Monday, August 31, 2009

Mary, our Model

"Since Mary is the prototype of pure womanhood, the imitation of Mary must be the goal of girls' education. Since the dispensing of graces is entrusted to the hands of the Queen of Heaven, we will find our way to the goal not only by keeping our eyes raised to her but by maintaining a personal trusting association with her. But the imitation of Mary is not fundamentally different from the imitation of Christ because Mary is the first Christian to follow Christ, and she is the first and most perfect model of Christ. Indeed, that is why the imitation of Mary is not only relevant to women but to all Christians. But she has a special significance for women, one in accord with their nature, for she leads them to the feminine form of the Christian image."
(Essays on Woman ICS Collected Works of Edith Stein p. 201)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Woman's Soul

The attributes of a woman's soul are termed by Edith Stein in her Essays on Woman as expansive, quiet, empty of self, warm and clear. The soul of a woman must have these attributes because of her nature which is determined by her original vocation - that of spouse and mother. The one depending on the other.

" The body of woman is fashioned 'to be one flesh' with another and to nurse new human life in itself. A well-disciplined body is an accommodating instrument for the mind which animates it; at the same time, it is a source of power and a habitat for the mind. Just so, woman's soul is designed to be subordinate to man in obedience and support; it is also fashioned to be a shelter in which other souls may unfold. Both spiritual companionship and spiritual motherliness are not limited to the physical spouse and mother relationships, but they extend to all people with whom woman comes into contact." (Essays on Woman, ICS Edith Stein Collected Works Vol. 2 p. 132)

The soul of woman must be expansive: "open to all human beings". Women naturally are interested in others and relationships. This natural bent can become one of curiosity and could lead to delving into areas of peoples lives and circumstances that degrades into unfruitful things like gossiping. But if the woman's soul goes out to others in search of and in order to bring out the hidden treasure that rests in every human soul, profit will come to her. It will also profit her if she is able to search and bring out the burden that is laid on every human soul. This requires the soul to go out of itself, not remaining outside, but seeking the other and the other's good.

The soul of woman must be quiet: if a woman's soul is constantly in commotion, filled with noise and easily agitated it will be unable to have the ears for those soft imperceptible voices that seek refuge in her soul so that they can find peace. Souls in commotion feel the urge to express the agitation within them and no other soul will want to be near it. It is in quiet women that others seek refuge from their disquiet and noise in order to find the rest and peace they need.

The soul of woman must be empty of self and self-contained: there will be room and quiet in the soul when the agitated self is gone and once quiet the soul can make oneself perceptible to others. To be empty of all selfishness and self-love is something no soul can do of itself. God must do it. Once emptied then the soul is capable of receiving. This is what God wants, to give Himself completely to her. Once He is there her soul can give Him to others.

The soul of woman must be warm: women come by this naturally, although not constantly. Often the soul fails to be warm when it is most needed. Instead of being warm, sparks fly! Thus, becoming fire destroying what should have been warmed. It is the heavenly fire of Divine love that consumes what is impure.

The soul of woman is clear: once all impurities have been removed and the soul illuminated by the Divine Light then all is bright, pure and clear. Contrary to this, the soul of woman appears dark and opaque to others and to herself.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Woman, Grace and an Alter Christus

Edith Stein in her Essays on Woman was concerned with women's education. Seeing that women just as men are individuals , she insisted that individuality be taken into consideration in educational work. Keep in mind that in speaking of education she is speaking of formation, the formation of the person. As human beings, men and women are given a common goal which is "to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." For this educational goal our eyes are to look on Jesus Christ. "To become His likeness is everyone's goal. To be formed to this through Christ Himself is the path for us all as members bound to Him as head."

"Whoever relinquishes himself unconditionally to this formation, not only will nature in its purity be restored in him but he will grow beyond nature and become an other Christ."

Since her interest was on woman she drew for us a picture of woman's soul that would correspond to the eternal vocation of woman. She termed the attributes of woman's soul as expansive, quiet, empty of self, warm and clear.

"Now I am asked to say something regarding how one might come to possess these qualities. I believe that it is not a matter of a multiplicity of attributes which we can tackle and acquire individually; it is rather a single total condition of the soul, a condition which is envisaged here in these attributes from various aspects. We are not able to attain this condition by willing it, it must be effected through grace. What we can and must do is open ourselves to grace; that means to renounce our own will completely and to give it captive to the divine will, to lay our whole soul, ready for reception and formation, into God's hands."

(Essays on Woman, Edith Stein) St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flame of Divine Love

Tomorrow, August 26th, is the memorial of St. Teresa of Jesus's Tranverberation. St. Teresa was best known for her love of God. Jesus Christ increased this virtue and many others in this saint. She experienced many visions and revelations from Christ. One time she saw an angel with a flaming dart piercing her heart. She explains this mystical experience in her autobiography, chapter 19:

“I saw an angel beside me toward the left side, in bodily form…He was not very large, but small, very beautiful, his face so blazing with light that he seemed to be one of the very highest angels, who appear all on fire. They must be those they call Cherubim…I saw in his hands a long dart of gold, and at the end of the iron there seemed to me to be a little fire. This I thought he thrust through my heart several times, and that it reached my very entrails. As he withdrew it, I thought it brought them with it, and left me all burning with a great love of God. So great was the pain, that it made me give those moans; and so utter the sweetness that this sharpest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop, nor is there any contenting of the soul with less than God”.

This heavenly gift, this flame of divine love in her heart, which penetrated her being and made her so strong that she vowed to always do what seemed to her most perfect and for God's glory.

St. John of the Cross explains this fire of love in his work The Living Flame of Love:

"When he wills to touch somewhat vehemently, the soul's burning reaches such a high degree of love that it seems to surpass that of all the fires of the world: for he is an infinite fire of love. Because the soul in this case is entirely transformed by the divine flame, it not only feels a cautery, but has become a cautery of blazing fire."

" does not afflict it: rather, commensurate with the strength of the love, it divinized and delights it, burning gently."

May God's love transform our hearts and may our love of God grow, blazing like fire, burning gently.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sum of Perfection

"Forgetfulness of created things,
remembrance of the Creator,
attention turned toward inward things,
and loving the Beloved."
~St. John of the Cross

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Master Teacher

"He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, "Lord teach us to pray..." (Lk 11:1) "He said to them, 'When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come..." (Lk 11:2)

St. Teresa of Jesus is well known for her commentary on the 'Our Father' that takes up the latter part of her work The Way of Perfection. In speaking of the 'Lord's Prayer', St. Teresa stresses the importance of this prayer being an act of love and to have the understanding of who this Father of ours is and "who the Master is who taught us this prayer". (Way of Perfection ch 24)

Let's consider how Jesus taught others. "You already know that His Majesty teaches that it be recited in solitude. This is what he always did when he prayed, and not out of any need of his own but for our instruction." (Way of Perfection ch 24)

Our Lord taught His disciples by His words and more importantly by His example. Consider, for example, how He taught others about mercy in the story of the woman caught in adultery and how He never used the word "mercy". He merely demonstrated the virtue in who He was and what He did. (John, chapter 8) When reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture it is good to always keep in mind that the Lord is teaching us something through His speech, actions, inaction or His silence.

St. Therese of Lisieux, in her Story of a Soul, desired a director or teacher such as St. Teresa of Jesus would recommend, that is, a director that has knowledge and virtue. One day a good priest told her, "My child, may Our Lord always be your Superior and your Novice Master". Who other than Jesus could be said to have knowledge and virtue? The saint quickly took Jesus to be her Director and said "it was He who taught me that science hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to little ones". (Story of a Soul, chapter 7)

Of course we should not forget those who teach us and have the duty to do so; both saints had recourse to this thought. "There is a large difference in teachers; but it is even a greater misfortune if we forget those who teach us her below. Especially, if they are saints and spiritual masters and we are good disciples." (Way of Perfection ch 24) St. Therese was quick to say: "I don't mean by this that I close my soul to my Superiors; far from it, for I tried always to be an open book to them. However, our Mother Prioress, frequently ill, had little time to spend with me." (Story of a Soul, ch 7)

It is wise to seek out and find wise and prudent spiritual people to help us in our spiritual life. But always keep in mind that Jesus is the Master Teacher.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


One can only teach what one practices. In many respects this means we are all teachers. Our principles and moral views will influence our reasoning and our conduct.

To teach does not mean to merely give what we have but rather what we are. What we are should be Christ. Christ should be in our thoughts and actions.

Of course to speak of teaching we must consider what is meant by the term education. Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) defined education as the formation of the human person and notes that "the first fundamental formation happens within the soul".

The purpose of education is to bring what is already there in seed form to its full potential. Edith Stein describes the process of education as taking place on three levels. She writes that the development of the human person is based on the person's humanity, gender, and individuality.

Teachers, therefore, will pay special attention to the uniqueness of their pupil, taking into consideration their natural qualities, and abilities, as well as, their limitations. This is something parents will need to do as they educate their children. In fact, we will all need to take these into consideration when working and collaborating with others.

In order to have any influence on someone there must be love. "Love and trust are necessary rudiments for every educational influence. The teacher must love consistently thereby winning this love and trust."

"Truly supernatural forces are needed to offer such equal, mothering love to all, even to the unlovable, the difficult, the intolerable...especially to them because, indeed, they are in the most need of it."

(The Collected Works of Edith Stein vol. 2, Eassys on Woman)

Teachers shape mankind.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Very Determined Determination

To reach the end prayerful souls need a muy determinada determinacion (a very determined determination) to persevere until they reach the end.

"To those who want to journey on this road and continue until they reach the end, which is to drink from this water of life, I say that how they are to begin is important - in fact, all important. They must have a great and very determined determination to persevere until reaching the end, come what may, happen what may, whatever work is involved, whatever criticism arises, whether they arrive or whether they die on the road, or even if they don't have courage for the trials that are met, or if the whole world collapses." (The Way of Perfection 21:2)

Prayer takes effort and the courage to continue despite any criticisms. So begin. Pray. Pray faithfully, everyday, always, at all times and never give up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Plan your own retreat

Most retreats take place at centers set up specifically for this purpose. They are usually set in some quiet setting with natural surroundings away from any major activity of the general population. The facilities usually have comfortable private rooms and someone to cook all the meals. Most retreat centers have a chapel and conference rooms. Retreats are scheduled on certain dates and around a certain theme.

Distance, dates, times, costs and the particular theme of a retreat may make it impossible to get away and partake of a much need break and time to rest. Below are some suggestions and ideas for planning your own private retreat. They are only suggestions and, hopefully, a springboard to encourage and inspire a planned time to come away to rest for a while.

First, keep in mind the purpose of a retreat. This is to be a time away from the ordinary activities that fill our days to pray and commune with God. It will be your hope to come away from your retreat renewed, purified, converted and to give yourself an opportunity for some spiritual growth. Remember to maintain silence as much as possible during your retreat. This will include no television, radio, Internet and talking on the phone. You want to spend your time talking and listening to God.

Then begin to plan your private retreat.

Keep things simple.

Pick your dates and place. Find dates that will work for you and your family. Remember this is to be time for you to be alone and in solitude and silence. The place you choose can be a hotel, vacation spot or even your own home. The length of your retreat can be a day, a weekend or a week.

Plan meals that will be are already prepared or just need to be reheated or that would be very simple to prepare. Include some healthy snacks and drinks.

Choose a theme or select some part of scripture you would like to meditate and reflect on or a spiritual book to use during your retreat. Another idea would be to select an audio or video of a good spiritual speaker to use as your "conferences" throughout the time of your retreat.

Here are some suggestions for "conferences":
Universal Call to Contemplative Prayer
by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S. M. CD retreat talks

I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux
by Jean C. J. d'Elbee

Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Pere Jacques
by Francis J. Murphy

Here are some suggestions for spiritual reading:
Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary of Magdalen, OCD
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
Heaven in Faith by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
The Gospels
One of the Epistles from the New Testament

Spend time in prayer and meditation. Pray the rosary, pray for your family, friends and needs of the world. If possible pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament at a nearby church or chapel.

Get outdoors, if possible, for a quiet walk and fresh air in some natural surroundings and enjoy God's creation.

Take a nap. Remember this is a time to rest and renew.

Keep a journal of any thoughts or insights you may have during your retreat.

Get to Mass and confession during the time of your retreat.

Be sure to thank God for this time and for any blessings you may have received.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Come Away and Rest a While

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. (Mk 6:30-31)

After his Baptism in the Jordan and before he began his public ministry, Jesus went out in the desert to spend time in solitude praying and fasting. In imitation of Jesus, we can spend some time on retreat which will benefit our own personal ministry among our family, friends and coworkers.

What is a retreat?

A retreat is a period of time spent in solitude away from the ordinary activities that fill our days. It is a period of time away from the usual surroundings and duties to a place of solitude in order to spend time in meditation, self-examination and prayer.

Many times a retreat is designed around a particular theme from scripture or some spiritual writing that is suited to the needs of the individuals involved. There are many different kinds of retreats; some are preached, others are directed or private. In a preached retreat the leader preaches through conferences scheduled throughout the time of the retreat, will lead prayers and be available for one-on-one counseling. A directed retreat consists of meeting with a spiritual director who will suggest scripture passages to the retreatant to pray and reflect upon. A private retreat is made without the aide of a leader or spiritual director. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are well known and are used to come to the realization of and surrender to God's plan of salvation through a time of prayer and discernment usually thirty days in length.

Most retreats maintain a certain degree of silence with time for relaxation, healthy eating and some exercise. The emphasis however is always on prayer. The time spent on retreat allows one the opportunity to reflect on and examine their spiritual life. Time spent on retreat can become a time of recommitment, purification, conversion, and growth.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mount Carmel in the Holy Land

Below is a link to youtube and is the first of a five-part series on Mount Carmel and the Carmelite Life. Each video clip is about 10 minutes long. The series describes the history of the Carmelites; gives a glimpse of the life of Carmelite nuns and friars; and an explanation of the essence of Carmelite spirituality.
Once you view the first video the other parts can be found in the sidebar on the right of the screen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


St. John of the Cross writes in The Dark Night (BK I, Ch 10) that "contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love".

St. Teresa of Jesus describes contemplation in The Way of Perfection (Ch 25) as:
"The soul understands that without the noise of words this divine Master is teaching it by suspending its faculties, for if they were to be at work they would do harm rather than bring benefit. They are enjoying without understanding how they are enjoying. The soul is being enkindled in love, and it doesn't understand how it loves. It knows that it enjoys what it loves, but it doesn't know how. It clearly understands that this joy is not a joy the intellect obtains merely through desire. The will is enkindled without understanding how. But as soon as it can understand something, it sees that this good cannot be merited or gained through all the trials one can suffer on earth. This good is a gift from the Lord of earth and heaven, who in sum, gives according to who He is . What I have described, daughters, is perfect contemplation."

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Fourth Degree of Prayer

In all the ways to water the garden, or ways of prayer, discussed so far, the gardener does some work. In this fourth degree of prayer "the soul isn't in possession of its senses, but it rejoices without understanding what it is rejoicing in. It understands that is is enjoying a good in which are gathered together all goods, but this good is incomprehensible". This prayer is called union. What union means is that "two separate things become one."

St. Teresa attempts to explain what this union is and what it is the soul feels in this divine union, but has trouble explaining something so ineffable. There are many graces and effects left in the soul that has reached so great a state.

This heavenly water, when it comes, comes in abundance and soaks and saturates the entire garden. "This water from heaven often comes when the gardener is least expecting it." St. Teresa also points out that this prayer almost always occurs only after a long periods of mental prayer. At the beginning this prayer is brief and passes quickly and may be imperceptible at first. The faculties are suspended but only for a very short time. The intellect, memory and will are united and are all tasting the "divine wine and are inebriated by it".

While this prayer remains an obscure experience to the soul the soul has a certitude about being joined to God and cannot help but believe in the truth of it.

Many fruits are left in the soul that has received this great favor from the Lord. Particularly, the virtue of humility. "The soul sees clearly that it is most unworthy; it sees its misery." The soul realizes that it did not receive this on its own; it is truly pure gift.

Progress in virtue remains for a long time and the soul begins to be of benefit to others without knowing it or doing anything that is of itself. "The soul understands that it has virtue, and its neighbors see the desirable fruit."
"If the soil is well cultivated by trials, persecutions, criticism, and illnesses - for few there must be who reach this stage without them- and if it is softened by living in great detachment from self-interest, the water soaks it to the extent that it is almost never dry."

"But if the soil is still hardened in the earth and has a lots of briers,...and is still not so removed from occasions and if it doesn't have the gratitude a favor as great as this deserves, the ground will dry up again. And if the gardener becomes careless and the Lord soley out of His goodness does not desire to let the rains come again, the garden can be considered as lost."

And it is for this reason that St. Teresa often exhorts in her writings that one should ....

Never give up or abandon prayer or the practice of virtue!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Third Degree of Prayer

The third way of watering the garden is to irrigate it by the water flowing from a river or spring. Less work is involved in watering the garden in this manner. Some labor is required however to direct the flow of the water.

"This prayer is a sleep of the faculties: the faculties neither fail entirely to function nor understand how they function. The consolation, the sweetness, and the delight are incomparably greater than that experienced in the previous prayer. "

There is not a complete union of all the faculties. God is clearly at work in this prayer. "For the truth of the matter is that the faculties are almost totally united with God but not so absorbed as not to function." It is God who takes on the task of gardener and the soul is to rest.
The virtues grow even stronger than in the prayer of quiet. The soul "begins to perform great deeds by means of the fragrance the flowers give, for the Lord desires that they bloom so that it may see that it possesses virtue although it is very clearly aware that it couldn't have acquired them."
St. Teresa explains the difference between this prayer and that of the prayer of quiet discussed in the second way of watering the garden by using the story of Martha and Mary. Where in the prayer of quiet the soul did not desire to move or stir, "rejoicing in that holy idleness of Mary", in this third degree of prayer the soul is much more like Martha in that it is engaged in both the active and contemplative life together. "It tends to works of charity and to business affairs that have to do with its state of life and to reading;although it isn't master of itself completely. And it understands clearly that the best part of the soul is somewhere else".

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Second Degree of Prayer

The second manner for getting water is by turning the crank of a water wheel and by aqueducts; more water is obtained with less labor and the gardener can rest without having to work constantly.

St. Teresa refers to this second degree of prayer as the "prayer of quiet". In this prayer the soul begins to become recollected and then something supernatural happens. She says this is supernatural because the soul in no way can acquire this prayer through its own efforts.

"In this prayer the faculties are gathered within so as to enjoy that satisfaction with greater delight. But they are not lost, nor do they sleep. Only the will is occupied in such a away that without knowing how it becomes captive; it merely consents to God allowing Him to imprison it as one who well knows how to be the captive of its lover."

"All this that takes place here brings with it the greatest consolation and with so little labor that prayer does not tire one even though it last for a long while."

" This quietude and recollection is something that is clearly felt through the satisfaction and peace bestowed on the soul, along with great contentment and calm and a very gentle delight in the faculties."

St. Teresa advises souls in the prayer of quiet to proceed "gently and noiselessly" and to not let the distractions of the imagination and intellect disturb this peace. During this prayer the soul should not go running about with the intellect looking for great concepts; words and reflections to give thanks for this gift; or listing ones sins and faults because they see the gift is unmerited. "One should pay no attention to the intellect, for it is a grinding mill."

The virtues grow incomparably better than in the previous degree of prayer because the soul is much closer to God. "This prayer of quiet is the beginning of all blessings. The flowers are already at the point in which hardly anythng is lacking for them to bud."
(from The Book of Her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)