Intimate Friendship with Christ

Pope Benedict XVI devoted his weekly general audience last Wednesday to St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82), one of the most revered spiritual guides in the history of the Church.  

While the Pope  gave a brief overview of her life and her reform of the Carmelite order, he spent most of his address on her immense contributions to Catholic spirituality, noting “her profound christocentric spirituality and her breadth of human experience.”

The most important lesson of St. Teresa, the Pope said, is her understanding of “prayer as an intimate friendship with Christ leading to an ever greater union of love with the Blessed Trinity.”

Here is an excerpt from the Holy Father’s address:

“It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points.

“In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life–in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water–without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture.

“In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus. 

“The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, ‘means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent Him whom we know loves us.’ St. Teresa’s idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as ‘amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum,’ a type of friendship of man with God, who first offered his friendship to man; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

“Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life: It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa’s is a true ‘mystagogy’: She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with Him; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.”

For the entire text of the Pope’s general audience, click here.

Consecrated Life: A Precious Gift for the Church

At the conclusion of his general audience this past Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that February 2nd was also World Day of Consecrated Life, saying:

“To your prayers I entrust those who, having made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, strive after sanctity in the service of children, young people, the sick, the elderly and the lonely. We are grateful to them for their prayers and for the work they do in parishes, hospitals, care homes, and schools. Their service represents a particularly precious gift for the Church. My heartfelt blessings go to all those who live in accordance with the evangelical counsels.”

World Day of Consecrated Life will be celebrated this weekend in the United States.

For a summary of the Pope’s comments on consecrated life later that evening, click here.

Courtesy of Vatican Information Service.

Nun Run ’11

I just received this invitation from the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Arizona. This is a worthy cause and hey, if you don’t live too far from Tempe, consider joining the fun!

Dear friends,

March 12th  is our 2nd Annual Nun Run!  It is hard to believe all that the Lord has accomplished since our 1st Annual Nun Run last year!  May He be praised!  In October 2010, we moved to Tonopah, and in May 2011 the new Chapel will be consecrated! 

The funds raised from NUN RUN 2011 will go into our Monastery Building Fund, which will be used to build our new cloistered monastery that will house 28 nuns!  So how can you be a part of turning this dream into a reality?

(1)  Please donate at  my newly created fundraising page.  The competition is on to see which Sister will raise the most funds for the cause!  (All in sisterly love, of course!)

(2)  Register to participate in the Nun Run.  You can join in the fun on March 12th in Tempe, AZ…or as a shadow participant you can run wherever you are.  Simply register as a shadow participant and a race shirt will be mailed to you!

(3)  Become a Nun Run Fundraiser.  This year we have an awesome incentive prize: All fundraisers who raise $150 or more will receive a beautiful fleece blanket with the Nun Run emblem embroidered on it.  Also, largest in-state fundraiser will win “Dinner With the Nuns” at Serranos Mexican Restaurant.  Largest out-of-state fundraiser will receive a nun-made Souvenir Gift Basket!  The race is on . . .

Thank you, in advance, for however you are able to participate in Nun Run 2011!  Above all, please keep this event’s success in your prayers.

With a promise of prayers in return,

Sr. Mary Fidelis

World Day for Consecrated Life 2011

Today the Church is celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life simultaneously with the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Pope Benedict XVI is observing the two celebrations by presiding over Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica this evening.

The World Day for Consecrated Life will be celebrated in U.S. parishes this weekend. This would be an apt occasion to walk up to a religious after Mass to say hello and to thank them for their service to the Church.

The World Day was inaugurated in 1997 by Pope John Paul II as an initiative for the entire Christian community to celebrate the mission of the consecrated life in the present and the future of the Church.
The Holy Father founded it for three reasons:

(1) to praise the Lord more solemnly and give thanks to Him for the gift of the consecrated life,

(2) to promote knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God, and

(3) to give consecrated persons an opportunity to return to the sources of their vocation.

It is no accident that the event coincides with the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.  This celebration, wrote Venerable John Paul II, is an “eloquent icon of the total offering of one’s life for all those who are called to show forth in the Church and in the world, by means of the evangelical counsels ‘the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one.’ ”

At its inception as a World Day in 1997, the Pope entrusted it to the Virgin Mary in the hope that it will “bear abundant fruits for the holiness and the mission of the Church” and heighten the esteem in the Christian community for consecrated vocations. 

The Feast and World Day will be celebrated by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday evening with Vespers at the Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City.  A special invitation is made every year to members of the Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Catholic Shadows . . . and Lights

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

A reader sent me this trenchant analysis by Fr. Dwight Longenecker of the collapse of cultural Catholicism, which provides the context for the so-called “vocation crisis” we see in many parts of the world.

After all, when young people are presented an uninspiring version of “American Catholicism” rather than the real deal, it’s an uphill battle to keep them Catholic, let alone willing to dedicate their lives as a priest or religious.

Yet the problem also suggests the solution when it comes to vocations.

Now, of course we need “vocation awareness” programs and resources for those on the threshold of making life decisions. Fr. Longenecker’s piece, however, reminds us that we also need to back up the bus a little further.

Specifically, if we can do a better job of transmitting the faith in our parishes, schools, and above all in our families, then more young people will make the faith their own in adulthood. We all need to be laborers in the vineyard, even if we’re not around for the harvest (see Matthew 20:1-7; John 4:37-38; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

And many of these convinced, young adult Catholics will generously respond to vocations to the priesthood and religious life–including the many men and women featured on this blog!

It’s all about laying the foundation, as the Catechism teaches in its challenging presentation on the duty of parents to provide for the Catholic formation and education of their children:

“A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life” (no. 2225).

New Norbertine Community

Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi

The late Most Rev. John Steinbock, in one of his final acts as Bishop of Fresno, approved the foundation of the Norbertine Sisters of the Bethlehem Priory in Tehachapi.

The cloistered sisters, who now are 20 in number, began in 1996 as a group of lay women who wanted to become Norbertine canonesses. This past Saturday, they were officially erected as a part of the worldwide Norbertine family.

They rented a house in Portola Hills across from the abbey, and began living an apostolic life of prayer together. In 1998, the five original members received their habit in St. Michael’s Abbey church and moved to a temporary house–the former convent at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Santa Ana, where they were warmly welcomed.

After a piece of land was procured for them in Tehachapi, a group of helpers, both Norbertine and lay, helped prepare the housing on the new property, situated in the low Sierra–a stunning setting. The sisters grew rapidly in this secluded site, living a cloistered life of prayer and manual labor.

Nine of the twenty made solemn vows in the Cathedral of St. John on Saturday. The Norbertine Abbot General, Thomas Handgretinger, was on hand from Rome to officiate at the Mass, and the sisters gave their vows to Fr. Eugene Hayes, Abbot of St. Michael’s and founding prelate.

What a great day for the Catholic Church in California and for the Norbertines throughout the world!

Aquinas on the Vow of Obedience

Here’s what St. Thomas Aquinas, whose feast the universal Church celebrates today,  had to say on the excellence of the vow of obedience:

The vow of obedience is the chief of the three religious vows, and this for three reasons.

First, because by the vow of obedience man offers God something greater, namely his own will; for this is of more account than his own body, which he offers God by continence, and than external things, which he offers God by the vow of poverty. Wherefore that which is done out of obedience is more acceptable to God than that which is done of one’s own will, according to the saying of Jerome (Ep. cxxv ad Rustic Monach.): “My words are intended to teach you not to rely on your own judgment”: and a little further on he says: “You may not do what you will; you must eat what you are bidden to eat, you may possess as much as you receive, clothe yourself with what is given to you.” Hence fasting is not acceptable to God if it is done of one’s own will, according to Is. 58:3, “Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found.”

Secondly, because the vow of obedience includes the other vows, but not vice versa: for a religious, though bound by vow to observe continence and poverty, yet these also come under obedience, as well as many other things besides the keeping of continence and poverty.

Thirdly, because the vow of obedience extends properly to those acts that are closely connected with the end of religion; and the more closely a thing is connected with the end, the better it is.

Taken from the Summa Theologiae, IIa IIae, q. 186, a. 8.

Signs of a Priestly Vocation

In To Save a Thousand Souls: Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood (Vianney Vocations, 2010), Fr. Brett Bannon devotes an entire chapter to the characteristics of a good candidate for priesthood. He identifies 20 “signs” of a possible vocation to diocesan priesthood, since that is the focus of the book. However, I think these particular signs could also point to a vocation to the priesthood as a member of a religious community.

Fr. Brannen, an experienced vocation director and vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, gives two important caveats before diving into his list of signs.

First, the Lord can call anyone to serve as a priest. A potential candidate may not initially have all the qualities listed here, and that’s okay.

Second, the discernment of a priestly vocation should be a deliberate process involving one’s spiritual director, vocation director, and other sound spiritual guides. 

According to Fr. Brannen, a good candidate for priesthood should . . .

(1) Know and love Jesus Christ and experience a thirst to bring Jesus and His teachings to the world.

(2) Be a believing, practicing Catholic.

(3) Be striving to live a life of prayer.

(4) Live and desire a life of service to others.

(5) Have a desire to be a priest.

(6) In many cases, have his call validated by other people.

(7) Find his calling validated in Sacred Scripture.

(8) Be striving to live a virtuous life.

(9) Have good people skills.

(10) Have above-average intelligence (but those who struggle academically should not lose heart!).

(11) Be physically, emotionally, and psychologically stable.

(12) Be joyful and have a good sense of humor.

(13) Have a “priest’s heart.”

(14) Have self-possession and self-mastery.

(15) Show stability in lifestyle.

(16) Be a Christian gentleman.

(17) Have life experiences that point toward priesthood.

(18) Be able to accept both success and failure peacefully.

(19) Have a healthy psycho-sexual development and orientation. 

(20) Be truly open to the will of God for his life.

For an explanation of each of these possible signs, see pages 77-108 of Fr. Brannen’s excellent vocation resource.

Psalmody to Love

Trivia question (answer at end): What would you have if Billie Holliday came back to life and prayed the Liturgy of the Hours?

I still vividly recall entering a religious community in the mid-1980s. A native of Los Angeles and a fairly recent law school graduate, I knew I was stepping into a very different environment. As I settled into this life, I realized that I was doing many of the same things I had been doing before entering this community. I had already become accustomed to daily Mass and Holy Hours. The studies (I was preparing for the priesthood) likewise came naturally to a “professional student” like me. And of course the meals and recreation times were very enjoyably spent with the great guys we had in the community.

The one thing that was markedly different for me was praying the Liturgy of the Hours (aka “Divine Office”) at set times each day with the other seminarians and religious. I had owned and used a breviary (a prayer book containing the Liturgy of the Hours) before entering seminary, but the regularity and fervor of this prayer of the Church was the most distinctive–and in many ways the most enriching–aspect of my seminary journey. This attraction to the Liturgy of the Hours has stayed with me ever since.

Today I want to direct our readers’ attention to a fine article  entitled “On the Psalmody of the Divine Office” from the Vultus Christi blog. Author Dom Mark Daniel Kirby (“Father Mark”), a Benedictine prior from Tulsa, is a sound, learned guide when it comes to the Liturgy of the Hours.

Father Mark makes some fascinating points throughout  the piece. I had never considered the connection between the choral recitation of the office and the evangelical counsels.  His treatment of the Thomistic concept of “tranquility of order” (tranquilitas ordinis) as it applies to liturgical discipline beautifully highlights the peaceful and contemplative qualities of the Divine Office. 

While everyone may participate in the Liturgy of the Hours, it’s part and parcel of the daily life of consecrated men and women. As such, Father concludes his article by affirming three fundamental principles regarding the Liturgy of the Hours for religious:

1. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is for all apostolic religious a path to contemplative prayer .

2. The choral celebration of the Divine Office is, according to the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, your primary service to the world.

3. The choral celebration of the Divine Office assures the supernatural fruitfulness of your apostolic works.

Okay, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Psalm Sung Blue (Yes, my wife didn’t laugh either.)

Carmelite Nuns of Mobile

Photo courtesy of Mobile Press-Register correspondent/Lyle Ratliff

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. We all recall the familiar story in which the Lord came powerfully upon Saul while on the road to Damascus, forever changing his life–and world history!

It was a moment that marked a new beginning, a new mission. In the world he was known as Saul. Now as an apostle he is known to the Church as Paul.

I thought it would be fitting on this feast to invite readers to check out “Beyond the Convent Walls: Carmelite nuns of Mobile tell their story.” This story, from the Mobile Press-Register, with accompanying video, tells the moving story of a community of cloistered Carmelites who have remained ever faithful to their vocation despite age and shrinking numbers.

What struck me most about the accompanying video was having each of the nuns introduce themselves by saying, “In the world I was known as _________, in religious life my name is ___________.”

While these holy women weren’t knocked off their horse or blinded by light, they cherish their new name, their religious name, that carries with it the special mission of living a cloistered life devoted to Christ as a Carmelite nun.

Today’s feast gives consecrated religious a special opportunity to reflect on the mission associated with their religious name. It also gives all the faithful an opportunity to reflect on our conversion to Christ, and in our particular our baptismal name, which represents our new life consecrated to Christ.

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