October 15 – Teresa of Avila

Today’s Bible reading

Read Romans  13:8-10 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 

More thoughts for meditation about Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila was a Spanish contemplative, mystic, and theologian who lived from 1515-1582.

Here is a story about her: Teresa learned as a small child that one had to die in order to see God. She wanted to see God. Being practical and courageous by temperament, she devised a scheme. She planned to go to the land of the Moors with her brother, Rodrigo. There they would surely be martyred and go to heaven. Very early one morning the two children stole away from their home and crossed the bridge leading out of Avila. But the plan soon ran into trouble. An uncle who happened to be entering Avila at the time, met the children, heard their fantastic plan and unceremoniously returned them to their parents.

Later on in life, Teresa realized that one does not have to die to see God. “We need no wings to go in search of Him,” she wrote, “but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.” These words contain three essential steps for what she named ”mental prayer.” First, we must be searching for God; second, we must be willing to be alone with Him, and third, we need but look upon our Lord who is present within us.

“The important thing in mental prayer,” she says, “is not to think much but to love much.” Mental prayer becomes fruitful when we realize the gift of God dwelling within us. Referring to her earlier years in the convent, Teresa wrote these regretful words, “I think that if I had understood then as I do now that this great King really dwells within a little palace of my soul, I should not have left Him alone so often and never allowed his dwelling place to get so dirty.” Mental prayer, you see, is nothing but our side of friendship with God—our “yes” to God’s call and invitation.

“Beginners,” she says, “do well to form an appealing image of Christ in His Sacred Humanity. They should picture Him within themselves in some mystery of His life, for example, the Christ of the agony or the Risen Savior in His glorified Body. Once they are conscious of Our Lord’s presence within their souls they need only look upon Him and conversation will follow. This friendly conversation will not be much thinking but much loving, not a torrent of words, much less a strained prepared speech, but rather a relaxed conversation with moments of silence as there must be between friends.”

One of the profound things that she is known to have said matches our scripture today, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

Paul also reminds us that love is the only thing we owe each other.  It’s a continuing debt.  It is a debt that gives worth to our lives.  We are compelled to love each other regardless of the circumstances.  For some of us, that seems like a lot.  But the fact remains that each one of us is loved and as loved ones in the world we have the capacity to love others.  When we go ahead and make payments toward that debt, we fulfill God’s vision for the world.

Want more?

More bio.

Teresa’s famous prayer.

You can read the Interior Castle for free.

Recommended biography.

A Catholic bio:

Suggestions for action

Meditate on Teresa’s wisdom:

  • Christ has no body now but mine. He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet and loves with my heart.
  • We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.
  • After you die, you wear what you are.

October 12 — Elizabeth Fry

Today’s Bible reading

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. — Hebrews 13:3

More thoughts for meditation about Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a pioneering campaigner for better conditions in prisons during the Victorian Period. She was born Elizabeth Gurney in 1780, in Norwich, England to a prominent Quaker family. Her father was a partner in Gurney bank, and her mother was a relative of the Barclays, who founded Barclays Bank. After her mother died when she was 12, she took an active role in bringing up her other siblings. When Elizabeth was 18, she was influenced by the humanitarian message of William Savery, an American Quaker who spoke of the importance of tackling poverty and injustice. She became inspired to be involved in helping local charities and at a local Sunday School, which taught children to read. When she was 20, she married Joseph Fry, who was also a banker and Quaker. They moved to London where they had eleven children.

Elizabeth was a strict Quaker; she was a Quaker Minister and didn’t engage in any activities like dancing and singing. However, she was well connected in London society and often met influential members of the upper-middle classes of London.

newgate
The infamous Newgate prison before demolition

Around 1812, she made her first visit to Newgate prison, which housed both men and women prisoners, some of who were awaiting trial. Fry was shocked at the squalid and unsanitary conditions she found the prisoners in. The prisons were overcrowded and dirty, and Fry felt this fermented both bad health and fighting. In 1813, she wrote:

“All I tell thee is a faint picture of reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the furious manner and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness, which everything bespoke are really indescribable.”

She even spent the night in prison to get a better idea of what conditions were like. She sought to improve conditions by bringing in clean clothes and food. She also encouraged prisoners to look after themselves better; for example, she would suggest rules that they would vote on themselves. She felt her mission was:

” … to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of sobriety, order, and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable while in prison, and respectable when they leave it.”

She would put a better-educated prisoner in charge and encourage them to cooperate in keeping their cells cleaner and more hygienic. Fry felt one of the most important things was to give prisoners a sense of self-respect which would help them to reform, rather than fall into bad habits and become re-offenders.

She wrote a book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England (1819) and encouraged her fellow society friends to go and visit the prison to see conditions for themselves.

“It must indeed be acknowledged, that many of our own penal provisions, as they produce no other effect, appear to have no other end, than the punishment of the guilty.

In 1817, she founded the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate; this later became the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. It was one of the first nationwide women’s organizations in Britain. The aims of the organization were:

“to provide for the clothing, the instruction, and the employment of these females, to introduce them to knowledge of the holy scriptures, and to form in them as much as lies in our power, those habits of order, sobriety, and industry which may render them docile and perceptible whilst in prison, and respectable when they leave it.”

In 1818, Fry became the first women to give evidence at a House of Commons committee, during an inquiry into British prisons. In 1825, she published an influential book. “Observations of the Siting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners.” – which gave detail for improving penal reforms. Fry’s unique contribution was the willingness to raise an unpopular topic, others would rather leave untouched; she also sought to take practical steps to improve conditions in prisons.

As well as campaigning for better prisons, Fry also established a night shelter for the homeless, giving the homeless a place to stay. This was motivated by seeing a young boy dead on the street. In 1824, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society, which arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor to offer education and material aid. She was supported in her work by her husband, but after he went bankrupt in 1828, her brother, also a banker stepped in to provide funds and support.

Fry became well known in society; she was granted a few audiences with Queen Victoria who was a strong supporter of her work. Another royal admirer was Frederick William IV of Prussia; in an unusual move for a visiting monarch, he went to see Fry in Newgate prison and was deeply impressed by her work. The Home Office Minister Robert Peel was also an admirer. In 1823, he passed the Gaol Act which sought to legislate for minimum standards in prisons. This went some way to improve conditions in prison in London but was not enforced in debtors prisons or local gaols (jails) around the country.

At the time, it was unusual for a woman to have an active public profile and move out of the confines of the home. Particularly in the early years, Fry was criticized for neglecting her role as mother and housewife. Lord Sidmouth, the home secretary preceding Peel, rejected her criticisms of the prisons. In this regard, she can be seen as an important figure in giving women a higher profile in public affairs. She could be seen as an early feminist and fore-runner of the later suffragists, who campaigned for women to be given the vote.

She also established a nursing school, which later inspired Florence Nightingale to take a team of nurses, trained by Fry’s school, to the Crimea.

More?

From Biography online

Geared for High School people

From Christian History magazine

Nice extra facts.

One minute video

Book: Betsy: The Dramatic Biography of Prison Reformer Elizabeth Fry

On the 5 Pound note.

Suggestions for action

Conviction causes us to take risks. Maybe you don’t have the intelligence, imagination and courage of Elizabeth Fry, but what do you have? What is a need you can enter today? Who can you comfort? Who is in “jail” in some way and you can remember them and suffer with them?

October 4 – Francis of Assisi

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Kings 17:2-6

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

More thoughts for meditation about Francis of Assisi

St. Francis Renouncing his Worldly Goods by Giotto, c.1320, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

Francis of Assisi was born around 1181 and died in his forties on October 3, 1226 (but his feast day is Oct. 4 for various reasons). He was born as John Francis Bernard (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) to a wealthy cloth merchant. He enjoyed a luxurious and wordly lifestyle in his youth.

He fought as a soldier for Assisi. But while at war, he had the first of many experiences that called him to a life of poverty, community and restoration of the church. Shortly after he returned to Assisi after a war, he began witnessing in the streets and gained followers. His influence generated the Franciscan order, the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order Franciscans.

He influenced many and was often seen as a beacon of light during a period of corruption and darkness in the church. He’s still highly regarded and influential today.

S.Francesco speco.jpg
The oldest surviving depiction of Saint Francis is a fresco near the entrance of the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco, painted between March 1228 and March 1229.

Here is part of the biography of his early years from the Catholic Encyclopedia

“Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian’s below the town, he heard a voice saying: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father’s shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian’s. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son’s conduct, and Francis, to avert his father’s wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian’s for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone’s absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian’s, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian’s, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.” Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis’s nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. “I am the herald of the great King”, he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian’s. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it.”

Want more?

A detailed biography from the Franciscans and a shorter one.

The movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon[Amazon]. Francis is pictured as a representative of the spirit of the 70’s and the desire of young people for something greater than the corrupt institutions of church and state were offering.

Another movie: The Flowers of St. Francis, a 1950 film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Federico Fellini. This captures the spontaneous and joyful spirit that St Francis embodied. Another recent Italian TV movie.

The newest of many favorite books about Francis: Francis of Assisi and His World, by Mark Galli, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr

Hans Kung, the great Catholic theologian, writes a great post about the first pope to take the name Francis.

Suggestions for action

“Francis’ all-night prayer, “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” is probably a perfect prayer, because it is the most honest prayer we can offer.”—Richard Rohr in Eager to Love

Francis has become so well known for relating to animals that most people think of him as a birdbath. But he was a wild and creative radical. He took the way of monasticism and added joy to it and a restoration of loving relationships and connection to the earth. Consider his example of simplicity, submission, community, and his mission of building the church. How can you and we find our own version of a radical restoration of a deteriorating church?

September 28 – William J. Seymour

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 2:14-21

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

More thoughts for meditation about William J. Seymour

William Seymour died of a heart attack on September 28, 1922. He is widely considered the Father of Pentecostalism. He followed the Holy Spirit and developed a belief in the charismatic gifts (entire sanctification that manifests in prophesy, speaking in tongues, and other expressions), even before he was gifted. He needed to preach what he learned.

He was first locked out of the California building to which he had been invited to speak. He eventually found another place and soon developed a following that outgrew that building after a remarkable evening of God’s presence. He proceeded to find a larger place to preach and worship in L.A. It was on the dirt floor in what became the famous building on Azusa St. that the Pentecostal revival began.

“In a short time God began to manifest His power and soon the building could not contain the people. Now the meetings continue all day and into the night and the fire is kindling all over the city and surrounding towns. Proud, well-dressed preachers come in to “investigate.” Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.” ― William Seymour, The Azusa Papers

To Seymour, tongues was not the only message of Azusa Street: “Don’t go out of here talking about tongues: talk about Jesus,” he admonished. What’s more, he rejected racial barriers that plagued the Church at that time. Blacks and whites worked together in apparent harmony under the direction of a black pastor, a marvel in the days of Jim Crow segregation. One commentator said: “At Azusa Street, the color line was washed away in the Blood.” Plus, he installed women as leaders, which was almost universally opposed at the time. Seymour dreamed that Azusa Street was creating a new kind of church, one where a common experience in the Holy Spirit tore down old walls of racial, ethnic, and denominational differences.

Seymour quotes

  • I can say, through the power of the Spirit that wherever God can get a people that will come together in one accord and one mind in the Word of God, the baptism of the Holy Ghost will fall upon them, like as at Cornelius’ house.
  • So many today are worshiping in the mountains, big churches, stone and frame buildings. But Jesus teaches that salvation is not in these stone structures–not in the mountains—not in the hills, but in God.
  • The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit.
  • Many people today are sanctified, cleansed from all sin and perfectly consecrated to God, but they have never obeyed the Lord according to Acts 1, 4, 5, 8 and Luke 24: 39, for their real personal Pentecost, the enduement of power for service and work and for sealing unto the day of redemption. The baptism with the Holy Ghost is a free gift without repentance upon the sanctified, cleansed vessel. “Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1: 21-22). I praise our God for the sealing of the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption

Much more [here].

Azusa St. documentary:

Suggestions for action

Seymour would probably simply ask us to consider his observation: “Many people today are sanctified, cleansed from all sin and perfectly consecrated to God, but they have never obeyed the Lord according to Acts 1, 4, 5, 8 and Luke 24: 39, for their real personal Pentecost, the enduement of power for service and work and for sealing unto the day of redemption.” What would you say about yourself?

September 21 – Henri Nouwen

Today’s Bible reading

Read Colossians 3:1-3

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

More thoughts for meditation about Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

On this day in 1996, Father Henri Nouwen died at age 64. Henri is a favorite author of many of us at Circle of Hope. Born in the Netherlands, he taught in universities abroad and at Yale, Harvard and Notre Dame. The last decade of his life, he spent in the L’Arche community of Toronto, sharing his life with community members with severe disabilities. Henri’s transparency, intelligence and faith brought him many readers. He has led many of us to deeply value solitude and contemplative practices.

In this excerpt from The Way of the Heart Henri reflects on the call to solitude that led the Desert Fathers and Mothers (and us, still today) to understand their gifts by fleeing the shipwreck of the society of their day:

“Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.”

Other Nouwen quotes:

“As soon as we are alone…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New and Other Classics

“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Want more?

The Henri Nouwen Society can tell you everything: [link]

On Nouwen’s struggles with celibacy and orientation: [link]

Suggestions for action

Nouwen is famous for encouraging self-reliant and denial-ridden Christians to accept their neediness and self-delusion. He taught that healers are wounded, like Jesus.

Are you avoiding solitude because your outer distractions are helping you avoid your inner turmoil and the struggle of spiritual development? Probably. We, as a community, are devoted to going deep with God, but we know that many of us are trying to stay shallow. Let God pull you under. Be receptive to being loved, not just avoiding the realization that you don’t love or are not loved well.

September 17 — Hildegard of Bingen

Today’s Bible reading

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool,because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. — 2 Corinthians 12:2-7

Hildegard von Bingen.jpg
Portrait based on her visions

More thoughts for meditation about Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard of Bingen  lived from September 16, 1098 to September 17, 1179. She has been called by her admirers “one of the most important figures in the history of the Middle Ages,” and “the greatest woman of her time.” Her time was the century of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux, the time of the rise of the great universities and the building of Chartres cathedral.

At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced major works of theology and visionary writings. When few women were accorded respect, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings. She used the curative powers of natural objects for healing, and wrote treatises about natural history and medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first composer whose biography is known. She founded a vibrant convent, where her musical plays were performed.

Revival of interest in this extraordinary woman of the middle ages was initiated by musicologists and historians of science and religion. Her music also attracted “new age” followers. Now students of medieval history and culture are also likely to give her a proper place in their studies.

Hildegard was the daughter of a knight. When she was eight years old she went to the Benedictine monastery at Mount St. Disibode to be educated. The monastery was in the Celtic tradition, and housed both men and women (in separate quarters). When Hildegard was eighteen, she became a nun. Twenty years later, she was made the head of the female community at the monastery. Within the next four years, she had a series of visions, and devoted the ten years from 1140 to 1150 to writing them down, describing them (including pictures of what she had seen, as on this page), and commenting on their interpretation and significance. During this period, Pope Eugenius III sent a commission to inquire into her work. The commission found her teaching orthodox and her insights authentic, and reported so to the Pope, who sent her a letter of approval (or her legacy might have been different since people in her own time thought her visions might come from the devil). She wrote back urging the Pope to work harder for reform of the Church.

Hildegard’s mandela-like vision of choruses of angels surrounding God, who is depicted as a white space, signifying that the divine cannot be captured by an image

The community of nuns at Mount St. Disibode was growing rapidly, and they did not have adequate room. Hildegard accordingly moved her nuns to a location near Bingen, and founded a monastery for them completely independent of the double monastery they had left. She oversaw its construction, which included such features (not routine in her day) as water pumped in through pipes. The abbot they had left opposed their departure, and the resulting tensions took a long time to heal.

Hildegard traveled throughout southern Germany and into Switzerland and as far as Paris, preaching. Her sermons deeply moved the hearers, and she was asked to provide written copies. In the last year of her life, she was briefly in trouble because she provided Christian burial for a young man who had been excommunicated. Her defense was that he had repented on his deathbed, and received the sacraments. Her convent was subjected to an interdict which meant communion could not be served on their site, but she protested eloquently, and the interdict was eventually lifted shortly before she died.

Her surviving works include more than a hundred letters to emperors and popes, bishops, nuns, and nobility. Many persons of all classes wrote to her, asking for advice, and one biographer calls her “the Dear Abby of the twelfth century.” She wrote 72 works of song, including a play set to music. Musical notation had only shortly before developed to the point where her music was recorded in a way that we can read today. Accordingly, some of her work is now available, and presumably sounds the way she intended. She left us about seventy poems and nine books. Two of them are books of medical and pharmaceutical advice, dealing with the workings of the human body and the properties of various herbs. She also wrote a commentary on the Gospels and another on the Athanasian Creed. Her major works are three books on theology: Scivias (“Know the paths!” — explored in Daily Prayer :: WATER), Liber Vitae Meritorum (on ethics), and De Operatione Dei. They deal (or at least the first and third do) with the material of her visions. The visions, as she describes them, are often enigmatic but deeply moving, and many who have studied them believe that they have learned something from the visions that is not easily put into words.

Quotes:

“Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.”

Want more?

Fan page

Short Bio in honor of becoming a “doctor” of the Catholic church.

Daily Prayer :: WATER week on Scivias

Three minute bio done with pictures! [link]

Suggestions for action

What made Hildegard great was more than her genius. It was her prayer. Her visions matched those of Paul the Apostle’s (as seen in today’s reading). They motivated her as they motivated Paul. Prayer made her irrepressible.

What derives from your prayer? There is no substitute to devotion to knowing God and receiving Spirit to spirit.

September 14 — John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom

Today’s Bible reading

Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord abides for ever.”

That word is the good news which was preached to you. —1 Peter 1:21-25

More thoughts for meditation about John Chrysostom (c. 349 – September 14, 407),

John of Antioch was nicknamed Χρυσόστομος (Chrysostomos, anglicized as Chrysostom), which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, because he was famous for being eloquent. He not only preached frequently, he was also among the most prolific authors in the early Church. He is known as one of the “church fathers.” As Archbishop of Constantinople (seat of the Roman Empire at the time) he was known for his denunciation of abuse of authority by both church and political leaders, as well as his emphasis on worship and prayer.  

John was raised in Antioch, a leading intellectual center of his day, by his widowed mother, Anthusa, a devoted Jesus follower. His tutor was Libanius, the famous pagan rhetorician who had been a professor in both Athens and Constantinople.

After his education, like many devout men of his day, the spidery John (he was short, thin, and long-limbed) entered monastic seclusion. But his ascetic rigors were so strenuous, they damaged his health (the effects would last his whole life), and he was forced to return to public life. He quickly went from lector to deacon to priest at the church in Antioch.

It was in Antioch where Chrysostom’s preaching began to be noticed, especially after what has been called the “Affair of the Statues.” In the spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. Statues of the emperor and his family were desecrated. Imperial officials responded by punishing city leaders, killing some; Archbishop Flavian rushed to the capital in Constantinople, some 800 miles away, to beg the emperor for clemency. In Flavian’s absence, John preached to the terrified city: “Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for three or four days and then begin the old life again.”

When Flavian returned eight weeks later with the good news of the emperor’s pardon, John’s reputation soared. From then on, he was in demand as a preacher. He preached through many books of the Bible, though he had his favorites: “I like all the saints, but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven.” In his sermons, he denounced abortion, prostitution, gluttony, the theater, and swearing. About the love of horse racing, he complained, “My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to [horse racing] again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, ‘This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,’ and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here.”

His large bald head, deeply set eyes, and sunken cheeks reminded people of Elisha the prophet. Though his sermons (which lasted between 30 minutes and two hours) were well attended, he sometimes became discouraged: “My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing.” At the same time, he said, “Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.”

In early 398, John was seized by soldiers and taken to the capital, where he was forcibly consecrated as archbishop of Constantinople. His kidnapping was arranged by a government official who wanted to adorn the church in the capital city with the best orator in Christianity. Rather than rebelling against the injustice, John accepted it as God’s providence. And rather than soften his words for his new and prestigious audience—which now included many from the imperial household—John continued themes he preached in Antioch. He railed against abuses of wealth and power. Even his lifestyle itself was a scandal: he lived an ascetic life, using his considerable household budget to care for the poor and build hospitals.

He continued preaching against the great public sins. In a sermon against the theater, for example, he said, “Long after the theater is closed and everyone is gone away, those images [of “shameful women” actresses] still float before your soul, their words, their conduct, their glances, their walk, their positions, their excitation, their unchaste limbs … And there within you she kindles the Babylonian furnace in which the peace of your home, the purity of your heart, the happiness of your marriage will be burnt up!”

His lack of tact and political skill made him too many enemies—in the imperial family and among fellow bishops. For complex reasons, Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, was able to call a council outside of Constantinople and, trump up charges of heresy against  John. He was deposed and sent into exile by Empress Eudoxia and Emperor Arcadius. He was taken across the plains of what is now Turkey in the heat of summer, and almost immediately his health began to fail. He was visited by loyal followers, and wrote letters of encouragement to others: “When you see the church scattered, suffering the most terrible trials, her most illustrious members persecuted and flogged, her leader carried away into exile, don’t only consider these events, but also the things that have resulted: the rewards, the recompense, the awards for the athlete who wins in the games and the prizes won in the contest.” On the eastern shore of the Black Sea, at the edges of the empire, his body gave out and he died.

Thirty-four years later, after John’s chief enemies had died, his relics were brought back in triumph to the capital. Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, publicly asked forgiveness for the sins of his parents. He was later given the title “Doctor of the Church” because of the value of his writings (600 sermons and 200 letters survive).

Quotes:

    • “It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.
      Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word? Indeed, forgive me, but I almost burst from anger.
      Only see, you are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?” — 21st homily on 1 Corinthians
    • A comprehended god is no God.
    • Hell is paved with priests’ skulls.
    • Slander is worse than cannibalism.
    • You received your fortune by inheritance; so be it! Therefore, you have not sinned personally, but how know you that you may not be enjoying the fruits of theft and crime committed before you?—Epist. i. ad Tim., 12
    • Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
    • As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’…We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. —Homilies on the Statues, Homily XX

More?

Bio and recitation of “The Resurrection” in this video

One of his famous works: Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

All his works online

John is very controversial for some of his teaching that goes against modern sensibilities:

Accusations of misogyny

Accusation of antisemitism

Accusation of homophobia

Suggestions for action

Maybe John was writing for posterity, but that is doubtful. Most of us would not want all our writings collected and then dissected by later generations. What we said in our 20’s might not match what we said in our 40’s. Had John lived, he might have changed some of his views.

Most of what you think and say is probably worth hearing, however. You may not have a golden tongue, but you should probably speak up with what you’ve got. John’s fearlessness made him influential for Jesus.

September 12 — Johnny Cash

johnny-cash-pondering-michelle-dickToday’s Bible reading

The Spirit of God came on Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law. But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them. In those days it was not safe to travel about, for all the inhabitants of the lands were in great turmoil. One nation was being crushed by another and one city by another, because God was troubling them with every kind of distress. But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” — 2 Chronicles 15:1-7

More thoughts for meditation about Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

John R. “Johnny” Cash born February 26, 1932. He is widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide. Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of multiple inductions in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.

Cash was known for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice, a rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts, and his trademark attire, which earned him the nickname “The Man in Black.” He traditionally began his concerts with the simple “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” followed by his signature Folsom Prison Blues.

Much of Cash’s music echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption, especially in later life. During the last stage of his career, Cash covered songs by several late 20th century rock artists, most notably Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.

Cash was raised by his parents as a Southern Baptist. He was baptized in 1944 in the Tyronza River as a member of the Central Baptist Church of Dyess, Arkansas.

A troubled but devout Christian, Cash has been characterized as a “lens through which to view American contradictions and challenges.” He wrote Christian novel, Man in White, which showcases his theological studies. It is is a portrait of six pivotal years in the life of the apostle, Paul. In the introduction Cash writes about a reporter who, once tried to paint him into a corner, baiting him to acknowledge a single denominational persuasion at the center of his heart. Finally, Cash laid down the law: “I—as a believer that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, the Christ of the Greeks, was the Anointed One of God (born of the seed of David, upon faith as Abraham has faith, and it was accounted to him for righteousness)—am grafted onto the true vine, and am one of the heirs of God’s covenant with Israel….I’m a Christian. Don’t put me in another box.”

He made a spoken word recording of the entire New King James Version of the New Testament. Cash declared he was “the biggest sinner of them all”, and viewed himself overall as a complicated and contradictory man. Accordingly, Cash is said to have “contained multitudes,” and has been deemed “the philosopher-prince of American country music.”

Cash’s daughter, singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, once pointed out that “My father was raised a Baptist, but he has the soul of a mystic. He’s a profoundly spiritual man, but he readily admits to a continual attraction for all seven deadly sins.”

“There’s nothing hypocritical about it,” Johnny Cash told Rolling Stone author Anthony DeCurtis. “There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.” To Cash, even his near deadly bout with drug addiction contained a crucial spiritual element. “I used drugs to escape, and they worked pretty well when I was younger. But they devastated me physically and emotionally—and spiritually … [they put me] in such a low state that I couldn’t communicate with God. There’s no lonelier place to be. I was separated from God, and I wasn’t even trying to call on him. I knew that there was no line of communication. But he came back. And I came back.”

“Being a Christian isn’t for sissies,” Cash said once. “It takes a real man to live for God—a lot more man than to live for the devil, you know? If you really want to live right these days, you gotta be tough.”

What’s more, he was intimately aware of the hard truths about living God’s way: “If you’re going to be a Christian, you’re going to change. You’re going to lose some old friends, not because you want to, but because you need to.”

”I’m thrilled to death with life,” he told Larry King during an interview. “Life is—the way God has given it to me—was just a platter. A golden platter of life laid out there for me. It’s been beautiful.”

“I don’t give up … and it’s not out of frustration and desperation that I say ‘I don’t give up.’ I don’t give up because I don’t give up. I don’t believe in it.”

Suggestions for action

Johnny Cash was a celebrity, which usually equals trouble. He had plenty of trouble. But he also had plenty of conviction that lasted his whole life. In many ways he is an “everyman” who stubbornly tried to do his best, often standing with the downtrodden. Notably, he risked his career early on to speak out on behalf of Native Americans. He used his capabilities and his notoriety for more than his own pleasure and profit.

Cash sang these words in one of his last songs, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down,” recorded in 2003 in the final months of his life and released posthumously in 2010: “When I hear that trumpet sound, I’m gonna rise right out of the ground. Ain’t no grave can hold my body down. … Well, meet me, Jesus, meet me. Meet me in the middle of the air. And if these wings don’t fail me, I will meet You anywhere.”

Can you sing that?

If you can’t be held down, what can you do?

September 6 — Madeleine L’Engle

Image result for madeleine l'engle

Today’s Bible reading

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.1 Corinthians 2:6-13

More thoughts for mediation about Madeleine L’Engel (Nov. 29, 1918 – Sep. 6, 2007)

“If we are willing to live by Scripture, we must be willing to live by paradox and contradiction and surprise.” Madeleine L’Engle said it, and she certainly lived by it.

Formidable in personality and far-ranging in accomplishments, L’Engle wrote more than 60 books, including novels, poetry, memoir, essays, sermons, commentaries, and creative nonfiction. She is best known for A Wrinkle in Time, the first novel in the Time Quintet, but she may be best loved for Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, her breathtaking opus on the creative process. In it, she writes, “We live by revelation, as Christians, as artists, which means we must be careful never to get set into rigid molds. The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions.”

L’Engle refused to be “forced into either/or.” Her life and work reflects this: Icon and Iconoclast, Sacred and Secular, Truth and Story, Faith and Science, Religion and Art, Fact and Fiction. She showed a clear preference for risk over certainty, narrative over affirmation, and questions over answers.

L’Engle’s refusal to be pigeonholed had a tumultuous effect on her life and career. The mixed reception of A Wrinkle in Time is one example. Wrinkle is clearly, unequivocally Christian, enough to make non-religious readers squirm. Lois Lowry, a celebrated children’s author, has expressed doubt that the book would even be published today. “In the world of literature, Christianity is no longer respectable,” wrote L’Engle. “When I am referred to in an article or a review as a ‘practicing Christian,’ it is seldom meant as a compliment.”

But censorship of her work from Christian critics has been just as ferocious. A Wrinkle in Time has been labeled “spiritual poison” and banned by believers who accuse her of promoting witchcraft, goddess worship, divination, and a host of similar heresies. Similar criticism was aimed at C. S. Lewis. Both have been denounced by people of faith, scorned by the literati, and banned from libraries. Both worked as lay evangelists and apologists. Both reclaimed myth and championed the arts. Both wrote in multiple genres, and both remain notoriously difficult to categorize. One more comparison worth sharing: Both Lewis and L’Engle wrote in reaction to the prevailing assumptions of modernism. Biographer Sarah Arthur observes:

To combat [modernist assumptions], Lewis mined back into the riches of tradition—the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche for his novel Till We Have Faces, for instance, or from Plato and Aristotle’s universal moral law in The Abolition of Man—in order to glean insights about God and human nature that had been dismissed or forgotten. L’Engle, by contrast, pressed forward into the mysteries of scientific discovery. …She engaged science to show just how small, how relative, how limited our view of God has been in light of the wonders of an astonishing universe.

Although she once considered herself an atheist, after L’Engle became a Christian she had a daily practice of reading the Bible and praying. Her granddaughter said L’Engle’s coming to her faith was slower “acceptance of what she had always known to be true,” rather than a sudden conversion moment.“She was a Christian because she was deeply rooted in its traditions and language, and she was moved by and trusted in its stories,” Although L’Engle did not like denominational labels, she mostly attended Episcopal churches, serving for four decades as a librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Quotes:

  • “Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys,”—  Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.
  • The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
  • You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
  • Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.
  • Some things have to be believed to be seen.
  • I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.

More?

Interesting PBS show on L’Engle [link]

A video (one of a set) on L’Engle talking about faith and doubt. [link]

Hollywood made sure there was little God and certainly no Jesus in the movie:

Suggestions for action

L’Engle loved the childlike qualities, still resident in all of us, that could be called upon to meet the wonder of being creatures of a loving God. We have often quoted her during Advent, even making art from the quote: This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild. / Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.

As you explore her work, even the little snippets on this page, let yourself be full of the child, both child and Child. She spent her life meditating for us and provides a wonderful resource for our own deeper journey. Slow down with her and let yourself go deeper.

September 5 – Teresa of Kolkata

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 25:31-46

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

More thoughts for meditation about Mother Teresa

Teresa of Calcutta introduced herself by saying, ”By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, which was then part the Ottoman Empire (now capital of the Republic of Macedonia). She took her first religious vows in 1931, her solemn vows in 1937 while teaching in Calcutta (the now-corrected Anglicization is Kolkata).

In 1936, while traveling through India, Sister Teresa received her call to help the poor while living among them. She began a new work in 1948. She had already learned Bengali, but she went further. She made her ”habit” a white sari with blue trim and became an Indian citizen while getting some basic medical training. In 1950, she began an order that became the Missionaries of Charity with 13 nuns (now over 5,000 worldwide). In 1952, she converted an old Hindu temple into the first Home for the Dying, a site for free hospice care. She died of heart problems in 1997 after being a prolific fund raiser, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, missionary, author, and advocate for the global poor.

“In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East—especially in India—I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving—it is not in the result of loving. ”—from A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

More?

Video at Nobel Prize.org [link]

Interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mother Teresa. Muggeridge’s book Something Beautiful for God and film made Teresa famous. [link]

Video from Kenyan TV upon her sainthood ceremony. [link]

Suggestions for action

It is amazing how Mother Teresa, a small, simple woman from India, managed all the media attention devoted to her. She spoke to powerful people with an undiluted gospel message of love. Literally millions of people were enriched.

Consider her example. Do you think you need to be respected by famous people to be successful? Or are you content to pick up the dying and do what you can do? Rest in Christ for a minute and be simple—nothing more or less than who you are, dependent on Jesus, embraced by love.