtedly knew that his father loved him and would not let anything hurt him.  His trust was spontaneous, sure, complete.  Can we say the same for our trust in Jesus?  In the Lord’s messages in the book In Sinu Jesu, Jesus tells us,

Never doubt of My prevailing love for you, the love that will triumph in you and around you, provided that you come to Me with confidence and offer Me all your infirmities, your weaknesses, and even your sins. 

Surely, the good Lord does not want us to be shackled with our weaknesses and sins and asks us to give them to his merciful heart.  He wants so much to strengthen our confidence in his merciful love for each of us and to comfort our souls so often caught in the throes of temptations against His mercy and against the unchanging love of his Sacred Heart.

Listen to the laments of Jesus (expressed in In Sinu Jesu) as he invites us to unburden ourselves to Him:

Nothing so grieves my divine Heart as the doubt of My merciful love.  Sin in all its forms and manifestations offends Me and grieves My most loving Heart, but one who doubts of My merciful love grieves Me in a way that you cannot imagine.  It is because I am love, and all love; it is because My mercy is the expression of My love towards sinners, that My Heart suffers when these same sinners close themselves to Me by doubting that I am all love and ready to forgive all.

Never let sin become a pretext for staying away from Me.  Instead, let sin be a catalyst pushing you into My presence.  There, in my presence, as in a furnace, sin is consumed in the fire of merciful love, souls are made clean, healed, and restored to My friendship.  I reject no one who comes to Me with confidence in My merciful love.  My arms are open to receive repentant sinners into the embrace of My merciful love.  

Judas and Peter

Having just gone through Lent and Holy Week, the scripture passages of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial are still fresh in our minds.  Both of these apostles tried to disown Jesus and what he stood for.   Yet, their outcomes were so very different.  Look at Peter and his obvious denial of Jesus told so plainly in the Gospel of Mark we just heard read on Good Friday.  Peter outright swore that he did not even know Jesus (Mk 14:66-72).  We read in the third denial of Peter that he is confronted with the words, “You are, too, one of them, for you are from Galilee!”  Then Peter began to curse and swear, “I don’t even know the fellow you are talking about.”  Right afterward, the cock crowed as predicted by Jesus.  And Peter began to cry.  Peter’s denial is rash.  It flies out of his mouth as fear for his own skin takes precedence over all former convictions and logic.  His weaknesses pull him down to a level unworthy of a follower of Christ.  Realizing his mistake, Peter is genuinely repentant and goes to Jesus with great contrition in his heart, pleading for forgiveness.  Ah, this is the state of soul that so moves the merciful Heart of Jesus who will raise Peter up again and propel him to a full recovery.  How different from the dispositions of Judas who, although his remorse was sincere, it was not true repentance.  He does not go to Jesus nor trust in his mercy.  Entrenched in his own understanding of things, he cannot accept Jesus’ ways and will not cast himself repentant and sorrowful into the purifying mercy of Christ’s Heart.

To further enlighten us about His mercy, Jesus instructs us in these beautiful and significant passages from In Sinu Jesu:

When you are weak, come to Me.  When you are burdened, come to Me.  When you are fearful, come to Me.  When you are assailed by doubts, come to Me.  When you are lonely, come to Me.  Let nothing separate you from My Heart, which is ever open to receive you.  It is the Evil One who seeks to turn souls away from My Heart.  It is the Evil One who sows the seeds of doubt, of fear, of sadness in souls, so as to turn them away from Me and drive them into the cold pit of darkness and despair that he himself inhabits.

My Mother, on the other hand, raises souls when they fall; she instills in them a confidence in My loving mercy, a readiness to believe in My merciful love, a desire to come into My presence and to expose to Me, the divine physician, the wounds suffered in spiritual combat.  My Mother is the Mother of Holy Hope.  She is the Mother of Holy Confidence.  One who entrusts himself to My Mother will never fall into the pit of despair.  Even when solely tempted, there will remain in that soul enough confidence to turn to Me, and to make an act of abandonment to My merciful love that will touch My Heart and release from it a torrent of forgiveness, healing and mercy.

In the messages of the Divine Mercy given to St. Faustina and so similar to those we have just cited, the Lord really emphasizes the importance of trusting Him.  Here is the passage from Faustina’s Diary (#1578) that truly highlights this:  

“My graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust.  The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive.  Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them.  I rejoice that they ask for much because it is my desire to give much, very much.  On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.”

The priority of trusting in Jesus cannot be overestimated in the spiritual life.  This sort of trust in the Lord means that we believe in Him, hope in Him, love Him and lean on Him.  We aspire to have His mind and thoughts and His will done in our daily lives.  In trusting the Lord, we truly desire that he inspire and direct every aspect of our existence so that anything not in conformity with His Holy Will would be repulsive to us.

This is pretty radical trust.  It means we agree to let God be God and not try to play God ourselves.  This thought is crucial because basically there are two root sins we humans tend to commit.  One is to make God out to be like us and two, to make ourselves out to be like God.  As one biblical scholar put it, “The core of sin is not our failure to adequately value ourselves but our refusals to adequately value God.”  

Unfortunately, in our day, it is so easy to fall into a false Christianity that brings God down to our level and tries to explain away the lofty tenets of God to make them compatible to today’s society.  Don’t we see this all around us and hear very convincing arguments for adjustments in Gospel-inspired values that were our standards for centuries?  We are now surrounded—in an all-pervasive way—with a false, private, pragmatic Christianity that takes God and reduces him to our level of thinking, feeling and acting.  Mercy has become the buzz word for a sympathetic accommodation for our sins and failures instead of acknowledging them in a contrite manner so that we may be cleansed and re-instated in God’s graces.  One evangelical author has called it the New Reformation, not built on sin and grace and the centrality of God and his glory but on “the doctrine of self-esteem and the gospel of self-love.”  “They would have us coin a new slogan,” he avers, “on self-alone.” 

Trust in Jesus is the prime building block to our closer relationship with Him.  Yet, many of us are tempted to rely more on our own resources.  In an article entitled Why is it Hard to Trust God? the author (Rick Thomas) points out three major hindrances to trusting God.  

  1. Ignorance of God:  If you do not have a clear understanding of who God is, then it will be hard to trust him.  Some people who are raised without religion or come from broken homes may be suspect of a God who is all-loving at all times.  The article makes this point by sharing a poignant experience that the author had while visiting in New York City.  Sitting in a restaurant, he saw a prostitute in a booth outside and went to talk to her, inviting her to a prayer meeting during the week.  Surprisingly, she came but afterward admitted:   “Rick, you don’t understand.  You talk about peace, love, mercy, grace, whiteness, cleanliness and light.  The words that you use or represent have no place in my world.  Those are foreign concepts.  I appreciate what you stand for and how you care for others, but I cannot relate to what you are saying.”  However, God’s grace did work in her life and she was eventually converted.  
  1. Fear:  There are those who fear what God will do in their lives if they trust Him.  Naturally fearful and insecure people are reticent about letting go and giving themselves over to God’s hands.  They would far rather have control at all times and in this way direct their own futures, even though they may be drifting apart from God.  
  1. Anger:  The author of this article tells us that anger is the most common sin manifestation of the unbelieving heart, even though most people do not see themselves as angry at God.  He says, “I have interacted with many Christians who have what I call a low-grade fever of anger that runs under the radar.  It comes out when expectations or desires are not met.”  He explains that whenever we choose anger as a response to something that has happened to us that we don’t like, then we’re making a statement about God and his sovereignty.  We’re making a choice that we’re going to do it our way rather than God’s way.  In other words, we’re putting more trust in ourselves, than in God.

So let us all strive to deepen our trust in the Lord Jesus.  That is the most effective way to honor his Sacred Heart and to allow the torrents of its mercy to sweep over us and over our hard-hearted world.  As Jesus exhorts us (in In Sinu Jesu):  “Learn, then, to trust in Me to do the things that you cannot do of yourself, and allow Me to work in you secretly, in a manner perceptible to the gaze of My Father, and by the operation of My Holy Spirit.” 

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on April 8th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, May 6th, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.


 

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The Sacred Heart: Source of Stability for our Lives

Recently I found a wonderful quote from the Irish monk, Blessed Columba Marmion that has made me appreciate our faith a little more.  It is part of the meditation for Mass taken from the Magnificat prayer book and it reads:  

 “All the holiness God has destined for our souls has been placed in the humanity of Christ, and it is from this source that we must draw.”  

Bl. Columba Marmion

What really struck me from this thought was the word “all.”  Let me repeat:  

“All the holiness God has destined for our souls has been placed in the humanity of Christ, and it is from this source that we must draw.” 

It is so simple yet so difficult.  Few, very few of us, have the time, energy, and disposition to really focus whole-heartedly on our call to holiness.  It is just not the thing to do these days and besides, we might be asking for trouble if, indeed, we make it too obvious.  But that is alright.  God is not looking for us to carry on our spiritual lives as crusaders, regardless of how significant the work of evangelization can be.  

No, God seems to follow the pattern of the farmer who likes to plant the seed of holiness deep within the hidden depths of the heart and cultivate the good soil in a timely fashion.  Just as the plant grows inch by inch, so our desires for the things “above” can only be authenticated through our continual application to the truths and teachings of our faith.  In this regard, it is good to remember how Jesus himself prepared for his own public ministry by living the obscure life of the common person for numerous years.  Even in the lives of the most popular saints of today (I am thinking particularly of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and Saint Faustina) we notice how virtually unknown they were during their earthly lives.  Yet their ordinary lives were filled to the brim with holiness. 

And so it was with Saint Margaret Mary.   Hidden within the confines of a cloistered monastery she was heaven’s choice to propagate one of the greatest means of embracing the humanity of Christ through devotion to his Sacred Heart.  Her revelations which were to be the basis for this devotion caused an immense stir of opposition.  Her revelations were contested and rejected by most of her community.  But then, again, the likeness to the cross of her Master, is always evident in her life, for without testing there can be no true determination of the validity of anything.  Thankfully for us, Saint Margaret Mary underwent the probing with beautiful integrity.  She was shaken, but remained immovable.  Thus, now the Church can say that her mission came from God and that what she offered was the “real thing.”  That “real thing” was holiness.

We see this spiritual dynamic at work time and time again in the lives of good people.  It is a constancy that endures through difficulty, often exposing itself to the blows of those who feel threatened by God’s truth and who prefer to live in the world of shadows.  Anyone who has read through such classics as The Gulag Archipelago which exposes the bitter suffering of the Russian people during the Communist takeover can understand how the grip of evil can infiltrate an entire nation and force innocent people into compromising situations.  Yet, in the end, it was the link to their spiritual roots that saved many a person from surrendering their cherished values and long-held beliefs.  It was those who looked to the person of Christ who were given the fortitude to withstand the physical and psychological pressures that were mercilessly meted out to them.  And this is the great gift of the wounded heart of Christ to his friends, that they should be faithful through the storms of destruction that rage around them, that they should remain steadfast even though the tempests come and the blackest of black encompass them.  

It is then, when all seems lost, when all appears hopeless, when we enter the bottomless pit, that something happens.  A personal story recounted by the English journalist Mary Craig captures the essence of it in this way:  

“On the day that the second of my two mentally handicapped children was born, I experienced a fathomless despair.  I felt that I was drowning and didn’t even know how to struggle.  Yet there was something in me that wanted to grow through this horror, to use it for good in some way.  When I reached what seemed to me the darkest depths, I was suddenly aware of being upheld, aware of a promise of strength, if I would only seek it.  I can only say that it was my one and only direct experience of God.”

Here is another aspect of the way God can uphold the soul in time of distress, providing the spiritual stability that we are all in need of.  It comes from an episode in the life of the great English Cardinal, John Henry Newman, at the time when he became involved in the infamous Achilli Trial.  Newman was served a writ that accused him of maliciously publishing “condemnatory” words against a person by the name of Achilli.   The case was tried in an English court, already biased to all things Catholic.  (Achilli was a former priest who had forsaken the Church and was entrenched in anti-Catholic activities and other licentious pursuits).  Newman’s case hinged on his ability to show that what he said was true and that what he published was “not out of malice but solicitude for the public benefit”.  Despite compelling evidence and testimonies, Newman lost this case… “the anti-Catholic prejudices of the English, equating the ancient faith with intrigue, superstition, pious fraud, and treason, and not the evidence, determined the case’s outcome.”

At the trial’s end Newman was required to pay court fees while the plaintiff (Achilli) went scot free.  For Newman, however, the whole experience provoked a noteworthy reflection for posterity:

What is good, endures; what is evil comes to nought.  As time goes on, the memory will simply pass away from me of whatever has been done in the course of these proceedings, in hostility to me or in insult, whether on the part of those who invoked, or those who administered the law; but the intimate sense will never fade away, will possess me more and more, of the true and tender Providence which as always watched over me for good, and of the power of that religion which is not degenerate from its ancient glory, of zeal for God, and of compassion towards the oppressed. *

Yes, God’s providence is truly a crucial element in reminding us that all the unforeseeable things that happen in our world, will not undermine the plan of God from completing its course.  Topsy-turvy as life can be, we will always be subjected to the imperfect, the unkind, the unjust.   For many this will cause great anxiety.  But sometimes that anxiety and anguish may serve as a mysterious pathway into the heart of God.   It is there in the wounded Sacred Heart that we encounter the radiant source of the peace of Christ.  It is in touching the Sacred Side that we, like Thomas, can utter our proclamation of faith and experience how God’s providence can turn all events to a greater good.

Certainly, it is the miracle of our faith that makes it all possible.  The more that our faith is applied to the various situations we find ourselves in, the more does the seed of stability grow in our souls.  As Scripture says, “We will be planted and rooted…” so that everything that happens to us will be a sign of God’s good pleasure.  Yet, in a secular society this faith approach sounds so ludicrous, essentially because our generation has been raised on the myths of mastery.  We think we can fix anything.  If a problem exists, we most likely believe that we can fix it or that there will be someone around tomorrow who will fix it.  So very little in our culture has prepared us to say “I don’t know” or “we don’t know.”  Consequently, we attempt to flee in subtle ways because we must always keep our lives manageable, while keeping God manageable too.

Yet it is when we are drawn beyond the manageable, when we are in situations that are not totally within our control, when we actively choose to move beyond the manageable that we begin to travel into the realms of contemplation.  It is when we do this, or are sometimes forced to do it without our conscious consent, that we allow a hole to be bored into our hearts, into which the graces of God’s heart can flow.  Sometimes that looks like a very odd kind of stability, but it is when we abandon the urge to direct and stabilize our lives in unwholesome ways, that we make room for God’s eternal providence to operate more powerfully.

How then can we place ourselves securely in the Heart of Christ?   We have only to read the saint of today to get a glimpse of how it’s done.  St. Faustina Kowalska’s Diary is filled with ways to let ourselves swim in the ocean of merciful love.  Pick up a copy and fill your soul with its spiritual wisdom and insights.  God’s gracious and merciful Heart invites us to enter and be re-shaped into a new creation so that we may carry the contemplative dimensions of life into our world and attempt to re-fashion its fractured identity according to the loving designs of the Heart of Our God. 

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on April 8th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, May 6th, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

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Palm Sunday and the following of Christ

 

 

 

audio only:

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Retiro de la Guardia de Honor. Sencillez de espíritu (3/4/18)

pt. 1

pt. 2

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The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Folly of the Cross

Usually on the Friday’s of Lent our community prays the Stations of the Cross together.  These small wooden and bronze plaques ‘wrap’ around the ambulatory walls of our chapel, beginning at our entrance and finishing opposite the entrance way to the priest’s sacristy.  Each time as we gather to pray we try to vary the kind of books we use as ‘meditation sources’ for our reflections.  Over the past years one of my favorite station books has became the one written by Saint John Paul II.  Its meditations were originally given at the Vatican when the Pope was Cardinal of Krakow, Poland.

What I find personally appealing about this prayer book is the use of actual photographs featuring the biblical places appropriate to the focus of each meditation.  There is a wonderful drama in the description as well.  For instance, the final words of the reflection on the XII station where Jesus dies are especially poignant:  “Here is the man.  Here is God himself.  ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’  In Him:  in those arms outstretched along the transverse beam of the cross.  The mystery of redemption.”  I have been struck by those last words.  Jesus dies on the cross and we are given redemption and mystery besides!  We are invited to ponder on the mysterious side of redemption that we know is Jesus crucified.

If we look closely at the Lenten liturgy we can discern a plan to help us see more clearly into this mystery of redemption, this desire of God our creator to lead us into perfect freedom.  First though, we are made to realize that there is a real need for our redemption.  We are reminded right from the start of Lent that something has gone radically wrong with our human existence and that each one of us has a wayward inclination to go astray from God.  Made by God, we are nonetheless separate from God and a necessary part of our wholeness and ultimate happiness is that we constantly turn or return by cleansing our hearts, being refashioned in grace, acknowledging our wrongdoing, and being fully reconciled with God.

As we begin to prepare ourselves for this return to God, God wishes to tell us something.  The kernel of God’s message to us is found in the story taking place in the first pages of Scripture where we witness God’s direct intervention in history.  God is taking an active part in our relationship.  God is not turning a deaf ear but is offering immediate resolutions to our human dilemmas and is giving guidelines to follow to insure his abundant blessings.  Employing vivid imagery the Hebrew writers paint a picture of God releasing his people from the grip of slavery and bondage, liberating them from the hands of oppressors, giving them freedom to live their lives in security and peace.  God is a great deliverer, intervening directly and concretely in the lives of his people.  As we are so frequently told:

“He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and brings us into this country; He gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.”

God will reward the faithful and just with the blessings of harmony and prosperity.  God is the great emancipator from pain, sorrow, oppression, enslavement, everything undesirable on the face of the earth.  Clearly, as we absorb the meaning of what is presented to us in the early liturgical readings of Lent, we are made aware that God is the Lord of history and the giver of all good things.  There does not seem to be much mystery in understanding this; it is clear-cut, foundational and straight-forward.

However, we know that there is more to this story that only unfolds as we continue in our journey towards Easter.  We finally reach the point where we are standing at the foot of the Cross looking into the face of a just, honest, good, and upright man.  We do not see prosperity, honor, happiness but degradation and sorrow.  Why wasn’t this good man delivered?  Why didn’t God reward him for all the good he had done in his life?  Where is God’s intervention now?  Our faith grounded in the proclamation of the New Testament writings tells us that we must be prepared for a new understanding of redemption, one fraught with mystery, one where the folly of the Cross and all its ramifications and enigmas take hold of our hearts and minds and spirits, seeking to transform our souls.

One need not look too far to be aware of this ‘folly’ which is a vital force in our Christian faith.  It has been at work in the lives of many saints, but it does not require us to be saints in order for it to manifest itself.  Just living in the world we live in will give us plenty of opportunities to embrace its mysterious dimensions.  I remember years ago telling a friend of my desire to try the contemplative life of a religious, hoping that this confidence would find a ready word of encouragement.  Instead, I was politely told that I would be wasting my life in doing such a thing and turning my back on so many opportunities of really helping others and making the world a better place to live in.  Or on other occasions, being cautioned that attending church too frequently would make me look like a religious fanatic.  And so it goes.

When we remember that it was not really necessary that the heart of Christ be pierced (for He was already dead), we see again that final reminder from heaven that God’s ways are not our ways and that all of our human attempts to put ourselves in control must ultimately bow before God’s higher wisdom.  Still, there will continue a fight to the finish to see who wins the human heart:  God or man.  So we must be prepared to understand that God has already revealed his heart in the life of his son Jesus, and be attentive to the twists and turns of God’s mysterious ways.

Perhaps a glance at the perceptions found in a recent book on the Sacred Heart will get the point I am getting at in clearer perspective.  Always on the lookout for interesting reading material, a book came to my attention several years ago which promised to be a rich source of information on the history of the Sacred Heart in France.   Its tantalizing list of chapter headings and illustrations made a first handling of the book seem very compelling.  Impressive notes and index put one in awe that its scholarly author left no resource untapped in his attempt to research his topic.  Here was a feast for anyone who loved the Sacred Heart and wanted to learn in-depth information about its historical development in the country of France.

However, one was in for a surprise (if not a shock) as one proceeded to read, for woven into the abundance of its factual presentation were shades of insinuation.  It clearly painted those, like Saint Margaret Mary, as deluded and devious, sometimes using their unique spiritual experiences as tools to squash their rivals and place themselves in the limelight.  Those who followed the Sacred Heart were oftentimes capable of manipulating its appealing aspects in order to attain political, social, and personal advantages.  Its final assessment on the place of the Sacred Heart in the country of France left one dismayed, feeling defeated that all the glorious spirituality of the Sacred Heart in the heart of French culture had left but a feeble imprint.

In following the path of the wounded heart of Christ, we must be willing to travel the road of absurdity.  It is nothing but the folly of the Cross that await those courageous souls who choose Jesus as their one and only love.  Would Saint Margaret Mary complain that she was being misrepresented or misunderstood?  I do not think so.  Her justifications came only when it was a matter of better promoting the message of the Sacred Heart and not for her own benefit.  Like Jesus whose final interactions with those around him did not consist in a multiplication of words, but only in trustful silence, she did not attempt to change the hearts of others by force, but by the quiet energy of her prayer.  How totally counter-productive this appears to our high-powered world.  Yet this is something we need to dwell upon.  The Cross of Christ calls us to empty ourselves and to let go of our urge to grasp, trample, and conquer… in essence, to turn the tide of history toward a more heavenly direction.   Each of us plays our part in the mystery of this redemptive action when we go against the prevailing madness of the “M’eh” culture, that glorification of self which accepts no boundaries or objective values… when we strive to walk the walk to the tune of the ‘different drummer.’

Therefore, to tread the path of spiritual foolishness one must be willing to take the chance of being judged inept by the ways of the world.  Remember Paul’s words in the first letter to the Corinthians:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In the apparent folly of the cross dwells a hidden, secret wisdom that only the penetrating eye of love can discern.  That is why despite the great brutality of the crucifixion scene there is evident a greater spiritual dignity and integrity that grips the consciousness of the onlookers.  There is an intangible beauty which radiates from the broken body of Christ.  What seems foolishness yields to an eloquent statement about new life, about resurrection.

There will, I believe, always be hearts that wish to participate in the folly of the cross.  Every age has witnessed its share of men and women whose lives welcomed paradox, contradiction, misunderstanding and outright persecution for the love of Christ.

And I am sure that there have been times when we ourselves may have received an askance look because of our devotions, commitments or lifestyles by those who felt that we were being just a bit too intense about our spiritual lives.  At such times we pay the price of rejection that was part of the mystery of the passion and death of Christ.

Christ’s heart encourages us to keep on with the work of ‘holy folly.’  The magnetic powers and resources of that heart assure us that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever conceived what lies in store for those who would dare to love God, even unto folly. 

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on March 4th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, April 8th, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

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Drastic Measures, Our Conversion and the Heart of Jesus

After we had moved into our Tyringham Monastery in December, 1995, we got to know some of the Marian Fathers who became our chaplains.  It was arranged that different ones would come over here for Mass and Confession, and in the course of time we had the opportunity to have Father Donald Calloway, MIC here.  We eventually got to know his background, and circulating among the Sisters was a book of his conversion story.  As I began to read it, I must admit, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to persevere with it.  The initial chapters were quite dark as they described his hedonistic lifestyle bordering on juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and criminal tendencies.  I certainly would have been afraid to meet him when he was in this state.  But I knew that God and Our Lady were going to intervene in a big way in his life and that to understand how big I needed to know some of his background.  This was a major conversion job and to get it accomplished, Father describes how the Lord had to hit him with “the Divine 2×4.”  [Father Donald’s amazing conversion is told in his book No Turning Back:  A Witness to Mercy and on his DVD Extreme Mercy.]

Now it is Lent and we are hearing in the scriptures many references to conversion and repentance.  Sometimes it becomes necessary for the good Lord to shake us up to wake us up.  A primary example of this can be seen in the readings from Exodus 7:14-12:36 of the ten plagues of Egypt.  Recall that God’s purpose in sending these plagues upon Egypt was to convince Pharaoh to give the Hebrews their freedom so they could worship God as God had instructed.  But stubborn Pharaoh would not let the Hebrews go free and because of his refusals, God sends ten different plagues upon Egypt:  the water that turned into blood, infestations of frogs, then lice, then flies, the death of the livestock, boils on man and beast, severe thunder and hail storms, devouring locusts, thick darkness for three days and finally the death of the firstborn from Pharaoh’s household to the most insignificant homes and even the firstborn of animals.  After each plague, Pharaoh’s heart hardened even more and it was only after the final plague that he relented.  You know the story.  We’ll hear what happened at the Easter Vigil as he changes his mind once again and sends his chariots and charioteers after the Hebrews and into the Red Sea.  Imagine walls of water on either side of the path through this huge sea closing in on you…  This is the power of God magnificently displayed to save his chosen people.

A segment from the life of St. Margaret Mary is another provocative example of how the Sacred Heart of Jesus works to convert us—that is, to change our minds so that God’s Holy Will is accomplished.  (As St. Margaret Mary put it:  “No one can resist the Will of God, which will always be accomplished whether we will it or not.”) Our saint’s religious life spanned from her entrance into the Paray-le-Monial Monastery at the age of nearly 24 in 1671 until her death at age 43 in 1690.  During this time she lived for six years under the superiorship of Mother Peronne-Rosalie Greyfié.   A staunch and well-meaning soul, Mother Greyfié, nonetheless, was the agent of much suffering for St. Margaret Mary.  One of the first things she did on assuming office was to deprive our Sister of her hour’s meditation on Thursday night each week that had been requested by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Mother Greyfié gives an account of what happened in a memorandum she penned.  Here’s what she wrote:

I do not know whether you are aware that she (St. Margaret Mary) was accustomed before my arrival (Mother Greyfié came from another Visitation Monastery to be superior of Paray) to spend an hour in meditation during the night between Thursday and Friday.  She used to begin it after Matins, and remain until eleven o’clock, lying prostrate, with her face against the ground, and her arms crossed.  When her sufferings were greater than usual, I made her change this posture, and kneel with her hands clasped, or her arms crossed over her breast.  At first I even wished to make her give up this practice altogether, and she obeyed the order that I gave her; but during this time when her hour of meditation was interrupted, she used often to come to me in a timid way to tell me that she thought Our Lord was annoyed with me on account of my prohibition, and that she was afraid He might punish me for it in some vexatious and painful manner.  I did not, however, at once withdraw it; but seeing Sister Carré die suddenly of dysentery, from which no one else in the convent suffered, and feeling also other troubles connected with the death of so good a Sister, I made haste to restore her hour’s meditation to Sister Alacoque, for I could not banish the thought that this was the punishment with which she had threatened me on our Savior’s part. 

I think this is a significant excerpt because it concretely gives us an instance where the Heart of Jesus—so loving and full of mercy—had to, nevertheless, allow His justice to prevail in order for a person’s interior blindness and stubbornness to be converted.  For those of you who are familiar with the Diary of St. Faustina, you will recall the Lord’s words to her:  “In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to My people.  Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world.  I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart.  I use punishment when they themselves force Me to do so.  My hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of justice.   Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy (#1588).

Another illuminating thought comes to us from the book In Sinu Jesu:  The Journal of a Priest at Prayer.  The author, an anonymous Benedictine monk who recently received messages from the Lord while at prayer, recorded this thought from Jesus:

“When priests forsake prayer, they forsake Me, and so I withdraw My blessing from their labors, and leave them to themselves, for without prayer—without Me—they can do nothing.”  

We can readily apply this across the board to all of us, not only to priests who are called on in a special way to be souls of prayer.  This particular concept is absolutely essential in our relationship with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  When we try to go it alone, do things our own way, put ourself first before the Lord’s commandments and counsels, then we expose ourselves to forces outside of the Lord’s blessings and protection.  As one spiritual writer puts it, “Frequently, due to sin, rebellion and other factors, God simply withdraws His protective hand and allows sin, Satan and chaos to have their way.”  And, of course, innocent people suffer because of this.  Furthermore, in the Diary of St. Faustina we hear an amplification of this where the Lord explains,

 “Tell sinners that no one shall escape My hand; if they run away from My Merciful Heart, they will fall into My just hands.  Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them, that I listen intently to their beating of their heart…  When will it beat for Me?  Write, that I am speaking to them through the remorse of conscience, through their failings and sufferings, through thunderstorms, through the voice of the Church.  And if they bring all My graces to naught, I begin to be angry with them, leaving them alone, and giving them what they want” (#1228).

For our Lenten reflections, let us take a closer look at the two “thieves” crucified on either side of Jesus.  If you have ever said the outdoor stations of the cross at Eden Hill in Stockbridge, you probably have noticed the difference in the expressions on the faces of the two thieves hanging next to Jesus.  The so-called “good” thief has an expression of peace and hope on his face while the “bad” thief looks disgruntled and bitter.  These two thieves crucified along side of Jesus represent all sinful humanity.  According to Roman Law they have done wrong and are getting their due.  Looking at their crosses on Calvary, we can learn what our attitude to our own crosses can be like and what will happen if we reject them like the bad thief or accept them like the good thief.    The scriptures tell us that one of these insurrectionists, although a sinner and criminal, turns to Jesus with sincere contrition in his heart and says,

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And Jesus replies,

“Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

This should give any repentant sinner great hope.  The Heart of Jesus is ever-ready to forgive those who acknowledge and atone for their sins and trust in His merciful goodness.  On the other hand, an entirely different scenario plays out with the other thief.  This man suffers but without humility or faith.  He does not consider himself more guilty than the rest and is thinking only of himself and his own fate.  He scoffs at Jesus, provoking Him with, “So you’re the Messiah, are you?  Prove it by saving yourself and us too…” (Lk 23:39)  What is the result of such dispositions of heart?  Checking our scriptures, we see that the Lord does not address one word to him.  Jesus has nothing to say back to him.  He leaves him be.  Jesus is silent.  It is the silence that he exhibited in the presence of Herod, the silence he held on to before his accusers.  Jesus keeps silent, because to speak would be useless.  It is a piercing silence, in response to a heart that is hardened, closed and impenitent.

The Heart of Jesus desires to welcome every sinner—every sinner that wants to come back to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let him or her come forward and fall into the loving arms of the Lord.  He will give you the graces you need to change your life, to live by His truth and, thereby, to enjoy His blessings.  Unfortunately, the hitch is that in today’s world sin is a bad word and many people do not consider themselves sinners.  One way that the Lord converts human souls is to enlighten them to see their sins so they can repent of them, not justify them.  However, ordinary persons, so focused on themselves, deny that they need repentance because they see themselves as “good,” with a “good heart,” or just having made a few wrong turns in life.  One spiritual author recalled his meeting with a New Age woman on a plane trip.  She succinctly summed up her sins as “unconscious mistakes.”  In many instances, we seem to resemble those of the church in Laodicea which the Book of Revelation describes as, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:17).

Why is the modern world so unwilling to acknowledge the concepts of right or wrong?  The answer might be that if we do this, then there truly may be consequences for our actions.  This leads to the question of a Supreme Being who will hold us accountable for what we do.

The Heart of Jesus is filled with an infinite love for each of us and is even willing to shake us up to save us.  In a passage dated January 30, 2012, from the book In Sinu Jesu, the Lord foretells:

I am about to send My Holy Spirit as a blazing fire of purity over all the priests of My Church (and over us all).  Those who submit to this purifying and sanctifying action will flourish in My Church for the joy of My Heart and for the glory of My Father.  Those who resist this purifying and sanctifying action will grieve Him, will bring great sorrow to My Heart, will provoke the justice of My Father, and will dry up like branches cut off from the vine and ready to be cast into another fire.  He who refuses the flames of divine love will suffer the flames of divine justice.  This is hard for you to hear, but I say it out of love, filled with an immense pity for everyone of My priests (and for everyone), for I love each one to the point of what men of the world call madness; but it is not madness, it is the very nature of the divine love that blazes in My Sacred Heart.

 

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on March 4th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, April 8th, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

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Introduction to the Guard of Honor

(31:41 Minutes)

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Retiro Mensual de la Guardia de Honor (Introducción a esta Devoción)

Introducción a esta Devoción

pt 1

pt 2

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Families in Crisis: Turn to the Sacred Heart

Just about every Tuesday night here in the monastery (except on big Feast Days), before retiring to our “cells”—the monastic term for our bedrooms—we sing Compline or Night Prayer together.  The psalm from this liturgical office is followed by a New Testament reading that reminds us that “Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (see 1Peter 5:8-9a).  That’s a pretty heavy thought to take to bed with you.  But the Church is very serious about our salvation and through the ages has called our attention to the fact that there is a spiritual battle going on continually for our very souls.  Or as the letter to the Ephesians puts it:  “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood; but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness…” (see Eph. 6:10-12).

So there is an invisible warfare going on all the time.  God’s ancient foe is at work 24/7 seeking to undermine and overthrow all the good things that God has created and all that God is trying to accomplish in our world.  These days we are living through are particularly filled with the influence of dark forces, and one of the greatest targets for the devil’s fury is the institution and sacrament of marriage and the family.  If the family, which is the fundamental building block of all civilizations—and marriage is the foundation of the family—is distorted, dismantled and destroyed, then human beings will never develop into what God intended them to be.  Unfortunately, as we well know, traditional Christian marriage as understood from the teachings of Christ is under fierce attack.

An enlightening story told by the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra (1938-2017) former Archbishop of Bologna, Italy and founding President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, gives us crucial insights into this spiritual struggle going on.  In a recent interview before he died on September 6, 2017, Cardinal Caffarra indicated that the beginning years of the John Paul II Institute (1983-1984) were extremely difficult and that there was much opposition to it.  He explained that it was not wanted within and outside the Church, because of the vision it was proposing.  Without asking anyone, the thought occurred to him that he would write to Sister Lucia, the Fatima seer, for her spiritual assistance.  In a letter to her, he simply explained that there were many difficulties and begged for her prayers, adding, “I do not expect a reply.”  To his great surprise, after 2-3 weeks a hand-written letter from her arrived.  Her ending words made a deep impression on him.  She wrote,

 “Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.  And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation.  But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

The Cardinal related:

 “This remained engraved on my heart and amid all the difficulties we had encountered—and there have been so, so many—these words have always given me great strength.”  Then the interviewer asked the prelate:  “When you initially read Sister Lucia’s words, did you think she was speaking of that moment in history?”  Caffarra responded:  “I began thinking a few years ago, after almost 30 years, Sister Lucia’s words are taking place.” [Note:  That would have been in 2013-2014]  He then concluded:  “Satan is constructing an anti-creation.”

In our very midst, we are seeing and experiencing the truth of these sentiments.  All around us we have examples of families in crisis, families being attacked on all levels by forces of darkness that want to obliterate the very notion of family life—modeled for us by the Holy Family.  The family is, after all, the first building block of society, the domestic church, the first school, the first hospital.  Within this earliest school, children are taught their first lessons in morality and gospel values which ultimately give shape to our cultures and societies.

What can we do to stop this tremendous onslaught against our families and against God’s divine plan for marriage and family life?  How do we protect ourselves from an all-ensuring battle that wants to dismantle each of our households and the Christian values we hold dear?

Herein, enters our hero of the story:  the faithful friend of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey (1875-1960).  Father Mateo was a half English, half Peruvian priest who grew up in Chile and traveled the world imploring families to invite the Sacred Heart of Jesus into their homes and to honor and serve Him as the King of Love.  His wide experience of families in different countries throughout the world made him fully cognizant of the ravages they had suffered by receiving education that was neutral towards God.  He wrote,

 “The devil realizes that you are likely to have a great future.  Maybe that is why there is such a terrific attack against the home—an attack on marriage and on the natural laws, a fight to eliminate Christ and His influence in the home.  What is the bombing of cities compared with the awful destruction of the home?”

Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey

Providentially, as a young boy, Fr. Mateo was placed in a school run by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.  Gradually, a desire grew in his heart to dedicate himself to the priesthood, and so at age 15 he entered religious life.  Son of an English Protestant Father, he was allowed to become a religious on one condition.  His father declared:  “If you desire to become a priest, it is my wish that you become a saintly priest.”

Early on in his priesthood, during his first mission in the city of  Valparaiso, Chile, he witnessed firsthand the spiritual destitution of the people.  To cope with society’s problems, political solutions were advocated as the prime remedy.  Father Mateo saw that the evil eating away at society was secularism, that is, the absolute and total exclusion of God and the natural moral law from all domains of human life.  “Secularism,” as Pope Benedict XVI points out, “is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God, which is the source not only of the believer’s happiness, but of the harmony of public life itself.”

In 1906, when Fr. Mateo was 31 years old, a violent earthquake reduced the city of Valparaiso to ruins.  Day and night, the young priest devoted himself to the countless destitute and totally exhausted himself.  Seeing his health rapidly decline, his doctors recommended an extended rest and forbade him all work for a year.  In hope of restoring his health, his superior sent him to Europe, and this trip proved to be the turning point in his life.  Mateo had always had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and had always wanted to visit the sanctuary at Paray-le-Monial, France where St. Margaret Mary received her apparitions of the Heart of Jesus.  As he was praying there on the first day of his arrival, August 24, 1907, he suddenly felt his whole being stirred.  He not only received a physical healing but had an interior enlightenment that the Sacred Heart was calling him to work for the Christian regeneration of families and society.

From this powerful insight, Mateo was able to define and devise a plan following the revelations of St. Margaret Mary, where Jesus promised that He would establish peace in homes that would honor Him.  Therefore, Father Mateo wanted to establish a worldwide crusade to make the Heart of Jesus the King of the family and thus extend His reign over the entire world.  He would endeavor to accomplish this by entering a picture or statue of the Sacred Heart into homes so that each household member would be reminded of the love of Christ and would show it by living a truly Christian family life.  For over 40 years, Father Mateo traveled the world imploring families to welcome Christ into their homes and to place His image in a place of honor there.  This visual sign that the home was now the domain of Christ’s loving heart and the homage paid to Him, would draw down heaven’s blessings, peace and protection.

To further extend the reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Father Mateo began promoting the Holy Hour in the home.  He realized that to keep the flame of love alive in our hearts, something more was needed.  Through the Holy Hour, numberless sins and offenses and negligences could be atoned for… not just our offenses but also other people’s, to repair the honor of Christ and to promote the eternal salvation of souls.  Grasping the power of prayer, particularly at night, he declared right before he died, “Tell everyone that Father Mateo preaches from his bed (he had both of his legs amputated because of gangrene) and that he insists on noctural adoration, the most beautiful flower of his work.  This is the prayer of the home, in union with the Heart of Jesus, prayers in the spirit of reparation, at night, during the hours of darkness.”

Interestingly enough, I had just finished reading the book In Sinu Jesu by an unnamed Benedictine Monk.  It records the messages he received in prayer from the Lord.  In the November 12, 2012 entry, Jesus says:

By noctural adoration you will obtain from My Heart things which cannot be obtained from Me in any other way, especially the liberation of souls from the influence and oppression of the powers of darkness.  More souls are saved and liberated by adoration made during the night than by any other form of prayer:  this is the prayer that unites you most closely to My own nights passed entirely in prayer during My life on earth.  Come to Me, then, by night and you shall experience My power and My presence at your side during the day.  Ask of Me whatsoever you will by coming to Me at night, and you will experience My merciful help at break of day.

So for those of you who can’t sleep at night or wake up periodically during the nighttime hours, cast an interior glance at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and beseech him for his help for you, for your family, for the world.  Turning to the Heart of Christ for all our personal and family dilemmas and keeping His Sacred Image in our homes is a powerful way to protect ourselves from the machinations of the Evil One.†

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on February 4th, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts.  The next talk will be held on Sunday, March 4th, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

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