Sunday, 18 February 2018

170- The Purpose of Lent

Each of us greets every Lent with the renewed desire and determination to rediscover anew the very meaning of this liturgical season, and especially to find a practical way of applying this meaning through the question we ask ourselves: “What shall I do this Lent?” 

What is Lent?

God gives His Grace to each one of us, from the Day of Pentecost onwards. The entire liturgical year has important powerful moments (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter) and "ordinary" moments: Ordinary Time.

Lent time is unique, because of the quality and the power of the specific Graces that God wants to give us during this time: in fact during Lent the power of the Grace of God can be compared to multiplying this grace by two. This is clear evidence, therefore, that God is waiting for us, giving us extra help for this sacred and more intense time of the year. The grace of God helps us to turn resolutely toward Him, to be totally focused on Him. Remember the First Commandment: you shall love God with "all" (your heart, mind, energy, soul) is repeated three or four times. The emphasis is glaringly placed on the repetition of “All.” This epitomises Lent: God reminding us who we are, and that only He can quench the thirst which invades our very being.


Lent is a time that allows us to grow spiritually so we can participate in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of the Lord more powerfully, more efficaciously and in greater depth. Lent is to enact the 40 days Jesus spent for us in the desert, fighting the three basic tendencies in us (power, pleasure, possession), and to win. He leads us, opens the way, He, in fact, is the Way. In our case, the 40 days prepare us and lead us to Holy Week and the goal for each year, is to participate then in a deeper way so as to receive the Powerful Graces of Holy Week.



Lent is a deepening of the meaning of the promises of our own Baptism. In fact Lent is a period of 40 days that prepare us for an important act: we are heading toward the Easter Vigil where we will renew the vows of our Baptism and of our commitments in the Church. It is a time of Conversion: returning to God. This always involves a 180 degree turn from the attachment and pursuit of creatures, to the attachment, the discovery and every deepening discovery of love of the Creator. 

The characteristics of this period are many. Lent, first and foremost, is a time of Prayer, more intense than in the rest of the liturgical year. Dedicating more time for Prayer is necessary in order to meet Jesus, to know Him better, to fall in love with Him! Spending long moments in silence with Him ensures this.

It is also a time for making practical offerings and sacrifices: fasting and alms giving, but also a time for deepening our Spiritual Life. To enhance this effort Lent offers us a time for drawing closer to the Word of God. Taking more time, offering a better listening capacity to the Jesus who wants to talk to us.

To inspire our efforts, reading a good book on spiritual life, meditating on it, and working on it is very advantageous. But more important than this is that in Lent we pay attention to Jesus the Groom. Jesus explained the meaning of christian fasting by saying that his disciples will fast when He, the Groom, will be absent. This means that the entire effort of Fasting and Lent is motivated by the renewed search for Jesus the Groom as we become aware of His absence from our daily life. It is the Holy Spirit who inflames our desire to find Jesus and be united with Him.

Again, at a more practical level, Lent is a time for good and deeper examination of conscience. A time for going to Confession and returning in a renewed way to God, to Jesus. At best it should involve Spiritual Direction: another person sometimes sees better what we don't see and at the very least, God confirms his grace through this humble act of consulting a Spiritual Director. Even the more practical means, above-mentioned, can at this time be deepened as new dimensions emerge, namely, fasting with our tongue, fasting with our thoughts.
It is noteworthy to add that if we are planning to fast more than what the Church asks, it is important to consult a Spiritual Director and to obey God through him/her, because the effort of obedience is regarded more favourably by God than the effort of any other sacrifice we might offer Him outside of obedience. A sacrifice offered automatically outside of obedience can, in fact jeopardise our spiritual efforts. Being outside of obedience jeopardises our spiritual effort.

In obedience to the great commandment of Jesus to love God and our Neighbour as ourselves, Lent provides the perfect time for opening our heart to those brothers and sisters we never think of: the sick, the housebound, the prisoner and especially to that special need of our own times: the growing homeless and the refugee. People we never think of. Praying, too, for those who are far from God, will show greater love for those for whom He also gave up his life on the Cross. It can be basically characterised as a time essentially of Mercy, where we ask God to give us a Merciful Heart like His. A Time where we open our hearts to our enemies, we pray for them, we are patient with them and love them, by the Grace of God.

Small Tips 

One can attend some good talks.

One can go for a retreat: short (week-end recollection), or a long one (seven days or more).

One can visit a place of Pilgrimage.

One can attend a Play or a film on the Passion. Or reflect on a Masterpiece on the Passion, reading about it, or meditating upon it. 

Advice 

- Drawing closer to the Word of God: rediscovering or intensifying the practice of Lectio Divina, based on the daily readings will reconnect us directly to Jesus, and will make of us a better conduit for the flow of the Graces of God and His Mercy from us to our neighbour.

- Meditating the Passion of the Lord is probably the most powerful tool for Growth. Linked to it is the devotion called: the Via Crucis. One can, on each Thursday evening, start to read one of the four Passions of the Gospels, from the last supper, in order to follow Jesus. If God touches us with a word or sentence, it is advisable to dwell upon them, and remain with Jesus, in prayer. This is a very powerful means to receive the grace of God and of gaining a deep and moving experience of Jesus. So, from Thursday evening onwards, one follows Jesus with the passage corresponding to the event, from the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane, including the following day, Friday, the judgement, crucifixion and death, then one remains with Mary, believing and waiting for the Resurrection, early Sunday.

- Drawing closer to Our Lady by taking some time daily to stay with her. Meditating on some texts: St Luke, "True devotion to Our Lady" (De Montfort). Our Lady is very important if we are to seek a deeper spiritual life. Therefore, discovering Her place in our life, or deepening it are very important.

Please see as well these two articles:

What is Christian Fasting?
The Power of Fasting

Friday, 26 January 2018

Paperback Book on the Spiritual Journey

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"The Spiritual Journey, the Setting  for Christian Hope" is a milestone not only in Spiritual Theology, but more broadly for Christianity. Comprehending the full picture of the Spiritual Journey is essential for each Christian who receives Jesus’ call to follow Him. Having a clearer vision of Jesus as our Way in our call to holiness, allows us to embark with confidence in Jesus-the-Way and daily renew our act of Hope.
The author shares the fruit of his long research in Spiritual Theology, doing so with clarity, in accessible language, based on Jesus’ life and journey. A new understanding of the Gospel emerges, both convincing and captivating. The Journey of following Jesus can then start.
No Christian who prays or who loves Jesus and longs for the Holy Spirit can ignore this teaching.

This new edition has been revised and augmented. It has a new second part added to it.

Paperback from Amazon US, from Amazon UK

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book on Lectio Divina available in Hardcopy




Finally the full book (200 pages) on Lectio Divina is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and the other Amazon websites, as a hardcopy. It contains the previous three books published as ebooks. It has five parts:

Part one is new: the Word became words.
Part two corresponds to the first book ("Lectio Divina I, The Method").
Part three and four correspond to the second book ("Lectio Divina II, Mary and the Spirit").
Part five, the much loved part five, corresponds to the third book ("Lectio Divina III, Lectio in daily life").

This is a very important book. The core of it is Part II because it explains the Method. It has the updated version of the steps of Lectio Divina, with the 15 steps explained.







Thursday, 16 November 2017

169- The Foundations of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Life

While preaching the Gospel, Christ presented us with the prime condition for the Holy Spirit to work in us: "Ask and you will receive". He made it clear: it is about asking for the Holy Spirit. So in a way we may translate it this way: “Ask for the Holy Spirit and you will receive Him”. Jesus showed another condition for receiving the Holy Spirit: “if you do not become like children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of God”, namely,“if you want to have the experience of the action of the HolySpirit in you, you need to have a child's disposition: total trust, total surrender, humility, relying on God's Help,... It is a clear choice we need to make in our relationship with God.

But there are many questions that arise: 1- What if we don't ask, or act toward the Holy Spirit the way Jesus indicated to us? Will we still receive the Holy Spirit, be under his influence? 2- What does “to ask” mean exactly? 3- What does "asking" realise in us? 4- Do we have different qualities in our demand (asking with different degrees of intensity)? We can ask, for example, with "all our heart, all our energy", and we can ask in a superficial way. 5- How much of the journey is up to us to work on, and how much is it us just waiting for God’s Action? 6- We know contemplation is an infused gift from God (infused: given directly from God without our merit). But can participating in the sacraments, prayer, ascetical life, be seen as a preparation for this Gift?

Note: One can use the expression “Grace of God” instead of “Holy Spirit”.

There are various aspects to the answer. Of course here we are at the heart of the Theology of Grace, but I would like to address the answer in a practical way. In Theology, the constant threat is to give a perfect theoretical answer, sound and orthodox, but a) not understandable by Joe Public and b) not having any visible and understandable practical implications, i.e. how can I receive the Holy Spirit in practice.? What am I supposed to do (or learn to do) in order to receive the Holy Spirit? How can I know and discern if I am really receiving the Holy Spirit? Do I feel the difference? Can I trigger the reception? If so, can I trigger it at any time? Do I need to spend a large section of the journey, a long time, in the necessary preparatory stage?

Indulge me, please, as I lay down the foundations of the answer: first and foremost, the most powerful means and moments for receiving the Holy Spirit are the two moments at the Table of the Eucharist when we ingest Jesus: the Bread of Jesus' Word and the Bread of His Body and Blood. So learning how to derive nourishment from these two aspects of the one and unique Bread, Jesus himself, is very important. Eating is a long and complete process, that goes from ingesting, to assimilation, passing through masticating and digesting. For this reason, we need to consider that mastering the two processes of “digestion and assimilation” of these two aspects of the Living Bread, namely Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the Heart, is central for the correct and fruitful reception of the Holy Spirit.

There are constant laws that govern a) Spiritual Life in general and in particular b) Lectio Divina and c) Prayer of the Heart. These laws, if understood well, and if the perception and implementation of them is correct, will allow the Holy Spirit to be received constantly and effectively, that is, abundantly, on a daily basis, when growth will be triggered.

Now are these laws the same throughout the journey of Spiritual Life (in a diachronic way)? Aren't there moments where it is easier to receive the grace of God and others where it is “hard-work”?

It is true that there is a growth curve, where in the beginning the “old man” in us, that is, our original selves given over to worldly temptations/desires, (old man presupposes former knowledge) is bigger and therefore more active than the “new man”, that is the new more spiritual self, and therefore it is more difficult for the person to be docile to the Action of the Holy Spirit. It is true as well, that after the purification realised by the Holy Spirit it becomes easier to be docile, so the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit flows more smoothly. These changes in ease, in learning how He works and how we need to respond, however, do not remove the general “law” of dealing with the Holy Spirit.

In this sense, the answer to question 5 (“How much of the journey is up to us to work on, and how much is it us just waiting for God’s Action?”) is: throughout the journey and at any moment on the journey there are constant things that we should learn: we remain free, masters of our own decisions, till the end. Being transformed in God does not make us less free, on the contrary. Adam did sin while he was in the Presence of God and St Teresa of Avila gives a stern warning in the Seventh Mansion of The Interior Castle when, as an example, she mentions the risk of sinning is still there where King Solomon, who started his life well, ended it badly. The message is: there is no “safe state”.

Using our free will, then, is something that remains necessary always. Our docility to the Holy Spirit never transforms us into “puppets” in the hands of the Puppeteer. Even when the will of God and our will coincide perfectly in the state of “Union with God”, also known as “Spiritual Marriage”, even when transformed in the Holy Spirit and being totally docile to Him, we remain free (even freer than before) and God waits for us to see what we will do, or waits for a repeated act of Love, i.e. an act of oblation/offering of ourselves to Him. This will not change!


Two Main Ways the Holy Spirit Works
The “Sacred Threshold”

If we read the Gospel of Saint Matthew for instance, we will rapidly notice the abundant use he makes of the word “kingdom”. In fact, Jesus repeatedly speaks about “entering the kingdom” and in doing so, He lays down conditions. For instance: if you are rich you cannot enter into the Kingdom; if you are not “like a child” the same is true, you cannot enter. What is the “Kingdom of God”, or the “Kingdom of heaven”? The Kingdom is the area of God, the “space” of His being, the “space” of His freedom, of His Life, the inner life of the Trinity.

To enter this “space” we need to consider the role of grace and its two aspects. In her writings, Saint Teresa of Avila mentions the "General help" and the "Particular help" of the Grace of God or of the Action of the Holy Spirit in us (see Life 14,6; 3 Mansions 1,2; 5 Mansions 2,3). We can understand the “Particular help of the Grace of God” as the fact of “entering into the Kingdom”. Or, if we prefer, it can be understood as the direct and personal Action of the Holy Spirit in us. In the "Prayer of Recollection", the initial stage of Prayer of the Heart where we focus on the Lord and offer ourselves to Him, the Holy Spirit uses His "general help" and in the "Prayer of Quiet", which follows when He starts to act in us, He uses His "particular help".  Saint Theresa of Avila calls the latter: "the supernatural" (see Fourth Mansions, chapter 1,1).

Between the “general help” and the “particular help” of the Holy Spirit there is a red line, a “sacred threshold”. At any moment on the journey of spiritual growth we are invited to cross that “Sacred Threshold” by using the “general help of the Holy Spirit”, offering ourselves to Him, asking for His Holy Spirit (His Love).

Here is what saint Theresa of Avila says:

"For many purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help (for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord's will that the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may be made." (Life 14,6)

She will then explain that in order to practise the "Prayer of Recollection" we need to use the "General help" of the Grace of God that is constantly being given to us. We should use it, until the “Prayer of Recollection” becomes like a new acquired habit (see “Way of Perfection” chapters 26, 28 and 29). To this act of “recollection” God replies with His Action (the Direct and Personal Action of the Holy Spirit). She calls this action: “Prayer of Quiet”. In the "Prayer of Quiet", we are receiving the "Particular help" of the Grace of God that is supernatural (4Mansions 1,1) and infused.

These notions belong to the Theology of Grace that we learn while doing the basic 4 years of Theology. For instance, Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa T., I-II Q.109 a. 6, addresses this issue (see below). He mentions two needs: one is the main need, which is to receive the Grace of God (say the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit) "and the second precedes it: to prepare ourselves to receive this first and main Grace". We need the second grace in order to receive the first and main grace, since the grace that prepares us leads us to the main Grace, "knowing the existence of this preparative grace, and learning how to use it" are decisive and vital for all our spiritual life, worship and Christian life.

This preparative grace is "the general help of the Grace of God" (that, so to speak, helps us move in the water from the bottom of the sea to the surface), that we use in the “Prayer of Recollection”, to get closer to God, offering ourselves to Him, putting ourselves in the Hands of God.
The Main grace is when He comes, takes us and put us in Him: this is the particular help of His grace, the main action of the Holy Spirit that puts us in a direct and personal relationship with the Risen Lord.

When Jesus says: “ask and you shall receive” He is just explaining the relationship between the “general help” (“ask”) and the “particular help” (“you will receive”) and the sacred threshold between them, this “red line” that defines the meeting point of the two freedoms: God's freedom (the kingdom) and our freedom (using the general help in order to show our choice, ask, beg, knock, ...)

Let us cross that “sacred threshold”, for this is our vocation, our call. We need, first, to learn about it, and, second, put it into practice, in order to receive the Action of God in our heart.

St Thomas Aquinas explains how the Holy Spirit works

Here is the whole article of Saint Thomas Aquinas where he explains the difference between the “general help of the Grace of God” and the “particular help of the Grace of God” followed by a short comment that explains the practical point of it, in continuity with what we have just seen.

Let us remember that we are addressing a very specific issue in the Theology of Prayer, in order to understand theologically what is the exact difference between the two types of grace: the one that allows us to offer ourselves to God ("Prayer of Recollection" according to Theresa of Avila) and the one that takes us and puts us in God Himself ("Prayer of Quiet").

Here is Saint Thomas' Article taken from the Summa Teologica I-IIae Q. 109, A.6:


Can a man prepare himself for Grace
by himself and without the external aid of grace?


Saint Thomas first gives a series of 4 false objections. They seem right and convincing, but only apparently. They all have a flaw that he will show subsequently:


Objections

1: It would seem that man, by himself and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace. For nothing impossible is laid upon man, as stated above (A[4], ad 1). But it is written (Zech. 1:3): “Turn ye to Me . . . and I will turn to you”; Now to prepare for grace is nothing more than to turn to God. Therefore it seems that man of himself, and without the external help of grace, can prepare himself for grace.

2: Further, man prepares himself for grace by doing what is in him to do, since if man does what is in him to do, God will not deny him grace, for it is written (Mat. 7:11) that God gives His good Spirit “to them that ask Him.” But what is in our power is in us to do. Therefore it seems to be in our power to prepare ourselves for grace.

3: Further, if a man needs grace in order to prepare for grace, with equal reason will he need grace to prepare himself for the first grace; and thus to infinity, which is impossible. Hence it seems that we must not go beyond what was said first, viz. that man, of himself and without grace, can prepare himself for grace.

4: Further, it is written (Prov. 16:1) that “it is the part of man to prepare the soul.” Now an action is said to be part of a man, when he can do it by himself. Hence it seems that man by himself can prepare himself for grace.

Then Saint Thomas opposes these objections with the "right teaching" saying:


On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 6:44): “No man can come to Me except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him.” But if man could prepare himself, he would not need to be drawn by another. Hence man cannot prepare himself without the help of grace.


Saint Thomas develops the "right teaching":

I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold:

- the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.
- There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.

For in these two ways do we need the Divine assistance, as stated above. Now that we need the help of God to move us, is manifest. For since every agent acts for an end, every cause must direct its ? effect to its end, and hence since the order of ends is according to the order of agents or movers, man must be directed to the last end by the motion of the first mover, and to the proximate end by the motion of any of the subordinate movers; as the spirit of the soldier is bent towards seeking the victory by the motion of the leader of the army – and towards following the standard of a regiment by the motion of the standard-bearer. And thus since God is the First Mover, simply, it is by His motion that everything seeks to be likened to God in its own way. Hence Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “God turns all to Himself.” But He directs righteous men to Himself as to a special end, which they seek, and to which they wish to cling, according to Ps. 72:28, “it is good for Me to adhere to my God.” And that they are “turned” to God can only spring from God's having “turned” them. Now to prepare oneself for grace is, as it were, to be turned to God; just as, whoever has his eyes turned away from the light of the sun, prepares himself to receive the sun's light, by turning his eyes towards the sun. Hence it is clear that man cannot prepare himself to receive the light of grace except by the gratuitous help of God moving him inwardly.

He then addresses each of the first 4 objections in the light of the central teaching he has just stated:

Reply to Objections

1: Man's turning to God is by free-will; and thus man is bidden to turn himself to God. But free-will can only be turned to God, when God turns it, according to Jer. 31:18: “Convert me and I shall be converted, for Thou art the Lord, my God”; and Lam. 5:21: “Convert us, O Lord, to Thee, and we shall be converted.”

2: Man can do nothing unless moved by God, according to Jn. 15:5: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” Hence when a man is said to do what is in him to do, this is said to be in his power according as he is moved by God.

3: This objection regards habitual grace, for which some preparation is required, since every form requires a disposition in that which is to be its subject. But in order that man should be moved by God, no further motion is presupposed since God is the First Mover. Hence we need not go to infinity.

4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above.

__________


Let us see in detail Saint Thomas' answer: "I answer that, The preparation of the human will for good is twofold" He will then explain the two graces:

1- The main Grace, the infused one: this one is the one we need and await in order to "enter in God" (merit eternal life). This is the particular help of the Grace of God that introduces us in Him.

2- and the other grace is the one that prepares us for it, that leads us to it, that helps our free will to choose God, go toward Him in order to receive his grace. This is the "general help of the Grace of God", that leads us to the "border" or "meeting point", that "prepares us", makes us ready to receive the Main grace. As one can see, the second leads to the first one. One cannot separate the "prayer of recollection" and the "prayer of quiet". One is ordered to the other. Let us now re-read Saint Thomas in his key passage:

the first, whereby it is prepared to operate rightly and to enjoy God; and this preparation of the will cannot take place without the habitual gift of grace, which is the principle of meritorious works, as stated above.

Without this Grace we cannot be introduced in God, drink God, "enjoy God" and "operate rightly" in Him. This is the Main Grace we need from God.

Now, how can we receive this grace? This is the central issue of this 6th article. Do we need to help from God to receive the Main infused supernatural Grace? This article is a key article. Because our spiritual life is about receiving "Grace upon Grace", and the question is: how can we receive the Grace? How can we prepare ourselves? Here comes Saint Thomas' reply:

There is a second way in which the human will may be taken to be prepared for the gift of habitual grace itself. Now in order that man prepare himself to receive this gift, it is not necessary to presuppose any further habitual gift in the soul, otherwise we should go on to infinity. But we must presuppose a gratuitous gift of God, Who moves the soul inwardly or inspires the good wish.

This is the key word: "a gratuitous gift of God". This gratuitous gift is constantly given, to everybody, it is the "general help of the grace of God" that Saint Theresa of Avila mentions (see previous post). We can complete this with his reply to the 4th objection: "4: It is the part of man to prepare his soul, since he does this by his free-will. And yet he does not do this without the [general] help of God moving him, and drawing him to Himself, as was said above."

As we can see: it is our part to prepare ourselves in the sense of: "to go inwardly" as he stated, to get closer to the meeting point where we are supposed to receive the main grace (in the diagram below the meeting point is the surface of the water). Moving ourselves and offering ourselves to God is done by the "General help of the grace of God, represented by the arrow (1-) in the diagram below:



These are all together central and practical issues. They are not only the "Theology of Grace", they are as well the "Economy of Grace" (i.e. Spiritual Theology) and its application in our Spiritual Life. In this article we see how "theory" is the theory of a practical issue, we see how all the theory is invited to become flesh in us. These notions Saint Thomas is teaching us are Pearls, Divine Seeds of the Word of God.


What depends on us

In order for the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit to work, two acts should be implemented: one depends on us, and the second depends on God. Fulfilling our part brings us to the meeting point (or the Sacred Threshold) between our freedom and God's one (see above). If we do not do our part, we will not reach that point, and Prayer will not work: we do not enter in God, and therefore God does not pour Himself into us, He cannot transform us in Him. Therefore to know and do "what depends on us" is of utmost importance. We need to understand it, learn it and, mainly, learn to practise it.
In the 3 following slides we go through "what depends on us":







Is Contemplation “Acquired” or “Infused”?

The first part of last century has seen a debate on Contemplation of momentous proportions between two (if not more) schools of thought. Today we would have great difficulty in understanding why and how the schools of Theology fought. It was fierce and it was in the public domain, through respective Journals. The core of the discussion was: is contemplation acquired or infused. “acquired” meant: with the general help of God, I can acquire a (supernatural) habit or state or capacity to access God. “infused” meant that accessing God, receiving Contemplation was something that depended totally on God's freedom, and no meritorious act whatsoever can merit us receiving the Gift of Supernatural Contemplation.
The debate was heated and lacked practical insight. It was all purely theological. There is nothing wrong with it. Both camps considered the Grace of God, the human free will, and the general interaction, but from a different stand point. The result is that each camp remained firm in its belief and no clear bridges were built. The point is that each camp was right! But the combination of both, together, on different levels never happened! The debate stopped toward the end of the 1940s, not because a compromise or a solution or some clarity were found! No! Just because of battle fatigue became tired (and the readers lost)!
Now, can we use these theological categories today? Yes, it is possible, and the above explanations, either from St Teresa of Avila, St Thomas Aquinas or from the drawing help us see what is what.
In the drawing above, “moving in the water” of our being is something that we all can do, and have to do, using the “general help of the Holy Spirit” that is given to everybody all the time, with no conditions! Being taken from the surface of the water to the Sun (Jesus, the Trinity) depends purely on the direct and personal action of the Holy Sprit.

But we need to add two things here:

While respecting the pure freedom of God (the infused aspect), we need to add a dimension that the two schools mentioned above failed to underline with clarity: God has an immense desire to give Himself to us, because He is Love and love by definition is to give oneself. The rules of Love and of the communication between the two persons who love each others need to be known! There are conditions on our part to fulfil in order to allow Him to give Himself to us!
One of the schools stressed the total freedom of the Grace of God reminding us of the theological truth: God gives His grace to whoever He wants, when He wants, the way He wants. But this is only part of the truth about God's sovereign freedom and being. Let us be aware that if we take only one part of the truth, the one just mentioned, we might end up making of God (God forbid) a capricious being, who acts according to his mood! How can we complement this truth?

God is Love and awaits for real love from us. What is love? To love is to give oneself. So to love Him means to give ourselves to Him. To produce that act of gifting ourselves.

The critical question becomes here: can we give ourselves to Him? If we rely on the diagram of the sea (see above), where the water symbolises our being and moving in the water depends on the General Grace of God, given all the time to all baptised, here is then the question: can we bring ourselves to the surface of the water of our being? The answer is “yes”. This happens when we use the general help of the Grace of God to offer ourselves totally to Him.
But bringing ourselves to the surface of the water doesn't mean that we can fly!! (That would impinge upon God's domain and freedom).
Thus, on the drawing, the air-space and the sun not only symbolise God's Being as well as sovereign freedom, but also the fact that moving in these mediums depends totally on the Holy Spirit's direct and personal Action – that is, on infused grace.

In order to complement the truth that God is totally free to act in us the way He wants, when He wants, with whom He wants, we next need to find the answer to this fundamental theological discovery: where is God? Being Love, being a constant Burning Love for each one of us, God is standing at the threshold between His being and ours (the surface of the water). He is waiting for us to appear, to emerge from the water so He can take us to Himself, introducing us into His Being, immersing us in Him. This truth re-aligns the possible wrong impression that one can have dealing solely with the first Truth seen above (He acts with sovereign freedom, when He wants the way He wants...), and re-aligns our misconception that we need to wait for ever (or even worse: to gain merit) for Him to decide and condescend and deal with us by giving us His direct Grace, the Holy Spirit!

We need to bear this truth in mind: we can never force ourselves into God's kingdom (air-space sun in the diagram of the Sea). But like the Father of the Prodigal son, He is there, at the door of our being, waiting respectfully for us to appear, to emerge from the water. Waiting for us to use our free will and express our clear determined decision to give ourselves to Him! In fact He is waiting for us and not us for Him. He is constantly available, providing we understand His language, the language of Love, which means the language of the mutual gift of oneself.
It is true that we can't fly to the sun using our own power, or by the “General help of the Holy Spirit”. He knows it, He knows that it all depends on Him (this is the infused part), but like the Father of the Prodigal son, once He sees us producing this act of love, act of offering ourselves to Him, He doesn't wait saying “oh I am not sure I really want to give myself”, or “this is really my domain and I will make him or her wait”... no! He immediately gathers us to Him, exactly because by our oblation we make all our being available to Him. He Loves us so much that He died for each one of us and is ready to die again if that were needed or possible. His is bottomless yearning to unite Himself to us, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.. His IS a burning desire, a burning thirst to have each one of us! But He respects our freedom and awaits for us to come and meet Him at the mid point between Him and us, just as when two persons shake hands: their hands reach out at the mid distance!

So asking ourselves (our initial question): “is contemplation acquired or infused?” is like looking at the diagram of the Sea and asking ourselves: “does meeting God happen only by our moving in the water or by his moving in the air-space and sun?” We need both: we need to move toward the surface of the water, this depending on us, because God is constantly giving us the general preparatory grace, and if we don't use it, nothing will happen. We will remain somewhere in the midst of the water, and will be only randomly brought to the surface of the water by a lucky act of Love. And we need to acknowledge that whenever we reach the surface of the water, by an act of Love - that we need to learn to do, to perfect and to maintain as an acquired habit - , He uses His pure power, direct and personal, and lifts us toward Him, introducing us in Himself, immersing us in the Transformative Purifying Fire of His Love (the action of the Holy Spirit).
It is not either or. It is both, and combined, adding the other part of the truth, showing where God is standing and waiting and in which state He holds himself ready - his huge desire to possess/envelop us.

The answer to this theological question influences a similar old category of division in Spiritual Theology: the “ascetic” part and the “mystic” part. Even though these categories are not used anymore, we need to understand them properly in order to use them correctly if needed. This would take us of course to a completely different article/study.


The Action of the Holy Spirit in us According to St John of the Cross

If we study with great care and attention the action of the Holy Spirit in the human being throughout the spiritual journey of growth, according to St John of the Cross, we will be able to find 8 different types of actions He can perform in us, according to our purity or degree of transformation. The more the person is purified by the Holy Spirit the more docile they become to His Action.

1- Meditation: general help of the Holy Spirit

2- Contemplation: particular help of the Holy Spirit, with a human modality.

3- Contemplation: particular help of the Holy Spirit with a divine modality.

4- Spiritual Engagement: visits of the Holy Spirit who starts to be clearly mentioned and who is called the “lodger” (who prepares the future bride, who is the future Mansion of the Groom, adorning her with the virtues to be able to receive the Divine Groom.)

5- Spiritual Marriage: the soul is united with God and her spirit becomes so transformed in God that it seems to be like a Flame, and one spirit with God. She does what the Father and Son do and with them: aspiring to the Holy Spirit.

6- Celebration and Transition period: the intensity of the action of the Holy Spirit increases.

7- Sparkling: the spirit transformed into the Holy Spirit, and the intensity having reached a necessary degree, allows the spirit to start to “sparkle” or send sparkles of flame, with the Holy Spirit. The human being is said to be able to give the Holy Spirit, God to God, and to give the Holy Spirit to whoever he or she wants. The merits of each one of these acts or sparkles are divine! Because it is the Holy Spirit who acts in them.

8- Christian Death: it is with a greater and more powerful act of the Holy Spirit that the soul-spirit are taken up to God, provoking death (separation of the body from the soul-spirit).


Our Lady's Place

If we abandon and surrender ourselves to Our Lady, like a little child, with complete trust, this allows the Holy Spirit to work better in us! We become children again, receiving Mary as our Mother. According to St Luke She is the only one who was able to believe in the incarnating action of the Holy Spirit, incarnating God's Word in us, as gloriously evidenced in her unhesitating Fiat at the Annunciation.

To sum up then one can say that the Holy Spirit's action is to conform us, mould us, into the resemblance of Jesus! He is Christ-conforming.



Jean Khoury

168- The Journey of The Gift of Ourselves to God

Question: how can I completely give/surrender myself to Him; I insist on “completely”, that is, to accept His will with pleasure & with a heart at peace.

Answer: Maybe you didn’t expect how important this question is and how it needs a long explanation! It is the basic question for us Christians, and we need to understand clearly a very basic element of our life, which is at the heart of the Gospel. I have divided my explanation into 7 parts. They are all linked together, and they are all equal in their importance and need to be understood carefully, in order to see the whole picture!


1- Introduction

As a starting point I would like to recall the deep meaning of Marriage according to the western theological Tradition: “it is the mutual gift of a man and a woman!” He gives himself to her, and she gives herself to him. This is the very essence of marriage for the western Church! So, as you see, it is a mutual gift of themselves.
Let us now understand in a deep and truthful way what Jesus is for us! The Son of God, came from heaven, became a man, and gave himself to each of us on the Cross! He gave Himself totally on the Cross, to you, to me, to every human being! This is very important! This is why He is called the Groom, the Spouse! Because He gave everything to you! He would like you to be his Bride, so He invites you… He calls you, deep deep in your heart! So, your reply to Him, your response to His amazing Love, is to give yourself to Him, totally!
Do you understand the context of your question?! You are asking me to explain how you can answer fully to His Divine Love, in order to give yourself totally to Him! So the context is His Love to you, His call to you, deep in your heart! He is seducing you, He has lit a spark of his love in your heart! So your immediate reaction, once you became aware of His love and his call, is to reply to Him, to give Him the maximum: everything totally, in order to follow Him, to love Him, totally, and equally!
When you were young, your Godparents presented you in the Church to Jesus, and they immersed your being, totally, in Him. They did it for you, because they thought this is a good thing to give you: God himself. This very moment of Baptism, is in fact the Seed of the realisation of this Divine Marriage between you and Jesus! In fact, Baptism is an immersion in Jesus, in his Being. It is the gift of yourself to Him. So in fact your real Divine Marriage actually happened a few years ago!
But it is in a form of a Divine seed in you. The spark of this Seed has been revived in you recently, and in fact you want to realise this Seed in its fullness: you want to deepen what happened during your baptism: receiving Jesus fully, and giving yourself totally to Him! A Divine exchange!


2- Renewal of Baptism

Once we meet Jesus as adults, once we hear his call in our heart, once we understand that He wants us totally for himself, we feel the urge to give Him everything! We do not succeed in that immediately! We might start first to be “intellectually” convinced that this is the right thing to do, but we find that we are unable, by our will, to do it! The mind knows this is the right thing but the will is still too weak, the slave of many things, and dependant on them!
So, now, we begin more determinedly to keep contact with Jesus, by reading his words in the Gospel and putting them into practice! We feel then that our will is altogether strengthened and freed from the slavery of the world and of the flesh. Then after weeks/months we reach a point where we feel that we can freely leave everything and follow Him. This doesn’t mean at all that we really have to leave physically our actual state to enter another state (become a nun or something like that) not at all! It is just through the will, that interiorly we feel freer to follow Jesus, to do what He wants from us! We can very well remain in the world, without changing a great deal in what we do, but, interiorly, we feel already different, and willing to follow Him. This step is very important in our life, and in way, it is the renewal of our Baptism, but as adults!
You can consider this step as a gift of yourself, and truly it is! But, it is just the beginning of a long journey that will lead us to much greater things: the mutual gift where all our being is transformed in Jesus! The spiritual marriage, or union with God, on earth! Ok?


3- To give yourself totally 


In order to understand the dynamism of the gift of yourself to Him and its realisation I would like to use an image/symbol: the log and the fire! The log as you know is a piece of wood we put in the fireplace! We are the log and Jesus is the Fire! Ok?

a) To give myself

To give myself in fact is to put the log into contact with the Fire, to repeat this operation, and to try to remain in contact as long as possible with the Fire. So here, as you see, it is an act, and it depends on us. This will allow the Fire to burn the log more and more and transform it into fire! Ok?

b) To give myself totally

To give myself totally now means to reach the state or the step/stage where the log is totally transformed into the fire. So, as you see, this is the result of a). It is the result of the repeated (daily) gift of myself. It is the result of a repeated act (a). Ok? In a), everyday I give myself to God, I renew the gift of myself, using my freedom. This daily gift doesn’t transform me immediately, but it helps me take one step! This step is important! You remember the ball of wool. If Jesus holds one end of the wool, He will pull all of it totally towards himself. I just need to put into His hands, daily, the end of the string! Renewing, everyday the gift of myself (an act I can perform) helps me to keep the log in contact with the Fire. So, one day, the whole log will be transformed into the Fire: the gift of myself will be total in this case!! Even if the daily gift of myself to Him is also total, “total” here is different from total there! What I can give today, is all myself, but what He can transform is a small part (one step). It is total on my part, but my growth is step by step!
So I don’t have to be disappointed if I give today or one day, everything, but I don’t find myself completely transformed! The new creature in me grows, day after day! Not in one shot!
As I also said, we need to remember that while climbing the Divine Mountain (Jesus) we don’t have to be disappointed if we have to climb only one step each day (“being faithful to the little” as the Gospel says)! We need to remember that by giving ourselves totally today, we climb one step, but in a way, the whole mountain is contained in this small step! We never have to underestimate the total importance of today’s step!
Keeping the contact between the Fire and the log, keeps the contact between Jesus and us, so He renews us, everyday, and transforms us into Him. Step by step.


4- How can we start this journey, how can we reach the goal: total gift of ourselves?

The main way to realise the daily gift of myself to Jesus (a gift that lets me grow and be transformed in Him) is to renew daily the desire to put Him in the first place. In fact I need to use my freedom every day in order to choose Him. Remember that all the Creation belongs to Him, heaven and earth, but only one thing doesn’t belong to Him: your freedom of choice, your will, your desire! He will never step into them, they are yours! In fact nobody can touch them! You are the only owner of them, and God never touches them! But if you love Him, if you want to give yourself to Him, you need to use this treasure that belongs to you. He gave you the freedom, and will never take it back. This is your treasure, it is yours! You need to use it, and use it abundantly, in order to grow! But every time you use it, you still own it for the following time! So remember that everyday you are a free person in the eyes of God, and that in order to love Him really, you need to make use of this freedom. You are the paradise of God, as the Bride is the Paradise of the Divine Spouse! But in this Paradise, there is a tree God swore to himself not to touch: your freedom! So remember the power of seduction God put into you: the use of your freedom, to choose Him, to put Him in first place!
In order to put him in first place by an act (this is the good use of your freedom), you are invited to a) listen to Him, and to b) immerse yourself in Him, everyday! To listen is an act, and to immerse yourself in Him is also another type of act! They depend on you! God gives you always his grace in order to perform them!
a) To listen to Him is a act that I described when I explained the Lectio Divina. In fact in order to listen to Him one needs to offer all his being, and be ready to listen to whatever He wants to say. We need to put all our being under His light, so He can shed his light on a place in our soul that He wants to change! As you see, the Lectio Divina is the first and highest way to choose God, to give ourselves daily to Him! An efficient Lectio Divina is where his word received today, is put into practice with His grace today!
b) To immerse ourselves! This is the second highest act of gift of ourselves we can realise! In fact, as I taught you, in order to immerse ourselves in Jesus, our Divine Ocean of Love, the Divine Oven of Fire, we need to give ourselves to Mary, to put all of ourselves, all of our life into her hands, like a little child (“in order to enter the kingdom of God we need to become like children,” if not, we can’t enter! Mary is the mother of these children because She is the mother of each one of us, the mould of the Divine Jesus, and of our Divine new being!). Being immersed in God, helps our roots to be transformed into the Fire of God. Because the log I was speaking about earlier, is in fact a whole tree. The visible part of the tree is transformed by the Fire of the Word of God in Lectio Divina! While the deep roots of the tree (the heart) can only be transformed in God, by this type of prayer, where all our being is immersed in God (especially our roots).
In the Mass we have two types of “goods”/foods, and Lectio and the Prayer of the Heart are just an extension of these 2 types of food, so that we become transformed in God!
Remember that a) opens the gate to b).
Remember too the beautiful definition of love by Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus: to love is to give everything [to God] and to give ourselves [to Him]. So if I say to God: I love you (First commandment: “you shall love God with all your heart, all your energy, all your intelligence…”) this implies that I am invited to give flesh to this love, to realise it!


5- Difficulties

Of course, in this journey, we can feel the difficulty of repeating the gift of ourselves to God, we can find also that it is not easy to do listen to Jesus and do his will. Why? Because the old creature in us (the “old man”) is still alive! The log is not yet totally transformed into the Fire! And the old creature in us doesn’t like the Light of God! The “muscles” of our new being too are not well used to do the will of God, so we can feel that it seems difficult to walk with Jesus! In order to help this situation, it is important to remember that we don’t have to look at the whole log, and despair! We need to concentrate only on the act to do today, and be very happy that we did it! This is the biggest grace God gives us every day! It is sometimes tiring to look at the top of the mountain, and see how far we might be! But this is not good! We need to concentrate on each step to do it correctly, and when we look to the mountain we need to feel the energy of God invading our being and encouraging us to continue to climb!
We need to remember always that it is a progressive journey and that God is very happy to see us do today’s act! One act a day, makes Him happy (one new act each day, and we don’t loose the other acts we have already done). We need to accept humbly not to arrive at the top of the mountain in one day. We need to accept humbly to bear this “burden”. We need to bear the “old creature” in us. In fact they are both, the new and the old creature in us, like in a battle! We are like a pregnant woman with twins in her womb. We need to be patient and accept to grow step by step! Jesus said that our new being grows like a tree! And a tree needs weeks, months and years to grow properly, and to be deeply rooted! We need to remember that we please God immensely if we concentrate on today’s step, by doing it!
The presence of the “old man” in us, still alive, his heaviness, his laziness, inconsistency don’t have to push us into despair, but to patience! Our old heart is an old heavy stone, and God is removing it, slowly! Patience! Courage, perseverance!
We need to see that Jesus is growing in us!
We need to look at what we have achieved by his grace, and thank God for it.
We don’t have to look back…
We don’t have to look at the old man in us! He will die by himself! We don’t have to bother to look at him of fight against him!
Humility: the Gospel reminds us that we need to come down (in fact “climbing” is in fact a “digging”, a “coming down”), to make ourselves small, like a little child.
Mary, as I said, is the Mould of the new man in us. We need to give her every burden every worry, to put ourselves in her Arms. Even our desire to love Jesus, to give ourselves totally to Him, we need to put them into her hands, so She can keep our desire in a safe place, and help it grow and persevere! We can lose the graces we receive! Our heart leaks! But if we give Her everything, if we give Her our spiritual life, the graces we receive, She can keep them safe! Her Heart keeps everything, and never loses any grace received! She does that also for us! In fact we can become very easily the “owners” of our spiritual life, of our growth. So, it is good to remember real divine humility, and give everything to the real mother of the Humble, the Humble Mary! God looked to her humility, like a divine valley; She is able to keep all the water the grace in her Heart and let it fructify.
It is good to renew our purpose to give ourselves to Jesus in the hands of Mary. She keeps our promises safe! She immerses us in Him.


6- The stages of the realisation of the gift of ourselves

Before continuing on to the new step of the explanation I would like to remind you of the first point I mentioned! The framework of all that we are saying is that: the love of Jesus for you is total, unique, exclusive, jealous (divine jealousy). This is always the starting point! He is looking for you! He gave himself to you, totally, on the Cross! This is the essence of Baptism, the essence of our being as Christians! This is the deepest meaning of the Cross. The Cross is the place where the Divine Spouse gave himself totally to the Bride! So giving yourself to Him totally will be a spiritual marriage with Him – on earth!
Spiritual marriage is the realisation of the Divine Seed of the Baptism! The full mutual gift of you and Jesus!
Now, let us look at this new point: the stages of the gift of ourselves to Jesus! In fact, as I said, it is a journey. There are many steps that mark our growth in Jesus! The more the log is taken/transformed by the Fire, the more it goes through different stages/steps. We can mention 7 steps at least:

1- In the beginning we have a divine attraction to Jesus. We are seduced by him!
Log 1
But we are very weak and not constant. We need to strengthen our inner being, our will in God, we need to be regular and to persevere. We choose Jesus every time , and put Him in the first place. It is like a battle/war… and persevering will give us a first Victory.

2- After having persevered in listening to God every day, and being constant, and practising this immersion in Jesus, we reach what we call the union of wills! Our will is united to the will of God (not all our being, but a central part of it). We take the first big step towards Peace! We experience it like a first big victory, like coming out of Egypt (the Exodus)! We are more attached to Jesus, in a stronger way, and our will is better rooted in Him.
Log 2
3- Then after this step we seem to make a new start, in order to reach a total purification of the soul (emotions, feelings etc..) and of the spirit (the ego). The Love of Jesus, takes now very seriously the gift of ourselves and performs a thorough purification /transformation of our being into His!
Log 3
4- After this radical step, we reach finally a much greater peace, that reaches the bottom of our heart. From now starts what we call the spiritual “engagement” between Jesus and us! We have been able to say a first “yes” with all our being purified! It may seem strange to say that, because until we reach this step we have already given ourselves to Him hundreds of times and said “yes” to Him hundreds of times! But here, in fact it is different, the whole being, (including the roots) can say “yes”, in a pure/total way! The Fiancée now is prepared by the Holy Spirit for the Marriage! Her dress (spiritual dress) is decorated/adorned by the Holy Spirit with many graces and precious stones, so to speak, so she can be ready for the wedding! It is a joyful preparation time.
Log 4
5- Now comes the delicate, most beautiful moment where the Son of God receives His Bride in His Room where they exchange their “yes” with each other!!!!!! Secret of the king! Here the real total gift of herself is realised in fullness! The log is totally transformed into Fire, and participates fully in the operations of the Fire. She is his and He is hers! Full possession of each other! She belongs to Him and He belongs to her, totally and truly! She can give God to God! Secret of the king!
6- A new step starts where the Bride starts to bring children to the Divine Spouse! Because it is not enough to be united to Him, in one, she needs to have children! The log, totally on Fire, starts to Sparkle Divine sparkles, she starts to give God to many children!!! Another Secret of the king!! A long period of service starts and is full of gifts from her to Him!! In fact, each child is a gift from her (transformed into the Fire and moved by it) to HIM. She gives Him supreme joy! This 6th step in fact can be divided into many different steps, but it is not our purpose today to discuss them!

7- The moment of Death, is in fact one more act of love from her, where the Holy Spirit pulls the Precious Stone of her soul and spirit and plunges her into the immense ocean of the Divinity. This is the Christian death: a full immersion in God, fuller even than that of the spiritual marriage, even if there are no, basically, other stages! This is a fuller possession of God.
You can very easily imagine a drawing where you have a log and a fire. You can easily imagine 5 steps at least of the evolution (growth) of the fire, transforming more and more the log into its very nature!

7- Conclusion

To conclude my answer we need to remember that the main way to give yourself to Jesus totally is to look to meeting Him everyday, to Listen to Him daily, and to be immersed in Him also everyday! This is the food that nourishes the growth of the gift!
Renewing daily the gift of ourselves, putting all our life in his hands, makes us take a step per day, and a greater part of our being is given to Him in fact (is transformed into Him).
May Our Lady keep your generosity in her safe hands and help you persevere everyday.

Jean Khoury

Question: How can I know that God wants this priest to be my Spiritual Guide starting from now? Are there any signs He can give? If yes, like what?
Answer: The real Spiritual guide and Father, and Spiritual Master, is the Holy Spirit. He speaks to you and want always to guide you and to speak to you. He likes to speak to you through human beings! I like to say always: God became flesh in order to talk to us through the flesh. Even if Jesus is on the right hand of the Father, He still likes to speak to us through the flesh! His flesh is Nature, His flesh is the Bible, his flesh can be any human being! He guides you, in order for you to grow. Don’t put yourself in the hands of a human being! Put yourself in the Hands of the Holy Spirit and He will guide you. When you listen to a man/woman don’t listen to the human part of him/her, listen to God, to your real Master, and pray to Him!
We don’t find the best Spiritual Director, but we find the right one for now! “For now” because we may need another priest after a while! Because very rarely can one priest lead you to achieve the whole journey! What I described above it not really known by the priests! They don’t learn it (it is not their fault) when they do theology! So be careful into whose hands you put yourself, and you need to put the priest under trial! God warns us saying: that you will become the image of your Spiritual Father! Because you receive from his spirit! And God says, you can hardly find one in one thousand! It is the Bible that says this!
This is why it is a bit difficult to answer to you!
You need to distinguish between confession (the sacrament of the forgiveness) and spiritual direction! It is not the same thing at all! Any priest can confess you and give you the forgiveness of your sins, but not any priest or monk can lead you to Union with God!
Pray, pray and pray!! This is the only way, and be attached only to God, even if you seek confirmation “through the flesh” as I say! Both are necessary: being attached totally to God (not to the man), and seeking confirmation “through the flesh”! iI your intention is right, you will always find the right person, the right advice along your way! And pray a lot for the priests!
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