Wednesday, 18 June 2014

110: The Implementation of Spiritual Formation

As we saw in the previous post, in order to reach Holiness one needs “spiritual formation”. Spiritual formation encompasses three areas:
1- Learning doctrine/science (Courses, Workshops),
2- Putting into practice the teaching, i.e. having the experience of it, and
3- Receiving discernment from an experienced person (one to one tuition + spiritual direction).
These three areas are distinct but interconnected; therefore they should be combined.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
The one that “may be overpowered” is spiritual “experience” standing on its own (without discernment and doctrine).
The “two can defend themselves” are “experience” and “discernment”.
The three strands are: “experience”, “discernment” and full “doctrine”.

Note: Why “full doctrine”? Because half science, or being half knowledgeable damages more than it can help. St Teresa of Avila repeatedly warns about this and says that the help she received from priests/monks who were half learned harmed her substantially.

The School of Mary offers everybody “teaching” and “discernment”: Courses, Workshops, One to One Tuition, Spiritual Direction (although spiritual direction doesn't have to be sought exclusively at the School). Putting into practice the teaching is something personal. When the time is right, in reply to God's Call, it is up to the person to decide to put into practice the teaching, in his/her own life/schedule.

The teaching is divided into three main levels, following three sections of the full spiritual journey:

First Education (Undergraduate Equivalent)

1- Level One Foundation Course: implementing the foundations of a strong and healthy spiritual life, starting to dedicate time for prayer, on a regular daily basis, supporting that first serious step in spiritual life.
1'- Intermediate1 Courses: with more teaching, supporting a sustainable rhythm of growth, in the first stages. Equivalent to the 4th and 5th Mansions of St Teresa of Avila. Reaching a more stable state: “Union of Will”. Completing the First Level Course with other courses.
2- Level Two Foundation Course: providing the teaching on the most decisive moment in spiritual life: the deep radical purification.
2'- Intermediate2 Courses: with more teaching supporting that stage. Completing the Second Level Course with other courses.

Further Education (Graduate Equivalent)

3- Formation in order to start teaching elements of the First Level Course.
4'- Level Three Foundation Course.
4''- Further Courses on the Third Level.

Third Cycle Education (Post Graduate Equivalent)

5- Research
6- Development in Spiritual Theology teaching

Monday, 16 June 2014

109: A proven doctrine of acquiring perfection

The full vision of the School of Mary

Sometimes, when the Church authorities meet a Founder, who from day one, has the full picture of his foundation, they feel uncomfortable, because they are convinced that the normal way God uses is a steady process unfolding year by year, step by step, to clarify the Call and its implementation. The Mission God handles the Founder develops through time and this becomes clearer day by day, with “grace upon grace”.

Well today is not actually day one in the life of the School of Mary… many years have passed now (1984, 1992, 2003,... 2014), and one can re-state now what is the full vision, the way to implement it now and in the future.

The Meaning and Place of the Call for Holiness

In a traditional way, the Church deeply believes that the monastic and religious Orders in the Church are provided by God with means, wisdom, teaching, formation capacity, discernment to lead their members, in a secure masterful way, to the fullness of their vocation: Holiness (i.e. Union with Christ and the Perfection of Love): "These religious families give their members the support of [...] a proven doctrine of acquiring perfection." (Vat II, Lumen Gentium, 43)

Monks and religious are persons who received a call to follow Jesus more closely. That call, with the passing of centuries, developed various forms of life and rules, but the core of it remains: a call for Holiness. Does this “personal Call” from Jesus constitute something different from Baptism? Is it for “special people” chosen from the “doomed crowd”? Thank God no, thank God Theology and the Council of Vatican II helps us remember that this call is for all (could happen to any person) and that it proceeds from Baptism, like in a renewed depth of it, a blossoming aspect of it.

But it is still a “Call”, i.e. a very personal initiative (in time and place) from Jesus to a specific person. It is not suspended in mid air for everybody. There is a moment in the life of every human being where Jesus comes, and knocks in a more audible way at the door of his/her heart. So, in the end, “a call is a call”.

The Church knows very well that the initial formation before baptism and after baptism doesn’t deal directly with the elements of the Ways to Reach Perfection but with the foundations of Christian faith and Christian prayer. The Church knows the difference between, on one hand that first grace of Baptism and all the formation that comes with it (before and after), and on the other hand that “Call within the Call”, that “second conversion” i.e. hearing Jesus calling me personally to follow him.
It is not another baptism, it is not another vocation, it is a deepening of the same vocation, of Baptism. Just as when the human being starts to enter into adolescence. One's peaceful life changes, and one notices blossoming in him new things/capacities/horizons and one has to learn to deal with them.

The first stage (Baptismal formation and normal catechesis) can last for years, and its central place remains the Parish. The second stage, happens when Jesus freely and personally comes and knocks at the door of our heart. It is a call like the Call St Anthony received one day in his parish, to leave it and go to the Desert and start to be trained as a Monk, as a researcher of God, a man that incarnates the “Quest for God alone”.

The Priestly Branch of the Church is the Parish and the Prophetical one is the Desert. The “Quest of the Desert” will take shape in a hermitage, a monastery, a convent, a consecration in the world, and more recently a movement in the Church.

We shouldn’t forget that it is not the habit that makes the monk, not the consecration that makes him a monk, and not just even following a certain Rule or Style of Life (Horarium). What makes a monk a monk, or what makes a human being enter into the state of the “Quest for God alone” is the formation he or she receives, that secure and masterful Wisdom, Discernment and Teaching one receives.

The Call is Universal

Today the emphasis is put in a renewed way on the Call for Holiness. This is a grace for the entire church to rediscover that call and that that call is for all. But the inner journey is, in its main components, the same. Why? Because we are all human beings and we all need to be purified, transformed, and become Jesus' friends. We shouldn’t forget that in order to fulfil that call (providing we have heard it), we need to receive that combined Wisdom, Discernment and Teaching that God deposited in the Church, in order to reach that goal: Holiness (Union with Jesus and Fullness of Love).

We need to stop dreaming and imagining that it is just by praying a little bit and fasting that we will become saints. We need to stop dreaming that the Sacraments will operate anyway, if we just do that. This is against the Tradition and the experience of the Church.

The School of Mary

The School of Mary received the Mission to open the treasures of Wisdom, Discernment and Teaching that are enclosed in the Prophetical branch of the Church to all the persons who feel they have received the Call to follow Jesus more closely. Nothing more, and nothing less. It is in a way like opening the Novitiate Room to all the persons in the world who feel Jesus’ Call.

- Now, who you are when you are in the Novitiate Room? What do you need then? What do you also deserve to receive from God, through the Church? What will happen to you?

- You are a person who felt Jesus’ call to follow him more closely and reach the fullness of Him.

You need to receive the necessary formation, throughout your journey of growth, in order to reach the Goal.

You deserve to receive all the Treasures that Jesus deposited in the Prophetical branch of the Church. They are yours as well… because you received the same call as others: the Quest for God alone.

If you start to apply that wisdom, discernment, teaching, you will start to receive “grace after grace” and you will start to be purified and transformed in Jesus. You will learn new things, new ways of prayer, deepening your ways of prayer, which will boost your growth. Therefore you will need guidance and new food (teaching).

This is what the School of Mary humbly wants to offer

The Spiritual Journey has been divided into three parts, that follow three different curves/stages in spiritual life. The different “chunks” are not equal in length (of time), but they are equal in importance.

The first stage lays the foundations of a solid “take off” of Spiritual Life. One learns how to walk, run, jump, with two legs: Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart (extension of the reception of the Word of God in the Mass and of his Body and Blood).

The Second stage goes into the deep purification that God wants to realise in us.

The Third stage shows us how the Apostle is sent on a mission, Jesus living in him, and he himself completing in his flesh what is lacking in Jesus’ Passion for the world.
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Saturday, 7 June 2014

108: Bringing the Mind into the Heart

Just as the vertebral column keeps the human body standing upright, so too “The Prayer of the Heart is the backbone of the Church”. This image means that the Prayer of the Heart keeps the Faithful in constant contact with God, allowing the First Commandment to be constantly working in us and bearing fruit: “to love God with all our Heart, soul and energy”. It keeps us, the branches connected to Jesus the Vine, absorbing the constant flow of the Holy Spirit (the sap) (see John 15). It allows us in our turn to give that constant stream of Holy Spirit to the world: 'He who believes in me [...] out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.' (John 7:38).

Bringing the Mind into the Heart

We often dwell in our brain/mind and don't understand the central advice of the Spiritual Masters, the Eastern Christian Monks who advise us to put our spirit/mind into our heart.

Theophan the Recluse embodies the teaching of the Eastern Christian Monks when he says: “I will remind you of only one thing: one must descend with the mind (Gr. Noûs) into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing within you. The prayer takes a firm and steadfast hold, when a small fire begins to burn in the heart. Try not to quench this fire, and it will become established in such a way that the prayer repeats itself: and then you will have within you a small murmuring stream.”

Others say: “bring your mind (Gr. nous) into your heart”. Some comment: “The descent of the mind into the heart is taken quite literally by the practitioners of Hesychasm and is not at all considered to be a metaphorical expression.”

This is an important part of the teaching of the Prayer of the Heart, a fundamental indication that comes from the Great Christian Masters. They had the experience, they had the discernment and the teaching.

Why is this? These Masters have an interesting anthropological understanding of the fall, Adam's fall, when he is expelled from the Garden, away from access to the Tree of Life: they say that in the human being, instead of having the spirit/nous dwelling in the chest, it is now caught up in the net of the mind. Indeed, Adam and Eve were tempted by knowledge, by a knowledge not given by God, but a knowledge taken, grabbed, personally, by our own efforts: the Serpent very clearly said: you will see, you will know: “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)
Temptation here could be understood as tempting our noûs/spirit (i.e. where we are, where we focus and concentrate, where our desire leads us) to come out of its dwelling place, in the chest, where it is united to God. Moreover, the temptation to see (eyes will be opened), to know is very strong. It seduces us but in fact it creates the opposite to the Garden (heaven): it creates hell for us: absence of the Presence of God, absence of being united with God.

One can physically see it represented in the diagram (see below):

There are two different defined areas of dwelling: the Mind (represented by the square box) and the chest, represented by the heart. God dwells in the chest, not in the mind. Surprised? Indeed. How many times when we want to pray we actually start by “saying things to God” while in fact we need first to be connected to Him, then to express our deep desire (that comes from the spirit/noûs), and not from the mind. Dwelling in the mind/brain is something very painful. It induces us to act as if we are the Light of God, we are the Boss, we are the Head. While in fact the mind is just the servant of the Light of God, a channel for it. It is absolutely possible to have our attention, our focus, our presence in the heart/chest, and continue to think. But this new thinking is totally different.

Let me take an example: imagine that your life is a Gift from God and that it is like being in a Hotel, on the beach. Remaining in the mind (the opposite of being a child) means that we dwell in a room that doesn't have even a sea view. The better way is to remain in our heart (to be at the beach, looking at the immensity of God (the Sea) while thinking. The process of thinking in this case is completely different. Instead of being entrenched in a rather narrow place, we are in the open, expanding our chest to the Sea of God and in the same time learning to see the Light of God and follow it in a new way.

Descending into the Chest

How then can we bring our spirit/noûs down into our heart/chest? The simplest way, accessible to everybody is, while offering ourselves to Jesus/Mary, to “change and become like little children” (see Matthew 18:3). This is an adult decision, a decision that only an adult can make. The child is a child and can only do what he does instinctively, not choosing. On the other hand the adult has the freedom to choose to do it or not. This act improves the adult who becomes more adult, and not less so. It is not a psychological regression, on the contrary, it is “bringing the spirit/focus point/noûs into the chest, where God is, where Jesus is in order to light the wick of our spirit by the Fire of the Love of Jesus. When we imitate the little child, we in fact escape from the net and control of the brain/mind and slip into the heart/chest, just as when you rub some soap onto a bracelet in order to remove it, the spirit escapes from that “prison” and reaches the heart.

Jesus is a Furnace of Love, full of the Fire of the Holy Spirit. He desires immensely to receive us back into the Fire of His Love. We are outside of Him, outside of our chest, and we are carrying too many things/burdens/worries/extra-responsibilities. This wets the wick, so the Fire of Love of Jesus can't take in the wick of our heart.

Summing up: whenever we make ourselves like little children and offer ourselves to Jesus, entrust ourselves to Mary, we are already inside of our heart/chest (we have achieved the journey of arrow N°1), and Mary comes and takes us and introduces us into Jesus' Heart, and we receive the Holy Spirit, Fire of Love (the journey of arrow N° 2).

Question: Are we aware that we are not in our mind/brain? Are we aware that we have left the mind/brain and that we are now in our chest?
Answer: We feel that there is now more peace dwelling in the mind, that our mind is more relaxed and enjoying a different way of working. We are led by God, and not leading. We are following God and not leading. We are on the beach watching the immensity of the Sea, having the entire horizon of God in front of God instead of being entrenched, in a shaded narrow place.

How to do it?

Put yourself in front of the Icon of the Mother of God, holding the Divine Child-God, Take up your Rosary , sign yourself with the sign of the Cross, invoke the Holy Spirit to come and help you pray:

“O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.”
“Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and kindle them in the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation, through Christ our Lord, Amen. “
Then, get rid of all your burdens by entrusting them to Jesus, to Mary. “Entrust” is to give with total trust and to forget about them.
Now it is all about the Fire of God and you, the wick.
Offer yourself, entrust yourself to Mary, to Jesus, like a little child.
Hold the beads of your Rosary and choose a short prayer, that has the name of Jesus and the name of Mary. Say for instance: Jesus, … Mary... (breathing in, breathing out)... or just say your Rosary, without thinking of any mystery because you are IN the Mystery: Jesus' Fire of Love. Repeat that prayer, from the bottom of your heart, with desire, yearning... ask for the Holy Spirit to light your heart with the desire of Jesus... keep repeating gently... you are in your chest, in Jesus.
Take heed one can come out of that fiery encounter. Just repeat peacefully the entrusting of yourself like a little child.
Like the gentle waves of the sea against the shore, repeat from time to time the gift of yourself.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Mary the “Hodeghetria”

The Eastern church's tradition considers Mary as the “Hodeghetria”: "She who shows the Way". It is important here to understand the correct dynamic meaning of “to show”. "To show" could be understood as a static thing, like a sign post on the road. However in the case of Our Lady the difference is huge. She doesn't show only, she leads us to Jesus. If Jesus is the moon, she is the rocket that takes us to the moon. So, instead of leaning on our personal efforts to go to Jesus (thinking that as we are doing it directly we will reach Him directly) we rely on Mary, the Rocket in whom Jesus dwells. Leaning on our knowhow is like leaning on the sand. Leaning on Mary is in fact leaning on Jesus the Way, who is the Cornerstone, dwelling in her. The rocket can take off to the Moon, while the bicycle (our means) never takes off, never reaches the moon.
This is why Mary's place is important/vital in that meeting with Jesus (the Prayer of the Heart). She is as important as are the Annunciation or her waiting for the Resurrection.
She is the mould in which we (Jesus' body) are re-formed in Jesus' likeness. God's logic continues to be the same, like in the incarnation. He uses the same way to come to us, through Mary's intervention.
Mind you, she is full of the Holy Spirit, constantly moved by Him, and Jesus dwells in Her firmly and fully, acts in her and through her constantly. Whenever we offer/entrust ourselves to Her, she takes us immediately and lights the wick of our heart with the Fire of the Love of Jesus.