The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for October, 2012

Little Flower, Little Way

About six weeks ago I made a retreat at a Carmelite monastery.  It should come as no surprise to you that while I was there I was re-introduced to St Thérèse of Lisieux (or St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, or, as she is often known, the “Little Flower”).  It was something of a surprise to me, though.  I’ve never had a particularly strong devotion to her, though I always have respected and admired her.  (She did send me a rose, however, which I asked for as a sign that my friend Laura had entered Heaven. Before St Thérèse died, she said she would send from Heaven a “shower of roses” upon the earth, that is, graces from God, but prayers answered through her intercession are often accompanied by the unexpected gift of a rose, in one way or another.)  My former lack of devotion seems to be changing now, and I think we’re becoming friends. After all, St Thérèse said that after her death she would spend her Heaven doing good here below, and one of the things she said was, “I will help priests…”

This is probably my favorite picture of her.  She was about eight years old then.  Very cute, of course, but with a wisdom in her eyes well beyond her years—and also a hint of a smile that says she sees and knows way more than I do, and she is eager to share as much of it as my earthbound soul can receive.

I’ve recently finished reading a book about her “Little Way” of spiritual life, an old one, probably not readily available now.  It is called Spiritual Childhood, by Msgr. Vernon Johnson.  The author is notable in that he was convert to the Catholic Church from Anglicanism, and he attributes the turning point in this process to his reading of St Thérèse’s autobiography.  The quotes here will be from his book.

As for her being called the Little Flower, she gave that name to herself.  She was reflecting upon a time, as she wrote in her autobiography, when her father, “plucking a little white flower growing on a low stone wall, gave it to me and remarked with what loving care God had brought it to bloom and preserved it until that day.  I thought I was listening to my own life story, so close was the resemblance between the little flower and little Thérèse…”

More important is her Little Way.  Littleness, that is, humility and the complete, confident dependence upon God’s grace that comes from it, characterized the whole of the saint’s spirituality.  She never attempted great ascetical feats, nor did she do anything that would be considered an extraordinary achievement in the eyes of the world.  Her greatness lay in the fact that she consistently did little things out of love, and it was this undying love that advanced her rapidly on the path of sanctity.

Msgr. Johnson says this about “the central secret of the Little Way: it is the way of little sacrifices.  It cannot be emphasized  too strongly that the whole of her teaching is based on trust and self-surrender—a self-surrender in which no sacrifice is ever to be considered too small or too great.  The most trifling actions done out of love, and done cheerfully, are of great value in the eyes of God.”  Perhaps the essence of the Little Way is concisely expressed thus by the saint: “I will let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a word.  I will make use of the smallest actions and I will do them all for love.”  If we decided simply to refrain from all uncharitable looks or words, how many fruitful sacrifices we would have to offer!

St Thérèse died in her twenties after a protracted and painful illness, enduring as well a long period of spiritual trial in which her accustomed intimacy with God seemed all but obliterated.  But both her faith and love were strong enough to keep her offering, with trust in the Lord, the sacrifices these trials required.

We say that she offered little things out of love, but some of these things were not really so little (even aside from her intense physical sufferings due to her illness).  She spent many winter nights shivering in an unheated room, but never complained about it.  She endured misunderstandings and irksome annoyances from some of her sisters in the convent, but she did not defend herself or respond in kind.  In short, she lived a life that was much harsher exteriorly and more demanding interiorly than that which most Americans live, and she welcomed opportunities to prove her love by offering everything to God, to win grace for souls in need.  I think we might be ashamed if we looked at the minor things we routinely complain about or resist, refusing to make a little sacrifice out of love for God.

There’s an important passage in Msgr. Vernon’s book that helps us understand the basis of the Little Way.  To embrace this way is to shift our world-view from a self-centered one to a God-centered one—and this is hardly a little thing!  In fact, the Little Way is relentlessly demanding and requires a thorough inner conversion and purification.  Here is how he explains it:

“To the really little, to the really humble, to the soul, that is to say, that is completely dependent upon God, the whole universe and every detail of human life within it is a unity.  The smallest thing on earth is inseparably linked with heaven.  It is the humble who see things in their totality, because for them, God is the center of everything.  Their life therefore is a harmony, and they are at peace. On the other hand, the more grown-up we are, the more self-reliant and independent we become, the more is this truth hidden from our eyes, precisely because, self being the center, we see things only after a fragmentary fashion.  Life is full of discord and conflict, we become anxious and rebellious and know no peace.”

It may be that we view the events in our lives primarily from the perspective of how everything relates to, or affects us, and not how things might fit into the plan of God.  I have to work everything to my advantage, and so I fall to pieces if my plans are upset or some unexpected thing happens or I’m faced with some disappointment or apparent setback.  But if I considered things from the perspective of God’s holy will and wise providence, I would seek to correspond to his plan, try to see the events in the light of that great unity of “things in heaven and things on earth” that are held together in the eternal mystery of Christ (see Col. 1:15-20).

Everything lies within the providence and power of God, so we should be able to trust Him absolutely.  In sickness or in health, in sorrow or in joy, we should not think either that life is a series of random absurd occurrences, or, if we have to suffer, that God is withholding his love from us.  When Thérèse was just a girl, she was seriously ill and near death.  As she prayed, she looked toward a favorite statue of Our Lady, which suddenly “became animated” with an indescribable heavenly presence and beauty, for the Mother of God had come to visit her.  Our Lady simply smiled upon the dying girl and she was instantly healed!  This manifests both the unity of Heaven and Earth mentioned above as well as the fact that nothing is beyond the power of God, who often delights in working through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the saints.  Knowing this, St Thérèse did not complain when the Lord didn’t heal her of the illness that eventually claimed her life.  She trusted him like a child trusts a loving father, and so she joyfully offered her great sufferings for the salvation of souls and as an act of continual love for Our Lord.

I marked about 25 passages in this little book for further reflection, so what I’ve shared here is just a hint of the profound value and fruitfulness of the Little Way.  I’ve learned some lessons, and I think the Little Flower has been sent to me to help me grow in my spiritual life, to make it bear much more fruit.  I’ve become quite enamored of her, and I hope by her intercession to somehow begin to do all things with love and a greater spirit of humility and sacrifice.  I prayed a novena to her to prepare for her feast day some weeks ago, and toward the end of it, someone unexpectedly dropped by with a gift of several flower arrangements: roses, roses, roses!


I read a new book by Monica Migliorino Miller: author, theologian, and pro-life activist.  It is entitled Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars.  The word “abandoned” appropriately expresses the experience of the unborn in the author’s moving narration of her involvement in the pro-life cause since the 1970s, for America has abandoned millions of innocent persons to a tragic fate.  While the book gives the historical data of her life and work in post-Roe v Wade America (and some behind-the-scenes accounts of which you are probably unaware), it offers much more.  The author helps us see more deeply into something that is not simply a serious crime that somehow has been enshrined in law as a right.  She gives us a poignant glimpse into what this wanton slaughter of the innocents means, both for them and for the human race as such.  A couple examples will give some idea of her reflections on the issue:

“I wrote [Judge] Schudson about the bodies of the unborn we had retrieved from the trash… I included three photos of the victims… One showed the arm and hand of a fourteen-week-old fetal child.  I explained:

“To see these bodies there was to see a complete and horrifying abandonment, as if the edge of the dock [where the bodies were stored in trash containers for eventual disposal] was the edge of the world where the unborn had been cast adrift apart from all human care.  To me the photo of the hand… still connected to the arm torn at the shoulder speaks of the utter loneliness of the aborted child.  The hand is unconnected to a body and looms out of nothing, yet in this void the child’s hand speaks his humanity and speaks the horror of his alienation.”

[Then, after burying many aborted children publicly in a cemetery, the author found a note left there by a woman whose child was likely numbered among the others, expressing her deep grief and remorse.  The author comments:]

“The woman’s note… expressed an intense feeling that she had abandoned her baby, something she sensed deep within her being.  By burying the baby we had returned the child to his mother.  The burial gave the baby a human place in the world.  The awful tearing of human bonds caused by abortion knew a more perfect healing.  On a lonely day, one woman had come to this site, and her act of love banished her isolation.  In her sorrow the order of the world, rooted in human bonds, was affirmed. From out of all the nameless, faceless children buried there, the mother claimed back to herself the one who was her own.”

A child, even in the womb, even in some pre-articulate form, needs to know, to feel that he or she belongs to someone, a mother and a father, someone who can say: “you are my own.” The anonymity of tens of millions of discarded unborn children profoundly wounds the human race as a whole; it lays against us the charge of trying to rob them of their very humanity.

The author thus points out not only the biological fact that a human being is destroyed in the womb, which fact can no longer be credibly denied even by abortion supporters.  The issue is deeper still.  What is happening in each abortion is a rupture in the order of the world.  A human being is not allowed to take his or her place in the human community. This is the ultimate, irrevocable rejection. The child is not only refused the right to live, but in that refusal it is denied the right to be accepted and loved as a member of the human race.  Judges of the Supreme Court of the US have arrogantly ruled that unborn children are non-persons, so their little bodies can be legally dismembered and crushed and thrown into the garbage.  They are forbidden to live human life, for the law states they have no right to it.  They have no right to be who they already are, so in terms of the law there is no injustice in killing them. (And there are people who even decide to turn a profit in this grisly business; this is America, after all, the land of opportunity, and of opportunists.)

In this sense, the murder of the unborn is a more heinous crime than that of the murder of adults (even apart from the fact that the unborn are utterly innocent).  At least the adults whose lives are tragically taken from them had the opportunity to enter this world, to experience belonging to the human community. They had a place here, however imperfect it may have been.  All humans have a right and a need to be welcomed and loved by other humans.  It is only to the unborn that this right is categorically and absolutely denied.  They are not allowed to be regarded as human; they have no rights; their humanity, their souls are torn from them.  They are, in effect, told by society that no one loves them, no one cares for them, no one will defend them, no one will remember them as they are destroyed and disposed of like so much trash.

Yet they are received with love by the One who made them and redeemed them.  They will not be unloved forever.  And they will stand in judgment upon those who trampled on the image of God within them. God has called the human beings He created “very good,” yet society says to the most defenseless of them: “We don’t want you; you have no value; you are a threat to our convenience and our freedom—go away, and haunt our dreams no more.”

But they won’t go away.  Their silent voices will continue to penetrate souls, even if it takes a long time for the majority of people to wake up.  “We are human beings,” the little ones cry, “and so we belong to the human family.  You have no right to deny us our place in this world or the same opportunity you have had to live and to love.  You have killed our bodies but your couldn’t kill our souls.  We testify to your works, that they are evil (see Jn. 7:7), but we invite you to repentance, to offer henceforth our little brothers and sisters safe passage into this world.”

Their involuntary sacrifice will testify to the failure of our society to live up to its own humanity.  By casting off our own, we are slowly committing suicide. Soon humanity will no longer be able to cover with self-righteous slogans what is at root a sick self-loathing, expressed in a drive to demand the legal right to destroy one’s own image in one’s child. (It doesn’t ultimately matter what the many “practical” reasons are that people may have for getting an abortion.  If you are willing to destroy life, then you don’t love it.) There is a certain madness by which people can choose to kill that which they co-create with God, that which alone will outlast the planets and the stars, with full potential to “shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the Father” forever (Mt 13:43). But with each new dawn the Lord offers another chance to change, to throw off the diabolical yoke that the father of lies calls “freedom,” and to begin to heal our broken humanity, receiving new life as a gift—saying “yes” to the tiny immortal beings created in the image and likeness of God.

Get the book.  You need to see this; you need to weep over it.  You need to let your heart rediscover its own human depths of compassion for the violated, rejected innocents.  You also need to see the brutal callousness of judges, lawyers, and those who have any stake in promoting the abortion agenda—and the heroic sacrifices made by those who are uncompromising in their defense of the innocent. This is not about politics and it is not about religion.  It’s about holding on to our humanity in a world that would strip us of it, beginning with the most vulnerable…

Snippets from Life in South City

I thought I’d just offer a few observations and anecdotes from life here in South City.  (San Francisco is known in this area simply as “The City,” so the suburban city in which I live, South San Francisco, is accordingly known as “South City.”)

I had the coolest summer of my life this year.  I don’t think the mercury ventured over 75 or so the whole time.  Quite a relief from the last 30 years of 100+ temperatures every (long, long) summer.  I’ve made peace with the fog and the wind from my beloved ocean, for they keep things nice and cool, while only a few miles away everyone roasts in the heat.

Speaking of the ocean, it’s ironic that now I’m only a 15-minute drive from the coast, I haven’t had time to go out there for months—except once, near the end of September.  I usually go to a seaside town called Pacifica, where there is a nice stretch of coastline and some hills with hiking trails.  It’s fairly quiet on weekdays, so I don’t have to worry about crowds of noisy tourists drowning out my contemplation.

I was impressed last time with “the magnificence of the sea’s rage,” as the psalmist puts it, since the surf was quite rough and kept me enveloped in light clouds of salty mist most of the time.  I find it astounding that God simply willed all this into existence.  We haven’t the slightest idea of his immeasurable power. Even though I was witnessing the mighty surf of the mighty ocean crashing against the mighty rocks of the shoreline, I was sitting in a tiny spot of a tiny peninsula able to see only a tiny part of the ocean, which, for all its vastness is still a small part of a tiny planet in a tiny solar system in one of billions of galaxies, etc.  Quite humbling, but it makes one quite grateful that the incredibly vast expanse of creation, with all its beauty and power, is owned and operated by one’s Father.

As I reflected on the wondrous display of color and coolness and brightness and mega-magnificence, I looked down the beach and saw a woman, similarly engrossed, though not in the sea, but in her phone!  In the other direction there was another woman on a bench—doing the same thing.  Those accursed “smart-phones”!  The whole panorama of the glory of God is displayed for our delight and contemplation, and people are glued to screens!  I for one am content with my “stupid-phone,” which does little more than make phone calls.  Well, they can have it, if that’s what they want.  I’ll take the beauty and glory instead.

Something I miss from living in the woods is seeing beautiful starry nights and tracking the phases of the moon.  I’ve hardly seen any stars since moving to South City (though I did for a few days when on retreat with the Carmelites somewhere out in the wilderness), and I only see the moon more or less by accident, when I’m able to distinguish it from other lights.  So I was glad when I saw the full moon setting a couple weeks ago.  I stuck my head and my camera out my window to get a picture of it, to remind myself that it still exists and is as beautiful as ever (excuse the power lines; this is a city, after all).  It was a bit hazy that morning, but that’s still better than being entirely engulfed by fog.  Maybe that’s why I can’t see the moon and the stars: I can’t see the sky, either!  We do have our share of clear days, though, mostly in the spring and fall.

The other day I went into a bank, wearing my Roman collar and a crucifix (these, along with a sort of mitigated tunic, will be the COSJ habit, once it’s all put together).  I was greeted by a vivacious “premier banker” (at least that’s what it says on her card), who asked me if I was a Catholic priest.  As soon as I said yes, she said, “Well then bless me, Father!” So I did, right there in the bank.  She escorted me to the next available teller and then left, thanking me and making the sign of the cross, then talking with me for a few minutes before I left.  One wouldn’t expect such a public display of piety in the spiritual war zone which is the SF Bay Area, but one thing I like about South City is that there are a lot of Filipinos here, and most of them are Catholics and not afraid to let you know.  You never know what surprises the Lord has in store for you!

The Save a Soul Today flyers are flying around increasingly these days.  I’m being assisted in this ministry by a friend, originally from (you guessed it) the Philippines.  The last time she went there (a couple months ago), she printed and distributed thousands of them, with promises of more to come.  They are also being distributed in parishes in the Bay Area, so hopefully many more souls will receive mercy at the hour of their death because of all the people praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for them.  I’m ordering a few thousand more to keep up with the demand.  A lady from Texas just wrote and said she is distributing them in parishes there.  Let me know if you’d like free copies of the flyers to distribute and help save souls.

Every first Friday evening we have a healing Mass at Mater Dolorosa parish, which is next door to us—though last month, due to a scheduling conflict, we had to cram them all into our tiny chapel here at COSJ, but nobody complained, even those who had to sit out in the hallway!  We do things differently, though, than most other places do.  We call it a “contemplative healing Mass,” since after the Mass we pray over people individually but in silence, inviting everyone there to pray with us.  Then we anoint them with holy oil from St Joseph’s famous shrine in Montreal.  To pray in silence like that (and it works—not only in the fruits of prayer but in the fact that it really stays quiet in the church the whole time!) deepens the spirit of prayer, and one can feel this.  So the COSJ has introduced something new into South City, which I trust will continue to bear good fruit.  With the testimonies of blessings and healing received, we know the Lord is pleased with this and will continue to work through the power of the Holy Eucharist and the charism of the priesthood.

Well, I guess that’s it for the South City news and notes for now.  I’m getting used to the new environment, both physical and spiritual, and the Lord has graced my transition so that I’ve been able to move into this new life and ministry with a minimum of turbulence, and I’m looking forward to more fruitful prayer and labor in his service and for the salvation of souls.

Mother of Our Divine Life

Jesus solemnly declared this precious, holy, and saving truth: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world… He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him… As I live because of the Father, so he who eats of me will live because of me…” (John 6: 51, 54, 56-57).

We see from Jesus’ words that whoever receives his Body and Blood in Holy Communion (worthily, that is; see 1Cor. 11:27-30) will live forever.  Yet such a person already has eternal life, says the Lord.  This life is “in you” (6:53).  What we usually think of as “eternal life” is the “live forever” part, which is, of course, true.  But this doesn’t express the whole truth.  To say that eternal life is in us when we eat and drink the Flesh and Blood of Christ, is to say that eternal life is divine life, the life of God, of Christ, in us.  God is eternal and therefore the life He gives is eternal—beginning now and lasting forever in Heaven.

Our divine (eternal) life begins at baptism and is strengthened by faith and prayer, but primarily by the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus’ Flesh and Blood were given to us as food, “for the life of the world.” We have this life of Christ in us; it is given as a gift. We live the divine life because He lives in us through communion in the Holy Mysteries. It is our part to do our utmost to help maintain and preserve it so that we may be “raised up on the last day.”  But in our weakness and concupiscence (and our freedom to renounce God’s gift through mortal sin) this is extremely difficult, and we risk losing our eternal life and happiness.

This is where Mary comes in.  Mary is Mother of God the Son incarnate; she carried Him in her womb, gave birth to Him, nursed Him, raised Him, took care of him, etc.  What she does in our souls is analogous to what she did for Jesus on earth.  She nurtures his presence within us, from the moment of baptism to the hour of our death.  Mary is the universal Mother, given to us as such on Calvary (see John 19:25-27). She is now glorified in Heaven and exercises all the power God grants to her as Mother and Mediatrix of Grace. It is her task to preserve and bring to full maturity the divine and eternal life in us, to keep it safe for the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Mary is eternally the Mother of the members of Christ: Mother of their divine life, a mother who never ceases to beget them to this divine life; a mother who never ceases to watch over them, carry them, feed them, sustain them, educate them and direct them toward the Heart of Jesus and toward the Father while teaching them to be completely docile to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…  In His wisdom, God willed to fully establish Mary as Mother of His Son so that she might fully be Mother of [Christ’s] members, in order that she might eternally play this role as Mother of our divine life.  That is why the gift of this divine life which she gives to her children is realized in this particular modality of maternity.  She is the vital milieu where their divine life can blossom.  She is the one who carries and envelops their Christian life, who disposes their souls to the action of the Holy Spirit… Mary’s maternal rule over us primarily concerns the blossoming of our Christian life, the perfection of our life of faith, hope, and love…”  (The Mystery of Mary, Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP).

The whole of our life is held in her motherly arms, wrapped in her mantle of holy protection, watched over carefully to preserve the Divine Life within us.  This is her main concern and is also the concern of our guardian angels and patron saints and whoever we call on in Heaven for help.  Nothing is more important to them (and should be to us) than allowing this Divine Life—Christ abiding in us and we in Him—to flourish in us.

It is almost as if our souls are like Mary’s womb, for we carry the life of Christ delicately in us, waiting for the full revelation of his Mystery when all is finally manifest.  The Divine Life in us seems as fragile and vulnerable as an unborn child, because in the terrible gift of our free will we are able to cast it from us by turning away from the Lord in a deliberate or even definitive manner.  So all of Heaven is praying for us, that the Divine Life in us will “come to term,” will grow and become ever stronger, sanctifying us and preparing us for an eternity of irrepressible life and joy in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So in a spiritual sense Our Lady brings to birth countless children of God, nourishes and cares for our Divine Life as our heavenly Mother.  She sees and loves Jesus in us and takes care of us with the love with which God enabled her to love Jesus in such a surpassing manner, like no other. The Infant or Child Jesus in Mary’s arms can be a symbol of our Divine Life that she holds and draws to herself and loves and cares for. We are reflections of Him for her, the brethren of her Only-begotten, and in the measure we turn to her, she can embrace and protect our lives and insure that the Divine Life will grow in us in ways we could not accomplish on our own, even with the ordinary help of grace.  For if Mary, the all-holy, all-pure one, is leading and guiding us, and if we have placed everything in her hands, the life of Christ will come to perfection in us, for she can do this by the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, with whom she constantly and intimately works.  This is the main reason we consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Heaven weeps if we disregard or reject the gift of divine and eternal life, offered through baptism and Holy Communion.  The saints and angels do all in their power to help restore it if we have foolishly lost it or thrown it away.  The meaning of our life is simply to cherish this inner Divine Life and make it bear fruit through whatever mission the Lord gives us.  For once we have the Divine Life in us, we are called to help others to open themselves to receive it, according to our particular vocations.

Make sure, then, that you receive and live from the Divine, Eternal Life that is in you, especially through the Sacraments, through worthy and devout reception of Holy Communion.  Then allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Mother of your Divine Life, to see to it that this Life grows and matures and is kept safe for the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Divine Life is everything. There is no other reason you are in this world—except to share the knowledge of this precious gift with others, so that all the children of God can come Home to eternal happiness.

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