O.C.D.S Conference: May, 10 ,1994, Columbus, Ohio. Fr. William Healy
Introductory remarks about the difference between the promises and the vows
So, the difference then, between the promises and the vows (and if you don't understand, please, ask questions), is that the promises do not bind under separate sin. You make the promises after you have complete your aspirancy and your postulancy. You make a promise of poverty, chastity, and obedience...a promise. At the end of the [official] promise, you will notice that you are given a special dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which I shall speak about later. According to the promise: your promise of poverty consists in not wasting your goods, but using gratefully everything God gave you-in your material possessions, in your talents of mind and body, in the faith that you profess... of using [these things] sacramentally-by that I mean seeing in everything that comes your way, a gift from God to you- with reverence and a holiness, and most of all a sense of gratitude.
By the vow [ or promise] of obedience, it means that you are going to fulfill the regulations of the Rule and Constitution, especially in reference to your prayer life-that is, in the recitation of the office, and of your mental prayer. You're going to do it not just to fulfill the Rule, but you're going to do it in the spirit of the Rule, in which every prayer that you offer-whether it be in the silence of your heart, or in the Office itself- affects the whole world, by the Doctrine of the Communion of Saints and by the Doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ.
By the promise of chastity, it means that according to your state of life, according to your state of life (you're not asked to be a celibate. You're not asked to be a monk. You're not asked or a nun. You may even become engaged and still belong to the secular Order), you're going to safeguard the sixth commandment [to repeat] according to your state of life.
These are promises. They do not bind separately or create another sin. Is this understandable, so far? A promise can be made to the Blessed Virgin. A promise can be made to any saint. When it comes to a vow, the vow can only be made to Almighty God. You may call upon the angels and the Blessed Virgin, the angels and saints, to assist you. Here is the definition of a vow: a vow is a solemn promise made to God of a better and possible good (you going to do something better, and its going to be possible for you) in virtue of holy religion. Everyone of these words must be taken care of. I repeat, as vow is a solemn promise, made to God, of a better and possible good in virtue of holy religion.
The first part, I repeat, [is that] it must be made to God , and to God alone. It is A solemn promise. You do not make a vow of poverty in the secular Order. That would be masking of you a religious. When it comes to the vows, you make two: one of obedience, and one of chastity. The one of obedience would oblige you, if the superior (which will never happen) will ask you, in virtue of your vow, to fulfill a command. I repeat, it *will never be asked of you, it that would follow under your vow of obedience. The fact that it binds in virtue of religion means the following: when we use the term religion, it means a binding force, a tie. When we say a person is a religious, we do not mean someone with a God-forsaken look who says several prayers-i.e., is pious. It means that this person if following a particular rule of life, a rule of life, for that persons's perfection. When we say then that the vow binds in virtue of religion, it means that you are binding yourself to God with the same force of religion, meaning you're tying yourself to God to observes something that's better than a common life, and it is possible for you. It does not mean that you cannot become engaged as a secular person. You are not asked, I repeat, to live as a monk or a nun. You may become engaged. In marriage you have the whole marital rights of husband and wife. The thing is, if you would deliberately violate the sixth commandment, according to your state of life (it has to be a mortal sin), i.e., you know you're committing a violation of the sixth commandment after you have made your vow, [then] you must tell the confessor, "I have done this or that, violating the sixth commandment in thought or deed, seriously, and I am under vow," because, it consists of a separate sin. There's a two-fold sin: one, is the mortal sin of the violation according to you state of life (please get that straight), and the second is because of your solemn promise, made to God, binding in holy Religion.
As a Carmelite, you must have the correct idea of sex. We say that the marital intercourse is a sacramental. It the union between two temples of the Holy Spirit. It is a union which is blessed by God, (and, as St. Paul puts it) emphasizing the union between Jesus Christ and His church, and therefore, blessed in every way. The world, especially here in the United States has ridiculed sex, and it says that we [Catholics] do not appreciate the body, which is absolutely false, because we say that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that God lives in every single part of it. There fore, it is to be reverence: reverenced with love-because God designed the body, God lives in it, and Jesus Christ nourishes it by the sacraments.
Is there any question now between the difference or about the difference between of a promise and a vow? Please, come up now.
Since this is the last conference we'll give before September, I am going to talk about prayer, especially mental prayer for us as Carmelites.
To begin to pray, there are two kinds of silence that should be observed: number one is the exterior silence-in other words, you are going to separate yourself from unnecessary noise; number two, under [the activity of maintaining] the exterior silence, you are going to close the lips (which may be a blessing for everybody else in the house!). This is the exterior [silence], which, of course, is required.
The interior silence is that you are going to remove any unnecessary distractions, unnecessary worries or anxiety which interferes or causes an obstacle between God and you. Ordinarily, when you go to pray, you think that, "All of the responsibility is mine," and you become very tense and uneasy ("I'm gonna pray, I'm gonna pray, I'm gonna pray... Give me a thought !"). Prayer means, and St. Teresa makes this very clear, you must relax, mental, physically, and spiritually. Take, she says, the most relaxed position possible in order that God may come to you. Its a conversation with one you knows loves you, but you have dispose yourself to let God come to you.
I remember the famous Dr. White, of the heart [ a cardiologist], in Massachusetts. He had a patient who had high blood pressure, and I believe a heart condition. He said to her, "Are you a Christian?" She said, "Of course, I am..." He said, "Do you read the Bible?" She said, "Of course I do..." He said, "...but do you believe it?" She said, "Of course." "Then why don't you put it into practice?" [ he asked her]. When you go to prayer, are you forgetful of the words of the Master-"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you?" Do you become tense and uneasy when you are going to speak to the God of peace, Who makes Heaven [into] Heaven!?
So, he demanded of this patient that she make a thirty day retreat-a private retreat, and that she would sit on the shore and watch the water of the ocean, see how everything works in rhythm, and thus secure peace within herself. In other words, when you go to prayer, you must dispose yourself to let God come to you. [This is point] number one.
[Point] number two: you must accept God's love for you-personally and individually. This demands faith. It does not demand palpitations of the heart, but faith- "My God, you love me, as I if were the only person You ever made." This is the truth you must accept, for God does nothing by halves. It says in the Bible, "I am beautifully and wonderfully made. Let a mother forget the child of her womb sooner than I, the Lord, thy God will ever forget you" . You must take these things to heart.
There are two things that I find very difficult to get across to Catholics. One is the acceptance of God's personal, individual, and complete love for the individual. The other is the acceptance of forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation. They will say that I believe that the priest has absolved me. I believe I am forgiven. then [however], they go back into their normal life, and they don't forgive themselves...I repeat, they don't forgive themselves, and if they don't forgive themselves, how can they say, I am accepting the forgiveness of God, when He welcomed back the Prodigal Son, and completely reinstated him, as he does, when you receive the sacrament of reconciliation. So, when i mention this, about this personal love for God, you as Carmelites, and I as Carmelite, must take it to heart.
In his magnificent work, free to pray, and Free to Love, Fr. Aleva gives us this example...He says:
In my younger years I was a salesman for a camera shop on the west coast. my business took me from California to Washington to Vancouver. I had everything. I stayed at the best hotels. I had a beautiful car...and I believed that everything was worthwhile because of my possessions. Then, I was called to be a Jesuit...
I had to give up everything, of course. I found myself in a group of men much younger than I. They gave me an inferiority complex, and I was left on my own, because I believed that the worth of a person depended upon his possessions. Now, I had nothing.
So, I put my dilemma to the spiritual director, and he said, "First, you must cultivate your faith..." So, I'm asking you to say this prayer, slowly and deliberately, he continued...frequently, throughout the day,until the prayer becomes a part of you, and little by little, you accept it, in mind, heart, and spirit. The little thought is: God loves me,and nothing else matters...God loves me, and nothing else matters.
That's the love you have to have if you wish to converse with God-love, personified in you. If you read the gospel s for the entire week in the daily mass, from Sunday on, John the evangelist emphasizes that point over and over again-the love God has for you, and its up to you to accept it. So, when praying, St. Theresa of Avila, again, tells you, when she was praying, saying the office, or what you call a vocal prayer (she never liked the term, "vocal prayer," [for] it seems like you're only using your lips-[in reality] you must use your head to think about what you're saying), she allowed a picture of His majesty to protrude from the book, so that the thoughts that she was reading, would be addressed to her [form God], as if, and He was, really present, looking at her, and receiving her thoughts, her words, and her time. So, when you go to prayer, the first thing to do, we said, is to relax-relax completely. As, Eddie Richenbocher put it when he went to prayer, "I like to sit in a rocking chair, and let myself go right against the chair, and I feel as if i were a bag of potatoes, and the bag is open, and the potatoes are running out. then, I'm relaxed, and then, I can pray.
So, it is with you. make Jesus Christ, His image, as clear to you as you can in your sown way, because your identification with Him will be different from anyone else in this room. make it vivid-the Master is looking at you, and you are looking at the Master, and if you say nothing, and if He says nothing, then you repeat the offering-I am here, Lord, and offer you myself and my time.
Let Him speak first! If He says nothing, slowly and deliberately say your little thoughts about T-O-P: thanksgiving, oblation and petition. Thanksgiving for everything you have, for every moment of life. The offering of yourself, and the petition, for yourself, and those who need your thoughts and your prayers. That's one way [to pray].
The second is called imaginary prayer, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola. That's the new translation of the Spiritual Exercises. The old translation (which goes back to my day!), calls it a "contemplation", but its different than what we call contemplation-a spiritual awareness. It means to take a scene from the Bible- whether it be a scene of the first Christmas night, or Jesus in Gethsemene, or Jesus on the Cross...I mention these things, or the Last Supper. In your imagination, put yourself in that scene...you're using every faculty that you have, and therefore, distractions can't come in! First, is your imagination, which is the source of distractions, because you're visualizing the scene, and you want all of its realism to be in your mind's eye, so that you see the Master, you see the apostles (if you are thinking of the Last Supper). You hear the words (you're using your hearing). You want to touch the table in which He is sitting...or, in the Garden of Gethsemene,you'd use the smell, the scent, but use all of your senses. As you contemplate that scene. This is what we call the imaginary prayer, not just because you're making it up, but because you have attached your imagination to the image of Jesus Christ, and in so doing, you will be rid of many distractions
The third way, if all of these things [ways of prayer] seem too difficult, is to take passage like the, Our Father, take two words-Our Father...and then a deep breath. A deep breath is always a source of relaxation. I repeat that...a deep breath is always a source of relaxation. The word "spirit" is synonymous with, "breath", so, as you take the breath, you're calling the Holy Spirit to come in, take possession, slowly and deliberately, as you take Our Father... then, Who art in Heaven...[repeating the deep breath]...it takes a half hour to say that prayer. Someone asked me, if after all this, you fall sleep, hmm? Then I say, blessed is that sleep, because you didn't pray to go to sleep...but if you tried to go to sleep, you wouldn't be able to sleep. So, you see, these are the ways...if you were only as eager to go to God, as God is to come to you...
if you could develop this faith, your prayer life would be full...you would develop peace within yourself, and you'll be able to bring that peace to every person you meet, in the course of you're vocation.
If you want to know just exactly how much you love God, here' s the acid test in visible form, according to John the Evangelist...how charitable are you towards others? The charity that you express towards others is the external expression of the internal love you have for God, who made everyone unto His image and unto His likeness.
So, it all gets down to this...accept the love of God. On Good Friday, or whenever you meditate on the passion and death, you come to this conclusion..."my sins put Him on the Cross", and you're absolutely right, for Heaven's sake...but as you progress, you say, "His love put Him on the cross". He went there out of love, that you might see in His example the fulfillment of His words...Greater love than this no man has-that a man lays down his life for his friends. That's what He did for you and for me.
God Bless You.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.