SOME BASIC COMPONENTS OF A WELL-MADE PRAYER

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

In this note we will review five essential qualities or components of a well-made prayer (not to be confused with the stages and types of prayer), relying on one of the Church’s greatest spiritual writers, Father Jean Nicolas Grou (1731-1803). Evelyn Underhill, one of the great writers on Christian mysticism, once remarked that Father Grou’s work, How to Pray, is “one of the best short expositions of the essence of prayer which has ever been written.”

According to Father Grou the five essential components of a well-made prayer are that it be made: attentively, reverently, lovingly, confidently and perseveringly. Here are condensed and edited comments from Father Grou pertaining to these five qualities of a well-made prayer.

PRAY ATTENTIVELY: “A prayer addressed to God, whether to pay him homage or to plead with him for our highest interests, must be attentive to the point of keeping all our powers concentrated on [God]. But let me ask you this: when you pray do you seriously wish to be attentive? Is it your first care to recollect yourself and think [about] what you are going to do? If you do not begin by this [recollection], you do not prepare yourself for so holy an action, and you are responsible for your distractions.”

PRAY REVERENTLY: “The very idea of prayer involves that of reverence and humility. He who prays is a creature; it is God to whom he prays. What is God compared with the creature? What is the creature compared with God? This thought alone ought to fill us with the deepest humility; how much greater will this humility be when we remember that we are sinners and that God is infinitely holy. If you do not feel this, if you do not approach God with a profound sense of your own nothingness, you should mistrust your prayer.”

PRAY LOVINGLY: “The third characteristic of prayer is that it is loving. God desires to be loved as much as he is respected, and the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal love of the Father and the Son, inspires no prayer that is not a prayer for love and a prayer which leads to love. It is love which must inspire the Christian to pray: love must be the final aim [of his prayer], and the increase of love must be its fruit.” This takes us back to what I have said before: it is the heart that prays and therefore loves or aspires to love.”

PRAY CONFIDENTLY: “Confidence is the fourth characteristic of the prayer that is taught to us of the Holy Spirit. When the [Holy Spirit] makes us pray, it is plain that he influences us to ask only such things as he has resolved to give us, and that the first thing he grants us is a firm confidence that we shall obtain our requests. This is the confidence the [Holy Spirit] answers and inspires. It is our part to respond to it and not let our confidence be weakened  by any fear or any kind of reasoning. We see in the Gospels that Jesus Christ’s miracles were all performed in response to faith. That faith [Jesus] sought was not just the faith in divine power, but rather the hope he would grant what was asked. If the Spirit of God were the only wind that blew on you, he would incline and urge your heart in the direction of confidence.”

PRAY PERSEVERINGLY: “Lastly, the prayer produced by the Spirit is persevering. Let us be humble and patient and never let us doubt that, if our requests tend to the glory of God and our own salvation, they will be granted in the end. If our requests are not granted, it is because they will attend neither to his glory nor our own benefit; and so we should not wish to obtain them. God has promised to open the door to him who knocks, but he has not said that he would not keep him waiting. He has fixed the right time to give us the boon, and likewise the right time for us to be inspired with the first thought of seeking it. Whenever we have reason to believe that this thought is from him, we must persevere in our prayer, being certain that he will reward our perseverance.”

Concluding Prayer of Father Grou: “Oh my Savior, teach me to pray then no more in my own way and according to human wisdom, but according to the method of the Holy Spirit. May the [Holy Spirit] quicken me and pray in me with those ‘groanings which cannot be uttered’ of which thine Apostle [Paul] speaks. Amen.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: My edition of How to Pray by Father Grou is published by The Upper Room. My edited quotes are from pages 32-41, Chapter Three. The book itself elaborates in much more detail on these five essential points and is highly recommended. Note as well that How to Pray is taken from a much larger work of Father Grou called The School of Jesus Christ, a very difficult book to find in English. The quote from Evelyn Underhill is in the forward of How to Pray. Spiritual writers balance “our nothingness,” our indigence, our great need for God against the complementary truth of our dignity as children of God. These components or qualities of a well-made prayer can be contrasted with (and incorporated into) the various stages and types of prayer such as adoration, supplication, intercession, silent prayer, community prayer, liturgical prayer etc.

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NEVER STOP PRAYING!

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                                   “Pray without ceasing” (1. Thes. 5:17)

Mark these words as so true and so important that they should be engraved in your mind and in your heart and possibly even tattooed to your hand so that you don’t forget them: – the decline of supernatural life begins when you start neglecting prayer. When prayer is completely abandoned you have simply returned to “the world” for your comfort and repose. You were made for prayer, and the language of the soul is prayer. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

But do we have time to “be still” and be in the presence of God, to talk to Him and to listen to Him, and to make our needs known to Him? As a flower needs water and sunshine, we need prayer. And so it is incalculably harmful to us when we consciously or unconsciously make the decision not to pray, and thus put up a barrier between ourselves and our true happiness: a personal relationship with our God and Eternal Father. Oh Holy Spirit, give me a renewed and zealous attention to prayer; give me the grace to see the incalculable power of prayer; help me to see with Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri that those who pray shall be saved (see CCC 2744).

Therefore, we must be committed to prayer.  It is akin to spiritual suicide not to pray. Prayer should be the very foundation of our lives as we grow closer and closer to God. And if we are in need of a certain virtue, say, for example, patience, or chastity, or the grace to pray better, we must relentlessly ask God for this grace in prayer. “Ask and it will be given to you”(Matt. 7:7).

Why is prayer so important, other than it being the very basis of your loving relationship with God? Here are two reasons:

1. Prayer directs our attention away from the passing things of this world (that so distract us) and toward God: in Whom all our happiness consists. Prayer, then, is a profound remedy against worldliness, since it augments our union with God.

2. In God’s Providential direction of the universe He has ordained that we should pray to Him, and He continually gives us actual graces to pray when we would rather not.

Father Hardon comments:

“And what is the primary source of grace that we always have at our disposal? It is prayer. ***  Why? Because part of the divine plan, which is what providence means, is that we should obtain many of the things we need only by asking God to grant them.” [Thus], “we have no choice; either we pray or we do not get the divine light and strength we need.”

I know that there are good reasons for not missing American Idol, or Hannity, or the Lions, or the 10 PM news, or playing that video game upon which rests the world’s safety from terrorism, but rest assured that it is a great mismanagement of our time to neglect prayer. Oh Happy Day when we understand this!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: I am relying primarily on Father Weiss. On Page 83 of The Christian Life by the German Dominican, Father Albert M. Weiss, he talks about how “the decline of the supernatural life begins…with…the neglect of prayer.” He explains that this loss can only be “renewed” by a “zealous attention to prayer.” On page 80 he talks about the “incalculable…power of prayer.” On Page 81 he discusses how prayer withdraws us from the world and “turns [us] wholly to God.” You can see, then, that I have used these words of Father Weiss in several places in this note. Are you looking for a remarkable spiritual book?: get his book! I am not picking on any particular TV show, but I am suggesting that television and other electronic media often distract us from prayer (which should be a priority).

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THE POWER OF JESUS’ HOLY NAME!

“Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2: 9-10)

“Jesus” literally means “he saves.” It is thus a saving name, or rather a name full of saving power. “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This child of Mary is full of incredible blessings, and the power of His holy name is one of them!

Why is Jesus’ name more powerful than all other names (indeed, more powerful than all other names combined)? – because Jesus has been resurrected, because Jesus has ascended into Heaven, because Jesus has been crowned Lord of all creation, and because, enthroned in Heaven, Jesus always lives to make intercession for you (Hebrews 7:25). This is power. This is the power of invoking Jesus’ name!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (at 519):

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us” (Hebrews 9:25).

Therefore, an easy yet powerful way to grow closer to Jesus is to simply hold His name in great reverence. The basic assumption for this devotion is that Jesus’ name is full of power and grace. The Church apparently agrees with this assessment because it sets aside January 3 as the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. It is a reminder to us to greatly reverence Jesus’ name the rest of the year. What an awesome New Year’s resolution that would be! Imagine the growth in holiness you would experience if you kept that resolution.

Father Paul O’Sullivan writes that the “Holy Name of Jesus fills our souls with a peace and a joy we never had before.” He adds that the “Name of Jesus is the shortest, the easiest and the most powerful of prayers. Everyone can say it, even in the midst of his daily work. God cannot refuse to hear it.”

“The frequent repetition of this Divine name [Jesus],” says Father O’Sullivan, will save you from much suffering and great dangers.” It seems to me the key to this devotion is to say Jesus’ name with great reverence and love, calling to mind – without even having to think about it – all that Jesus is and means to us. This is a formula which will clearly increase our love for Jesus and will maintain us in a spirit of faith. We should never forget that faith is one of the most important virtues in the spiritual life (it is a theological virtue, literally meaning “God-directed”).

Father O’Sullivan encourages us to “understand clearly the meaning and value of the Name of Jesus.” He adds that the “Holy Name of Jesus saves us from innumerable evils and delivers us especially from the power of the devil, who is constantly seeking to do us harm.” He says that “every time we say ‘Jesus,’ we are saying a fervent prayer for…all that we need.”

If you are looking for a simple devotion, filled with power, this is it! Father O’Sullivan assures us that the simple devotion of reverently saying Jesus’ name throughout the day has amazing power. And, as Father Faber states, what do we need more in the spiritual life than “power” to overcome our tepidity and weakness.

“[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). May the most holy name of Jesus be on your lips and in your heart throughout the year.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The Wonders of the Holy Name by Father Paul O’Sullivan (TAN). “With the release of the revised Roman Missal in March 2002, the feast [of the Most Holy Name of Jesus] was restored as an optional memorial in the Ordinary Form on January 3” (from catholicculture.org).

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A SHORT REFLECTION ON CHRISTMAS BY G.K. CHESTERTON

A Meditation by G.K. Chesterton

Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savor of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God. But the two ideas are not naturally or necessarily combined.

It has been created in our minds by Christmas because we are Christians; because we are psychological Christians even when we are not theological ones. In other words, this combination of ideas has emphatically, in the much disputed phrase, altered human nature. There is really a difference between the man who knows it and the man who does not. It may not be a difference of moral worth; but it is a plain fact about the crossing of two particular lights, the conjunction of two stars in our particular horoscope. Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet.

No other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man.  It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventourously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. 

It is if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

Comment: The mysteries of our Lord’s life are packed with power, which is precisely the reason why we meditate upon them in the Rosary. 

Merry Christmas and a  Blessed New Year!

Thomas L. Mulcahy

Note: This highly edited and condensed quote is taken from The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton (from a much longer chapter called “The God in the Cave”). Chesterton’s book is highly recommended.  

Image:  Adoration of the Shepherds, circa 1622, by Gerard von Honthorst

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THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF FORGIVENESS IN THE LIFE OF JANE EYRE

(Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre)

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs” (Helen Burns)

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2)

If I had to identify three powerful spiritual lessons in Jane Eyre, I would choose The Power of Prayer (Jane is very much a praying person, and so becomes Mr. Rochester), The Power of God’s Providence (a central theme in the details of the novel), and The Healing Power of Forgiveness. Other spiritual lessons involve Jane’s heroic perseverance, her incredibly prudent advice on how to respond to strong temptations (after her failed marriage at Thornfield), and her quest for an equality of justice and a full life. But in this note I am focusing in on the transformative power of forgiveness in the life of Jane Eyre.

If we look at the life of another unloved or mistreated orphan, Heathcliff, in sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights, we see in a rather dramatic way what the consequences of unforgiveness can ultimately lead to: a life focused on revenge and retribution in practically demonic proportions. In fact, Charlotte Bronte had this to say about Heathcliff: ““Heathcliff, indeed, stands unredeemed; never once swerving in his arrow-straight course to perdition….” That Jane Eyre’s life turned out to be dramatically more virtuous and fruitful than Heathcliff’s is due to the transformative power of forgiveness (a lesson, indeed, well worth learning!).

I don’t need to recount in detail how Jane, the orphan, was hated by her Aunt, Mrs. Reed, the person most responsible for showing love to Jane. But apparently Mrs. Reed was enraged by the fact that her now deceased husband had shown a particular fondness for Jane above and beyond his own children, a perplexity Mrs. Reed even had difficulty disengaging herself from on her deathbed (when Jane had come to extend forgiveness to her). But at least Mrs. Reed showed evidence of a conscience by letting Jane know how she had once deceived Jane out of receiving an inheritance. It is interesting to note that in Wuthering Heights Hindley was jealous of his father’s affection for Heathcliff, and this situation spurred Hindley’s hatred of and mistreatment of Heathcliff, so there are parallel themes in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but with different results (when Jane finally returns to Gateshead it is with forgiveness in her heart, but when Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights after his mysterious absence his heart is filled with malice).

So now we come to the crux of the story regarding the power of forgiveness. Jane’s cruel Aunt, Mrs. Reed, decides to say good riddance to Jane and ships her off to that dreaded boarding school for orphans run by the infamous Mr. Brockelhurst, Lowood. But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in Jane’s heart as she travels to Lowood, perhaps she remembers that hymn sung to her by Bessie, that “God cares for the poor orphan child.” Perhaps there might be some sort of spiritual guide at Lowood who will help Jane through the difficult years ahead (many years later Mr. Rochester said this to Jane: “Eight years [at Lowood]! you must be tenacious of life.”).

Ok, so we all know that Helen Burns was Jane’s friend and classmate at Lowood; in fact, Helen was (practically speaking) Jane’s spiritual guide and virtually her Guardian Angel (Jane does indeed refer to her as an angel) at the school. Both Jane and Helen have suffered immensely due to the punishments doled out to them at Lowood, not to mention the deplorable living conditions. But under these distressing conditions Helen has maintained her tranquility of spirit and peace of heart. Helen, a remarkable girl of deep spiritual insight, will teach Jane an extremely valuable life lesson: that Jane will be happier (and lead a fuller life) forgiving those who have harmed her, all of which is consistent with the teachings of the Gospels. Here, then, with Jane speaking first, is the remarkable conversation between Helen and Jane that will have a profound impact on Jane’s life:

“But I feel this, Helen; I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

“Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilized nations disown it.”

“How? I don’t understand.”

“It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury.”

“What then?”

“Read the New Testament, and observe what Christ says, and how He acts; make His word your rule, and His conduct your example.”

“What does He say?”

“Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you and despitefully use you.”

“Then I should love Mrs. Reed, which I cannot do; I should bless her son John, which is impossible.”

In her turn, Helen Burns asked me to explain, and I proceeded forthwith to pour out, in my own way, the tale of my sufferings and resentments. Bitter and truculent when excited, I spoke as I felt, without reserve or softening.

Helen heard me patiently to the end: I expected she would then make a remark, but she said nothing.

“Well,” I asked impatiently, “is not Mrs. Reed a hard-hearted, bad woman?”

“She has been unkind to you, no doubt; because you see, she dislikes your cast of character, as Miss Scatcherd does mine; but how minutely you remember all she has done and said to you! What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill-usage so brands its record on my feelings. Would you not be happier if you tried to forget her severity, together with the passionate emotions it excited? Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs. We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain, — the impalpable principle of light and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: whence it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man — perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph! Surely it will never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend? (Chapter 9)

Helen ultimately dies of tuberculosis at the Lowood school (with Jane holding her in her last moments of life), and the deep, lifelong spiritual impression Helen made on Jane is seen by the fact that fifteen years later Jane returned to Lowood to mark Helen’s grave with the word Resurgam. Resurgam is a Latin word meaning, I will rise again!

The eventual healing and purification of Jane’s harmful memories of her past (thanks, no doubt to Helen Burns) is seen in the progression of the novel by the advice she gives to Mr. Rochester (at Thornfield) who is lamenting the mental burden of his past mistakes and even sinful choices. As if anticipating the advent of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Jane gives this cogent advice to Mr. Rochester:

“Only one thing I know: you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and that you regretted your own imperfection; — one thing I can comprehend: you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane. It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure.”

Indeed, Jane’s extraordinary growth in the virtue of forgiveness is seen by her visit to her dying Aunt, Mrs. Reed, in Chapter 21. There, after learning that her Aunt had maliciously prevented Jane from being adopted by her wealthy Uncle John by informing him that Jane had died at Lowood, Jane nevertheless offers her Aunt “her full and free forgiveness,” telling her Aunt to “think no more of it.” Although her Aunt nevertheless died with a hardened heart Jane Eyre had done everything possible to bring light to Mrs. Reed’s deathbed (Jane urging her to seek God’s forgiveness and “be at peace”). And then, of course, when Jane had to flee Thornfield due to her failed marriage to Mr. Rochester (after learning he was already married), she says just before her departure, “Reader!-I forgave him at the moment, and on the spot,” when he asked her, “Will you ever forgive me?”

Ultimately, Mr. Rochester undergoes his own transformation and conversion after the devastating fire at Thornfield, a conversion not unrelated to his prayer and penitence (“I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”). In reality, Mr. Rochester underwent the most painful of purifications, losing everything, as his entire life is essentially purged in the devastating fire at Thornfield, wiped out so to speak, burned up. He emerges from this holocaust as a new man, humbled, repentant, blinded and maimed. And yet in God’s Providence, which is an underlying theme in Jane Eyre, he and Jane will be reunited, and will experience true happiness, true communion of souls. And near the very end of the novel, having married Jane, the narrator attests to Mr. Rochester’s profound gratitude for God’s merciful love and forgiveness:

“When his first born was put into his arms, [Mr. Rochester] could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes….On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy” (Chapter 37).

READER! ARE YOU HOLDING ON TO UNFORGIVENESS?

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind! Life is too short to be nursing animosity and registering wrongs. Holding on to bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness only impedes your own spiritual growth and personal happiness. It keeps you locked, so to speak, in a cage of animosity. I do not say that forgiveness is easy, in fact it can be very, very difficult to forgive, but “I can do all things in Jesus Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). God will give you the grace to forgive as you call upon His help in prayer. And then, like Jane Eyre, you will be freed from harmful past memories and experiences, thus living a happier and more fulfilling life. Amen!

Tom Mulcahy

Image: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, by George Richmond, as it appears at Wikipedia. The date is 1850. According to Wikipedia this work is in the Public Domain for the U.S.A., but may not be for other countries. See the Wikipedia article on Charlotte Bronte incorporated herein by reference.

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TO LOVE GOD: A SHORT REFLECTION ON ROMANS 8:28

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

What I want to stress in this note is the importance of loving God (and what could be more important than that?). There are many tangents in Romans 8:28 – grace, justification, election, predestination, to put a name on them – but we can, in effect, overcome these theological considerations simply by loving God. Not all the Saints were great theologians, but they all loved God quite intensely. We might say, then, that your love of God is a great sign of your calling and election.

The verse – Romans 8:28 –  is quite clear and very powerful: God works for the good of those who love Him. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” What does love do for us? Love unites us to the object we desire. Thus, the love of God unites us to God who is the source of all goodness and every blessing. God calls us to this love, gives us the grace to love Him, and indeed shares His life of love with us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is essential, then, that we nurture intimacy and friendship with the Holy Spirit Who is Love!

The key point, then, is that you must love God, and grow more and more in love with Him. You must love Him more than all things, more than yourself, and you must love yourself and your neighbor in Him. When you do this all is tilted towards your good, and the magnetic power and attraction of God’s omnipotent love draws you inevitably – no matter what happens – towards eternal glory. This powerful bond of love between you and God cannot fail. How cannot it not but work good for you because God is drawing you to Himself?

Dear friend, make the love of God a special object of your prayers. You might simply pray: “Oh Holy Spirit, I pray for the grace to fall deeply in love with God. I beg of you the grace to see how great God is, and how infinitely lovable He is. Oh Holy Spirit, help me to grow in the love of God.”

“We should, therefore, deem as nothing all that we give to obtain the priceless treasure of the love of God, of ardent love. He alone gives to the human heart the interior charity that it lacks. During the journey toward eternity, we must never say that we have sufficient love of God. We should make continual progress in love. The traveler (viator) who advances toward God progresses with steps of love, as St. Gregory the Great says, that is, by ever higher acts of love. God desires that we should thus love Him more each day. The song of the journey toward eternity is a hymn of love….” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange).

“IN ALL THINGS” God works for the good of those who love Him in all things. Are we deeply affected by this Gospel mystery? Does it fill our hearts with confidence, and even holy boldness, that if we “keep in His love” all things, everything, happy things and sad things, trial and afflictions, joys and sufferings, they all work for our good. We see this principle operating in the life of Jesus: because he loved God everything in his life worked for the good, so much so that his crucifixion on Calvary obtained an infinite good for humanity. Our love of God, therefore, gives us the certitude that God is secretly – or even explicitly – accomplishing the good he desires in all that we do and suffer. “The apostle [Paul in Romans 8] speaks as one amazed, and swallowed up in admiration, wondering at the height and depth, and length and breadth, of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. The more we know of other things, the less we wonder; but the further we are led into gospel mysteries, the more we are affected by them. While God is for us, and we keep in his love, we may with holy boldness defy all the powers of darkness” (Matthew Henry Bible Commentary).

By “all things” I conclude that St. Paul means all things, which would include any present difficulties you are undergoing. If you are loving God, these difficulties are all going to work for your good. A great spiritual writer, Father Grou, states: “Everything that happens here to the servants of God…is arranged by Infinite Love and Wisdom for their eternal happiness…. For, as long as they love God with a real, effective, and practical love, it is impossible for anything in the world to keep them back; on the contrary, everything will help to their advancement….” Every trial, then, is for our advantage! And if we are presently suffering through some trial or persecution, we should ask: “What good is God trying to work in my soul with this trial?”

Is Romans 8:28 the most most encouraging verse in the Bible? If it helps you to understand the crucial and critical importance of loving God during all the joys and adversities of life – well then, it certainly is!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: My discussion on love is based on and flows from Father Garrigou-LaGrange’s masterpiece, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (see especially Vol. I, Chapter 19). The quote from Father Grou is in Manual For Interior Souls, a book highly recommended.

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THE GOSPEL OF LIFE AND THE HEBREW BIBLE

IMG_1925

 “…the mere possibility of harming [life not yet born] is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the [Old Testament] People of God.”  (Saint Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no.44)

I am looking at the Old Testament – the Hebrew Bible – and I am reflecting on a remarkable phenomenon: that amidst pagan and even demonic cultures the Hebrew people affirmed in a most remarkable way the humanity of the unborn child. Illustrative verses include:

“Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5) 

“What then shall I do when God rises up? When He punishes, how shall I answer Him? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:14-15) 

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) 

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

Pope John Paul II, commenting on the Old Testament affirmation of life from its very inception in the womb, states:

“How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly the mother of the seven brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God, both the source and guarantee of life from its very conception, and the foundation of the hope of new life beyond death: ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws’ (2 Mac 7:22-23).”  (The Gospel of Life, no. 44)

The magnificent revelation in the Old Testament that both man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) was the foundation of a unique culture of life for the Hebrew people, from which would one day come a Savior safely hidden away in the womb of the Virgin before that first Christmas day.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. The photo is from the 2014 March for Life in Washington D.C.

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JANE EYRE: GOD IS A FRIEND TO THE POOR ORPHAN CHILD

(Charlotte Bronte)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)

Jane Eyre is a Romans 8:28 type of story because everything worked out for the good for Jane in the end, even though there were many formidable trials and tribulations along the way for her to endure and pass through. The theme of God’s providential care for Jane Eyre often goes unmentioned in the standard reviews and yet it is one of the underlying themes of the whole novel, along with Jane’s quest to be loved and respected.

One in fact often reads of Charlotte Bronte’s hostility to religion shown by the way she portrays ministers in Jane Eyre, and this was a criticism Charlotte Bronte confronted head on in her “Preface to the Second Edition” of Jane Eyre, stating:

“Having thus acknowledged what I owe those who have aided and approved me, I turn to another class; a small one, so far as I know, but not, therefore, to be overlooked. I mean the timorous or carping few who doubt the tendency of such books as “Jane Eyre:” in whose eyes whatever is unusual is wrong; whose ears detect in each protest against bigotry–that parent of crime–an insult to piety, that regent of God on earth. I would suggest to such doubters certain obvious distinctions; I would remind them of certain simple truths.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.

[A]ppearances should not be mistaken for truth; narrow human doctrines, that only tend to elate and magnify a few, should not be substituted for the world-redeeming creed of Christ. There is–I repeat it–a difference; and it is a good, and not a bad action to mark broadly and clearly the line of separation between them.”

From the quote above we get a glimpse of Charlotte’s Bronte’s strong personal faith, and perhaps even infer why the theme of God’s Providential care for Jane Eyre is so central to the novel.

There are two early hints (or foreshadowing scenes) in the novel that point to the fact that Jane will be the object of God’s special care and providence (both occurring in Chapter 3 of the story). The first hint is the hymn sung by the nursemaid Bessie to Jane while Jane was a young (and mistreated) orphan at Gateshead under the care of her Aunt, Mrs. Reed. Here are some of the words to that hymn (apparently composed by Charlotte Bronte herself!):

God, in His mercy, protection is showing,
Comfort and hope to the poor orphan child.

Ev’n should I fall o’er the broken bridge passing,
Or stray in the marshes, by false lights beguiled,
Still will my Father, with promise and blessing,
Take to His bosom the poor orphan child.

There is a thought that for strength should avail me,
Though both of shelter and kindred despoiled;
Heaven is a home, and a rest will not fail me;
God is a friend to the poor orphan child.

The second hint, or foreshadowing, comes just a few pages later when Jane learns that her father was a clergyman who died of typhus while helping out the poor. The text reads:

“On that same occasion I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling; that after my mother and father had been married a year, the latter caught the typhus fever while visiting among the poor of a large manufacturing town where his curacy was situated, and where that disease was then prevalent: that my mother took the infection from him, and both died within a month of each other.”

So if there is a good clergyman in Jane Eyre it is Jane’s own father who died while helping out the poor! What could be dearer to God’s heart than that! I could argue that the tragic death of Jane’s parents is one of the keys to understanding Jane Eyre, but that would be supposition on my part! Still, as the hymn states, “God, in His mercy, protection is showing, Comfort and hope to the poor orphan child.” Now who is the poor orphan child?: – it is Jane Eyre. One need not be a literary guru to see the profound foreshadowing of God’s providential care for Jane in the two examples I have just discussed from Chapter 3.

So now, fast-forwarding to the end of the story, we see that, quite amazingly, things have truly worked out for the good of Jane Eyre! Unexpectedly, Mr. Rochester has undergone a profound religious conversion (he says, “I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”). And near the very end of the novel, having married Jane, the narrator attests to Mr. Rochester’s profound gratitude:

“When his first born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes….On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy” (Chapter 37).

As to Jane herself, you, Reader, may ask: does Jane ever mention God’s providential care for her life? Well, here are a few examples:

“God must have led me on…I was weeping wildly as I walked along my solitary way…a weakness seized me and I fell: I lay on the ground some minutes, pressing my face to the wet turf. I had some fear – or hope – that here I should die: but I was soon up: crawling forward on my hands and knees, and then again raised to my feet – as eager and as determined as ever to reach the road” (Chapter 27).
“I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe; he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long in sleep forgot sorrow.” (Chapter 28)
“Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid – direct me!” (Chapter 28)

Finally, at the end of the novel, Jane attests to the profound happiness and joy she has experienced in her marriage to Mr. Rochester, a marriage that came about by way of Jane’s abandonment to Divine Providence and Mr. Rochester’s dramatic and profound conversion:

“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result.” (Chapter 38)

CONCLUSION:

Jane Eyre is a Romans 8:28 type story. Everything has worked out for Jane’s good. God cares for the poor orphan child.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: Does Charlotte Bronte ever allude to Romans 8:28 in Jane Eyre? Yes she does. In a foreboding moment before her wedding day, we hear Jane say these words to Mr. Rochester: “Yesterday I trusted well in Providence, and believed that events were working together for your good and mine….” (Chapter 25; Vol. II, Chapter 10). But after their failed marriage in Chapter 26, Jane will have to trust even deeper in God’s providential care for her life as she abandons herself to God under the most distressing of circumstances. So the reference to Romans 8:28 in Chapter 25 finds its true fulfillment in Chapter 38 when Jane ultimately marries the severely humbled Mr. Rochester.

Image: Portrait of Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, by George Richmond, as it appears at Wikipedia. The date is 1850. According to Wikipedia this work is in the Public Domain for the U.S.A., but may not be for other countries. See the Wikipedia article on Charlotte Bronte incorporated herein by reference.

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A VERY SHORT NOTE ON THE ANNUNCIATION TO MARY

                                              “Hail, full of grace”

Before Luke tells us about Mary’s Annunciation, he first tells us about the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb (see Luke 1:15, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”). So John the Baptist was sanctified before birth in Elizabeth’s womb (see CCC 717).

If God prepared John the Baptist for his mission in such an extraordinary way, what are we to make of Mary of Nazareth who was chosen by God to be the mother of a Divine son? Well, the first point to consider is the manner in which the angel Gabriel greets Mary. According to the ICSB, “this is the only biblical instance where an angel addresses someone by a title instead of a personal name.” The angel, God’s special messenger, greets Mary with an extraordinarily descriptive title, saying, “HAIL, FULL OF GRACE” (Luke 1: 28). This descriptive title tells us something very important about Mary, to wit: she is full of grace! Naturally, the angel is to be believed! But it goes much deeper than this.

As brilliantly explained in the ICSB, Luke could have described Mary as full of grace saying, in the Greek, pleres charitos, as he did for Stephen in Acts 6:8. But for Mary he chose a much more powerful expression, kecharitomene“[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life.”

Mary is Immaculate because she is full of grace, and this description of her is part of her deepest identity, which was made known by an angel sent by God Almighty, and revealed to us in the Gospel of Luke.

“And behold [Mary], you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: As you can see, I am relying entirely on the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible. Obviously, there is so much more to be said about this amazing scene in the Bible called the Annunciation, and I have simply targeted in this note the meaning of the angel’s initial greeting to Mary. The Feast of the Annunciation normally occurs on March 25th, approximately nine months before Christmas.

Image: The Annunciation by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, around 1665, Public Domain, U.S.A.

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TWO POWERFUL QUOTES FROM THE SCARLET LETTER REGARDING SIN AND REPENTANCE

Hawthorne in the 1860s
(Nathaniel Hawthorne, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13)

Here are the two quotes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter I am referring to:

“To the untrue man, the whole universe is false,—it is impalpable,—it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist” (Chapter 11).

“The judgment of God is on me,” answered the conscience-stricken priest. “It is too mighty for me to struggle with!” “Heaven would show mercy,” rejoined Hester, “hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it” (Chapter 17).

I bring these two great quotes from The Scarlet Letter to your attention because I believe they are a powerful reminder of two of the most basic and fundamental aspects (or elements) of the Christian life – namely, that sin always harms us and that authentic repentance and acknowledgement of our sins heals us. The central message of The Scarlet Letter reminds us that man sins and God forgives; and that God’s forgiveness is infinitely more powerful and transformative than man’s sin, or even a community’s reaction to sin. The Scarlet Letter is ultimately about the triumph of the Divine Mercy! (see my post, “Who Was Saved in The Scarlet Letter?”).

With respect to the first quote from Hawthorne in Chapter 11 (who is, in essence, providing us with a theology of sin, “to the untrue man, the whole universe is false”), we have essentially a reflection on the tremendous psychological harm Rev. Dimmesdale endures due to the concealment of his sin, and Hawthorne draws this out in excruciating detail, and in a masterful way. Theological giants, such as Augustine and Aquinas, have commented that sin is “privatio boni, the absence, the privation, of good.” Sin is essentially “non-being,” or unreal, the very absence of all that is good. We might say, then, that “sin is the cause of all unhappiness,” and that is precisely the situation for Dimmesdale, who is profoundly depressed, and who is living an unreal existence. The point here is to come to grips with the harm sin causes in our lives. Thus, Hawthorne says, “To the untrue man, the whole universe is false,—it is impalpable,—it shrinks to nothing within his grasp. And he himself, in so far as he shows himself in a false light, becomes a shadow, or, indeed, ceases to exist”. Dimmesdale’s “diseased soul” is Hawthorne’s brilliant and remarkable demonstration of this principle (Dimmesdale “thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself.” – Chapter 11).

With respect to the second quote from Hawthorne in Chapter 17, we see that Dimmesdale lacks, of himself, the power and strength to properly repent of his sin, an effort which will require him to mount the scaffold in broad daylight and confess his sin! Dimmesdale is sort of like that Catholic man who lives just a few miles from his Church but somehow he can’t muster up the strength or the courage to get into his car on a Saturday afternoon and drive to church for Confession. He’s held back by some unknown force that makes the effort nearly impossible! And thus Hester cries out to Dimmesdale, “hadst thou but the strength to take advantage” of God’s mercy! Indeed, what do we need more in life than God’s mercy!

At some point when they meet in the forest, Dimmesdale and Hester decide on a purely human plan of (geographical) salvation: to leave Boston, to sail to Europe, and to get away from it all and start a new life. But after enduring vehement diabolical temptations on his walk home, Dimmesdale is given the grace to see that no amount of miles between himself and Boston can ever really solve his underlying problems of guilt and concealment. Thus, the true path to freedom for Dimmesdale will be to mount the scaffold of guilt and confession, to “unconceal” to all what he has been hiding for seven years. It is on the wooden beams of the scaffold that he can unveil his heart to the crowd, and reveal publicly his true situation. Hester, Pearl and even Mr. Chillingworth accompanied Dimmesdale onto the platform, and they too received life-changing graces there in solidarity with Dimmesdale.

CONCLUSION: The harm caused by sin and the great grace of true repentance are underlying themes in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s story reminds us that sin plunges us into an unreal life, where we become, in some sense, a “shadow” of our true self. But “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The circumstances of Rev. Dimmesdale’s life teach us a great lesson: not only that sin does harm to our souls, but, moreover, that “God never abandons us in this mortal life,” giving us graces to the very end to truly repent of our sins, unhindered by concerns for human respect (an obstacle that Dimmesdale was ultimately able to overcome). Dimmesdale also teaches us not to delay repentance. God always gives us the strength to repent, and we simply need to take advantage of it!

Speaking of the grace of repentance in reference to that Catholic scaffold called Confession (see James 5:16; John 20:23) , Saint John Paul II makes the following profound observations:

“It must be emphasized that the most precious result of the forgiveness obtained in the Sacrament of Penance consists in reconciliation with God, which takes place in the inmost heart of the son who was lost and found again, which every penitent is.  But it has to be added that this reconciliation with God leads, as it were, to other reconciliations which repair the breaches caused by sin.  The forgiven penitent is reconciled with himself in his inmost being, where he regains his own true identity.  He is reconciled with his brethren whom he has in some way attacked and wounded.  He is reconciled with the Church.  He is reconciled with all creation.

As a result of an awareness of this…there arises in the penitent a sense of gratitude to God for the gift of divine mercy received, and the church invites the penitent to have this sense of gratitude.  Every confessional is a special and blessed place from which, with divisions wiped away, there is born new and uncontaminated a reconciled individual — a reconciled world!” (Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliation and Penance, Paragraph 31, IV. (December 2, 1984).

Hawthorne emphasizes this “reconciled world” in the persons of Hester, Pearl and even Mr. Chillingworth, whose lives were profoundly changed for the better as a result of their solidarity with the dying Rev. Dimmesdale on the scaffold of redemption.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: An article from catholic.org on sin states the Catholic tradition that “sin is a horrible voluntary lapse into nothingness against the interest of the being and good of the creature.  St. Augustine’s definition is famous: sin is privatio boni, the absence, the privation, of good.  We find this notion also in the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas.  S.T., Ia, q. 48, art. 1 c. “

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