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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M. on Mt. 10:24-33 -
Fear of the World and Its Complexities

"Even so, my child, your changed life may be attended with some inward discomfort, and you may feel some reaction of discouragement and weariness after you have taken a final farewell of the world and its follies. Should it be so, I pray you take it patiently..." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Ch. 2.

Throughout the writings of the spiritual masters, we see an emphasis on the importance of a devout prayer life - so much so that one could easily get the impression that a life of prayer per se is a reliable means to attaining holiness. One might come to the conclusion that amidst the trials that he will inevitably encounter in the world that he will always be able to find peace and consolation in prayer. Indeed, the importance of prayer cannot be overstated. The Doctors of the Church have assured us of this. Ralph Martin has stated:

"Teresa of Avila tells us that the entrance into the mansions (or stages) of the spiritual journey begins with prayer." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints, p. 121.

He goes on to quote several other Doctors of the Church in support of this point:

"Prayer opens the understanding to the brightness of Divine Light, and the will to the warmth of Heavenly Love - nothing can so effectually purify the mind from its many ignorances, or the will from its perverse affections." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Ch. 1, No. 1.

"How wonderful is the power of prayer! ... With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God." ~St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 9.

"So, dearest brothers, I exhort you to participate always in the divine praises correctly and vigorously: vigorously, that you may stand before God with as much zest as reverence..." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. III, sermon 47, no.8 .

Fr. Jacques Philippe, a French priest and author of many books on the spiritual life, has emphasized that prayer is indispensable in the search for interior peace:

"Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody, above all for those who claim to want to do good for their neighbor." ~Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, p. 8.

While the importance of prayer cannot be overstated, it has also been made clear that it is wrong for us to always view prayer as a means to receiving consolation from God. Again, the Doctors of the Church have taught us:

"What a farce it is! Here are we, with a thousand obstacles, drawbacks, and imperfections within ourselves, our virtues so newly born that they have scarcely the strength to act (and God grant that they exist at all!) yet we are not ashamed to expect sweetness in prayer and to complain of feeling dryness." ~St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Second Mansion, Ch. 1, No. 14.

"These persons have the same defect as regards the practice of prayer, for they think that all the business of prayer consists in experiencing sensible pleasure and devotion and they strive to obtain this by great effort, wearying and fatiguing their faculties and their heads; and when they have not found this pleasure they become greatly discouraged, thinking that they have accomplished nothing." ~St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Book I, Ch. 6, No. 6.

"I would say, then, that devotion does not consist in conscious sweetness and tender consolations, which move one to sighs and tears, and bring about a kind of agreeable, acceptable sense of self-satisfaction. No, my child, this is not one and the same as devotion, for you will find many persons who do experience these consolations, yet who, nevertheless, are evilminded, and consequently are devoid of all true Love of God, still more of all true devotion." ~St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part IV, Ch. 13, No. 1.

And Fr. Philippe, quoting another Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, ensures that we are aware that the journey to interior peace through the life of prayer is indeed a struggle:

"Every Christian must be thoroughly convinced that his spiritual life can in no way be viewed as the quiet unfolding of an inconsequential life without any problems; rather it must be viewed as the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death - a struggle against evil, temptation and the sin that is in him. This combat is inevitable, but is to be understood as an extremely positive reality, because as St. Catherine of Siena says, 'without war there is no peace'; without combat there is no victory. And this combat is, correctly viewed, the place of our purification, of our spiritual growth, where we learn to know ourselves in our weakness and to know God in His infinite mercy. This combat is the definitive place of our transfiguration and glorification." ~Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, p. 9.

Fr. Wade Menezes, C.P.M. has explained that in the journey to God, there is a "Holy Separation" that must take place between us and all things that separate us from God, to which Jesus refers in Mt 10:34 when he speaks of bringing "not peace but the sword." Relying upon Isaiah, Fr. Menezes goes so far as to say that God will even separate us from our own prayer, insofar as it separates us from union with Him:

"...and, if necessary, His ministry of division might include - even for a short time - separating Himself from our prayers. Let us not forget that the book of Isaiah, chapter 1 verse 15, says, 'Though you pray the more, I will not listen.' Why? Because the people were living, knowingly, sinful lifestyles, and refused to turn away from them." ~Fr. Wade Menezes, CPM, Homily for 16 July 2012, @13:42.

The image of the sword as a weapon in the "spiritual combat" in which each of us fights daily is used elsewhere by St. Catherine of Siena. Ralph Martin states:

"Catherine of Siena talks about fighting the spiritual battle with a two-edged sword in our hands, with hatred of sin as one edge of the blade and love of virtue as the other." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 155.

In the midst of this tension between seeking peace through prayer and the temptation to presume that we will receive consolation in it, it is easy for one to become fearful of the adversities, temptations, and struggles that lie ahead. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux has warned us:

"Our common experience tells us that it is fear which disturbs us at the beginning of our conversion, fear of that dismaying picture we form for ourselves of the strict life and unwonted austerities we are about to embrace. This is called a nocturnal fear, either because in scripture adversity is usually represented by darkness, or because the reward for which we are prepared to suffer adversity is not yet revealed to us." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, vol. II, sermon 33, no. 11.

But from the Scriptures, the addresses of Bl. Pope John Paul II, and the lives of the martyrs, we have been taught repeatedly, "Do not be afraid." We will inevitably face adversity in our efforts to attain uniformity with the will of God, but as Fr. Menezes, in his homily on 14 July 2012, states:

"...we should not fear death, dying, pain, persecution, rejection, loneliness, poverty, old age. We should not fear having a large family, evangelizing, defending traditional marriage as God's masterful design for the continuance of the human race. We should not fear going to confession, being a priest, a religious, or a missionary. We should not be afraid of tithing and giving alms, of downsizing our lifestyles and the like. We should fear none of these things, my dear friends." ~Fr. Wade Menezes, CPM, Homily for 14 July 2012, @8:14.

Amidst all of these challenges and tensions within the struggle for holiness, there is yet another threat that we face, and that is the danger of becoming overwhelmed by the complexities faced in both the intellectual endeavors of the spiritual life and also those in our secular affairs. However, with her life and her writings, St. Thérèse has shown to us that we may rest assured that union with God requires of us a child-like simplicity.

"As Thérèse grew in the simplicity of her relationship with God, she found it increasingly difficult to speak about what was going on inside her soul even to her wise and kind superiors. One day an elderly nun spoke to her about why this was the case.

`"[It is] because your soul is extremely simple, but when you will be perfect, you will be even more simple; the closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes." The good Mother was right.' " ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 154, quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 7.

From St. Thérèse, we have assurance that our struggles are not in vain, when our hope is placed in seeking uniformity with God's will:

"The saints tell us that usually, even in the very midst of exterior and interior trials, a deep-seated peace is felt. Perservering in the midst of these trials is a very important part of uniting our will to God's - and in His will is our peace.

Thérèse testifies to this reality in her own life especially as she approached its end.

`For seven years and a half that inner peace has remained my lot, and has not abandoned me in the midst of the greatest trials.'

Indeed, in His will is our peace." ~Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 178, quoting St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, Ch. 7.

21 July is the feast of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, O.F.M Cap. (1559-1619) (General Calendar) and St. Praxedes († 165) (Traditional Calendar). Orate pro nobis.


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