Conference: Columbus, Ohio OCDS March 12, 1991. Fr. William Healy
I cannot overestimate your personal importance in the plan of God. Number one: when you pray, whether it be in the silence of your room, in other words, the mental prayer...when you're talking to Jesus Christ as I'm talking to you, in your own words, in your own way...where you are...there is the Church. Dating myself, the definition of the Church, according to the Baltimore Catechism was... "the Church is a congregation of those who profess the same faith, partake of the same sacraments, and are governed by the lawful successors, under one spiritual head." The spiritual head is Jesus Christ. The visible head is the Pope. St. Theresa says, wherever a Carmelite is, there must be the spirit of the Church. The Little Flower, as you very well know said, " In the Church, I will be the heart...and I shall remember the missionaries and all people connected with it."
...And this is the spirit you must have...so [that] when you pray, you're uniting yourself with all your brothers and sisters in Carmel and with the Church-at-Large. That's why, if you say, "I don't feel like praying, and therefore, I'm not going to," God is deprived of the honor, and the world is deprived of your personal interest...not to mention what you can do for the Church-at-Large.
So we come to our concept, number one, of your personal importance in the plan of God. As far as your association with the Church, you don't pray for the Church, you pray with it, because you're part of it...as a person who is in a family works for the family [but] is not working just for the family, [but] its with the family, because the individual is a part of the family. As a Carmelite this is one of your special prerogatives, to be mindful of the you r personal importance in you r personal pray as well as your saying the Divine Office...when you are praying the official prayer of the Church.
From this, then, we come to John of the Cross. This is the four-hundreth anniversary of his death. He is usually considered as the Doctor of Nothing...the Nada. In reality, he is the Doctor of Love, because his whole doctrine is based on your response to the love God has for you. Its something positive. Therefore, we say, if you're interested in going through the works of John of the Cross, do not begin with the Dark Night [of the Soul] and the Ascent of Mt. Carmel. You are to begin with the Spiritual Canticle, in which he tells the love story of one who is seeking the love of Jesus Christ, and the only way that he could do it was to compare it to a romance here upon earth...in the visible for we get the idea of the invisible. The beginning, then, of his doctrine is this: on the day of your baptism, you became the temple of the Holy Spirit. You were filled with grace..the opening between yourself and the Trinity. When you received this grace, you receive three virtues from God and for God: faith, hope, and charity.
As far as you're faith is concerned, he considers it blind because you don't see the results of you're faith...you're relying upon the promises of Jesus Christ as He gives then to us in the Gospel stories...but in this matter of faith, you're asked to open you're testament, the old as well as the new...and to absorb the words, "I have loved you with an everlasting love," [and] "let a mother forget the child of her womb sooner than I, the Lord your God, will ever forget you." As a mother fondles the child upon her lap, so I, the Lord thy God, express my love for you. These were the principles that governed the Little Flower in her absolute response to love...not in any sentimental way, but in the way of the intellect and the heart that we're asking you to give. The love, then, that we stress in our conferences is not the palpitation of the heart, the sentimental love that we read about in romance stories...its the love derived from your faith, sinking into your heart through your trust in God as your response to this love, and expressed in you hands by in you charity to your fellow man, seeing in each person the image and the likeness of God, and sharing with others the love God has for you.
John then says, when you have absorbed these truths in your faith, you are giving to God the compliment: without seeing Him you're relying upon the words of his Master. Then comes your trust, and here he says don't go over worrying about your past life. Many people constantly bring out the mistakes of the past and relive them. He says give you past life completely to Jesus Christ and trust His forgiveness. He has seen you through the past up unto this night. Place your confidence in Him. The stress, then, in John's doctrine is not first so much your creation by God, in which He made you unto His own image and His own likeness, a little less than an angel, but the whole doctrine is based on the conservation of yourself by God, so that God is with you each moment of your life as you fulfill it, as if you were the only person on earth (and that seems to be the difficult part to get across!). God does nothing by halves. His whole attention is given to you, the individual, who is a product of His everlasting love, and therefore, you have so much to respond to: "My God, if You have this interest in me... and I cannot doubt it, the whole Bible is a collection of love stories between You and me. Please let me take them to heart and give you my trust."
The third point is, if you want to know how advanced you are in your spiritual life, how much progress you've made in your personal contact with God in prayer, you put this little question to yourself..."How much charity do I have," eh? In thought, in word, and in deed? God is the personification and the Fullness of charity, and every time you practice charity, in thought, word, or deed, you're letting God share His love with you. Therefore, the degree of your progress in the spiritual life as a Carmelite is: "How much charity do I have...do those who come in contact with me see the example of Jesus Christ, who has seen fit to give me my vocation, and to call me to a special contact with the heavenly Father through Him, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?" To this point, then, in John's doctrine, the value of your baptism, the use of the three virtues, faith,hope, and charity...
Now about the negative part, which people seem to bring forth as soon as they mention John...John says, the more you love a person, the more you want to do for that person. When a couple happens to be engaged, the boy gets her a ring. The ring is round. It represent eternity. It has no beginning nor end. [It signifies] "my love for you is eternal, and the love that I bear for you is more precious than any metal that the world has to offer, for the metal is material, and my love for you is spiritual." The diamond of the ring...it glows in the darkness as well as in the light, [and] symbolizes, "the love I have for you is so great that no matter how dark the hour may be, I give it to you. In my consolations it will be an inspiration. In my desolation it will be my offering." So, he applies that to your relationship to Jesus Christ. So, you don't go around with a sorrowful face saying, " I've go to this, I've got to do that, I've got to do the other thing...life is miserable..." You offer him what you are doing [right now] because His relationship with each of you is a personal as I'm trying to describe it to you, right now.
If you persevere in the prayer life we have so frequently outlined...talking to God in the morning and in the evening... you will come to union with Him. The difficult part is the perseverance...not giving up because you don't feel like praying, or because you have distractions, or because you feel as dry as a bone and as arid as a desert. You offer to God the emotions, and you're giving to God the prayer of personal sacrifice as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemene, and as the Master did, upon the Cross.
Ernest Borgnine, the actor, from the earliest days, his grandmother taught him this prayer, and its so simple: "Lord, I thank you for this day." For years and year he says the prayer each morning. For years and years he says the prayer each night.
When he came out of the service, he was almost penniless, after coming from WW II, but he wanted to be an actor. He went to a director in New York City, and there were forty people looking for the same position. Before his turn came, they were told to go home until the afternoon, another session would take place. He had fifteen cents in his pocket. He went to St. Patrick's cathedral...took his position in the last pew...and his simple prayer was: "Father, I do need the job...if it is Your will, please let me obtain it..." That afternoon, he was accepted...perhaps you've seen him in, From Here to Eternity, or Marty.
What I'm getting at now we use in the prayer of quiet (I always like to use people who are not necessarily saints, because you expect great things from saints, but when you see people like this, you know that your human and they're human, and you can aspire for the same thing). He received a part in NBC's production, which you will see on television, I'm sure, Jesus of Nazareth. His position was to be the centurian at the foot of the Cross. The centurian who's son Jesus cured. The director was Zefforelli. Zefforelli said, "For this scene we will not use Mr. Powell, as a Cristus upon the Cross...it isn't necessary, for the whole camera will be centered on you, the centurian, as you take your position beneath the cross. So, I am going to mark a circle up here, and you will look at the circle as if you were looking at Jesus Christ."
So, Ernest said, "Will you read the words of Jesus aloud...so that I may get into the mood for it?" So, Zefforelli repeated slowly, and deliberately the Seven Last Words of Christ. Earnest, looking up, at the mark, trying to reconcile himself with the centurian said, "How miserable I feel, and how helpless, after what you have done for my son. I can do nothing for you."
While he looked up at the mark, he became silent, interiorly and exteriorly. He said, "I saw Jesus Christ...that love flowed from Him. There was a look of compassion, of suffering, all these things in one. I was overawed with what I saw, and unto this day I shall never forget it. It may have been my imagination, and I didn't see Jesus at all, but the grace He gave me on that day lasts forever..."
And now I get to you...Teresa of Avila says, when you get down to pray, and it seems to you [that] you cannot form a pray, you cannot express a prayer, all I ask you to do, she said, is to look at a picture of Jesus Christ. Even if you say nothing, you're giving Him yourself, you're giving Him your time, and you're putting Him before you. This, she says, is the prayer of recollection. This is the prayer of simple regard, and your fidelity to it can open the doors to contemplation, where, without the picture, there's an awareness of God's presence, wherever you happen to be...So you see, you have everything going for you...its just of up to you to be mindful of what you can do for the glory of God, for the welfare of the Church and for the good of Humanity, just by your perseverance...in your prayer life.
Sue Mt.Kit tells this story. She's not a Catholic, but in her pen name she added the word, Mt., because of her close association with the trappest monastery, the monks, in Gethsemene, Kentucky. She said, "Last year, my husband and I went to England. While we were there, I wanted to see the city of Glasenbury. What we wanted to see wasn't even on a map, on Shirwell Street. For, on Shirwell Street is, "the Chalice well". There is a legend, that, thirty-seven A.D., Joseph of Aramethea took the chalice that Jesus used at the last supper, and buried it in the well. So, unto this day, it is known as "the Chalice well". We found it, and the guardian and elderly lady, very compassionate and understanding, acted as a guide to it...and I asked her how I could get to "the Chalice well". Simply follow the path among the flowers, and you will definitely find it. On the way there, we found people in meditation...people in silent prayer...Then we came across the well, which has a big metal covering, and we read the legend: Joseph of Aramethea, it is said, put the Chalice in this well. After visiting the well, I came out and said to the guardian, 'Do you really believe that the Chalice of Jesus Christ is in that well?' The guardian answered, 'People come every day, from all over the world to the well, and honestly, it doesn't make any difference, whether the Chalice is there or not...because in coming to the well, through their own personal prayer, they find the Chalice in their own heart.' "
You are the living Chalice, touched by the body, blood, and soul, of the divinity of Jesus Christ when He comes to you in Holy Communion. Its up to you, then, to recognize the Chalice, the living Chalice, that you happen to be, and to come to the conclusion of the love of God for you...through your creation, His conservation, through the joys and sorrows He has enabled you to experience and understand yourself better, and most of all, through the number of hosts you have received since the day of your First Communion. You are the living Chalice! Indeed, the words of our blessed Lord, "Know you not, that you are temples of the Holy Spirit? [...] He who loves Me, my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make Our abode with him..."
Its your personal contact with Almighty God, present in your own person, that can make all the difference in the world. Its on this premise that our Carmelite spirituality is rests. Teresa says, "Thirteen little women, hidden from the world, offering the work of their hands, their recreations, and their prayers to His Majesty, can effect the Church and the World-at-Large..." History has proved she was absolutely right!
So, you see, you have everything to live for. Its not a false pride, because as you acknowledge what God has done, you say thanks...and the great proof of His love is that we are so weak, yet [He] was able to say to say, "Not a hair falls from you head without its being known to your heavenly Father... The sparrow who alights from a tree, with the help of the Father...Why do you doubt then, My love for thee?"
That's the message then...Your personal looking at Christ himself...even if you can't say a word. You're giving to Him, each day, as you live it: Lord, I give you thanks for this day. You're praying with the Church and for the Church, and in doing that, you're praying with the head of the Church, Jesus, Himself. As a result of this faith and this confidence on your part, the Hand of the master will ever be in yours as you walk the pilgrimage here on earth, and certainly it will be extended to you when you meet Him in His Father's house, and recognize that on earth, you were His temple.
God Bless You.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.