Rosa Mystica: A Commonplace Book

Let our judgment of souls cease, for God’s mercy upon them is extraordinary.

St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul (1684)

Acedia as a spiritual midlife crisis

I often ask how many midlife crises one can experience, because I feel like I’ve gone through a bunch of them. After what I’ve learned about acedia, it’s clear that I’ve gone through a lot of midlife crises.

Holy Week and this past Easter week – indeed, the latter weeks of Lent – my body and soul have been tired and paralyzed with inertia. Much of this can certainly stem from pandemic stress and the upending of my nascent spiritual routine. I’ve fallen off the one relatively concrete spiritual habit I’ve been able to develop – the thrice-daily Angelus prayer – and I don’t even bother agonizing over my neglect of the Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet and morning prayer.

Fortunately, I still pray through the Liturgy of the Word with the tween on Sunday mornings. We still pray at bedtime. There’s that. Otherwise, I have been fairly far from God.

After praying the liturgy this morning, I viewed a great short video from Fr. Mike Schmitz on acedia. This post is my attempt to collect my notes on this video, which I recommend you view.

Fr. Schmitz describes acedia being “a microcosm of a midlife crisis” – that is, a moment when the eagerness and hope of youth is gone, but the rest and fruits that come from work are not yet here, and I want a different life than what I have right now.

That season where you just want to bolt, you just want to flee – that’s acedia.

It’s like procrastination, which Fr. Schmitz reminds us is when I want to do everything but THE ONE THING I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.

The question I need to ask myself, he says, is this: What is it I’m supposed to be doing? Time to pump the brakes and ask yourself, Am I doing all this extra activity in lieu of the one thing I should be doing?

The remedy for acedia is God’s love – the Incarnation. The remedy, Fr. Schmitz says, is looking at Jesus Christ, “who in every step of his life is saying yes to his Father, yes to this moment, yes to dinner with his friends, yes to dinner with sinners, yes to traveling from this place to that place, yes to this trial – yes to the Father’s will, even though he prayed that the cup would pass by him.”

What held Jesus to his cross was his love. What’s helping you stay in place? Ask: How can I love well in this moment, in this place, as Christ would? In the end, Fr. Schmitz says, fight acedia with love.

I’ll be spending the next few days trying to figure out how that happens for me.

Jesus: "The new Adam"

Adam and Eve lost Eden not because of a lack on God’s part, but because of a lack on their own part. God provided everything, took care of everything, but the one thing he asked for in return – trust – Adam and Eve did not give. They failed to trust in the greatness of the Father’s love and this failure led to disobedience.

When Jesus went to a garden to begin his Passion, he went as the new Adam. In Gethsemane, he gave the Father the loving obedience that Adam and Eve should have given in Eden but did not. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus responded perfectly to the Father’s love. He left nothing wanting. He did not falter. he understood that obedience would involve great suffering, but his love for the Father knew no bounds. It is this boundless love that Jesus came to Gethsemane to offer the Father, and it is this same love he offers us.

Sr. Maria Frassati Jakupcak, O.P., in Magnificat’s Holy Week 2020 issue

At the very heart of Christian faith is the conviction that the Father sent the Son into our human condition — which means into matter, finitude, sickness and fear. The downward journey of the Son of God, even to the very limits of godforsakenness, is the richest possible expression of God’s solidarity with every one of us who suffers. Into all the dark corners of our human experience, God’s mercy has come.

Bp. Robert Barron

Benefits of prayer

If we pray for the sake of the benefits we hope to obtain from prayer, we risk becoming discouraged at some stage. The benefits are neither instantaneous nor measurable. If we pray in an attitude of humble submission to God’s word, we will always have the grace to persevere.

Fr. Jacques Philippe, Thirsting for Prayer

So delighted to see my Roman Catholic parish offering video of Sunday Mass now. (It’s offered in Spanish as well.)

(Camera work still needs finessing, but this is Holy Mass, not a Scorsese movie. Works for me.)

"Be attentive to his presence in those who need our love"

Lack of love for our neighbor, shutting our hearts to their needs, voluntarily nurturing resentment or bitterness toward someone, refusal to forgive—these things can render our prayer sterile, and we need to be aware of it. By contrast, acts of mercy and kindness toward neighbor redound to the benefit of our relationship with God, especially in our prayer. …

If we are able to discern Jesus’ presence in our brothers and sisters, we will find it easier to discover him also in our prayer. And the opposite is also true. Times of dryness, absence of perceptible joy in prayer, can sometimes be a call to look for God’s presence elsewhere, especially in acts of charity. This does not mean we should give up praying, but that Jesus is also waiting for us somewhere else and we need to be more attentive to his presence in those who need our love, especially the poor and the little ones. Let’s not forget either that there are sometimes illusions in prayer, but not in charity. We find God conclusively when we are taking care of our neighbor.

Fr. Jacques Philippe, Thirsting for Prayer

The first thing that should motivate us and encourage us to enter into a life of prayer is that God himself is inviting us to do it. Man searches for God, but God seeks out man even more actively.

Fr. Jacques Philippe, Thirsting for Prayer

Confession in the age of coronavirus

The governor of Illinois, where I live, has issued a stay-at-home order starting at 5 p.m. Central today through at least April 7. As a result, churches in both Roman Catholic dioceses in my area (Chicago and Joliet) are shut down. I had hoped confessions scheduled before 5 p.m. would be available, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, at least near me.

I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep; I worked through an examination of conscience and figured I could hit the confessional before things shut down, but now that’s not a possibility.

Fortunately, Pope Francis has reminded us in his March 20 homily that if you can’t reach a confessor priest, you can reach out to God directly, with the intent of eventually receiving the sacrament:

Lent is a special time “to let God wash us, purify us, to let God embrace us,” the pope said, and the best place for that is the confessional.

“But many people today would tell me, ‘Father, where can I find a priest, a confessor, because I can’t leave the house? And I want to make peace with the Lord, I want him to embrace me, I want the Father’s embrace.‘”

The pope said his response would be, “Do what the Catechism (of the Catholic Church) says. It is very clear: If you cannot find a priest to confess to, speak directly with God, your father, and tell him the truth. Say, ‘Lord, I did this, this, this. Forgive me,’ and ask for pardon with all your heart.”

Make an act of contrition, the pope said, and promise God, “‘I will go to confession afterward, but forgive me now.’ And immediately you will return to a state of grace with God.”

Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing you are less than every created thing.

Saint John the Dwarf (via @OrthodoxUSA on Twitter)

The authentically Christian spiritual itinerary never ends with something as bland as “self-discovery.” Rather, it ends with the splendid privilege of participating in God’s own work of bringing grace into the world.

Bp. Robert Barron (via @hambisela on Twitter)

When Mass is unavailable, reach out for spiritual communion

It has been a very surreal Sunday, as we are unable to attend Mass. The tween and I read the Sunday Mass readings, prayed some of the Mass prayers (except those for the priest, of course), and prayed spiritual communion prayers this morning. Then I followed along with Relevant Radio’s noon Central Mass online.

I had written up a spiritual communion post yesterday, but I managed to botch the posting, so I’m going to try it again here.

Even without these unusual circumstances, when bishops are either lifting the obligation of Sunday Mass and/or suspending public Masses, the practice of spiritual communion is a worthwhile habit. Abbot Jerome Kodell of Subiaco Abbey writes:

What is spiritual communion? St. Thomas Aquinas described it as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot receive him in sacramental Communion.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent devoted a special section to spiritual communion in its program of renewal in the late 16th century. In the past, instruction manuals gave as the most familiar situation, the need of a mother to stay home from Sunday Mass to care for a sick child, thereby missing the opportunity for Communion.

In such cases, the mother could make an act of spiritual communion, uniting herself with the Mass in her parish church and receive the spiritual benefit of Communion.

Saints over the centuries have found great value in this act, Philip Kosloski reminds us:

Countless saints incorporated this type of prayer into their daily lives, not being satisfied with receiving Jesus in the Eucharist once a week or even once a day. Making an act of spiritual communion for them was an essential part of life and drew them closer to God on a daily basis.

St. Josemaria Escriva encouraged everyone to make a spiritual communion as often as they could, “What a source of grace there is in spiritual communion! Practice it frequently and you’ll have greater presence of God and closer union with him in all your actions.”

Padre Pio also had a habit of making a spiritual communion throughout the day outside of the celebration of Mass. He desired to be always united with Jesus Christ in everything he did.

And, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes:

St. Catherine of Siena also testified to the value of spiritual Communion. “She had begun to question whether her spiritual Communions had any real value compared to sacramental Communion. Suddenly she saw Christ holding two chalices. ‘In this golden chalice I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.’” In 2003, Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

In the Eucharist, “unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion,” which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].

Beyond this age of coronavirus, Fagnant-MacArthur continues:

A spiritual Communion can be of value to anyone who desires a deeper union with Christ. It can be made at any time of the day or night. It is especially appropriate for those who find themselves unable to physically receive the Eucharist. For example, those who are not yet Catholic, those who have been away from the Church for a long time and who have not yet made a good confession, those who are living in a state of serious sin, as well as those who are sick or housebound.

(Patti Armstrong and Marge Fenelon also write about this excellent practice in the National Catholic Register.)

Here’s the most common Act of Spiritual Communion prayer, credited to St. Alphonsus Liguori:

My Jesus,
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.

I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

If you’re able to visit an adoration chapel during this time, praying this before the Blessed Sacrament is particularly powerful. If not, several perpetual adoration chapels worldwide offer online adoration.

Our Lady of Good Health, pray for us.

"High esteem is due to all human beings"

Believe in others. Learn to forgive those who are guilty of evil conduct of any kind. High esteem is due to all human beings, since Christ loved all so deeply that He died for their salvation. His perfect charity is expressed in His prayer: “Father, forgive them.”

Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik, The Hidden Power of Kindness

Instead of noticing the evil that is found in the world, develop the habit of thinking about the good and encouraging it. You will then have a contented life.

Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik, The Hidden Power of Kindness

Death allows us to face reality

Like the scribes and Pharisees, we often do not want to admit or to meditate on our sins. But if we refuse to meditate on sin, or spiritual death, then meditating on our physical death will be of no use. When we ignore our sin, we either live in false piety, mediocrity, or evil. Instead, meditating on spiritual death as well as physical death allows us to face the reality that we are like the lepers, the possessed, the adulterous woman, the crippled, the simple fishermen, and the desperately ill people who knew that they needed Jesus’ help and begged him for it. Two choices are set before us: admit sin or ignore reality.

Sr. Theresa Aleitheia Noble, FSP, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional

Abba Moses: Fasting "makes the soul humble"

Someone asked Moses, “What good is fasting?” The old man said, “It makes the soul humble. For it is written, Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins (Psalm 25:18). So if the soul gives itself all this hardship, God will have mercy on it.”

The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

St. Ephraim, Schmemann, and Lent

O Lord and Master of my life,
take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power, and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant,
a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.
Yea, O Lord and King,
grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters.
For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages.
Amen.

St. Ephraim the Syrian

The great Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann provides a thorough explanation of this prayer. He concludes:

All this is summarized and brought together in the concluding petition of the lenten prayer in which we ask “to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.” For ultimately there is but one danger: pride. Pride is the source of evil, and all evil is pride. Yet it is not enough for me to see my own errors, for even this apparent virtue can be turned into pride. Spiritual writings are full of warnings against the subtle forms of pseudo-piety which, in reality, under the cover of humility and self-accusation can lead to a truly demonic pride. But when we “see our own errors” and “do not judge our brothers,” when, in other terms, chastity, humility, patience, and love are but one in us, then and only then the ultimate enemy – pride – will be destroyed in us.

Schmemann’s entire explanation is a great meditation unto itself during this holy season.

For through bodily fasting you restrain our faults, raise up our minds, and bestow both virtue and its rewards, through Christ our Lord.

From the Roman Missal, Preface of Lent IV

Sometimes, you find a lot of wisdom and inspiration in small packages. You’ll find such succinct quotes here in the Brief Takes category of postings.

Father Pambo asked Father Antony, “What ought I to do?” Antony replied, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Memento mori and the mystery of our faith

When we remember death, we meditate on the central mystery of our faith: that death has been transformed by Jesus Christ. Not just a vague and general death but our own personal death. Jesus’ death and resurrection can have a direct impact on every person’s life and death if we accept his saving grace. Therefore, memento mori is not an abstract idea, it’s personal and concrete. Remembering death for the Christian is absolutely inseparable from remembering what Jesus has done for each one of us.

Sr. Theresa Aleitheia Noble, FSP, Remember Your Death: Memento Mori Lenten Devotional

The good have no need to be "afflicted" at the thought of death

Those who love God are not afflicted at the thought of having to leave riches, possessions, wealth, or this world’s goods. They have never been attached to these so-called attractions. Neither do they fear giving up worldly honors or fame, for they have always avoided them, or considered them to be what they truly are, vanity and smoke.

Good people are not even unduly afflicted at having to leave relatives and friends, for they have loved these only in God. Now in death they recommend them to the heavenly Father who loves them even more than the relatives and friends do. And at the same time, as they await their merited crown in heaven, they foresee that in heaven they will be able to assist their loved ones more than while still on earth.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Preparation for Death

In the crucified Jesus, "acknowledgement and rest"

One of my dearest friends lost her husband in a hiking accident last summer. Now Clarissa is discovering “grace in grief” as a widow at age 41 with four kids. She has been chronicling her grief in powerful, beautifully written bursts of sorrow and hope on her blog; I am profoundly grateful that she allows us to share her journey.

Clarissa’s post on Ash Wednesday reminds me of one of the gifts of my Catholic faith. This young Protestant widow writes longingly of the crucified Jesus that we Catholics see at every turn – and perhaps, in a weird way, take for granted.

Since Rob died, I have longed to be near this Jesus condemned to die. I’ll be honest. It’s been hard to find him in church. We evangelicals avoid a bleeding, wounded Christ. We prefer Him standing beside the burial garments, tomb agape and empty. For most of us Protestants, Jesus hasn’t been on a cross since John Calvin took Him off in the Reformation. We prefer to think of ourselves as people of the resurrection, the cross a dramatic albeit silent silhouette in the back of the picture. We like a Jesus on the other side of suffering, His scarred hands more a mark of accomplishment than of pain.

Yet, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life because first he died. Some may shudder at the image of Jesus on a crucifix. Since Rob’s death, I don’t do that anymore. Rather, in these days of my deep grief, I’ve found solace in Him hanging there. The world may struggle to understand my pain, but the crucified Jesus knows. Grief is suffering born of love. The cross reminds me He knew this too. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet? Jesus’ intimate acquaintance with my grief was more than intellectual. He felt it in His bones. When I survey the wondrous cross my sorrow finds acknowledgement and rest.

In this sacred season of Lent, may all of us Christian believers look to the suffering Savior, knowing he suffers alongside us.

In silence, make room for the Word of God

Jesus often headed off to “deserted” places to pray, “teaching us how to seek the Father who speaks to us in silence,” the pope said.

“The desert is a place to get away from the racket that surrounds us. It is the absence of words in order to make room for another word, the Word of God, who like a light breeze, caresses the heart,” he said.

Just as Jesus spent time in the desert, he said Catholics must spend Lent creating similarly sparse surroundings and a “healthy environment of the heart.”

These places need a thorough “cleaning,” he said, because “we live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by so many offensive and harmful words, which the internet amplifies.”

People today lob insults with the same frequency and nonchalance as if they were saying “hello,” he said.

“We are buried under empty words, advertisements, devious messages,” the pope said. “We are used to hearing everything about everybody and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies the heart. And there is no bypass (surgery) to fix that, only silence.”

Shut off cellphone, open Bible for Lent, pope tells faithful,” Crux

"May we not let this time of grace pass in vain"

It is good to contemplate more deeply the paschal mystery through which God’s mercy has been bestowed upon us. Indeed, the experience of mercy is only possible in a “face to face” relationship with the crucified and risen Lord “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20), in a heartfelt dialogue between friends. That is why prayer is so important in Lent. Even more than a duty, prayer is an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us. Christians pray in the knowledge that, although unworthy, we are still loved. Prayer can take any number of different forms, but what truly matters in God’s eyes is that it penetrates deep within us and chips away at our hardness of heart, in order to convert us ever more fully to God and to his will.

In this favourable season, then, may we allow ourselves to be led like Israel into the desert (cf. Hos 2:14), so that we can at last hear our Spouse’s voice and allow it to resound ever more deeply within us. The more fully we are engaged with his word, the more we will experience the mercy he freely gives us. May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him.

Pope Francis, Lenten message for 2020 (emphasis mine)