Sometimes there are no words…. (Tears at the Afghanistan evacuation)

One of my friends posted this on her Instragram account. To me, it said more than words could ever say. It includes the artist’s name.

This reminds me of the reflections of Etty Hillesum in her book An Interrupted Life. Esther (Etty) Hillesum (15 January 1914–30 November 1943) was the Dutch author of confessional letters and diaries which describe both her religious awakening and the persecutions of Jewish people in Amerstdam during the German Occupation. In 1943 she was deported and killed In Auschwitz concentration camp. In one of her diary entries she wrote, in a similar vein to the image above, that even the German mothers are mourning the loss of their sons, just as the Jewish mothers are. I have always kept An Interrupted Life and love to pull it out at times such as these. Some of my favorite quotes from Etty:

“All disaster stems from us. Why is there a war? Perhaps because now and then I might be inclined to snap at my neighbour. Because I and my neighbour and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war with all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live. And I believe that I will never be able to hate any human being for his so-called wickedness, that I shall only hate the evil that is within me, though hate is perhaps putting it too strongly even then. In any case, we cannot be lax enough in what we demand of others and strict enough in what we demand of ourselves.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
― Etty Hillesum

“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“Each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.”
― Etty Hillesum

“I know and share the many sorrows a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them; they pass through me, like life itself, as a broad eternal stream…and life continues…”
― Etty Hillesum

“I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we first change ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned.”
― Etty Hillesum, Lettres De Westerbork

“I know that those who hate have good reason to do so. But why should we always have to choose the cheapest and easiest way? It has been brought home forcibly to me here how every atom of hatred added to the world makes it an even more inhospitable place.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“When you have an interior life, it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the prison fence you’re on. . . I’ve already died a thousand times in a thousand concentration camps. I know everything. There is no new information to trouble me. One way or another, I already know everything. And yet, I find this life beautiful and rich in meaning. At every moment.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

“We go too far in fearing for our unhappy bodies, but our forgotten spirit shrivels up in some corner. Our lives are going wrong, we conduct ourselves without dignity. We lack historical sense, forget that even those about to perish are part of history. I hate nobody. I am not embittered. And once the love of mankind has germinated in you, it will grow without measure.”
― Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943; and Letters from Westerbork

God’s living message is very close to you

“God’s living message is very close to you, as close as your own heart beating in your chest” (Rom 10:8, TPT).

These are the words of Moses quoted by St Paul in his letter to the Romans. We could read them today in this way: “You may feel alone. You may be scared about the future. You may be worried for your children. You may wonder if God will do something to protect you. What I want you to know is that God’s living message of salvation is very close to you. His revelation of faith for salvation is truly the news that is good, that makes your heart skip a beat when you realize how near to you is the One who speaks and is the true promise and guarantee of your being loved forever and ever. Nothing can shake that love. In my hands you are safe.”

The ongoing media discussion about the nation’s crises in these early days of September 2021 will never satisfy your heart. It isn’t the “good news” that God knows your heart needs to sing and flourish. It isn’t the “good news” that will guide you into all truth. The constant commentary is like piling up stones and bricks and wood and paint and cement…a pile that never becomes a building of any sort. The arguments don’t hold together. The words don’t become wisdom.

For “In HIM, in Christ,” Paul states, “all things hold together.” This is because “He is before all else that is” (Col. 1:17). Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of all that exists. Apart from Him we can “do nothing” (Jn 15:5). A Cornerstone “is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.”

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ.

Nothing in our life or in the history of the world “hangs together” if it is without reference to Jesus Christ. “All before or after Jesus is meaningless without experiential contact with him” (Philip Krill, More Than Conquerors). As you listen to or read social and news commentary on the truly critical issues of our day, ask yourself, “Where is the Cornerstone? Where is Jesus? What is the “glue” holding together this person’s ideas?”

Jesus recapitulates in himself all of humanity and all of the entire creation. It is because of our Bridegroom, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb without stain, beautiful Jesus, Savior of the world, that we can have the expectation that no matter what the sufferings of this present time, the glory of God is to be revealed in us (1 Cor. 2:9).

Paul could be so absolutely certain of this glory because he had been given a foretaste of it on the road to Damascus when he was thrown to the ground before the manifestation of the glory of the resurrected Jesus who called him by name, who knew everything about him, and who had chosen him to tell the world about the mystery of salvation.

Friends, when I see the terror on the face of Afghan women, try to understand the complex situation regarding the crisis at our border, look at so many cities that are now after Hurricane Ida no longer livable in Louisiana and Mississippi, consider the thousands still attempting to escape the Taliban, I too throw myself down at the feet of Jesus, the “one who holds the seven stars firmly in his right hand” (Rev. 2:1). Through the victory of his resurrection he now holds the keys of life and death.

“Don’t yield to fear. I am the Beginning and I am the End, the Living One! I was dead, but now look–I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys that unlock death and the unseen world” (Rev 1:18).

To seven churches, the apostle John was directed to write seven letters (Rev 2–3). In these letters to Christians who were suffering persecution and martyrdom for their belief in Jesus, the risen One calls the churches to account: return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory! Jesus wants his Bride the Church to burn brightly, bringing light and illumination to the world as a witness of God’s glory.

In the face of the barrage of the words of men–analysis, anger, manipulation, fear–I need help sometimes to cling to the Word of God–to Jesus the Cornerstone, the Bridegroom of the Church whom he has made the Light to the nations. If Jesus called and missioned Paul to announce Jesus to the world, he has called and missioned the Church, and you, and me, in the same way. Each of us has our own unique corner of the world in which we shine, certainly, but we each were created to manifest God’s glory to this world. It doesn’t help any of those suffering so tremendously in today’s political climate if I neglect to be and do that for which God has sent me. It is the glory of God that in mysterious ways more powerfully sways nations and rulers and the powers of nature than any human plan or political agenda.

So let us take as our rule of life these directives to the seven churches: Return to the passionate love you had for Christ at the beginning! Do not become discouraged! Do not yield to fear in the face of suffering! Repent of believing the words of men and listen to the Spirit! Flee immorality for I search your mind and heart! Remember all the things you’ve received and heard, turn back to God and obey him! Cling tightly to what you have so that no one may seize your crown of victory!

Read them morning and night. Remind yourself of them during the day. Post them where you can see them often. Read them after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Examine yourself on them as you prepare for confession.

Hold onto faith, preserve your expectation. John Howard Yoder stated when we say, “I hope so,” it is most often a polite way of saying, “it probably won’t happen.” Christian hope, instead, is an absolute unquestioned confident expectation that what we have already experienced in Jesus Christ will give us the courage to put away the fearful questions that haunt our uncertain dreams with the proclamation from the depths of our hearts that Jesus, and only Jesus, “makes all things new” (Rom. 21:5).

If the Church doesn’t hold out this hope for the world, then who will? This is the hope that has saved the world. You and I can be the hope the world needs today.

Image credit: Cathopic, Angie Menes

Examen on Trust and Surrender

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to trust in the Lord? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible The Walking on Water (Matthew 14: 22-33)

Allow yourself to surrender your idea of how things should be and trust in where the Lord leads you.

He made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’


Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ (Matt. 14:22-33)

This scene from the Gospel of Matthew is quite intense. It is night, the disciples are being tossed back and forth in their boat by a violent storm, and they see a figure walking on water. Instead of running away, Peter faces the situation with courage and an openness to trust in God’s plan. He recognizes Jesus and knows that he is trustworthy, even in this unbelievable situation.

Read the passage again, placing yourself in Peter’s place. You are afraid in the violent storm and are unsure of the person you see walking on water, but the possibility that it is Jesus is enough to make you want to get closer. Are you willing to step out of the boat?

When Peter places his trust in Jesus and stepped out of the boat onto the water, something amazing happened. He surrendered his idea of how things should be, about how they were supposed to be, and he moved towards Jesus. He is walking on water, moving closer to Jesus in the midst of a storm. Even when he took his eyes off the Lord and began to sink, he still had faith that Jesus would save him. And he did.

God can do amazing things when we trust him only with a small amount. As you reflect upon the incident that you chose for your examen, ask yourself where God is asking you to grow in trusting him. What would happen if you surrendered your idea of how things should be, stepped out of your boat, and moved towards the Lord and his peace? He will not disappoint you, and he will be there even if you begin to sink.

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward trusting in him.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any times you have not trusted the Lord in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater surrender through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming more trusting in God’s love that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a surrender your life completely to God.

Examen on Encouragement

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where has the Lord sent his Spirit to encourage you? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11)

Allow Christ to encourage you in living the life he has planned for you with love.

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ (John 8:1-11)

This Gospel passage is a familiar one. The woman has been caught in adultery. Her sin is real, and it carries great consequences for her, for her family, and for her relationship with God. She finds herself literally facing death because of what she has done, without any hope of redemption.

Then Jesus enters. He breaks through the darkness of the condemnation that the woman faces and shines a light of love. God looks at her with complete love, a love that she never knew existed. Christ encourages the woman caught in adultery to live a life free of sin, knowing that it is truly possible through the gift of his grace.

Read through the passage again, imagining yourself in the passage. Perhaps you are the woman or just a quiet bystander. Allow yourself to be surprised by how the Lord breaks through the crowd’s condemnation with his words of strength and encouragement.

God does not give empty encouragement. This woman has been defined by her sin, but Christ restores her dignity as one of his children, knowing that she can live a beautiful life of love. He looks at you with this same love. As you reflect upon the incident that you chose for your examen, Jesus looks at you and speaks words to encourage you to live a life full of hope and grace. What would it be like to believe his words of encouragement?

As you reflect upon the incident you chose for your examen, remember that the Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. One of the best ways to learn how to live in relationships is by seeing how Jesus interacts with people. How could words of encouragement help to welcome Christ’s presence in your life?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward the Lord’s encouragement.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any discouragement in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater encouragement through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more encouraging person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more encouraging person.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (January 2, 1873–September 30, 1897)

Saint Thérèse is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Thérèse’s particular prescription for holiness can teach us how to keep love at the center of everything.

Thérèse was born to Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. The youngest of five girls, her childhood was in many ways idyllic, but also touched by profound suffering. In 1877, when she was four, Thérèse’s mother died. Greatly impacted, she became sensitive and overly attached to her older sister Pauline who then entered the Carmelite monastery. The bereft Thérèse fell seriously ill until, miraculously, she was healed after having a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On Christmas Eve 1886, Thérèse experienced another miracle of a deep healing of her extreme sensitivity. Soon after, she felt drawn to religious life, but she was too young to enter.

Thérèse’s desire to become a Carmelite was finally granted when she was fifteen years old. She professed her vows in 1890 and took the name Thérèse of the Infant Jesus and the Holy Face. Her time in Carmel was not always easy, but Thérèse showed quiet heroism in simple ways. In a time when much emphasis was put on individual effort in the spiritual life, Thérèse pioneered a spirituality of trust in God’s mercy that she called “the little way.” On Holy Thursday night, 1896, Thérèse felt a stream of blood rise to her lips. The stained handkerchief she examined the next morning confirmed her in joy: her Divine Spouse would be coming to take her to heaven soon. Thérèse died of tuberculosis the next year, after a time of deep spiritual darkness that she endured by relying on her trust in God. In 1997 Saint John Paul II declared Thérèse to be a doctor of the Church.

Saint Thérèse’s prescription: Take the “little way” to heaven.

Thérèse is famous for her “little way” of spiritual childhood. She often meditated on this saying of Jesus that took deep root in her heart: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). For Thérèse, love was at the center of everything. Doing little things with great love is the easiest way to reach great holiness. She said that her way of reaching God is all about confidence and love. She had a very positive image of God, whom she saw as full of merciful love. She was blessed to have had a beautiful loving relationship with her father, who was a kind and gentle man. Those who have had a difficult relationship with their father may find it harder to follow Thérèse’s little way. They might struggle to have a positive, trusting relationship with God, but God’s grace can overcome all barriers. God will give them the grace to realize his love.

Thérèse took advantage of every opportunity to show her love for God. She offered up the smallest things, such as when one of the other nuns kept splashing her with dirty water while they were doing laundry. But she endured great suffering in other ways. During her final illness as she battled tuberculosis she also experienced a profound spiritual darkness. She was tempted to atheism and to think that heaven was not real. That was a huge trial but God allowed it so that she would become even holier and help to save more souls.

As we follow Thérèse’s way to holiness, we too can offer everything to God—big sufferings and small ones, whatever comes into our life. God calls us to holiness too, and Saint Thérèse will intercede for us on our own journey to God.

Some practical things to do:

  • Get a copy of Saint Thérèse’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, and read it.
  • Form the habit of offering up small trials and inconveniences to Jesus as a token of your love for him and ask for the conversion of someone you know who is away from the Church.
  • Make a novena in honor of Saint Thérèse for some special intention you have. Don’t be surprised if by the end of the novena someone gives you a rose!

Prayer

Saint Thérèse, you led a cloistered life in a hidden way. But your heart expanded to embrace the entire world. Pray for us that we too may gain graces for others by offering to Jesus small actions with great love. Help us to see everything that happens in our lives as part of God’s providential plan for us.

Feast: October 1
Patron: Missionaries, France, Russia, florists, gardeners, loss of parents, tuberculosis

Excerpt from Story of a Soul

“In the heart of the Church I will be love.”

The answer was clear, but it did not satisfy my desires, it did not give me peace…. Without being discouraged I continued my reading, and this phrase comforted me: “Earnestly desire the more perfect gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31). And the Apostle explains how all gifts, even the most perfect, are nothing without Love… that charity is the excellent way that leads surely to God. At last I had found rest…. Considering the mystical Body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather, I wanted to recognize myself in all… Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church has a body composed of different members, the noblest and most necessary of all the members would not be lacking to her. I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!

Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Excerpt from writings of Saint Thérèse. Click here for entire selection.

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Image Credit: Celine Martin (Sor Genoveva de la Santa Faz), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Athanasius (c. 296–May 2, 373)

Saint Athanasius is one of the thirty-six saints who are Doctors of the Church. The Doctors of the Church are renowned for their holiness and also for their important teachings. Using the doctor metaphor, we can say that in a sense each Doctor of the Church gives us a “prescription” for spiritual growth. Saint Athanasius’ particular prescription for holiness can help us be courageous and strong in our love for Jesus in the midst of life’s challenging situations.

As a young man, Athanasius spent some time with Saint Anthony of the Desert to learn the ways of the spiritual life. That formation served him well, for Athanasius became one of the most important defenders of the Christian faith at a time when the early Church was finding a way to teach clearly about who Jesus is. Athanasius accompanied Bishop Alexander of Alexandria to the Council of Nicea in 325. The Council upheld the divinity of Jesus Christ and condemned Arianism, the false teaching that Jesus was not divine. Despite the Council’s clear teaching, Arianism spread widely, especially because it was supported by the emperors.

In 328, Athanasius became bishop of Alexandria. He constantly struggled to uphold the true teaching about Jesus Christ. Four emperors exiled Athanasius five times, for a total of seventeen years. Athanasius spent years in hiding from his enemies who wanted him dead. Even when it seemed as if Arianism could triumph in the Church, Athanasius never gave up. He wrote important theological works, including De Incarnatione, (On the Incarnation of the Word), and a biography of Saint Anthony, which helped Christian monasticism to grow. In 381, after Athanasius’ death, the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

Athanasius’ prescription: Jesus is both God and man. Put him in charge of your life!

Athanasius spent much time in exile and suffering because of his tenacity in upholding the truth about Jesus Christ: he is fully divine and fully human. In Athanasius’ day, Arianism had spread widely and had many influential supporters in both the Church and the government. At that time, the emperors often meddled in Church affairs and this imperial support for Arianism was hard to overcome. Athanasius had so much opposition in upholding the truth of the Catholic faith that he was often described as Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world.)

Why did he insist on upholding his position? Because it was the truth of the Catholic faith, not just some idea that Athanasius had. What was at stake? To deny the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ would have meant rejecting the Catholic faith. It would have meant there was no redemption, because if Jesus was not divine his death on the cross could not have saved us. Saint Paul wrote this in regard to the resurrection:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.. . .  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:13-14, 17). If Christ is not divine, then we are still in our sins. That is why the divinity of Christ is so crucial.

On a practical level, what does this mean for us?

It means that we must place Christ at the center of our lives, and believe in the teaching of the Catholic Church that Jesus is both God and man. It means growing in union with Jesus by prayer, the sacraments and good works—knowing that whatever we do to another, we do it to Jesus (see Mt. 25). It means reading the Gospel and meditating on what Jesus said and did. It means completely entrusting ourselves to him, knowing that we are in his safe hands.

Some practical things to do:

  • Honor the divinity of Christ by making a holy hour at church in front of the tabernacle.
  • Honor the holy Name of Jesus by always using it in a respectful way, never as a swear word.
  • Pray for persecuted Christians around the world.

Prayer

Saint Athanasius, you dedicated your whole life to preaching the true faith about Jesus Christ, that he is fully divine and fully human. Despite all the opposition you endured you clung to the truth and never stopped proclaiming it. Help us to have a deep faith and to be fully Catholic in our way of thinking despite all the errors that are so prevalent in our own time. Pray that we will have the light and courage to proclaim the truth like you did.

Feast: May 2

Patron: Theologians, those who uphold the truth of the Christian faith

A selection from Saint Athanasius

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honorable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God. For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints. For just as if a man wished to see the light of the sun, he would at any rate wipe and brighten his eye, purifying himself in some sort like what he desires, so that the eye, thus becoming light, may see the light of the sun. Or it is as if a person would see a city or country, he at any rate comes to the place to see it. Thus he who would comprehend the mind of those who speak of God must needs begin by washing and cleansing his soul, by his manner of living, and approach the saints themselves by imitating their works. Then, associated with them in the conduct of a common life, he may understand also what has been revealed to them by God. Thenceforth, as closely knit to them, he may escape the peril of the sinners and their fire at the day of judgment. He will thus receive what is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, whatsoever things are prepared for them that live a virtuous life, (see 1 Cor 2:9). They will then love our God and Father, in Christ Jesus our Lord: through whom and with whom be to the Father himself, with the Son himself, in the Holy Spirit, honor and might and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

From On the Incarnation, no. 57, as found here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm

By Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouvé, FSP

Examen on Gratitude

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to gratitude? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible the Curing of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

Allow Jesus to reach out to you in your deepest need, communicating to you his care and his power healing.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

This healing story of Jesus is different from many of his other miracles because the Lord is not actually physically present when the lepers are healed. They were walking to see the priests, as Jesus had instructed, when they were made clean. Caught up in the joy of their miracle, all but one of the lepers continued on their way to live a new life of health.

This situation is easily relatable. How often we pray, asking God for a special favor or grace, knowing that we greatly need it. Then, once we receive it, we start living our new life of grace, forgetting to thank God for empowering us to live each moment.

Read through this passage again, recalling the incident you chose for your examen.

As you think about the situation or reaction you brought to this examen, do you see that God gave you any grace in that moment? How did you react? Did you go about living with the new grace as though nothing had happened, or did you turn around to praise God?

Gratitude is essential for the Christian life and for maintaining a relationship with God. God gives grace to sustain you in each moment; when you recognize and thank God for the gift of his love, you are filled with the joy and peace of knowing that you are his beloved son or daughter. How do you feel when someone sincerely thanks you for something you have done for them? How could your relationship with God grow through expressing gratitude for his gifts?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward gratitude.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any lack of gratitude in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater gratitude through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more grateful person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more grateful person.

Image by marthaartess from Cathopic

Examen on Serenity

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved towards serenity? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible Jesus’ Praise of the Father (Matt. 11:25-30)

Allow Jesus to speak directly to you, allowing him to know your heart in a more intimate way.

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matt. 11:25-30)


Jesus speaks and praises the Father, acknowledging that he has done many unexpected things. God’s love knows no bounds. Sometimes we might have regrets, anxieties, or other forms of suffering that prevent us from accepting Christ’s invitation to find rest for our souls. Jesus does not condemn anyone for struggling with their burdens or for becoming tired from carrying them. He simply lovingly invites anyone who is exhausted from the journey to stop, look to him, and rest.

Notice that Jesus is speaking directly to you. He is saying, “Come to me, all of you.” Jesus sees who you are and loves you intimately. There is no need to hide any part of yourself; you are free to truly be you in his presence.

Read the passage again, imagining Jesus looking at you with great love and speaking these words to you. What burden does he invite you to bring to him? What is it that you desire to learn from Jesus?

Jesus wants to share your burdens. As you reflect upon the incident you chose for your examen, think about what would happen if you invited him into your heart to see your daily struggles. Christ can carry them for you. Will you accept his invitation to find rest?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward serenity.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for times when you have resisted serenity in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater peace through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more serene person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more serene person.

Prescriptions from the Doctors of the Church: Saint Francis de Sales (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622)

Francis was born the eldest in a wealthy noble family in the Savoy region of France. His father was a severe man who hoped Francis would pursue a career in public service. Francis greatly desired to be a priest but, knowing his father’s desires, he patiently waited to reveal his vocation to his family. Soon after acquiring his doctorate at the prestigious University of Padua, a relieved Francis was able to obtain permission from his father to become a priest.

Not long after he was ordained in 1593, Francis was sent to the Chablais region to reconvert an area that had fallen under Calvinist control. He embraced this work with fervor despite difficult conditions and an initial lack of success. Francis wrote leaflets on the faith for distribution to the people. These were recopied by hand. In 1602, Francis was consecrated bishop of Geneva. With his characteristic determination and gentleness, Francis preached many eloquent sermons, taught catechesis, wrote countless letters, and worked to educate the laity and priests of his diocese.

In 1604, Francis met a young widow, Jane Frances de Chantal. A spiritual friendship developed between the two saints and was the source of fruitfulness both in their lives and in the Church. Together, they founded the Visitation Order of women religious. After working tirelessly his entire life, Francis died and was buried, at his request, at the convent of the Visitations nuns.

Saint Francis de Sales’ prescription: Evangelize with gentleness, humility, and simplicity.

Francis de Sales is known as “the gentleman saint” because he was gentle with people and showed great humility and delicacy in speaking with others. By nature he was inclined to anger but he worked on himself so much that his gentleness and kindness overcame his anger. He wanted to win people back to the Catholic faith and to do this he always used kindness. He didn’t engage in debates or harangue people. When he was working in the Calvinist area of the Chablais, sometimes his life was in danger because the people were so opposed to the Catholic Church. But through it all Francis managed to keep calm and reach out with humility.

At a certain point he decided it might be more effective to write pamphlets, and he wrote many of them explaining the Catholic faith and its teachings. Little by little these had an effect and people started to return to the Catholic faith. Francis always welcomed them back with great kindness and his gracious manner attracted people.

He was also convinced that holiness is for everyone and he was a great spiritual director. His book An Introduction to the Devout Life is still a best-selling volume for lay people who want to grow in holiness. His other best seller, Treatise on the Love of God, is a long work that goes into great detail about how we can love God in our lives.

We can learn a lot from Francis about effective evangelization. Today the internet can be an excellent tool to use in evangelizing, but too often it degenerates into angry debates that don’t help anyone. Francis can teach us a lot about how to evangelize in a way that attracts people instead of driving them away.

Some practical things to do:

  • Examine the way you typically interact with others on the internet, especially if you use it to evangelize. Are there some ways you can follow Francis’ lead in order to win people over?
  • Pray for missionaries throughout the world.
  • Think of small ways you can evangelize among your friends. For example, you might try inviting someone to go to Mass with you, or to pray the rosary together.

Prayer

Saint Francis de Sales, please pray that I may grow in humility and faith so that, like you, I can give my entire life to God. Amen.

Feast: January 24
Patron: Writers, confessors, the deaf, journalists, the press, teachers

Selection from the writings of Saint Francis de Sales

Devotion is suitable to all sorts of vocations and professions.

In creation God commanded the plants to bring forth fruits, each one according to its kind; even so he commands all Christians, which are living plants of the Church, to bring forth their fruits of devotion, each one according to his quality and vocation. Devotion ought to be differently exercised by the prince, by the gentleman, by the tradesman, by the servant, by the widow, by the married person: and not only so, but the practice also of devotion must be accommodated to the health, the capacity, the employment, and the obligations of each one in particular.

For would it be fit for a bishop to be as retired as a Carthusian, and for married people to store up no more wealth than a Capuchin, for a working person to spend all day in church like a monk, and the religious continually exposed to all the exterior exercises of charity for the service of his neighbor as a bishop, would not this devotion be ridiculous, preposterous, and insupportable? This fault, nevertheless, happens very often, and the world, which does not, or will not discern any difference between real devotion and the indiscretion of those who pretend to be devout, blames and murmurs at it, which cannot remedy such disorders.

No, Philothea, devotion prejudices nothing when it is true, but rather makes all things perfect. The bee draws honey from flowers without hurting them, leaving them as entire and fresh as it found them; but true devotion goes yet farther, for it does not injure any calling or employment, but, on the contrary, adorns and beautifies all. . . .

Wherever we are, we can and ought to aspire to a perfect life.

From An Introduction to the Devout Life (Part I, Chapter 3)

(Taken from public domain edition found on the internet (published in Dublin in 1885): https://archive.org/details/an-introduction-to-the-devout-life/page/n3/mode/1up?view=theater

Image credit: RickMorais, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Examen on Joy

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to joy? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples (John 21:1-14)

Allow Peter to lead you to the joy of encountering Jesus.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.


Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.


When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

This Gospel scene begins with a quite distressing scenario. The disciples are still mourning Jesus’ death when Simon Peter decides that he wants to go fishing to try to cope. Some of the other disciples go with him, surely because none of them wants to be alone. And, in their dark period of mourning, not only are they without their Lord, but they cannot even catch fish.

Read the passage again, paying particular attention to what happens when Simon Peter hears that it is the Lord on the shore. In a single moment, their total darkness is transformed into total light, as they bring in an enormous catch of fish and their hope is restored. Allow the joy of the scene to enter into your heart.

The Christian life is filled with joy because it is filled with Christ’s love. Of course, this does not mean that the Christian life is not difficult, but instead that the struggles and challenges that Christians face are joined to the joy of Christ’s presence. When Peter saw the Lord, he jumped into the water and swam to greet him, filled with joy and excitement. Everything seems unimportant compared to the joy of being in the presence of Jesus.

As you reflect upon the incident that you chose for your examen, pay attention to where God is present. Allow this knowledge of his presence to fill you with joy. What would it be like to savor the joy of ordinary moments in your day? How can you share this joy of knowing God’s love with others?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward joy.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any lack of joy in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater joy through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more joyful person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more joyful person.