Friday, July 31, 2009

The First Degree of Prayer

St. Teresa makes use of these four ways of drawing water to explain the four degrees of prayer.

The first degree is that of beginners and includes vocal and discursive meditation. The second degree borders on the supernatural and she calls this prayer the prayer of quiet. The next degree is mystical and she refers to this as a "sleep of the faculties". The final degree of prayer is totally mystical and is called the prayer of union.

The first way of watering the garden, the way of beginners, is to draw water from the well and this way of watering involves a lot of work. It is the discursive work of the intellect. These are things that we can do ourselves with God's help.

"They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their sense. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, the recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal - and to thinking on their past life."

" These things make up the beginning of fetching water from the well, and please God that it may be found. At least we are doing our part, for we are already drawing it out and doing what we can to water these flowers...God is so good that when for reasons His Majesty knows... the well is dry and we, like good gardeners, do what lies in our power, He sustains the garden without water and makes the virtues grow."

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. ..For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.

(from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Four Waters

The garden can be watered in four ways.
(taken from The Book of Her Life, Chap 11 ~St. Teresa of Jesus)

You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work).

Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel. (I have drawn it this way sometimes - the method involves less work than the other, and you get more water.)

Or it may flow from a river or stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked and there is no need to water so frequently - and much less work for the gardener.)

Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part- and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good Gardeners

"Beginners must realize that in order to give delight to the Lord they are starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of abominable weeds. His majesty pulls up the weeds and plants good seed. Now let us keep in mind that all of this is already done by the time a soul is determined to practice prayer and has begun to make use of it. And with the help of God we must strive like good gardeners to get these plants to grow and take pains to water them so that they don't wither but come to bud and flower and give forth a most pleasant fragrance to provide refreshment for this Lord of ours. Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues." (Autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus, chapter 11:6)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Suffering, the way to heaven

"From the crib to the cross, suffering, poverty and lack of appreciation were his lot. He had directed his whole life to teaching people how different is God's view of suffering, poverty and lack of human appreciation from the foolish wisdom of the world. After sin, suffering had to follow so that, through the cross, man's lost glory and life with God might be regained. Suffering is the way to heaven. In the cross is salvation, in the cross is victory.
God willed it so. " (From the writings of Blessed Titus Brandsma)

Blessed Titus Brandsma was born in the Netherlands in 1881. As a young man he joined the Carmelite Order and was ordained in 1905. He studied in Rome earning a doctorate in philosophy. He taught in Holland at various schools and was a professor of philosophy and history of mysticism at the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He was also a journalist. He fought against Nazi ideas and for the freedom of Catholic education and the Catholic press for which he was arrested in 1942. While in various prisons and concentration camps he was able to bring comfort and peace to the other prisoners. He was killed in Dachau after much suffering and humiliation at the hands of his tormentors.

Through the intercession of Blessed Titus Brandsma, may God grant us the courage to proclaim the dignity of every human being and the freedom of the Church.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat and Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were among the thousands that were martyred during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938). During this conflict many priests and whole religious communities were put to death because of their faith.

Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat was born in Barcelona. Even in her childhood she was devoted to God receiving Communion everyday. She was known for her kindness and goodness toward others and was of firm character. In 1904 she entered the novitiate of the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus and made her temporary profession in 1907. In 1920 she was assigned to the motherhouse in Barcelona and on July 19, 1936, the entire community was forced to give up the school and flee. She was arrested and shot on July 23rd because she was a religious.

Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were Carmelite nuns from a convent in Guadalajara, Spain. They were martyred on July 24, 1936, after witnessing to their faith and offering their lives for the Church.

Most of us will never be called to be martyrs like those of the Spanish Civil War. For us our lives will be one of a long slow martyrdom. We will spend our lives trying to become true lovers of God by having little regard for our own life and honor. Easier said than done!

St. Teresa reminds those of us who practice this Carmelite spirituality that "the whole matter, or a great part of it, lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction. The least that any of us who has truly begun to serve the Lord can offer him is our own life." Offering the Lord our own life means dying to self. She goes on to say, "It is clear that if you are a true religious or a true person of prayer and aim to enjoy the delights of God, you must not turn your back on the desire to die for God and suffer martyrdom. For don't you know yet, Sisters, that the life of a good religious who desires to be one of God's close friends is a long martyrdom? A long martyrdom because in comparison with the martyrdom of those who are quickly beheaded, it can be called long; but all life is short, and the life of some extremely short."

"So, let us try hard to go against our own will in everything." ~(Way of Perfection 12:2)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mother of Divine Grace

"The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son's sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace." (Lumen gentium, 61)

On July 23, Carmelites celebrate the memorial of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph #971:

"All generations will call me blessed": "The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship." The Church rightly honors "the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs. . . . This very special devotion . . . differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration." The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.

SUB tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen.

WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


"Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you." (Luke 6:38)

Generosity is the fruit of love and at the same time the generator of love. This virtue means we give of ourselves and we do so without calculating what it might cost us to do so. Someone who is generous is not hindered by selfishness and therefore is capable of giving themselves to the service of others and to God.

To become generous:
-forget yourself
-forget your own plans, ideas, interests, convenience
-forget your own rights
-forget your pain and weariness

To become generous:
-learn to do all with your whole heart
-do your duty
-do what will give glory to God

"To love is to give everything. It is to give oneself."
(St. Therese's poem: "Why I Love you, O Mary!")

Always be more disposed toward giving to others than giving to yourself, and thus you will not be envious of or selfish toward your neighbor. This is to be understood from the viewpoint of perfection, for God is angered with those who do not give precedence to his good pleasure over that of humans.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Elijah was a man of God who zealously fought for the worship of the one true God. Recall how on top of Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah engaged in a great contest of faithfulness to the one true God against the prophets of a false god. (1 Kings 18:16-40) "How long will you straddle the issue," he cried. "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him." (1Kings 18:21)

The first Carmelites settled on Mount Carmel near the spring known as the "fountain of Elijah". The Carmelites have looked at this fiery prophet as a model of their life. Like the prophet Elijah they were to live a life of prayer, detachment, with pure hearts and with a mind and heart open to the experience of God.

Today Carmelites still look to the prophet Elijah's challenge of the status quo and thirst for justice. Asking for a double portion of his spirit, zeal and sense of mission as did Elisha (2 Kings 2:9), Carmleites are part of a long line of prayerful people that can no longer "straddle the issue". In the midst of this struggle against false gods, with the realization of their powerlessness and nourished in the presence of God in their lives, Carmelites make these constant themes of their lives and therefore identify with Elijah.

Elijah struggled and found himself almost despairing without the strength to continue on. It is at this time that the Lord revealed himself to Elijah. Having had enough he lays down and falls asleep under a broom tree. He is told by an angel to get up and after eating and drinking travels forty day to the mountain of God. Here God reveals himself not in an earthquake, not in a strong heavy wind, not in fire...but in "a tiny whispering sound". (1Kings 19:1-12)

Carmelites spend their time in silence and solitude seeking union with God ever open to the revelation of His presence. Like the prophet Elijah they stand before God and say, "I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts." (1 Kings 19:14)

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Martyrs of Compiegne

As the French Revolution entered its worst days, sixteen Discalced Carmelites from the Monastery of the Incarnation in Compiegne offered their lives as a sacrifice to God, making reparation to him and imploring peace for the Church. On June 24,1794, they were arrested and thrown into prison. Their happiness and resignation were so evident that those around them were also encouraged to draw strength form God's love. They were condemned to death for their fidelity to the Church and their religious life and for their devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Singing hymns, and having renewed their vows before the superior, Teresa of St. Augustine, the were put to death in Paris on July 17, 1794.

From the Carmelite Proper of the Liturgy of the Hours

Following Jesus Like Mary

Mary teaches us how to follow Jesus like she does. She teaches us to be open to God and to His will. God's will is shown to us in the events of our daily lives just like they were shown to Mary in her life. Mary teaches us to listen to the Word of God in the scriptures and in our life. We are to believe in God's Word and put into practice all that it demands of us. Like Mary, we are to pray at all times and in doing so will discover God's presence in all that is happening around us. Mary teaches us to be involved with others, to be close to them and attentive to their needs and giving aide however and whenever we are able.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16th is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and is the principle feast for all who wear the Brown Scapular. The Brown Scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It is a symbol of her protection to the Carmelite Order which includes all its members and associates. Anyone who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation to the Carmelite family and shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular.

Some basics of Carmelite spirituality would be:

-frequent participation in Mass and receiving Holy Communion

-reading and meditation on Sacred Scripture

-praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or part of them

-devotion and imitation of Mary the woman of faith who hears the Word of God and puts it into practice

-practicing virtue, particularly charity, chastity (according to one's state of life) and obedience to God's will

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


"Climb up and look out to sea," [Elijah] directed his servant, who went up and looked, but reported, "There is nothing." Seven times he said, "Go look again!"

And the seventh time the youth reported, "There is a cloud as small as a man's hand rising from the sea."
(1 Kings18: 43-44)

This small cloud, first visible after a very long period of drought, brings life-giving water to refresh the parched land. This cloud is also a symbol of Mary who bore the Word Incarnate and brought Him to the world to restore life to the desert.

Likewise, Mary can keep bringing rain to souls and keep them from turning into a dry wasteland.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jesus Alone is Beautiful

Born in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900, Juanita Fernandez Solar was the first member of the Teresian Carmel in Latin America to be beatified. Pope John Paul II beatified her on April 3, 1987, while he was in Santiago, Chile. The Holy Father proposed her as a model for young people. Juanita was devoted to Christ as an adolescent and entered the Discalced Carmelite Nuns when she was nineteen taking the name Teresa of Jesus. She died of typhus the following year on April 12th. Her feast day is July 13th and her symbols are a small cross and flowers. She is the patroness of young people.
"Jesus alone is beautiful; he is my only joy. I call for him, I cry after him, I search for him within my heart." (from the Spiritual writings of Blessed Teresa of Jesus)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Interior vs. Hidden

Mary is the model of the interior life and the protectress of the Carmelite Order. She is our model of contemplative prayer and of the one who "hears the Word of God and keeps it" (Lk 11:28).

In the sacred scriptures Mary's hidden and interior life is laid out before us. She lived a quiet, hidden life in Nazareth with St. Joseph and her son, Jesus. There she lived an ordinary life out of public view and notice. Daily she carried out the duties of family life. She was close to God living a life of interior offerings.

There is a difference though in living an authentic hidden, interior life and one that is just hidden. A hidden life can be lived exteriorly. God can be far from someone who lives a hidden life. Some think they are living a hidden life when in actuality they are living in isolation from God and others.

Someone who lives an interior life stays close to God interiorly. They live in Him and are reverently inclined toward Him. They love Him no matter what trials may fall on them whether they be bodily, spiritual, from within or from without, inflicted by others or by the evil one.

Souls living an interior life are souls at prayer always making interior offerings of love to God and for love of Him. They pray for souls and for the needs of others, making these offerings purely out of love for Him.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Through His Blood

"All men have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. All men are now undeservedly justified by the gift of God, through the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus. Through his blood, God made him the means of expiation for all who believe. He did so to manifest his own justice." Rom 3:23-25

"This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed on the behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." Mt 26:28

Devotion to the Precious Blood became increasing popular in the 19th century due to a Roman priest named St. Gaspar del Bufalo. The Church sets aside the month of July as the calendar month particularly devoted to the Precious Blood. This devotion is connected to the Holy Name and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and was promoted by Pope John the XXIII. The Precious Blood of Christ, shed during the Passion, is the price He paid for our salvation. Since He shed His life's blood for us, it is only right that we live only for Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Attentive Prayer

The prayer of recollection is nothing supernatural. It is "something we can desire and achieve ourselves with the help of God - for without his help we can do nothing". Neither is this recollection "a silence of the faculties; it is an enclosure of the faculties within the soul". The Way of Perfection (29:4) Even in the mist of occupations we can withdraw within ourselves to be present to God.

This prayer is really nothing more than being present to the one with whom you are speaking. Try practicing being present to the person in front of you to whom you are speaking and you may come to realize how inattentive you can be with the person you can actually see and to whom you are trying to listen.

Especially while praying vocal prayers attention should be given to whom we are speaking and to what we are saying. In other words, the mind must be joined to the words being spoken. St. Teresa says we are to be aware and know that we are speaking, and with whom we are speaking and who we ourselves are who dare to speak!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Prayer of Recollection

"This prayer is called 'recollection,' because the soul collects its faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God." The Way of Perfection (28:4)

To attain the habit of recollection it is necessary to train the faculties, that is, the senses both exterior and interior, from flitting about while at prayer. St. Teresa suggests that when at prayer the eyes should close thus keeping the soul from looking at things of the world. This habit takes some effort at first, but soon the habit is strengthened and the senses will obey and when the soul wishes to it will become recollected. This all takes practice and diligence. The body will rebel because it always wants to seek what it normally seeks; the eyes want to see, the ears want to hear. The imagination is always churning out something. When at prayer and finding the faculties are scattering, the soul should gently deny them their "rights" and give the command to return within and continue to pray.

"Those who by such a method can enclose themselves within this little heaven of our soul, where the Maker of heaven and earth is present, and grow accustomed to refusing to be where the exterior senses in their distraction have gone or look in that direction should believe they are following an excellent path and that they will not fail to drink the water from the fount." The Way of Perfection (28:5)

St. John of the Cross reminds in his Sayings of Light and Love #52 that "if you wish to attain holy recollection, you will do so not by receiving but by denying".

Friday, July 3, 2009

Recollecting the Mind

St. Teresa of Jesus, explains in The Way of Perfection, her own way of recollecting the mind in order to center the soul on the Lord. She proposes that a companion be found and what better companion than the master Himself. "Represent the Lord himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and humbly he is teaching you." (Way of Perfection 26:1) Get accustomed to having Him at your side, she says, letting Him see that you are striving to please Him. You will be unable to get away from him; he will never fail you; he will help you in all your trials; you will find him everywhere. Do you think it's some small matter to have a friend like this at your side?

All she is proposing is that we just look at Him. No need to make long drawn out meditations or reasonings with the intellect; just look at Him since He never stops looking at us.

The practice of recollection is a habit. A habit is acquired through repetition. Begin today the practice of having Christ present at your side.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


The author of The Third Spiritual Alphabet gives an excellent description of recollection in the first treatise of his book: "May the person and the spirit always walk together." This means that "wherever you go carry your mind along, for no one should go divided unto himself. Do not allow the body to travel one path, the heart another."

How is it possible to communion with God when at prayer the heart is on the things of the world, musing over conversations experienced with others, tasks still yet to be done, events yet to happen or past hurts or family sorrows and woes?

While seeking God through prayer this communion requires that the soul use whatever means possible to fix its heart only on God.

The author of this book, which St. Teresa of Jesus was so fond of, goes on to advise further on the practice of recollection - "to disencumber our hearts and drain them so everything created is emptied out and thrown away in order for the Lord alone to dwell there".

At prayer the recollected soul wants to devote itself entirely to God; therefore it will enter into the privacy of its soul, setting aside everything else and leaving inside God alone. This is the advice given by Jesus, "But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret". (Mt6:6)

This practice of recollection cannot be perfected in this life, but it can be begun. Once begun one must persevere in its practice in order to reap its benefits.