Sunday, April 29, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day Nine

We have come to the final reflection of our novena in preparation for the feast of St Catherine. By happy co-incidence today is also what has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday when we pray for the Church and in particular for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

The readings at Mass this morning reminded us of the immensity of God’s love for each of us– St John in his first letter reminds us that we are the beloved children of God and in the Gospel Jesus tells us no less then five times that he freely lays down his life for us.

In a letter to Daniella da Orvieta Catherine reminded her of the love in which we were created and the even greater love by which we were redeemed in the precious Blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Love of this immensity calls for our response.  Catherine’s whole life was given for the glory of God and the salvation of her brothers and sisters and she encouraged others to follow her example – she continues to speak to us today through her letter to Daniella:

“I Catherine, long to see you bathed and drowned in the blood of Jesus Christ crucified.  There you will find the fire of divine charity; there you will experience your soul’s beauty and its great dignity.  For God, when he looked within Himself, fell in love with the beauty of His creature and like one drunk with love, created us in His own image and likeness.  ……  how right that we should immerse ourselves in the Blood of our Saviour in order to better conceive love for God’s honour and the salvation of souls……...

Now is the time to take souls as your food at the table of the most holy Cross.  Every time is the time, but never have you or anyone else seen a time of greater need.  Be moved, my daughter by bitter sorrow for the darkness that has come over holy church!  Human help seems to be failing us; you and the rest of God’s servants must call on His help.  See that you are not guilty of unconcern; this is a time of watching, not a time for sleep.  You know well that when the enemies are at the gates they will most certainly destroy the city if the guards and the rest of the people are asleep.  We are surrounded by many enemies.  In the case of our soul, you know that the world and our weakness and the devil with all his suggestions never sleep but are always ready to see whether we are asleep so that they can enter in and like thieves rob the city of our soul.

And the mystic body of holy Church is also surrounded by many enemies.  So you see that those who are appointed to be pillars and sustainers of holy Church have in the darkness of heresy become her persecutors.  This is no time to sleep.  We must defeat them with vigils, tears and sweat, with grieving and loving desires, with constant humble prayer.  And see to it that, as a daughter faithful to Holy Church, you insistently beg the most high and gracious God to take care of her in this need.  Ask God to strengthen the Holy Father, Christ’s vicar on earth, and give him light…….

Hide in the cavern of the open side of Christ Crucified, where you have discovered His overflowing blood – keep living in God’s holy and tender love - have a hungry longing for His honour.  Gentle Jesus! Jesus love!”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day 8

From ‘The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Saint Catherine of Siena’, taken from ‘Que Dijo Dios al Volver’ of Dominican Nuns of Olmedo, Spain; transl by Dominican Nuns of Buffalo, New York.

The fidelity of St. Catherine led her to the practice of the loftiest and most heroic virtues.
    Nevertheless, we know that the virtues in a heroic degree cannot be practiced by the soul of itself. The action of the Holy Spirit is needed.
    But God does not let Himself be out-done in generosity, and if the soul does what it can, God does all that He wishes and He perfects the soul, leading it to the heights.
    The GIFTS -- herein is the secret.
    We cannot move them of ourselves; we know this.
    This seven-fold instrument needs a most delicate touch, so to speak.
    The Holy Spirit alone is their Artist.
    But the Holy Spirit was not given to us for nothing. He acts; and if He is impeded, "He groans with unspeakable groanings", wishing to move His gifts; and He does move them freely.
    We cannot make the gifts act but we can paralyze them -- tragic power that we have when we wrongly use this great gift of our freedom!
    St. Catherine of Siena gave the Holy Spirit full freedom in her soul, and the Holy Spirit unfurled His powerful sails in our virgin's little boat.

The Gift of Fear
    Let us look into the supernatural and divine effects caused in her soul by the gifts.
    At first sight, we see that the Gift of Fear is very pronounced in her soul.
   The experience of being Nothing is, in St. Catherine, something out of the ordinary. It is not that she sees 'nothingness' or that she discovers the contrast of the ALL. Rather, she experiences, radically, her nothingness.
    She knows herself as nothing.
    She knows herself to be an abyess of nothingness.
    The Lord has permitted her to experience it with irresistible force. She knows it; she enjoys it; she savours it in the depth of her being.
    The felling becomes more profound. She submerges herself more and more in the abyss and the Voice of God comes to confirm her in this radical nothingness, pronouncing in the centre of her soul, the phrase that leaves an indelible impression on the life of the saint.
"You are she who is not"
    Negation of being! One cannot arrive at more, or better said, less.
    Experience of the nothing! What must it be?
    By contrast, she has encountered the abyss of BEING, "You are she who is not; I am HE WHO IS." You are the exact opposite to Me. You are negation of being. My negation. I am BEING, affirmation, your complement. I have abundance of life for Me and for you. In my abyss there is room for both of us. Your abyss of shadows is filled with light from the resplendence of My rays. Your nothingness receives My Life!
    And the soul of the Saint trembled!
The Gift of Fear made her tremble before the presence of sin. The word sin pierced her soul like a sharp sword. She fled from sin; even from the least shadow of sin. She could not tolerate imperfections; rebellion.
    She felt the power of the Majesty of God, and shadows seem to her as abysses of darkness. The smallest infidelities made her cry out with pain, "My sins; my sins are the cause of all the evils in the world."

    She fled from everything that could seduce her, by the extreme vigilence that the horror of sin produced in her soul.
    Absolute detachment is the logical consquence; no threads to hold the soul back; freedom of heart! Nothing must hold her back.
    She goes out of her nothingness, as an arrow from the bow, directly to its point -- God.
    God was drawing her and it was the imperious necessity of her life that she reach Him.
    Her fear did not separate her from God; on the contrary, it submerged her in hope.
    She hoped, confidently and secure; with much more security, knowing that her eternity depended more on God than on herself.
   She has experienced His Infinitude and she knows that His pardon and bounty are also Infinite.
   She hopes and trusts, and is secure. She knows in Whom she has confided and she will never doubt.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day 7

St Catherine's prayer to the Father (From: The Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena, No. 134)

You said, eternal Father, that because of your love for your creatures, and through the prayers and innocent suffering of your servants, you would be merciful to the world and reform holy Church, and thus give us refreshment. Do not wait any longer, then, to turn the eye of your mercy. Because it is your will to answer us before we call, answer now with the voice of your mercy.

Open the door of your immeasurable charity, which you have given us in the door of the Word. Yes, I know that you open before we knock, because your servants knock and call out to you with the very love and affection you gave them, seeking honour and the salvation of souls. Give them the bread of life, the fruit of the blood of your only-begotten Son, which they are begging of you for the glory and praise of your name and for the salvation of souls. For it would seem you would receive more glory and praise by saving so many people than by letting them stubbornly persist in their hardness. To you, eternal Father, everything is possible. Though you created us without our help, it is not your will to save us without our help. So I beg you to force their wills and dispose them to want what they do not want. I ask this of your infinite mercy. You created us out of nothing. So, now that we exist, be merciful and remake the vessels you created and formed in your image and likeness; re-form them to grace in the mercy and blood of your Son.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day 6

St Catherine - Contemplation & Apostolic Zeal

When reflecting on the life of St.Catherine of Siena, one is forcibly struck by the depth of her contemplative prayer coupled with a life of unbelievable apostolic zeal.

Having lived a solitary life of contemplation for some years, she came to realise that the love of God cannot be separated from the service of humanity.
In the ‘Dialogue’ God says to Catherine - ‘when you see yourself so ineffably loved by me, you should understand that you are to love as you are loved – that you are bound to love everyone of my creatures with the same love with which you see yourself loved by me’
Leaving the solitary life, she laboured in the streets and around the sick beds and prisons of the city. In addition, she laboured tirelessly and relentlessly, until her dying breath, for the dire needs of the Church and the Papacy of her time, but at no time did she leave her interior cell or her life of contemplation and union with God. This was the secret of the extra-ordinary fruitfulness of her life given for the salvation of souls.
‘I give you all my creatures’ God says to her ‘whether distant or close, minister to them with the same pure love with which I have loved you’. God surely makes the same plea to each one of us, each day, whatever our station in life.
As St. Paul so aptly expresses it in his second letter to the Corinthians ‘With us, Christ’s love is a compelling motive’. (2 Cor.5:1)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day 5

St Catherine on Obedience

As we, as a community, have been and continue to reflect on the theme of obedience, I would like to read extracts from one of Catherine’s Prayers, number eleven, which teaches us many things about obedience, but especially the profound and inseparable link between obedience and love. In this prayer Catherine makes reference to a statement made by the Father in the Dialogue with particular reference to love and obedience. I quote: “So you see that in whatever bond of love they finish their lives, that bond is theirs forever and lasts eternally. They are so conformed to my will that they can will only what I will. When time came to an end for them, and they died in grace, their freedom was so bound with the chains of charity that they are no longer capable of sin.” (No 41)

Catherine prays:

Eternal Godhead!
Your Truth shows us
that the soul must strip herself of her selfish will
if she wants to be clothed perfectly in yours.
Dispossessed of her own will,
she is so well clothed in yours
that she neither seeks nor desires anything
but what you seek and will for her.

You are in love with such a soul,
and she with you.
But you love her gratuitously,
since you loved her before she came to be,
while she loves you because it is her duty.
She has come to know that
she cannot love you gratuitously,
since it is she who is obligated to you,
not you to her,
and she has seen that this free love
which she cannot give to you
she must give to her neighbours,
loving them gratuitously
nor does she serve them for any profit she might get from them
but only for love;
and she loves them
because you command it
and it is her duty to obey you.

You who are fire
share the fire with her,
and in the fire
you fuse your will with hers
and hers with yours.
You who are strength
give her strength,
and she becomes so strong
that neither demon nor any other creature
can deprive her of your strength
unless she herself wills it-
nor will she ever will it
so long as she wears the garment of your will,
for it is only her own will
by itself
that makes her weaken.
You who are infinite,
make her infinite
by reason of the conformity you have brought about
between yourself and her-
by grace while she is a pilgrim in this life,
and in everlasting life by her seeing you eternally.
There she becomes so perfectly conformed with you
that her free choice is enchained
so that she can no longer be separated from you.
thanks to you high eternal Trinity,
for in your light you have refreshed my soul
by letting me see how we,
your creatures, are conformed with you,
and by teaching me how surpassing wonderful is your will.
High eternal Godhead, grant us your gentle benediction. Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Novena to St Catherine - Day 4

Reflection on the Gift of Counsel in St Catherine of Siena

From ‘The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Saint Catherine of Siena’, taken from ‘Que Dijo Dios al Volver’ of Dominican Nuns of Olmedo, Spain; transl by Dominican Nuns of Buffalo, New York.

St Catherine of Siena may well figure within Christian hagiography as a magnificent director of souls, thanks to the Gift of Counsel.

There were many that drew near to her. Some with rectitude of intention, to seek her light and her advice. Others, on the contrary, went with perverse intentions, with the purpose of confounding her, or at least discrediting her before everyone. Among these last we have the greatest figure of Francisco Malavolti. It is perhaps the most impressive conversion. After supreme efforts, he has finally been caught in the net. Many times he had escaped her hands, but she always brought him back until he finally became an exemplary monk, precisely through the saint’s influence.

Malavolti is not content in coming alone. He has brought his friends. Afterwards, these friends became doubly so, by the new fraternity that united them, since Catherine was to be the common Mother of all.

Her direction was strong, energetic, but understanding and human. She knew how to wait for God’s hour; and for each she had a particular way. They were not general directives, but with proper and individual mould.

With this same Malavolti, she showed maternal compassion and that tenderness of soul together with extraordinary strength of will. All of Catherine’s friends had had enough of Malavolti. They constantly advised her to give him up. He continued to play with the virtues. He came and went. He made strong resolutions of virtue and just as quickly would throw everything out the window and would go back to his friends and sin.

Everyone was exasperated at Catherine’s patience. Nevertheless, she continued to wait and would only say ‘He is my savage bird’, but she assured them that one day she would throw out a line from which he would never be able to escape. That moment came, and Malavolti never escaped again and his final end proved the prophecy.

She had a penetrating look. It went to the depths of souls. She helped everyone and she understood them. For the fallen, she had the tenderness of a Mother.

Many wrote to her in despair. She answered and gave solutions for all their ills. She brought them out of their anguish and placed them on a new road of love.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Novena to St Catherine of Siena - Day 3

Thoughts on the Eucharist (from the Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena, No. 112; the Father speaking)

Dearest daughter, contemplate the marvelous state of the soul who receives this bread of life, this food of angels, as she ought. When she receives this sacrament she lives in me and I in her. Just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish, so am I in the soul and the soul in me, the sea of peace. Grace lives in such a soul because, having received this bread of life in grace, she lives in grace. When this appearance of bread has been consumed, I leave behind the imprint of my grace, just as a seal that is pressed into warm wax leaves its imprint when it is lifted off. Thus does the power of this sacrament remain there in the soul; that is, the warmth of my divine charity, the mercy of the Holy Spirit, remains there. The light of my only-begotten Son's wisdom remains there, enlightening the mind's eye. [The soul] is left strong, sharing in my strength and power, which make her strong and powerful against her selfish sensuality and against the devil and the world.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Novena to St Catherine of Siena - Day 2

"If anyone loves me he will keep my Word,and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
And the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything." (Jh. 14)

For St. Catherine these few lines from John must have set her heart on fire as she sought to find human words to express her love and wonder for this God who was so madly in love with her.
Let us listen to her outpouring longing for a moment.

O Trinity! Eternal Trinity! O Fire Abyss of love! Would it not have sufficed to create us after your own image and likeness, making us reborn through grace, by the Blood of your Son? Was it still necessary that you should give the Holy Trinity itself as food for our souls? Yet your love willed this, you gave us not only your Word through the Redemption and in the the Eucharist, but yourself in your fulness of love for your creatures.

What draws you then, O infinite God to your puny creature?
LOVE, always love alone, still impels your tenderness towards us, filling us with infinite graces and priceless gifts. For you are the tranquil ocean where souls live and are nourished, finding there repose and love.

Catherine thank you for sharing your wonder and praise and adoration with us.
Pray that we too may learn a little of this wonder.

Novena to St Catherine of Siena - Day 1

A Reflection on Prayer, given by one of our sisters yesterday, for first day of the Novena to St Catherine of Siena

Taken from a letter to Catella, Checcia and Caterina Dentice of Naples, c May 1379

Dearest sisters and daughters in Christ gentle Jesus,

I Caterina, slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, am writing to you in his precious blood. I long to see you enjoying the food of angels, since you were made for nothing less. To make it possible for you to enjoy it, God brought you back with the blood of his Son.

But reflect, .. that this food is eaten not on earth – that is, in earthly affection, but on high. This is why God’s Son was lifted up on the wood of the most holy cross, so that up there, at this table, we might eat this food. But you will ask me, ‘What is this food?’ Here is my response. It is the longing within our soul’s affection. This longing draws God’s desire to us, and the two become one same thing, the one with the other. … With force and violence we seize the realm of our soul, which is called heaven because it holds God within it by grace.

To this I am inviting you

- to dwell always in [the] house of self-knowledge. There we find the angelic food, the impulse of God’s desire for us. And I am inviting you to the physical cell of keeping vigil with humble, faithful, continual prayer. Strip your heart and affection of every created person and thing, of every love that is outside of God, and clothe yourself in Christ crucified.

There are three ways of praying.

The first is continual prayer …

The second way is vocal prayer …

The third and final way, mental prayer. .. We rise above our gross sensual feelings and with angelic spirit join ourselves in an impulse of love with God. And by the light of understanding we see and know and clothe ourselves in truth. We are made sisters of the angels and stand with our Bridegroom at the table of crucified desire, finding our joy in seeking God’s honour and the salvation of souls.

Where do you find the light that guides you along the way of truth? In prayer.

Where do you show love and faith and hope and humility? In prayer. … Because you love, you want to be united with the object of your love by means of prayer. We ask God for what we need because in the self-knowledge in which true prayer is grounded we see that we are needy and sense that we are surrounded by our enemies – by the world with its hurtfulness, the devil with all his temptations, and the flesh that fights against the spirit and rebels against reason. And we see that of ourselves we are not, and being nothing, we cannot care for ourselves and so with faith run to the One who is, who can and knows how to and wants to help us in our every need. And with hope we ask and expect his help.

Where will we catch the fragrance of obedience? In prayer. Where will we strip ourselves of the selfish love that makes us impatient when we are hurt or otherwise suffering, and clothe ourselves in a divine love that will make us patient, and where will we glory in the cross of Christ crucified? In prayer. Where will we sense the fragrance of continence and purity, and the hunger for martyrdom that makes us ready to give our life for God’s honour and the salvation of souls? In this dear mother, prayer.

Prayer makes us observant of God’s holy commandments and sets the seal of his counsels on our heart and in our spirit, leaving the imprint of longing to follow him even to death. Prayer raises us above the society of creatures and makes us companions of our Creator. Prayer fills the vessel of our heart with the blood of the humble spotless Lamb and envelops it in fire – because the blood was shed with blazing love.

We receive this mother, prayer, more or less perfectly depending on how we feed on the food of angels, on holy desire for God, by rising up to eat this food at the table of the dearest cross. In no other way do we receive it. This is why I told you that I long to see you being nourished on the food of angels, since there is no other way you could have the life of grace or be true servants of Christ crucified.

(From: ‘The Letters of St Catherine of Siena’ Vol. IV, transl. by Suzanne Noffke O.P. – Vol. 355 of the series ‘Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Tempe, Arizona, 2008)

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Bumblebee and the Death of Christ

In our ancient Celtic legends stories of the loyalty of animals to several saints abound. Perhaps one of the best known is about Columba. Knowing that his death was approaching he made a tour of his monastery. As he paused for rest, the old white horse that carried the milk pails for the monks approached and laid his head against Columba's breast and as if mourning he seemed to weep for his friend. A story is also told about Kevin of Glendalough, who allowed a blackbird to hatch her eggs on his outstretched hand where she had built her nest while he prayed!

So perhaps it is not altogether out of keeping that a bumble bee had much to say to me recently. I met him sitting on a wall sunbathing {it was still mid-March} An elegant looking fellow he was, complete with yellow decorations accross his back! What caught my attention immediately was his total stillness except for the rhythmic breathing of his little body as he received breath after breath from his Creator.

You will smile perhaps but it remains vividly in my mind as a moment of great beauty---this little creature basking in the sustaining love of its Creator.
The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum tells us that "God who creates and conserves all things by his Word provides constant evidence of himself in created realities" If then, as St. Bonoventure wrote, 'every creature is a word of God since it proclaims God', what was this simple bumble bee trying to tell us about the breathing of God or indeed about the love story of God?
Sadly this divine initiative of giving us our breath is so normal it can be forgotten.
It is truly his own breath that we receive moment by moment, sustaining our life if only we had eyes to see and hearts uncluttered enough to experience:

How gently and lovingly -----you awaken in my breast
where you dwell secretly and alone,----and in your sweet breathing
how delicately you inspire my love.

Of this breathing St. John of the Cross speaks, "it is so sublime and deep that it is indescrible nor can the human intellect in any way grasp it".

However today it is not this gentle breathing of our Saviour that comes to mind,
rather it is the last dreadful gasping breath ----"bowing his head he breathed his last". It is only someone suffering from asthma that can fully appreciate the anguish of trying to get ones next breath. Much of the agony of crucifixion for Jesus was his incessant quest for air as he was stretched accross the beam of his cross. How did he ever find breath to cry Father forgive them. And even to remember his mother close by "Woman behold your son son behold your mother". His thirst too aggravated by lack of air.
Thirsting for our love.

We can leave it to Bishop Edward Daly's lovely poem The Holy Hour to say it all so much better:

He stood wearily against the stone pillars,
And against man's cruel heart.
Head bowed majestically, feet and hands------bound with chain and hatred.
Blood trickling off his brow, thorns---piercing his solemn head
beaten and spat upon, flinching at the blows,---the leering stare, the gaudy laugh,
The sacred body growing weak,--purple robes flung mockingly upon
trembling shoulders,---twisted and falling, rising to be kicked
over and over again---The Son of David being glorified,
Tearing off the purple garment and ---hardened pieces of flesh and blood,
being rendered from the holy body.---Deep shuddering breaths as pain and love
Become one.---The weight of human contempt
Urging Him to stand.---Feeling the iron puncture of his healing hands,
Leaving His head fall to the ---Father's breast.

How can we ever thank this God of ours for his love and his adoption of each of us into his own Family.

But back to my bumble friend --- as I bent to whisper good bye and breathed a gentle sigh he flew away --- dear friend may we meet again.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

During the past week as I reflected on St Mark’s Passion narrative,(Ch 14 &15) which we heard at Mass this morning, my attention was drawn to the woman who broke the jar of ointment and poured it out on Jesus’ head – a very good symbol of our monastic contemplative way of life. St Mark tells us that she broke the jar and poured out the precious ointment while the disciples murmured and criticised her action as being wholly foolish and wasteful: “why this waste? Ointment like this could be sold and the money given to the poor! And they were angry with her.” We hear similar comments regarding our way of life: “why waste your life away within an enclosure apparently doing nothing while there is so much need in our modern world.” However Jesus praised the woman’s action saying: "leave her alone ……. You have the poor with you always …she has done what was in her power to do ….. wherever the Good News is proclaimed what she has done will be told also in remembrance of her."

Jesus and the woman were looking at life from a different perspective, both understood each other, they had a deep contemplative vision which penetrated beyond the external appearances to the heart - in a word they were seeing from God’s point of view.

Later in chapter 14 Jesus is present at another meal when he will take bread saying: “take it, this is my Body” and he will take the cup saying: “this is my Blood which is poured out for you”.

The woman breaks the jar and does ‘what was in her power to do’ – she gives all! Jesus gives all he has – his Body and Blood – his very all and pours it out – ‘this is all I have and I give it.’ So too with us whatever we have it is enough for Jesus to take and transform. We remember the boy with the five loaves and two fish with which He fed the multitude. What Jesus seeks above all is my heart’s love - for if he has not got my heart, then no matter what else I give, He has got nothing!

As we enter into this Holy Week accompanied by Mary and the whole Church following Jesus on his way to Calvary and beyond to the Resurrection we may ask ourselves: “what do I have that I can break open and pour out?. This pouring out of our lives becomes Gospel and Good News - there are no limits to love. A monastery is a place where the Paschal Mystery is lived out and becomes a ‘Holy Preaching’ when our lives become Gospel and Good News for others – many of whom we will never meet or know in this life.

With the Prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading may we too be able to say:
“Each morning he wakes me to hear
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear”. (Is 50:4)