Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feast of St Augustine - 28th August

“You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.”
(Jer 20:7)

These words from the prophet Jeremiah which we heard this morning at Mass prompted me to reflect on St Augustine whose feast day is to-day but was not celebrated.

Both Jeremiah and Augustine wrote what are known as their ‘confessions’ – accounts which describe their inner struggles and suffering, their loneliness and yearning for God. Their anger, complaints and disappointments betray the heart of a lover. Here I will focus on Augustine.

In his Confessions Augustine gives us a very moving account of his search for God or perhaps more correctly God’s search for him! - which reaches a climax when he exclaims “too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you.” (10:27)

From his earliest years Augustine had a very sensitive heart, with a great capacity for love but yet was prevented from recognising and accepting God as his true and ultimate joy because as he explains - although “he loved the happy life” and sought after truth he “feared to find it in God’s abode and so fled from it even as he sought it.” (cf 6:11). As Francis Thompson puts it “he feared lest having Him he must have naught beside.” (The Hound of Heaven).

God is a jealous lover and He is not satisfied till we surrender our inmost heart to Him. He is also a patient lover who knows how to wait while at the same time being a persistent lover who does not give up on us! Augustine describes the many ways in which God was secretly at work trying to detach his heart from earthly attractions. He says “Little by little I was drawing closer to you although I did not know it”. During this time Augustine experienced God’s action as a “piercing of the very nerve within the wound of his soul, so that he might leave all things and be converted to God” (cf 6:6).

The turning point came when as he tells us “he entered into his inmost being with God as his helper.” (7:10). We have the key to Augustine’s spirituality when he says “I sought for a way of gaining strength sufficient for me to have joy in You but did not find it until I embraced the Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” (7:18). God’s search for humankind finds its ultimate expression in the humble self-emptying love of Jesus through whom we find our way back to the Father. Our love is but a response to God’s infinite love for us. Once we truly experience His love in the self-emptying of Jesus we are freed to let go of our attachments to sin and creatures and surrender ourselves in humility and obedience to Him who first loved us.

However although the “way of the Saviour had become pleasing” to Augustine he “was still bound by his love of women”. He wanted so much to surrender, yet he feared to let go. (cf 8: 11) until Continence says to him “Why do you stand on yourself and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself on Him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall. Cast yourself trustfully on him and He will receive you and He will heal you.” Thus he describes his conversion in terms of humility, letting go of his dependence on self and his attachments to creatures and surrendering himself totally to God’s mercy “bending his neck to the mild yoke and his shoulders to the light burden” of Jesus Christ (cf 9:1) and in that moment he exclaims “How sweet did it suddenly become ….things I once feared to lose it was now a joy to put away ….in their stead You entered in sweeter than any pleasure.”

We could imagine that all Augustine’s struggles ended here but in the next chapter he describes his continuing struggles with sin and selfishness - but his hope in the Saviour never wavers. In the face of his “many and great infirmities he will not despair because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (10:43). He is content to be “but a little one but his Father lives forever and his Protector is sufficient for him.” (10:14). Here we have a picture of Augustine as humble and little in the hands of God his Father – secure in His love, detached from creatures and trusting utterly in the Father’s providence. Yet he is not aloof from his brothers and sisters, his fellow citizens and pilgrims; rather in God’s providence he wishes to be of service to them and share with them the love and mercy he has experienced in his own life (10:4).

Augustine could well identify with Jeremiah:
“You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.”
(Jer 20:7)

May he intercede on our behalf that we may be truly converted to the Lord and server our sisters and brothers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

21st Sunday - Cycle A

In today’s Gospel Mt 16:13 – 20, we hear one of the most important questions asked by Jesus: “Who do people say the Son of Man is? And we know the answer: “Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” but Jesus turns to Peter and asks him “But you, who do you say I am? We see the same direct, personal questions asked by Jesus on other occasions: “Do you also want to go away? Do you love Me more than these other do? You follow Me”. Peter’s response to Jesus is brief – only 10 words – “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God”. Peter acknowledges Jesus both as Christ / Messiah and Son of the living God – i.e. the God who is life, give and sustains life here and promises eternal life hereafter.
Then Jesus makes a triple response to Simon Peter - each response being itself a triple statement. The responses are respectively a beatitude, a conferring of a title and a granting of authority.
a) Blessed are you Simon, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven.
b) Then the title “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
c) The authority – “I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven – whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Peter’s response comprised only 10 words and words are very easy to say but Peter had to live out that great profession of faith in Jesus. In the title Jesus gave him ‘you are Rock’ and “on you, the Rock I will build my Church.”

The Gospels are realistic in their memory of Peter. As well as being the one who confesses who Jesus is, he is also the one who denies Jesus 3 times. He is not only the one who expresses faith in Jesus – he also falters in his faith. He has to be helped by Jesus in all that he does but the Gospels clearly indicate that Peter is Jesus’ choice to lead the community in the future. He is the one who will return and strengthen his brothers. In giving authority to the man who denied him, Jesus wanted to show that He was establishing His Church not on human strength, but on His own love and faithfulness. The Church’s true foundation is Christ Himself. But Jesus saw Peter’s great qualities – his heart full of love, which in the end would lead him to die a martyr.

Jesus is asking you and me today the same question: “Who do you say I am?” What will our answer be?
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say
To me Jesus is my GOD
Jesus is my SPOUSE – Jesus is my LIFE
Jesus is my only LOVE – Jesus is my ALL in ALL
Jesus is my EVERYTHING

We all have to bear witness to Christ and help others to recognise Him and come to Him. We need above all to live with Him and stay with Him and this is what we call Prayer. As Pope Benedict bade farewell to the youth in Madrid today he asked them (and we can take these words to ourselves)

to preach Christ, to be rooted and built on Him. Respond with joy to Him and His call; fix your eyes on Him - He is the Wisdom of God. You have met Christ here. Very often you will be swimming against the tide, but through your faith and your personal relationship with Christ and your love for Him you can witness to Him.

Let us Pray:
Lord our God
all truth is from You
and You alone bring oneness of heart.
give Your people the joy
of hearing Your word in every sound
and of longing for Your presence more than for life itself
May all the attractions of a changing world
serve only to bring us
the peace of yor kingdom which this world does not give.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Novena to St Dominic - Day 9

While reading the Libellus - on the beginnings of the Order - during the past week my attention was drawn to Bl Jordan’s description of our holy Father, Dominic, as someone who “accepted the Lord’s commands so warmly” and whose “will welcomed the voice of his Lover with such loyalty and pleasure”, that he was able “ penetrate the mysteries of difficult theological questions with the humble understanding of his heart.”

“Dominic welcomed the voice of his Lover”

We live in a world where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to discern the voice of our Lover – the voice of the one who has brought us into existence and who loved us so much that He died for us on the Cross. In the 13th century, as in our own 21st century, there were many false prophets proclaiming a message contrary to the Christian viewpoint and many people were confused and led astray. However, Dominic was able to discern and welcome the voice of his Lover – first of all at Osma where was “adept at keeping God’s word – his memory being a kind of ‘barn’ for God while his external behaviour and actions broadcast publicly the treasure that lay hidden in his holy breast.” Later he would hear the voice of the Lover in very different circumstances - as he argued with the innkeeper in Languedoc and as he travelled the roads of Europe.

The readings for this 19th Sunday (Cycle A) provide us with other examples of people who listened and discerned the voice of the Lover calling them to do a seemingly impossible task. Elijah, while fleeing for his life encounters his Lover in the gentle breeze – this must have taken a great leap of faith for him when we remember that traditionally God manifested Himself in the fire and thunder and lightening on Sinai during the Exodus. Yet Elijah was able to break with the past and recognise God revealing Himself now in the gentle breeze.

In the Gospel Peter is asked to step out of the boat and walk on the stormy sea in response to Jesus’ invitation: “Come”. While Peter keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus he succeeds but once he focuses on the storm he begins to sink.

As we celebrate this feast of our holy father Dominic we pray that we too may welcome the voice of our Lover with the same loyalty and pleasure as he did and so be enabled to penetrate the great mystery of our faith with the humble understanding of our heart. In the midst of the storm may we always hear His voice saying “It is I! Do not be afraid! Come!” Like Mary may we treasure the Word in our heart and respond with our ‘yes’ – “let it be done unto me according to your Word”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Novena to St Dominic - Day 8

Continuing our reflection on St Dominic in preparation for his feast, here is an extract from "The Genius of St Dominic" by Marie Humbert Vicaire OP.

The Liberty of the 'Poor Man'
The Bull of Recommendation of the Order to the bishops of December 8, 1219, which already contained the essential terms of the Bull to the brethern of December 12, added a precision. It said that the Preachers 'reject the burden of worldly riches so as to be able to run more freely (expeditius) in the field of this world'. Some months later the text in the Bologna Constitutions that is expressly attributed to Dominic would use the same word. If those who are deputed to study and preaching are set free from every temporal charge, it is 'so that they can better fulfil their spiritual mission in a greater liberty (expeditius).' The image behind the word is that of the expeditus, the light infantryman, more rapid and more efficacious than the one weighed down by a heavy equipment. From then on the image became current.

Mendicany was a source first of all of mobility. Like the beggar, the Preacher was not tied down to any place or domain on which he depended for his living. He lived on his poverty just as much on his travels as when at home. It also meant a greater facility for getting occasions to preach. The first type of papal Bull of Recommendation that Dominic obtained for his Order already made it clear that 'they preach the Word of the Lord faithfully and gratis', 'presenting themselves in the title of poverty'. The same disinterestedness would facilitate their installation in the towns, for if a church were assigned to them they would take it without the tithes and revenues which would go to the diocese or to other patrons.

Mendicany also meant a greater interior liberty through the extinction of carnal appetites, attachments and vanities by which men are enchained. Here it is relevant to recall those adjectives: sobrius, parcus sibi, and the epithets: vilis, mediocris, humilis, which signified Dominic's poverty and the simplicity of his life-style which he inculated in his brethren, but without any kind of narrowness. Is there anything more free and liberal than his attitude during a hot spring evening at San Sisto when he passed around a goblet of wine amongst his brethren, and then amongst the sisters at the other side of the grill: 'Drink to your heart's content, my daughters'...

Such a liberty, so close to charity, could not but lead to joy which all the witnesses of his life were at one in observing in St Dominic. Here it would be necessary to write a long chapter on the radiant joy which was characteristic not only of Dominic but of the mendicant religious in general. Whilst the byzantine saint, whose model had come down and was still largely the fashion in the West in the eleventh and twelfth centuries was ascetic, lean and severe, and with the eyes of a visionary, the saint of the mendicants, whatever may have been his private austerity, presented men with a face that was open, sympathetic and radiant with joy. In Dominic this joy was born especially from the awareness of his weakness which turned him towards God; knowing that he was unarmed in the midst of dangers and threats, experiencing a real penury as regards food and comfort, suffering but independent, he abandoned himself more completely to providence and fled to her more willingly by means of prayer; the culmination of his joy was in being able to share in the redemptive poverty and suffering of Christ.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Novena to St Dominic - Day 7

Dominic, Man of Prayer, and Man of the Gospel: Preacher of Grace and Truth.

Blessed Raymond tells us in the Life of Catherine “St.Catherine saw the Co-Eternal Son proceeding from the mouth of The Eternal Father and while she was contemplating Him, she saw the Blessed Patriarch, St. Dominic come forth from the breast of the Father all resplendent with brightness. My Son by nature, who is the Eternal Word proceeding from my mouth, preached publicly to the world, whatever I charged him to say. My adopted son Dominic also preached to the world the truth of my Words”. He is still preaching in his successors today 800 years later.

The radiance from Dominic’s demeanor and life wholly rooted in Christ captured those who met him, even the most bigoted of Albigensian heretics. His mission was to bring the light of God to the whole world by word and example. His first band of followers saw in Dominic a man specially chosen by God. Blessed Jordan of Saxony spoke of Dominic as a person of exceptional integrity of character, with extraordinary energy of divine zeal. Contemplative at heart, Dominic spoke of God or about God and told his companions to do the same in humility and poverty. He befriended so many along the high ways and bye ways, in the inns and taverns; he just overflowed with inspiring words of God or about God. Blessed Jordan spoke of Dominic’s great charity, mercy and compassion, for the poor, the lowly and marginalized. Everybody was enfolded in the wide embrace of charity.

The Eternal Father revealed to Catherine of Siena “Your Father was a light that I gave to the world by means of Mary, and he does not wish his sons to apply themselves to anything but remaining at the table of the cross to seek with the light of Science the Glory and praise of my Name alone, and the salvation of souls”. To contemplate and share the fruits of contemplation is at the heart of the vocation of every Dominican.

At the Friar’s General Chapter in Rome 1983, Pope John Paul II said “You Dominicans have the mission of proclaiming that our God is alive, that he is the God of life and that in Him exists the root of dignity and the hope of all who are called to life.”

In 2006, the former Master General, Bro.Carlos Aspiroz o.p. Marked the 8th. Centenary of the founding of the first Monastery of Nuns at Prouille, the cradle of the Order, which all the Contemplatives of the cloistered life marked with celebrations in their own locations, inviting our Dominican Friars, Dominican Sisters and Dominican laity, family and friends to share in the liturgies etc. “Let us walk faithful to the love we had at first” words of Bro. Carlos Aspioz o.p. to all The Dominican Family,by way of renewal during the novena of years till 2016 the 8th.centenary of the institution of the Order of Friars Preachers, receiving it’s confirmation from Pope Honorius III in 1216. Bro. Bruno Cadore, elected as new Master General of the Order September 2010, said “My first dream is that each of our communities be a sign of faith, joy, and freedom for the people, and of the truth of The Word of God, of a God who comes to us and who wants to dialogue with us.”

Pope Benedict XVI invited Dominican delegates among others to the world Synod of Bishops on The Word of God In The Life and Mission of The Church. This gave fresh renewal and zeal to the followers of St. Dominic to be men of the Gospel in word and deed in the mission of the church. Pope Benedict at the closing of that Synod in 2008 said, “Let us walk Together guided by the Word of God”. We the nuns seek, ponder and call upon our Lord Jesus in our vocation as contemplatives in our life of prayer, Lectio Divina and Liturgical prayer so that the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent, thus supporting the Friar Preachers in their mission of preaching the Word of God in the life and mission of the church. The spirit of Dominic lives on.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Novena to St Dominic - Day 6

On this 6th day of our Novena in preparation for St. Dominic’s Feast day, a few thoughts on his spirit of ZEAL in dedicating himself totally to the salvation of souls through the spreading of the Good News of God’s Word are surely vital.

Our Lord’s own words in John Ch.2 “Zeal for your house devours me” can also apply so aptly to our father, Dominic.
In his Divine Comedy, Dante describes St. Dominic as a ‘friend fast-knit to Christ’ - how very true, for Dominic was indeed one with Christ in his intense life of prayer, in his thirst for the salvation of souls and in his love for the poor, the sick, the troubled.
We read in the Book of Numbers Ch.25, “the Lord said to Moses: ‘Phinehas, the priest, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, my people, because he was the only one among them to have the same zeal as I have…’”. How appropriately these words too, can also be applied to St. Dominic.

It was his zeal that led St. Dominic to spend his nights and much of his day in prayer, pleading for the salvation of souls even to the point of offering himself to be cut in pieces to be placed at the gates of hell. How he longed and longed to bring Christ’s Compassion to the suffering people of his time, and the light of God’s truth to those led astray by heresy.

And so it was that in his zeal, he founded his Order specifically for the salvation of souls. It is no wonder that he is addressed in one of the hymns as ‘a burning ardent lover’.

Each member of the Dominican Family is called to imitate this same zeal for the salvation of souls – those of us in the cloistered life, are called ‘to devote ourselves without hindrance to praying and pleading with God for the salvation of all peoples’ - called to be devoured by the same zeal as Dominic, and by frequent contact with the furnace of love as he was, we too are set on fire with ardour for the spreading of God’s Kingdom on earth and the salvation of souls.

Novena to St Dominic - Day 5

One of the things that strikes me about Dominic is his openness to God’s will and his willingness to take the step he sees in faith without a clear vision of where it will finally lead. As Augusta Drane says in her account of his life:

“His call was not sudden, or miraculous, or even extraordinary; it was that which is the likeliest to come to people like ourselves; particular impressions of mind were given just at the time when circumstances combined together gradually to develop the way in which those impressions could be carried out. He was always being led forward, not knowing there whither he went. As sub-prior of Osma he probably saw nothing before him but the ordinary community life of the cathedral chapter. Then came the journey to Denmark, on a mission whose ostensible object was a failure, but whose real end in the design of God was accomplished when it brought him into the presence of the heresy which it was his destiny to destroy. Yet though we have reason to believe that from the time of his first collision with the Albigenses a very clear and distinct idea was formed in his mind of some future apostolate of preaching, it is evident that he had no equally clear and determinate view in what direction he was to work; … He was on the road back to his old home, preparing to take up again the old duties and the old life which had been interrupted by two years, rich with new thoughts and hopes now, it seemed, to be forever abandoned; and then when he had made what was probably a painful sacrifice of great desires, those mysterious orderings of Providence, which we call chance and coincidence, had prepared for him, under the walls of Montpellier, a combination of events which was to make all clear.” And mark the beginning of his preaching mission.

This, I think, is reflected in our Lord’s teaching "Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have shown you are trustworthy in small things; I will trust you with greater; (Mt 25:21) As we proceed step by step doing (and seeking) God’s will, we are drawn more fully into His plan. While this is particularly important in discerning a Vocation it is necessary at all times and for everyone. In this dark time in Ireland we do well to remember that the first 10 years of Dominic’s preaching mission were marked by little or no progress or success. He committed himself to living what he recognised as God’s will and waited further guidance. It is that faithfulness to God’s will that counts and bears fruit in ways we might never even see: “one sows, another reaps” (Jn 4:37)

Novena to St Dominic - Day 4

From "On the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers" by Jordan of Saxony OP:

Far more impressive and splendid than all his miracles, though, wre the exceptional intergity of his character and the extraordinary energy of divine zeal which carried him along; these proved beyond all doubt that he was a vessel of honour and grace, adorned with every kind of "precious stone". Hi mind was always steady and calm, except when he was stirred by a feeling of compassion and mercy; and, since a happy heart makes for a cheerful face, the tranquil composure of the inner man was revealed outwardly by the kindliness and cheerfulness of his expression. He never allowed himself to become angry. In every reasonable purpose his mind conceived, in accordance with God's will, he maintained such constancy that he hardly ever, if ever, consented to change any plan which he had formulated with due deliberation. And though, as has been said, he face was always radiant with a cheerfulness which revealed the good conscience he bore within him, "the light of his face never fell to the ground". By his cheerfulness he easily won the love of everybody. Without difficulty he found his way into people's hearts as soon as they saw him.

Wherever he went, whether he was on the road with his companions or in some house, with his host and the rest of the household, or among important people and rulers and prelates, he always overflowed with inspiring words. He had an abundant supply of edifying stories, with which he directed people's minds to the love of Christ and contempt for the world. Everywhere, in word and in deed, he showed himself to be a man of the gospel. ...

It was his very frequent habit to spend the whole night in church, so that he hardly ever seemed to have any fixed bed of his own to sleep in. He used to pray and keep vigil at night to the very limit of what he could force his body to endure. When at last weariness overtook him and his spirit succumbed, so that he had to sleep for a while, he rested briefly before the altar or absolutely anywhere, sometimes even leaning his head against a stone, like the patriarch Jacob. But then he would soon be awake again, rallying his spirit to resume his fervent prayer.

Everybody was enfolded in the wide embrace of his charity, and since he loved everyone, everyone loved him. He made it his business to rejoice with those who were rejoicing and to weep with those who wept. He was full of affection and gave himself utterly to caring for his neighbours and to showing sympathy for the unfortunate.

Another thing which made him so attractive to everybody was his straightforwardness; there was never a hint of guile or duplicity in anything he said of did.

Novena to St Dominic - Day 3

Dominic and Prayer
The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic was written by an anonymous author, probably at Bologna, sometime between 1260 and 1288. The source of his information was Sr Cecilia of the Monastery of St Agnes at Bologna (who had been received to the habit by St Dominic) and others who had been in contact with the Holy Founder. This venerable document testifies to the eminent holiness of the Saint, showing something of his intimate life and intense love of God.

The Fourth Way of Prayer
St Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would continue sometimes from after Compline until midnight, now rising, now kneeling again, like the Apostle St James, or the leper of the gospel who said on bended knee: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean" (Mt 8:2). He was like St Stephen who knelt and called out with a loud cry: "Lord, do not lay this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).

Thus there was formed in our holy father, St Dominic, a great confidence in God's mercy towards himself, all sinners, and for the perseverance of the younger brethren whom he sent forth to preach to souls. Sometimes he could not restrain his voice, and the friars would hear him murmuring: "Unto thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not thou silent to me: lest if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit" (Ps27:1)and comparable phrases from the Sacred Scripture.

At other times, however, he spoke within himself and his voice could not be heard. He would remain in genuflection for a long while, rapt in spirit; on occasion, while in this position, it appeared from his face that his mind had penetrated heaven and soon he reflected an intense joy as he wiped away the flowing tears. He was in a stage of longing and anticipation like a thirsty man who has reached a spring, and like a traveler who is at last approaching his homeland.Then he would become more absorbed and ardent as he moved in an agile manner but with great grace, now rising, now genuflecting. He was so accustomed to bend his knees to God in this way that when he traveled, in the inns after a weary journey, or along the wayside while his companions rested or slept, he would return to these genuflections, his own intimate and personal form of worship. This way of prayer he taught his brethren more by example than by words.