Here’s the archive of my interview on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi that aired tonight. I explained how I got to Russia, met my wife, became an ordained Vineyard pastor and church planter, joined staff at the International House of Prayer Official Page, then finally returned to the Church of my childhood by reading the lives of Catholic saints and mystics mixed with fasting.
Tag: Catholic Saints & Mystics
St. Faustina Kowalska reported seeing a merciful Jesus, with beams of red and white light shining from his heart.
In her diary, the cloistered mystic described a 1935 vision in which she was told the write down this prayer as protection from divine judgment: “Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world; for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Some of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy thought the uneducated nun was unstable and the Vatican shunned her writings. But her visions impressed a young priest in nearby Krakow named Father Karol Wojtyla, who rose through the ranks from professor to bishop, archbishop and cardinal. Finally, he became Pope John Paul II.
The Polish pope was a champion of Faustina’s “Divine Mercy” devotions. He testified: “The message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me.” In a sense, he said, it “forms the image of this pontificate.” On April 30, 2000, John Paul II canonized her as St. Faustina.
It was in 1937, a year before she died of tuberculosis, the 32-year-old nun had another apocalyptic vision of Jesus.
She wrote: “As I was praying for Poland, I heard the words: I bear a special love for Poland, and if she will be obedient to My will, I will exalt her in might and holiness. From her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming.”
Augustine, wanted to be a committed Christian, but he couldn’t get to resolve one issue in his life, which was the lust of the flesh. He was determined to leave his mistress, and to start a fully Christian life for some time, but he did not know how to break with this sin, which was captivating his life.
One day, Anthony’s friend, Simplicianus, came to visit, and shared a story about a famous Roman philosopher, Victorianus, who converted to Christianity, and publically acknowledged it. This impacted his life strongly, as some of the Christians in higher ranks of society were not public about their faith, fearing being ridiculed.
Soon afterwards another friend visited him, Ponticianus, who was a high official in the emperor’s court, a Christian. Seeing the apostle Paul’s writings on Augustine’s desk, he shared with Augustine news about Anthony, the Egyptian monk, who lived in a solitude in the desert and many others were following his lifestyle of prayer and fasting. He told him about two of his friends, “secret service agents” from the emperor’s court, who visited a Christian house and found a book talking about life of Anthony. Upon reading the stories form that book, they wondered:
“Tell me, I beg you, what goal are we seeking in all these toils of ours? What is that we desire?…Can our hopes in the court rise higher than to be ‘friends of the emperor’? …But if I choose to become a friend of God, see, I can become one now.”
They were so touched and changed just by reading this testimony of a hermit, that one of them exclaimed:
“… I enter into that service from this hour in this place.”
While Ponticianus was talking, Augustine felt an unusual urge to reconsider his life. He was fighting within himself, remembering his prayers and suffering. He somehow tried to compose himself by rejecting the grace which was falling upon him, but after Ponticianus’ departure, he went to his other friend and exclaimed:
“What is the matter with us? What is this? What did you hear? The uninstructed start up and take heaven, and we – with all our learning but so little heart – see how we follow in flesh and blood!!!”
He went outside to a garden and his soul was struggling within him to say the final FIAT to God, started to cry with tears and with his voice:
“Will You be angry forever? How long? How long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”
Suddenly he heard a voice of a child chanting over and over:
“Pick it up, read it”.
Quickly he opened apostles Paul’s writings and his eyes fell on the passage:
“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”
He was freed instantly. And that’s how the saint was born, know today as St. Augustine, one of the brightest minds and hearts of human kind.
Prayer on Finding God after a Long Search
Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you – the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.
all citations from “Confessions” by St. Augustine
Many spiritual writers offer suggestions concerning methods in prayer. Francis de Sales, very much influenced by his own experience of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, offers some suggested structures and formats for the practice of meditation and prayer. He suggests six steps as a guide to moving through a time of prayer.
- Place yourself in the presence of God. Remember that God is near, not for away. He is in the very depth of your heart, your spirit. “Begin all your prayers, whether mental or vocal, in the presence of God. Keep to this rule without any exception and you will quickly see how helpful it will be.”
- Ask the Lord to help you pay attention to Him, to open yourself up to His Word and presence.
- Pick out a passage from Scripture, a scene from the Gospel, a mystery of the Faith, or a passage from some spiritual reading. If the subject matter you have chosen lends itself to it, picture yourself in the same place as the action or event that is happening. Use your imagination to place yourself in the midst of the scene near Jesus, with the disciples.
- Think about what you’ve chosen to meditate on in such a way as to increase your love for the Lord or for virtue. The purpose is not primarily to study or know more, but to increase your love for God and the life of discipline.
- If good affections should rise up – gratitude for God’s mercy, awe at His majesty, sorrow for sin, desire to be more faithful, for example – yield to them.
- Come to some practical resolutions concerning changes you would like to make as a response to these affections. For example, resolve to be more faithful in prayer, or more ready to forgive, or more eager to share the faith with others, or more determined to resist sin, in as practical and concrete a way as you can determine.
Most of all, after you rise from meditation you must remember the resolutions and decisions you have made and carefully put them into effect on that very day. This is the great fruit of meditation and without it meditation if often not only useless but even harmful. Virtues meditated on but not practiced sometimes inflate our minds and courage and we think that we are really such as we have thought and resolved to be.
Francis recommends that we end the time of meditation-prayer with expressions of gratitude to God for the light and affections He has given us in our time of prayer; then, an offering of ourselves to the Lord in union with the offering of Jesus; and thirdly, a time of intercession for our self and others. At the same time, Francis doesn’t intend that the structure or method he proposes be followed mechanically if the Holy Spirit draws us to something different.
Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a depth of prayer that can properly be called “death” – not a death to life, but a death to what holds us back from true life and union with God.
How I long often to be the victim of this death that I may escape the snares of death, that I may not feel the deadening blandishments of a sensual life, that I may be steeled against evil desire, against the surge of cupidity, against the goads of anger and impatience, against the anguish of worry and the miseries of care… How good the death that does not take away life but makes it better; good in that the body does not perish but the soul is exalted. – Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard calls this deeper prayer of “death” contemplation.
This kind of ecstasy, in my opinion, is alone or principally called contemplation. Not to be gripped during life by material desires is a mark of human virtue; but to gaze without the use of bodily likenesses is the sign of angelic purity. Each, however, is a divine gift, each is a going out of oneself, each a transcending of self, but in one one goes much farther than in the other.
One of the main ways we open ourselves for this greater love to posses us is through prayer. We need to remember thought that the spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship. It’s about responding to the One who has created and redeemed us, and who loves us with a love stronger than death, a love that desires to raise us from the dead. Much that is true of human relationships is also true of our relationship with God. Human relationships of friendship or marriage need time, attention, and care for them to continue and to grow. The same is true of our relationship with God. We have been called to union but we need to respond. As we turn to God in conversion or in a deeper awakening, besides turning away from deliberate sin – which deforms the soul, blocks the relationship and offends the Person who has sacrificed His life for us – we need to positively build the relationship by paying attention to God.
How great is the power of PRAYER!… I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus. – St. Thérèse of Lisieux
St. John of the Cross make the point that sensual attractions are so strong and so rooted in our nature that efforts of renunciation by themselves will not be totally successful. A greater attraction, a greater love has to inflame us in order to enable us to let go of lesser, disordered loves.
A love for pleasure, and attachment to it, usually fires the will toward the enjoyment of things that give pleasure. A more intense enkindling of another, better love (love of the soul’s Bridegroom) is necessary for the vanquishing of the appetites and the denial of this pleasure. By finding satisfaction and strength in this love, it will have the courage and constancy to readily deny all other appetites. The love of its Bridegroom is not the only requisite for conquering the strength of the sensitive appetites; and enkindling with urgent longings of love is also necessary. For the sensory appetites are moved and attracted toward sensory objects with such cravings that if the spiritual part of the soul is not fired with other, more urgent longings for spiritual things, the soul will be able neither to overcome the yoke of nature nor to enter the night of sense; nor will it have the courage to live in the darkness of all things by denying its appetites of them… How easy, sweet, and delightful these longings for their Bridegroom make all the trials and dangers of this night seem. – St. John of the Cross
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wants us to know that even in the midst of the struggle – whether it be with mortal sin or venial sin, worldliness or temptation, perseverance in prayer or growth in virtue, loving or forgiving – we profoundly need to “lean on the Beloved”.
Bernard knows that to “fight against yourself without respite in a continual and hard struggle, and renounce your inveterate habits and inborn inclinations” is very hard, impossible really, without the help of the Lord.
But this is a hard thing. If you attempt it in your own strength, it will be as though you were trying to stop the raging of a torrent, or to make the Jordan run backwards (Ps. 113:3). What can you do then? You must seek the Word… you have need of strength, and not simply strength, but strength drawn from above (Lk. 24:49).
The words from Hebrews come to mind:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)
The journey up the summit of the mountain of God (or Mount Carmel, as St. John of the Cross calls it) is difficult. And St. John of the Cross, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine, and St. Francis de Sales know that it’s impossible to attain the summit – spiritual marriage in this life, beatific vision in the next, without leaning heavily of the Beloved.
As Bernard, in accord with his fellow Doctors, explains:
“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps. 23:3) If anyone aspires to climb to the summit of that mountain (Ex. 24:17), that is to the perfection of virtue, he will know how hard the climb is, and how the attempt is doomed to failure without the help of of the Word. Happy the soul which causes the angels to look at her with joy and wonder and hears them saying, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?” (Song 8:5). Otherwise, unless it leans on Him, its struggle is in vain. But it will gain force by struggling with itself and, becoming stronger, will impel all things towards reason… bringing every carnal affect into captivity (2 Cor. 10:5), and every sense under the control of reason in accordance with virtue. Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon Him who can do all things? What confidence there is in the cry, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)… “Thus if the mind does not rely upon itself, but is strengthened by the Word, it can gain such command over itself that no unrighteousness will have power over it” (Ps. 118:133). – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
The Good News is that the Beloved loves to be leaned on!
Imperfections and venial sins cannot deprive us of spiritual life; it is lost only by mortal sin. Fortunately for us, in this war we are always victorious provided that we are willing to fight.
Francis, like many of the saints, wants to encourage us on the spiritual journey. This is a journey on which we are all called to embark; and God will give us the grace to make progress on this journey, if only we are willing to persevere, to fight the good fight.
As for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance. (Lk. 8:15)
To nourish affection for venial sin weakens the powers of our spirit, stands in the way of God’s consolations, and opens the door to temptations. St. Francis de Sales assures us that inadvertent venial sins and faults are “not a matter of any great moment” if as soon as they occur we reject them, and refuse to entertain any affection for them
Francis make clear that the process of purification will continue throughout our life, and so “we must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since for us perfection consist in fighting against them.”
Hatred for sin is important. Confidence in the mercy of God is even more important.
May the Lord, who is good, grant pardon to everyone who has resolved to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, though he be not clean as holiness requires. (2 Chron. 30:18b-19)
Living in the close quarters of a community of monks, Bernard is particularly sensitive to how unkindness in speech and attitude can damage relationships and wound souls.
It is not enough, I say, to guard one’s tongue from these and similar kinds of nastiness [public insult and abuse, venomous slander in secret]; even slight offenses must be avoided, if anything may be termed slight that is directed against a brother for the purpose of hurting him, since merely to be angry with one’s brother makes one liable to the judgment of God.
Bernard also counsels us to be careful how we respond when a wrong has been done to us.
So when an offense is committed against you, a thing hard to avoid at times in communities like ours, do not immediately rush, as a worldly person may do, to retaliate dishonorably against your brother; nor, under the guise of administering correction, should you dare to pierce with sharp and searing words one for whom Christ was pleased to be crucified; nor make grunting, resentful noises at him, nor mutter and murmur complaints, nor adopt a sneering air, nor indulge the loud laugh of contempt, nor knit the brow in menacing anger. Let your passion die within, where it was born; a carrier of death, it must be allowed no exit or it will cause destruction, and then you can say with the Prophet; “I was troubled and I spoke not.”