Friday, January 20, 2017

Let hope be liberated in you

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The path to hope is one that we are not willing to take, for it means allowing yourself to live in the unhappiness that so often can feels like it is crushing you.  Things become very simple at those moments and the more your unhappiness crushes you, the more you discover it crushes you against God.  Nothing exist between you and Him when your life the nadir of its sufferings.  

So often we approach life as something we own or as if we are the source of it; but suffering reveals that it is a "gratuitous gift" and not the product of "anxious, personal industry."  When we begin to see this, hope blooms and we realize finally that we had been repressing it.  And so Daughters, entrust yourselves to God rather than seeking to make Him enter your plans.  Let hope be liberated in you.

It is when you are the most unhappy that you will find yourselves the most happy.  Never will you have known greater peace, simplification, and fervor than when you are completely unhappy.  The weight of your unhappiness crushes you, but against God, to the point of not leaving any space between Him and you.  Your powerlessness, your total misery will make your liberation.  You will learn then that existence is a gratuitous gift and not an anxious personal industry.  And the intensity of the hope which will bloom so simply in your heart will reveal to you the violence with which you had repressed it until then.

You will know that nothing was more natural to you than to entrust yourself, whereas you were trying to use even your first move of confidence towards God in order not to entrust yourself truly to him, but to try to make him enter into your plans, like a pawn on your chessboard.  It is only when you accepted to be a pawn in his hand and in his plan, that you liberated hope and his action.

L. Evely

Thursday, January 19, 2017

like a word which one never finishes pronouncing

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

One of the most unfortunate and painful effects of sin is the distance it places between Creator and creature.  A feeling of psychosis washes over us that Evely strains to capture in the reflection below: "like a word which one never finishes pronouncing, eternally suspended and uncertain about its own meaning.  A word which does not hear the voice which pronounces it. . . ."   Our perception and experience of reality changes.  It is as if we are being shaped by a violent force or dark will in which we experience no love.  Conscious alone of this painful and frightening reality, we grow weary and cry out against the one who is responsible for it.  Yet, incapable of expressing ourselves, our cries never seem to communicate this pain or find a path to its relief.  

Only He who created us, He who is meaning itself, can free us from our distress and He must work at the very locus of the pain.  Rest comes to us only when we have be recreated by the loving hands we have grown to fear and sometimes even hate.  We will find rest only when the work of the pierced and loving hands is complete.

There is no worse suffering than to be a creature.  We are like a word which one never finishes pronouncing, eternally suspended and uncertain about its own meaning. A word which does not hear the voice which pronounces it. A word which must be content to let itself be pronounced.

Or else we are like rough-casts which have escaped from the hands of our modeler.

We are sick and tired of being hurt, of blows, scrapings, cuttings, remodeling.  But when we stop in our furious flight, we find ourselves miserable, terribly insufficient, incapable of expressing ourselves and finding our bearings, and we cry with anger and indignation against him who is responsible for it.

There is no rest, for a creature, except in the hands of his Creator.  He alone can complete it, free it from its anxiety and distress.  But the place of its completion is also the place of its pain, the place where God is at work on it.  There is no peace for us except in relying on the place where we are hurt.

L. Evely

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The asceticism of joy

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Your patron, Philip, knew well how sadness can cling to the soul.  It is for this reason that he counseled the practice of the Asceticism of Joy.  The fundamental attitude that flows from the virtue of faith is joy in the Lord; being able to see through the tears to the promise of life and love.  However, almost as a defensive measure our minds can begin to cling to our sadness and make the feeling of melancholy a pillow upon which we lay our heads and hearts.  We find that the melancholy that suffering can produce in the soul can be made into a shell -  protecting us from life.  It allows us to remain static while at the same time giving a certain liberty to our angry and aggression toward the world, others, and ultimately God.  There is even a certain power in being a "kill joy"; a satisfaction when there is no joy in the world around us any longer.  Only then will world conform to our internal state and our suffering will be confirmed.  Such a melancholic spirit in the end gives way to despair; but not before having given us long service. 

For such a soul there is no worse detachment, no greater mortification than joy.  Yet without this asceticism, without this practice of true faith, the heart will remain shrouded in darkness.

We must know how to detach ourselves even from suffering.  We must learn to be happy even when we are unhappy.  We must, in a word, work loose from ourselves.  A Father of the Church used to say to himself, "There is only one way of being cured of sadness, and that is to dislike being sad."  It is hard to believe this when we are suffering.  As if we had chosen to be hurt!  Of course not, but what is terrible is that we often choose to keep on suffering, to fan the flames of our pain, to inflame our wounds, to find our only comfort in our very discomfort.  For if we keep our pain, then we also keep our right to complain, our right to withdraw into our shell, our right to hurt others and to kill their joy.  And when there is no joy in the world any longer, then we will be confirmed in our pain.  We have, in the meantime, only one stone to rest our head on, and it is called despair.  This hard pillow will give us long service.

Indeed, nothing would be harder than to stop being unhappy.  There is no worse detachment than joy.

L. Evely

The right cross

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

The language of the cross can be bewildering.  We speak of "taking up our cross" and "offering up" our sufferings and inconveniences to God; we know that this is part of the Christian Way.  But, often, both the language and the clarity of faith fail us when confronted with the reality of the cross that we actually receive - when all meaning and understanding elude us.  When we are confined to our bed, checkmated by failure, isolated by a misfortune, annihilated by the feeling of our powerlessness, we must resign ourselves to listen to God's language, to admit a Presence in the pain, to acknowledge His will not in what is elevating but humiliating.

The cross finds entry where we are most defenseless.  We come to see how feebly we carry what has been given to us.  It can never be the right cross for us - for in some way we would seek to maintain the illusion of strength and self-sufficiently.  It must make sense to us or seem to have a higher reason. Yet, it is only the cross the Lord chooses when all we can do is lean into the pain and even then as what, at the time, seems to be a foreign and dark will.     

We all know that a Christian must bear the cross.  We are all disposed, theoretically, to accept one.  But have you noticed that it is never the right cross which comes to us?  The cross we bear (our health, our face, our embarrassment, our wife, our husband, our mother, our child) always seems to us unbearable, petty, humiliating, harmful.  It is always precisely what should not have become our lot, precisely what we can accept for all kinds of obvious reasons which we are always harping on.  All the other crosses seem preferable to us, that of our neighbor, the previous one - that which we have imagined.  Ours is hateful, it destroys us, it hurts us - imagine, it embitters us, and we have a grudge against ourselves and against everybody.  We desperately call for another, for a cross which "fits in," a bearable, spiritual, elevating cross, beneficial to us and to others.

But alas, we must come to recognize that if the cross suited us, it would no longer be a cross; that if we refuse those which hurt, we refuse any cross; and that the cross which God parcels out to us must necessarily always be humiliating and painful, paralyzing and difficult, and must hurt us at the spot where we are the most defenseless.

L. Evely

Monday, January 16, 2017

You only become the saint you do not want to become

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

I offer you these reflections on Suffering because they place before our hearts aspects of life that we are often afraid to look at so candidly.  Though honest, one might even say brutally so, they also seem to buoy up the heart with their deep insights into the presence and providence of God in places we wouldn't expect.  Encountering the trials and turmoils of life that often leave our hopes and dreams in tatters, and experiencing the inevitable decline of old age and its losses, we begin to understand that neither our sanctity nor the love of God depends on anything in this world.  In fact, we find when we are empty Fullness comes to us, when broken the Healer, and when our hearts are made bitter through suffering the Sweetness of Love.

You will never become a saint in the way you imagine or hope.  One can become a saint only be accepting a will other than one's own.   I often imagine the story of an old, worn man, of an elderly and disappointed woman, whose every good desire has run aground, whom God has constantly hindered in their most generous plans.

Their vocation, put to the test, has been denied; their attempts at the apostolate have failed for miserable reasons of money and machination, their marriage is sterile or their children are dead, their life is useless.

They grow old anxious and lonely, surrounded by ruins.

But when, sometimes, on their knees, in a long, mute prayer, they dare to question the impenetrable Providence who has conducted their lives, when they reach out their empty hands towards God, when they offer him their wasted existence, their hearts which have been beaten so little, it comes about that they receive a strangely comforting answer.  They sometimes come to understand, in a disarming light, that everything is quite as he wanted it, that their own will would have led them to human results, but that God preferred to lead them to him, that he reserved them entirely for himself, so that the witness they bear to him is pure.

"Yes, I have shattered your projects, I have annihilated your pride.  Nobody needs you, you live without self-contentment, you are before me like a lamp which shines for the satisfaction of nobody, - you are 'without any purpose.'  But you are my love and my glory, I placed my delight in you, you are the portion reserved to me, so well preserved that you are wanted by nobody else, and that you do not even think of being useful, you are my purest reflection because you have become the saints you did not want to become."

L. Evely

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Eucharist - the earthly Heaven

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Let the Eucharist shape your spiritual life completely and you will know a hope and joy that no one and no thing can take from you.  In this land of exile, this valley of tears, the Eucharist is a "possession that is eternal and can never be lost." Christ's love suffered at the thought of having to delay to give you the total gift of Himself.  In order that you might taste now purity, happiness, and  consolation and that His desire to give you His eternal love might be satisfied, our Lord created an earthly heaven - the Eucharist! There hidden in the host your Beloved is personally present. Remain at the altar, dear Daughters, for your Lord cries out: "Come to the foot of my tabernacle and, far from the impure and degraded world, breathe in an atmosphere of purity.  Come and eat my Body and drink my Blood, and I shall live within your heart, and my arms shall enfold you in an embrace which it depends on your free will to make last till the eternal embrace of heaven.  "He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him."  Can you desire more on earth?"

God has created us for heaven.  Hence earth is to us no more than a place of exile, where we feel like strangers and pilgrims.  Like nomads, who today pitch their tents in one place only to move them to another place tomorrow, with never a permanent home, we, too, "exiled children of Eve," are always wandering toward heaven, along the pathways of the "valley of tears."

On earth we have no abiding place, because heaven is our true fatherland, our "home sweet home."  The good God awaits us there, who is our Father, and whose tender love infinitely surpasses that of all mothers together.  There Mary waits for us, enfolding heaven and earth in the incomparable sweetness of her glance and in the tenderness of her most loving heart.  There all the dear ones whom death has torn away from our sides are waiting too.  There we shall enjoy again and forever the sweet affections and holy friendships born on earth.  In truth, heaven is our home and fatherland.

Earth is a place of sin and misery.  How it pains a soul, not yet debased by evil's contact, to see sin reign everywhere, soiling everything, and flooding the earth like a second deluge!  What suffering to thirst for purity and to have to live in the midst of moral filth, to be consumed by the desire of perfection, and yet to feel, at every step, the power of human weakness!

But heaven is the mansion of purity.  O ardently longed for happiness!  There we shall remain free from every stain of sin.  We shall enter there with stainless souls whose brightness shall never more be dimmed.

The earth is a place of punishment, a prison.  Cursed by God after the first sin, it offers man only briars and brambles.  We have to water it with the sweat of our brows and the tears of our eyes, and sometimes, when life holds to our lips its bitterest chalice, with the blood of our hearts.

But heaven is the place of eternal rewards.  There shall be no strife or separation or mourning.  God Himself will dry up the wellspring of our tears.  In heaven every desire will be satisfied; happiness will be perfect and peace unalterable.

Heaven is all that, because it is vision of God, love of God, and possession of God; but a vision without veils, a love without deficiencies, a possession that is eternal and never to be lost.

What wonder, then, as the years roll by, if only one of all our desires survives in the end, namely, the immense, profound, and irresistible desire of heaven and the possession of God?

Jesus who knew the human heart so well, could not bear to see us pine till the end of life, without at least a foretaste of heaven.  His love for us suffered at the thought of having to delay so long the full and total gift of Himself to us.

And so, in order that our exile might be more endurable, that we might enjoy already on earth the inebriating perfume of the purity of paradise, that we might begin even in this place of trial to taste the happiness to be found in the possession of God, to satisfy His love and be our consolation.  He created an earthly heaven: the Eucharist.

It is a veiled heaven, because we still are walking in the obscurities of faith; a transient heaven, like a flash of lightning in the night, or like the echo of a far off harmony; yet, even so, a true heaven.  There, hidden beneath the white appearance of the Sacred Host, Jesus is truly and personally present, the lovely child of Bethlehem, the humble Carpenter of Nazareth, the gentle Wonder-Worker of Galilee, the Victim of Calvary.  There is Jesus, the Man-God, in whom is the fullness of the Godhead, because He is the Word of God, and with the Word are always the Father and the Holy Spirit.  What more shall we possess in heaven?  The manner of the possession will be different, but its object is essentially the same.  The Eucharist is the essence of heaven on earth.

When we receive the Sacred Host, therefore, heaven really comes to us and fills our hearts for all too short a time.  Holy Communion is not only a remembrance and a hope, but a divine reality: it is heaven anticipated!  With good reason, then, the priest says, while placing the Sacred Host on our tongue: "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting" - as if to say: "May the power of the transient earthly heaven you receive from my hand lead you safely, through the obscurities and dangers of this land of exile, to the full enjoyment of the eternal heaven of your fatherland."

Lord Jesus, my Beloved, I hunger for heaven.  The obstinate persistence of my miseries wearies me.  It breaks my heart to see everything enslaved by sin!  The atmosphere of corruption I breathe in the world asphyxiates me!

I hunger for heaven!  Oh, when shall I finally possess Thee, my soul's only love?  When wilt Thou be mine forever?  When shall I be allowed to press Thee to my heart, and be enfolded by Thy divine arms in an eternal embrace?  O beloved Christ, I hunger for heaven!

I hear Thy answer: "Dear soul, I understand you.  I, too, was in exile and trod the ways of life, seeking heaven, the bosom of my Father.  For this reason did I sweeten the words of my farewell to mine own:  "If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father . . . "  Yes, "I return to the Father . . . " to my Father, who is also your Father.

"Yet, to relieve my exile, I carried heaven in the innermost recesses of my soul.  There I contemplated the face of my Father and remained united to Him by the fire of love, which is the Holy Spirit.

"For you, too, I wanted to leave an intimate heaven; it is my Eucharist.  Come to the foot of my tabernacle and, far from the impure and degraded world, breathe in an atmosphere of purity.  Come and eat my Body and drink my Blood, and I shall live within your heart, and my arms shall enfold you in an embrace which it depends on your free will to make last till the eternal embrace of heaven.  "He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him."  Can you desire more on earth?

Thanks, my beloved Lord.  Thanks for Thy tabernacle, that little corner of paradise, to which I can flee away from the world.  Thanks for Thy Eucharist, that parcel of heaven Thou hast left us, to gladden our hearts on earth.  Well didst Thou say: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst . . . for they shall be satisfied."

This too is how the Eucharist contains a taste which sweetens life's bitterness.  It affords us the joy of possession and, at least for a little while, encloses heaven within our heart.  It is, in very truth, the bread "containing in itself all sweetness."

Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Eucharist - Hope of the hopeless

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Hope is often the neglected virtue.  Yet, life would be unbearable without it.  Hope is "the virtue of suffering."  Without hope endurance of suffering is impossible; because it is impossible to endure suffering without any consolation, and at the bottom of every consolation there is a ray of hope.  It might be said also that hope is a natural trait of love on earth.  In heaven love means eternal possession, perfect fruition, and perpetual repose; but on earth love is an aspiration which spurs on the soul, a desire which is never fully satisfied, the confidence of a heart believing and surrendering itself; it is hope which makes us advance always toward the goal of our happiness.  

Earth is the land of hope, because Jesus brought it to her.  Without Him, what hope could there be? In the following reflection, Jose Guadalupe Trevino once again shows us the beauty of the Eucharist - most especially as the "surest guarantee of Christian hope." Daughters, recognize that the Eucharist is God's pledge of enduring love - "such a pledge that we ought not only to hope, but to live in a holy inebriation of hope . . .  ."

Worldlings hope for earthly goods.  "They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, " says the Psalmist.  We, on the contrary, should always keep our eyes and hearts set on the things of heaven, like the pious king Ezechias, who could write of himself: "My eyes are weakened looking upward."

If only we availed ourselves more assiduously of the power hidden in hope!  If we lived in hope!   With what renewed strength and courage, day by day, would we take up our cross and follow Christ!  When temptation strikes with growing fierceness, when duty becomes intolerable, and the sorrows of life oppress us, the hope of heaven would sustain, encourage, and console us.

Precisely because hope is so necessary to life, our Lord wanted to build it on the most solid foundations.  In a certain manner, we may say: He was eve more intent on strengthening our hope than on confirming our faith.  Faith rests on the divine veracity, hope on God's promises.  Not satisfied with found them on His fidelity to His spoken pledge, God has backed them, so to speak, with the surest guaranties. The most excellent of these sureties, the most satisfactory is the one containing all the others in itself, is Jesus.

St. Paul asserts that  God gave us "the promise of life in Christ Jesus," and he calls our Lord "Christ Jesus our hope."  This clearly means that the Father gave us Jesus that we might have hope.  Hence the same Apostle exclaims: "He who has not spared even his own son but has delivered him for us all, how can he fail to grant us all things with him?"  And, as if His love were not yet satisfied, after giving His Son through the mystery of the Incarnation to all mankind in a general way, God gives Him to each individual in the most real manner, through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is indeed the surest guarantee of Christian hope.  When we possess it within our souls, who will set bounds to our confidence?  To better understand this, consider the Eucharist under itself twofold aspect of sacrifice and Communion.

Holy Mass, substantial, universal, and unceasing irradiation of the bloody sacrifice of Calvary, is an always living trophy of the invasion which immolated love made into the world, subjecting to its will, and fashioning as it pleased, the three circumstances which more necessarily impose themselves on every creature: namely, number, time, and place.

Holy Mass, indeed, places before our eyes that same Victim which disappeared from earth nearly twenty centuries ago.  It reproduces at each moment, in all ages, underneath all skies, and simultaneously, not only death of that Victim, but its whole life, both divine and human, in all its states, under all its aspects, with all its perfections and all its prodigious efficacy.  It reproduces all that for God, who it glorifies, satisfies, charms, and subjugates; it reproduces it for us, to whom it communicates - if our free will is not opposed - the substance of all it has obtained from the God whom it has bribed into its chains.  Holy Mass, finally, comes alone the centuries crying in every language and to ever man without exception, to lowly and great, to saint and sinner: "Behold how much God has loved you, since for you Jesus still immolates Himself."

Ah, let us recognize that the holy Mass is such a pledge that we ought not only to hope, but to live in a holy inebriation of hope, all the more because this pledge is given us anew each time Mass is offered, hence every day, perhaps even every minute.

As Communion the Eucharist is perhaps a still surer guarantee of our hope, if such a thing is possible.  At least, it impresses us as a more personal one.  On the altar Jesus sacrifices Himself for all the faithful, though particularly for those who assist at Mass, and still more particularly for those for whom it is applied.  But in Holy Communion He comes to me, for myself alone.  It is not a pledge given to all, but to me alone; and it comes to establish unshakable hope, not in the others, but in me alone.  This gives a personal application to the words of the Apostle: "What can God fail to grant me, after giving me His own son, and, in Him, all that I can desire?"

Each Communion deposits in us a germ of immortality, not just for the soul, but also for the body.  Hence that body shall be more glorious and endowed with a greater fullness of life on resurrection day, which has been nourished more frequently and with better dispositions on the body and blood of Christ.  It was especially for this reason that Jesus said: "I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and have died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die.  I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.  If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the great I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  And in what he said thereafter, He repeated the same affirmation in all possible forms.

Hence the Church sings on the Feast of Corpus Christi: "O Sacred Banquet, wherein Christ is received; the memorial of His passion is celebrated; the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given unto us."

How fortunate we are, we who hope for another life!  To us the agony of someone dear is an hour of farewell, full of sadness, but of sadness mellowed by the sweetness of hope.  In that hour we never say "Good-bye forever" - words as bitter as the gall of despair, sickening as the thud of the clods of earth thrown on the coffin's lid.  In that farewell we say: "Soon we shall meet again! - words sweet as the holy of hope.  They have a charm of their own, like the charm of a child's face, when smiles illumine his pearling tears.

More than ever before, we feel that the dying person was like a part of our own life, because a growing darkness falls on ours as that life ebbs away.  With terror, pain, and something akin to spite for not being able to defend it against death, we follow the deepening of death's pallor, advancing like the shadows of night on that dear face . . . the slow glazing of the eyes, which soon will have the awesome fixedness of a statue's unexpressive glance . . . the breast heaving and falling with a weary rale, as if endeavoring to shake off a heavily oppressing hand.  Could death's triumph be more complete?  Yet, in that very moment, the true life challenges death, conquers it, and breaks its sting, if the dying one has the happiness of receiving the Eucharist in that final battle.

Oh what a moment!  Jesus Christ, the true Life, is there, in the consecrated Host, face to face with death.  And on the parched, thickened, almost paralyzed tongue, no longer able to form the words "O Lord, I am not worthy," the Host, the Victim which is pure, "the Victim which is holy, the Victim which is stainless," is deposited by the priest's hand, and slides down till close to the heart which throbs in the breast like a bird wounded unto death.  I think that, if we could perceive what Jesus says at the moment the Host buries itself in that soul, we would hear Him whisper to the departing one: "Fear not!  I am the resurrection and the life."  How sublime and great, how divine is that effect of the Eucharist, which plants the seed of immortality in the very throes of death!  The Holy Eucharist is there; and, because it is there, those eyes some day will see again, those cheeks will again show forth the bloom of life, those lips will smile anew, those arms will again enfold us, and that tongue will have again the power of speech and tell us: "Weep no more!  Here I am!  If the Eucharist is there, how could death triumph?"

The Eucharist is in truth the "Bread from heaven, containing in itself all sweetness," - the sweetness of hope.

Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist