The Devil in Lent

And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. (Genesis 3, 6)

Once, a reader exclaimed, “This Lent,  I feel as if the devil himself is working against me!” To which I replied, “Then you must be on the right track; otherwise, he would not waste his time.”

A helpful ebook in this regard is Solange Hertz’ “Sin Revisited”. At the outset, she contrasts the intellectual approach of St. Thomas Aquinas with that of the early Desert Fathers, noting that,

“Sin may be described not as the intellect dissects it but as it happens to an individual. … Long before St. Thomas and the scholastics, the ancient Church Fathers described sin in no other terms than those the Bible uses. This was especially true of those stalwart easterners we call the Desert Fathers, who grappled nakedly with sin in the inexorable solitudes of the Egyptian Thebaid in the third and fourth centuries.

“Their (flight to the desert) was a calculated foray into an arena where deadly combats between good and evil could take place at the most elemental level without mundane distractions. They were following, they tell us, the example of Christ grown to manhood, who was led by the Spirit for forty days into the desert to encounter the Enemy at close quarters.”

Mrs. Hertz makes the assertion for gluttony being a very basic sin which arises in ourselves. if you have, (as I have) considered pride as the source and root of most of your sin, you will be fascinated by the case she makes for gluttony. It gave me an insight into why the media hammer us with food and drink advertisements relentlessly. It also helps us understand the importance of fasting. Consider Eve in the Garden of Eden, as told in the Scriptures,

“Our famous original sin in Eden, for instance, wasn’t portrayed dispassionately as grand, primordial pride. It describes our first involvement with simple gluttony. ‘Eve saw for herself that the tree was good to eat and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.’ “

Hertz reminds us that gluttony cannot be destroyed as easily as other sins, because food is necessary to support our life and therefore the best we can do is check our superfluous cravings by the power of our mind. But this is an ongoing battle, and never won once and for all. The author  makes the point that vice is not natural to us, and it only seems that way because of our fallen nature. That is precisely why God gave us the Immaculate Virgin Mary and through her, His only begotten Son, those two perfect beings who exemplify in themselves what human nature is meant to be, when when this long, weary battle is won at last.

Quoting extensively from the early Desert Fathers, Hertz shows that they used the symbolism hidden in the Old Testament Book of Joshua to teach about the battle with sin. The seven nations Joshua drove out represented lust, avarice, anger, depression, boredom, vainglory and pride. If you notice that envy is missing, it actually, in this scheme, lurks in the territory between avarice and depression. Similarly, sloth falls in between depression and boredom. Note that pride comes at the end of the Desert Fathers’ list.

“In practice, pride, the ultimate rejection of God in favor of self, is the final end of human sinfulness. Only a purely spiritual being like the devil can be capable of it straight off!”

When reading the book, it may be helpful to go directly to the Postscript after you read the Introduction and then proceed to read about the Vices. In the Postscript, the author notes the congruence between the Desert Fathers’ approach to sin and devotion to the Immaculata. I found this helpful.

“Devil-fighting isn’t generally thought of as the first consequence of devotion to the Mother of God. If we progress in intimacy with her, however, we soon realize something of what almighty God meant when he said to Satan in Eden, “I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring.” Suddenly, her enemies are our enemies. By the time we wake up to the situation, we’re already in the thick of battle, locked in mortal combat with an invisible foe who seems to specialize in fouls. Devil-fighting, we learn, is basic Christian warfare.”

“Sin is never committed from the outside in, although it might look that way; it’s committed from the inside out. No temptation could gain entry into a properly God-oriented, disciplined mind. Inasmuch as “no one can be deceived by the devil but one who has chosen to yield to him the consent of his own will … it is therefore clear,” says Abba Serenus, “that each man goes wrong from this: that when evil thoughts assault him he does not immediately meet them with refusal and contradiction.” If you crush the head of the serpent before he can strike, you don’t have to worry about the rest of him.”

In the Chapter, “Revisiting Sin with St. John of the Cross”, Hertz traces the link from the Old Testament Desert Father Elias to St. John the Baptist, and on through saints Cassian, Basil, and Benedict and affirms that,

“to them we owe not only the knotted discipline and the rules of Christian asceticism, but also our blessed Lady’s Rosary and Scapular. When she appeared to the Carmelite Superior General St. Simon Stock and gave him the Brown Scapular, she promised that whoever died wearing it would never suffer hellfire. If the Rosary beads she had confided earlier to St. Dominic represented the 150 Psalms recited daily by the Fathers, what was this scapular garment but the mantle of Elias, which our Lady now saw fit to throw over the shoulders of all her children? By the Rosary and the Scapular, she declared that she would someday save the world!

“In direct line of descent from the mighty Elias and St. John the Baptist stands St. John of the Cross, modern reformer together with St. Teresa of Avila of the order of the ‘sons of the prophet,’ which according to ancient tradition had been founded originally by Elias on Mt. Carmel. As a religious society it is unique in that it was never designed to ‘do,’ but to ‘stand’ continually in the sight of the Lord of hosts in the spirit of its founder. Its entire rule is summed up in one verse of the first Psalm, where the just man is described as one whose ‘will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.’ Its inspiration has always been attributed to our Lady, the Flower of Carmel, whom Elias beheld in the distance from the top of his mountain, rising as ‘a little cloud … out of the sea like a man’s foot’ which grew till ‘there fell a great rain’ on the parched earth (3 Kings. 18: 44). The spirit of Elias is one of unmitigated intransigence against the face of apostasy.

“His life already spanning nearly three millennia without tasting death, the prophet will die only by martyrdom in the final tribulation, for his fidelity is impregnable. ‘With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts!’ he told God, ‘before whose face I stand,’ in the cave on Mt. Horeb, and never has he departed from that declaration (3 Kings. 19: 10). To the public called to Mt. Carmel to witness the showdown between himself and Baal’s 450 priests and Jezebel’s 400 prophets, St. Elias had cried out, ‘How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him!’ (3Kings. 18: 21).

“With similar lack of ambiguity, John the Baptist would speak of ‘laying the axe to the root of the trees’ when he caught sight of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism in the desert of Judea. ‘Brood of vipers!’ he called them. (Matt. 3: 7-10). St. John of the Cross, a true son of the prophets, would see the spiritual life in similar terms. As he wrote to one of his penitents, ‘Anything apart from God is constraint!’ For him, whatever is not God is nada, nothing at all. Reduced to one principle, his doctrine is that faith is the only proximate means of union with God in this life. Other means— vocal prayers, visions, preaching, even good works and the whole panoply of creation— can be very helpful, but have no power to reach Him except through faith. The less dependent on sensible supports faith becomes, the purer it is and the closer to its goal.

Spiritual progress, in other words, is a gradual discarding of inessentials, effected by a loving, Godward groping will. There is no denial of the natural order, but an emphasis on what lies above and beyond it, which is God Himself. Vested in the mantle of the mighty prophet who “is already come” but has yet to return, St. John of the Cross prepares the individual’s way to God as St. John the Baptist prepared Israel’s: “Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3: 5-6).

“Arriving on the scene just as the Great Apostasy began breaking over the heads of the faithful, the Carmelite master directed his teaching not only to spiritual directors unacquainted with the subtleties of the mystical ascent, but to any ardent soul unable to find a good director. How much more indispensable is he today, when the enemy has actually penetrated the Church’s fortifications and preempted her chains of command! (Hertz, Solange, Sin Revisited  Kindle Edition.)

This little ebook is an invaluable companion for our spiritual journey. I will conclude where Solange Hertz herself concludes:

“The beginner begins where he is, and if he perseveres, God in due time will introduce him into the “nights” of purgation of sense and spirit reserved for the stalwart. St. Augustine said the devil makes a point of circulating evil about good people “that the weak may then think they are are not any good, and so let themselves be carried away by their own evil desires and become corrupted, saying to themselves, Who is there keeps a commandment of God? Or who observes chastity? And when a man believes that no one does, he himself becomes that ‘no one.’”

“In his prologue to The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross admitted that it was never his “principal intent to address all,” but rather those “to whom God is granting the favor of setting on the road …” What’s more, in The Dark Night of the Soul he promises they will:  …  suffer great trials, by reason not so much of the aridities which they suffer, as of the fear which they have of being lost on the road, thinking that all spiritual blessing is over for them and that God has abandoned them since they find no help or pleasure in good things. What better description of the purgative night Mother Church herself is now undergoing in those members who truly love God and will not bow the knee to Baal?

“Needless to say, shortly before the opening of the fateful Council which launched the tribulation, the mighty voice of Elias, ever faithful to his mission, sounded the alarm from the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal. On December 26, 1957, a true daughter of his, Sr. Lucia of Fatima, told the Mexican priest Fr. Augustine Fuentes in what may have been her last contact with the outside: ‘Father, we should not wait for an appeal to the world to come from Rome on the part of the Holy Father to do penance. Nor should we wait for the call to do penance to come from our bishops in our dioceses, nor from the religious congregations. No! Our Lord has already very often used these means, and the world has not paid attention. That is why now it is necessary for each one of us to reform ourselves spiritually. Each person must not only save his own soul, but also all the souls that God has placed in our path! ‘ “

Or, as Elias himself put it to the wavering Israelites on the Mount, “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him: But if Baal, then follow him!” (3 Kings. 18: 21)

Saint Elias, living still, Lead us upward, if you will!

NOTE: Typographical error has been corrected. Thank you for noting. Father Fuentes interview was December, 1957.

Please, Pray the Rosary and confound satan and those who serve him!
. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
. St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Please pray for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary!

originally by evensong, reposted 14 Feb 2018  for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, King.

Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!

Working on Purgatory

In November, we focus on the Poor Souls and on our own mortality as well. The chill wind blowing the flaming leaves about recalls to us thoughts of purgatory and its cleansing fires, bringing to mind loved ones gone before us and our own mortality.

It’s the winter of my life and each November brings poignant reflections on so many dear friends and family who have passed on. For some time now, my departed friends have vastly outnumbered those who remain. These days, the very concept of Purgatory is an affront to the sensibilities of modern Catholics, but it can be a comforting concept to those familiar with the true teachings of the faith. Like the dogma of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, Purgatory is a reminder of the loving justice of God.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, intercede for your children in purgatory!
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, intercede for your children in purgatory!

If we were to make full use of all the opportunities presented to us every day for offering up our trials and sacrifices for the remission of our sins and the sins of others, we could conceivably assist many poor souls to heaven as well as shorten our own stay in purgatory’s cleansing fires. The fact that we do not do this, that is, do not make full use of these opportunities for sacrifice, is perhaps due to our not wearing our scapular mindfully, or not maintaining our Consecration to Our Lady as we should. November is a great time to correct this.

Wearing our scapular mindfully, realizing that it is “our Mother’s Apron” so to speak, helps us understand that this apron, as I call it, is a working item. We put on an apron when we will be working on something, and all our life is a work of love, honoring our Queen and Mother, giving glory to God in all things. To this end, we remind ourselves often of our total dependence on her and our complete consecration, which we live, moment by moment, in the small choices of our lives. Now, no one knows of these things, nor should they, for they are part of the intimate secrets shared between a Mother and her child. Treasure them in your heart as Mary herself did.

To help us understand the beneficial nature of purgatory, Father Schouppe’s classic, “Purgatory explained by the lives and legends of the Saints”, is helpful. Fr. Schouppe has many good stories from the lives of the saints to illustrate various aspects of Purgatory, and the following one is a good example.

From the Revelations of St. Gertrude, Father tells us that a young religious in St. Gertrude’s convent was much admired because of her great piety. After her death, St. Gertrude was fervently praying for the soul of the young nun when she was rapt in ecstasy and had a vision of the deceased sister standing before the throne of God, eyes downcast, she seemed to be ashamed. St. Gertrude then beseeched Our Lord, “Most Sweet Jesus, why does not Your infinite goodness invite Your spouse to approach You and enter into the joy of her Lord?”

At this, Our Lord smiled with tender love and beckoned to the reluctant soul to draw near Him, but she, troubled and trembling withdrew from Him. St. Gertrude then addressed her dear sister, “Do you retire when our Lord calls you? You that have desired Jesus during your whole life, withdraw now that He opens His arms to you?” “Ah, my dear Mother, I am not worthy to appear before the Immaculate Lamb. I still have some stains which I contracted upon earth. To approach the Sun of Justice, one must be as pure as a ray of light. I have not yet that degree of purity which He requires of His saints. Know that, if the door of Heaven were to be opened to me, I should not dare to cross the threshold before being entirely purified from all stain.”

Father Schouppe follows this with a bit from St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory, which reinforces the concept.

“The Lord is all merciful. He stands before us, His arms extended in order to receive us into His glory. But I see also that the Divine Essence is of such purity that the soul, unless she be absolutely immaculate, cannot bear the sight. If she finds in herself the least atom of imperfection, rather than dwell with a stain in the presence of the Divine Majesty, she would plunge herself into the depths of Hell. Finding in Purgatory a means to blot out her stains, she casts herself into it. She esteems herself happy that, by the effects of a great mercy, a place is given her where she can free herself from the obstacles to supreme happiness.”

And so we see that even in His justice, Our Lord Jesus Christ is a most merciful God! When we pray for these Holy Souls, we are fulfilling Our Dear Lord’s request that we love one another. “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15, 12) Every day we must offer our prayers and some sacrifice for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The De Profundis, which is part of the Little Office, is a good prayer, as are the Sorrowful Mysteries. One practice is to pray the Indulgenced Prayer Before a Crucifix after you have received Holy Communion. When you have complied with the usual requirements you gain a plenary indulgence which you can ask Our Lord to apply to the Poor Souls. The requirements are to be in a state of grace, receive Confession, Holy Communion and pray for the intentions of the Pope.

Now, sometimes  people complain about praying for the intentions of the Pope, especially lately. But all that is necessary is to pray, and be assured that Our Lord will never allow harm to come on account of honest prayers! I often tell Our Lord, “I’m praying out of obedience and I trust that You will help our Pope to be obedient, too!”

Another plenary indulgence you can easily earn for the Poor Souls is the one from St. Pius X for adoring Our Lord at the elevation of the Host and of the Chalice at Mass. Don’t look away or close your eyes, but look and adore! That is what the elevation is for! Pray with all your heart, “My Lord and My God” and you will gain a plenary indulgence. (with the usual conditions). In November especially, we do this for Poor Souls, but also for those at the hour of their death, especially since so many Catholics do not understand the extent of their insult to God’s justice until their private judgement and then it is already too late. How horribly overwhelmed they must be! But we trust all to the infinite mercy of God, who will bless those who need it most.

Prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory
by St. Gertrude the Great

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the holy Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Poor Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.

Above all, though, offering Masses for the Poor Souls is the very best benefit you can give them. So don’t forget to have Masses said for their relief.

I didn’t realize it was this late–the day here began gloomy and overcast and now suddenly after an entire day of feeling like it was evening, it really is nightfall. That may be an allegory for our life… We become so accustomed to attending the funerals of others, praying for them. And so our thoughts on death become ingrained that death is what happens to others. Now is the time to make friends for ourselves with the souls of Purgatory who have learned what we must learn and will be with us when we face our own judgement. They will remember our kindness to them. We do not know how soon we may need them!

There has never been a better time to  Pray the Rosary with confidence and joy!

  Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
  Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
  Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
  St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
  St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.

Please pray for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary!

~ by evensong for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, King.
Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!

 

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

O Mary! Immaculate Beauty of Carmel, you offer us your scapular, the very garment of your grace. By it, grant us graces to be your true children and grow in humility, obedience, holiness and purity.

Mary, flower of Carmel, Immaculate Mother of Christ, pray for us, your children.
Mary, flower of Carmel, Immaculate Mother of Christ, pray for us, your children.

Today, 16 July, we honor Our Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is a title particularly pleasing to her, as she appeared at Fatima on 13 October, 1917 wearing the Carmelite habit and holding the Brown Scapular of Mount Carmel as if offering it to mankind. To her children, Mary’s suggestions are her commands and we would have expected that this apparition alone caused all devout Catholics worldwide to subsequently become enrolled in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There should have been a vast movement of priests preaching this devotion, with Pope and Bishops leading the way. However, we all know that nothing of the sort happened.

In his wonderful book, Divine Intimacy, Father Gabriel tells us,
“The Blessed Virgin is a Mother who clothes us with grace and takes our supernatural life under her protection, in order to bring it to its full flowering in eternal life….The Scapular, the little habit, that Our Lady of Mount Carmel offers us, is only the external symbol of her unceasing, maternal care: the symbol, but also the sign, the pledge of eternal salvation. ‘My beloved son’, Mary said to St. Simon Stock, ‘Take this scapular…whoever dies clothed in it will not suffer eternal fire’. The Blessed Virgin gives the assurance of the supreme grace of final perseverance to all who wear worthily her little habit.”(Divine Intimacy, p. 1146, published by TAN Books.)

In Isaiah 32, verses 16-18, we read, “And judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and justice shall sit in Carmel. And the work of justice shall be peace, and the service of justice quietness, and security for ever. And my people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence, and in wealthy rest.” Now, by the “wealthy rest” is not meant the protestant gospel of prosperity, which makes a virtue of usurious capitalism, but the spiritual wealth accruing from a firm commitment to the sanctification of our souls by following Christ in justice. Carmel signifies Garden and Mary’s Immaculate Heart is truly a Garden of virtues to which she welcomes her children, those who wear her habit, even the little habit of her Brown Scapular.

It was such a delight to discover that Carmel means garden in Hebrew, because I have always pictured interiorly the Annunciation as occurring in Mary’s garden in Nazareth. I’ve been unable to locate an image online of the Annunciation which portrayed it outdoors. In my heart though, she is always in a garden as I visit her there each day to begin my Rosary with her First Joyful Mystery. Of course, the Mysteries of the Rosary being so interlinked with significance, that first mystery always leads one to Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is the First Sorrowful Mystery. And thus Mary’s sweet, obedient, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” is irrevocably linked to Our Lord’s obedience in, “Yet not My will, but Thine be done, Father.

It is true that our humble obedience will inevitably lead us, especially in these days of the Passion of the Mystical Body of Christ, to our own Gethsemane, our own, “Not my will, but Thine be done, Father.” The scapular will, if worn in the right spirit, enable us to silence the tumult of the world, the flesh and the devil that stir us always to so much discontent and doubt. Wear Our Lady’s scapular and join her in her Garden and you will find rest for your soul and nourishment for the way of the cross we all must follow if we are to serve Our Lord in truth and in justice.

St. Simon Stock, so devoted to Our Lady has left us this prayer, “O Mary, flower of Carmel, fruitful vine, splendor of heaven, who brought forth the Son of God yet remained a Virgin, Sweet and Immaculate Mother, grant the favors that your children ask, O Star of the Sea”.

It is easy to make your own Brown Scapular. Once you get the hang of it, you can then make them for others.

Scapular of Mount Carmel is a good site for inexpensive supplies and also information regarding the correct size and other specified requirements for the scapulars. They also have the ritual for enrolling in the Scapular of Mount Carmel that you can print out for your priest to use, if he is unfamiliar. The website is here.

If you should desire to spread this wonderful devotion, may I suggest a great help is The Fatima Center’s beautiful booklet, “Our Lady’s Garment, The Brown Scapular: a Sign of Salvation and Protection. They offer all their materials at very reasonable prices and they are really nice booklets. Please note, the link I just gave is for the pdf file for the booklet. I cannot find the Fatima Shoppe online site from which I purchased this item previously, but will check on it for you.

Many saints have recommended the devotion of wearing Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Brown Scapular and I cannot hope to improve on their words. My own testimony is simply that wearing Our Lady’s Scapular, her little habit, has gradually brought me to the realization that she is truly my Mother. I am flooded with gratitude even as I write these words, “my Mother!” As you wear her scapular, you are participating in a seemingly passive devotion, wearing her scapular, such a simple thing. Or is it? Try it for a while and you will find out what it means to be a child of the very Mother of Our Savior Himself.

With His dying words, Our Lord gave us His Mother and commanded her to be our Mother. The awesome responsibility and the incomprehensible graces attached to this will dawn on you as you wear her little habit and visit with her, in her Rosary Garden daily.

I hope that all who read this will avail themselves of this modest devotion. Wear her Scapular, pray her Rosary and you will have a joyful part in the triumph of her Immaculate Heart!

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us now and at the hour of our death!

Our Lady of the Rosary, be Queen of our hearts!