The more he wants to give, the more he makes us desire, til he leaves us empty so as to fill us with blessings … God’s immense blessings can only fit into a heart that is empty. They come in that kind of solitude. For this reason, the Lord would love to see you, since he loves you so well, well and truly alone, intent on being himself all your company. And your Reverence will have to take heart and be content only with his company, in order to find all contentment in that; for even if a person were in heaven, if she didn’t align her will to want it, she wouldn’t be content.”
“Once in the dark of night,
my longings caught and raging in love’s ray
(O windfall of delight!)
I slipped unseen away
as all my home in a deep slumber lay.
Secure, in more than night,
close hid and up the stair a secret way
(O windfall of delight!)
in the night, in feigned array
as all my home in a deep slumber lay.
There in the lucky dark,
stealing in secrecy, by none espied;
nothing for eyes to mark,
no other light, no guide
but in my heart: that fire would not subside.
That led me on—
that dazzle truer than high noon is true
to where there waited one
I knew—how well I knew!—
in a place where no one was in view.
O dark of night, my guide!
O sweeter than anything sunrise can discover!
O night, drawing side to side
the loved and lover,
the loved one wholly ensouling in the lover.
There in my festive breast
walled for his pleasure-garden, his alone,
the lover remained at rest
and I gave all I own,
gave all, in air from the cedars softly blown.
All, in wind from the wall
as my hand in his hair moved lovingly at play.
He let my soft fingers fall
and I swooned dead away
wounded: all senses in oblivion lay.
Quite out of self suspended—
my forehead on the lover’s own reclined.
And that way the world ended
with all my cares untwined
among the lilies falling and out of mind.”
—San Juan de la Cruz, La noche oscura del alma
Tr. John Frederick Nims
For this feast of St. Cecilia, virgin-martyr of the early Church and patroness of musicians, I wanted to share one of my favorite antiphons from the Divine Office. It is so simple, but the words and the music just seem to “rhyme” (as my man Gerard Manley Hopkins might say)—there is a harmony between the melody and the language which exemplifies the very best of chant, which speaks straight to the heart.
The Bridegroom is speaking here to the bride. “Come!” he cries from the heights, like a trumpet blast—then, tenderly: “my chosen one,” as the antiphon drops a third. The musical movement mirrors the Incarnation: the ultimate miracle! that God became man so that man might become God: “that I may dwell in your heart,” as he sings with “a lingering-out sweet skill” (to quote G.M.H. again)—and that you may dwell in Me. Notice how the notes descend on “dwell” and then rise on “in your heart!” Down and up: down to the heart of the bride, up to the hearth of the Bridegroom, forever and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.
Music Credit: Midday Prayer, Common of Virgins, Mount Angel Abbey. All rights reserved. Contact: Choirmaster, 1 Abbey Drive, St. Benedict, Ore. 97373.
As for myself, I am only a sinner, not yet beyond the reach of temptation; but even amidst all the devil’s machinations, I still strive to make progress and hope to attain at least some virtue, for I fear the judgment that awaits me. Futile desires becloud our minds. We need to pull ourselves up, therefore, because our very salvation is at stake!“
“You speak to me of the weight of years and you are twenty years old! Twenty, oh! I want sixty more years for you, filled with good sacrifices, all perfumed with myrrh and incense to console the Heart of your divine Spouse at your own expense.”
“May Jesus always keep for you this ideal of the exile which your eyes can discover and your soul taste. The Saints loved so much everything that was amiable in the works of God: flowers, nature, above all souls, and heavenly affections.”
“Could a spoiled child like you ever hesitate to abandon herself, to fall asleep peacefully in the arms of her Jesus, never fearing to be betrayed?”
“Sursum corda! Let us lift up our hearts! Let us soar more and more far away from what is earthly and human. Let us climb up to the Heart of Jesus. This is heaven before heaven; the heaven of heavens.”
“Long live peace, joy, confidence. Always smile for the divine Spouse.”
The work of salvation takes place in obscurity and stillness. In the heart’s quiet dialogue with God the living building blocks out of which the kingdom of God grows are prepared, the chosen instruments for the construction forged. The mystical stream that flows through all centuries is no spurious tributary that has strayed from the prayer life of the church—it is its deepest life.
When this mystical stream breaks through traditional forms, it does so because the Spirit that blows where it will is living in it, this Spirit that has created all traditional forms and must ever create new ones. Without him there would be no liturgy and no church. Was not the soul of the royal psalmist a harp whose strings resounded under the gentle breath of the Holy Spirit?
From the overflowing heart of the Virgin Mary blessed by God streamed the exultant hymn of the “Magnificat.” When the angel’s mysterious word became visible reality, the prophetic “Benedictus” hymn unsealed the lips of the old priest Zechariah, who had been struck dumb. Whatever arose from spirit-filled hearts found expression in words and melodies and continues to be communicated from mouth to mouth. The “Divine Office” is to see that it continues to resound from generation to generation. So the mystical stream forms the many-voiced, continually swelling hymn of praise to the triune God, the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Perfecter.
Therefore, it is not a question of placing the inner prayer free of all traditional forms as “subjective” piety in contrast to the liturgy as the “objective” prayer of the church. All authentic prayer is prayer of the church. Through every sincere prayer something happens in the church, and it is the church itself that is praying therein, for it is the Holy Spirit living in the church that intercedes for every individual soul “with sighs too deep for words.” This is exactly what “authentic” prayer is, for “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” What could the prayer of the church be, if not great lovers giving themselves to God who is love!
The unbounded loving surrender to God and God’s return gift, full and enduring union, this is the highest elevation of the heart attainable, the highest level of prayer. Souls who have attained it are truly the heart of the church, and in them lives Jesus’ high priestly love. Hidden with Christ in God, they can do nothing but radiate to other hearts the divine love that fills them and so participate in the perfection of all into unity in God, which was and is Jesus’ great desire.
This was how Marie Antoinette de Geuser understood her vocation. She had to undertake this highest Christian duty in the midst of the world. Her way is certainly a very meaningful and strengthening model for the many people who, having become radically serious about their inner lives, want to stand up for the church and who cannot follow this call into the seclusion of a monastery. The soul that has achieved the highest level of mystical prayer and entered into the “calm activity of divine life” no longer thinks of anything but of giving itself to the apostolate to which God has called it.
This is repose in orderliness and, at the same time, activity free of all constraint. The soul conducts the battle in peace, because it is acting entirely from the viewpoint of eternal decrees. She knows that the will of her God will be perfectly fulfilled to his greater glory, because—though the human will often, as it were, sets limits for divine omnipotence—that divine omnipotence triumphs after all by creating something magnificent out of whatever material is left. This victory of divine power over human freedom, which he nevertheless permits to do as it pleases, is one of the most wonderful and adorable aspects of God’s plan for the world…
Laudetur Jesus Christus! I’m back at Mt. Angel Seminary as of this week, getting settled in again to diocesan seminary life and preparing to begin my fourth and final year of studies in philosophy. There will be many blog posts coming soon, but in the meantime, I want to share with you all this excellent video from the Catholic Sentinel showing off the parish where I was assigned this summer: St. Stephen’s in Southeast Portland. As Shawn Natola says, “it’s awesome, and kind of weird, and really, really beautiful.” Go watch it! And come visit!
Read the accompanying article from the Catholic Sentinel here.
August 10—Lourdes. At the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, I was thinking of a proud answer I had just given.
(With tender pity.) “How your littleness makes you suffer!”
And I remembered what He had told me once before from the monstrance in the same place, surrounded by cardinals and archbishops in rich vestments:
“You see, I am the smallest.”
“You were the ladder by which God descended,
Through you the Highest came to seek the lowest;
By your protection, help us as we journey
Onwards to heaven.”
—Hymn Gaudium mundi (“Joy of Poor Sinners”), First Vespers of the Assumption