Spiritual life is like living water that springs up from the very depths
Of our own spiritual experience. In spiritual life everyone has to
Drink from his or her own well.
(St. Bernard of Clairvaux)

 

Pope Francis’ reflection for Lent 2019
For the creation waits with eager longing 
for the revealing of the children of God
” (Rm 8: 19)

 Dear Brothers and Sisters
Each year, through Mother Church, God “gives us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed… as we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ” (Preface of Lent I). We can thus journey from Easter to Easter towards the fulfilment of the salvation we have already received as a result of Christ’s paschal mystery – “for in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24). This mystery of salvation, already at work in us during our earthly lives, is a dynamic process that also embraces history and all of creation. As Saint Paul says, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). In this perspective, I would like to offer a few reflections to accompany our journey of conversion this coming Lent.
1. The redemption of creation
The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, the culmination of the liturgical year, calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (cf. Rom 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.
When we live as children of God, redeemed, led by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:14) and capable of acknowledging and obeying God’s law, beginning with the law written on our hearts and in nature, we also benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. That is why Saint Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revelation of the children of God; in other words, that all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body itself. When the love of Christ transfigures the lives of the saints in spirit, body and soul, they give praise to God. Through prayer, contemplation and art, they also include other creatures in that praise, as we see admirably expressed in the “Canticle of the Creatures” by Saint Francis of Assisi (cf. Laudato Si’, 87). Yet in this world, the harmony generated by redemption is constantly threatened by the negative power of sin and death.
2. The destructive power of sin
Indeed, when we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbours and other creatures – and ourselves as well – since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself. We yield to those untrammelled desires that the Book of Wisdom sees as typical of the ungodly, those who act without thought for God or hope for the future (cf. 2:1-11). Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans “I want it all and I want it now!” and “Too much is never enough”, gains the upper hand.
The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body. This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (cf. Gen 3:17-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.
Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. The sin that lurks in the human heart (cf. Mk 7:20-23) takes the shape of greed and unbridled pursuit of comfort, lack of concern for the good of others and even of oneself. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.
3. The healing power of repentance and forgiveness
Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Indeed, by virtue of their being revealed, creation itself can celebrate a Pasch, opening itself to a new heaven and a new earth (cf. Rev 21:1). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, so as to live fully the abundant grace of the paschal mystery.
This “eager longing”, this expectation of all creation, will be fulfilled in the revelation of the children of God, that is, when Christians and all people enter decisively into the “travail” that conversion entails. All creation is called, with us, to go forth “from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Lent is a sacramental sign of this conversion. It invites Christians to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything to satisfy our voracity and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, the “lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (cf. Mk 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
From the Vatican, 4 October 2018
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Francis

Some thoughts on Mary for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
When we were praying the Novena Prayer in preparation for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we began by saying:
“O Holy and Immaculate Virgin, beauty and splendour of Carmel look down with special favour on us and shelter us in your maternal care” … and we ended by invoking Mary again as “Queen beauty of Carmel”.  It was the word BEAUTY that struck me, what does that mean for our understanding of Mary and her role in salvation history.
The famous Russian novelist Dostoevsky wrote: “Beauty will save the world”.  I think he could say that because he looked at the source of beauty and never placed beauty apart from the good and the true.  Truth, goodness and beauty are divine attributes … their source is God and their reflections are all around us.  When God created the world we are told in the first chapter of Genesis that he looked on creation and saw that it was good, and the peak moment was when God created human beings in his own likeness, so that we may be conformed to his goodness, truth, beauty and will.  So God knows us in his truth, loves us in his goodness and enjoys us in his beauty.  St Thomas Aquinas says that God created the world to make it beautiful.  When sin deformed humanity, destroying the harmony and leaving us disconnected and ugly, Jesus restored beauty through suffering, showing us once again the way to the Father.  God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, the humble girl from Nazareth.  The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Many artists have painted the scene of the Nativity.   We could just see it as recalling a historical event about the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary, but Lesley Chamberlain in a book entitled “Towards a theology of beauty for the 21st century” states: “Surely it is also possible to see in the Madonna and Child an allegory of the awakening to beauty, as the child gazes on the face of the mother.  The Madonna who is every mother is an allegory of beauty.  She gives the human infant, male or female, his or her first experience of beauty; which is at once a vision and a completely fulfilled relationship.  Beauty is there for all of us, fulfilling our needs, from the moment we are born.  It is a gift, and it comes with a desire to reciprocate the perfect otherness of the mother, the first beautiful object.”
This allegory of the awakening to beauty as the child gazes on the face of the mother, sums up for me the whole understanding of beauty in the Carmelite tradition and Mariology in particular.  The hermit brothers who settled on Mount Carmel in the late 12th Century strove to live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to ponder on the Law of the Lord day and night.  In the midst of the cells they built an oratory dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  They called her “The Lady of the Place” and chose her as their patroness, model and guide, pondering like her, the law of the Lord in their hearts.  The early Carmelites honoured Mary as Mother, Sister and the Most Pure Virgin.  It is in this understanding of the purity of Mary that she was seen as “The Beautiful One.”  The Carmelites devoted themselves to imitating Mary’s virtues and especially that of purity of heart.  When the Carmelites were forced to leave Mount Carmel and return to Europe, devotion to and imitation of Mary would strengthen their identity as a Marian Order, in the changed circumstances in which they found themselves.  Just a little aside here about the Scapular, which forms part of the habit.  In medieval times it was simply an apron worn over the tunic.  So the Scapular we wear is a reminder to us of an invitation to service, as Jesus put on an apron and washed the feet of his disciples on Holy Thursday. 
Through the centuries Carmelite Saints have shared a deep love for Mary and all of them speak of her beauty, I would just like to quote a few.  St Teresa of Jesus reminded her daughters that we “truly belong to our Lady” and wear her habit, though unworthily.  Teresa experienced in a very real way the maternal love of Mary, seeing her sheltering all the Carmelites under her white mantle, a symbol of her protection but also reminding us of the need to clothe ourselves in her virtues.  St Thérèse as a child experienced healing through the beautiful smile of the Virgin.  Thérèse would say that the loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.  Mary is God’s masterpiece.  She saw her as a woman of faith, the one who totally surrendered herself to God that his will could be accomplished in her.    Blessed Titus Brandsma –the Dutch Carmelite martyr of Dachau concentration camp – compared Marian devotion to the sunflower, “one of the most delightful flowers in Carmel’s garden.”  Titus would show how as God chose Mary, so he chose us and predestined us to live in intimate union with him… This union is sublime like the divine maternity of the Madonna; we have then a full right to be called “bearers of God”.  Can anything compare with so beautiful a calling?
In Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book The Little Prince, the fox says: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  The way we see the world, torn apart as it is by violence, hatred, greed, secularism, consumerism, indifference to God etc. can only be with the eyes of the heart – purified by love.  As we ask Mary to help us see with the heart, as she did, then we can find God everywhere, and where God is, there is beauty … and beauty will save the world.

Sr Thérèse