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There are three major personalities in the season of Advent: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. It is very helpful to meditate on the significance of these three personalities and to find their significance in the event of Christmas.

Isaiah is the great prophet of Advent. Most of the liturgical readings are taken from him. For the most part, they are proclamations of Israel’s infidelities to God and God’s plan of salvation. Despite Isaiah’s cries of woes, the liturgical texts of Advent are really beautiful in the sense of being invitations to keep our faith anchored in God’s promise of redemption. Advent is a season of supernatural hope. It reminds us that despite our infidelities, or precisely because of our weakness, God is ready to take us back if only we repent.

 

This subject of repentance brings us to the person of John the Baptist. John was an ascetic, the “voice in the wilderness.”  Isaiah proclaimed John as the one to prepare the way of the Lord. Advent does not have the penitential rigors of Lent though the priest uses purple vestments during Mass, but an inward conversion of heart. God’s coming is to take the form, not as judge, but as an infant. That in itself is a joyful event. There is a jubilant expectation, love is in the air. John calls us to repent and to turn away from everything that lies in the way of God’s coming to us. It is a call to a deeper awareness of who it is “leaving heaven” to be with the sons of men. After having grasped this we are moved to love. Advent requires that we make room for the Spirit of God. We need to do away with things that are not compatible with Him. Having offered the little we have, God purifies them so that we may be presented to Him as a “chaste bride to her bridegroom.”

Mary is the central figure in Advent because she is the Mother of God made Man. It is fitting to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during Advent because it makes sense to honor the Ark that contained the New Covenant. She had to be immaculately conceived to bear the Sinless One.  Mary’s greatness does not only depend on her privilege of physical motherhood but more so because she exemplifies the faith of a true disciple. I think it was St. Bernard who said that Mary gave birth only to what she had already conceived in her heart and mind. This was manifested in her complete submission, her living faith, her readiness to give herself to the fulfillment of what the great prophets had foretold. She exemplifies the true spirit of Advent, the vigilant waiting we  must try to practice.  You and I will make it our aim to make this Advent and Christmas Season different.  Let us ponder how..

Teresian Mansions

St. Teresa

Last week on the EWTN show “The Fulfillment of All Desire,” host Ralph Martin spoke about the Teresian Mansions.   He talked about how some people say, “I’ve gotten far enough in my spiritual life, so I think I’ll stop here,” or “I’m doing better than I used to be,” or even, “I’m doing better than those people over there. ”  Martin points out that “the Lord is not asking us to look back at where we used to be, and He’s certainly not asking us to look at how we’re doing in relationship to other people.  He’s asking us to look to Him, and to perceive clearly that He wants the deepest possible union with us.   He doesn’t want to leave any part of us transformed; He wants our happiness to be complete, and He wants to truly be the fulfillment of all our desires – to bring us the happiness, the peace, the freedom, the joy and the love He is longing to give us. ”

Martin goes on to explain that there are many stages of growth in the spiritual life, and briefly describes the Teresian Mansions:

First Mansion:  Conversion

This stage involves turning away from sin, beginning to pray, and beginning to find out what it means to be a Christian.

Second Mansion:  Temptations and trials that purify

In this stage a person may experience immature zeal, may seek consolations rather than a relationship with Jesus which involves taking up our cross daily, and initial dryness in prayer.  We may be tempted to become discouraged and give up, but those who persevere during this trial will grow.

Third Mansion: Stability

In this stage, a person is living a mature, stable Catholic life.  The person is keeping the laws of the Church, praying regularly, and participating in the sacraments regularly.  The person is fulfilling the duties of his or her state in life; for example, those who have households are managing them well.  The person is both eager and happy to be Catholic.

St. Teresa points out that people often stop at this stage.  They think that they’ve arrived when things are basically in order in their lives.  But St. Teresa says there is no reason why people who reach this mansion can’t go all the way to mansion seven.

Fourth Mansion:  Deepening of prayer life

We begin to experience recollection, a quieting of the soul in which we have a sense of presence and communion with God.  Prayer can deepen into the prayer of quiet, in which the will is absorbed in the Lord, but the imagination and memory may still wander in prayer.

Fifth Mansion: Prayer of Union

If we persevere in prayer in mansion four, our prayer may deepen into the prayer of union, in which the will, memory and imagination are absorbed in the Lord during prayer.  There is less wandering and distraction, and an attentiveness to God in prayer.   The Lord gives this prayer to help us give ourselves to Him more completely and to bring our will in union with His Will.  This prayer doesn’t necesarrily last for lengthy periods of time; St. Teresa said when she first experienced it, it didn’t last more than the length of a Hail Mary.   The longest she experienced this kind of deep absorption in the Lord was about half an hour.  Martin points out that we can experience different levels of prayer within one prayer time; it is possible to leave a single prayer time having experienced recollection, the prayer of quiet, and the prayer of union .

St. Teresa also says that the Lord may bring people to a profound union of wills with Him without necessarily experiencing this kind of deep prayer.  The Lord has other ways of bringing us to union, but normally it is through contemplation that He brings this about.

Sixth Mansion:  Preparation for a deeper union with the Lord

During this mansion there is an acceleration in preparation for deeper union with God, and this comes about in two ways.  One is through gifts, blessings and consolations, and we begin to experience life from the perspective of the Lord.   The other way God prepares us for union is through affliction, suffering and trials.  Martin reminds us that we are going to have affliction and trials in life anyway, so let’s use them to grow spiritually.   During this mansion we may experience the dark night that St. John of the Cross speaks of.  The Lord uses this trial as a time of pruning and purification to expand our souls, so to speak, so that we are more capable of receiving Him and receiving His love.

Seventh Mansion:  Nuptial or Transforming Union

This is a very deep and abiding communion with the Lord, in which we are continually aware of the Lord’s presence.  Prayer is very continual, and we have tremendous fruitfulness in carrying out God’s will.

Obstacles to Progress

If there is no reason that everyone who reaches mansion three cannot reach mansion seven, why is it that so few do?  What are some things that hold us back, and what can we do about them?

One obstacle is a lack of knowledge of self and of God.  Sometimes we forget our littleness, and it is hard to be full of Christ when we our full of ourselves.   On the other hand, we may become discouraged by our self-knowledge and have a lack of trust that God can and will bring us to perfection.

Another obstacle is lack of desire for perfection.  After all if you don’t desire God, you can’t expect to have Him!  But if we find that we don’t have this desire for perfection, then we need to pray for it.  This desire can only come from God, and He will give us this desire if we ask.  For those who do have this desire, it is good to pray that the desire will grow.  Believe that God wants you to be a saint, and desire to become one.  Say it out loud: “I want to be a saint.”

St. Therese of Lisiuex had the desire to be a saint, but felt she didn’t have what it takes to be a great saints, who are spectacular flowers in the garden of God, the roses and the lillies.  Therese felt she was a tiny flower that no one would notice, and she wondered if someone who is not a spectacular flower could be a saint.  The Lord’s answer to her was what it means to be a saint is to be perfectly who you were created to be, and to not resist God’s grace to transform us.  We don’t have to be somebody else to be a saint, but we can be inspired by the saints to be the saint we are supposed to be.

Therese felt these steps in the spiritual journey were big for her, and wondered if there were a shortcut for little souls.   She pondered a technological trend of her time – elevators in the homes of the wealthy – and wondered if there were such a thing as a spiritual elevator.   In prayer she realized there is such a thing; the spiritual elevator is in the arms of Jesus.   Therese wrote that once she took her place in the arms of Jesus, it was amazing what she was able to see.  She no longer saw God from the perspective of the world, but instead saw the world from within the heart of God.

Pope John Paul II, in his letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte” tells us how the great mystical tradition of the Church teaches us that “prayer can progress, as a genuiune dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the Divine Beloved, vibrating at the touch of the Spirit, and resting fillialy within the heart of the father.”

Therese entered into this Trinitarian communion which brought her to holiness.  We can do the same.  Pope John Paul II continues in his letter:  “This is the lived experience of Christ’s promise: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21). It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the “dark night”). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as “nuptial union”.

Carmelite Saints

Feast: November 14th

The Carmelite Order celebrates the feast of all its Saints on November 14th. This is a solemn commemoration and tribute given to the men and women who climbed the mount of Carmel to seek the face of God and allowed themselves to be transormed by the Presence they found there. There are many of these Saints, although we only hear of the famous ones- Saint John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Blessed ELizabeth of the Trinity and others. Equally great in the Order are, St. Peter Thomas, St. Andrew Corsini, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified, St. Raphael Kalinowski, St. Teresa of St. Agustine and the martyrs of Compiegne, St. John Soreth, St. Elisha, St. Albert of Trapani, Blessed Titus Brandsma, St Margaret Redi and many more! These are huge personalities in Carmel and we treasure them, their lives and examples of true love of God. Continue Reading »

Before the Veil

I was a Discalced Third Order Aspirant before I became a Religious.  I treasure those times of study, enthusiasm and fervor.  I could not get enough of Carmel and I loved studying the Rule.  It was God’s way of drawing me to Himself.  Carmel is truly a “garden.”  The more one enters its threshold, the more one is captivated by its ideals.  It is wonderful to belong to Our Lady’s family, to wear her habit, to claim the Saints of the Order as our brothers and sisters.  Do you feel the same?  My years in Religious life have shown me the desert of Carmel as well.  But despite it all, I can truly say with Saint Peter on Mount Tabor, “How wonderful it is to be here!”

I have recently been reading Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe, a book on mental prayer which I’ve found helpful.   In one chapter, he speaks of the importance of recollecting God’s presence in our hearts, and how recollection profoundly transformed the prayer life of St. Teresa of Avila.  He quotes St. Teresa’s Way of Perfection:

It is clear to me that if I had understood, as I do today, that in this tiny palace of my soul, such a great King is living, I would not have left him alone so often, I would have gone to seek him out from time to time, and I would have taken steps to ensure that the palace was less dirty.  How admirable it is, then, to think that he whose greatness would fill a thousand worlds and much more, shuts himself into such a little thing! In truth, since he is the Master, he is free and since he loves us, he reduces himself to the measure of our smallness.

Fr. Phillipe gives this advice:  “When we don’t know how to pray, the simplest thing to do is recollect ourselves, keep silence, and enter into our own heart, go down into ourselves and, by faith, rejoin the presence of Jesus who dwells within us, and stay peacefully with him. Don’t leave him alone, keep him company.  Someone who perseveres in doing this will soon discover the reality of what Easter Christians call the “place of the heart” –the “inner cell,” as St. Catherine of Siena called it.  This is the center of our being, where God has taken up his abode and we can always be with him.  Yet many men and women do not know about this inner space of communion with God because they have never gone there, never visited this garden to gather its fruits.  Happy are they who make the discover of the Kingdom of God within themselves.  It will change their lives.”  (Phillipe, Time for God pp. 63-64)

Feast Day: October 15

St. Teresa does not need any introduction. She is famous among the laity and a shining luminary in the Catholic Church. She is one of the three women Doctors of the Church, with St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine of Siena, being the other two. She is known as the Reformer of Carmel, along with St. John of the Cross, and founded the Discalced Order of the Carmelite family. The Teresian reform is not the only reform in Carmel. There were other reforms including the Reform of Touraine in France (17th century) and the Mantuan reform in Italy, which effected many changes in the Order. But St. Teresa’s reform was the most well known partly because of her own charismatic personality and widespread influence. She was a very influential woman of her day and collaborated with powerful people . Continue Reading »

FdeAmboise

Feast: November 5

Blessed Frances d’Amboise was born in 1427, probably in Thouars in France. She was the wife of Peter II, Duke of Brittany. After his death, and under the direction of Blessed John Soreth, the prior general , she took the habit of the Carmelite Order in the monastery she had previously founded in Bondon. Afterward she transferred to another foundation in Nantes, also erected by her, where she held the office of prioress and nourished the sisters with wise teaching. She is considered the foundress of the Carmelite nuns in France. She died in 1485.

“Whatever the troubles and difficulties that weigh you down, bear them all patiently and keep in mind that these are the things which constitute your cross. Offer your help to the Lord and carry the cross with him in gladness of heart. There is always something to be endured, and if you refuse one cross, be sure that you will meet with another, and maybe a heavier one. If we trust in God and rely on his help, we shall overcome the allurements of vice. We must never let our efforts flag nor our steps grow weary, but must keep our hearts under steady discipline.”

(taken from the Carmelite Liturgy of the hours)