OCDS Conference- Columbus, Ohio, April 14, 1992. Fr. William Healy
The particular paragraph from the Rules and Constitutions for this evening is that there should be a love among all the members of the community. When I say , "Love", I should explain: on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus turned to His apostles, and He uttered a prayer which I suggest you read and re-read because it couldn't come from a better person on Earth-the Son of the Living God. He prayed for those at the table, and He said, "Oh, Heavenly Father, may they love one another as I love them. May they love one another as You love Me, and I in turn love You." I t is a prayer of perfect love.
Now then, what is love? Love is an attraction of the will towards some person, place, or thing which appeals to it as being good, whether the good is real or apparent. The intellect absorbs the object of the love, and it is up to the will to make the judgment, "I accept it, and I go out towards it." That's what love is all about. The beating or the palpitation of the heart follows once the will has accepted and made the judgment, "This person, I love."
The old saying, that there is "Love at first sight" is not quite true, because, I repeat, love is an act of the will. Liking an individual means, "This person appeals to the emotions or to the senses". You may like the way a person walks; you may like the way a person talks. In the first meeting between the "lovers", that first meeting, when one is elated by the presence of the other- it is a fascination, and as the Perry Como song goes, fascination can lead to love. Fascination, then is [only] the first thing. That's why Jesus Christ could command us to love one another-because love is an action of the will. Do you follow me so far? If anyone doesn't, please raise your hand, because you hear the word love mentioned so frequently [used improperly or imprecisely ].
Now, there are different kinds of love. There is the love of benevolence, meaning, good-will. This is the love about which the angels sang on the first Christmas night: Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace to men of good-will, or as the other interpretation is: Peace, good-will towards men. This is the universal love that Jesus speaks of. It means that you will express interest in each person you meet. You can't love all people equally. That's impossible. Suppose, now, there's someone working with you whom you can't stand...even in the secular order...What are you obliged to do? You are obliged to greet the person and to show the common signs of courtesy, because every person you meet is a temple of the Holy Spirit, just as you are. The Holy Spirit may not be able to act in that person because of a deliberate mortal sin for which there is no contrition, but nevertheless, the Trinity is there.
That's why, in your morning prayer we ask you to stress the presence of God within you and all the graces and lights God has given to you personally and individually. When you acknowledge all of these things you [then] ask for the grace to be broad-minded enough to acknowledge these things in others. You cannot judge a person by the irritable conduct you see at the first moment. I remember, for instance (and I may have told you), when I was a newly ordained priest I was tohave a mission exhibit, showing the work of our missionaries, in New York City. It was one of the first times I've ever seen New York City. The assembly hall was not open at the time we arrived there, so the Brother asked me, "Is there anything in New York you would want to see." I answered, "The Bowery." That's exactly where we went! I saw the people who made Frankenstein look like a Lilly....I have seen them on the street. The officers, the policemen took this as a matter of course. [But] As I looked at then, this is the thought that came to me," Oh, priest of God, don't [you] judge them by the way you see at the present time. You do not know their past. It may very well be that in their profession they have practiced greater charity than you. Condemn not, but rather take what you see as an incentive to put in your own professional life the love that you should have as a priest of God."
Never judge a person, then, or judge a book [so to speak] by its cover. For, as the little Imitation of Christ puts it, "Man judges by the appearance, but God looks into the heart." This is what we mean by the love of benevolence. The Little Flower had a nun in her own community that she couldn't stand. She writes this in her autobiography. Every time she met the nun, she smiled [and]greeted her, so much so that the little nun asked her, "Therese, what do you find that's so attractive in me, and why do you like me as much as you do?" Therese answered, "Because I'm happy to see you." She wasn't lying, because each time she saw her, it gave her [Therese] a chance to practice mortification.
There is a filial love. That means the love that exists between a parent and child, between brother and sister-the rest of the family. Now then, you may put this question- when I go to God to pray, I don't feel any palpitations of the heart. I don't feel the emotional drive as I do when I meet a friend or come in contact with a member of my family. Is there something wrong with me as I pray? The answer there is (follow this closely), human as you are, you can love an individual with the emotional reaction because you see the individual. The individual falls under your senses. When you go to God, you don't see Him. You're going to Him in absolute faith: Lord Jesus Christ, you have said, "I am with you always, and you have designated that each on of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Since I cannot see You, the feelings may not be there, God, but love is an action of the will, and my will is to love You above all people, and to love You above all things." Do you understand that so far?
[Question was asked from the community]: I've got a question-why, if you were having a problem with someone, and you go to confession and you tell the priest, sometimes the priest will say, "avoid that person". Why does he say ," avoid that person"?
[Response]: He means [that] if you meet the person, greet the person as I described. You do not have to put yourself out to be with the person constantly. If the breach is there, give the greeting in all sincerity, and express you interest, and then you may withdraw, but I don't encourage it. I believe that if a conversation starts, it should be continued, because you'll find out that the person an individual [you] dislikes always has at least one good quality [follow this]. Every person on Earth comes from a perfect father in heaven. Every child has at least one virtue of the parent, therefore, every person on Earth has at least one good quality and one virtue coming forth from the Father in Heaven Who saw fit to make this individual. You're overcoming yourself, you're opening the door of your heart, really, because you see this individual. You're going to rid yourself of a great deal of nervous tension, because if you entertain the dislike of the person, these melancholic thoughts take their affect on you, rob you of your peace and your joy, and who's suffering-yourself! Does that answer your question?
[Questioner]: I guess.
There is a erotic love. We always say that this is an impure love love of the senses, completely-the giving of one to another. Erotic love is not only a moral love, it is a consecrated love in marriage. Marriage is the total giving of one to the other in a union that's blessed by God, witnessed by God when the promises were made, and represents the unity between Jesus Christ and His church. That's why in the married life there is the sensible love, there is the mental love, there is the love of the will, and the love of the senses. It a complete giving, foreshadowing the love we wish to have in our relationship to God.
In the secular order, you are to be the most consecrated people because your whole spirituality is centerd on the Divine indwelling. Your whole spirituality means that at sometime even in your profession or you vocation as one of the people of God, in the world but not of it, you decided to go forth, to advance in the prayer life, and to make your promises and your vows.
Going on then, as far as the deceased member are concerned-you are asked to have a mass for the deceased member sponsored by the community. If you are able to have a mass offered for the person [individually], do so, but at least attend a mass and receive communion remembering the person. In some of the communities they gather together at the wake and say the Office, if that is possible. So, with your rosary, with your presence at mass and your remembrance of the person in communion, you are showing your charity, which goes beyond the grace. This is what is talked about in the particular paragraph on "Loving one another."
Before we go into the little conference (iIwon't keep you too long tonight), take the example of Jesus in relationship to Judas. Leonardo Da Vinci's picture of the Last Supper is not true, because on one side of Jesus Christ was John, the Evangelist, and on the other side of Jesus, according to the scriptures, was Judas Iscariot. Judas was occupying the place of honor, as the treasure, befitting the dignity of the treasurer, who took care of all the material things, though he was a thief. When Jesus gives the warning at the Last Supper, no one knew to whom He was referring. What He said, as you heard tonight in the Gospel, "He to whom I shall dip the morsel and pass it to him, is the one..." When the host dipped the morsel, bread, into honey, and passed it to one of the guests, that was the highest honor a guest could receive. Nothing could be greater than that. They didn't understand when he said, "Thou hast said it." They though he [Judas]had to give money to the poor or had another mission to perform in buying supplies. The Gospel say, "He went out into the darkness of the night." It was night, and it was even darker within Judas's soul than any earthy night could possibly have. Every single thing that the Lord said about Judas was a loving solicitation. Everything that was done was to show friendship. Jesus did not condemn him, until Judas went right into the depth of despair. That's the moral for you and for me.
Now, we get to the conference for tonight. If you want to learn how to contemplate- when we speak about contemplation in our Carmelite life, what we mean, is you persevere in the morning prayer, as we give it to you (we pointed out the method was: 1) the presence of God, 2) the reading of a particular paragraph, 3) the asking of yourself how this paragraph affects me in my past, my present , and in my future, and then 4)the little word T-O-P: thanksgiving, oblation, and petitions, in which you talk to God as I'm talking to you. This is what we call our Carmelite method of prayer. You are not forced to use it! Each one of you has an individual and a personal way of going to God. Each one of you is unique, and God wants you to be individual, as far as in your address to Him; to be honest and to be sincere).
Then, we said that if you progress and persevere in prayer, that you can reach a stage where no words of yours are required. There is simple a silent loving awareness that where you are, there is God. It doesn't make any difference where you are. You are never alone. God's interest in you is as personal and individual and total at all times as if you were the only person He ever made. When we speak of the prayer of contemplation, or the height of contemplation, we mean a silent awareness the God and I are together as I fulfill my vocation, as I do my work, as I pray and even when I recreate.
Now then, getting back to meditation...when you meditate, it means, as I said, you take the book out and you bring the thoughts into your mind, and you ask yourself about the past ,the present and the future. This is thinking about God. It is not prayer in the proper sense. The real prayer follows with the T-O-P: when you're speaking to Him as I am speaking to you.
In St. John's Gospel (if you do nothing else, I've recommended, first, the prayer at the last super), if you go though John's Gospel, John the Evangelist, in scared scripture, his entire Gospel deals with contemplation. Contemplation means to look at...you remember when John the Baptist was preaching and Jesus of Nazareth passed by? John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world." That word, "behold" doesn't simply mean looking at. It means "studying", "inquiring", "grasping" the dignity of the person John pointed out. John was so successful in saying this word, "behold", that two of his disciples left him right there and followed Jesus. The master turned around and asked them, "What do you seek?" They said, "master, where do you live( note: this is contemplation]?" He said, "Come and see." If you find it difficult to meditate as I tried to describe our Carmelite method, visualize a scene from the Gospel in your imagination. Take anyone of the fourteen stations of the cross...bring one scene before your mind's eye, and look at Christ. That is contemplation. Then, you begin to talk to Him, as a result of your observation. You are permitted to do this in your morning prayer. In other words, prayer is free! We merely point out different ways of going to God.
Going back then, to John's Gospel, the word "behold" is mentioned over and over again, At the cross he said, "Behold your mother," which means, look at Mary, and accept her as your mother...not just a glance, but an act of love and an act of acceptance. He turned to John and said, "Behold your mother." He said to her, "behold you son." You are accepting Mary's interest in you, and a relationship between yourself and Mary is developed. I repeat, this is what is done throughout the Gospel of John the Evangelist.
During the past days in your Holy Week Gospel, Jesus was going to tell who He was. Over and over again you will find these words: I am. "I am the Living Bread.""I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." "I am" is mentioned over and over again. Why? Because, when Moses went to the burning bush in the Old Testament, the voice came out , ''Take off your sandals, for the place whereon you stand is holy. I am commanding you to take the Israelites out of Egypt. I have heard their cries." Moses said, "who am I to do it? I stutter and I stammer, and when they ask me, 'Who is giving you the command to do this,' what shall I say? What is your name?"
Here is His answer: I am who am. Tell them, "He who is has sent you?" In other words, there is no past and no future in God. Everything is opened in the "I am" repeated so frequently by Jesus Christ- "I am", in which he identified Himself as being God, taken from the Old Testament. As far as our Carmelite life is concerned-it's the center of it. "I am with you, always." "Where your are, I am." I cannot bring to my mind's eye a group of people as close to God as you are, because no matter what your vocation may be, what trials, what joys, what successes ,what failures-as a Carmelite, you have a realization, through your faith, that He's with you. Death is nothing but a thin veil separating you from seein, face to face, the God you carry in your heart always- the one you receive in Holy Communion, when He says, "I am the Living Bread". He's not identifying Himself with the bread, alone, but He's saying that as bread nourishes you and strengthen you, and [as] my Father gives it to you, come to me that I may strengthen you and nourish you beyond any material thing. That's how close God is to you.
I do not say that in this faith you are going to have no crosses and no problems. Crosses come to everyone. That is the beauty of the passion of Christ. While all pain, tears, suuffering and anguish of any sort came from the sin of our first parent, and while you may say that they are all a punishment for that original sin, Jesus did not come upon this earth to eradicate or to remove suffering. He cameon this earth as a savior to remove sin and hatred. As far as suffering is concerned, he taught us that suffering is a mystery to be lived with, as He Himself experience it in hunger, and thirst. As he put it, "The birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere unto lay His head." He was crucified between two thieves on a tree, and He was buried in a borrowed tomb. He had nothing.
You don't look for suffering, but always make sure that the suffering is not self- imposed by your incorrect attitude towards life. Be sure that the suffering is coming from someone who doesn't understand. It can come from nature, because of physical illness, but don't make it up, or seek suffering for suffering's sake,because that makes you a masochist. When the suffering does come, and it isn't your fault, then Jesus tells us that even in physical pain, the misunderstanding, whatever the cross may be, it can be changed into an offering, as He did on the cross. There, He experienced, mental, physical and even spiritual anguish, crying out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" He was quoting the psalmist, who put those words on His lips, hundreds and hundreds of years before- "My God, My God," to show the desolation He was experiencing, to be an example for you. When desolation comes- don't give up, but call upon your Father.
This is what we mean by mortification. Mortification, the literal translation is "Dying to self," means putting something, someone , some goal before yourself. The usual example is the reading of a book. The more you are wrapped up in the book the less you're thinking about yourself and the more you enjoy the book. When you poor things, like now, say, "Well, I've had enough of this," and close the book, you might as well close the book, because its lost its appeal. God wants you to be interested and to accept every situation in life.
My last example-we are so proud of Teresa of Avila, and we should be; we are so proud of John of the Cross, and we should be-they are doctors of the church, and we have eminent saints in Carmel [as well, but] if their writings seem too difficult for you, though we try to explain them, then go to the Little Flower. The Little Flower gives in the example of her life everything they taught. She didn't experience much consolation. One time, she said, she was saying the stations, and she experience as if it were a living flame-she was almost out of herself, but she said it didn't last long. "I soon returned to the darkness and the aridity I experience when I try to pray."
She had these ideas: 1) "I wan t to be a missionary-to plant the cross of Jesus Christ on every land." She got this idea, as she write, "on one Sunday morning [as] I opened my prayer book in church and a picture of the crucified fell out, not completely out, but I was just able to completely one hand which protruded from the book, and blood was coming from it. I asked myself, where was this blood going, and the answer was: its going on the ground. So, I resolved to place myself under the hand, in spirit, to catch the blood, and to spread it over the whole world. I wanted to be a missionary and plant the cross of Christ on every land." She did it. She became the pattroness of the mission, by offering life as she lived it in her vocation in the cloister. The moral is, live your live fully. "I am with you always, under every circumstance," says he, and whatever you offer, whatever you give to God is stored in His memory and affects the world, 2)The Little flower said, "I wanted to be a doctor-to preach." Rome is now considering whether she should be a Doctor of the Church, because of the way she lived and the doctrine of the Little Way, 3)Thirdly, "I would like to be a priest," but she said, "I cannot, so I offer to God, as the priest offers Jesus on the alter, in myself and my action in my daily life," 4)Finally, " I want to be a martyr." She had a great admiration for Joan of Arc. "Joan," she said, "how wonderful it was that you were consumed by flame out of love of God." She envied Joan of Arc. [Yet] When you read the life [of Therese], and go through her own suffering, her own sufferings were greater than Joan's. Joan was burnt up in a short time. The parched tongue, the spiritual abandonment, the pain and anguish of gasping for her breath because one lung was completely gone and the other one was practically shatter with her tuberculosis... She, herself, never took back the offer, but she said, "My god, I never knew that a individual could suffer this much. The cup of suffering is filled." Mother Gonzaga never permitted her to have morphine or anything that alleviated the suffering, except, occasionally, a teaspoon or two of morphine, the only thing they knew at the time. It is a blessing in disguise, because, if Mother Gonzaga did permit repeated mediations that would take away thepain, the devils advocate at that time in the cause of the canonization would say, "She sought relief, frequently, and therefore she didn't suffer as she wanted to." That would have been used against her. In fairness to Mother Gonzaga, when she was dying of cancer, wracked with pain, she never permitted the use of any sedative. "I offer this to God."
I'm not saying that for you [here tonightto do this]-you are to take your sedative. When it comes to the cause of the beatification, the devils advocate brings up something differently [than simply not taking medication]. You do accept the medication, and the doctor, and all that the doctor prescribes because Jesus is sharing his wisdom as divine physician with any doctor who serves you.
So, I get back to you-you may not be a doctor, you may not be a martyr, but like the priest in baptism, day by day, give God yourself, give God you actions in the alter of your own life. You're giving Him your body. Your giving Him your blood. In return, the Eucharist comes to you-body, blood, soul and divinity-a foretaste of the everlasting banquet God has prepared for you from all eternity.
God Bless you.
Editor's note: remember to write out questions for Father Healy to answer from the Autobiography...to be handed in by August.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.