Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spiritual medicine from a "little flower"

I had been feeling so very sorry for myself. The reason was that I had for a time been filled with the Holy Spirit. It had given me a divine gift of so much energy and insight. And seemingly out of nowhere, the gift was taken away from me. And I felt submerged in a kind of murky darkness. I felt sapped of energy and where before I felt guided by the Holy Spirit, now I felt lost.

Where before I saw the path illuminated before me -  like the luminous footprints in Michael Jackson's Billy Jean video - now I felt as if there was a blindfold placed over my eyes which no matter how hard I tried, I could not remove. "Woe is me," thought I to myself. I feared something terrible might happen to me, and yet how could I complain? My health was good, I was not "suffering" under any great pain. And yet there were days that I would wake up on Sunday with the best intentions of going to Mass and yet end up spending the day at home. What was happening? Had I lost my faith?

I began to question everything I did, and everything I had done in the recent past. Had I abused my gift of the Holy Spirit? My mind was filled with doubt.

And then I was guided to read from a book I have had for many years that had been sitting on a table almost directly in front of me for the past month or more. And yet I hadn't opened it in all that time. Perhaps I was afraid to read what it had to say to me. Or perhaps God had just been waiting for the right time to reveal its truths to me.

The book is the "Story of a Soul" and it is the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux - also known as "the little flower". I've never read all the way through it. Perhaps that is because every time I open it to a random page, I become quickly absorbed in a particular revelation of "the little flower" about her interior spiritual life.

In this case I turned to a page that I had previously bookmarked. I suppose I should write notes on my bookmarks so that I can remember the reason that it seemed so important to me at the time. As it was I had no clue and so I began to search the two opposing pages for an answer to this puzzle.

And once again I became absorbed and began reading and turning pages, and my search became a voyage of discovery. I don't remember ever reading these pages, but then at the same time I felt a sense of déjà vu. And as I read I could clearly hear the voice of the little flower speaking to me, I began to realize that here was an answer to a question that had been troubling me for a long time - perhaps most of my life. It was not the answer that I expected and so at first I thought it must be wrong, but then it slowly dawned on me that it was I who had been wrong all along. And that early morning light of dawn suddenly turned into a bright sun appearing over the horizon as if in an epiphany. I felt I had nothing to envy of St. Paul who saw the light on the road to Damascus. No, I was not literally knocked off my horse, but I was perhaps figuratively "knocked off my high horse".

Hear then, the words of a Saint...

St. Thérèse - the little flower
-----
[Excerpts from "Story of a Soul - the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux"]

You know it has ever been my desire to become a Saint, but I have
always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far
removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by
tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is
lost in the clouds.

Instead of being discouraged, I concluded that God would not
inspire desires which could not be realised, and that I may aspire
to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is
impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but
I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way--very
short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live
in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to
climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and
find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny
to climb the steep stairway of perfection. I have sought to find
in Holy Scripture some suggestion as to what this lift might be
which I so much desired, and I read these words uttered by the
Eternal Wisdom Itself: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to
Me."[4] Then I drew near to God, feeling sure that I had
discovered what I sought; but wishing to know further what He
would do to the little one, I continued my search and this is what
I found: "You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees;
as one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you."[5]

Never have I been consoled by words more tender and sweet. Thine
Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto
Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must
remain little, I must become still less.
[I'm reversing my standard mode of operation, and allowing St. Thérèse to act as the author of this entry. My comments are in these block quotes. The book can be found online here. Also, there are a few different translations available. The one in the book that I have is slightly different from the one online.]

In this passage we see the grace of humility beautifully expressed as our little flower describes her desire to be as a child sitting on the lap of Jesus.

The Bible passages cited are:
[4] Proverbs 9:4
[5] Isaiah 66:13, 12

[Note: The word "lift" in this passage means "elevator".]

A little while later Thérèse tells us of her suffering. She begins with this introduction.
My soul has known trials of many kinds. I have suffered much on
this earth. In my childhood I suffered with sadness, but now I
find sweetness in all things. Anyone but you, dear Mother, who
know me thoroughly, would smile at reading these pages, for has
ever a soul seemed less tried than mine? But if the martyrdom
which I have endured for the past year were made known, how
astonished everyone would be! Since it is your wish I will try to
describe it, but there are no words really to explain these
things. The words will always fall short of the reality.
Thérèse at once tells us that she is suffering greatly, and yet that by external appearances it would seem that she is barely suffering at all. What is this inner torment which she is about to describe? Apparently it is not the first signs of tuberculosis that she soon discovers. In fact this brings her happiness because she sees it as a call to join Jesus in Heaven.
During Lent last year I felt much better than ever and continued
so until Holy Week, in spite of the fast which I observed in all
its rigour. But in the early hours of Good Friday, Jesus gave me
to hope that I should soon join Him in His beautiful Home. How
sweet is this memory!

I could not obtain permission to remain watching at the Altar of
Repose throughout the Thursday night, and I returned to our cell
at midnight. Scarcely was my head laid on the pillow when I felt a
hot stream rise to my lips. I thought I was going to die, and my
heart nearly broke with joy. But as I had already put out our
lamp, I mortified my curiosity until the morning and slept in
peace. At five o'clock, when it was time to get up, I remembered
at once that I had some good news to learn, and going to the
window I found, as I had expected, that our handkerchief was
soaked with blood. Dearest Mother, what hope was mine! I was
firmly convinced that on this anniversary of His Death, my Beloved
had allowed me to hear His first call, like a sweet, distant
murmur, heralding His joyful approach.
To our modern ears, so obsessed with youth and vigor, these words seem strange indeed. It speaks of an attitude towards Death which seems foreign. And yet, we are all destined to depart from this Earth. Our unspoken fear of Death and suffering is a symptom of the spiritual malaise of our times.

As she is nearing Death, she contemplates the fate of those who approach Death without the spiritual gifts of Faith and Hope.
Still full of joy, I returned to our cell on the evening of that
happy day, and was quietly falling asleep, when my sweet Jesus
gave me the same sign as on the previous night, of my speedy
entrance to Eternal Life. I felt such a clear and lively Faith
that the thought of Heaven was my sole delight. I could not
believe it possible for men to be utterly devoid of Faith, and I
was convinced that those who deny the existence of another world
really lie in their hearts.

But during the Paschal days, so full of light, our Lord made me
understand that there really are in truth souls bereft of Faith
and Hope, who, through abuse of grace, lose these precious
treasures, the only source of pure and lasting joy.
Thérèse then reveals her true saintly genius when she describes a deep depression that envelops her.
He allowed my
soul to be overwhelmed with darkness, and the thought of Heaven,
which had consoled me from my earliest childhood, now became a
subject of conflict and torture. This trial did not last merely
for days or weeks; I have been suffering for months, and I still
await deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is
beyond me. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to
understand its blackness. However, I will try to explain it by
means of a comparison.

Let me suppose that I had been born in a land of thick fogs, and
had never seen the beauties of nature, or a single ray of
sunshine, although I had heard of these wonders from my early
youth, and knew that the country wherein I dwelt was not my real
home--there was another land, unto which I should always look
forward. Now this is not a fable, invented by an inhabitant of the
land of fogs, it is the solemn truth, for the King of that sunlit
country dwelt for three and thirty years in the land of darkness,
and alas!--the darkness did not understand that He was the Light
of the World._[11]

[...]

When my heart, weary of the surrounding darkness, tries to find
some rest in the thought of a life to come, my anguish increases.
It seems to me that out of the darkness I hear the mocking voice
of the unbeliever: "You dream of a land of light and fragrance,
you dream that the Creator of these wonders will be yours for
ever, you think one day to escape from these mists where you now
languish. Nay, rejoice in death, which will give you, not what you
hope for, but a night darker still, the night of utter
nothingness!" . . .
Here she describes beautifully the siren's song of our godless modern society. No wonder that depression is epidemic in our society - just look at the huge sale of anti-depressants. The little flower in her simple way is revealing to us the true cause of this infirmity. No wonder that Pope John Paul II made her a Doctor of the Church. She truly has the correct diagnosis and the cure for the greatest disease that afflicts modern man. For disease does not just come from bacteria and virus - these are diseases of the physical body - but there are also spiritual diseases that afflict the soul. For these, the pharmaceutical companies have no cure. At best, they can attempt to cover up the symptoms. But search as they may for a physical source to these maladies, they continuously come up empty.

Here is where Reason fails, and Faith must take over. Why is this so difficult for our Modern Sciences to accept? The ancients understood this well, but our modern egos do not allow us to accept that there is a God that is greater than Man.

In abandoning Faith and embracing Reason as the sole source of Truth, we plunge into the abyss of atheism and agnosticism. To avoid seeing the true nature of this false world, we obsess over youth and earthly delights. We say this is based on reality, and yet we refuse to confront the ultimate reality of Death and all its implications. Without knowing it, we actually end up embracing Death. But not Death as a door to another world, but Death as "utter nothingness". What meaning then do our earthly lives have?

Shortly after this, Thérèse describes her ordeals with Satan as she pleads with Jesus for the souls of the unbelievers.
Each time that my enemy would provoke me to combat, I behave as a
gallant soldier. I know that a duel is an act of cowardice, and
so, without once looking him in the face, I turn my back on the
foe, then I hasten to my Saviour, and vow that I am ready to shed
my blood in witness of my belief in Heaven. I tell him, if only He
will deign to open it to poor unbelievers, I am content to
sacrifice all pleasure in the thought of it as long as I live. And
in spite of this trial, which robs me of all comfort, I still can
say: "Thou hast given me, O Lord, delight in all Thou dost."[13]
For what joy can be greater than to suffer for Thy Love? The more
the suffering is and the less it appears before men, the more is
it to Thy Honour and Glory. Even if--but I know it to be
impossible--Thou shouldst not deign to heed my sufferings, I
should still be happy to bear them, in the hope that by my tears I
might perhaps prevent or atone for one sin against Faith.
Her belief in Heaven is unshakeable. Here in this passage I think I am hearing through Thérèse the thoughts of the martyrs as they went bravely to their deaths, praising Jesus and accepting their fates as God's will. These acts of self-sacrifice and martyrdom inspired many of the early Christians to believe, and even today is part of the reason for the quick spread of Christianity wherever it is openly persecuted.

We live in a society where Christians are not physically persecuted. And yet there is a pernicious form of persecution that the little flower describes so well here. Satan is indeed hard at work spreading the "sin against Faith", and turning young children of faith into "poor unbelievers". Those who believe in Heaven like St. Thérèse are ridiculed. "Prove it!" they say. They might as well be in the crowd before Pilate crying "Crucify Him!"

This is indeed ironic because the rational Roman governor, Pilate, could find no reason to sentence Jesus to death, while it was the religious leaders of the time that demanded he be crucified. Today it is the voice of Reason that leads the call for the banning of religion from public places - a virtual death sentence for Christianity even more slow and torturous than crucifixion.

Christ addressed this modern crisis of Faith when he spoke these words to the Apostle Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Thérèse then speaks to those who have lost their Faith. She speaks of a period she calls "the night of my soul". How many of us have not experienced the same feeling of being lost? Indeed these are perhaps the words that spoke most directly to me in my situation. But what is most surprising and uplifting is her response to this inner suffering.
When I sing of the happiness of Heaven and the eternal possession
of God, I do not feel any joy therein, for I sing only of what I
wish to believe. Sometimes, I confess, a little ray of sunshine
illumines my dark night, and I enjoy peace for an instant, but
later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consoling
me, makes the blackness thicker still.

And yet never have I felt so deeply how sweet and merciful is the
Lord. He did not send me this heavy cross when it might have
discouraged me, but at a time when I was able to bear it. Now it
simply takes from me all natural satisfaction I might feel in my
longing for Heaven.
Here, the little flower reveals her saintly secret to us. Even though she had lost the belief of her upcoming "happiness in Heaven" she still retained her Faith - her "wish to believe". And it was this Faith that sustained her through her "night of my soul".

It was a Faith that she had nurtured through many years of prayer and devotion. So that when the inevitable time of spiritual drought came she had a silo full not of grain - fruit of the earth - but of manna from Heaven. Even an extended siege from the enemy could not defeat her. Her castle walls were not built of rocks from the Earth, but of Heavenly blocks of Faith piled up high - so strong that the continuous bombardment from the enemy could not even begin to make an impression.

In the world in which we live it takes the Faith of a saint to survive. We are surrounded by voices whispering to us that "God is Dead". They do not shout it, but the incessant message has its effect - like water eroding the canyon walls. And we barely notice that we are sinking steadily deeper into oblivion.

Death is the ultimate reminder; death is the great equalizer. Perhaps we live too long today; perhaps we don't experience enough Death to remind us of the Life that comes after Death. I leave you with one final passage from St. Thérèse that touches on these themes. Here, Thérèse recalls an event from when she was 10 years old, soon after a period of serious illness.
I must now continue my story where I left off. Three months after
my cure Papa took me away for a change. It was a very pleasant
time, and I began to see something of the world. All around me was
joy and gladness; I was petted, made much of, admired--in fact,
for a whole fortnight my path was strewn with flowers. The Wise
Man is right when he says: "The bewitching of vanity overturneth
the innocent mind."[2] At ten years of age the heart is easily
fascinated, and I confess that in my case this kind of life had
its charms. Alas! the world knows well how to combine its
pleasures with the service of God. How little it thinks of death!
And yet death has come to many people I knew then, young, rich,
and happy. I recall to mind the delightful places where they
lived, and ask myself where they are now, and what profit they
derive to-day from the beautiful houses and grounds where I saw
them enjoying all the good things of this life, and I reflect that
"All is vanity besides loving God and serving Him alone."[3]
Thérèse warns us that with prosperity comes also the looming risk of falling into decadence.

Bible passages quoted here are:
[2] Wisdom 4:12
[3] Ecclesiastes 2:11

I encourage all of you to learn more about St. Thérèse. She died at the age of 24 in 1897. I seem to be strangely drawn to this period in history - the latter half of the 19th century. The spiritual struggles of that time seem to foretell the ultimate fate of 20th century man.

On a related note, I hope to write in the near future about Pope Leo XIII who has come to fascinate me. He was Pope from 1878 to 1903. In his encyclicals he displays an almost prophetic vision of the 20th century. It is curious that St. Thérèse met him as a young girl. In a comical scene, she threw herself at him and begged him to let her become a Carmelite nun at the tender age of just 15. The Swiss guards had to drag her away. The Pope's fatherly reply was "You will enter if it is God's Will". As it turned out, it was God's will. Perhaps one day my beloved Pope Leo XIII will be recognized as a saint - just like the young girl that humbled herself at his feet.

26 comments:

  1. I´m very happy to see a new post again, even more if it's about the struggles of faith. I can relate to your story because each one of us have felt lost at some point. Have you read the Gabriele Amorth book called "An Exorcist: More Stories", it has helped to understand many things, I hope you can take a look at it.
    God bless you for all work!

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  2. Ride - It's good to hear from you. Thank you for hanging in there my friend and waiting patiently for me to post again. I've been doing a lot of reading and reflecting in the past months. I've fully accepted my Catholic faith and its teachings, and as a result needed to understand those teachings better in order to be able to incorporate them into (and express them in) my thinking and my and writing.

    The book you mention "An Exorcist: More Stories" certainly should fit into that since Gabriele Amorth is a Catholic priest who performed exorcisms. Although I must admit that the whole subject of exorcisms seems quite incredible to me. Not that I don't believe that demonic forces are at work in the world, but its the strange supernatural phenomenon surrounding exorcism that seems almost unbelievable.

    Amorth mentions that "The Exorcist" is his favorite movie and is at least to some degree accurate in its portrayals. I saw the film long ago. But I remember reading the book (after seeing the film I think) and being even more terrified - to the extent that I was so scared that I could not even turn out the lights in my bedroom. I've never had a book affect me in that way - but then I don't often read scary books.

    Just one question: Why do you recommend his 2nd book rather than the first one - "An Exorcist Tells his Story"?

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  3. Ride - I also want to thank you for supporting me in my change of focus with regards to "the struggles of faith". That's a very good way to summarize what this post is about. I expected to get a very hostile reaction from my readers who are used to seeing me post about the "popular culture".

    I don't plan on writing articles about the pop culture in the near future. The theme I have in mind is religious and also Catholic-centric. I'm sure my popularity will plunge, but I'm willing to accept that. It was certainly nice being popular, but that is not my end goal. I've always written to expose certain facts which I have discovered for myself which are not prevalent (or even covered up) in the mainstream of American thought.

    I was struck recently by a sermon I heard on John 6. This chapter of the Bible starts out with Jesus at the height of his popularity, with large crowds gathering and features the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The next day (after walking on water the previous night) Jesus foreshadows events of the Last Supper by telling the multitude that they must eat his body and drink his blood to achieve eternal life. This results in being such an unpopular teaching that at the end of the chapter Jesus is left alone with just the Twelve Apostles.

    When Jesus challenges them and asks them if they would like to leave as well, it is Peter who replies in a spontaneous and beautiful expression of Faith, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.".

    Coincidentally it is in John 6 that Jesus first teaches of His real presence in the Eucharist according to the Catholic Church. It never ceases to amaze me that this has become such a subject of controversy among the various Christian denominations. If we cannot summon sufficient Faith to believe in the miracle of Christ being present in the Host, then how are we to find the Faith to believe in the miracles of Christ in the Gospel? While I can understand the appeal of looking at the Host as a mere symbol of Christ, I can't understand the criticism of those who through their Faith believe that this is the true Body of Christ.

    In some ways this relates to a comment I made in my post about the movie Gattaca about the necessity of looking deeper at symbols to find the true meaning beneath them. The most superficial understanding of the Host is that it is a symbol of the Body of Christ. Yes, that is true. But the ultimate fullest and deepest understanding is that it becomes the actual Body of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit invested in the Priest. (Note: Not the physical body, but the spiritual body.)

    Ultimately I think this controversy is not about the presence of Christ, but about the sanctity of the priesthood. Do priests have powers that ordinary laity do not possess? I have a vision of Christ passing on the powers of the priesthood through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and then that power being handed down through the years to today's priests. This gets into the whole concept of apostolic succession which I think is the real source of this controversy.

    I'm certainly happy to discuss these issues in the spirit of ecumenism. Just as long as we can steer clear of some of the more radical sentiments which do not recognize Catholics as Christians.

    Peace be with you,
    Baba

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  4. The truth is that I read the book in Spanish, the translation is "Narraciones de un Exorcista". I figure that is "An Exorcist: More Stories" because is a second edition, I might be wrong but I hope is the same book. It helped me to answer some questions that I had for a long time in my faith.

    I actually like your change of focus since the VC website discusses more about our "popular culture". However, I think you should write whatever your heart tells you to. I give you thanks for all the hard work and effort that you make to expose and help other people through your writing. I'm sure you'll be compensated.

    I do believe that God gives gifts (talents) to their children through the Holy Spirit. It might be special to priests, even more if they speak in name of God, these are my thoughts. However, I ignore the nature of the power successions.

    About communion and confession, I can say from my experience as a human being that to confess your sins in front of a priest is to defeat your own shame and to ask for forgiveness results in a liberating experience, as well as the Holy Communion. God has its ways to speak to us and we will find answers if we knock doors.

    The little flower’s story is beautiful, nor only you can relate to it and understand our own weaknesses but to try to live in sanctity. While I was reading the article yesterday I reflected about our modern fear of death as you wrote and how life itself can change if we remember that we all die, after all our days on earth will pass.

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  5. Ride - There are actually two books. You might want to read the new one. I haven't read either at this time, but I've put them on my reading list. (I also speak Spanish.)

    I'm glad you didn't find my article too morbid. I was worried that I had dwelled too much on death. The point I really wanted to make is that lack of Faith is part of the reason so many people are suffering from depression.

    I agree with what you're saying about confession. I just hope you realize that it is more than just a psychological exercise, it is fundamentally a spiritual experience. Making a good confession is something I truly struggle with. It is not easy to confess our deepest secrets to a priest, but experiencing the forgiveness of Christ is as you say "liberating" and I would even add exhilarating. I sometimes come out of confession feeling lighter than air. Surely this is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The feeling for me is similar to that of falling in love.

    I'm actually overdue right now for going to confession. I have been battling a personal demon and I was hesitant to go to confession, because I felt that I would just fall back into the same behavior and then what would be the point of having been forgiven? But now I finally found a way to combat this demon. When I feel it leading me into temptation, I just say "go away, I don't want to play with you anymore". Or "go away, I don't want to be your friend anymore". And I find that the little demon goes away and I am left in peace.

    He keeps coming back, but each time I send him away again. Eventually, perhaps he will stop coming around so often. I always thought this sin was a part of me and something outside of my control. Now that I realize that it is just a little demon - a child really - I'm not afraid of it anymore. I think the St. Michael prayer, I have been saying has helped me realize this. (I read somewhere that this is actually a prayer used in exorcism.) I actually recite it in Spanish. This is the prayer I have mentioned before that was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1884. It was this prayer which first got me interested in learning more about Pope Leo XIII.

    Oración a san Miguel arcángel

    "San Miguel Arcángel,
    defiéndenos en la batalla.
    Sé nuestro amparo
    contra la perversidad y asechanzas
    del demonio.
    Reprímale Dios, pedimos suplicantes,
    y tú, Príncipe de la Milicia Celestial,
    arroja al infierno con el divino poder
    a Satanás y a los otros espíritus malignos
    que andan dispersos por el mundo
    para la perdición de las almas. Amén."

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  6. Actually, now that I have re-read what the little flower says here, I realize that I got the courage to face my demon from her example of fighting with "the enemy". She exercises great self-control by not attempting to battle him directly which would be foolish. Instead she goes running into the arms of Jesus for help and protection. As it turned out, the demon I faced was just a little child. Somehow, he must have befriended me when I was young and feeling lonely, and it never occurred to me as I grew up that he was still clinging to me and leading me into temptation.

    I say these things, because I hope that this will help others in confronting their own demons. Sometimes we imagine these to be huge monsters, when in reality they are just little evil spirits which our childish imaginations have inflated to huge size. As Pope John Paul II said often, "be not afraid". Say the "Lord's Prayer" and give special emphasis to "lead us not into temptation".

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  7. baba my friend! I've missed you. In light of your recent posts, I'd like to ask you an asinine question.....do Catholics believe that Jesus is the SON of God? (If the answer is yes, then that would mean that you also believe in the Trinity).Your response only matters in the sense that I simply want to satisfy my own selfish curiosity. Being of a strong Christian faith, it bewilders me when people don't believe that He is. I've always had this preconceived (and most likely erroneous) notion regarding Catholicism in that Mary is given more praise and admiration than Jesus (I'm sure this is a result of my ignorance). I’ve never really taken the time to research the Catholic faith for fear that it wouldn’t line up with what I believe. I don’t want to appear judgmental for I am, nevertheless, curious as to why Catholicism has gotten such a bad rap.

    I’m fully aware that Christianity is the most hated faith in the world and this is because we’re Satan’s biggest threat/competition. He attacks us very viciously (sex scandals, pedophilia, corruption, PRIDE, selfishness, judgment, etc) as he knows how dear we are to God.

    Anyway, please share your thoughts on this. Glad to see you back.

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  8. Baba,
    You must forgive me as I did not read your post before commenting. However, after doing so, I see that you’ve dealt with some inward battles that I face often. The difference is that you see them for what they are, whereas I’m left confused without any revelation whatsoever.

    Being able to find balance has always been a struggle for me. As life would have it, I’ve always deemed myself as lowly, unworthy, and unintelligent. The flip side of this is that at times, I’m quite selfish, prideful, judgmental and bogus. I’ve reflected time and time again on the necessity to change my heart to that of a humble servant that seeks to please God in everything I do. However, the thought process remains just that…a thought process. When I take action and work at being a better person, I fall short as soon as I’m offended or hurt (which ultimately leads to the pride issue that so profoundly overshadows humility in my case).

    I long for the Holy Spirit to speak to me as He’s done with you baba. What do I need to do? How do I know it’s Him?

    I’m so faulty and almost never take anything too seriously, but I know I have to get serious about my relationship with Christ if I intend on making it to Heaven. I’ve been to several churches of different denominations which has left me somewhat confused. Yet, I still seek to find what I need from other people (that I can see, touch, and hear) instead of running to the Father. I feel awful.

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  9. Lenci - First things first. It's great to hear from you. I have taken a time-off to do some reflecting and also to study. (And also quite frankly, to rest.) I'll reply to your first comment first. You have some great questions and its always good to find non-Catholics with open minds about Catholicism. I think one of the best resources available today is the EWTN network which is included in most cable TV packages. It is a Catholic TV channel and does a great job of promoting the Catholic faith.

    My favorite program is called "Coming Home" which is on Monday nights. The host speaks to Protestant ministers that have converted to Catholicism and discusses the reasons that attracted them to the Catholic Church and gets into some of the differences between Catholic teaching and Protestant teaching. He's a former Protestant minister himself and is very respectful of Protestant teaching while obviously promoting Catholicism.

    One thing though that I should warn about is that some of the presenters on the network are EXTREMELY right wing conservative (not Coming Home). There are areas where religion and politics overlap, but on the other hand its dangerous to use religion to promote one party over another for strictly political purposes. Generally the Vatican is very careful not to become in politics. It will come out strongly on moral issues, but stays away from direct involvement in politics. Right now for example two of the biggest issues are abortion and gay marriage. The Church has very clear positions on both of these issues. Some would say this makes the Church a conservative political force. But on the other hand the Church takes equally strong positions against war and capital punishment, and in favor of helping the poor and disadvantaged. These are very liberal positions.

    Sadly, conservatives within the American Catholic Church have tried to turn abortion and gay marriage into political issues rather than the moral issues that they really are. The Church ends up being forced to play a game of realpolitik in dealing with the political situation this creates. But the truth is neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have platforms that the Catholic Church can endorse across the board.

    I know I didn't address your original questions here, but I wanted to get that out there.

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  10. Something About Mary

    It's a very good question you ask about Mary. You'll notice in my next post that I mention the Rosary which is a prayer to Mary. The Catholic Church has for centuries been very devoted to the Blessed Mother Mary - Mother of God. This has certainly been a distinguishing feature of the Church versus Protestants and even Orthodox. Popes over the past two centuries have been particularly vocal about imploring their flock to increase their devotion to Mary. The more secularism and radical forms of Liberalism have corrupted our society, the more the popes have asked Mary to intercede on our behalf.

    To begin with, if you think about it, why wouldn't you love the Mother of Christ? What is more beautiful than the image of Madonna and Child? What is more moving than Mother Mary standing at the foot of the Cross? To see Christ through the eyes of Mary is to truly know him and love him. To feel the pain in Mary's heart as she stands at his feet looking up at his crippled and tortured body on the Cross, is to realize the fullness of the sacrifice that he made for us. Mary leads us to Christ.

    And I think the fact that Mary is every bit as human as you or I reminds us of the importance of humanity, of family and of our personal relations. This is in contrast to the modern world which views humans as just another commodity. Mary is the link between our human world and the heavenly world of which Christ spoke. Through the umbilical cord through which Mary and Christ were linked, we share a direct link with God. When Elizabeth greets Mary she says, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus."

    The Catholic Church sees Mary as the new Eve, while Jesus is the new Adam. I know this is hard to grasp, but Mary is the Mother of God. She is also the Spouse of God through the annunciation. And like all of us, she is a Child of God. Mary is in every way unique and blessed, and yet in most ways she is no different from you or I.

    When Catholics pray to Mary, we are praying to her as an advocate. We are asking her to carry our prayers to Jesus, her son. The same is true when we pray to a saint. We are asking that saint to "intercede" on our behalf. It is something like having a lawyer represent you in front of a judge. We also pray directly to God and to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit.

    But the Church has found that it is especially powerful to pray to Mary, and especially I think in these turbulent times. She is our Heavenly Mother. We can go running into her loving arms whenever we feel lost or troubled, or overwhelmed by this earthly world. It is comforting to know that in our last moments, she will be there praying for us just as she did for her child Jesus.

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  11. Lenci - In reply to your 2nd comment. What you see of me here is my best side. It is my thoughts after I have had time to sit and reflect. In real life I'm no better than how you describe yourself. In fact I had a sort of vision in which I saw myself as God sees me and it was like looking inside a box filled with dark specks. The specks were my sins. It was like looking at a piece of moldy fruit or a person with an infectious disease like leprosy. It was truly disgusting.

    I know what you mean about putting thoughts into action. The hardest thing for me is dealing with my interactions with other people like you describe. This is where it really all tends to break down. I'm just now discovering something new. When I feel one of those unwanted emotions, I recognize it as a demon that is trying to enter into me. I stop my mental process and tell him to go away, and then I continue. Usually this happens as I'm listening to someone speak and I'm reacting to what they're saying.

    Then when its my turn to speak, I find I express myself much more clearly and calmly. I find myself saying things in different ways than I would have otherwise, or even saying something completely different.

    I've just discovered this and I haven't had much time to experience how it works. I noticed that before I tended to react by finding fault in the other person. Here I'm finding a fault with myself, but that fault is entering me from outside through a demon. I know it sounds a little strange. It is kind of like when Jesus says to take the speck out of your own eye, instead of always looking for the faults (demons) in others.

    As for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I think you have them and just don't realize it. Just continue praying regularly and asking God to show you His will. Say the Lord's Prayer and emphasize "Thy will be done".

    Then if you still feel lost it is because God is testing you, and this should make you happy - as was the case for the Little Flower. The Saints are the ones that suffered and sacrificed the most. St. Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ. We have to be willing to give up our freedom for Him to come live inside us.

    If you decide to go to a Catholic Church you should probably go with a friend who is Catholic. Just remember that Catholic communion is not intended to be shared with non-Catholics. If you know someone who is Catholic they can explain these things to you.

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  12. "San Miguel Arcángel,
    defiéndenos en la batalla.
    Sé nuestro amparo
    contra la perversidad y asechanzas
    del demonio.
    Reprímale Dios, pedimos suplicantes,
    y tú, Príncipe de la Milicia Celestial,
    arroja al infierno con el divino poder
    a Satanás y a los otros espíritus malignos
    que andan dispersos por el mundo
    para la perdición de las almas. Amén."


    What a beautiful prayer! I'll try to learn it and use it. I like your thoughts about Mary, I wouldn't be able to explain it better.

    Baba, I have a question for you, what can you do when someone close to you, makes you feel angry and you start being selfish, how can you forgive him and take control of your own emotions when they are negative?

    Thank you once again.

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  13. Ride - I think the answer to your question relates directly to the prayer to San Miguel. It's the same answer I gave to Lenci about putting thoughts into action. I should also say that the same thing happens to me when I get angry at someone. My emotions get the best of me and I start acting in ways which I'm not proud of, in order to get back at the person.

    I'll just repeat what I said to Lenci above. "When I feel one of those unwanted emotions, I recognize it as a demon that is trying to enter into me. I stop my mental process and tell him to go away, and then I continue. Usually this happens as I'm listening to someone speak and I'm reacting to what they're saying."

    I know it would be easy to think of this as some sort of psychological exercise, but I think this would be incorrect. It is recognizing the influence of the spiritual world that surrounds us. Jesus spoke often of demons. And clearly we cannot understand his message without seeing that he is speaking not of an earthly kingdom, but of a heavenly kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is in our hearts.

    We're all told that we should be saving up for retirement - and that is true; but even more importantly we should be amassing our spiritual treasure in heaven. There is room for all of us in heaven, if only we are just willing to follow Jesus and let him into our hearts. And it's no secret that the way to do this is to repent and ask Him for His forgiveness.

    As you see, we're speaking of a sort of act of self-exorcism by repenting and telling the demons that want to control our actions to go away whenever we feel them leading us into temptation. Of course if you are in love with your demons for whatever reason, then you will not be able to tell them to go away. We must recognize that we derive pleasure from our temptations and we have to be prepared to suffer and sacrifice in order to escape from their slavery. It's not easy.

    I've had some limited success, but I'm no saint. Right now I'm happy if I can see I'm making some progress in the battle against my demons. But I know there are days that they are the ones that declare victory. Still, we can't give up the fight.

    Paz,
    baba

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  14. Thank you for response Baba, I have reflected on this days about forgiveness, prayer and faith, that is also a consequence of your responses and articles. I know that there are Demons as well as Angels, but I like to know that there is more goodness in this world than evil.
    You have helped me a lot, thank you.

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  15. Ride - I've recently been reading about the "communion of saints", which is part of the Creed. I never understood the meaning of this in the past. The reason I bring this up now is because you mention that you are concerned about the emphasis I placed on demons. I share that same concern with you.

    What I discovered is that the communion of saints refers to the whole Church past and present. Just as the early Christians shared their material possessions, so the whole Church shares its spiritual wealth. So the fact that the Saints lived pious lives is a gift that they share with us. Also, in this context all members of the Catholic Church are "saints".

    This Sunday when I was at Mass and the choir and the members of the church were singing, I felt as if we were joined too by the communion of saints. Perhaps this explains the feeling I have often felt on hearing a song that touched me. When I sing I do not sing alone, but I'm joined by a choir of saints which amplifies and echoes my voice and fills my soul.

    I could also feel the prayers of all those in the church and felt that I too was benefitting from their religious devotion, even though my own devotion is often lacking. We each have something to give and share with the rest. I may be strong in some areas, but weak in others. Our brothers and sisters in Christ make up the difference for us, just as we help them to achieve their fullness.

    This is what my contemplations on the communion of saints has revealed to me. One of the things I most enjoy about the Catholic faith is that there is always room to grow. There are 2000 years of teachings and traditions to discover and appreciate. Stop me if I'm gushing too much. :)

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  16. I have felt the same feeling, just by listening the choir singing, the people praying and worshiping god.

    There is one moment in the ritual that I particularity like, when people shake their hands and give "la paz" (I'm not sure how do you call it in English). It is because every time that I was fighting with some member of my family, we couldn't argue anymore after doing that. It is important to go to mass every weekend for me, because in that way I don't forget what really matters in life.

    The creed is powerful in the way that you believe in every world, in that way, I'm going to investigate and read more about the communion of saints.

    PD: You are not gushing too much, I enjoy and learn a lot about your comments. :=)

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  17. Ride - "La paz" is the "sign of peace" in English. I've always enjoyed also the way that this greeting brings the participants in the Mass together. It's interesting how you say this brought your family closer.

    It's curious that you mention the sign of peace. I just recently discovered that the greetings used by Muslims "As-Salamu Alaykum" means "peace be upon you" and is followed by a "kiss". Early Christians followed a similar custom which is why this is included in the Mass.

    This custom is described by St. Augustine in the 4th century: "After the Lord's Prayer, say 'Peace be with you.' Christians then embrace one another with a holy kiss. This is the sign of peace." On several occasions in John 20 Jesus greets his disciples with the words "Peace be with you".

    It's important to note that while Muslims claim to accept Jesus, they consider him to be a prophet and not the Son of God. This is a type of heresy that the early Church fought against. Still, at least Muslims do accept the teachings of Jesus.

    Peace be with you,
    baba

    P.S. I would really appreciate any comments you have on my latest post about gay "marriage".

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  18. Hi, I really enjoyed the article and the comments. I have loved the Little Flower for a long time.

    One comment I have is on your post that "It was a Faith that she had nurtured through many years of prayer and devotion. So that when the inevitable time of spiritual drought came she had a silo full not of grain - fruit of the earth - but of manna from Heaven. Even an extended siege from the enemy could not defeat her. Her castle walls were not built of rocks from the Earth, but of Heavenly blocks of Faith piled up high - so strong that the continuous bombardment from the enemy could not even begin to make an impression."

    I don't think she had very many years of "prayer and devotion" as she died at age 24. However, I do agree that she had a strong faith and a great relationship with Jesus. It gives me great hope that she could battle satan so well at this time and it clearly has helped you to do the same.

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  19. Hi Brencel. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read this article. I struggle at times with trying to understand the exact meaning of Thérèse's words. Partly because of the spiritual nature of her writing, and on a more mundane level because the language is out of date and translated from French.

    The section you highlight is one that I particularly struggled in writing and I was not really satisfied with my use of metaphors, nor was I even sure that I had correctly interpreted her message. I was trying to convey an image that came to my mind, which was inspired by my reading of her "diary". At times it felt as if she was speaking to me clearly and directly through the hundred plus years since her death and rebirth.

    Chronologically it's true that Thérèse left this earth at a young age, but spiritually she lived a long life. She entered the convent around the age of 15 or 16 as a self-admitted spoiled young child. But she was able to overcome that through grace and grew and matured within the convent walls.

    St. Thérèse's great desire was to save sinners. She offered her soul as a "victim of holocaust" to God's "merciful love". She asked God to "consume me incessantly". Although the words are rich in poetic beauty, I think that Thérèse is referring here to the pain she was suffering. Yet she describes "the waves of infinite tenderness" and the "rivers or rather oceans of graces that flooded my soul".

    Here is how I interpret this... She was praying that in offering up her pain and suffering in this way that she would be able to lead some lost souls to find God's "merciful love" instead of turning "to creatures, seeking happiness from them with their miserable affection". Isn't this the great affliction of our society? Seeking happiness in consumerism and physical love and pleasure?

    Thérèse died from tuberculosis which was commonly known as "consumption". As the disease slowly "consumed" her body, she thought only of how she could use her suffering to ease the suffering of others.

    Recently we have the example of blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano who passed away October 7, 1990 at the age of just 18 from a very painful form of bone cancer. When offered higher doses of morphine to ease her pain she said, “It makes me less lucid and the pain is all I can offer Jesus.” Her last words to her mother were, “Be happy, because I am.”
    Chiara “Luce” Badano

    BTW, Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Thérèse's feast day was October 1. Chiara “Luce” Badano was beatified on September 25, 2010.

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  20. Hey baba,

    I know this has nothing to do with the article you are posting here, but I recommend you read about Oscar Wilde, and his fantastic book: The portrait of Dorian Gray. You may even be able to do a review of the book.

    As you may notice, both on the book and the movie, there is a depiction of temptations, sins and everything the world has to offer to a young man. And as he continues sinning, his portrait, a.k.a., his soul keeps becoming darker and uglier, although his flesh did not necessarily reflect such effect.

    That is a movie and a book that may give you loads of topics to write about. ;)

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  21. Hi Paco. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll add Dorian Gray to my movie list. You know of course that Oscar Wilde was a high profile practicing homosexual in Victorian England. Not only this, but he preached the virtues of pederasty - a vile ancient Greek practice.

    He was a Protestant (Anglican??) who flirted with the teachings of the Catholic Church. His interest in Catholicism seems to have been purely an intellectual exercise, the way one might read Greek mythology. Although one should not judge, and it is claimed that he had a deathbed conversion to the Catholic faith.

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  22. Hey Baba!

    Yes the man was very sinful during his youth days, but on his last years/days? he became a very faithful and devout Catholic, and in my own opinion that is reflected in the Dorian Gray book.

    The book essentially talks about a man, who has everything the secular world praises, looks, youth, charm, etc. And he uses it only for fun and pleasure. But as time goes by, he does not age, and everything, including the aging, happens to a portrait of his, but this portrait is the reflection of his soul.

    It is interesting because one can see what evil and sin does to human soul, and it is also a reflection of how good fun and pleasure really are.

    It is a very heated inner debate for the soul of Dorian, he fights his instincts and passions, and suffers because he is a slave to the flesh.

    You need to be careful because the book/films are all about seduction and the flesh, but if you ignore those parts, and concentrate on the philosophical issues one can notice that it is a discussion about sin, and what sin does to the soul.

    I think he was a former Anglican.

    Either way hope you like it!

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  23. Hi Paco. It is interesting to think of how God sees us. The Bible speaks of us as if we were a flock of sheep. Not a very complimentary image in some ways. And how must our soul appear to God? Our sin stained souls must appear hideous indeed. And yet we are forgiven and our souls washed clean when we are baptized. And again when we go to confession. And finally in Purgatory the last traces of sin are cleansed so that we can enter into Heaven as pure souls. No longer the sheep of Earth but with a new heavenly body. There we can know God face to face and meet the angels and the saints.

    "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. Now and at the hour of our death." Amen.

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  24. Dear Paco. You may be interested in this book about Oscar Wilde as seen from a Catholic perspective by Joseph Pearce.
    The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde

    I am currently reading another book by Pearce titled "The Quest for Shakespeare" which establishes the fact that Shakespeare was a Catholic. It has led me to watch Hamlet. Knowing Shakespeare is a Catholic gives a whole different perspective on his work. It is easy to imagine Hamlet's Uncle who kill's his father and marries his mother as Henry VIII. And to imagine Hamlet himself as representing the Catholic faith. And Polonius, the king's foolish adviser, as perhaps representing Martin Luther.

    Here is the publisher's description of "The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde":

    "Vilified by fellow Victorians for his sexuality and his dandyism, Oscar Wilde, the great poet, satirist and playwright, is hailed today, in some circles, as a "progressive" sexual liberator. But this is not how Wilde saw himself. His actions and pretensions did not bring him happiness and fulfillment. This study of Wilde's brilliant and tragic life goes beyond the mistakes that brought him notoriety in order to explore this emotional and spiritual search."

    "Unlike any other biography of Wilde, it strips away these pretensions to show the real man, his aspirations and desires. It uncovers how he was broken by his two-year prison sentence; it probes the deeper thinking behind masterpieces such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Salome, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” and “De Profundis”; and it traces his fascination with Catholicism through to his eleventh-hour conversion."

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  25. Thanks baba

    I will read your recommendations. I never saw Shakespeare the way he is described in the book you are reading, and indeed, Hamlet does take a whole new meaning when interpreted with a Catholic perspective.

    By the way beware, a great deal of satanism in the media is about to be unleashed, just be ready and if possible try to stay away from the major networks unless you already know their content.

    :) God Bless you my friend.

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  26. Paco. Thank you for your warning. I had already come to the same conclusion myself and have shut off the TV.

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