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All things, even sin

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"Job says that "the life of man upon earth is a warfare and his days are like the days of a hireling." But upon His servants the Lord bestows His grace; although as Saint Paul says, "to them that love God all things work together unto good," to the very end. All things -- graces, natural qualities, contradictions, sickness, and, as Saint Augustine says, even sin. For God permits sin in the lives of His servants, as He permitted Peter's denial, that He may lead them to a deeper humility and thereby to a purer love."

Père Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

A Light As It Were of Serenity

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From The Confessions of Saint Augustine:

Take Up and Read

So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read; Take up and read. " Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like.

As With Saint Antony

So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me: and by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee.

I Seized, Opened, and in Silence Read

Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.

Instantly

No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.

Let us do only what we can

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For the feast of Saint John Eudes:

It is never detrimental to the spiritual progress of a Community when one does not do what God does not want him to do. Now God does not desire anyone to observe rules when he cannot do so because of illness or some other infirmity. We should not wish to do more than what God desires. Let us do only what we can, dearest brother, without becoming troubled or worried, submitting ourselves with peace and tranquility to the commands of His most adorable will.

Saint Jean Eudes to a Superior, Letter 233

To Be Led By the Hand of God

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"Whatever did not fit in with my plan
did lie within the plan of God.
I have an ever deeper and firmer belief
that nothing is merely an accident
when seen in the light of God,
that my whole life down to the smallest details
has been marked out for me
in the plan of Divine Providence
and has a completely coherent meaning
in God's all seeing eyes.

To be a child of God,
that means to be led by the Hand of God,
to do the Will of God, not one's own will,
to place every care and every Hope in the Hand of God
and not to worry about one's future.
On this rests the freedom and the joy of the child of God.
But how few of even the truly pious,
even of those ready for heroic sacrifices, possess this freedom.

When night comes, and you look back over the day
and see how fragmentary everything has been,
and how much you planned that has gone undone,
and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed:
just take everything exactly as it is,
put it in God's hands and leave it with Him.
Then you will be able to rest in Him --really rest --
and start the next day as a new life."

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.
October 12, 1891 -- August 9, 1942

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Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, in old age, by Lionello Spada (1610)


In his commentary on old King Solomon's need to sleep with a maiden hot enough to keep him warm and holy enough not to arouse his lust, Saint Jerome has this to say:

Who is this Shunammite, both wife and virgin, so hot that she could heat the frozen, so holy that she did not rouse to lust him whom she had warmed?

He goes on to explain that wisdom is the maiden who comes to embrace us in old age:

In the aged, nearly all the bodily powers wear out,
and wisdom alone increases;
all the others decrease:
such as fasting, watching, sleeping on the floor,
travelling from place to place,
entertaining travellers,
defending the poor,
being instant and persevering in prayer,
visiting the sick,
manual labour for the providing of alms.
And without prolonging my discourse,
all those things that are done through the body diminish
as the body breaks down.

I do not mean to say that wisdom,
which in many of the aged declines into senility
is lacking in the young or in those of maturer age;
that is, in those who by toil or earnest zeal,
by holiness of life,
and by frequent prayer to the Lord Jesus,
so seek after knowledge:
but I mean that many who are young in body
have a battle to fight,
and amidst the incentives to sin
and the temptations of the flesh,
wisdom is smothered as fire is in green wood,
so that its flame cannot leap forth.

But when old age comes upon those
who have spent their youth in acquiring knowledge
and have exercised themselves in the law of the Lord day and night,
then they become more learned with age,
more skilled through experience,
wiser as time goes by,
and they reap the most sweet fruit from their diligence.

Saint Jerome, Letter to Nepotian

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How I love to read the homilies of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, at the Office of Matins, in the silent hours before daybreak. Today, Pope Benedict XVI is in Milan. This morning he spoke of Saint Ambrose of the other holy shepherds who have illustrated the Church of Milan through the ages. Here is part of the lesson from Saint Ambrose that was read yesterday morning at Matins. It is a commentary on Luke 5:17-26. The comments in italics are my own.

First of all, as I have said before,
every sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered
for his recovery,
so that, by means of these prayers,
the weakened frame of our mortal life
and the limping steps of our bodily movements
may be made whole again
by the healing power of the celestial Word.

Weakened frame and limping steps: is there anyone who, at least at certain hours and in certain seasons of life, does not recognize himself in this description? Saint Ambrose says that the sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered for his recovery. This simple statement confesses the Church's age-old belief that in answer to prayer it pleases God to restore wholeness to the shattered.

Therefore, there should be men who are able to help the sick in mind,
so that when the soul is depressed
by the torpor of bodily weakness
these men can rouse it again to higher things.

Here, Saint Ambrose recognizes that, within the Church, there is, in fact, a vocation to help the sick in mind.

By their aid the sick man can easily be brought and laid before Jesus,
and be found worthy of the Lord's glance.
For the Lord does look upon those that are lowly;
for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.
And when He saw their faith, He said unto them,
Man thy sins are forgiven thee.

It is a great and powerful thing to bring the sick before the gaze of the Lord Jesus, either in person or by representing them before His Eucharistic Face.

Great is the Lord, who for the merits of some, forgives others,
who tries some, and forgives the trespasses of others.
Why should not your fellow-Christian, O man,
have influence with you,
if he has the right to intercede and obtain mercy from God?

Through prayer, mere men can have influence on God. The humble man, then, will allow himself to be influenced for the good by those whom God Himself deigns to hear.

O thou who condemnest,
learn to forgive;
thou who art sick, to pray!
If the gravity of thy sins makes thee afraid
lest they should not be forgiven thee,
betake thyself to the Church.
She will pray on thy behalf,
and God will pardon, as He looks on her,
what He might deny thee.

The condemning man must learn to forgive. The sick man must learn to pray. All must entrust themselves to the efficacious prayer of the Church, for she is a merciful mother pleading for us, through Christ, in the presence of the Father of mercies and God of all consolation.

Saint Ambrose, Book Five, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke

Saint Chrysostom on Saint Paul

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At Matins during Epiphanytide it is customary to read the Epistles of Saint Paul. Yesterday our monastic lectionary gave us a magnificent sermon of Saint John Chrysostom in which he proclaims his own devotion to the Apostle. I mentioned this sermon to our Oblate Charles Michie (who bears the Oblate name of Paul), and promised that I would post it. Here it is:

Paul, the Spiritual Trumpet

As I keep hearing the Epistles of blessed Paul read, and that twice every week, and often three or four times, whenever we are celebrating the memorials of the holy martyrs, gladly do I enjoy the spiritual trumpet, and get roused and warmed with desire at recognising the voice so dear to me, and seem to fancy him all but present to my sight, and behold him conversing with me.

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Ignorance of Paul

But I grieve and am pained, that all people do not know this man as much as they ought to know him: but some are so far ignorant of him as not even to know for certain the number of his Epistles. And this comes not of incapacity, but of their not having the wish to be continually conversing with this blessed man.

A Continual Cleaving to the Man

For it is not through any natural readiness and sharpness of wit that even I am acquainted with as much as I do know, if I do know anything, but owing to a continual cleaving to the man, an earnest affection towards him. For what belongs to men beloved, they who love them know above all others; because they are interested in them. And this also this blessed Apostle shews, in what he said to the Philippians: "Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel."

Read Saint Paul With a Ready Mind

And so ye also, if ye be willing to apply to the reading of him with a ready mind, will need no other aid. For the word of Christ is true which saith, "Seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Pay Attention When Saint Paul Is Read in Church

But since the more part of those who here gather themselves to us, have taken upon themselves the bringing up of children, and the care of a wife, and the charge of a family, and for this cause cannot afford to give themselves wholly to this labour, be ye at all events roused to receiving those things which have been brought together by others, and bestow as much attention to the hearing of what is said as ye give the gathering of goods.

Frank Duff

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Shortly before his death on 7 November 1980, layman Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, addressed a group of deacons preparing for ordination to the priesthood in Thurles, County Tipperary. He shared with them something of his own life of prayer as a lay apostle. His example is a catalyst and an inspiration for all priests. This is what he said:

Now perhaps you will forgive me for being personal. I absolutely hate it, but if I am not to talk to you to some extent out of my own background, I really have no other claim to address words to you at all. I am not a professor of religion, and I am certainly no peritus in that department. The only thing which I have to point to is considerable experience. Therefore, willy-nilly, I have to refer to it.
I have believed intensely in the spiritual order and I have never sacrificed it to the other. I have said the Divine Office since 1917 without missing a single day or a single hour, and think I could say, a single line of it. Likewise I have said daily the Rosary and the Seven Dolours. I have never missed daily Mass in that time, except in circumstances of absolute physical inability.
It is my conviction that anything useful that has come along has proceeded from that stressing of the purely supernatural. I think it meant that I was depending on the Lord and His Mother, and not on myself. I would say that one important result followed: that I was saved from vulgar pride. When there was development I was not tempted to ascribe it to my own abilities. Of course, one has to pay a price as well, the Christian price of torment and suffering. If unwilling to face up to that, avoid the priesthood.
Next we come to the question of Our Lady. She is completely indispensable.

Multiply Upon Us Thy Mercy

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Illumination and Healing

On this Sunday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, the liturgy is of an extraordinary beauty, beginning with Matins. The lessons at the Second Nocturn were taken from Saint Gregory the Great's exposition of the Books of Kings:

This custom of anointing kings hath always been preserved in God's Holy Church. And even as this ceremony resembleth a sacrament, so is that prince best anointed, whose heart is inwardly anointed with God's grace. Let us consider first the properties of oil. Oil is distinguished above other fluids, in that it is inflammable, and that it is medicinal. Its healing property maketh it a type of mercy, even as it is written of the Lord -- "Thy mercies are over all Thy works." And in that it feedeth the lamp, it showeth forth the gracious power of Gospel preaching, whereby the minds of Christ's faithful people are enlightened.

In Their Dryness of Heart They Rebuked the Very Fountain of Mercy

In the homily read before the Holy Gospel at Matins, Saint Gregory the Great speaks of those whose exaltation cometh of a false righteousness:

They look down upon their neighbour, but are softened by no mercy towards his misery, and are all the more sinful, because they perceive not that they themselves are sinners. Of such were those Pharisees who judged the Lord because He received sinners, and in the dryness of their own heart, rebuked the very Fountain of Mercy.

Sick of So Desperate a Sickness

It sometimes happens that those who look down upon others in their weakness, are themselves so desperately sick with pride, that they are unaware of their own spiritual sickness. Saint Gregory says:

They were sick of so desperate a sickness that they knew not themselves to be sick; but that they might know that they were so, the Heavenly Physician applied to them His tender ointments, and, by means of a gracious parable, lanced the boil of their pride of heart.

In the light of this, I would make an appeal for charity, meekness, and mercy in our Catholic blogosphere. One should never post an entry that has not been seasoned with the oil of mercy.

The Collect

Today's Collect is a masterpiece. I wonder how the new English translation of the Roman Missal will render it. The Marquess of Bute translates it thus:

O God, the Protector of them that trust in Thee,
without Whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy;
increase and multiply upon us Thy mercy;
that, Thou being our Ruler and Guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we finally lose not the things eternal.

The image of mercy being increased and multiplied upon us can be related to Samuel's anointing of Saul in the lessons at Matins, the oil being a figure or type of mercy.

Finally, at Lauds, we had a glorious antiphon in the Third Mode -- I wish that I could sing it for all my readers to hear -- relating the parable of the man who goes in search of his one lost sheep.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep,
if he loses one of them,
doth not leave the ninety-and-nine in the wilderness
and go after that which is lost, until he finds it? Alleluia.

Dulcis Iesu Memoria

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Painting of the Child Jesus with a crown of flowers by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686)

Over forty years ago, when I was taking my first steps in what would be a life-long monastic pilgrimage, I visited a certain Trappist abbey. A marvelously warm and open laybrother with twinkling eyes and a French Canadian accent greeted me in the porter's lodge and, from that moment, there grew between us a bond of friendship and of prayer. Brother G. had a particular devotion to the Office of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and, in particular, to the hymns of that Office. Opening his somewhat battered copy of the Cistercian Day Hours, he would ask me to pray the Dulcis Iesu Memoria with him. He never tired of repeating it.

Today, being the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, in the traditional Benedictine calendar, I thought I might share with my readers selected verses of the hymns of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds. Attributed for a long time to Saint Bernard (1090-1153), more recent scholarship suggests that Saint Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) may be the author of this beautiful poem on the mystical love of Jesus. In any case, it is relatively certain that the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu is the work of a 12th century English Cistercian.

Vespers

Jesu, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see, / And in thy presence rest!

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, / Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name, / O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart! / O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall how kind thou art, / How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this / Nor tongue nor pen can show:
The love of Jesus, what it is, / None but his lovers know.

O Jesu, light of all below! / Thou Fount of life and fire!
Surpassing all the joys we know, / And all we can desire!

Matins

O Jesu, King most wonderful! / Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable! / In whom all joys are found!

Stay with us Lord; and with thy light / Illume the soul's abyss;
Scatter the darkness of our night, / And fill the world with bliss!

Jesu, thy mercies are untold, / Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold / Whatever we can say.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed! / Who eat thee hunger still;
Who drink of thee, yet feel a void, / Which thou alone canst fill.

Thrice happy he, who living thee, / Doth thy true sweetness know:
All else becomes but vanity / Thenceforth to him below.

Lauds

O Jesu, thou the beauty art / Of angel worlds above;
Thy name is music to the heart, / Enchanting it with love.

For thee I yearn, for thee I sigh; / When wilt thou come to me,
And make me glad eternally / With the blest sight of thee.

Thy presence with me I desire / Wherever I may be;
This, Lord is all that I require / For my felicity.

Thy kiss is bliss beyond compare, / A bliss forevermore;
O, that thy visits were less rare, / And not so quickly o'er!

Now have I gained my long desire, / Now what I sought is mine;
Now is my heart, O Christ, on fire / With thy true love divine.

O fairest of the sons of day! / More fragrant than the rose!
O brighter than the dazzling ray / That in the sunbeam glows!

O thou whose love alone is all / That mortal can desire!
Whose image doth my heart enthrall, / And with delight inspire.

O thou in wom my love doth find / Its rest and perfect end;
O Jesu, Saviour of mankind! / And their eternal friend.

Lead where thou wilt, I follow thee, / And will not stay behind;
For thou hast torn my hear from me, / O Glory of our kind!

To him, praise, glory without end, / And adoration be;
O Jesu, grant us to ascend, / And reign in Heaven with thee.

(Caswell's translation)

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Progress Report

Our little community life, marked by the rhythm of the Hours, by Eucharistic adoration, work, and welcoming guests, is already that of the age-old observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. It doesn't take much to live according to the Holy Rule: an all-consuming thirst for God, zeal for the Divine Office, readiness to embrace humiliations and obedience, and charity. "And over all these put on charity" (Col 3:14).

The Work of God

I am full of thanksgiving when I see the zeal of my young brothers for this vocation, and especially for their loving solicitude for priests. To hear them speak of their desire to "adore for priests who never linger before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus," and to offer themselves for the sanctification of priests, especially for the most wounded and broken among them, is, for me, an immense joy. To see them take their place before the Most Blessed Sacrament is an even greater joy. It is all God's Work: "The Work of God." Why would one want to put anything before the "Work of God," for "He does all things well" (Mk 7:37)?

This morning at Matins: a wonderful text of Saint Gregory Nazianzen. The translation is my own.

O Excessively Speedy Kindness

All you who thirst, come to the water -- thus does Isaias exhort you -- and you who have no money, come, buy your wine and drink it, without paying a cent. O excessively speedy kindness! O easy purchase! You can buy using nothing more than your will. God even holds your heart's desire in place of the enormous cost. He thirsts that we should thirst for Him. He makes Himself the beverage of those who wish to drink. He considers it a good thing that we should ask good things of Him. His munificence and liberality are well within your reach. He is gladder to give than are others to receive.

Let us take care lest we be condemned for the smallness of our cramped souls in asking only for things that are small and not at all worthy of the Divine munificence. Blessed the one of whom Christ asks a drink a water, like that well-known Samaritan; for He will give such a one a wellspring of water soaring up for eternal life.

For Anne

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Anne, a faithful reader in London, asked me to post an Act of Faith to help her through a difficult passage in her life. I found nothing better than this prayer of the Venerable Servant of God John Henry Cardinal Newman. I pray that Cardinal Newman's words will be as much help to Anne as they have been and still are to me.

Thou Hast Ordered Things in the Wisest Way

1. O MY God, Thou and Thou alone art all-wise and all-knowing! Thou knowest, Thou hast determined everything which will happen to us from first to last. Thou hast ordered things in the wisest way, and Thou knowest what will be my lot year by year till I die. Thou knowest how long I have to live. Thou knowest how I shall die. Thou hast precisely ordained everything, sin excepted. Every event of my life is the best for me that could be, for it comes from Thee. Thou dost bring me on year by year, by Thy wonderful Providence, from youth to age, with the most perfect wisdom, and with the most perfect love.

To Be Thy Care, Not My Own

2. My Lord, who camest into this world to do Thy Father's will, not Thine own, give me a most absolute and simple submission to the will of Father and Son. I believe, O my Saviour, that Thou knowest just what is best for me. I believe that Thou lovest me better than I love myself, that Thou art all-wise in Thy Providence, and all-powerful in Thy protection. I am as ignorant as Peter was what is to happen to me in time to come; but I resign myself entirely to my ignorance, and thank Thee with all my heart that Thou hast taken me out of my own keeping, and, instead of putting such a serious charge upon me, hast bidden me put myself into Thy hands. I can ask nothing better than this, to be Thy care, not my own. I protest, O my Lord, that, through Thy grace, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest, and will not lead the way. I will wait on Thee for Thy guidance, and, on obtaining it, I will act upon it in simplicity and without fear. And I promise that I will not be impatient, if at any time I am kept by Thee in darkness and perplexity; nor will I ever complain or fret if I come into any misfortune or anxiety.

Temper Thy Will to Me

3. I know, O Lord, Thou wilt do Thy part towards me, as I, through Thy grace, desire to do my part towards Thee. I know well Thou never canst forsake those who seek Thee, or canst disappoint those who trust Thee. Yet I know too, the more I pray for Thy protection, the more surely and fully I shall have it. And therefore now I cry out to Thee, and intreat Thee, first that Thou wouldest keep me from myself, and from following any will but Thine. Next I beg of Thee, that in Thy infinite compassion, Thou wouldest temper Thy will to me, that it may not be severe, but indulgent to me. Visit me not, O my loving Lord--if it be not wrong so to pray--visit me not with those trying visitations which saints alone can bear! Pity my weakness, and lead me heavenwards in a safe and tranquil course. Still I leave all in Thy hands, my dear Saviour--I bargain for nothing--only, if Thou shalt bring heavier trials on me, give me more grace--flood me with the fulness of Thy strength and consolation, that they may work in me not death, but life and salvation.

Ipse est sacerdos, ipse est Deus

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The lessons at Vigils this morning were extraordinarily compelling in the context of this Year of the Priest. (I use the Latin-French Lectionnaire monastique in six volumes edited by the Abbey of Solesmes. Would anyone know if a Latin-English version of the same lectionary is in preparation anywhere in the monastic world?)

First Lesson, Hosea 4:6-10
When Priests Lack Knowedge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and requite them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the harlot, but not multiply; because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish harlotry.

Here is my translation of the Second Lesson:

Fulgentius Ferrandus was a sixth century deacon of Carthage renowned for his defense of the orthodox faith against the Arians.

From the Dogmatic Letter of the Deacon Ferrandus, Against the Arians
The Action of the Priest

The action of the priest is twofold: first, he intercedes in order to be heard,
and then, once heard, he gives thanks.
In his intercession he offers the sacrifice of supplication,
in his thanksgiving he offers the sacrifice of praise.
In his intercession he presents the needs of sinners,
in his thanksgiving he recounts the benefits granted with mercy to those who make reparation.
In his intercession he implores pardon for the guilty,
in his thanksgiving he desires to rejoice with those who are absolved.

And so it is with Christ:
possessing an eternal priesthood uninterrupted by death as it is among other priests,
He interceded for us in offering the sacrifice of His own body upon the cross,
and He intercedes even now for us all,
desiring that we also should become a pure sacrifice unto God.

But when Divine Mercy will have become perfected in us,
when death will have been swallowed up in victory,
once all our sorrows will have disappeared,
when, filled with all good things,
we will sin no more,
no more will we lament,
no more will we have to suffer the enemy, the devil,
but we will reign in supreme peace and felicity.
Then, it is true, Christ will no longer intercede for us,
for we will have no need to ask for anything.
Never, however, will He cease giving thanks for us,
just as, in this present day, it is by the mediation of our High Priest
that we will offer the sacrifice of praise.

Always then will Christ be the High Priest
by whose mediation we can offer the sacrifice of praise.
Always, He is lower because He is the priest.
This notwithstanding, because Christ is forever one,
He Himself is the High Priest,
and He Himself is God who with the Father and the Holy Spirit
is adored, blessed, and glorified by the faithful.
He Himself intercedes,
He Himself gives thanks,
and He Himself bestows grace.

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Yesterday, Dan P., a man preparing for the diaconate here in our diocese of Tulsa, wrote me asking if I might help him learn more about Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and Doctor of the Church (309-373). Dan, I recommend that you purchase The Doctors of the Church, Thirty-Three Men and Women Who Shaped Christianity, by Bernard McGinn. In that book, not only will you find an excellent introduction to Saint Ephrem's life and works, but also a presentation of the thirty-two other Doctors of the Church.

The Collect for today's feast of Saint Ephrem is noteworthy. Here it is in my own translation from the original Latin

Graciously pour forth into our hearts, O Lord,
the Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Thy deacon, Saint Ephrem,
rejoiced to proclaim Thy mysteries in song,
and by Whose power he served Thee alone
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

A few years ago, for the feast of Saint Ephrem, in the place of a homily, I offered a commentary on some of his sayings. Dan and other readers may want to ponder these teachings today:

Saint Ephrem the Syrian on Prayer

Not to sin is truly blessed; but those who sin should not despair, but grieve over the sins they have committed, so that, through grief they may again attain blessedness.

It is good, then, to pray always and not to lose heart, as the Lord says, and again the Apostle says, 'Pray without ceasing', that is by night and by day and at every hour, and not only when coming into the church, and not bothering at other times. But whether you are working, lying down to sleep, travelling, eating, drinking, sitting at table, do not interrupt your prayer, for you do not know when he who demands your soul is coming. Don't wait for Sunday or a feast day, or a different place, but, as the Prophet David says, 'in every place of his dominion'.

Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying.

When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, 'at evening and at morning and at midday'.

If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul.

Prayer is a guard of prudence, control of wrath, restraint of pride, cleansing of malice, destruction of envy, righting of impiety.

Prayer is strength of bodies, prosperity of a household, good order of a city, might of a kingdom, trophy of war, assurance of peace.

Prayer is a seal of virginity, fidelity in marriage, weapon of travelers, guardian of sleepers, courage of the wakeful, abundance for farmers, safety of those who sail.

Prayer is an advocate for those being judged, remission for the bound, consolation for the grieving, gladness for the joyful, comfort for mourners, a feast on birthdays, a crown for the married, a shroud for the dying.

Prayer is converse with God, equal honour with the Angels, progress in good things, averting of evils, righting of sinners.

Prayer made the whale a house for Jonas, brought Ezechias back to life from the gates of death, turned the flame to wind of moisture for the Youths in Babylon. Through prayer Elias bound the heaven not to rain for three years and six months.

See, brethren, what strength prayer has. There is no possession more precious than prayer in the whole of human life. Never be parted from it; never abandon it.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian on Psalmody

Let psalmody be continually on your mouth, for when God is being named he puts the demons to flight and sanctifies the singer.

Psalmody is calm of soul, author of peace.

Psalmody is convenor of friendship, union of the separated, reconciliation of enemies.

Psalmody attracts the help of the Angels, is a weapon in night-time fears, repose of the day's toils, safety for infants, adornment for the old, consolation for the elderly, most fitting embellishment for women. It make deserts into homes, market places sober.

Psalmody is the ABC for beginners, progress for the more advanced, confirmation for the perfect, the voice of the Church. It makes festivals radiant; it creates mourning that is in accordance with God, for psalmody draws tears even from a heart of stone.

Psalmody is the work of the Angels, the commonwealth of heaven, spiritual incense. Psalmody is enlightenment of souls, sanctification of bodies.

Let us, brethren, never stop making psalmody our meditation, both at home and on the road, both sleeping and waking, speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.

Psalmody is the joy of those who love God. It banishes idle chatter, brings laughter to an end, reminds us of the judgement, rouses the soul towards God, joins the choir of the Angels.

Where there is psalmody with compunction, there God is, with the Angels.
Where the songs of the opponent are, there is God's wrath, and 'woe!' is the reward of laughter.

Where sacred books and readings are, there are the joy of the just and the salvation of the listeners. Where there are harps and dances, there is the darkening of men and women, and a festival of the Devil.

Saint Ephrem the Syriam on Poverty and Hospitality

Be thou a lover of poverty, and be desirous of neediness. If thou hast them both for thy portion, thou art an inheritor on high.

Despise not the voice of the poor and give him not cause to curse thee. For if he curse whose palate is bitter, the Lord will hear his petition.

If his garments are foul, wash them in water, which freely is bought.

Has a poor man entered into thy house? God has entered into thy house; God dwells within thy abode. He, whom thou hast refreshed from his troubles, from troubles will deliver thee.

Hast thou washed the feet of the stranger? Thou hast washed away the filth of thy sins. Hast thou prepared a table before him? Behold God eating [at it], and Christ likewise drinking [at it], and the Holy Spirit resting [on it]: Is the poor satisfied at thy table and refreshed? Thou hast satisfied Christ thy Lord. He is ready to be thy rewarder; in presence of angels and men He will confess thou hast fed His hunger; He will give thanks unto thee that thou didst give Him drink, and quench His thirst.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian Proposes a Rule of Life

Have thou also a law, a comely law for thy household. Establish an order that is wise, that the abjects laugh not at time.

Be careful in all thy doings, that thou be not a sport for fools; be upright and prudent, and both simple and wise.

Let thy body be quiet and cheerful, thy greeting seemly and simple; thy discourse without fault, thy speech brief and savoury; thy words few and sound, full of savour and understanding.

Speak not overmuch, not even words that are wise; for all things that are over many, though they be wise are wearisome.

To them of thy household be as a father. Amongst thy brethren esteem thyself least, and inferior amongst thy fellows, and of little account with all men.

With thy friend keep a secret; to those that love thee be true.

See that there be no wrangling; the secrets of thy friends reveal not, lest all that hear thee hate thee and esteem thee a mischiefmaker.

With those that hate thee wrangle not, neither face to face nor yet in thy heart.

No enemy shalt thou have but Satan his very self.

Give counsel to the wife thou hast wedded; give heed to her doings; as stronger thou art answerable that thou shouldst sustain her weakness. For weak is womankind, and very ready to fall.

Be thou as a hawk, when kindled (to anger), but when wrath departs from thee, be gladsome and also firm, in the blending of diverse qualities.

Keep silence among the aged; to the elders give due honour.

Honour the priests with diligence, as good stewards of the household. Give due honour to their degree, and search not out their doings. In his degree the priest is an angel, but in his doings a man. By mercy he is made a mediator, between God and mankind.

Search not out the faults of men; reveal not the sin of thy fellow; the shortcomings of thy neighbours, in speech of the mouth repeat not.

Thou art not judge in creation, thou hast not dominion over the earth. If thou lovest righteousness, reprove thy soul and thyself. Be thou judge unto thine own sins, and chastener of thy own transgressions.

Make thou not inquiry maliciously, into the misdeeds of men. For if thou doest this, injuries will not be lacking to thee.

Trust not the hearing of the ear, for many are the deceivers. Vain reports believe thou not, for false rumours are not few.

In puero puer

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Saint Augustine preached this morning at the Third Nocturn of Vigils. Amazing. It makes one want to applaud! Does anyone preach like this today? Read the Latin text aloud. Listen to the musicality of it, to the rhythm and rhyming of it.

Agnovit infantem senex,
factus est in puero puer.

Innovatus est in aetate,
qui plenus erat pietate.

Simeon senex ferebat Christum infantem;
Christus regebat Simeonis senectutem.

The old man recognized the infant,
and in the boy became a boy.

He who was full of fatherly tenderness
was made young again in his old age.

Simeon the old man carried the infant Christ;
Christ guided the old age of Simeon.

Sermon 128, 2-4: PL 39

An Act of Love

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My confessor said something to me today that reminded me of a prayer that impressed me back in the days of my monastic youth, and still does: The Act of Love of Father Jean-Baptiste Muard (1809-1854), founder of the Society of Saint Edmund and of the Benedictine Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. Thirty-seven years ago, if I am not mistaken, my excellent Novice Master told me that he said this prayer every day after Holy Communion. It is extraordinary the way certain things lodge themselves in one's memory.

Père Muard's Act of Love


Desiring to love Thee, my God, as much as is possible to a feeble creature,
I desire that all my thoughts, all my wishes, all my sentiments,
all my aspirations, all the pulsations of my heart,
all my movements, be so many acts of love.

I desire that every character I trace in writing,
every word, every letter, I read be to me so many acts of love.

Would that I could offer Thee each day as many acts of most fervent love
as there are grains of sand on the sea-shore,
leaves on the trees of the forest,
atoms in the air, and created things, and multiply them to infinity.

I offer Thee, my God, in compensation for my weakness,
all the acts of love of all the angels and all the saints in heaven and earth;
all the acts of love. of the most holy Virgin and, above all,
the acts of love for Thee of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Alas ! my God, that I cannot love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved;
give me, then, the heart of a Seraph or, rather,
fill my heart with the love of all the Seraphim,
the love of all the Saints, the love of all hearts,
and increase it ever more and more
that I may love Thee as much as I desire to love Thee. Amen.

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I rejoice to celebrate the Votive Office and Mass of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Thursday whenever the rubrics permit it. At Matins I read Saint Ambrose (De Sacramentis 4:4); he is astonishing in his simplicity and clarity. How I love this text!

And yes, dear readers, that is a beehive resting on the book next to Saint Ambrose! So gifted was he at extracting spiritual honey from the Scriptures, and so sweet was his preaching to the palate of souls, that, in his iconography, he came to be depicted with bees and beehives.

The same symbolism is associated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Doctor Mellifluus (Honey-flowing Doctor) and "the last of the Fathers."

"Ergo non otiose, cum accipis,
tu dicis: Amen;
jam in spiritu confitens,
quod accipias corpus Christi.
Dicit tibi sacerdos: Corpus Christi:
et tu dicis: Amen.
Hoc est, verum.
Quod confitetur lingua,
teneat affectus."

"Therefore it is not idly that,
when thou art a-receiving, thou sayest: "Amen";
testifying in thine heart that
That which thou art taking is the Body of Christ.
The priest saith unto thee: "The Body of Christ!" and thou answerest: "Amen"
That is to say: "It is true." What then thy tongue confesseth, let thine heart hold to."

Opportet autem Illum regnare

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My new life here in Tulsa began one month ago on the feast of Our Lady of Knock, Thursday, August 21st. My days are full -- from Matins until Compline -- and they pass quickly. There is much that I would want to share with the readers of Vultus Christi. Today, while reading one of my favourite spiritual authors, Dom Eugène Vandeur, O.S.B., I came upon his meditation on the words of the Pater, "Thy Kingdom come." Here is part of it:

Thy Kingdom come!
Come, Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords (Ap 19, 16);
make Thy solemn entrance today into my heart:
reign Thou in my innermost being.
Is not that Thy true kingdom (Lk 17, 21)?
And then act upon all my forces,
the forces of my soul, of my mind, of my heart,
upon the energies of my body;
reign Thou absolutely;
I give over to Thee straightway all the powers and possessions of my being;
do Thou but reign over me and all that belongs to me.

Yet what have I, Lord, but my nothingness, my weakness,
the sad results of my sins?
Nevertheless, reign even over all that,
in order that I may pass into Thee,
in order that Thou, once more, with great desire,
mayest eat Thy Pasch with me (Lk 22, 15).

Then shall I pass and enter into sincere, lasting, and sweet communion with Thee
in Thy functions as Priest, Victim, and Altar of Thy Sacrifice.
then wilt Thou take possession of my being;
Thou wilt offer it in truth, in untold plenitude to my Father Who is in heaven.

Yes, my soul will be filled with Thee, Lord Jesus.
Made the city of Thy reign,
it will have from that time forth but one passion,
a passion essential to Thy saints:
namely, to extend the reign of my Heavenly Father,
this reign which is Thy very Self, O my Christ!
I shall burn with the desire to make Thee known and loved;
to lead all souls, sinners especially, to Thy sacred feet,
that there they may be bound fast with faith and love
and, casting themselves into Thine arms,
may still their longing, even as I,
at the wound of love where Thou refreshest all who thirst
for the Life eternal which Thou art.

O Father, may Thy kingdom come!
May the reign of Jesus Christ begin!
For He must reign.
Opportet autem Illum regnare (1 Cor 15,5).

Ut Omnes Unum Sint

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A Centenary

The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity began today . . . for the one hundreth time. Episcopal Father Paul James Wattson, the founder of the Society of the Atonement, initiated the observance in 1908. In a letter to another Anglican clergyman, The Reverend Spencer Jones, Father Paul proposed dedicating eight days to a fervent prayer of intercession for unity; the Octave opened on the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter at Rome, January 18th, and ended on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, January 25th.

Already in 1908, over 2000 persons joined their prayer to that of Father Paul and his collaborator, Mother Lurana Mary White. Writing of the experience in his periodical, The Lamp, Father Paul expressed a wish that, "this Church Unity observance so auspiciously begun, may be kept with increasing numbers year after year until Our Lord's prayer, Ut omnes unum sint is completely fulfilled."

In October 1909, Monsignor Joseph Conroy of Ogdensburg, New York, received "The Society of the Atonement" — Father Paul, Mother Lurana, and a few companions — into the Catholic Church.

Father George Ignatius Spencer

Father Paul's Octave for Church Unity was not an isolated initiative. The Holy Ghost had already moved other souls to offer a similar prayer for unity. In 1839, Father Ignatius Spencer, a convert from the Church of England, launched a crusade of prayer on the First Thursday of every month for the conversion of England. Father Ignatius' crusade was grounded in the meditation of the Priestly Prayer of Christ in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. He has been called the "Apostle of Ecumenical Prayer." In 1847 Father Spencer entered the Congregation of the Passion, becoming Father Ignatius of Saint Paul.

The Abbé Couturier

January 1933 saw the French priest Paul Couturier extend the scope of the Octave for Church Unity to include those who, without focusing on a visible reunion with the Church of Rome under the Successor of Saint Peter, desired nonetheless to participate in an effort of spiritual ecumenism. He proposed a week of prayer that would express the adhesion of all Christians to the prayer of Christ, "that all may be one" (Jn 17:21). In 1934, the Abbé Couturier's vision merged with that of Father Ignatius Spencer, Father Paul Watson, and Mother Lurana White to become the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in its present form.

Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità

The Abbé Couturier communicated his zeal for Christian Unity in his personal correspondence with Mother Maria Pia, Abbess of the Monastery of Grottaferrata in Italy. In 1938, Mother Maria Pia shared with her community a letter she had received from the Abbé Couturier. He wrote of Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians who had made the offering of their lives for the unity of the Church. Mother Maria Gabriella, a young nun, recently professed, received an inner calling to make the same gesture. Our Lord accepted her offering. Maria Gabriella died on April 23, 1939. It was Good Shepherd Sunday. After her death, her Sisters discovered that her worn New Testament opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John. The pages of Jesus' Priestly Prayer to the Father, so often turned by her feverish fingers, were almost transparent. Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Maria Gabriella on January 25, 1983, the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

For my part, I remain attached to Father Paul's original vision for the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, and prefer the prayers that he proposed a century ago.

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Didyme wrote this prayer. I took the liberty of translating it from the French. It is every sinner's psalm. The last two lines are extraordinary.

Lord, thou knowest this heart of mine.
Thou knowest the clashings that at sundry hours rage therein.
Thou knowest my contradictions,
pulled this way and that, I am torn within my breast.
Thou knowest the things that give me life
and the things that wound me unto death,
all that is my joy and all that that is my sorrow Thou knowest,
the strength that is mine,
and the weariness that on certain days is more than I can bear.

Lord, thou knowest my life.
Thou knowest its heights and its depths,
the welling up of loves and the loathings that follow,
fidelity and infidelity,
seasons of flourishing and seasons of crisis,
my brightnesses and my darker moments.

All this, O Lord,
and all that is this life of mine Thou knowest,
thou who searchest the heart and its secret places.

But above all this,
Thou art the Son of Man who one day didst take Thy rest beside the well,
weak Thou wast, and worn, and thirsty,
in the garden held fast in the grip of fear,
and on the tree forsaken.

Come thou, my peace.
Come thou, my sweetness.
Come thou, my consolation.
Come thou my pardon and my love.

Come, rebuild the brokenness within.
Come, redress my fragile shelter.
Come, restore my hope.
Be thou to me one little flame in so vast a night.
And wait for me at the end of these my twisting paths,
for it is Thee that I love and none other.

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"And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them" (Mark 9:36).

We have depicted Jesus as Child and as King
in order to attract souls to Him more easily
and to give them confident trust and hope.
We also wanted to recall that it is by His Divine Heart,
full of mercy and of love for humanity
that we shall obtain peace in the world.
(Mother Yvonne-Aimée)

Today's Gospel is, in some way, an invitation to make known the Little Invocation that has changed so many lives, healed so many hearts, and set so many souls in the way of ceaseless prayer. Some time ago, a certain monk who had tried for many years to practice the ceaseless prayer of the heart came upon a biography of Mother Yvonne-Aimée (1901-1951), and learned of the prayer, "O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in thy merciful goodness." One day, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, he realized that the prayer was repeating itself ceaselessly and effortlessly in his heart. He found himself praying the Little Invocation at every waking moment and even during the night, in a way similar to the "Jesus Prayer" of monks of the Eastern Church. Over the years, the grace of ceaseless prayer by means of the Little Invocation has not abated. It is always there: a gentle murmur of confidence bubbling up from the depths of the heart.

Individuals from all walks of life, having received the Little Invocation as a penance in Confession, attest to the graces received: graces of inner healing, of victory over persistent and deeply rooted habits of sin, of trust in the mercy of Christ, and of a ceaseless prayer of the heart.

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That is exactly what His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII did on June 11, 1899 in his Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He called this "the great act" of his pontificate.

The Holy Father presented his intentions to the Catholic world in the encyclical Annum Sacrum on May 25, 1899:

"But shall We allow to slip from Our remembrance those innumerable others upon whom the light of Christian truth has not yet shined? We hold the place of Him who came to save that which was lost, and who shed His blood for the salvation of the whole human race. And so We greatly desire to bring to the true life those who sit in the shadow of death. As we have already sent messengers of Christ over the earth to instruct them, so now, in pity for their lot with all Our soul we commend them, and as far as in us lies We consecrate them to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this way this act of devotion, which We recommend, will be a blessing to all."

Then, on June 11, 1899, in communion with the bishops of the world, he prayed:

Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race . . . Be Thou King of all those who are still involved in the darkness of idolatry and Islamism, and refuse not to draw them all into the light and kingdom of God.

Intra vulnera tua absconde me

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Pope Benedict XVI invites priests to contemplate the glorious wounds of Christ: We ourselves, the priests, whether young or mature, must learn the necessity of suffering, of crisis. We must endure and transcend this suffering. Only in this way does life become rich. For me, the fact that the Lord bears his stigmata for all eternity has a symbolic value. An expression of the atrocity of suffering and death, they are now the seals of Christ’s victory, of the full beauty of his victory and of his love for us. (31 August 2006)

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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