Sunday, November 9, 2014


This will be a bird’s eye view of Ven. M. Celeste Crostarosa’s Grades of Prayer.  I, myself have only just begun to reflect on them in earnest.   In Celeste’s early life it was either Our Lord or her Confessor who ordered her to write out her mystical experiences.  In her later years, Celeste wrote down of her own volition these 134 handwritten pages which she called the Grades of Prayer to edify her community and the young women put in the Sisters’ care.  Generally, she was inspired to write and share the richness of her mystical experiences she received during Holy Communion or Adoration.    

We have Italian Redemptorist Frs. Dominico Caponi and Sabatino Majorano to thank for the great service of gathering and studying our foundress’ writing.  American Redemptorist Fr. Joseph Opptiz studied the works of those Italian Fathers and translated their writings into English as well as giving us his own interpretation of Celeste’s spirituality for our benefit.

Maria Celeste Crostarosa was a mystic.   Like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and others before her, Celeste used the imagery of the ladder to describe the steps of prayer toward union with God.  Celeste’s ladder is taller than most, consisting of sixteen rungs or steps.   Today we will reflect only on the First Grade.  In the First Step she uses the Song of Songs to illustrate the marriage union of the one being (the Bride) with the Trinity (her Beloved Spouse).  Above all else, Celeste was Trinitarian and Christocentric  - Christ is the ladder we climb; a gift from the Father planted in the merciful self-emptying (kenosis) of the Son whose image is stamped on believers by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, our participation in the life of Christ is a transforming union drawing the soul up the ladder to God.

She describes each step in two phases; the first is the gift of prayer, and the second is the fruit of the effects of the gift: our response.  As we begin to look at the Grades I have selected pearls, samplings from Celeste’s First Step so that we may focus more easily on her shining insights.

·        Most of the time Ven. Celeste writes in the third person.   But then she will assert herself at certain times and say, “This is how I see

The First Step on the Mystical Ladder of Prayer of the Spirit
Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa

The Gift:  Truth and Faith in God
The Bride says in the Song of Songs:  her Beloved is like a stag that leaps over mountain and hills: the Song is explaining what faith does to the soul. 
Firstly, she recognizes the voice of the Beloved. This voice is the certainty of truth found in divine mysteries.  The soul listens to these in the speeding word that flashes by the spiritual ear.  To those who seek the Beloved’s face with a longing so pure and real, it is a gentle voice that lights up everything, creating wonderful emotions, some still, some active.  With respect, this reminds us of the Beloved: the wonders we believe in and the Divine Essence.

The Response:  
The soul stands there in astonished wonder.     She cannot keep up with the Beloved for her mind has its limits; she would love to catch up and embrace Him. Sweet Lord, let my lips say what my heart feels about Holy Faith: this is the first step on the mystical ladder, a princely highway that leads her to union with God.  

The Gift:
This is the ladder Jacob saw reaching from earth to heaven.  The earth is the Holy Catholic Church.   The prophet saw angels going up and down the ladder.  These are the facts and lights about the mysteries of Faith.  Faith is planted there and the soul rests on this steadfast base: Christ, the cornerstone.  Through the merits of Jesus, my Word-made-Man, the soul receives in her spirit multifaceted blessings through Holy Faith.  By Faith, the greatest Good becomes hers.

The Response: 
This is how I see it:  you have put into me a kind of longing, a longing to gaze upon you, to see you through your own truth –loving eyes.  This need to fix my gaze upon the Beloved One bears with it nothing of the sensual.
The core of this first step of faith-filled prayer is sheer truth.  It urges us to gaze with the greatest respect upon God as the sum-total of all good, the Highest God and to see all things through the eyes of the Beloved.  The simpler this act of faith, the greater is the quiet, safe rest she finds in God.

The Gift: 
While looking at God with this gaze of sheer faith she is disturbed by daydreams and other nuisance-things from the lower senses; even so, with faith, she gazes with great peace and calm upon her object of beauty.   The soul enjoys such oneness that the inferior part is completely relaxed as it shares the simplicity of the spirit.  This is a straight-out gift of the Holy Spirit; this is done by loving, not achieving.

The Response:
So by God she shares the loving acts of the will.  The Holy Spirit has sown a sacred love in her will and this love has the power to share this divine gift which comes through supernatural love, not by any action of the soul.
I could weep so broken-hearted for the tragedy of the unhappy world that values you so little and whose faith is nearly dead. 
The pathway of prayer is to know the truth of the divine mysteries.  The knowledge of the faith forms the road and the pathway to prayer.
Oh, if all were believers, all would be saints!

I’ll try to unpack this now with the help of Fr. Oppitiz’s commentary.

So, what is prayer?  Prayer is an interpersonal relationship, an inter-communication, a mutual exchange between a personal, loving God and a responding, loving creature.   Faith is the pathway to God.  Thus, faith and prayer go hand-in-hand every step of the way.    Prayer is also the pathway to truth.   According to Celeste, unless prayer is rooted in faith, both prayer and truth are incomplete.  What is truth?  Truth is about the truth of a personal God and the truth about the praying creature: the Creator and the created.

Celeste speaks of the fixed gaze. This fixed gaze is the intense focus of the whole person on the Loving Plan of the Father opened to us by and in and through Faith. 
This turning toward the Lord in Faith, she realizes, is initiated by God who draws her to God’s self by implanting deep within her, and within every person, a longing for the Divine at the very level of being.  Once a person practices this fixed gaze, they will begin, little by little, to see all things “through the eyes of the Beloved.” 

Simplicity is the fruit of this First Step of faith-prayer.  When we confront our creatureliness and recognize our utter dependence on the Divine we can more easily let go of the distracting nuisances in prayer that drift through our minds by simply turning our loving gaze back on God. This is, as Celeste says, a straight-out gift of the Holy Spirit.

Celeste’s prayer at the end of the First Steps of Prayer is that all would be saints.  She firmly believes one cannot be a saint without prayer and there can be no prayer without faith

Questions for Reflection:
How does Faith shape my prayer?

What phrase, or phrases, from the First Step moved my heart?

                    What is my response to this gift?

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