Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Of the Observance of Lent (3)

CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
31 Mar. 31 July. 30 Nov.

Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence.

1 Licet omni tempore vita monachi quadragesimae debet observationem habere, 2 tamen, quia paucorum est ista virtus, ideo suademus istis diebus quadragesimae omni puritate vitam suam custodire omnes pariter, 3 et neglegentias aliorum temporum his diebus sanctis diluere.

Saint Benedict describes Lent as a time during which a monk can “wash away (diluere) the negligences of other times”. The very fact that one can wash away past negligences gives rise to hope and confidence. It is possible to start afresh. The man who can weep over his past sins — and this is itself a grace — can go forward in joy.

The Lord hath heard, and hath had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness. (Psalm 29:11–12)

I recall with gratitude the wisdom and solicitude of my Master of Novices, Père R.C. (to whom I owe so much), who saw fit in 1972 to introduce me Father Irenée Hausherr’s classic work, Penthos, The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East. The man who never weeps is not fully human. In the Gospels, the tears of Our Lord are the authentic tokens of His Humanity. It is recorded that Our Lord wept three times: first, over the faithless city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); then, at the death of his dear friend, Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:35); and, finally, in the bitter agony of Gethsemani (Hebrews 5:7). The shortest sentence in the New Testament is, if I am not mistaken, John 11:35: “And Jesus wept”, Et lacrimatus est Jesus. This little sentence is a an inexhaustible spring of consolation for all of us, poor sinners, who go “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”.

The tears of the Mother of God, no less than those of her Son, fall upon the hearts of poor sinners with a gentle efficacy. The devotion to the tears of Our Lady is not a product of baroque piety; there is evidence of it even among the Desert Fathers:

Abba Isaac said: Once I was sitting with Abba Poemen, and I saw that he was in an ecstasy; and since I used to speak very openly with him, I made a prostration before him and asked him, “Tell me, where were you?” And he did not want to tell me. But when I pressed him, he replied: “My thoughts were with St. Mary the Mother of God, as she stood and wept at the Cross of the Savior; and I wish that I could always weep as much as she wept then”.

If  a man has no tears, he should ask God for them with all his strength and with all his soul. There is no other way by which  he can remain sinless and pure in heart. So precious is the gift of tears that the Church makes it the object of her prayer in the Roman Missal. Blessed Abbot Marmion, among others, had a special devotion to the liturgical prayers for the gift of tears.

Almighty and most gentle God, who when Thy people thirsted drew living water out of a rock, do Thou draw tears of compunction from our stony hearts, giving us grace to lament our sins and fitting us to receive Thy merciful forgiveness.

It seems to me that there are seven fruits of tears. At least, this is my own experience. One desires these seven fruits must pray earnestly for the gift of tears. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 125:5). Here, then, are the seven fruits of tears.

  1. Humility
  2. Purity of heart
  3. Receptivity to the Word of God
  4. Softening of the heart to Divine Things
  5. Compassion for others in their weakness
  6. Closeness to the Mother of God
  7. Joy

 

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Bernadette

BernadetteBest.jpgHer Feast
Today, February 18th, is the feast of Saint Bernadette.  I have long cherished the Collect for her feast:

O God, protector and friend of the humble, Who filled Thy servant, Mary Bernard, with joy by the apparition and conversation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary: grant, we pray, that by the simple way of faith we may be counted worthy to see Thee face to face in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who, with Thee, liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

 

Into the Silence of the Mother of God

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The Seven Utterances of the Mother of God

It is rarely noted that the Seven Utterances of the Mother of God are given us in the arc of time that stretches from the First Sunday of Advent to today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany. It is as if the Church, by entering yearly into the utterances of the Mother of God, would have us enter into her Immaculate Heart. Does not Our Lord say, «A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good . . . . For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh» (Luke 6:45).

The First Four Utterances
Our Lady speaks but seven times in the Gospels. Today’s Holy Mass and Divine Office enshrine the last of these seven utterances. The first four utterances of the Mother of God are given us in the liturgy of the Ember Days of Advent:

1. “And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1:34)

2. “And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)

3.”And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:40).

4. “And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. [Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.”] (Luke 1:46–55)

The Fifth Utterance
On the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany, the fifth utterance is given us:

5. “And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” (Luke 2:48)

The Sixth and Seventh Utterances
Finally, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, we hear the sixth and seventh utterances of the Mother of God. It is these that will carry us through the whole liturgical year until, the mystic circle made complete once again, we enter upon a new Advent.

6. “And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine.” (John 2:3)

7. “His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.” (John 2:5)

Into a Great Silence
After today, the Mother of God retreats into a great silence: the silence of listening to her Son’s words; the silence of contemplaring his deeds; the silence of the Via Crucis; the silence of Calvary pierced only by the words from the Cross; the silence of her Child’s lifeless body and of the tomb; the silence of Holy Saturday; the silence of the Resurrection; the silence of her wonder at the Ascension; the silence of her incandescent prayer in the Cenacle; the silence of Pentecost borne aloft on a mighty wind; and, finally, the heavenly silence of her Assumption. The Blessed Virgin Mary is, as the poet John Lynch aptly called her, «the Woman wrapped in silence». It was in silence that the Immaculate Mother of God came to Knock in 1879. It is silence — with very few exceptions and in few words — that the Queen of Heaven continues to manifest her presence in the Church.

No one can draw near to the Mother of God, the Ark of the Covenant, without entering into the silence of the heavenly sanctuary. «And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven, as it were for half an hour» (Apocalypse 8:1). What is this measure of silence? A half–hour in heaven can, in no way, be compared to the fleeting half–hours of earthly timepieces. Is this silence in heaven not brought to earth in the space of a single rosary? What is the rosary but a progressive entrance — mystery by mystery, and Ave by Ave — in the silence of heaven, into the silence of Mary?

The Maternal Heart of Mary
What does the last recorded utterance of the Blessed Virgin Mary tell us about her? It tells us, first of all, that Our Lady is attentive. No one spoke to the Mother of Jesus of the lack of wine that would have brought humiliation upon the bridegroom and troubled the joy of the feast. Mary observed quietly. She saw what would have escaped the attention of another. Her maternal Heart compelled her to intervene, and so she spoke to her Son” “They have no wine” (John 2:3).

There is no detail of our days and nights that escapes Our Lady’s notice. The maternal Heart of Mary is, at every moment, attentive to the circumstances of our lives. Mary’s silence is not the silence of one removed from those around her and absorbed in herself. It is the silence of a maternal Heart intent on observing everything that impinges upon the life of her children. There is no sorrow of ours, no need, no anguish, no temptation, and even no sin, that Our Lady does not see and take to heart.

“Woman, what is that to me and to thee? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Mary received her Son’s mysterious response not as a rebuff but as an invitation to trust or, as the Irish say, to “leave it with Him”. Our Lady had learned, from the time she laid her Jesus in the manger, to gaze into His Face and to read the light shining in His eyes. This is, I think, what happened at Cana. Our Lady looked into the eyes of her Divine Son and saw there the promise of the revelation of His glory. Turning to the waiters, she said, “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye” (John 2:5). This is the last recorded word of the Mother of God in the Gospels.

Listening to the Mother of God
“Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye” (John 2:5). There is in the Christian life a moment in which one realises that a childlike obedience to the Mother of God is the beginning of obedience to the commandments of her Son. Mary is the gateway to newness of life. “Come to me,” she says, “that thou mayest return by the labour of obedience to Him from Whom thou hadst departed through the sloth of disobedience” (Prologue, Rule of Saint Benedict). The quiet presence of Mary in one’s life and the intercession of her maternal Heart make easy the things that at first appear difficult and altogether beyond one’s strength. It is Mary who accompanies her sons along “the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God ” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter LVIII); at every step she offers encouragement and consolation.  The sacred liturgy places these words on her lips:

Listen to me, then, you that are my sons, that follow, to your happiness, in the paths I shew you; listen to the teaching that will make you wise, instead of turning away from it. Blessed are they who listen to me, keep vigil, day by day, at my threshold, watching till I open my doors. (Proverbs 8:32–34)

Jesus completes the words of His Mother, saying:

If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father’ s commandments, and do abide in his love. (John 15:10).

The sign of water changed into wine at the behest of the Mother of Jesus — and in so lavish a quantity — reveals the glory of His divinity, and causes His disciples to believe in Him, that is, to stake their lives on Him and on the efficacy of His priestly prayer:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)

The Hour of the Mother

The prayer of the Mother effectively opens hearts to the prayer of the Son. The hour of the Mother hastens the hour of the Son “whom having not seen, you love: in whom also now, though you see Him not, you believe: and believing shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified” (1 Peter 1:8). Mary’s hour is whatever hour in which her children, members of her Son’s Mystical Body, are in need of her presence. Mary’s hour is whatever hour in which her children find themselves in sore need of her intervention. Mary’s hour is the hour in which any soul turns to her in confidence, saying, “Show thyself a Mother” (Vespers Hymn, Ave Maris Stella).

Today, as at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary is present in the Church, observing all things and attentive to every need. Today, even as at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary intervenes quietly and effectively, even without being asked. Today, even as at the wedding feast of Cana, she speaks to her Son on our behalf — “They have no wine” — and, then, speaks to us on His behalf — “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye”.

Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces; she is the almoner of the Divine Munificence; she is the Mother of the Mystical Body, bending over the little ones, comforting those who weep, and lifting up the fallen. So attuned is her maternal Heart to the Heart of God that she, like Him, “fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53) and causes wine to flow in abundance “lest anyone be troubled or grieved in the house of God” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter XXXI).

2017: A Marian Year

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Woman clothed with the sun, thou who didst visit Fatima one hundred years ago to make known to all men thy maternal Heart, receive in the first hour of this new year our act of total consecration to thee. Welcome us into the safe refuge of thy Immaculate Heart as into the ark of salvation prepared by the Holy Ghost for us and for all the children of the Catholic Church in East and West.
Let each one of us find in thy Immaculate Heart this year a sanctuary of ceaseless prayer, a tabernacle of intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity, a hospital for the healing of every infirmity, a harbour of peace in the midst of the confusion that threatens even the bravest and most faithful souls.
Inspire us to take up the rosary that thou so lovest, and to make it during this year the ceaseless prayer of our hearts and the expression of our desire to live and to die consecrated to thy Immaculate Heart.
Turn our hearts to the Lamb who, once immolated upon the altar of the Cross, offers Himself still for our sakes from the altars of the Church and from the tabernacles where He abides hidden, silent, and so often forsaken.
Let this year be for us a great and powerful manifestation of thy compassion for poor sinners and the beginning of the triumph of thy Immaculate Heart in the Church from the rising of the sun to its setting, and indeed in the whole world. Overcoming every resistance, be it of demons or of men, reveal to all souls the flame of love that burns in thy maternal Heart and the glory of the Father that shines on the face of His Christ, Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb. O clement! O loving! O sweet Virgin Mary!

Difficult Pastoral Situations: The Marian Solution

Difficult pastoral situations are nothing new. They are, in fact, as old as Mother Church herself. It has never not been hard to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and cast away himself? (Luke 9:23–25)

For those who fall along the way, there is the Sacrament of Penance. And for those who cannot straightaway extricate themselves from an objectively sinful situation and, in spite of this, still desire to follow Christ, albeit from a distance (cf. Matthew 26:58), there is another solution. This other solution has, time and time again, been shown to resolve the most difficult pastoral situations and to make possible things that nearly everyone, and from all sides, judged impracticable, if not impossible. “Because no word shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). I learned of this other solution more than forty years ago while making a life–changing retreat in France. I shall call it The Marian Solution.

The preacher of the retreat was an elderly priest, well known for his unswerving fidelity to the traditional doctrine of the Church, his great learning, his wisdom, and his holiness of life. He was also the spiritual father of a privileged soul recently proclaimed a Venerable Servant of God. Father F. spoke, at one point, of the drama of people living in adultery or in other kinds of irregular unions, or locked into patterns of vice, who, in spite of a sincere and often sorrowful desire to return to the Sacraments, found it impossible to break the ties of the sinful relationship or to renounce the near occasion of sin.

I still recall the story that Father F. recounted: it had to do with a Catholic man and a Catholic woman, both still married to their respective spouses, who had, for many years, been living together in an objective state of sin, all the while looking for a way to return to the Sacraments. Father F. told them that so long as they remained together, living as man and wife, they could not approach the Sacraments. Sensing their grief and not wanting to leave them altogether without hope, Father F. proposed another solution. He asked the couple if they would follow what he proposed. The couple, being sincere and of a generous disposition, promised that they would do whatever was asked of them, short of leaving one another.

Father F. asked the unhappy couple to come to a certain church on a given Saturday morning, and to meet him at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The couple presented themselves before the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the appointed hour; Father F. told them that he was going to offer Holy Mass in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to intervene in their difficult situation in whatever way her Immaculate Heart saw fit. The couple, for their part, simply assisted at the Holy Mass. Both of them wept bitterly during the Mass, uniting their tears, in some way, to the drop of water mingled with the wine in the chalice.

At the end of the Mass, Father F. asked the couple to promise him three things: 1) to attend Holy Mass faithfully on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation without, of course, receiving Holy Communion; 2) to consecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary and, as a token of their consecration, to wear the Miraculous Medal; 3) to recite the rosary together every evening. The couple promised to do all three things. Within a year’s time all the obstacles to their return to the sacraments were resolved in ways that struck the couple and all who knew them as nothing short of miraculous. They were able to begin afresh. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, obtained for them all the graces needed to go forward in repentance and in perfect conformity to the teachings of her Son and the laws of the Church. The story reads like something out of pages of The Glories of Mary by Saint Alphonsus except for the fact that the events recounted happened about fifty years ago.

Father F. said that there were many other instances of similar miracles of grace happening in difficult pastoral situations simply because he had proposed The Marian Solution and the terms of the proposal were accepted. The Marian Solution is but one way of putting into practice what Saint Alphonsus teaches in his marvelous little book, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection.

When, therefore, God shows us that of ourselves we are unable to observe all his commands it is simply to admonish us to do the easier things by means of the ordinary grace which he bestows on us, and then to do the more difficult things by means of the greater help which we can obtain by prayer. ‘By the very fact that it is absurd to suppose that God could have commanded us to do impossible things, we are admonished what to do in easy matters, and what to ask for in difficulties.’ But why, it will be asked, has God commanded us to do things impossible to our natural strength? Precisely for this, says St. Augustine, that we may be incited to pray for help to do that which of ourselves we cannot do. ‘He commands some things which we cannot do, that we may know what we ought to ask of him.’ And in another place: ‘The law was given, that grace might be sought for; grace was given that the law might be fulfilled.’ The law cannot be kept without grace, and God has given the law with this object, that we may always ask him for grace to observe it. In another place he says: ‘The law is good, if it be used lawfully; what, then, is the lawful use of the law?’ He answers: ‘When by the law we perceive our own weakness, and ask of God the grace to heal us.’ St. Augustine then says: We ought to use the law; but for what purpose? To learn by means of the law, which we find to be above our strength, our own inability to observe it, in order that we may then obtain by prayer the divine aid to cure our weakness.

In the same little book, Saint Alphonsus writes compellingly of the efficacy of recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Without calling it such, Saint Alphonsus was proposing something very close to the Marian Solution:

St. Bernard exhorts us to have continual recourse to the Mother of God, because her prayers are certain to be heard by her Son: ‘Go to Mary, I say, without hesitation; the Son will hear the Mother.’ And then he says: ‘My children, she is the ladder of sinners, she is my chief confidence, she is the whole ground of my hope.’ He calls her ‘ladder,’ because, as you cannot mount: the third step except you first put your foot on the second, nor can you arrive at the second except by the first, so you cannot come to God except by means of Jesus Christ, nor can you come to Christ except by means of his Mother. Then he calls her his greatest security, and the whole ground of his hope; because, as he affirms, God wills that all the graces which he gives us should pass through the hands of Mary. And he concludes by saying, that we ought to ask all the graces which we desire through Mary; because she obtains whatever she seeks, and her prayers cannot be resisted.

In all the discussions surrounding the controversy stirred up by Amoris Laetitia, I am struck by how little one speaks of grace, and of Our Lady, and of prayer. There is but one solution to difficult pastoral situations, and that one solution is grace. Grace is obtained by prayer, and prayer is within the reach of every soul. There are souls who choke on the words of the Act of Contrition but who can murmur a Hail Mary. Let such souls do this much.  Our Lady, the Mediatrix of All Graces, will not refuse the grace of contrition to one who, incapable of anything more, simply calls upon her name. It is, I think, a great pity that the magnificent text of Saint Bernard, Respice Stellam, Voca Mariam, is not more often cited by those ministering to souls in difficult pastoral situations. At the end of the day, The Marian Solution may be not only the best solution, but the only solution.

Whosoever you are who know yourself to be tossed among the storms and tempests of this troubled world rather than to be walking peacefully upon the shore, turn not your eyes away from the shining of this star, if you would not be overwhelmed with the tempest. If the winds of temptations arise, if you are driving upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, invoke Mary! If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, ambition, envy, rivalry, look to the star, invoke Mary! If wrath, avarice, temptations of the flesh assail the frail skiff of your mind, look to Mary! If you are troubled by the greatness of your crimes, confused by the foulness of your conscience and, desperate with horror of judgement, you feel yourself drawn into the abyss of despair; in dangers, in difficulties, in perplexities: invoke and think of Mary! Let not the name depart from heart and from lips; and that you may obtain a part in the petitions of her prayer, do not desert the example of her life. If you think of and follow her, you will not go wrong, nor despair if you beg of her. With her help you will not fall or be fatigued; with her protection you will not fear; if she favorable, you will be sure to arrive; and thus you will learn by your own experience how right it is said: And the Virgin’s Name was Mary! (Saint Bernard, In Praise of the Virgin Mother, Sermon 2:17)

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Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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