Loving the difficult

On Sundays too, or other days if necessary, you should discuss matters of discipline and your spiritual welfare; and on this occasion the indiscretions and failings of the brothers, if any be found at fault, should be lovingly corrected.

Rule of St. Albert, No. 15

When we encounter a difficult person, what do we do? If given the chance, surely we would flee from that person and pray never to see him or her ever again.

Not 16-year old Annie Zelikova . For her, every difficult encounter is an opportunity to be a witness of God’s love for humanity, even if it means having to suffer unjust treatment from others.

When, out of concern for her health, her nun friend scolded her for working in the kitchen against the doctor’s advice to rest, Annie was tempted to reason out, to tell her friend that she needed to work because her mother was out taking care of her great aunt. But instead, she chose not to say anything.

“Jesus helped me to realize ‘how this sour salad tastes,’ that it is a new pearl for the decoration of the tabernacle,” she later wrote.

And when her great aunt, who had become a burden to the family, died, her nun friend retorted: “Your dad, Annie, is glad that now after the death of auntie, you live like in heaven,” to which she replied, “Yes, our good God gave us auntie to help us to practice self-control and strengthen ourselves in virtue. But now this opportunity is lost to us!”

When we are faced with a person who proves to be difficult to be with what would we do? Would we criticize that person – openly or secretly, in person or with other people? Would we wish for that person to change according to our concept of what is right or wrong? Or are we willing to understand the person and accept him/her regardless of his/her faults?

Colosians 3:12-17
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Lord, grant me the heart to tolerate, understand, and love the people who are giving me so much difficulty, knowing that you sent them for me to understand and love.


Surrender to poverty

None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common

Rule of St. Albert, No. 12

“Your earnings are not yours, but the community’s,” this was one of the reminders that Fr. Bernard Roosendaal, OCarm gave us in one of our sessions with him during our novitiate year.

And the reason why we don’t own what we earn is because whatever needs we have it is the community who will provide.

In the creation of the early Christian community, the apostles were not remiss in reminding them to be generous and hospitable with each other.

Because of the attitude of sharing in community, no one was in need. This is also a manifestation of love as preached by Jesus.

Contrary to our culture of accumulation today, Jesus preached sharing, not of one’s extra but of what he has, even if what he has is not enough for himself and his family.

As apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, the Macedonians, who despite their extreme poverty, joyfully shared “according to their means… and beyond their means, of their own free will.” (2 Corinthians 8:3).

And as Paul said: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

How honest are you in living a life of poverty?
What commitment will you make to show your sincerity in following Christ?

Acts 4:32-35
Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.

Lord, grant me a generous heart, one with the courage to express my love to others, especially to those in need, by sharing not my extra but that which you have entrusted me. Amen.

Intimacy with God

Those who know how to say the canonical hours with those in orders should do so, in the way those holy forefathers of ours laid down, and according to the Church’s approved custom. Those who do not know the hours must say twenty-five ‘Our Fathers’ for the night office, except on Sundays and solemnities when that number is to be doubled so that the ‘Our Father’ is said fifty times; the same prayer must be said seven times in the morning in place of Lauds, and seven times too for each of the other hours, except for Vespers when it must be said fifteen times.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 11

“You don’t need to pray,” Br. Peter Foo, FSC, former Brother Visitor of the De La Salle Brothers Penang District and a most sought after speaker on prayer, broke this news to novices from different congregations during a session on Centering Prayer, a form of contemplative prayer that brings one to silence.

And he is right because prayer should not be on a “per need basis,” as is our common practice, rather it should be on a “per want basis.”

We pray because we want, we desire to be in God’s company, and not just because we need to because it is in our Rule of Life or because we need to ask God for a favor or something.

Prayer is an indicator of our intimacy with God.

When a couple is just starting their relationship they tend to say a lot of things to each other. But as they mature in their relationship, they move on from the “asking stage,” where one equates favors like the giving of chocolates and jewelry to care and love, to the “companion stage,” where one’s mere presence is enough to experience the other’s love.

No need for words because they know each other’s needs and are confident in each other’s love.

Carmelites are known for their love of prayer. From Teresa de Jesus of Avila, whose beautiful description on the stages of prayer inspired many to seek God beyond vocal prayers, to Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, whose constant living in God’s presence made his every action a form of prayer.

A lesser known Carmelite who exemplified the life of prayer is Peter Thomas who was Patriarch of Constantinople.

From the time he entered religious life, he never missed to pray the Psalms in common, that even on his deathbed he had to say it until his strength failed him, prompting his confessor to finish it with him.

For what reason and how much value do we put on prayer, especially those done in common?

Acts 1:13-14
When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Lord, I love you, please grant me a heart that desires your company every minute of my life. Amen.

Solitary confinement

Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.

Rule of St. Albert, No. 10

When Titus Brandsma was imprisoned by the German Nazis for encouraging the Catholic press in the Netherlands not to bend to the will of the occupying forces, the first thing that he did inside his cell was to make it his own.

He was heard saying: “Now I am getting what I rarely had and what I have always desired. Now I am going to a cell and will finally become a true Carmelite.”

Solitary confinement did not scare him because Carmelites value their cells – both interior and exterior.

It is in the solitude of our cells that we meet and be intimate with God.

For a Carmelite, the cell is the holiest of place. It is a place of refuge, a place of communion.

But cells are not confined to externals like the room, for as prophets, we go where God tells us to go and so deep inside our being we carry our cells with us. Our piece of Mt. Carmel is not that found in Palestine, but that which is in our innermost being, our hearts.

How do you praise God in the solitude of your cell? How often do you visit your cell and in what instances?

James 1:22-25
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Lord, grant me a silent heart and in the quiet of my heart, my cell be with me. Consecrate this sacred space which I am offering to you, O God, that it may be worthy of your Holy presence. Let this space be our place, Lord, where you can be mine exclusively and where I could enjoy your presence with no distractions and nothing else to think about. Amen.

Piousness = holiness?

Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this – your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 19

What makes a man holy?

Does wearing an expensive perfume smelling of old pious ladies make one holy? How about large, beautiful, and elaborate pectoral crosses? Or a replica of what the Pope wears? Or how about keeping silent as if it’s Holy Friday everyday, or acting so prim and proper as if constantly serving on the altar during mass?

There is nothing wrong with being prim and proper, but if one starts to believe that he’s better than the rest because of his behavior, or that he’s a good Christian because of it, well, he’s wrong.

Such thinking is called arrogance and many times Jesus criticized the Pharisees and those serving in the temple for acting in such a hypocritical way.

Yes, they were faithful to the Laws of Moses on the outside, but inside, their attitude was arrogance. They were concerned with the externals that they forgot that what is more important is what’s inside.

A mango may look beautiful in the outside, it may smell sweet, but until you slice it you will never be sure if it’s rotten.

Pope Francis once urged the religious and priests to avoid clericalism; for them not to be too concerned with what should be while setting themselves apart from the people, the true church of God, rather he wants them to get their hands dirty and to go to the margins where Christ is needed the most.

Have you checked your heart lately?

Matthew 23:1-8
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

Lord, grant me a heart that’s holy and pure, one that is able to discern whether my intentions, motivations, and desires are still aligned with yours. Purify my heart, O Lord, that I may be able to share it even to the most unlovable person I meet.

Faithfulness and chastity

Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this – your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.

– Rule of Albert, No. 19

In his article for Religious Life Asia (Celibacy for the Kingdom: Celibates for an Effective Universal Love, 2014), Fr. José Arumí Rovira, CMF defined virginity, chastity, celibacy, and continence, pointing out the difference of each.

“Chaste is he/she who lives his/her sexuality in the right way according to the gospel and to his/her state of life and vocation,” he said, adding that we must all “strive to be ‘perfectly chaste.'”

To be chaste doesn’t mean that we should automatically be continent or celibate, it depends on one’s way of life. If one chose marriage then to be chaste means to be faithful in his/her marriage life and not to engage in extramarital affairs or live as if he/she is single.

And if one chooses to wholly devote himself to God’s service, the he should be faithful to his call and not go around gallivanting when no one is looking, for as Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (1 Corinthian 7:9).

How do you keep yourself pure before God?

1 Corinthians 7:1-7
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.  For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

Lord, grant me a pure heart worthy to be offered at your altar. Help me in times of temptation and with your grace allow this humble servant to overcome them and so proving my burning love for you alone. Amen.

Feeding our intellect

The Prior’s cell should stand near the entrance to your property, so that he may be the first to meet those who approach, and whatever has to be done in consequence may all be carried out as he may decide and order.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 9

Every day we are made to make decisions. From the most mundane of task like whether we would continue to sleep or wake up and start our day, to necessary tasks like whether to eat now or later.

Others are made to make life and death decisions, the most challenging of which is when they are made to decide for others.

As Christians we are made to make an even more challenging decision every minute of our lives, and that is whether we give in to sin or not.

The great news is that God has given us the tools to make the right decisions. Our conscience, that nagging feeling inside when we do or is about to do something against our established moral and ethical principles, helps us weigh whether the decision we are about to make conforms to the moral standards set by Jesus in his teachings or not.

Our intellect, on the other hand, serves as our gatekeeper. And if we feed it every day with the Word of God through constant contemplation and meditation, we strengthen it and we hone it so that it would become more vigilant in performing its tasks.

A strong intellect would not only be able to determine whether a thought is destructive to the soul or not, it would also help us decide on the best action to take on a situation based on Christian values.

Let us strengthen our intellects with constant readings of the Bible, meditating on God’s Word and experiencing it through the power of our thoughts, and allow it to mold our attitude for the better.

What was the most difficult decision you made?

Psalm 121: 7-8
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Lord God, let the prior of my house be wise and vigilant and grant me a heart willing and open to its bidding. Guard the house of my soul from all evil and help me live a life according to your will. Amen.

Contentment in suffering? Seriously?

None of the brothers is to occupy a cell other than that allotted to him, or to exchange cells with another, without leave of whoever is Prior at the time.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 8

It is difficult to find a person who is happy with what he has, especially when what he has entails suffering and impending doom. And so much more a young person who possess all the world’s possibilities.

Santos Franco Sanchez was everything that every parent would ask for in a child. He was normal in all respects.

He plays with other children, he can be naughty at times, and he complains especially when he believes that an errand is fit for a girl.

But what sets him apart from other children was his maturity which extended to his spiritual life.

At 11, he was beset with a sickness that would eventually claim his life in less than a year. Despite the pain and suffering that he experienced from his sickness, he welcomed it as God’s will in his life. The child that he was, he complained, “My God, take me to heaven, I’m too small to suffer so much.”

But he also accepted saying, “However, your will be done. Everything just as you will it.” And much more, which sets him apart from other children his age, he offered his sufferings to God: “I offer it (sufferings) to you for sinners, for the missions.”

He was more than content with his sufferings, he welcomed it as God’s gift, God’s will for him.

In the middle of difficulties and sufferings, are we able to find contentment with what God has allotted for us, or do we hope to find something more comfortable and pleasurable?

Matthew 26:39-42
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Lord, allow me to see the good in all things that I encounter in my life. Create in me a humble heart that would welcome both happiness and suffering, both the good and the bad. And teach me, Lord, to see the goodness in all things. Amen.

Remember Him

However, you are to eat whatever may have been given you in a common refectory, listening together meanwhile to a reading from Holy Scripture where that can be done without difficulty.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 7

Scripture says that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3, Luke 4:4, Matthew 4:4).

Taking on the example of Mary (Luke 2:19), Carmelites ponder on God’s word day and night, and rightly so even during the times when we are pre-occupied with work.

Each interaction we are blessed to have should be an experience of God’s presence for it is in our experiences – both individually and communally – that God reveals himself. And in all these, to take a moment to ponder on God’s goodness.

Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection, a humble cook in a 17th century discalced Carmelite monastery wrote in one of his letters:

“At table and in the midst of conversation, lift your heart at all times towards Him. The smallest remembrance will always please Him.”

He adds:

“It is not needful always to be in Church to be with God. We can make a chapel of our heart, to which we can from time to time withdraw to have gentle, humble, loving communion with Him…. Do not fetter yourself by rules or special forms of worship. Act in faith, with love, and with humility.”

How much have I been remembering God lately?

Psalm 1:1-3
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Lord, grant me a heart that is constantly thirsting for your presence. One that is always excited to be with you. Amen.

Blessed solitude

If the Prior and the brothers see fit, you may have foundations in solitary places, or where you are given a site suitable and convenient for the observance proper to your Order.

– Rule of St. Albert, No. 5

“Blessed solitude. I am quite at home in this small cell. I never get bored here – just the contrary. I am certainly alone but never was the Lord so near to me.”

These lines were written by Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite priest martyred by the German Nazis in 1942 for his defense on human rights that included the freedom of the press and the right to education.

Titus embodied the Carmelites’ love for solitude for it is in this solitude that we come into communion with God.

In our busy-ness in doing our business, we often forget God. There’s just no end when it comes to things to do.

When we’re done with one thing, another comes.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are allotted for working in the garden during our novitiate year in the Spring of Carmel. When we first arrived in the place, the plot assigned to me was so full of weeds of different kinds. I’ve done everything I could to remove the weeds, but the method I found to be effective was the tedious work of pulling them one by one.

The thing is, when I’m done with one area, the area I worked on previously would again be blanketed in weeds. There is just no end to the work and in all honesty, we will never run out of things to do.

For us to be able to find that solitary place within us and to be able to withdraw to that place from time to time is a jewel that we will always treasure, especially when we are choked with things to do.

When was the last time that you were by yourself? How did it feel?

Luke 6:12
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Lord, Jesus Christ, despite the many moments that I’ve failed to remember you, burdened by my responsibilities, you remain to be present when I needed you. Grant me a heart that remembers you often and to praise and give you thanks for the blessings you showered on me. Amen.