Month: April 2016

THE WONDERFUL HEALING POWER OF NATURE

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I am convinced that many people would experience improved mental well-being if they increased their contact and communion with the natural beauty of God’s creation. 

God, who is, as the scholastic theologians say, in His creation by His POWER, PRESENCE and ESSENCE is most assuredly present in the transformative beauty of the natural world.

Commenting on the healing power of nature, Saint Pope John Paul II made the following observation:

“The aesthetic value of creation cannot be overlooked. Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity. The Bible speaks again and again of the goodness and beauty of creation, which is called to glorify God.”  (John Paul II, 1990 World Day of Peace Message, no. 14.)

What is being urged upon us here is an improved communion with nature. Who hasn’t felt a special feeling of tranquility walking along the ocean shore, or gazing upon a majestic mountain? And yet how often do we find ourselves cut-off and deprived of the beauty of nature for many reasons. Pope Francis made this observation in his recent encyclical on the environment, saying, “In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty” (no. 45).
 
Father Irala, in his popular book, Achieving Peace of Heart, tells us that “we must live beauty.” He maintains that we need to be “reeducated” to “receive the external world.” This means, in one context, that if we are looking at a beautiful river we should spend some time peering into it –contemplating it – so that we may receive the vital influx of its beauty. It’s as if he was saying, “take some time to stop and smell the roses.” 
 
Father Irala tells an interesting story about a businessman who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was apparently felt that the overworked businessman needed some time away from his hectic office to unwind and rejuvenate, but since this remedy wasn’t feasible his physician requested that “an aquarium of tropical fish built in his private office and that he spend an hour every day peacefully watching the graceful convolutions of those little creatures.” It is related that “before the year was out he sent a donation to [his physician’s] hospital as a token of gratitude for his cure” (p.41).
 
Perhaps many of us need to be reoriented to the beauty of the natural world and its deep healing power. If we are alienated from nature, we are in some sense alienated from God. Near the end of Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote these poetic words:
 
“All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty” (no. 246).
 
Let us not only protect life and beauty; let us immerse ourselves in its “restorative power.”
 
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
 

P.S. As a practical example, many of us spend time walking along a nature trail. To reeducate your mind to the beauty of nature, spend some time actually peering into the moving stream along the trail, or looking receptively at a strange but beautiful flower you pass by. Father Irala says that we should let the beauty “enter deep into us.” We are not talking about pantheism, but rather about God manifested through the beauty of his external creation. This is, in essence, a form of religious contemplation.

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HEALING YOUR EMOTIONS

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The beautiful emotions God has given us work tremendous good in our lives when they are under the guidance of our rational and spiritual faculties. A child lives his life primarily on an emotional level, but to mature he must gradually bring his emotional life under the control of right reason and spiritual life. In this context it may be helpful to see our lives from this four-fold perspective:

1. Physical Life;

2. Emotional Life;

3. Rational Life; and

4. Spiritual Life

What is being urged upon us here is the proper management of our emotional life by the higher faculties of human reason and Divine grace. By spiritual life, then, I am referring to the life of grace given to us by God which flows to us by way of prayer and sacramental life. Recourse to prayer and the sacraments is a great aid in healing impaired emotional life.

We know very well that letting our emotions flow freely can be psychologically healing –  as in sharing our emotions and feelings with a friend or in therapy. But in a different context unregulated emotional life can be very damaging. In this sense if emotional life is not brought under the control and guidance of rational and spiritual life it can become a tyrant – and as such inordinate anger or sadness can even lead to violence or other destructive conduct.

We see in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus seemingly crushed by the weight of sorrow and grief – yet he has the strength of mind and the strength of grace to complete his mission, saying to the apostles, “Arise, let us go” (Matthew 26:46). Jesus teaches us to place our emotional life under the guidance and strength of grace.

Once a person I knew quite well was suffering significant emotional turmoil and had clearly strayed from the light of right reason. His emotional life had simply engulfed his rational life. I told this person that he had always been a person of great common sense, and that this would be a good time for him to gather-up and make good use of the excellent common sense God had given him. He took my advice and within a few days he was doing much better.

Spiritual life can profoundly impact our emotional life for the better. Thus, if we are experiencing to a harmful degree the emotions of bitterness and resentment, we can take recourse to spiritual life in order to re-channel these vexing emotions into positive forces. By allowing the powerful spiritual virtues of meekness and gentleness to descend into our emotions, we can heal our emotions and make them occasions for acts of virtue and charity. Thus, what started out in the direction of hatred ends in the life-giving direction of charity! “The act of virtue,” Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “is even more meritorious when it makes good use of the passions [or emotions] in view of a virtuous end.” Therefore, “passions or emotions regulated…by right reason…are forces to be used in the service of virtue” (Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange). Here we see a fundamental insight of Saint Thomas: that grace builds upon nature.

Right reason involves not only a knowledge of the virtues but in addition the elimination of what psychologists call cognitive distortions (meaning erroneous ways of thinking). Becoming acquainted with the ten common distorted ways of thinking, and correcting the ones that pertain to you, is one of the most valuable things you can do for emotional health and well-being (see link below). Learning to recognize and correct defective thinking patterns is essentially curative.

Finally, spiritual life involves prayer and the sacraments. Suffice it to say in this short note that the Sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist (including Eucharistic adoration), and the Anointing of the Sick are powerful means of healing grace. Moreover, as Father Padovani, a therapist, points out, we can bring our broken emotions to God freely in prayer. In prayer we approach God in faith and hope, theological virtues which in and of themselves are pathways to healing since they direct us towards God. In prayer we can ask God for the “ever-new graces” we need to heal distorted or impaired emotions. God can restore beauty and balance to our emotional life, or give us the grace to carry the crosses that no one can avoid on this earthly pilgrimage.

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In short it is a great benefit simply to see that we need to place our emotional lives under the protection and guidance of our rational and spiritual lives. To see this necessity is already the beginning  of the healing of emotional life.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References. The book by Father Padovani is entitled: Healing Wounded Emotions. In Feeling and Healing Your Emotions it is psychiatrist C.W. Baars who mentions at page 55 that “a child lives predominantly on the emotional level….” However, for this note I am relying predominantly on Father Garrigou-LaGrange, a Thomist, who demonstrates how the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas promotes emotional well-being through the proper ordering of emotional life to rational life and rational life to spiritual life. See The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1, Chapter 23. Nothing in this note is meant to be a substitute for good and necessary medical and professional care.

Link: If you type in at Google, “Ten types of cognitive distortions,” numerous sites will bring up this important list. The list is very helpful; however, I can’t tell you about the recommendability of any particular site.

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SAINT MOTHER TERESA’S FIRST HOLY COMMUNION

THE STARTING POINT FOR LOVE: THE REALIZATION I AM NEEDED BY ANOTHER

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         Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us”  (1 John 4:19)

In his lengthy biography of the life of Saint Pope John Paul II, George Wiegel includes a letter written by the then Father Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) to Teresa Heydel. In this letter the future Pope shares with Teresa a profound insight of his into the nature of love, saying:

“After many experiences and a lot of thinking,  I am convinced that the (objective) starting point of love is the realization that I am needed by another.  The person who objectively needs me most  is also, for me, objectively, the person I most need. This is a fragment of life’s deep logic, and  also a fragment of trusting in the Creator and in Providence.”   (Witness To Hope, p. 102)

George Wiegel comments that “Love, for Karol Wojtyla, was the truth at the very center of the human condition, and love always meant self-giving, not self-assertion” (p. 101). In this short note, I would like to make two applications of Saint John Paul II’s special insight into the nature of love – his conviction being that the objective starting point for love is the realization that I am needed by another.

The first application of the Pope’s special insight into the nature of love involves a person who is struggling in life and feels either unwanted or of little value. The psychological value of the Pope’s insight into the nature of love is not only to assure this person that you love him (consider, for example, a child who has been bullied) but, moreover, that you need his love. The child needs to know not only that he (or she) is loved but also that he is needed by you (that you need his love).

The second application of the Pope’s special insight into the nature of love touches upon the very mystery of your own existence. If love means that we are truly needed by another, then it follows logically that God has chosen to need your love! Stated in another manner, God truly desires and seeks your love. Does this not fill your heart with love for God!

Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II, received profound insights from the Holy Spirit about the nature of love. She says in her autobiography that in “1895  I received the grace to understand better than ever how much Jesus desires to be loved.” In another place in her autobiography she tells us that Jesus sought out the love of the Samaritan woman he met at the well (see John 4: 1-27). Saint Therese says, “[Jesus] did not fear to beg for a little water from the Samaritan woman. He was thirsty. But when he said:‘Give me to drink,’ it was the love of His poor creature the Creator of the universe was seeking. He was thirsty for love” (Autobiography, Clarke edition, p.189). Jesus truly desires and needs your love.

Father Faber, who died about ten years before Saint Therese was born, adds these words:

“That God condescends intensely to desire our love, there can be  no possible doubt….Blessed, blessed God! Wonderful Father…this mystery of His desiring our poor love should of itself be a lifelong joy to us in our time of pilgrimage.”   (The Creator and the Creature, pages 124-125)

A profound fragment of love’s deep logic – rooted in the Wisdom of creation – is that God loves you and desires your love in return. It is a fragment of Infinite worth.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: The inspiration and material for this note comes from Consoling the Heart of Jesus (see especially page 58) by Father Michael E. Gaitley. In his book Father Gaitley explains how Jesus’ words, “I thirst,” were of profound importance in the spirituality of both Saint Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In considering, theologically, God’s need for our love we should reflect on the fact that God freely chose in Jesus Christ to become a human being, thus linking His life profoundly with the human race.

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THE HEALING POWER OF CATHOLIC POETRY

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THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God” (Father Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Religious poetry can be very healing and comforting inasmuch as it draws us closer to God who is the source of all goodness and well-being. Poetry in general has always had a metaphysical dimension, but religious poetry has a theological dimension because it is specifically God-directed. “And our hearts are restless,” says Saint Augustine,  “until they rest in God.” Poetry can help us to attain to this rest in God, which in turn enhances our well-being.

Psalm 23 can be particularly comforting:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me (vs. 1-4)

Psychiatrist Smiley Blanton relates he had little success in treating a patient’s depression until he began reading to her these words from Cardinal Newman’s poem Lead, Kindly Light:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

 I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.   

So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on;
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Dr. Smiley states: “Later, I explained that her depression would take some time to cure but that her recovery would be hastened if she would just try to relax for an hour or so each day and as far as possible banish all unpleasant thoughts from her mind. And I recommended she prepare herself by reading this poem and some others…. (The Healing Power of Poetry, p.30).” Dr. Smiley further states that “I write from a long experience in using poetry as a specific means of therapy.”

The poetic originality of the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has a profound rejuvenating quality to it. Here we look at his masterpiece, God’s Grandeur.

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

What is it about this poem that heals us? It is as W.H. Gardner observes of Hopkin’s poetry the “sensation of inscape – a quasi-mystical illumination, a sudden perception of the deeper pattern, order, and unity which gives meaning to external forms….” (Penguin Poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Introduction). Hopkin’s poetry frees us from the excessive analysis that burdens the mind and takes us back to the “primal intensity” of simplicity and beauty that draws us nearer to God. Here is another example of “inscape” in Hopkin’s poetry:

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscapes plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
 
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.
GerardManleyHopkins

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.)

John Ciardi once said that “Poetry itself is a religion; it gives meaning to life.” Paul Roche adds that poetry “is in touch with a wider, deeper and more immediate range of being.” But religious poetry goes even further than this: it puts us in touch with the primordial reality of all things: God who has life in Himself. The greatest value of (religious) poetry, then, when read and meditated upon, is that it restores our own being in God. Now that’s Catholic strength!

Thomas Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. I am relying primarily on The Healing Power of Poetry by Dr. Smiley Blanton (Guidepost Associates, Inc.). Nothing in this note is intended to be a substitute for good and necessary medical and professional care.

Note on poetry and prayer: When the words of a poem, deeply experienced, elevate your heart to God there is in this moment an invitation to prayer. It is not to be forgotten that the ultimate purpose of meditation is to enkindle prayer and conversation with God. On this point see Pope Benedict XVI’s address of August 31, 2011 wherein he discusses how “artistic beauty can lead the heart to God” and prayer. See also Conversation With Christ by Thomas Rohrbach. Prayer unites us to God.

Photo: Gerard Manley Hopkins (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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THE INFALLIBLE EFFICACY OF PRAYER ACCORDING TO SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS

THE ZACCHAEUS PRINCIPLE AND YOUR CHILDREN

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THE AMAZING POWER OF GRATITUDE IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

GREEDY FOR HEAVEN

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                        “Be ambitious for the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31)

In evaluating our lives, we should not discount the length of eternal life.  What God is offering to us, ETERNAL LIFE, is simply stunning, overwhelming and unfathomable! Certainly a fundamental part of the Ignatian Exercises is simply to do the math: to reflect on the shortness of life and the incredible length of eternity. And then to choose wisely, which is why we pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of Wisdom. To miss out on Heaven – and all that Heaven is – simply cannot be an option. “Who could endure the loss?”

 As to death, it is a great grace to realize that we are going to die. In essence, our lives are but a preparation for death. God, in His providence, already knows the day and moment of our death, and He has already put in place the graces we will need to be saved. We need to cooperate with those graces, and all will be well.

Unfortunately, so many people live their lives without much thought about their impending death. They realize that other people die but they sort of see themselves as a bystander to the death of other people –  somehow convincing themselves that it won’t happen to them.

And although attending someone’s funeral may make such a person anxious about death, it is also the case that we are quite adept at putting in to place psychological defense mechanisms that quickly assuage such thoughts and turn our attention back to the world.

As I see it, there is a gigantic cultural conspiracy in place to convince us that we are not going to die. The plan is to outlive death by taking the right vitamins, wearing the best make-up, and seeing the best doctors. And yet everyone still dies. We are all on an absolute collision course with death. Only God knows for sure how much time we have left. And the clock keeps ticking.

I think it is interesting that in Mother Teresa‘s mystical life the Virgin Mary told her to tell families to say the rosary (reference: Come Be My Light, Doubleday, p.99). This prayer not only helps us to contemplate the life of Christ, including his death and resurrection, but it continually reminds us of the two most important moments in our lives – the present moment and the moment of our death. We ask Mary to “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”  It is in the “sacrament of the present moment” that we can choose to conform our will to God’s grace, and it is at the moment of death that we need all of Heaven (that great cloud of witnesses, Hebrews 12:1) interceding for us to persevere to the end.  It is important to pray for the grace of final perseverance and for the fortitude to die a good death. It is reassuring to know that we are asking Mary’s help in this regard when we pray the rosary.

 In First Corinthians it says (at 2:9):

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Don’t put your trust in the passing things of this world (those idols have no power to save you). Be a little greedy for Heaven, and in the process transform that greed into love and gratitude for a God who, after dying for our sins and humbling himself to be our very eternal life-giving food, has prepared for us such an immense reward that the magnitude of the joy and love we will experience in Heaven is beyond our narrow understanding, lasting for endless ages, in the glory of the “ever-blessed” life of God. In short, to say that Heaven is going to be awesome is an incredible understatement.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Inspiration: The Imitation of Christ (chapter 48); The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola; and F.W. Faber’s The Creator and the Creature (from where I derive the title to the note and I am otherwise heavily indebted to him for the tone and content of the note).

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THEOLOGY OF THE BODY IN A NUTSHELL

Vom 15. bis 19. November 1980 besuchte Seine Heiligkeit Papst Johannes Paul II. die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Auf Einladung von Bundespräsident Karl Carstens hat der Papst seinen pastoralen Besuch mit einem offiziellen in Bonn verbunden. Am 15. November gab der Bundespräsident einen Empfang zu Ehren Seiner Heiligkeit auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl bei Bonn. Dort führte Papst Johannes Paul II. auch ein Gespräch mit Bundeskanzler Helmut Schmidt. Gleichzeitig traf Bundesaußenminister Hans-Dietrich Genscher mit Kardinal-Staatssekretär Casaroli zusammen. Im Anschluß an den offiziellen Teil begab sich der Papst auf den Bonner Münsterplatz, um dort eine Ansprache zu halten. Ferner bestand der pastorale Teil aus Besuchen in Köln, Osnabrück, Mainz, Fulda, Altötting und München. In allen diesen Städten hielt Papst Johannes Paul II. die Heilige Messe. Eigentlicher Anlaß seines Aufenthaltes in der Bundesrepublik war der 700. Todestag von Albertus Magnus (1193-1280), dessen Grab der Papst in Köln besuchte. Bundespräsident Karl Carstens und Papst Johannes Paul II. auf Schloß Augustusburg in Brühl.

“Man, whom God created male and female, bears the divine image imprinted on his body ‘from the beginning.’ Man and woman constitute two different ways of the human ‘being a body’ in the unity of that image.” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

The Resurrection of Jesus provides a wonderful platform upon which to discuss Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – this because Jesus in His divinity did not return to the Father as a disembodied Spirit but as a human being fully reunited to His resurrected and Glorified body which – get this – he then introduced into the very life of the Trinity.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it like this:

“The Father’s power “raised up” Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity.”  (no. 648)

The human body, by way of revelation and Catholic theology, therefore has an infinite worth as a partaker in the Eternal Life merited by Jesus Christ.

Theology of the Body is an attempt to heal the alienation which sometimes exists between body and spirit – an alienation which did not exist prior to sin. An example of this alienation is pornography which disregards the person-hood and dignity of the participants in favor of pecuniary gain and carnal pleasure. Even in marriage there can be body-lust, body-shame and body-alienation due to our fallen nature and the violation of Pope John Paul II’s “personalistic norm” which states that the human person is the kind of good that does not admit of misuse and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such a means to an end. According to the Pope, “the general problem of sexual relationships between a man and a woman cannot be solved in a way that contradicts the personalistic norm” (see pages 41 and 65 of Love and Responsibility).

Sexual love therefore has a profound “nuptial” meaning because it is only within the framework of sacramental marriage that there can be a complete gifting of self – body and spirit – which supports “the total physical, moral, psychological and spiritual well-being of the woman and the man” – all of which serves to nurture an “enduring covenant” of love.

The nuptial meaning of the human body is affirmed in creation because both the man and the woman, although different, are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Therefore there is a profound complementarity between the body of the man and the body of the woman which shows they were made for each other and for the complete donation of self – in the fulness of their totality as beloved persons – in life-long marriage. The grace given in the Sacrament of Marriage therefore heals the dualistic sexual alienation caused by sin (which Pope John Paul II calls a violation of the personalistic norm, a principle he fashions from the philosophy of phenomenology).

In short, because every man and every woman is a body-person with inherent dignity and infinite worth, human sexuality finds its authentic and “life-giving” expression in sacramental marriage where the exchange of sexual intimacy can be “integrated into a total self-donation made in the will.” In this way the husband and wife mirror in the grace given to them the very LIFE of self-donation which is the essence of God’s Trinitarian existence.

“Those who seek the accomplishment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called, first of all, to make this theology of the body, whose beginning we find in the first chapters of Genesis, the content of their life and behavior. How indispensable is a thorough knowledge of the meaning of the body, in its masculinity and femininity, along the way of this vocation! A precise awareness of the nuptial meaning of the body, of its generating meaning, is necessary” (Saint Pope John Paul II).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

References: 

Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla. A good article (I have relied on) summarizing this topic can be found in Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. It is Saint Pope John Paul II’s strong belief that artificial birth control violates the personalistic norm by objectifying sexual  pleasure as an end in itself. It is noteworthy that the high rate of divorce coincides with the introduction of the contraceptive pill, along with other factors. The two quotes from Pope John Paul II compiled by Constance Hull at catholic-link.org

Photo attribution: The lead photo above is by Lothar Schaack, November 15, 1980, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license (found at Wikipedia).

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