Sunday, September 30, 2012

Good King Wenceslaus

The words to the carol "Good King Wenceslas" were written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853, the music originates in Finland 300 years earlier. This carol is unusual as there is no reference in the lyrics to the nativity. Good King Wenceslas was the  ruling Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century and was assassinated by nobles loyal to his brother  He is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. St. Stephen's feast day was celebrated on 26th of December which is why this song is sung as a Christmas carol.

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

thoughts and prayers of Richard Rolle

O Holy Spirit, Who breathe where you will, come into me and snatch me up to yourself. Fortify the nature you have created, with gifts so flowing with honey that, from intense joy in your sweetness, it may despise and reject all which is in this world, that it may accept spiritual gifts, and through melodious jubilation, it may entirely melt in holy love, reaching out for circumscribed Light.”

Lord Jesu, I ask Thee, give unto me movement in Thy love without measure; desire without limit; longing without order; burning without discretion. Truly the better the love of Thee is, the greedier it is; for neither by reason is it restrained, nor be dread thronged, nor by doom tempted.” 

The commandment of God is, that we love Our Lord in all our heart, in all our soul, in all our thought. In all our heart; that is, in all our understanding without erring. In all our soul; that is, in all our will without gainsaying. In all our thought; that is, that we think on Him without forgetting. In this manner is very love and true, that is work of man's will. For love is a willful stirring of our thoughts unto God, so that it receive nothing that is against the love of Jesus Christ, and therewith that it be lasting in sweetness of devotion; and that is the perfection of this life.”

  It behooves thee to love God wisely; and that may thou not do but if thou be wise. Thou art wise when thou art poor, without desire of this world, and despisest thyself for the love of Jesus Christ; and expendeth all thy wit and all thy might in His service. Whoso will love wisely, it behooves him to love lasting things lastingly, and passing things passingly; so that his heart be set and fastened on nothing but in God.” 

graphic: Portrait from Cotton MS Faustina

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Richard Rolle (1300 - 1349 )

One of the most appreciated English mystic authors of the middle ages. Rolle's lightheartedness blends with profound understanding of the role of sexual longing and sensual imagery in the search for union with God. Living as a hermit for thirty  one years with the help of patrons. The level of financial support that Rolle enjoyed was a new development in the treatment of religious recluses.

Born into a small farming family near Pickering, he studied at the University of oxford, where he was accompanied by a  patron Thomas de Neville, the Archdeacon of Durham  He showed little interest in  scholastic pursuits, instead displaying a devotion to study of the scripture he learned Latin during his time there.Rolle left Oxford at age eighteen or nineteen. Fearing he had ceded too greatly to temptation in his youth, and that he would transgress further, he adopted the life of a hermit devoting himself to study of the word and contemplation.. He had his cell first at Pickering, Rolle, guided by his conscience, was often misunderstood.

Two years and eight months after becoming a hermit, Rolle had his first mystical experience. Around a year later, he felt similarly after listening to a choir.

 In one of his best-known works, The Fire of Love Rolle provides an account of these mystical experiences, which he describes as being of three kinds: a physical warmth in his body, a sense of wonderful sweetness, and a heavenly music that accompanied him as he chanted the Psalms.

Speaking of  his first mystical experience Rolle writes "I felt within me a merry and unknown heat...I was expert it was not from a creature but from my Maker, as it grew hotter and more glad." .

 The book was widely read and described the four purgative stages that one had to go through to become closer to God:  Described as open door, heat, song, and sweetness.

 On the contemplative life, he wrote, "There are many active men better than some contemplatives", though, "the best contemplatives are better than the best actives

 Near the end of his life he became the spiritual director for a Cisterian convent. He wrote The Form of Living and his English Psalter for a nun there, Margaret Kirkby and Ego Dormio for a nun at Tedingham. He died in 1349, the first year of the Black Death in  England, which may have been the cause of his death

Wenceslaus (907 - 35 )

Immortalized in  the Carol "God King Wenceslaus" In 921, when Wenceslaus was thirteen, his father died, he was raised by his grandmother, Ludmila, who raised him as a Christian. A dispute between the fervently Christian regent and her daughter-in-law drove Ludmila to seek sanctuary with Wenceslaus. Drahomíra, who was trying to garner support from the nobility, was furious about losing influence on her son and arranged to have Ludmila murdered. At age17 Wenceslaus I the  Duke of  Bohemia became ruler.  Justice and compassion characterized his reign.

Wenceslaus is usually described as exceptionally pious and humble, a very educated and intelligent young man for his time. He was particularly sensitive to the plight of the poor, the orphan, the widow and the imprisoned. He  moved to close prisons, forbade torture, destroyed gallows and fought capital punishment. He was opposed by his brother, Boleslav and the nobles who had been sympatic toward his mother, Drahomíra

 The chronicler Cosmos of Prauge, writing in about the year 1119, says of Wenceslaus:
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.
In September of  935  a group of nobles—allied with Wenceslaus' younger brother Boleslav—plotted to kill the prince. After Boleslav invited Wenceslaus to a feast three of Boleslav's companions  murdered Wenceslaus on his way to church.  Legend states that with his dying breath Wenceslas forgave his brother.

Graphic: Wenceslaus' assassination: the duke flees from his brother (with sword) to a church, but the priest closes the door; Gumpold von Mantua, 10th century

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hermits Cell

The Hermits Cell

“In the world ye shall have tribulation:”
Lord Jesus, Thou saidst it of old.
There dark are the desolate mountains,
The night winds are cold.

But safe from the storm and the tempest
My soul hath a cell;
There ever, beside the still waters,
With Jesus I dwell.

There, hushed from the strife and the sorrow,
Alone and apart,
In chambers of peace and of stillness—
That Home is His Heart.

                                                          Gerhard Tersteegeen

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

monasticism (10)

The Hermits Cell on Iona

Today all that remains of the Hermit’s Cell on Iona is a rough stone foundation of an oval hut which would have been made of timber or turf. An entrance faces southwest to capture the most daylight.
As he tells stories from Colmcille’s life, the saint’s biographer Adomnán describes the island of Iona and the life of the monks:
‘One day, when St Columba was living on Iona, he set off into the wilder parts of the island to find a place secluded from other people where he could pray alone.’

 Monastic life has always focused on the need for deep reflection and contemplation, away from the distractions of everyday life. The monks and nuns of Iona would have had a number of smaller cells in the remote parts of the island which were used as retreats.

 This site is known as the Hermit’s Cell and is said by some to be the place where Colmcille prayed. For some pilgrims to Iona, the site represents the importance of solitary reflection and prayer, a tradition passed down by the saint to his followers.
As with many places which are linked to saints and holy figures, there is no historical evidence for this connection.

The name Hermit’s Cell is said to be a translation from Gaelic. Cobhan means ‘box, chest or ark’ - so may mean something like a small wooden cell - and cùilteach means ‘remote, hidden or private’ which suggests a hermit’s retreat. So it may not be a precise translation but the words perhaps suggest a link to a monk’s isolated place of contemplation.

excerpts of article from Sli Cholmcille 

graphic: the site known as the Hermits cell on Iona island

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

After Dinner Grace


 A Grace After Dinner

O Thou, in whom we live and move,
   Who made the sea and shore,
Thou goodness constantly we prove,
   And, grateful, would adore.

And, if it please Thee, Power above!
   Still grant us with such store
The friend we trust, the fair we love,
   And we desire no more.

Graphic:  Hispanic family praying at dinner table.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mystical Verse (2)

The Face of Christ

A rose a lily the face of Christ
     Have all our hearts sufficed
For He is Rose of Sharon nobly born
      One rose without a thorn
And he is liliy of the valley, He
      Most sweet in purity
But when we come to name him as he is
      God head perfection bliss
All tongues fall silent while pure hearts alone
      Complete their orison

Christina Rossetti  (1830 - 1894)

a selection from  A W TOZER'S compilation The Christian Book of Mystical Verse 

graphic: Russian Orthodox Icon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lectio Divna : (3)

The  Early Origins of Lectio Divina

 Origin (185-232) laid the groundwork for Lectio Divina when he put forth the idea of reading to discover a deeper meaning that lay beyond the literal sense of the biblical text.  “He used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis to describe scriptural reading for the purpose of finding a hidden message from God” . 

 This tradition continued into monasticism where it became an important part of the daily rhythm of monastic life. By the 5th century lectio was a well established practice in all monasteries. Benedict (480-543) extolled the value of “divine reading” in his Rule, making it a part of the daily ritual of monks in the Benedictine Order.

Guigo II (1140-1193) was the first to systematize Lectio Divina into four steps or moments: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  Sometime around 1150 he wrote his famous Scala Claustralium, “The Monk’s Ladder.”  In this writing uses the image of a ladder, reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28) stretching from earth into heaven.
This spiritual ladder is the means by which people “can climb from earth to heaven. It is a marvelously tall ladder, but with just four rungs, the one end standing on the ground, the other thrilling into the clouds and showing the climber heavenly secrets.  Understand now what the four staves of this ladder are, each in turn.  Reading.  Lesson, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit. Meditation is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill.  Prayer is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil.  Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour.  Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels.  The first degree is for beginners, the second for those profiting from it, the third for those who are devout, the fourth for those who are holy and blessed of God (Guigo).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Hildegard von Bingen (1098 - 1179 )

Verse of Hildegard Von Bingen
Love abounds in all things,
excels from the depths to beyond the stars,
is lovingly disposed to all things.
She has given the king on high
the kiss of peace.
                          Caritas abundat
The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.
                                               Soul Weavings
The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way.
                                                            Soul Weavings
O Eternal God, now may it please you
to burn in love
so that we become the limbs
fashioned in the love you felt
when you begot your Son
at the first dawn
before all creation.
And consider this need which falls upon us,
take it from us for the sake of your Son,
and lead us to the joy of your salvation.
                            O eterne deus"
Angels living light most glorious!
Beneath the Godhead in burning desire
in the darkness and mystery of creation
you look on the eye of your God
never taking your fill:
What glorious pleasures take shape within you!
                                                  "O gloriosissimi"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Reflections on the Dark Night of the Soul

Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, in spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days–until you fold up and collapse into despair. Self-confidence is a precious natural gift, a sign of health. But it is not the same thing as faith. Faith is much deeper, and it must be deep enough to subsist when we are weak, when we are sick, when our self-confidence is gone, when our self-respect is gone.
                                                                                   Thomas Merton

 Faith takes us to deep places, to the ruptures in our self-confidence and our lives. Do not settle for spiritual comfort all the time…Darkness is divine also. Faith is not about positive thinking so much as about what kicks in when we are weak, sick, and short of self-confidence. The via positiva never stands alone. The via negativa is always with us on our faith journey as well.
                                                                                 Matthew Fox

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst ‘s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather – as skies
Betweenpie mountains – lights a lovely mile.

                                                                       Gerard Manley Hopkins

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
                                                                         Carl Gustav Jung

 Facing the darkness, admitting the pain, allowing the pain to be pain, is never easy. This is why courage – big-heartedness – is the most essential virtue on the spiritual journey.  But if we fail to let pain be pain – and our entire patriarchal culture refuses to let this happen – then pain will haunt us in nightmarish ways. We will become pain’s victims instead of the healers we might become.
                                                                              Matthew Fox

Thursday, September 13, 2012

John Crysostom (347- 407 )

No matter how just your words may be, you ruin everything when you speak with anger.

A comprehended god is no god.

The rich man is not one who is in possession of much, but one who gives much.

No one can harm the man who does himself no wrong.

As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.

Charity is the scope of all God's commands.
Slander is worse than cannibalism
That is true plenty, not to have, but not to want riches.

It is a shame for a man to desire honor because of his noble progenitors, and not to deserve it by his own virtue.

Poor human reason, when it trusts in itself, substitutes the strangest absurdities for the highest divine concepts

 “Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mother Teresa (1910 - 1997)

Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa's doubts: "I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light's editor: "I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her."

The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process.

The church anticipates spiritually fallow periods. Indeed, the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross in the 16th century coined the term the "dark night" of the soul to describe a characteristic stage in the growth of some spiritual masters. Teresa's may be the most extensive such case on record. (The "dark night" of the 18th century mystic St. Paul of the Cross lasted 45 years; he ultimately recovered.) Yet Kolodiejchuk sees it in St. John's context, as darkness within faith. Teresa found ways, starting in the early 1960s, to live with it and abandoned neither her belief nor her work. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.
Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine's Confessions and Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. Martin of America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book "a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life," and says, "It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone."

excerpts of   DAVID VAN BIEMTIME MAGAZINE  article  Mother Teresa's Crisis of faith from Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007. 

graphics: public domain pictures of mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857)

Born in in southern France 1798 Comte went on to become  the founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism. He may be regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term.

 Strongly influenced by the Utopian socialist Henri Saint Simon calling for a new social doctrine based on the  sciences aimed at eliminating social inequality in ownership, power and  possessions centered in in freeing the workers. Comte developed his theory of positive philosophy in an attempted to remedy the social malaise of the French revolution.

Basing  this idea on the Christian ethic of love for the poor and powerless  Comte worked independently dedicating his life to what emerged as a new discipline called sociology

Comte's social theories culminated in the 'religion of humanity, which was influential to the development of religious humanist  and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. 

His injunction to "vivre pour autrui" ("live for others"), is where the word  "altruism" is derived from.

Comte died in Paris on 5 September 1857 from stomach cancer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gregory the Great (540 - 604)

The son of a Roman senator and himself the one time  mayor of Rome Gregory entered monastic life. His brilliant administrative skills were impossible to cloister away, eventually he was elected and became one of the finest organizational bishops the church has ever fostered. In the face of widespread invasions and the collapse of secular Romes power base he reorganized the Western Church in such a way that it became a viable institution for preserving Western culture.
Although Gregory  was resolved to retire into the monastic lifestyle of contemplation, he was unwillingly forced back into the  world of politics he no longer wanted to be a part of , Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. 

The state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy.  the economy had come to a standstill. Enemies camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantnoble, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. 

 Gregory a sincere and compassionate man reorganized the churches operation to meet the needs of a collapsing political structure  and established a system of charitable relief of the poor in Rome. The philosophy under which he devised this system is that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. He received lavish donations from the wealthy families of Rome, who, following his own example, were eager to expiate to God for their sins. As a result the church began  receiving  and amassing donations of many different kinds of property : consumables such as food and clothing; investment property: real estate and works of art; and capital, or revenue-generating property, such as the Sicilian latifunda, or agricultural estates, staffed and operated by slaves, donated by Gregory and his family. 

For good or ill a new political, economic and  social discipline was birthed to power in the West.

The mainstream form of Western plain chant  standardized in the late 8th century, was attributed to Pope Gregory I and so took the name of Gregorian chant.

 Gregory is credited with re-energizing the Church's missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian Mission, under Augustine of Canterbury  to evangelize the Anglo Saxon's of England, which would eventually lead to the council of Whitby and the integrating of the Indigenous Celtic church into the Roman Catholic fold.

 Deeply convinced "that Illiterate men can contemplate in the lines of a picture what they cannot learn by means of the written word, he encouraged the proliferation of the arts as a way of imparting the gospel to the masses.

 Gregory was among those who mistakingly  identified Mary Magdalene  Mary of Bethany, and the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears in the synoptic gospels...  establishing  Mary Magdelne  as the prostitte from who seven demons were cast out. Today Biblical scholars distinguish the three figures.

 Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were prolific, over 40 sermons on the gospels, 22 on Ezekiel, 2 on the Song of Songs, a commentary on Job, Dialogues ( a collection miracles, signs and wonder, healing antidotes ), The Rule for Pastors, and copies of some 854 letters have survived.

Gregory is acknowlagded as a Father in both the Eastern and Western Church.

compiled from several sources