Friday, 31 October 2014

116: Reenergise Yourself

It is very interesting to see that some psychoanalysts describe the difficulties of souls (depression, neurosis,...) as a drop in energy level or simply a lack of energy. Of course they don't mean physical energy but soul-energy. I will not discuss this position, but I just find it interesting to note the way it is described by psychoanalysts as: a drop or lack of soul-energy. If we are not feeling well, sometimes we say that we don't have the “drive”, or that we have lost the “drive” to do something. In my humble view, often we are not psychologically ill, we are just psychologically undernourished. In certain cases both seem to engender the same results.

What is more striking is the passage from St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: "Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty Power" (Ephesians 6:10), where a more literal translation would be: “energise yourselves ”. How? Through the Lord... reconnecting with the Lord.
Prayer is a real connection with the Lord where we receive his Power, his energy, his guidance: the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not optional. Prayer reconnects us with our roots, like the trunk of a tree is reconnected with its roots, in order to receive water (sap). Of course in prayer the motivation is not merely to feel better. When I pray it means I spend time with Jesus, to be with Him, and I do it with purity of intention, for his sake alone.

The connection with Jesus occurs from day one, from the day we reply to Jesus' Call, and start to follow him from close. I don't wait to become united with Jesus in order to draw energy from him. That would be Jesus seen as Goal (Jesus-the-Goal), Jesus accessed in fullness. But from day one, Jesus-the-Way adapts himself to my needs, lowers himself and his way of interacting with me, gives me an adapted food - spiritual milk - so I can grow. He offers his support. I try to remain in contact with him as much as I can. He gives me His Spirit who transforms me, step by step, so I start to switch from being guided by earthly drives to being guided by the Holy Spirit's Drive and Energy. "Draw your dynamism from the Lord and from his mighty Power" (Ephesians 6:10).

Therefore it is very important to connect with Jesus, to receive our Energy and Guidance from Him. If the lamp is not plugged into the mains, no electricity will flow. The same applies in our relationship with Jesus: no light, no love, no drive will flow if we do not connect with Him.

Another image of that "connection" with Jesus: Jesus yearns to gather us “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”. Imagine yourself like a little chick, under the warm protective wing of Jesus, seen as a hen. This image is very warm, very cuddly. It is impressive to see it used by God himself.

When we are gathered under the warm protective wings of Jesus-Hen, what do we get? Comfort, strength, direction, being centred,... This means that we are called to be as close as this to God - here on earth, we are called to have such a relationship with Jesus.

Is this optional? Isn't it vital? Your energy levels depend on it!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

St Teresa of Avila Centenary (15th October 2014 - 15th October 2015)

Dear Friends,
As you know, this year (15th October 2014 - 15th October 2015) is a very special year, filled with many amazing graces. It is the 5th Centenary of the birth of St Teresa of Avila (28th March 1515).We have just started the preparatory Novena leading to her Feast Day on 15th October.
St Teresa of Avila has a very important place in the School of Mary. She is the main Master who helps us to learn and experience Prayer of the Heart. The richness of her teaching and the understanding she has of human weakness makes her a very close friend, and even a spiritual mother, to each one of us. We would be wise to remember this saying: “he who follows St Teresa will never go astray”.
I am drawing your attention to this because you belong to the School of Mary. Since St Teresa of Avila has a very special place in it, you are then supposed to receive special graces throughout the year. Her Feast is approaching and we are starting the novena that prepares us to receive the special Grace of her Feast. God put in her, for the entire Church, so many treasures of teaching!
I entrust the School of Mary in a special way this year to St Teresa, knowing that she already takes great care of each member. Please do not hesitate to plan your readings throughout this special year. You may concentrate on her three main books: "Autobiography", "Way of Perfection" and "Interior Castle". It is in her books, and also during the Prayer of the heart, that you will find and encounter her.
This is a very special year of renewal and progress for the School of Mary. Amen.
I gratefully count on your prayers
Faithfully, in Mary

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

St Gregory the Great: The Spiritual understanding of the Scriptures

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa

5th Lent Homily 2014

In our attempt to place ourselves under the teaching of the Fathers to give a new impetus and depth to our faith, we cannot omit a reflection on their way of reading the Word of God. It will be Pope St. Gregory the Great who will guide us to the “spiritual understanding” of the Scriptures and a renewed love for them.
The same thing happened to Scripture in the modern world that happened to the person of Jesus. The quest for the exclusively historical and literal sense of the Bible, based on the same presuppositions that dominated during the last two centuries, led to results similar to those in the quest for a historical Jesus opposed to the Christ of faith. Jesus was reduced to being an extraordinary man, a great religious reformer, but nothing more.
Similarly, Scripture is reduced to being an excellent book, and perhaps even the most interesting book in the world, but it is just a book like any other that needs to be studied with the same methods used for all the great works from antiquity. Today things are going even farther than that. A kind of maximalist, militant atheism, which is anti-Jewish and anti-Christian, considers the Bible (and the Old Testament in particular) to be a book “full of wickedness” that should be removed from bookshelves today.
The Church counters this assault on the Scriptures through her doctrine and experience. In Dei Verbum the Second Vatican Council reasserted the perennial validity of the Scriptures as the Word of God to all humanity. The Church’s liturgy reserves a place of honor for Scripture in each of her celebrations. Many scholars, who are more up-to-date on appropriate critical methods, now bring to their work a faith that is even more convinced of the transcendent value of the inspired word.
Perhaps the most convincing proof, however, is that of experience. The argument, as we have seen, that led to the affirmation of the divinity of Christ at Nicea in 325 and of the Holy Spirit at Constantinople in 381 can be fully applied to Scripture as well. We experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in Scripture; Christ still speaks to us through it; its effect on us is different from that of any other word. Therefore, Scripture cannot be simply a human word.

1. The Old Becomes New

The goal of our reflection is to see how the Fathers can help us to rediscover a “virginity” of listening, that freshness and freedom in approaching the Bible that allows us to experience the divine power that flows from it. The Father and Doctor of the Church that we are choosing as a guide, as I said, is St. Gregory the Great, but to understand his importance in this area, we need to go back to the springs of the river he entered into and to trace its course, at least briefly, before it reached him.
In their reading of the Bible, the Fathers were following the path initiated by Jesus and the apostles, so that fact itself should already make us cautious in our judgment of them. A radical rejection of the exegesis of the Fathers would signify a rejection of the exegesis of Jesus himself and of the apostles. Jesus, when he was with the disciples at Emmaus, explains everything that referred to him in the Scriptures. He asserts that the Scriptures are speaking about him (Jn 5:39) and that Abraham saw Jesus’ day (Jn 8:56); many of Jesus’ actions and words occur “so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” His first two disciples initially say about him, “We have found him of whom Moses and the law and also the prophets wrote” (Jn 1:45).
But these were only partial correspondences. The complete transference has not yet happened. That is accomplished on the cross and is contained in the words of a dying Jesus: “It is finished.” Even within the Old Testament, there were new events that had been foreshadowed by earlier events, new beginnings, and transpositions: for example, the return from Babylon was seen as a renewal of the miracle of the Exodus. These were partial re-interpretations; now a global re-interpretation occurs. Personages, events, institutions, laws, the temple, sacrifices, the priesthood—everything suddenly appears in another light. It is similar to a room being illumined by the light of candle when a powerful neon light is suddenly turned on. Christ who is “the light of the world” is also the light of the Scriptures. When we read that the risen Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45), it means that he opened the minds of the disciples at Emmaus to this new understanding brought about by the Holy Spirit.
The Lamb breaks the seals, and the book of sacred history can finally be opened and read (see Rev 5: 1ff.). Everything from before is still there, but nothing is as it was before. This is the moment that unites—and at the same time distinguishes—the two testaments and the two covenants. “There, vivid and coloured red [in the missal], is the great page that separates the two Testaments. . . . All the doors open up simultaneously, all oppositions fade away, all contradictions are resolved.”[1] The clearest example to help us understand what happens in that moment is the consecration in the Mass, which is in fact a memorial of that event. Nothing apparently seems changed in the bread and wine on the altar, yet we know that after consecration they are completely other than what they were, and we treat them quite differently than we did before.
The apostles continue to do this kind of reading, applying it to the Church as well as to the life of Jesus. All that is written about the Exodus was written for the Church (see 1 Cor 10); the rock that followed the Jews in the desert and quenched their thirst foreshadowed Christ, and the manna foreshadowed the bread that came down from heaven. The prophets spoke of Christ (see 1 Pet 1:10ff); what was said about the Suffering Servant in Isaiah is fulfilled in him, etc.
Moving from the New Testament to the time of the Church, we note two different uses of this new understanding of the Scriptures: one is apologetic and the other is theological and spiritual. The first is used in dialogues with those outside the Church and the second for the edification of the community. For the Jews and heretics with whom they share the Scriptures in common, they compose the so-called “testimonies,” collections of biblical verses or passages that produce evidence for faith in Christ. This approach, for example, is found in St. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, and in many other works.
The theological and ecclesial use of a spiritual reading begins with Origen, who is rightly considered to be the founder of Christian exegesis. The richness and beauty of his insights into the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and of their practical applications is inexhaustible. His approach will gain followers in the East as well as in the West once it begins to be known during Ambrose’s time. Together with its richness and genius, however, Origen’s exegesis also injects a negative element into the Church’s exegetical tradition that is due to his enthusiasm for a Platonic kind of spiritualism. We can take his following statement as a description of his methodology:
We must not suppose that historical things are types of historical things, and corporeal of corporeal. Quite the contrary; corporeal things are types of spiritual things, and historical of intellectual things.[2]
In Origen’s approach, the horizontal and historical correspondence—by which a personage, an event, or a saying from the Old Testament is seen as a prophecy and a figure (typos) of something that is fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ or by the Church—is replaced by a vertical Platonic perspective in which an historical, visible event (either in the Old Testament or the New) becomes a symbol of a universal and eternal idea. The relationship between prophecy and its fulfillment tends to be transformed into the relationship between history and spirit.[3]

2. The Scriptures: Four-sided Stones

Through Ambrose and others who translated his works into Latin, Origen’s methodology and content fully enter into the veins of Latin Christianity and will continue to flow through them during all of the Middle Ages. So what, then, was the contribution of the Latin Fathers to explaining the Scriptures? The answer can be given in one word, a word that best expresses their genius: organization!
It is true that there is a contribution by another genius who is no less creative and bold than Origen, namely, Augustine, who enriched the reading of the Bible with new insights and applications. However, the most important contribution of the Latin Fathers is not along the line of discovering new and hidden meanings in the Word of God so much as it is in their systematizing the immense amount of exegetical material that was accumulating in the Church. They marked out a kind map by which to use that material.
This organizing effort, begun by Augustine, was brought into its definitive form by Gregory the Great and consisted in the doctrine of the fourfold sense of Scripture. In this area he is considered “one of the principal initiators and one of the greatest patrons of the medieval doctrine of the fourfold sense,”[4] to the point that we can speak of the Middle Ages as being “the Gregorian age.”[5]
The doctrine of the four senses of Scripture is a like a grid, a way of organizing the explanations of a biblical text or of a reality in salvation history and categorising it into four different areas or levels of application: 1) the literal, historical level; 2) the allegorical level (often referred to today as typological),which relates to faith in Christ; 3) the moral level, which relates to the behavior of a Christian; and 4) the eschatological (or anagogical) level, which relates to final fulfillment in heaven. Gregory writes,
The words of Scripture are four-sided stones. . . . In regard to every past event the words recount [the literal sense], in regard to every future thing they announce [the anagogical sense], in regard to every moral duty they preach [moral sense], in regard to every spiritual reality they proclaim [allegorical or christological sense]—on every level the words of Scripture stand and are beyond reproach.[6]
There was a famous couplet in the Middle Ages that summarized this doctrine: “Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, / Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia”: “The letter teaches events, allegory what you should believe. / Morality teaches what you should do, anagogy what mark you should be aiming for.”[7] Perhaps the clearest application of this approach can be seen in regard to Passover. According to the letter or history, the Passover is the rite that the Jews performed in Egypt. According to allegory, which relates to faith, Passover indicates the sacrifice of Christ, the true Passover lamb. According to the moral sense, it indicates moving from vice to virtue, from sin to holiness. According to anagogy or eschatology, it indicates the passage from the things here below to the things above, or to the eternal Passover that will be celebrated in heaven.
This is not a rigid or mechanical system; it is flexible and open to infinite variations, starting from the order in which the various senses are listed. In the following text from Gregory, we see how freely he uses the system of the fourfold senses and how he is able to derive a variety of corresponding meanings from the Scripture through it. Commenting on the image in Ezekiel 2:10 of the scroll with writing “on the front and on the back” (Vulgate: intus et foris), he says,
The book of the Bible is written on the inside through allegory and the outside through history; on the inside through a spiritual understanding, on the outside through a mere literal sense suited to those who are still weak; on the inside because it promises things which cannot be seen, on the outside because it lays down visible things through its upright precepts; on the inside, because it promises heavenly things, on the outside because it orders in which way earthly things are worthy of contempt, whether we put them to use or flee from desiring them.[8]

3. Why We Still Need the Fathers in Reading the Bible

What can we still retain from such a bold and open-ended way of putting oneself before the Word of God? Even an admirer of patristic and medieval exegesis like Father Henri de Lubac admits that we can neither return to it nor mechanically imitate it today.[9] It would be an artificial procedure doomed to fail because we no longer share the presuppositions the Fathers began with and the spiritual universe in which they moved.
Gregory the Great and the Fathers were generally right about the fundamental point of reading the Scriptures in reference to Christ and the Church. Jesus and the apostles, as we have seen, were already reading it that way before them. The weakness in the Fathers’ exegesis was in their belief that they could apply this approach to every single saying in the Bible, often in an improbable way, pushing symbolism (for example, the symbolism of numbers) to excesses that sometimes make us smile today.
We can be certain, however, as de Lubac notes, that if they were alive today, they would be the exegetes who were the most enthusiastic about using the critical resources at our disposal for the advancement of research. In this regard, Origen carried out a herculean task in his time, procuring the various available Greek translations of the Bible and comparing them with the Hebrew text (the Hexapla), and Augustine did not hesitate to correct some of his explanations in light of the new translation of the Bible that Jerome was in the process of doing.[10]

So what is still valid, then, in the legacy from the Fathers in the field of biblical interpretation? Perhaps here more than anywhere else, they have a decisive word to deliver to the Church today that we must try to discover. Apart from their ingenious allegories, their bold applications, and the doctrine of the four senses of Scripture, what characterizes the Fathers’ reading of the Bible? It is that — from beginning to end, and at each step of the way — it is a reading done in faith; it started from faith and led to faith. All their distinctions between the historical, allegorical, moral, and eschatological readings can be narrowed down to a single distinction today: reading Scripture with faith or reading it without faith, or at least without a certain quality of faith.

Let us leave aside the Bible scholars who are non-believers whom I spoke about at the beginning because for them the Bible is an interesting but merely human book. The distinction I want to highlight here is more subtle and applies to believers. It is the distinction between a personal reading and an impersonal reading of the Word of God. I will try to explain what I mean. The Fathers approached the Word of God with a recurring question: What is it saying here and now to the Church and to me personally?
They were persuaded that—in addition to its objective content of faith and morals, always and for all valid – Scripture always has new light to shed and new tasks to point out for everyone personally.
“All Scripture is inspired by God” (1 Tim 3:16). The phrase that is translated “inspired by God” or “divinely inspired” is a unique word in the original language, theopneustos, which combines two words, God (Theos) and Spirit (Pneuma). This word has two fundamental meanings. The most familiar is the passive one, which is used in all modern translations: Scripture is “inspired by God.” Another passage in the New Testament explains that concept this way: “Men moved by the Holy Spirit [prophets] spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is, in a word, the classical doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture that we proclaim as an article of faith in the Credo when we say that the Holy Spirit is the one who “has spoken through the prophets.”
The aspect of biblical inspiration that generally gets attention is biblical inerrancy, the fact that the Bible contains no errors, if we correctly understand by “error” the absence of a truth that was humanly knowable by the writer in his particular cultural context. However, biblical inspiration is the basis for far more than the mere inerrancy of the Word of God (which is its negative aspect, something Scripture does not have). On the positive side it establishes Scripture’s inexhaustibility, its divine power and vitality. Scripture, said Ambrose, is theopneustos, not only because it is “inspired by God” but also because it is “breathing forth God,” it breathes out God![11] God is now being breathed forth from it. St. Gregory writes,
To what can we compare the word of Sacred Scripture if not to a rock in which fire is hidden? It is cold if you just hold it in your hand, but when it is struck by iron it gives off sparks and shoots out fire.[12]
Scripture contains not only God’s thinking fixed once and forever, it also contains God’s heart and his on-going will that indicates to you what he wants from you at a certain moment, and perhaps from only you. The conciliar constitution Dei Verbum also takes up this line of tradition when it says,
Since they [the Scriptures] are inspired by God [passive inspiration] and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God’s own word in an unalterable form, and they make the voice of the holy Spirit [active inspiration!] sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles.[13]
This means not only reading the Word of God but also our being read by it, not only probing the Scriptures but also letting ourselves be probed by them. It means not approaching the Scriptures the way firefighters used to when they would go into a fire wearing asbestos suits that allowed them to pass untouched through the flames.
Taking up an image from St. James, many Fathers, including Gregory the Great, compare Scripture to a mirror.[14] What do we think about a man who spends all his time examining the mirror’s shape and its materials, the time period it belongs to, and many other details about it but does not ever look at himself in it? This is precisely what people do when they spend their time resolving all the critical issues that Scripture presents, its sources, its literary genres, and so on, but never look in the mirror, or worse yet, do not allow the mirror to gaze at them and probe them in depth to the point at which joints and marrow are divided. The most important thing about Scripture is not to resolve its most obscure points but to put into practice the points that are clear! Our Gregory, says, “we understand it when putting it into practice.”[15]
A strong faith in the Word of God is indispensable not only for a Christian’s spiritual life but also for every form of evangelization. There are two ways to prepare a sermon or any proclamation of faith, whether it is oral or written. I can first sit at my desk and choose, on my own, the word to proclaim and the theme to develop based on my understanding, my preferences, etc. Then once the sermon is ready, I can kneel down and hastily ask God to bless what I have written and to make my words effective. This is acceptable, but it is not the prophetic way. It is necessary to reverse the order for that: first on my knees and then to my desk.
In every circumstance one needs to begin with the certainty of faith that the risen Lord has a word in his heart that he wants his people to hear. He does not fail to reveal it to his minister who humbly and insistently asks him for it. At the beginning there is a nearly imperceptible movement in your heart. A small light goes on in your mind, a word from the Bible that begins to draw attention to itself and shed light on a situation. At first it is “the smallest of seeds,” but afterwards you realize that everything was contained inside it; in it there was a thunderous roar that could shake the cedars of Lebanon. After that, you go to your desk, you open your books, you look through your notes, you consult the Church Fathers, experts, poets. . . . At this point it has already become something altogether different. It is no longer the Word of God in service to your knowledge but your knowledge in service to the Word of God.
Origen accurately describes the process that leads to this discovery. Before finding nourishment in Scripture, he says, we need to undergo a kind of “poverty of the senses; the soul is surrounded by darkness on every side, and it comes upon paths that have no exit. Then suddenly, after a difficult search and prayer, the voice of the Word resonates and all at once something is illuminated. The One your soul was seeking comes ‘leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills’ [Songs 2:8], that is, opening up your mind to receive his powerful word full of light.”[16] Great joy accompanies this moment. It made Jeremiah say, “Your words were found, and I ate them, / and your words became to me a joy / and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16).
Usually God’s answer comes in the form of a word from Scripture that reveals its extraordinary relevance at that moment for the situation or the problem that needs to be addressed, as if it were written precisely for it. The minister then speaks as “one speaking the very words of God” (see 1 Pet 4:11). This method is valid in all instances—as much for great documents as for a teacher’s lesson to his or her novices, as much for the scholarly conference as for the humble Sunday homily.
We have all had the experience of how much effect a single word from God can have when it is profoundly believed and lived by the person who says it to us, sometimes without that person even knowing it. It must be acknowledged that often this is the word, among so many other words, that touched hearts and led more than one listener to the confessional. Human experience, images, our past history—none of this is excluded from gospel preaching, but it all needs be submitted to the Word of God, which must stand out above everything else. Pope Francis has reminded us of this in the pages of Evangelii gaudium dedicated to the homily, and it is almost presumptuous on my part to think I can add anything to it.
I would like to conclude this meditation with an expression of gratitude to our Jewish brethren and a wish for them on the occasion of the Holy Father’s upcoming visit to Israel. If our interpretation of the Scriptures separates us from them, we are united in our shared love for the Scriptures. In a museum in Tel Aviv, there is a painting by Reuben Rubin in which rabbis are clasping scrolls of the Word of God to their chests or to their cheeks, and they are kissing them the way a man would kiss his wife. With our Jewish brothers and sisters we can—in a way that is analogous to the spiritual ecumenism occurring among Christians—share together what unites us in an atmosphere of dialogue and mutual respect, without ignoring or covering up the things that separate us. We cannot forget that it is from the Jews that we received the two most precious things we have in life: Jesus and the Scriptures.
Once again this year, the Jewish Passover falls on the same week as the Christian one. Let us wish ourselves and them a holy and happy Passover.

[Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson]

[1] Paul Claudel, L’épée et le miroir: Les sept douleurs de la Sainte Vierge [The Sword and the Mirror: The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary] (Paris: Gallimard, 1939), 74-75.
[2] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 10, 110, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 80, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press of America, 1989), 279.
[3] See Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen (1950; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007).
[4] Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, vol. 1, trans. Mark Siebanc (1959; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 134.
[5] Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture, vol. 2, trans. E. M. Macierowski (1959; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 117ff.
[6] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, II, 9, 8.
[7] Generally credited to Augustine of Dacia (12th c.), qtd. in de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, vol. 1, 1.
[8] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, I, 9, 30, qtd. in John Moorhead, Gregory the Great (New York: Routledge, 2005), 50.
[9] de Lubac, History and Spirit, 489ff.
[10] Augustine (CC 40, p. 1791) does this, for example, about the meaning of the word pasch in Expositions of the Psalms 99-120, 120, 6 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2003), 514-515.
[11] See Ambrose, De Spiritu Sancto, III, 112. English trans., On the Holy Spirit, vol. 10, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Cosimo 2007), 151.
[12] Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel, II, 10, 1.
[13] Dei Verbum [Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation], 21, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1995), 112.
[14] See Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 2, 1 (PL 75, 553D). English trans., Morals on the Book of Job (London: Walter Smith, 1883), 67.
[15] Ibid., I, 10, 31.
[16] This quote conflates ideas found in passages from two of Origen’s works: Commentary on Matthew, 38 (GCS, 1933, p. 7), English trans., Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Origen, Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of His Wrtings, trans. Robert J. Daly (1938; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 106-107; and In Canticum canticorum,3 (GCS, 1925, p. 202), English trans., Origen: “The Song of Songs,” Commentary and Homilies, 3, 11, vol. 26, Ancient Christian Writers, ed. R. P. Lawson (New York: Paulist Press, 1957), Copyright © 2011, Padre Raniero Cantalamessa. Tutti i diritti riservati. Una realizzazione Ergobit.

Monday, 29 September 2014

115: The Angels and the Word of God

We imagine the invisible world as having God (the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and the Saints. Seeing the Saints as friends, filled with the love of Jesus, we understand that their friendship, prayer and help doesn't stop with their death.
Sometimes we tend to forget the existence of the Angels, with all their grades, while in fact they have a very important and constant role to play in our life and salvation. If you want to remove the Angels, then not only will you have to remove large portions of the Scriptures and Tradition, but as well, many things will be lacking.
We think that during our prayer the interaction is only about God and us. Our understanding of prayer and “intimacy” with God is thought of as something of a silent and empty world, which only God and us inhabit. Significantly, however, Zachariah was at Prayer when God sent him his Messenger, GABRIEL. Similarly Mary was very probably at Prayer when God sent her his Messenger, GABRIEL.
Intimacy with God is often seen as something exclusive. However, Saint John of the Cross gives us an important answer to this question (in the Spiritual Canticle):

1- The Angels will always continue to be present in our lives, from day one, till the last day, so it is better to pay attention to this spiritual Friend, sent by God to help us and protect us. If you doubt this, you can contemplate Jesus himself, who is in His Human Nature Holy, the Holiest, and see how the Angels are present ans serve and help him (when He is tempted in the Desert, and when He prays in the Garden before his Passion). Are we better than Jesus? Stronger than Jesus? More intimate with God the Father than the Son Incarnate? So, keep this in mind, you will have them and need them. Your Master did, as a man, so you will have to.. with all the more reason.

2- Saint John of the Cross says (in the Spiritual Canticle) that the Angels play an important role in the long first stage of Spiritual Life Growth. They Transmit to us God's Messages, God's Word. Do you have doubts about this? Well remember what Gabriel says about himself and what Elisabeth says about Mary:
“I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (Luke 1:19-20)
“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfilment of those things [words] which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
We see, then, that a Messenger is a being who transmits a Message, in our case, a Word from God. He carries something that doesn't belong to him, something sacred. This is what you see in the first quote from St Luke: Gabriel makes it clear: he is not doing something on his own, of his own personal private initiative: He is Standing in Front of God. No games, no tricks, this is SERIOUS. He is not doing or transmitting anything that is not From God, willingly sent by God himself. So the respect you owe to the Sender (God) is the same respect you owe to the Message his messenger is sending according to His order. This is why St Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, says that this is the way God governs the world: He sends orders, He sends Messengers, and they execute his orders. He uses myriads of Angels to govern the world. So, there is nothing wrong in considering that the Angels are God's Messengers, God's Transmitters. This is the meaning of the word Angel: messenger.
“Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you […].” (Exodus 23:20-23)
But, when the spiritual person is growing, you reach a point where two things happen at the same time: one may confuse the messenger with the Sender, and the Message itself needed is becoming of greater significance. This is why St John of the Cross says to God at that spiritual juncture: “stop sending me Messengers of your beauty, the one I need is you Jesus”. It doesn't mean that from day one the Messengers are not serving this purpose. Not at all. It means only that the growth of the Soul, and the possible confusion this produces, make the Soul become wider and wider, more thirsty, and make her shout loudly: I want more, and the One I want is you Jesus.
As we said above, this doesn't mean that the person, now reaching a new step in her growth, will then forget completely about the Angels; no. It is just means a huge step forward is being taken. Remember as well, in order to be faithful to St John of the Cross, he thought that he was asking God not only to stop “fooling” him with smaller “messengers of his beauty” like Angels, but he mentions as well Nature, as a Messenger of God's beauty. You can apply this distinction and desire for Christ himself and His entirety to everything (think of the small things we stop to look at sometimes in the Bible, while at a certain point the soul is that purified and ready that its thirst for Christ becomes huge: thirst for Christ in a new way, i.e. in His entirety).
Small words (like crumbs) now are not enough, the soul wants THE WORD of GOD Incarnate: Jesus.

Now, let us remain in the long first stage of spiritual life (in the majority of persons is takes sadly years, and very few cross it, not that God doesn't want this to happen, but the “engines” that push for growth aren not well known and used): God Messengers are conveying to us His Word. Of course with the Holy Spirit.

Don't you think that like the word of God we have words that are not from God? The Word of God carries Divine Life, the Holy Spirit. The words that don't come from God, are carrying death, the reduction/shrinking, of our being. These words exist. There are hardly any neutral words. And if there are, they reduce our being to a small object of consideration. Take Science for example: Science is science, it is rampant, it doesn't fly to God. It needs God to open our soul, so that Science becomes the sign of a bigger Being. Science then belongs to a different level of contemplation! One has to go from it, and be elevated by God, in order to be able to see the beauty of God in it. This is illustrates the neutral words one can meet in one's life.
What about the rest of the words that nourish our mind, will, heart and freedom everyday? What about the words that shape our decisions everyday? From where do they come? Are they all from God?

Let us remember that we have three sources of words that are NOT Divine Life and Holy Spirit. Those sources are very well present to us, often unconsciously, but very well acting in us.
1- The world, 2- the flesh, and 3- the Devil/Satan and his angels. The three of them convey to us words, constantly, often unconsciously, but efficiently, and bear their fruits in us, through us.
These are three messengers, carriers, of words that are not Life and Spirit, Divine Life, and Holy Spirit.

As we acknowledge the existence of Angels, as Messengers of God, daily carriers of His Words, we have to acknowledge the existence of three other carriers, who carry other words, that are very bad, carrying death, death of our mind, death of our will, making us shrink more and more, and fall into darker areas. Mind you, sometimes we are so used to those words coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil, that we are not aware anymore about what the Light is and what difference it makes. We get used to the darkness and to its light. It is like when you go out dancing: you are in a big room, that is dark, full of loud noise, and you spend hours there, and you are not aware at all of what is happening to you. On the contrary, you call this life, fun, entertainment! Well, for a while!

So, let us become more aware of these different messengers, and let us become aware of the words they send us. Let us open our minds to a deeper and more differentiated way to understand the word: “words”. What is that food that we feed our souls with? Are they good or poisonous? It is exactly like certain things we eat: we find the taste delicious but when we read about the ingredients, we find that a lot of will power is needed to decide to overcome that fake artificial taste and attraction to it, in order to refrain from that “rubbish” that you are eating and “liking”.
Yes it requires awareness, Grace of God, to stop eating dead words, and turn to God, and listen to His Messengers, and to the Message, Divine Word, they carry to you.

I am sure “you are with me”! Let us pray for each other, let us choose our friends, let the choice fall on the ones who took the determined decision to seek the Divine Words, that give Divine Life. Are you ProDivineLife? Are you ProDivineWords?

Let us pray for each other, let us ask the Prayers of the Angels, let us be attentive to their Constant Presence and service to our soul, searching our Good all the time, always available to help and rejoicing when we turn, determined, to God, and God's Words.

St. Padre Pio
Prayer to the Guardian Angel

"O Holy Guardian Angel,
take care of my soul and my body.

Enlighten my mind to know the Lord better

and love Him with all my heart.

Assist me in my prayers to do not fall into distractions

but you keep the greatest attention.

Help me with your advice, to recognise the good and perform it with generosity.

Rescue me from the snares of the infernal enemy
and uphold me in temptations to always win them.

Replace me in my coldness while worshipping of the Lord:
not cease to attend to my custody

until you will bring me to Paradise,

where together we will praise the Good Lord for all eternity."

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Monastic and Scholastic Theology

Pope Benedict XVI

A natural friendship between faith and reason

On Wednesday, 28 October [2009], at the General Audience in St Peter's Square, the Holy Father reflected on the flourishing of Latin theology in the 12th century. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I am reflecting on an interesting page of history that concerns the flourishing of Latin theology in the 12th century which occurred through a series of providential coincidences. A relative peace prevailed in the countries of Western Europe at that time which guaranteed economic development and the consolidation of political structures in society, encouraging lively cultural activity also through its contacts with the East. The benefits of the vast action known as the "Gregorian reform" were already being felt within the Church. Vigorously promoted in the previous century, they had brought greater evangelical purity to the life of the ecclesial community, especially to the clergy, and had restored to the Church and to the Papacy authentic freedom of action.

Furthermore, a wide-scale spiritual renewal supported by the vigorous development of consecrated life was spreading; new religious orders were coming into being and expanding, while those already in existence were experiencing a promising spiritual revival.

Theology also flourished anew, acquiring a greater awareness of its own nature: it refined its method; it tackled the new problems; advanced in the contemplation of God's mysteries; produced fundamental works; inspired important initiatives of culture, from art to literature; and prepared the masterpieces of the century to come, the century of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.

This intense theological activity took place in two milieus: the monasteries and the urban Schools, the scholae, some of which were the forerunners of universities, one of the characteristic "inventions" of the Christian Middle Ages.

It is on the basis of these two milieus, monasteries and scholae, that it is possible to speak of the two different theological models: "monastic theology" and "scholastic theology". The representatives of monastic theology were monks, usually abbots, endowed with wisdom and evangelical zeal, dedicated essentially to inspiring and nourishing God's loving design. The representatives of Scholastic theology were cultured men, passionate about research; they were magistri anxious to show the reasonableness and soundness of the Mysteries of God and of man, believed with faith, of course, but also understood by reason. Their different finalities explain the differences in their method and in their way of doing theology.

In 12th-century monasteries the theological method mainly entailed the explanation of Sacred Scripture, the sacra pagina to borrow the words of the authors of that period; biblical theology in particular was practised. The monks, in other words, were devout listeners to and readers of the Sacred Scriptures and one of their chief occupations consisted in lectio divina, that is, the prayed reading of the Bible. For them the mere reading of the Sacred Text did not suffice to perceive its profound meaning, its inner unity and transcendent message. It was therefore necessary to practise a biblical theology, in docility to the Holy Spirit. Thus, at the school of the Fathers, the Bible was interpreted allegorically in order to discover on every page of both the Old and New Testaments what it says about Christ and his work of salvation.

Last year, The Synod of Bishops on the "Word of God in the life and mission of the Church" reminded us of the importance of the spiritual approach to the Sacred Scriptures. It is useful for this purpose to take into account monastic theology, an uninterrupted biblical exegesis, as well as the works written by its exponents, precious ascetic commentaries on the Books of the Bible.

Thus monastic theology incorporated the spiritual aspect into literary formation. It was aware, in other words that a purely theoretical and unversed interpretation is not enough: to enter into the heart of Sacred Scripture it must be read in the spirit in which it was written and created. Literary knowledge was necessary in order to understand the exact meaning of the words and to grasp the meaning of the text, refining the grammatical and philological sensibility. Thus Jean Leclercq, a Benedictine scholar in the past century, entitled the essay in which he presents the characteristics of monastic theology: L'amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu (Love of words and the desire for God). In fact, the desire to know and to love God which comes to meet us through his words to be received, meditated upon and put into practice, leads us to seek to deepen our knowledge of the biblical texts in all their dimensions. Then there is another attitude on which those who practise monastic theology insist: namely an intimate, prayerful disposition that must precede, accompany and complete the study of Sacred Scripture. Since, ultimately, monastic theology is listening to God's word, it is impossible not to purify the heart in order to receive it and, especially, it is impossible not to enkindle in it a longing to encounter the Lord.

Theology thus becomes meditation, prayer, a song of praise and impels us to sincere conversion. On this path, many exponents of monastic theology attained the highest goals of mystic experience and extend an invitation to us too to nourish our lives with the word of God, for example, through listening more attentively to the Readings and the Gospel, especially during Sunday Mass. It is also important to set aside a certain period each day for meditation on the Bible, so that the word of God may be a light that illumines our daily pilgrimage on earth.

Scholastic theology, on the other hand — as I was saying — was practised at the scholae which came into being beside the great cathedrals of that time for the formation of the clergy, or around a teacher of theology and his disciples, to train professionals of culture in a period in which the appreciation of knowledge was constantly growing.

Central to the method of the Scholastics was the quaestio, that is, the problem the reader faces in approaching the words of Scripture and of Tradition. In the face of the problem that these authoritative texts pose, questions arise and the debate between teacher and student comes into being. In this discussion, on the one hand the arguments of the authority appear and on the other those of reason, and the ensuing discussion seeks to come to a synthesis between authority and reason in order to reach a deeper understanding of the word of God. In this regard St Bonaventure said that theology is "per additionem" (cf. Commentaria in quatuor libros sententiarum, I, proem., q. 1, concl.), that is, theology adds the dimension of reason to the word of God and thus creates a faith that is deeper, more personal, hence also more concrete in the person's life. In this regard various solutions were found and conclusions reached which began to build a system of theology.

The organization of the quaestiones led to the compilation of ever more extensive syntheses, that is, the different quaestiones were composed with the answers elicited, thereby creating a synthesis, the summae that were in reality extensive theological and dogmatic treatises born from the confrontation of human reason with the word of God. Scholastic theology aimed to present the unity and harmony of the Christian Revelation with a method, called, precisely "Scholastic" — of the school — which places trust in human reason. Grammar and philology are at the service of theological knowledge, but logic even more so, namely the discipline that studies the "functioning" of human reasoning, in such a way that the truth of a proposal appears obvious. Still today, in reading the Scholastic summae one is struck by the order, clarity and logical continuity of the arguments and by the depth of certain insights. With technical language a precise meaning is attributed to every word and, between believing and understanding, a reciprocal movement of clarification is established.

Dear brothers and sisters, in echoing the invitation of the First Letter of Peter, Scholastic theology stimulates us to be ever ready to account for the hope that is in us (cf. 3:15), hearing the questions as our own and thus also being capable of giving an answer. It reminds us that a natural friendship exists between faith and reason, founded in the order of Creation itself. In the incipit of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio, the Servant of God John Paul II wrote: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth". Faith is open to the effort of understanding by reason; reason, in turn, recognizes that faith does not mortify her but on the contrary impels her towards vaster and loftier horizons.

The eternal lesson of monastic theology fits in here. Faith and reason, in reciprocal dialogue, are vibrant with joy when they are both inspired by the search for intimate union with God. When love enlivens the prayerful dimension of theology, knowledge, acquired by reason, is broadened. Truth is sought with humility, received with wonder and gratitude: in a word, knowledge only grows if one loves truth. Love becomes intelligence and authentic theology wisdom of the heart, which directs and sustains the faith and life of believers. Let us therefore pray that the journey of knowledge and of the deepening of God's Mysteries may always be illumined by divine love.
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
4 Novembeer 2009, page 12

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Newsletter: "Bible and Spiritual Life" Course


Dear All,

This is a special email regarding the Intermediate Course: The Bible and Spiritual Life

1- The course on "Bible and Spiritual life" is important in strengthening our personal practice of Lectio Divina. With this course it is as if Jesus was giving each one of us the Bible in his hands, as His Word.

Some might be tempted to overlook the nature and value of the "Bible and Spiritual Life" course as well as the subsequent workshops on Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the heart. They might solely focus on attending the Second Level Course and this would be a huge error. One has to grow spiritually in order to reach the point where one would need the food of the Second Level Course - and this course helps us grow in Lectio Divina. Otherwise the "learning process" becomes too intellectual/theoretical.

We implore you to register for the ‘Bible and Spiritual Life’ course, in order to benefit fully from the Second Level Course.

2- Presentation of the Course:

September-October 2014: 4 Saturdays

Since 2007 many people in London have been attending the First Level Course, "Initiation into Spiritual Life". As a result, many have been encouraged to use their Bible more fervently and to practice Lectio Divina. However, support is still needed, as finding "food" in the Bible is not an easy task. This is why the "Intermediate 1 Course" is about deepening the relationship between the "Bible" and our "Spiritual Life": in a word, it aims at helping us view the Bible as the source of our daily nourishment.

What makes this course unique is, first, the choice of topics(important, "juicy" and rarely addressed topics) and, secondly,relating them to our Spiritual Life! As always, Our Lady continues to lead us on our journey.

A Certificate will be awarded to all those who attend the entire four days.

The dates are: Sat 27th Sept, Sat 4th Oct, Sat 18th Oct, Sat 25th Oct, from 10.00 am to 4:30 pm. Venue: St Mary of the Angels Parish hall, Moorhouse Road, W2 5DJ, Notting Hill. Spaces are limited for this course. The cost is £ 25.00 per day. Should there be any places remaining, we can accept those who did not follow the First Level Course.

To secure your place, a non-refundable deposit of £ 50.00 should be paid by cheque or bank transfer. Please send an email or call to confirm payment. Email: or call 07908513762.

The Topics are:

1st Saturday:
Structure and meaning of the Gospel in relation to our Spiritual Life.
Reading and analysing essential and fundamental texts from the Gospel in relation to our spiritual life.

2nd Saturday:
The relationship between the Theory of Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and our spiritual life. Explanation of the action of God in the human author and its practical consequences for us.
The new prophetical life inaugurated by Jesus for every human being: God makes of us a friend and wants to talk to us.
The practical meaning and the fruitfulness of this new prophetism.

3rd Saturday:
Exegetical questions: the Holy Spirit Exegete of the Bible; the intelligence of the Scriptures in the Fathers of the Church; the example of the Fathers of the Church; the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament; exegetical Rules for our spiritual life.
The Bible is the soul of God's Revelation to us, and is a treasure whose riches we can draw upon on a daily basis. Practical advice.

4th Saturday:
Difficulties when confronting an archaic text, a different language and culture. What is to be done with "modern" exegesis?
The Bible: doubt, power, pleasure and possession.

3- Those who can't attend a full day on some of the Saturdays but would be able to make it either in the morning (10 to 1:30) or in the afternoon (2:20-4:30), can still come and attend. But one needs to commit to the entire course.

4- If you cannot attend half a day or an entire day you may still attend. An audio recording will be available at the end of the Course. So it is important to "commit" to the entire Course.

We look forward to seeing you and continuing the Journey toward Union with Jesus, led by His Mother.

In Her,

School of Mary

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Newsletter: Coming Courses in the School of Mary

Dear All,

We hope this post finds you well. We have some exciting announcements regarding some courses which will be taking place over the next months.

1. Bible & Spiritual Life Course

This is the intermediate course between the 1st level course, Initiation into Spiritual Life, and the 2nd level course. It will help to strengthen our knowledge and practice of Lectio Divina, which we gained in the 1st level course. The course is highly recommended!

This course will start on Sat 27th September and will continue on Sat 4th October, Sat 18th October and Sat 25th October. The venue is St Mary of the Angels Parish Hall, Moorhouse Rd, Notting Hill, W2 5DJ.

Spaces are limited and it is important to book!

Please open this link as it contains more information on the course including payment and contents of the course.

2. Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart Workshops

The School of Mary will run some workshops on Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart. These will be held on Sat 8th November, Sat 15th November, Sat 22nd November and Sat 6th December. We will provide more information on these soon.

3. 1st Level Course - Initiation to Spiritual Life

The Initiation into Spiritual Life course is being held on Mondays, starting on 6th October. The course will be from 10.00am to 12.15pm. The venue is St Mary of the Angels Parish Hall, Notting Hill. If you may know somebody who would be interested in attending, please ask them to contact us.

In Easter 2015, the course will be offered again but this time over 7 Saturdays. We will provide further details on this course before the end of the year.

4. 2nd Level Course

The 2nd level course will be held in Lent 2015 and will take place over 7 Saturdays. We will provide further details before the end of the year.

We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the Bible and Spiritual Life course. We could not recommend the course highly enough!

Please do contact us should you have any questions on the forthcoming courses.

In Mary

Leonora and Rufaro

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Intermediate Course: “Bible and Daily Spiritual life”

to my friend I say everything” (see John 15:15)

Lecturer: Jean Khoury

September-October 2014 : 4 Saturdays

Since 2007 many people in London have been attending the First Level Course, "Initiation into Spiritual Life". As a result, many have been encouraged to use their Bible more fervently and to practise Lectio Divina. However, support is still needed as finding "food" in the Bible is not an easy task. This is why the "Intermediate 1 Course" is about deepening the relationship between the "Bible" and our "Spiritual Life": in a word, it aims at helping us view the Bible as the source of our daily nourishment.

What makes this course unique is, first, the choice of topics (important, "juicy" and rarely addressed topics) and, secondly, relating them to our Spiritual Life! As always, Our Lady continues to lead us on our journey.

A Certificate will be awarded to all those who attend the entire four days.

The dates are: Sat 27th Sept, Sat 4th Oct, Sat 18th Oct, Sat 25th Oct, from 10.00 am to 4:30 pm. Venue: St Mary of the Angels Parish hall, Moorhouse Road, W2 5DJ, Notting Hill. Spaces are limited for this course. The cost is £ 25.00 per day. Should there be any places remaining, we can accept those who did not follow the First Level Course.
To secure your place, a non-refundable deposit of £ 50.00 should be paid by cheque or bank transfer. Please send an email or call to confirm payment. Email: or call 07908513762.

The Topics are:

1st Saturday:
Structure and meaning of the Gospel in relation to our Spiritual Life.
Reading and analysing essential and fundamental texts from the Gospel in relation to our spiritual life.

2nd Saturday:
The relationship between the Theory of Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and our spiritual life. Explanation of the action of God in the human author and its practical consequences for us.
The new prophetical life inaugurated by Jesus for every human being: God makes of us a friend and wants to talk to us.
The practical meaning and the fruitfulness of this new prophetism.

3rd Saturday:
Exegetical questions: the Holy Spirit Exegete of the Bible; the intelligence of the Scriptures in the Fathers of the Church; the example of the Fathers of the Church; the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament; exegetical Rules for our spiritual life.
The Bible is the soul of God's Revelation to us, and is a treasure whose riches we can draw upon on a daily basis. Practical advice.

4th Saturday:
Difficulties when confronting an archaic text, a different language and culture. What is to be done with "modern" exegesis?
The Bible: doubt, power, pleasure and possession.

Looking forward to seeing you. Continuing the Journey toward Union with Jesus, lead by His Mother.