What it takes to Teach well

Brothers and Sisters,

Since I have discerned the charism that coincides with the topic of my recent posts, I thought I would share a some thoughts about my experience with the pastor-teacher (PT) charism. 

“To the exiles in…[your city]… who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:  May grace and peace be yours in abundance.“

(1 Peter 1: 1-2)

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

― Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

― William Arthur Ward

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”

― Galileo Galilei

“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

― Albert Einstein

The above quotes were selected from this source.

One of the challenges of the pastor-teacher charism is to be transparent.  The pastor-teacher (PT) has failed if he gets the disciples to fall in love with him/her.  The goal is to get the disciples to fall in love with God.  Human beings often make the mistake of praising or blaming the messenger.   The King is the important one not the messenger.

“So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  (2 Cor. 5:20)

The ambassador is not the source of the message, likewise the PT is tasked with accurately relaying the message not with creating the content.

Christ is our great model for the PT.  He says in a prayer to His Father, “And this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:3-4)

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

Jesus sought to reconcile us to the Father. We, of course, are not part of the Holy Trinity as He is, so the analogy is not perfect, but when Jesus was present on earth in the flesh, He was in one sense the Father’s representative, inviting us to come with Him to His Father’s house.  He wants us to love the Father as He loves the Father.  That is to return the Father’s love, whose sole reason for creating us was so that He could share a loving relationship with us.

The PT can’t force anyone to come to the party.  He/she can tell people about the party, what’s on the menu, how much the Father would like them to be there, and everyone who has already accepted the invitation.   In order for the PT to effectively communicate the Father’s desire, he/she must personally share the Father’s desire that the guests come.  But even with all that, those invited must still make the choice.

“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

The PT must like St. Paul put on the proper attire for the party.  Modeling what we teach is of paramount importance.  Above all, knowing the Father ourselves gives credibility to the invitation.  Valuing the invitation above all else, is not something that can be presented convincingly with mere words.  The potential guests will pay more attention to the “things we have lost (or left behind)”, than they will to fancy words and platitudes.

In order to help invitees believe what the PT is saying about the party, the PT can make it easier by gathering some others who have been invited and some that have accepted the invitation.  Maybe this is like a little mixer before the party to take away the excuse that the invitees won’t know anyone there.  If they know some of the other guests before they get there, they will be much less apprehensive about the party.  Maybe the mixer can even take on some of the characteristics of the party.  If they like the mixer they will love the party.  If the love of the Father is evident in those that have accepted the invitation to the party, those who have never experienced the Father’s love will at least have an idea how great it is.

Greek Orthodox icon of Jesus Christ “The Bread of Life

Unfortunately, the road to get to the party is not without perils.  As a matter of fact, it can be positively deadly.  If we are to successfully navigate this road we need to be certain that we will find there what has been promised.  St. Ignatius of Antioch in his letter to the Romans says as he is preparing for martyrdom, “I am writing to all the churches to declare to them all that I am glad to die for God, provided you do not hinder me.  I beg you not to show me misplaced kindness.  Let me be the food of beasts that I may come to God.  I am his wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become Christ’s pure bread.”   It is obvious that Ignatius has had such a powerful encounter with God’s love that he does not care at all what becomes of him, so long as he gets to join the feast.

Lord, grant us a love of You that burns so brightly that getting ourselves and others to the Your eternal feast is all that matters.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

A Heart for God, and His People

Brothers and Sisters,

More this week on the pastor-teacher charism…

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…” 1 Cor. 1:4

In Saint Paul’s words here, I think his pastor’s heart comes through.  First of all in that he is thinking about them, enough to write a letter.  Secondly in that he is thanking God because he knows that the grace of God is working in their lives.  The pastoring charism instills in a person, a heartfelt concern for the spiritual development of others.  The pastor finds fulfillment in seeing the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those under his/her care.  There is also a corresponding frustration when people that they are trying to help grow spiritually, don’t respond, or don’t show much progress.

In order for a person to respond to the pastoring of another, they must trust that individual, they must agree that what the pastor is teaching is true, and they must believe that they will benefit by submitting to the guidance of the pastor.  This usually means that only some of the individuals that a pastor works with will actually grow spiritually.  Some may grow very rapidly, developing serious prayer lives, taking on various roles of responsibility in the Christian community, increasing in virtue, and dealing with sinful patterns of behavior.  Others who hear the same message, may not really show much, if any, progress, their interests and activities won’t reflect any change in priorities, they may not really be willing to share anything on a personal level. 


Saint Paul. Detail of the mosaic in Arian Baptistery. Ravenna, Italy

The pastor may be tempted to look inwardly with a critical eye when confronted with the ones who don’t seem to respond.  He/she might say, “Perhaps if I was a little better at presenting the case for the Gospel or maybe I need to use different material or maybe if I was a little more enthusiastic.”  This is a common pitfall, but it really is a case when the pastor is trying to take personal responsibility for what only the Holy Spirit can do.  The Holy Spirit is the one that internally motivates the person to respond to the gospel.  This motivation can be blocked by a refusal to submit to God’s will and keeping oneself on the throne in their life rather than giving it to Jesus.

I have had instances where I have not seen any fruit at all when I was talking with someone initially and then several years later, I found the person actually did make big changes, but I never knew anything about it.  Maybe the Lord does that to keep the pastor humble so pride does not get the better of him/her.

San Zaccaria in Venice. On the left wall of the first chapel to the right of the choir : “St. Peter and the cock” by Francesco Rosa, oil on canvas, around 1670.

The pastor needs to be skilled in listening and asking questions, particularly when working with people who are not sure about the teachings of the Church.  The questions can be crafted such that the person ends up realizing the short comings of their logic without the pastor having to say anything critical about what they claim to believe.  Many times seeds can be planted through these conversations.  When the Holy Spirit is involved, simple questions can stick in people’s minds and lead them to seeking more information that may eventually lead them to the church.  Scripture teaches us to:

“Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:5-6)

Even the simplest conversations about the most mundane things can be opportunities for spiritual ground to be taken.  If we show interest in the details of people’s lives, the things that they struggle with, and the things that are important to them we can find opportunities to sprinkle a little gospel salt into the conversation.  Patience if a real key, the development of faith in a person can be exceedingly slow in some cases, the real key is the yielding of the person’s will, which can only come from their free choice.  The fruit of the pastor is not always something we can present in a bushel basket, it may just be a single apple, but that of course causes a whole lot of joy in heaven.

The pastor must engage the power of God in his ministry.  Pray for the people you are pastoring, before you talk to them, while you are talking with them and after you talk with them.  The power of God is also at work when the pastor strives for holiness and virtue in his/her own life.  Holiness that is genuine and not a pretense will draw people to us.  Those we minister to may not even realize that what they are attracted to is holiness, nonetheless, they can’t help themselves; holiness is attractive.  We need look no further than the lives of the saints to see how this dynamic works.  As students of the lives of the saints we can begin to imitate their virtues and pass on their wisdom.

These things have hit home for me again as I attended the funeral of my uncle Bob, who was much like my dad (his brother).  He was what might be called a “pillar of his parish”.  The pastor of the parish was able to use the example of his life as the central message in his homily.  His service to the poor, his genuine care and concern for his family and the parish community, and his wisdom in knowing his own limitations spoke much more profoundly than any eloquent commentary on the scriptures could have.  He was a real life example of what is attainable when we genuinely engage our charisms for the love of Christ and his body.  Would that we would all give the priests who preside at our funerals such ample homily material.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Will You Be My Shepherd?

Image: Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole

Brothers and Sisters,

“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Rom. 1:7.

This is a continuation from the previous message concerning the pastor-teacher charism.  As I said last time I would like to look at this charism as it pertains to lay people.  Our priests and bishops have special sacramental grace from the Holy Spirit through Holy Orders to exercise the office of Pastor, which is not available to us as lay people.   As lay people we rely on the guidance of those who exercise the teaching authority of the Church, and thus benefit from that grace.

As Catholics we are tremendously blessed to have an authoritative church that provides us with clear teaching, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal documents, documents of Church councils, and many lay apostolates that provide invaluable guidance.  I can tell you from having been involved in multi-denominational Bible studies, without an authoritative teaching it is very hard to get to deeper things because we can’t agree on the basics.  Even with an authoritative church, there are still grey areas and conflicting opinions that make the pastor-teacher role one that can be a little intimidating.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately (God wants us to get involved), there are not enough priests to meet the pastoral needs of the Church.  There is no way that a single priest can effectively provide adequate pastoral care to all the members of parish of 1500 families, let alone larger parishes.  So to address this problem, the efforts of the New Evangelization, are encouraging us to learn our faith and use our charisms to fill the need.

The charism of pastor-teacher on the lay level, like the clerical level, is concerned with protecting the sheep, feeding the sheep, and bringing them back when they are lost.  The level on which we do this will certainly vary. 

The most basic level is with our families.  As we learn the faith ourselves, we can help those in our most basic circle of influence: our parents, siblings, children and grand-children.  We can look for opportunities to answer questions, engage them in conversation, suggest books, web-sites, etc.  This basic level is not necessarily the easiest level on which to exercise the charism.  Jesus said:

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” (Mark 6:4)

Léonard Gaultier: Christ Heals the Sick

Another level would be the small group.  Involvement in or leadership of, Bible studies, small fellowship groups, catechesis groups, journaling or apologetics groups provide ways to exercise the charism.  I particularly enjoy this environment.  The people that are involved in these types of groups are usually more open to the message of Christ than those you happen to be related to.  For me these groups have been the biggest help in advancing my spiritual life.  The growth available in this environment has benefitted me in all areas of the Christian life.  This is the same effect as putting log in the fire as opposed to leaving it off by itself.   If a log is kept in the fire it continues to burn brightly, but if removed from the fire and left by itself it will soon go out.

The next level is for those who are able to get formal training or certification that will allow them to use the charism is on a larger scale.   This might involve getting a degree in pastoral ministry, training as a spiritual director, certification as a catechist, formal study of the scriptures, work in catholic media, and the list goes on and on.  I have not been able to pursue this level, due to work and family responsibilities, but I have known many who have found great fulfillment and produced much fruit by pursuing these opportunities.

The final level, which may overlap with the last level somewhat, involves those that make a radical change in their life to devote themselves to full-time Christian work, many times with a substantial reduction in pay.  I have known a few people who have done this and I deeply admire their courage.  These people gave up very lucrative careers to take positions of leadership in Catholic organizations such as schools, charitable organizations, and pro-life work. 

At whatever level the charism is exercised, it is much needed.  We can ask ourselves why aren’t there more small groups meeting in our parish.  In my view it is because people with the pastoring charism have not realized that they have it or have for one reason or another not exercised it.  Small groups need leaders committed to keep them going and facilitating the growth of the participants.  In my perception, the number of groups and programs offered by a parish is mainly limited by the number of people willing to lead them.

I think, one of the biggest reasons why people don’t avail themselves of these opportunities is intimidation.   This intimidation or fear can come from within the person with the charism or the outside.   It is possible that the person might have a perception that he/she may come across as placing himself/herself on a pedestal, being holier, or somehow better than those for whom we might try to exercise pastoral care.  I have personally combated this thinking by telling myself, “If a person is already engaged as a disciple of Christ, and they have not yet invited me to join something that they are part of, then I should feel free to invite them to what I am doing.” 

Another intimidation from inside is that we may not think we have enough knowledge to put ourselves in that role.  There are many good programs are prepackaged and the leader does not really have to have extensive knowledge of the subject matter.  The apostolates that have developed the materials have already done the hard work of determining whether the programs are in line with the teaching of the church, and getting ecclesial approval.  I have lead and participated in several of these programs and have learned a lot from them.  All that is required is someone to take charge of making the arrangements.  Once the programs are in place and you get some people to attend, the pastoral charism can flourish.

The other part of intimidation or fear comes from the outside.  We may have sought to start something in the past and we have not been given permission, or we may have talked ourselves out of it because we don’t think the leadership would go for it.  I have personally not found this to be much of a problem.  There are usually some objections from those in positions of authority.  In my experience, though they have been because the authorities are being cautious.  They do not want to be left holding the bag, for something that was started by someone who was not willing to follow through with it.  Usually though once a person is able to convince those in authority that they are committed, and what they want to do is in line with the mission and vision of the Church, then the doors will open, especially if the Holy Spirit is behind it.

When people have taken the step to get something started, the next big part of the process is encouraging others to experiment with their charisms and get others to play a part in leading the activity.  As pastor-teacher exercises the charism, the real fruit is that they help develop other pastor-teachers that can then begin caring for others, maybe in completely different areas.

So how can we tell if we might have a pastoral charism?  One way is honestly assess the desire that we have to share our experience of the love of God.  That desire should drive us first of all to learn.  We should learn about scripture, the Catechism, and about other religions, Christian and non-Christian.  We owe this to ourselves and those who have not yet discovered God’s love for them.  Hosea 4:6 says: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  We can’t teach what we don’t know.  We can’t sit back and say, “Well I am no bible scholar,” and leave it at that.

The experience of many, and I would include myself in that number, is that when the Holy Spirit was stirred up in their life, they developed a hunger for God’s word.  They wanted to know more about what they had experienced.  They wanted to share that good news.  Indeed that is what Jesus expects of those who have accepted His message.

One caution that I would like to include is that the Sacred Scriptures are not self-interpreting.  I have unfortunately know some who have had a vibrant faith and have lost it when they went to study scripture at a higher level.  Scripture needs to be interpreted with the mind of the Church.  Scripture cannot contradict Church teaching.  Christ did not leave us the Bible.  He left us the Church and the Church gave us the Bible.  So to properly interpret the Bible, we must listen to the Church.  There are certainly sinners who occupy positions in many places in the Church, even some who disagree with what the church teaches.  But we have Christ’s promise:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:18.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Jesus Returning the Keys to St. Peter (1820)

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Blending with God

Image: Statue of Jesus Christ in El Picacho National Park overlooking Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Brothers and Sisters,

For this reflection I would like to consider a slightly different mode of communication from God.  We have been talking about locutions and visions so far.  I have not done a great deal of research on the life of Blessed Solonus Casey, but I have not come across any mention of visions or locutions in the material on his life.  It is clear, however, that he did very often know what would happen in the cases of illness, unemployment, or other troubles that were brought to him.  If you don’t know much about his life, I will refer you to this website.1

He became so popular as a spiritual counselor, despite his limited intellect, that in his later years his order tried to move him to different locations around the country to try to limit the number of requests for appointments with him for counseling due to his declining health.  Any reduction in requests was short-lived at best because as soon as people found out where he had been moved the crowds returned.

According to a documentary2 that I watched about his life; he had an understanding about his relationship with God that he called “blending.”  This is reflected in the following quote.

“Who can fully appreciate the privilege that God has given us of the possibility of our helping God in the work of redemption. Our lives are blended with God’s.”

Blessed Solonus Casey
Blessed Solanus Casey Shrine – St. Mary Magdalen Church – Brighton, MI

So reading into that, he may have had an intuition that was linked to the Holy Spirit in such a way that it seemed so natural to him that the distinction between where his thoughts stopped and the Holy Spirit’s started was blurred.  It is reported that when a healing was going to happen, he would tell the people, “don’t worry just wait “x” number of days” and the healing would happen.  If he told them, “well let’s wait and see what God wants,” that meant that the healing would not happen.  Those aren’t exact quotes, but it gives you the general idea.

I don’t know if he ever really told anyone how he knew or even if he could describe it, but the documentary did mention his concept of blending.  It also was suggested that Fr. Solonus may have experienced what is known as the transforming union for most of his life.  The transforming union is the highest level of prayer as described by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  It is a gift of God it is not something that can be attained through our own efforts.  It is described as: “thus union with God, which can now take place without troubling the exercise of the faculties, becomes almost continual. It seems indeed that the Blessed Virgin was always in this state, and it is also said that St. Hildegarde never knew the weakness of ecstasy.3

It also seems that individuals who experience these things are remarkably humble and often experience great hardships, sometimes great physical suffering, and usually have yielded their wills completely to God’s will.  Of course, as soon as you try to make a statement like that, an exception can be found that does not hold to it. 

When we watched the documentary about Fr. Solonus the other day and during the discussion time afterward, I felt an odd sensation that kind of reminded me of the surreal feeling I had while with my Dad when he passed.  It was almost like the thin veil that separated this world from the next got a little thinner.  Why is that relevant?  I am not sure exactly, perhaps my dad was mentioned in the conversation. He looked somewhat like Fr. Solonus, according to my daughters.  Perhaps just thinking about the possibilities raised by an examination of Fr. Solonus’ life can increase the awe and wonder regarding our relationship with God. 

I am sure that Fr. Solonus story is not unique in that respect.  Steeping ourselves in the lives and writings of the saints can move the needle in our spiritual lives.  Scripture tells us “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.”  Expanding the catalogue of things that we can ask for by looking at the lives of the people who have been recognized for living outstanding Christian lives is a great strategy for spiritual growth.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. http://solanuscasey.org/who-is-father-solanus
  2. Blessed Solanus Casey’s Journey to Sainthood. http://blessedsolanuscaseysjourneytosainthood.vhx.tv/
  3. http://www.christianperfection.info/tta103.php

The Gift of Holy Wisdom

Image: Icon of Divine Wisdom from St George Church in Vologda (16th century)

Brothers and Sisters,

Picking up from last time, I had been talking about Mother Teresa’s visions and subsequent experience of spiritual darkness.  I had some doubts about whether this topic would really be that meaningful for most people.  I did get some assurance along the way that indeed some in our charism group have experienced this kind of thing.  I don’t include myself in that number.  As I was wrestling with whether or not to continue with the topic, the thought came to me that even if the Lord does not communicate with all of us in this way, we can all benefit from the communication that others receive.

As I read the quotes of Mother Teresa, I could detect a level of wisdom beyond what I have experienced in normal spiritual conversation.  The challenging nature of the words, the profound insights into human nature, and even the beauty of the phrasing all raise my mind and heart to God.  If the quotes do that for me, they will probably do that for others too.  So if I don’t get visions and locutions myself, I can use the communications from those that do to build up the Kingdom of God.

By reading the writings of the saints and mystics and picking out some of their sayings and examples of what the Lord has done in their lives and committing them to memory, I can have them at hand to share with others when the opportunity comes up. 

In the year 1995, Sangeeta Gupta held her first solo exhibition at Birla Academy of Art & Culture, Kolkata, which was inaugurated by none other than Mother Teresa. The entire sale proceeds of this show were donated to CRY for building up an educational center for poor children in the suburban part of Kolkata.

Here are a few possible examples from Saint Teresa of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta):

“Joy comes to those who forget themselves and become totally aware of the other.”1

“The joy of the risen Lord is the sunshine of our Father’s love. The joy of Jesus is the hope of eternal happiness.  The joy of Jesus is the flame of burning love.  Easter is this joy.  However, you cannot have joy without sacrifice.  That is why Good Friday comes before Easter.”2

“One cannot expect to become a saint without paying the price, and the price is much renunciation, much temptation, much struggle and persecution, and all sorts of sacrifices.  One cannot love God except at the cost of oneself.”3

“To me, contemplation is not to be shut up in a dark place but to allow Jesus to live his passion, love, and humility in us, praying with us being with us, sanctifying through us.”4

“Let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world. Let us use love and compassion.  Peace begins with a smile.  Smile five times a day at someone you don’t really want to smile at all.  Do it for peace.  Let us radiate the peace of God and so light his light and extinguish in the world and in the hearts of all men all hatred and love for power.”5

“Try to put in the hearts of your children a love for home.  Make them long to be with their families.  So much sin could be avoided if our people really loved their homes.”6

When I read wisdom like this, I think, “I couldn’t come up with wisdom of this kind out of my head”, but you can fill volumes with examples like these that came through St. Teresa.  She of course is not the only one.  Many of the great saints seem to be fountains for this type of wisdom.

It seems that the way the Heavenly Father works is to fill certain individuals with these charisms of wisdom and prophecy to an overwhelming extent such that there can be no doubt of the divine source of the things that they say,  it flows from them like a fountain.  That way we don’t have to worry so much about quenching our thirst with the drop or two of wisdom that may come from most of us pilgrims, we can fill our water jars from the fountain of the Saints and thus we will have plenty to share with others.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Kelly-Gangi, Carol. Mother Teresa Her Essential Wisdom. New York, Fall River Press. Pg. 75.
  2. Ibid., pg. 75.
  3. Ibid., pg. 64.
  4. Ibid., pg. 55.
  5. Ibid., pg. 41.
  6. Ibid., pg. 36.

The Visions of Mother Teresa

Image: Mother Teresa of Calcuta, portrait painting by Robert Pérez Palou

Brothers and Sisters,

This week I am finally going to get around to what set me off on this topic.  As part of our faith formation for our children, we recently covered Mother Teresa’s life.  I read several things about her life, a book of her sayings, the special edition magazine that Time did on her, and a biography.  That added to other things that I had read in the past.  I am assuming most of you have some knowledge of her life and work so I won’t go into a great amount of detail about that. 

The part of her story that I would like to focus on is, you guessed it, the visions and inner locutions that she experienced on and after the train ride on her way to her annual retreat at Daarjeeling, India in 1946.  According to her biography on the Vatican’s website:

Mother Teresa received her “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” On that day, in a way she would never explain, Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate His thirst became the driving force of her life. Over the course of the next weeks and months, by means of interior locutions and visions, Jesus revealed to her the desire of His heart for “victims of love” who would “radiate His love on souls.” “Come be My light,” He begged her. “I cannot go alone.” He revealed His pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him and His longing for their love. He asked Mother Teresa to establish a religious community, Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor. Nearly two years of testing and discernment passed before Mother Teresa received permission to begin. On August 17, 1948, she dressed for the first time in a white, blue-bordered sari and passed through the gates of her beloved Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor.1

Mother Teresa meeting a child in Utrecht Netherlands in 1988

In another source “33 days to Morning Glory” by Father Michael Gaitley the content of three visions were given. (From the reflection for Day 17 in the book.)

In the first vision, she saw a huge crowd of all kinds of people that included the very poor and children. The people in the crowd had their hands raised toward her and were calling out, “Come, come, save us—bring us to Jesus.”

In the second vision, the same great crowd was there, and this time Mother Teresa could see the immense sorrow and suffering on their faces.  She was kneeling near Our Lady, who was facing the crowd.  Although she couldn’t see Mary’s face she could hear what she said: “Take care of them—they are mine.—Bring them to Jesus—carry Jesus to them—fear not.”

In the third vision, the same great crowd was there again, but they were covered in darkness.  Despite this, Teresa could see them.  Within this scene, Jesus hung on the Cross, and Our Lady was a little distance away.  Teresa, as a little child, was just in front of Mary.  Mary’s left hand rested on Teresa’s left shoulder and her right hand held Teresa’s right arm.  Both of them were facing the Cross, and Jesus spoke to Teresa:

“I have asked you. They have asked you, and she, My Mother, has asked you.  Will you refuse to do this for Me—to take care of them, to bring them to Me?”2

Another interesting tidbit from the updated Time magazine special edition on Mother Teresa is that four years prior to the retreat “in 1942 she made a fourth vow: to give God anything—“not to refuse him anything…under pain of mortal sin.  This desire for a deeper commitment suggests and intensity of spirit welling within her and the fervor of her love for Jesus. Yet even she probably could not imagine what the vow might mean.”

Jesus statement in the third vision seems to be leveraging the fourth vow she made.  During her life Mother Teresa did not make the communications with Jesus and Mary known to anyone except her spiritual directors and some officials of the Church (in order that her work might be approved).  One of her directors Father Van Exem wrote, “Her union with Our Lord has been continual and so deep and violent that rapture does not seem very far.”3 

Photograph of The Reagans presenting Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom at a White House Ceremony

The intensity of this communion with the Lord was to cease dramatically almost as soon as she started the work Christ had called her to.  Perhaps Christ was sharing with her the terrible loneliness that he felt on the cross.  It was Mother’s great desire to quench the thirst of Christ.  Just like she could not understand the needs of the poor without living as they lived, so she could not quench the thirst of Christ without living it in her interior life.  This spiritual dryness was to last the remainder of her life with the exception of a five week period in 1958 and for a short period before her death.  I learned about the period in 1958 from the Time magazine piece and the short period before her death is something I remember hearing but I don’t know what the source was.  The short period before death was described as if she was experiencing heaven before she actually died.  (Anyway you have to take that with a grain of salt because I can’t remember the source.)

It is incredibly striking that Mother Teresa could be so faithful to the calling that she received while experiencing such spiritual darkness.  It is a true testimony to her virtue.  Though we may never have to experience this darkness to the extent that Mother did, we will probably have to endure some periods like this in the course of our lives.  The important thing to remember during these periods is that this experience is not wasted, but can be of great spiritual benefit to us and increase our holiness and virtue dramatically.

I have more to say on this, but that will have to wait until next time.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20031019_madre-teresa_en.html
  2. Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. 33 Days to Morning Glory, A Do-It-Yourself Retreat. Stockbridge, MA, Marian Press 2013. Pp. 73-74.
  3. David Van Bierma. “Mother Teresa at 100: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint”. Time Magazine Special Commemorative Edition 2016.

I Have Seen the Light, I Think

Image: Life of St. Theresa of Avile. Plate 13: Christ showing a nail from the cross to Teresa. Jesus Christ at left, holding a nail in his right hand, St Teresa kneeling at right and holding Christ’s left hand. 1613 Print by Adriaen Collaert.

Brothers and Sisters,

This week I would like to relay a little information on visions from St. Teresa of Avila’s perspective, again drawing from the Fire Within book by Fr. Thomas Dubay1

Like locutions, St. Teresa divides visions into three groups: corporeal, imaginative and intellectual. 

Corporeal:  The first is seen with bodily eyes and they are the least perfect.

Imaginative:  These originate from another source and are perceived by the inner senses.  These communications have sense traits and are far superior to corporeal visions.

Intellectual:  The most perfect of all the types of visions.  They are immaterial, spiritual, and without traits of sense.  They are seen by the intellect alone.

Exploring the Imaginative visions some more, St. Teresa gives some characteristics of these visions.

It is rapid like a flash of lightning, and the brilliance of it is such that one cannot keep on gazing.  When one can keep looking it is probably not a vision at all but only an imagination produced by one’s self.

The image is alive, one does not see it as though it were a painting. It is utterly foolish to think an earthly drawing can look like a vision, it does so no more or less than a living person resembles his portrait.

The vision is awesome: the sight is the loveliest and most delightful imaginable, and it far exceeds what one could conjure up.

The awesomeness of the experience almost always produces ecstasy.  It is in the rapture that the vision mercifully disappears, because the soul would not be able to endure it for long.

Church Santa Maria degli Scalzi Venice. Chapel Ruzzini – Statue of Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Jesus by Heinrich Meyring (1697)

Autosuggestion is ruled out, in that the vision appears suddenly in its wholeness: it could not be made up piece by piece by one’s imagination.

A genuine vision of divine origin brings with it a complete certitude as to its authenticity.

The transformative results of the vision, both physical and spiritual likewise point to God as the sole explanation of its origin.  Not only did St. Teresa sometimes find that bodily health was a consequence of her experience, but much more importantly she was struck by the transformation of her inner person.

The final trait it that the authentic imaginary vision is beyond human control.  It happens exactly as the Lord wishes; there is no inducing or stopping it.  Desire to see or not see has no effect.

St. Teresa does not say as much about intellectual visions even though they are more perfect.  We can get some idea of what these are by the way she describes a particular intellectual vision.

On the feast of St. Peter she was at prayer when she became aware of Jesus at her side, even though she saw nothing with her bodily eyes. Up to this moment she had been completely unaware that there could be a vision of this type, and, until He reassured her, she was greatly frightened.  She was more sure that He was at her side in some perduring way than if she had seen him with her bodily eyes and yet she could not explain how she knew this or how He was present.  “The vision” she said, “is represented through knowledge given to the soul that is clearer than sunlight…a light without your seeing light, illumines the intellect.”  Unlike the imaginative vision which is short in duration, the intellectual one can “last for many days – sometimes more than a year.”

To make it even more interesting the Saint says the intellectual and imaginary visions almost always occur together.  This is not surprising since image and insight often go together.

Some cautions are offered about visions.  Visions bring no merit to the recipients, but they who do receive these favors lie under a heavier obligation to serve.  Just because a person receives a vision does not necessarily mean the person is saintly.

We are not to judge our advancement in the spiritual life by the reception of visions but by the perfection with which we live the Gospel: humility, obedience, love, patience, chastity, honesty, kindliness and all else.

One should not act on visions without clearing the matter and getting advice from their confessor or spiritual director.

St. Teresa gives six reasons that we should not desire or ask for visions:

  • It shows a lack of humility
  • There is a likelihood that people who want this sort of thing, who like to dabble in unusual experiences, will be deceived and misled.
  • When a person has a strong desire for something, it is often possible that the he will persuade himself that he is seeing what he desires.
  • It is presumption for us to assume that visions will be the best way to God for us.
  • The trials suffered by the recipients of extraordinary gifts are heavy and of many kinds.
  • “You may find that the very thing from which you had expected gain will bring you great loss.”

I hope this information provides a basis to help us evaluate experiences we might wonder whether or not are communications from the Lord.  If nothing else it might help us to be a little more cautious in assuming that the Holy Spirit or Jesus is communicating with us in unusual ways.

On the other hand, this information may give us some insight into the experience of those that have received visions and the impact that it has on them.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Dubay, Thomas, S.M. Fire Within, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel on Prayer. San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1989. Chapter 14 Locutions and Visions. Summary of pages 263-270.

It’s Burning in my Soul

Brothers and Sisters,

In my reading I have come across some interesting material on ways that people receive messages from the spiritual realm.  So I guess this might fall under the charism of prophecy.  I am going to be drawing this material from a book called Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay1 which is primarily concerned with the spirituality and prayer of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  Both of these saints are famous for the deep mystical experiences that they had with the Lord and the thoughtful analysis that they have written to help others to understand their mystical experiences.

Venice. Chapel Ruzzini – St. Joseph appears in Santa Teresa and free from a dangerous encounter by Niccolò Bambini.

Messages from our Lord, our Lady, and other saints come in two forms.  The first form is known as locution which is something heard or internally received by the person.  The second form is known as a vision or apparition in which there is a visual component which may or may not contain a message (like the locution).  The tricky part, of course, is determining the source of these locutions or visions.  They could be from God, angels, or saints or the devil, demons, or lost souls, or our own minds.  Sts. Teresa and John give some guidelines that help us distinguish which communications we should pay attention to.

There is an entire chapter on this subject in the book, so I am going to try to do a bit of summarizing and if you are really interested you might want to get a copy of the book and read it.  The book also deals primarily with deepening your prayer life, which I am sure most of us are interested in.

Anyway to start with St. Theresa divides locutions into three types: external, imaginary, and intellectual.

  • External – occurs outside the person and is heard with bodily ears.
  • Imaginary – occurs within the person with the internal sense faculties. (This does not mean they are not real.)
  • Intellectual – occur within the deepest center of the person and with no sound and no voice. This type surpasses anything of ordinary human study or experience.

St. Theresa does not have much to say about the first two types and more or less dismisses them as being of little importance. 

So concentrating on the intellectual type of locutions, let’s see what else St. Theresa has to say about  them.  They have the following qualities:

  • They are very different from the ideas our own minds produce. We do not and indeed cannot originate them.
  • The words we hear are explicit, much clearer than we hear with our bodily ears.
  • One cannot resist listening to and understanding these words in the same way we can “turn off” human speech.
  • Understanding of these words is independent of one’s will.  When you want to understand what is said you often cannot.  Likewise when you may not want to understand you are made to.
  • If the message is spoken of some future event it always turns out to be true.
  • In these locutions the person is just the receiver, one does not originate.
  • God’s words are unlike ours, they do what they say.  The words he speaks are “words and works.”
  • The message is majestic, authoritative, and holy.
  • The very words or at least the substance of the words cannot be forgotten after the passage of years.
  • What is learned and taught is rapid, St. Teresa said she could learn in an instant what it would take a month to compose through her own thought processes.
  • Once a person is experienced in these matters, it is easy to know the origin of a locution.
Teresa of Avilà’s Vision of the Dove by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

So at this point I want to ask the question, does anyone else find this type of information interesting?  There is a temptation here to let curiosity get the better of us and pursue the idea of receiving such messages although they are not really part of the experience of most Christians.   On the other hand knowing the characteristics of divine communication may help us to more easily dismiss things that are really of no consequence.  I welcome your feedback on the point.

I will leave you with a description that St. Theresa gave of one such communication. “While in prayer one day, I felt my soul to be so deep in God that it didn’t seem there was a world; but while immersed in Him, understanding of that Magnificat verse, et exultavit spiritus (and my spirit rejoices), was given to me in such a way I cannot forget it.”

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Dubay, Thomas, S.M. Fire Within, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel on Prayer. San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1989. Chapter 14 Locutions and Visions.

The Charism that I Desire

Image: Marlon Brando in a Streetcar Named Desire 1948.

Brothers and Sisters,

Did you ever really wish you had a particular charism, but after repeated experiments testing for its presence had to conclude in the negative? Let’s consider the following scripture.

“Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.” 1 Cor. 14:1

In looking for some videos that might be appropriate for sharing information about charisms with young people, I came across a preacher (unfortunately I can’t remember who it was at this point) who was suggesting that the presence of a desire (some other translations substituted desire for strive in the above verse) for a particular charism in a person was a sign that the person had that charism.  His logic was that a desire for a charism was a good thing.  And if it is a good thing it is probably not coming from our carnal nature, and it is probably not coming from the forces opposed to the Kingdom of God, therefore, it must be coming from God.  If it is coming from God, then God must want to give it to us, because He would not give us a desire for something that He was not prepared to give us.

By that logic I must have the gift of healing.  One of my frustrations in praying for healing for people is that I rarely see the results that I pray for.  I do pray for people to be healed, usually whenever I get an opportunity.  The thought often crosses my mind, “It sure would be nice if every once in a while I would see some sort of a result, even a modest improvement.  In all my years of praying for people I can only remember one instance where the person gave me positive feedback that it made a noticeable difference.  Even that instance was only temporary.

Evangelist Benny Hinn known for his Healing Crusades.

I am left to conclude that my motives for desiring the gift of healing are not pure, or that God knows that giving me this gift would ignite pride within my soul, or perhaps something is inhibiting my prayer.  So my conclusion about the preacher’s thought would be that I don’t think that we can say that as a general rule that desire for a gift is an indicator that we have or will get a gift.  But obviously the preacher has some reason for saying this.

Scripture does say that we should desire or strive for the spiritual gifts (charisms).

“But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  1 Cor. 12:31

“So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.”  1 Cor. 14:12

So, for now, I will pray for the desire to strive for the gifts that will yield what God has in mind for me.

If you have a different take on the preacher’s logic, I would love to hear it.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

p.s. The picture of Benny Hinn is not intended to suggest that he is the preacher that I am referring to above, just that he is well known for his healing ministry and I, of course, am not.

Robust Confidence in God

Brothers and Sisters,

Image: Cropped Illustration for Milton’s Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore, 1866.

Do you trust your charism?  Let’s suppose you have discerned your charism and have seen it produce feelings, feedback, and fruit.  Let’s further suppose that you are presented with an opportunity to use your charism that is different in scope, complexity, or urgency than the other ways you have used it.  In other words, you are really not sure that you are comfortable taking on the new opportunity, because you honestly have doubts about whether you can handle it. 

The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Luca Giordano, circa 1666.

In a book that I have been reading called The Spiritual Combat written by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli. The author suggests that there are two major principles in the spiritual combat that we face.  In order to be successful, we must have a serious distrust of self and robust confidence in God.  Let me quote the author:

“Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain complete victory.  This important truth should be deeply embedded in our hearts; for, although in ourselves we are nothing, we are too apt to overestimate our own abilities and to conclude falsely that we are of some importance.  This vice springs from the corruption of our nature…. This distrust of our own strength is a gift from Heaven, bestowed by God on those he loves.”1

And on confidence in God:

“Although distrust of self is absolutely necessary in the spiritual combat, nevertheless, if this is all we have to rely on, we will soon be routed, plundered, and subdued by the enemy.  To it therefore, we must join firm confidence in God, the Author of all good, from Whom alone the victory must be expected…. there is nothing of greater efficacy in obtaining the assistance of Heaven than placing complete confidence in God.”1

So back to my question, do you trust your charism?  I would contend that trusting your charism is really placing your confidence in God.  We have perhaps grown very used to placing our confidence in our own abilities, and thus we will not take on a ministry or service opportunity that we don’t think that we can handle.  If, however, we have a charism (properly discerned) that is a good fit for this hypothetical opportunity, we should place our confidence in the fact that God will operate in our charism rather than our ability to handle the challenge.

We can also probably count on a constant stream of doubts from the enemy, especially if the opportunity is a threat to him.  When this happens, see above.

“He who trusts in himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.”2

– St. Alphonsus Liguori

“Trust in God’s Providence, interfering – as it always does – for our own good.”2

– St. Mary MacKillop

“Be cheerful. Jesus will take care of everything. Let us trust in Jesus and our heavenly Mother, and everything will work out well.”2

– St. Pio da Pietrelcina

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Dom Lorinzo Scupli. The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul . St. Benedict Press. 2010.
  2. Saint Quotes from: http://www.dosp.org/prayers-and-devotions/saints/saint-quotes/