Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CELESTE'S KEYS TO THANKSGIVING


Thanksgiving is the time of year when we count our blessings.   Our Foundress Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa was a person deeply aware of all the blessings she received from God, her Beloved: the supernatural as well as the mundane.  You see, she was a mystic: one who was so imbued with the knowledge of her symbiotic relationship with her Maker and Redeemer working in her life and in creation that her only recourse was to give humble thanks.  Imbedded in all of her writings are real jewels of brilliance and clarity; ‘Keys’ to unlock the door to giving thanks.

Forgetfulness of Self      36. The Little Garden, 11

Believe in the graces you know that I give to my friends and you will participate, by benevolence, in the good things which are theirs, and it will be pleasing to Me that you will thank Me for them as though you had received them for yourself.

Isn’t it interesting that the very first instance of giving thanks in Celeste’s writings is for the graces given to others! It was a call to Celeste to let go of ego and rejoice in the bounty of graces given to all God’s creatures.  It is a call to have a generous heart, to forgetfulness of self.  That reminds me of a Redemptorist who once said ‘‘J-o-y’ is Jesus, Others, You.  That phrase has become my motto and what I aspire to live in my religious life; to forget myself and do for others for the love of Jesus.  That relates to a promise which Jesus made to Celeste which also has stuck with me over the years, ‘You shall possess My Joy by your participation in My love.’  In participating in Jesus’ acts of love we shall spread joy to others and the response to joy is always thankfulness.

Hope    47.  Dialogues II, 12 (118)

I thank you, my faithful Lover, for the great love you have for me. O my beloved Spouse, I, to please you, desire to be newly dressed with an angelic and divine purity, because I know that it is this purity which is pleasing to you, my Lord.

But I see myself as a sinful mass, full of ingratitude and imperfections, and especially of that self-love which You abhor. What shall I do, my Lord?  I come to You, my safe Refuge, in order that You with your power may cause everything in me to be pure.

This passage comes from ‘The Dialogues’ where Celeste calls Jesus her ‘Spouse’ and she calls herself the ‘Soul’ and they converse back and forth.  These exchanges demonstrate Celeste’s profound prayer life and intimate relationship with her Beloved. 

Jesus, in another passage, told Celeste of his desires for her to be ‘Pure Love’ and she sees herself here as falling short.   She expresses her ‘desire to be newly dressed in angelic purity.’ Celeste is aware of her weaknesses and begs for help to live a pure life of love.   An attitude of gratitude comes before this request because she knows her Lord and Refuge will not leave her without hope.  

You may wonder how a saintly person like Celeste could see herself as a ‘sinful mass?’  Celeste was just so aware of her potential for wrong-doing that that in itself seemed sinful.  

For example, she could have been filled with anger and plot to get even with the other sisters in Scala when she was banished to the monastery attic because, at one point, the Superioress thought ‘Celeste was delusional and invented everything about the revelation of the new Rule with the desire of becoming Prioress.   Rather, she took those weeks in the attic and those circumstances to deepen her pray-life, her relationship with her Beloved.  Celeste was content in this solitude for she was freed from her doubts and fears and found peace of mind when the Spouse made known to her that all this was happening not to her, but to Him.  That she was being ‘placed in the kingdom of the cross and of glory…that the work of the Institute may be established.’  Thus, with these words of reassurance, Celeste remained hope-filled in her desire to be pure love and gave humble thanks to her Beloved Spouse.

The Eucharist: Gift of Love and Mercy                                  
74. Spiritual Exercises for December, med. 18

‘I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me’ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar

Beloved daughter, remember what the divine Word, God-Man, said, namely that He would be with you to the end of the world because He would be the food and nourishment of human beings, indeed He would be their life in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

In this instance My mercy has not been able to go further in giving, because no greater gift can be given. At this point hold yourself still in admiration as you contemplate the countless good things you have received.

Accordingly, He instituted this Sacrament immediately before His Passion at the cost of His Blood poured out for the benefit of all. For them He would thus become their drink, their nourishment, their life and substance.

Behold then where the salvation of the just lies, behold the source where they receive all the lights and knowledge of the eternal truths. There they are filled to full measure and overflowing from the torrent of love where they become immersed in God and made able to produce the most abundant fruits of every virtue, especially love for the neighbor, because this Sacrament is love.

There they receive the Holy Spirit with all His gifts because they are transformed into God by My beloved Son. You see now, Daughter, what dignity this sacrament gives you, and how My great Mercy is without bounds: there has been no restraint in My giving. Hence your whole life should be a continual preparation for and thanksgiving for, My Mercy.

As you all know, the word Eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving.  In reading Celeste’s works it seems most of her mystical inspirations either came in the presence of, or after the reception of Holy Communion – during the time of thanksgiving.  There were times when her community would leave her in Choir for hours because she was so caught up in rapture.  As Superioress in Foggia, Celeste would share almost daily, especially during the holy seasons, with her community for their growth and edification, inspirations she received from her Beloved.  Like her writings, her ‘ferverinos’ are like a mobius strip – a circle never ending, continually flowing in and out of itself: it goes around and around, always coming back to trust and thanksgiving for God’s mercy and love.   Like Celeste, we are to make of our whole life a sacrifice of praise to the glory of the Father by responding the only way we can for all the torrents of love and mercy God has dignified us in being nourished by the sacrifice of His Beloved Son and become transformed into a never ending Communion of Thanks by becoming ourselves a Living Eucharist for the world.

Pure Faith            75. Exercise of love for every day, 23 March

He who is my whole Good gives Himself to me sacramentally in a morsel of bread; there I receive the gift of pure faith; there my innumerable ailments receive healing and all the members of my body impaired by the mass of my iniquities are strengthened. And through You, Word of God and My Word, I have received your Holy Spirit who dwells in me and gives me life in God, life of grace and love, life of the Spirit breathed into me by You.

Love of my heart, how can I thank you! The ears of my spirit, melting with love, hear these words most sweet from you, Word of God: “Go, your Son doth live,” because You, God, live in the human person; in my life the Son of the Eternal Father is living, having come down into my heart to give new life to my flesh.

God speaks to the soul and discloses to her His most intimate and sublime secrets, communicating them to the ear, the taste, and the touch of her soul.

Here again, Celeste, in the most lyrical of language, expounds on the intrinsic benefits of the Most Holy Sacrament.  She is not shy in telling her community or us generations later, of the grace of pure faith she has received in the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament the Son of the Eternal Father who has come into her heart to give new life to her flesh.  Note how her language is very Trinitarian.  With great fluidity she addresses all the persons of the Trinity as each has an impact on her soul.  What a beautiful, intimate relationship she has with her God!  Celeste, who was not educated beyond what was normal for that time and certainly not learned in writing because she wrote simply as she spoke -  that is why it has been difficult to get a definitive translation of her writings. Celeste spoke/wrote effusively from the heart, and touches our hearts with her genuineness.  From her writing I perceive a passionate person with all her senses open and afire with the transformation taking place in her soul through the reception of the Eucharist.  A woman full of joy, wonder and thanksgiving.  A woman of pure faith. 

Champion Companions   Fourth Dialogue

I remain still attached to things of the earth and I warm my passions and evil inclinations because of this deliberate desire that I still have for the warmth of my self-love.

O Lord of my soul, You have bestowed mercies without number on me.  And to heal this weakness of mine, You deigned to send Your holy Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas the Martyr, who, dipping his finger in blood, made the sign of the cross over me, upon my very eyes, and doing so, he delivered me from my sufferings, leaving my soul at rest in You, my Eternal Repose.

Moreover, this great champion of Yours, has been pleased to assist me several times by his presence while I was at holy prayer and, united to my spirit, his own celestial spirit led me to Your bosom, to that ardent love with which he loved You and with which You, O Eternal Lord have loved him in return in the eternal pleasure of the Word.  All the while my soul enjoyed the heavenly communication of union in the God whom he already possessed.  I thank You, O my Spouse and my King, for this great mercy which You have shown me through this great friend of Yours - all without any merit on my part - bringing a marvelous healing of my spirit through such a companion.

All of us have patron saints or champion companions, as Celeste had Thomas of Canterbury, whom we turn to in prayer for assistance because we feel a kinship with them.  Celeste was no different.  Like Thomas Becket with King Henry II, Celeste had her differences with authority.  For instance, when Bishop Falcoia wanted complete control over the sisters lives living the new Rule that they were following which was revealed to Celeste by Jesus.  Like Becket, she saw herself an obedient, devoted servant but believed in liberty of spirit when it came to following the conscience of one’s heart and could not accept the conditions lay down by the authorities.  Celeste was not martyred like Thomas Becket but she was expelled from the monastery in Scala and her name expunged from the records.

So, thankful for the assistance of her holy companion Thomas, she thanks her King for the great mercies He has bestowed on her in healing her spirit and uniting her with Thomas of Canterbury into the heart of God.  So, in our turn, we too should be grateful that our saints and holy champion companions in Christ who stand with us in our hour of need before the throne of God. 

Humility   Fifth Dialogue

The Soul:

O Sweetness of my soul how You constantly strive to bring to perfection this "second" copy whose "original" You Yourself are, O my Good.  To bring this about You deigned to unite Yourself to me after Holy Communion…  And You let me see, with the eyes of my spirit, and with a loving look, You took my right hand into Your left and then, on the palm of this hand was the glorious wound, beautiful as a tiny sun.  Clasping my right hand, You pressed within it a beautiful, priceless jewel.  Then You took my left hand into Your right and pressed there another jewel.  Then, pressing Your heart to my own, You left there a third jewel, filling me with an inexplicable contentment and a loving jubilation.  After all this, You let me understand what were these jewels.  The first one, on the right hand, was revilements; the second, on the left, was love of the cross; the third, on the heart, was pure love.  Then I beheld these three jewels remained with me and were impressed upon me like three pledges of Your love in my soul a love that would last unto eternity just as You had promised me.  O my Goodness, how shall I thank You for this great love which You have shown me, so vile a creature?
      
Soul of my soul, O my Beloved; take possession of my heart.  You order me to choose one of these annihilations for each of the seven days of the week, so as to correspond faithfully and be mindful of Your favors.  You have taught me quite clearly! In one moment of great truth, I give You infinite thanks for such a copious mercy.

You give me the seven gifts of Your Divine Spirit, teaching me all the while and communicating to me in the very gifts seven special kinds of annihilation.

You, my Good, in this union which You Yourself bring about of my spirit to the Word, firstly, give me Wisdom.  Secondly, You share with me the gift of Intellect so that I might see and understand Truth.  You give me the third gift of Counsel, so that in You, I might help my neighbors to discover the truth of Your Gospel.  You share the fourth gift with me, namely Courage, so that I might be constant and faithful in suffering for Your love.  You give me the fifth gift of Knowledge to free me from the darkness of sin and the deceits of Your and my enemy.  You give me the sixth gift, Piety, so that I might have perfect charity toward my neighbor.  Finally, You give me Your Holy Fear so that I might be faithful to You till death in holy perseverance.

How shall I return thanks to You for so many blessings, O my eternal and only God? 

Here Celeste talks about jewels she has received that will be with her the rest of her life: revilements, love of the cross and pure love.  These jewels, and the so called annihilations, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, if taken seriously don’t make for life a bed of roses. Celeste was aware that she had been blessed with remarkable gifts and these ‘annihilations’ were to keep her humble and grounded when her ego could easily have become inflated. What these annihilations are, though, are a spiritual pathway to humility and thanksgiving.  I think Celeste sees these jewels and annihilations as a means to self emptying– Kenosis; the kind of self emptying Jesus assumed when he became human, as it is written in Phil. 2:6-9  Though in the form of God, Jesus did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, human like one of us.  Flesh and blood, he humbled himself, obeying to the death, death on a cross.

These practices of the Intentions of the Hours, Annihilations for the Days of the Week, Virtues of the Month were all common monastic practices of the time as a way to remain recollected throughout their daily life of prayer.  Celeste says of those who practice them, ‘These are the children of the light who do not dwell in darkness, because, bent on always having the pure intention, they keep their gaze fixed on the mirror of the divine perfections of their God.’  The ‘gaze fixed’ is an oft repeated theme in Celeste’s writings because she wants to instill in her sisters that through humility, these annihilations, they will become a ‘second’ copy of the original, a Viva Memoria of their Beloved.

Jewels of Prayer   Ninth Dialogue

The Soul:

I bless and I thank Your mercy because, without any merit on my part, You heaped upon me all sorts of blessings and graces.

You explain this to my heart in this similitude: The Spouse who loves His beloved does not permit her to have just one dress and one jewel, but rather is happy and takes pleasure at the fact that she has many clothes of many different colors and that she is adorned with all sorts of jewels!  In the same way, You say that You take pleasure in the fact that I rest in the sleep of Your love but above all, it pleases You that at other times my spirit prays to You with all kinds of prayers, with prayer of petition, of satisfaction, of thanksgiving, prayers of both self‑giving and self‑surrender, of praise and thanks, and the like; and likewise with every act of both vocal and mental praise, as also of sorrow, hope, confidence, faith, and love.   Oh, that my spirit might shout with an infinite cry in Your presence, since You are my God.  O my Infinite and Eternal Mercy, there is nothing that is not fitting to say to You and I am completely sure that I will find refuge and a remedy in all my needs in You.

St Paul says, ‘Pray always.’   Here Celeste is grateful for all the opportunities in her life to offer jewels of prayer.  Celeste says, There is nothing that is not fitting to say to the God of Infinite Mercy.’  In following Celeste’s example, we can say anything to God.  May we always clothe ourselves with jewels of prayer; whatever their color or brilliance may be.  At all times they will be seen and heard by the Lord who will ‘heap all sorts of graces and blessings’ on us that we may not lose heart. And for this we join Celeste in giving thanks and praise.

Self Awareness      Ninth Dialogue

The Soul:

O my Lord and beauty of my soul, I give You infinite thanks for although in Your sight I am like a stinking dead dog, which exhales bad odors through its sins and miseries, still You deigned to illumine me in my ignorance … so I might walk in the experience of the true light, which You Yourself are, O my God. Who could praise and bless You for the many and numberless mercies You have shown me?

I gave a hoot of laughter when I read that one – Celeste sure is descriptive: ‘a stinking dead dog…’   Then she goes on to speak about walking in the true light illuminating her ignorance; she was given the gift of self awareness. 

I’ve been thinking lately of what that means and I compare it to the spiritual journey we all take and how far along one is on that journey.  The average person is walking around, spiritually – wise, as if on a cloudy day: they know God is there like the sun shining above the clouds but it doesn’t affect them too much this way or that.  Some are walking in the darkness of serious sin and can see a distant point of light and have the choice of either going toward the light or away from it.  Some are walking in the darkness of depression as if holding a lantern and can only see what is immediately around them as they try to find their way out of that darkness.  On the other hand, there are those who are on the spiritual journey who are walking in the light – the sun shining on their backs, seeing how the hand of God is actively working in their lives. They also see their shadow starkly outlined on the ground revealing the vast distinction between creature and Creator.  

And then there are those, like Celeste, standing in broad daylight, her face turned up to the brilliant noonday sun and are blinded by the glory from above and totally aware of her unworthiness of all the graces and blessings and gifts God is continually showering over her.  Therefore, feeling absolutely humbled by this unvarying experience she sees herself as a worthless dead dog stinging to high heaven.  Celeste was human like all of us, and probably made the same mistakes and sins as you and I, but she was always aware of them, she says God ‘ illumined her ignorance,’ and, knowing she was forgiven by her Beloved, was lead to thank God for his numberless mercies.   

Keys of Divine Love      Ninth Dialogue

O God, my Lover, I give you infinite thanks because You deigned to speak to my heart with these most sweet words so full of goodness, that is: "to you I will give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," meaning that You have given me the keys of Your Divine Love since You gave me Your Divine Son so that He might live His life in my heart and that I might live in Your Divine Heart… What kind of thanks can I give You, only Lover of my heart?!

This last expression of thanksgiving sums up all that has gone before.  Celeste says she has been given the ‘Keys of Divine Love.’   These are the keys Celeste has been talking about all along: the ‘Keys that open the door to Thanksgiving:’ forgetfulness of self, hope, trust in God’s mercy and love, pure faith, love of the cross, champion companions, jewels of prayers, self awareness and humility, and above all else a heart full of thankfulness for the gift of the Eucharist.

So the question is: What kind of return can any of us give for all the ‘Keys of Divine Love’ we have been given?  Our only response, is like that of Celeste: to thank our Divine Lover for all His love, and humbly allow Him to live His life in us that we may be a Living Memory, a Viva Memoria, of Christ our Holy Redeemer for the world.
What are the ‘Keys’ that open the door of Thanksgiving in your life?

Monday, November 14, 2011

FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY

When we pray the Our Father we ask, “…give us this day our daily bread…”  Food, like air and water, are vital to life; whether it is of our physical need for sustenance or spiritual, it is our hunger for and connection with Divine Providence.  Below are some recommended books and DVDs that may enlighten your journey.

Books
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle author Barbara Kingsolver and her family abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life—vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.


In Dining in the Kingdom of God author Eugene La Verdiere sees the origins of the Eucharist in Luke's Gospel not only in overtly Eucharistic texts such as the multiplication of the loaves, the Last Supper, and Emmaus, but also at smaller meals such as his meal with Levi, his encounter with Zaccheus, Martha and Mary, and his famous (or infamous if you are the host) dinners with Pharisees. La Verdiere's treatment of these events shows that Luke's Gospel is truly the Eucharistic Gospel and challenges the way that readers approach the Eucharist and live as Eucharistic people.

In Women, Food and God: an unexpexted path to almost everything author Geneen Roth begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God.   A timeless and seminal work, Women Food and God shows how going beyond the food and the feelings takes you deeper into realms of spirit and soul—to the bright center of your own life.


DVDs
In Babette's Feast, a woman flees the French civil war and lands in a small seacoast village in Denmark, where she comes to work for two spinsters, devout daughters of a puritan minister. After many years, Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery, and decides to create a gourmet French dinner--which leads the sisters to fear for their souls. The invited village elders all resolve not to enjoy the meal, but can their moral fiber resist the sensual pleasure of Babette's cooking.  This lovely movie is impeccably simple, yet its slender narrative contains a wealth of humor, melancholy, and hope.


Big Night is an intimate look at the immigrant struggle to attain the American Dream, set in New Jersey in the 1950s. The brothers in Big Night--chef Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and businessman Secondo (Tucci)--have come to open a bistro named The Paradise that serves the finest in traditional, authentic Italian cuisine. It’s about the struggle between art and commerce and the risk of staying true to yourself.

Mostly Martha is the domineering chef at a fancy restaurant, has her rigid routine broken when her sister dies in a car wreck, leaving behind her 9-year-old daughter Lina. Martha takes the girl in, but has no gift for maternal expression; she offers Lina food, but Lina refuses to eat. Meanwhile, her control over her kitchen is threatened when her boss hires a buoyant Italian named Mario to assist, and Martha finds herself flailing in an effort to reestablish control of her life.  The relationship between Martha, Lina and Mario is portrayed with all its awkwardness and complications intact; the result is wonderfully affecting.

Bon App├ętit