Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: The Three Ages of the Interior Life

We are seeking here to determine the normal way of sanctity or of a
 perfection such that one could enter heaven immediately after death.
Such is the stated purpose of this book, a classic first published in 1948.  Just how God leads the soul in divine love and how the soul may exercise itself in the discipline of love is the subject matter of great works on the spiritual life, and it is also the subject matter of this book --- so says the Foreward written by the great Cardinal Stritch of Chicago.  I remember him well from my youth; he was a very holy man.
As soon as a man seeks truth and goodness … little by little instead of seeking himself in everything … man seeks God in everything.  This is done through a growth in a man’s interior life, his life in God.  This book describes the three classically-defined stages of spiritual growth:  the purgative (the active purification of the senses, the passions, and the will), the illuminative (the way of infused contemplation), and the unitive way of the perfect (intimate union with God).  It refers to theological writings of Sts. Teresa, John of the Cross and many, many others, and explains their deep spiritual thoughts in ways a common – yet serious – seeker can understand.
The Reverand Reginald Garrigou Lagrange delves deeply into what defines spiritual progress, and how it can be perceived.  He explains various types of prayer, the workings of grace and virtue (and vice) and the sacraments, the role of a spiritual director, and the whole purpose of prayer:  if you want to be invited to live with God eternally, you better get to know Him now.
This is a wonderful book for those serious about advancing in the spiritual life, those wanting to find meaning and true joy in their life, and wanting to do the will of God for them.  The subtitle to this book is “Prelude of Eternal Life.”  If you look forward to that life, this book can bring you great progress to getting there, to being where He made you to be.
The interior life is in a soul that is in the state of grace, (living) a
life of humility, … with the peace given by the progressive subordination
of our feelings and wishes to the love of God.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: The Gate

I don’t review novels.  I mean, they’re just stories, and novels for kids, well ….
But I’m reviewing this one, because this one is worth reading, even for big kids, like me.
Nancy Carabio Belanger has written other novels; I read at least one other.  I recall enjoying it, but not like this one.  This one hit home with me, on a number of levels.  Oh, it started off a bit slow for me; the language seemed a bit forced.  The story was written through the eyes of the “smart-aleck Josh,” a thirteen year old once-upon-a-time Catholic kid.  At different times in our lives, in one way or another, I think many of us have been Joshes.  And as you begin to realize that, the story grows more interesting.
As the story progresses, you find yourself rooting for Josh, and wishing he can “grow up” and look beyond the hurts of his life and, if you are a person of faith, to see his life through the eyes of God.  Despite doing some bad things, Josh is a good kid.  What eventually brings about a change in Josh is a school assignment, an assignment to become a pen pal “with some old geezer” in a nursing home.
Buy this book; enjoy it; give it to a child you love.  Maybe even one you know, who desperately needs love.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Narek - A Path Of Salvation

St. Gregory Narekatsi (b 950AD) is a doctor of the Armenian Church.  He was banished by local political authorities and lived out much of his life as a monk in exile, in hiding.  His book of prayers, “The Book of Lamentation,” (called Narek by Armenians) is deep in theological verse and confusing to many.  It is said to describe the path to perfection.  St. Gregory was recently declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis.
This book is an analysis of Narek’s words, and the only recently published book on Amazon.  I am sure the analysis simplifies, yet it too is very deep.  “Each prayer-chapter of Narek (includes) self-analysis and glorification of God.”  The self-analysis described therein is often deeply degrading, but “once we see us as God sees us, we turn into a new person.”  There is much written in Narek about humility, penance, and of living others’ pain.
One line of the book, in particular, deeply impacted me:  “The repentance of Narek leads us to the acknowledgement of our own sins in ratio with God’s holiness.”  I perceived Narek as seeing God’s holiness as a picture of perfection, like a white sheet of paper.  Sin is a black dot on that white sheet which, whether large or small, destroys that perfection.  Sin and perfection cannot exist together.  Narek wants us to see that there is no “ratio” between our sins and God’s holiness.  There is no “little” sin.  Thus St. Gregory often describes himself as disgusting, and his sins as ruining the chance for the ultimate union of himself and God.
You can read this short 88-page book in an hour, or a year.

Monday, March 16, 2015

You Choose Your Friends

Matt 26:47-56   The Arrest of Jesus
The Scripture passage I chose to meditate upon was short, yet I stumbled to a halt in my musings at the very first sentence:
While He was still speaking, Judas came; one of the twelve
And I thought:  he’s still considered one of the twelve?  Jesus, praying in the Garden, knew well what was about to happen; He foretold it.  He dipped His hand with Judas at the Last Supper, and He said of Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mt 2:24).  And yet now here is the moment of betrayal:  Judas comes into the garden with the soldiers, to betray Jesus, yet this Gospel writer describes Judas as one of the twelve.
I want to say out loud that the writer is mistaken.  This Judas is no longer one of the trusted, one of the most loved, one of the hand-picked twelve.  No, this man chose to leave Jesus’ company.  He chose earthly treasures over Jesus.
But why, then, does the Gospel writer still call him one of the twelve?  Is the writer that far removed, that UN-moved, by the story?  Is he just some scribe, writing what someone else related to him?  He sounds almost like someone who doesn’t believe or understand the story he is writing.
This greatly bothers me, and I think: “At that point, Judas certainly was NOT one of the twelve.”
Finally though, I moved on.  Judas and the soldiers approach Jesus in the garden, and Judas then kisses Jesus:  the sign to the soldiers that this is the one.  And then …. Jesus said:   Friend, why are you here? (Mt 26:50).
Friend!!  Jesus said:  Friend?!!”  And my reading halted yet again.  I felt myself more agitated …
It was quiet, then in the chapel, as I pondered these words.  I looked up at the great host on the altar.  And I pondered more.  Friend.  And then thoughts came to me of other days, and other nights in MY life.  Sitting there in the heavens above, how often did Jesus look down at me and see my betraying Him by my actions?  And, was He agitated then, judging another, as I was tonight?
I think not.  That is not the Jesus I’ve come to know.  No, when I was far away from Him, when I almost forgot He existed, even then He looked down on me, in love, and called me friend.  Even then, when I was farther away than the Prodigal Son ever was, still He considered me one of His closest children, just like one of the twelve.  Through my sins, I left Him, but He never left me.
This was a good passage to meditate upon during Lent, as we approach Good Friday, when Jesus chose to die for me, His friend.
It is a good reminder that I must act like His friend.  I must make better choices with my life.  I must at least try to be that friend He thought worth dying for.  I want to live as He taught me.
I don’t want to betray Him, yet again.
            - - - - - - - - - -
It was very late night, early morning, and I felt extremely tired as I drove home, speeding way too fast through the dense fog.  When suddenly, out of the woods, out of the fog, there appeared a very large buck deer, its impressive antlers something that anyone would be proud to display ---- but I didn’t want to claim the prize this night.
My right foot did not even have time to twitch toward the brake pedal; he was right next to the road, right next to my car.  I couldn’t brace for impact:  He was there!  But almost just as suddenly as he appeared, he planted his right front hoof firmly and, despite his apparent speed, pivoted into a 180-degree turn.
My brain finally kicked in at that point:  Did I hear gravel spray up on my car as he struck his hoof down so firmly, so suddenly, so near?  Surely he kicked stones up from the gravel shoulder of the road.
But I didn’t know for sure:  I was past him.  It was over.  There was nothing to see in the fog behind me.  Nothing.  This was not my night to die, nor his.
I said a sincere prayer of thanks to my guardian angel.  I know there a people who don’t believe in guardian angels, but all I can say to them is:  Well, if you don’t want ‘em, send yours to me.  When I think of all the close calls I’ve had, I think I must be wearing mine out.
Yet still, I’m here; still, I’m protected ----- like a very dear friend.  And I’m glad He chose me to be one. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lenten Sacrifices

Mt 26: 31-46   The Agony in the Garden
I can imagine Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Olives, and why it was agony:
Really, Father?  Is this what You want?  Is there no other (easier) way?  I have lived with these people, and through Me You have seen them; are they really worth this much of Your love?
 I know how big Your love is, but still, this won’t be easy.   But I also know that You are with Me.  I know My sacrifice will also be Your sacrifice, and we will do this thing together. 
I often wrestle with what is mine to give, and hesitate to part with it; by His sacrifice He showed me the relative importance of my decision.  He gave up everything; I wrestle with giving up a pittance.  Having lived as a man, He understands my sadness with giving, but He opens my heart to see the difference between the giving of things as I do, and giving love as He did.  He brings me to a recognition that true giving is a form of loving, a “giving of self,” ---- and of not counting the cost. 
He helps and encourages my giving by showing me how much good my “sacrifices” will do.  And He helps me see that He willingly sacrificed so much more.  He helps me see how worthy in His eyes are those for whom I would sacrifice.  But what did He see there in the Garden, as He considered His sacrifice?  …… He saw me.  And He deemed me worthy of such a huge sacrifice.
And I wondered:  Would I choose to give up so much, for someone like me? 
He showed me what should drive my giving and loving: not seeking some huge good in a person to deem them worthy, but finding a little good, and saying they are still worth my love.  Real love is giving to those who, from many angles, might seem less, but by giving them love elevating their worth …. in their own eyes, and helping them see their value in God’s eyes.
I’ve heard people say to someone doing a good act:  “Well, that’s mighty big of you.”  They don’t realize how true their words are.  And they don’t realize that their words might be those of God, looking down on us, and how we love ---- like a father looking down on his child and saying: “Well, you’re acting almost like a grown up, --- like Me.”