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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Used with permission by author Kathryn Marcellino, OCDS  of  CatholicSpiritualDirection.org.

First of all, let me sincerely wish all of you celebrating Thanksgiving, a very Happy Thanksgiving. Whether spending Thanksgiving Day with family, friends or alone this year, we all have something very important to be thankful for and that is the greatest gift of all, God himself.
These are difficult times for many of us, but St. Teresa of Avila reminds us that, “God alone suffices.”


Even if our finances are failing, or family and friends are not around, or our health is not what it could be, we can still rightly give thanks for the greatest gift of all which is Jesus Christ, the Lord. And this gift can never be taken away from us.

St. Columba’s ancient Irish melody reminds us:
“The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his, And he is mine forever.”

Do not worry or be afraid

Jesus reassures us in our struggles and tells us we do not need to worry. Matt 6:31-34, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
To experience the benefits of the greatest gift of all, who is God himself, we need to take time to raise our mind and hearts to God in prayer, thanksgiving and praise. We can do this by spending some quality time alone with God in prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and daily Mass if possible. We also need to seek God’s kingship over us (Matt. 6) by learning God’s will and doing it.
We often have many challenges in life. Prayer can be like a little vacation that gives us the power, strength and grace to face all that comes our way. In prayer we not only speak to God, but can listen to God to hear any directions or inspirations. We are never really alone because God is always with us. He is as accessible as a prayer and opening our heart to him.

Be thankful in all circumstances

Every day, but especially on Thanksgiving Day, let’s take time to “be thankful in all circumstances” as St. Paul tells us. Our true home and family is the Kingdom of God. All that we are now going through is passing and changeable, but inside we can be at peace as God is there. He is knocking at the door of our heart waiting for us to open it and let him in. He loves us and wants to be with us.
Do you focus on what is not going well (either your own problems or in the news)? One idea is turn off the TV or internet and spend some of that time in pray and focusing on God and good things. Having a spiritual rule of life is a good idea. (If interested this is covered in the “Seeking Union with God” Online Personal Spiritual Formation Course.)
Keeping our focus on God and the ultimate perspective of life will keep us on the right track. And if we have gotten off-track, and are not experiencing God’s peace inside, God is inviting us at this very moment with open arms to return to him as in the story of the Prodigal Son. Making a good confession can be a new beginning if we’ve been away. There is nothing that can give us as much peace as making a good confession and hearing the words of the Prayer of Absolution from the priest: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Experiencing God’s peace includes giving thanks

Experiencing inner peace is possible even when times are tough. We know that St. Paul did not always have things easy. In fact he was severely beaten for proclaiming the Gospel, and experienced hunger and other discomforts including martyrdom, and yet he could write in the midst of his sufferings the following passage. (By the way, the Scripture passage below if one of my favorites. It has a lot of great wisdom in almost every line, so I encourage you to read it and really think about what it says.)
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity. Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.” Philippians 4:4-14

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also says in #2638 “As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’; ‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.’ ”

Inner peace is not only a gift but a decision

What I learn from the above teachings is that even if things are seemingly not going well outside of me, I can decide and learn with the help of God’s grace to get things together inside of me, to give thanks to God and have inner peace even to the point of giving thanks and rejoicing. It reminds me of what a Carmelite priest once said, “If you’ve left peace, you’ve left God.”
Jesus came to give us his peace, love and joy and these cannot be taken from us by anything if we don’t let them. An example of this is St. Ignatius of Loyola, who struggled hard to found the Jesuits. He said that if the pope ordered him disband his Society, he would need only fifteen minutes in prayer to compose himself and be on his way.
One secret of staying in God’s peace, is to not selfishly cling to anything including needing things our way. This is called detachment. Sometimes we need to let things go in order to have what God might want to give in their place. And sometimes we need to stay where we are but just change our inner attitude. St. Catherine of Siena found a refuge inside of her heart where God dwells, a cell in her heart, which she described as like being in the calmness of a depths of the ocean even when the waves on the surface were rough and choppy.

Summary

St. Paul tells us to rejoice always and giving thanks to God no matter what is happening outside of us. He says to, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” To have God’s peace includes putting our focus and attention on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise”.
When I take time to pray, to be thankful and focus on good things, I do experience more of God’s peace inside. It helps me to realize that no matter what is happening at the moment, seemingly good or bad, that it is temporary and passing. What lasts forever is God and his Kingdom of which Jesus invites us to be a part. St. Catherine of Siena is an example of what we can aspire to when she said, “All the way to heaven is heaven because He said I am the Way.”
I hope and pray that we will all experience God’s love, peace, and joy to a greater degree this Thanksgiving and every day!

Kathryn Marcellino is a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCDS). She is the author of How to Pray the Rosary as a Pathway to Contemplation. She offers instruction and resources on the Catholic faith through her website at http://www.CatholicSpiritualDirection.org as well as offering spiritual direction and answering questions on the Catholic faith via e-mail. She is married to author, speaker and musician, Dennis Marcellino.

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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”.

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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)

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Solitude

We are so fortunate in Carmel to have so many Saints and Blesseds to draw inspiration from!  Here is a wonderful extract from one of the lesser known Carmelites . . . Pere Jacques Bunel.  It comes from one of his spiritual conferences and speaks so wonderfully to solitude as one of the key foundation blocks of deep, interior prayer:

Let us now place ourselves in God’s presence, so that he can speak personally to each one of you.  Let us all do our duty.  I want to fulfill my duty to let God speak to you through the words he puts on my lips and the ideas he places in my mind, without mincing his message.  Likewise, it is your duty to welcome the message as coming not from a man, but from God.  Together, let us be totally honest and straightforward in our shared search for truth.
 
    The one, authentic Carmel consists of a quiet, uninterrupted conversation with God.  That is the true Carmel that our Carmelite forebears sought.  We can neither find nor embrace God, just as we cannot sit at his feet in order to gaze lovingly upon him, if we are immersed in noise and activity.  We cannot hear the voice of God, who speaks without words, except in silence.  
 
    Consider the example of our spiritual father, Elijah.  Note these eagerness with which he returned from his apostolic activities to his beloved cave at Carmel.  It was solitude that he sought in order to replenish his spirit through silent intimacy with God.
 
    Likewise, consider Saint Therese of Lisieux.  The need for silence and solitude burned within her.  
 
    We, too, submitted to that deep spiritual impulse on the day God touched our life, perhaps after receiving Communion or during an hour of deep prayer.  At that moment we felt, understood, and lived the truth that God is not a word, but rather a living being, who envelops us.  He made us aware in the depths of our souls that this first living personal contact was with the very being of God.
 
    Do you remember the instructions of our holy father Saint John of the Cross, when he depicted Carmel using the symbol of a mountain?  At the summit, he put the goal of our life; he mapped our the withdrawal from the world that we must undertake to arrive at this point of all-embracing union with God.  In the middle was a steep path; on each side, he sketched the easier routes, which were makeshift and incomplete.  Then, between them, with a quick stroke, he drew an exacting road on which one hears the refrain “Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing but God alone.”
 
    A person does not withdraw to Carmel because of weariness, or to know tranquility, or to live a mediocre life, or to flee the cares of keeping a home and family, or to have a more comfortable existence.  One comes here because she is athirst for God, because she desires to find God and to reveal God to the whole world.”

This passage was was specifically addressed to cloistered nuns so the concept of solitude presented might be a bit different than how we seek it in the world. For me, solitude is not so much a place we go or even a physical aloneness . . . but an attitude of the heart.

Con-templation . . . with God in His temple. The temple, of course, is our very hearts. A hermitage we can take with us anywhere we go!

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