Saturday, 10 October 2015

Lady of the Snow


There is a lady
Comely and most white,
Who in a secret cavern
Hides from the heat.

Yet when the snow falls
Out she comes to greet,
Those admirers that seek
Her face to behold.

O but few there are
Who’ll stroll through snow cold
To seek that fairest white dame,
For fireplace holds.

But when she doth find
A wonderer true,
No more again is he found
For him she hides.



The feast of the ‘Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major’ (built in the mid fourth century), otherwise known as ‘Our Lady of the Snows’, is connected to a legend whereby a wealthy Roman couple who were without heirs made a vow to donate their possessions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They prayed for guidance as to how our Lady wanted them to make use of their donation. On the night of the 5th of August, they had a vision, and on the same night during the height of the Roman summer, snow fell on the summit of the Esquine Hill. Obeying their vision of Mary they built a basillica in honour of our Lady on the very spot that was covered in snow.

'Our Lady of the Snows'
The above poem was inspired by the title of ‘Our Lady of the Snows’, and was in fact written during two days of unusual snow fall on the property at which I live. As snow was relatively novel to myself it sacramentally communicated a mysterious and alluring quality, and this contributed to the mood in which this poem was written. The following speaks of our Lady as the Lady of the Snow, She who hides those that seek Her out of true devotion, hiding them in the safety and intimacy of the secret cavern of Her Immaculate Heart and Womb. She hides from the heat, why? For the heat alluded to is the heat of the human will, and the soul in which the human will dominates is a soul that is in the midst of a sweltering summer. Our Lady hides from such a soul for the heat of the human will repels Her from dwelling in such a soul and from drawing him nigh. Yet the soul that desires to live in Divine and that resigns and surrenders his will to the Divinity’s agenda for him, his soul becomes as it were a winter wonderland in proportion to his desire and surrender. Hence it is written: Yet when the snow falls / Out she comes to greet; for in such a soul She is able to come out of hiding and can dwell therein, poised and eager to greet the soul who desires and seeks after Her the Beauteous Princess of the Divine Will; and the soul does this through living out and deepening in Joseph his true devotion to Mary; hence such a soul, as another Joseph, is an admirer that seeks Her face to behold. O but few there are / Who’ll stroll through snow cold…/ For fireplace holds; for indeed there are those who seek their own will and their souls are in the season of summer; but then there are those who seek the Divine Will and are thus in a state of spiritual winter[1], but who despite desiring to live in Divine Will desire mildly so, and with their own imperfect desire, as opposed to making the Divine Desire that palpitates in this White Dame’s breast their own. Hence such souls are like those who gather around the fireplace, unwilling to venture out in the unknown and coldness of the snow; and if they do venture out they can only do so for so long until they must return to the operation of their human will – to do good for sure, but to do it in their own strength and by their own desire and not by God’s. Thus fire place holds, which is to say, their imperfect desire restrains them from journeying to meet the Lady of the Snow, rendering it impossible for them to live in Divine Will until they cast away their imperfect desire and let the Desire of the Holy Spirit take over – for this Desire alone is enough to sustain and lead one through the cold of the snow –the trials, limitations, and attachments arising from one’s own imperfect self – that one must pass through in order to be one with the Lady of the Snow who will hide the soul from the heat of the human will and shall teach Him how to live in the Will of God. O but few there are / Who’ll stroll through snow cold because few cease to rely on their own faith, hope and love, on their own trust and desire to come to live in Divine Will, thus compelling them to return to their human will’s operation. And because there are few who realise that they must take everything from God in Mary, even the very desire to live in Divine Will; and those who come to learn this lesson and put it into practice very quickly pass through the snow and find the Dame whom they seek. Thus when she doth find / A wonderer true, / No more again is he found / For him she doth hide never to be seen again; since His imperfect new self is gone, and all the imperfect virtues of this new man are hidden in the Virgin Mary so that as a perfect new man he operates in the secret intimacy of this Lady of the Snow who is his Virginal Spouse and Fair Spring too.


[1] Autumn is the passive purgation that disposes the soul in the winter to receive the gift of living in the Divine Will; whilst Spring is the attainment of actually living in It.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Three Ways to Deepen Our Praying of the Holy Rosary


On the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary (There are now Twenty)
The Rosary (click here for ‘how to pray the Rosary’) is the most popular Catholic devotion and has been so for centuries. Ironically it is also the most underestimated. Why? Simply because it is such a powerful prayer and bears so much spiritual fruit that even to esteem the Rosary greatly is to underestimate it. We would find it nigh impossible to find a saint who has not prayed the Rosary since the flowering of the Rosary in the thirteenth century.

St. Louis de Montfort writes: “If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins ‘you shall receive a never-fading crown of glory.’”[1] St. Padre Pio referred to the Rosary as his weapon. St. John Paul II held the practice of praying three Rosaries a day. St. John Vianney (otherwise known as the Cure de Ars) was seldom seen without ever having the Rosary in his hands –for so often did he pray it.

It would also do well to call to mind the fifteen promises of our Lady for those who pray the Rosary which were given to St. Dominic in a vision, as attested by the vision of Blessed Alan de la Roche. Several of these promises are as follows; they are narrated from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

·         I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.

·         I shall deliver from Purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

·         The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.

·         Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plenititude of His graces; at the moment of death they shall participate in the merits of the saints in paradise.

·         I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.

·         All who recite the Rosary are my sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters of my only Son Jesus Christ.

The Rosary? Meh


Often people denounce the Rosary as something for ‘simple old ladies’ or as an old ‘dated’ custom, or as a method of prayer which is superstitious or even idolatrous –as if it took away glory from God. Yet all these ‘alleged reasons’ are deceits of the Devil who knows how powerful the Rosary can be and how close it can draw one to Jesus. For by praying the Rosary one takes hold of Mary’s hand, and as such we give Her permission to draw us nearer by the power of the Holy Spirit to Her beloved Son. Besides, the Rosary is a mediation upon the Gospel and upon the life of Jesus, and Mary in relation to the life of Jesus. There is nothing harmful in that.

Make no mistake however, the Rosary is not magic. The Rosary is a devotion and the effectiveness of all devotions depends upon the disposition, that is the attitude and the intention of the one who is praying. Thus the fruits and promises attached to the Rosary – the devotion of all devotions – are only effective for the one who sincerely prays the Rosary with good intentions (i.e. for the salvation of souls, out of love, for world peace, in reparation for sins, for extra grace etc.) and ‘from the heart’. Since indeed ‘machine gun’ rosaries prayed at a speed faster than the speed of light without any internal reflection are not only irritating but are naught but ‘vain repetitions’ (Mt 6:7) without any value whatsoever. As St. Louis de Montfort says, the Rosary should be prayed at a slow (but not too slow) and steady pace, a pace which is conducive to recollection and meditation; and he himself recommends making intentions not only prior the Rosary but before each decade in relation to the mystery that follows.

Our Lady of Fatima: The Call to Pray the Rosary Daily


People Witnessing the Event
Then there is the call of our Lady at Fatima, who first appeared to three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal on May 13 1917. She also appeared multiple times the last of which occurred on October 13 1917, where the ‘Miracle of the Sun’ took place –a spectacle which an estimated 30,000 – 100,000 people witnessed from the faithful to the skeptical alike. The columnist Avelino de Almeida of O Século belonging to “Portugal's most influential newspaper, which was pro-government in policy and avowedly anti-clerical[2] reported the following: ‘Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws - the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people.’”[3],[4] “Witnesses also reported that their previously wet clothes became "suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling.”[5] Essential to the message of our Lady at Fatima was Her call that all the faithful might pray the Rosary daily. Pope Pius XI – and he is not alone in this – reiterates this call: “The Rosary is a powerful weapon to put the demons to flight and to keep oneself from sin… If you desire peace in your hearts, in your homes, and in your country, assemble each evening to recite the Rosary. Let not even one day pass without saying it, no matter how burdened you may be with many cares and labors.”

…But the Rosary Doesn’t Work for Me


I remember years ago one kind and sincere religious brother mentioned how he no longer prayed the Rosary because he “found that it no longer worked for him”. At the time I was saddened to hear this but I didn’t know what to say, however in hindsight I would have shared with him the sound advice of the saints and the spiritual masters who speak clearly on matters such as this. They teach us that the effectiveness of prayer does not lie in how effective ‘we feel’ our prayers to be, as if ‘happy sensations’ and ‘warm fuzzy feelings’ are a necessary sign of a prayer that is working. Rather, prayer is always effective so long as we have faith that our prayer is working, is being heard, and is and shall be answered. This is one of the purposes of faith – to believe that our prayers are effective when emotionally and rationally it seems like they are ‘not working’. If we conclude that our prayers are ‘not working’ because we do not see the fruits of our prayers in our lives and thus become disappointed by this fact, then we lack faith and are acting like unspiritual people – for “true progress” says St. Francis de Sales, “quietly and persistently moves along without notice” – hence the fruits of our prayers are always there, it is just that we often do not see them. If we are praying for a miracle and it doesn’t happen, we must not conclude that our efforts in prayer were wasted, since all prayer ought to be done out of love for God and to give Him glory – even if we’re asking Him some things on top of that; and any labour of love is never an effort wasted and is never left unrewarded. It just so happens that sometimes the miracle we are asking for is answered, but not in a manner we expect or would naturally like.

When it comes to the Rosary, as with all prayer, we must persist in praying daily whilst being aware that in our own strength we cannot pray daily, and so we must rely on God and His Strength, not on our own. At times praying the Rosary will be the last thing we want to do, and at times we will ‘feel nothing’ as if ‘nothing is happening’, but in faith we must endure for the glory of God, and if we’re more self-centered then at least may our own sanctification motivate us to persist in praying daily this great prayer. St. Josemaria Escriva leaves us some ‘down to earth’ advice:

You always leave the Rosary for later, and you end up not saying it at all because you are sleepy. If there is no other time, say it in the street without letting anybody notice it. It will, moreover, help you to have the presence of God.

Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!


Three Ways to Deepen Our Praying of the Rosary


1.      With the intention to not just meditate upon the mysteries of the Rosary but to participate in them.


Our Lady of the Rosary
Meditation in the Christian tradition is simply mental reflection upon the truths or mysteries of the Christian faith. In the case of the Rosary it is the pondering upon the relegated mysteries as falling under the four categories of the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. This meditation is often guided by Biblical texts or through the use of the imagination in ‘imaging the mysteries in one’s mind’, perhaps by putting oneself in the picture. Yet it is ideal to also bear the intention to not merely intellectually ruminate upon the mysteries of the Rosary but to participate in the mysteries upon which one is mediating or at least ‘trying to mediate’ upon. This is simply done by faith, by spiritually uniting oneself with the sacred events and by making the actions, virtues and merits of Jesus one’s own – all in, with and through Mary. Thus if one is mediating upon the Birth of Jesus, one might by desire spiritually clothe oneself with the very Humility of Jesus Himself, with His detachment of spirit, and His Divine Simplicity. Or if we’re mediating upon the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, we might make a spiritual communion, or might unite ourselves with every Mass that ever has and shall be said, and with every Eucharist ever received –giving God the very Thanksgiving Jesus Himself gave to the Father when He consumed the Bread which was His Body. Or else if we’re mediating upon the Crucifixion of our Lord, we might unite ourselves with His death as a means of dying to our own will; or we might venerate His wounds, or make the very reparations Jesus made to the Father on the Cross for all sins, our own, offering them to the Father in Christ by the Spirit (1 Pet 2:5). Or else if one is mediating upon the mystery of the Assumption one might offer to the Father all the glory Mary gave to God throughout Her life, or one might embrace the Son with the very embrace Mary gave to Jesus when She entered into heaven body and soul.

2.      With the intention to pray the Rosary on behalf of every man, woman and child, past, present and future.

Why limit our prayers? Why be stingy and pray just for ourselves or for those we know? We only need to desire to pray our Rosary on behalf of all and God will administer to all the fruits of our prayers – whether they are receptive to such grace or not is another thing, but we must pray and hope that this is so. We ought to bear this intention for all our prayers, especially when we make our Holy Communion. We are privileged to know Christ and to explicitly belong to His Catholic Church, and are blessed to be aware of the beauty and power of Marian devotion. Out of love for our neighbour we should seek to pray all our prayers, the Rosary included, on their behalf. This of course does not mean others have no need to pray the Rosary as if they can relax without needing to pray since you’re taking one for the team – rather it simply means pray big, and pray for and on behalf of all because you can, and if we can, we ought.

3.      Bear the intention that Jesus would pray in one’s praying.

All our works and efforts are imperfect and worthless, they only draw their value from Jesus who as the God-Man carried out perfect works that were both human and divine, and thus that were both temporal and eternal. If we ask and desire that Jesus would pray in us, with us, and through us when we pray, then our prayers become not simply human acts that have a good but temporal effect but divine acts that have an eternal effect. This is the deepest fulfillment of the words of St Paul who says: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20). Such a practice of allowing Christ to operate within us, in all that we say, think, pray and do is also alluded to –if we interpret His words in the spiritual sense – when the Lord says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” (Jn 14:12). Thus by bearing the intention that Jesus would pray our Rosary in, with and through us, we can know by faith that we –or rather Jesus in us – is giving the very glory and delight to the Father as if He Himself were praying the Rosary, and indeed He is through us!

Conclusion


We would be missing out on much if we neglected to pray the Rosary, and we would do well to ask God to give us the grace to pray the Rosary daily and to endeavour to do so, or else if we are already praying the Rosary daily to ask God to help us to continue to do so but in a deeper manner. We shall conclude with the words of Pope Leo XIII: “The Rosary is the most excellent form of prayer and the most efficacious means of attaining eternal life. It is the remedy for all our evils, the root of all our blessings. There is no more excellent way of praying.”


Appendix. The Rosary in Relation to Baptism and the Holy Eucharist


Baptism is the Sacrament that admits us to life in Christ, and makes us members of the Church which is God’s family. To live out one’s baptism and one’s baptismal promises is to enter deeper into a relationship with Christ. The Holy Eucharist is Christ Jesus in our midst, He is simply disguised by the appearance of bread and wine. Receiving Holy Communion and Eucharistic devotion such as Adoration (the two are inseparable)[6] makes one a full member of Christ and His Church, and thus the Eucharist leads us to fulfill our baptism which is the beginning of this membership (CCC 1322). We could say that the Eucharist is the Pearl of Great Price which lays within the mystical waters of the Christian life; waters which we enter into in Baptism and dive and swim in through Holy Communion by which we spiritually deep sea dive for the Pearl who is Christ in the Eucharist. All true devotions and sacramentals lead us to Christ in the Eucharist and draw us deeper into this Mystery. The Rosary is the most supreme devotion – if we are properly disposed – since more than any other devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. This is why it is true to assert that the Rosary is objectively the greatest devotion (Eucharistic Adoration or devotion being ‘more than devotion’ by being part of the public worship of the Church CCC 1378) since in a mysterious way it is an implicit form of Eucharistic devotion whether we’re aware of this or not. Why is this so? Since the Eucharist is the Paschal Mystery, that is the life, death and resurrection of Christ in our midst. Thus since the Rosary is a devotion which is an explicit meditation upon the Paschal Mystery, and can serve as a participation in this same very Mystery, we can boldly assert that the Rosary is a form of Eucharistic devotion; which in a sense all devotions are to some degree. This does not mean the Rosary is equal to or a substitute for Eucharistic Adoration, but it does mean the Rosary is a perfect means of engaging in Eucharistic Adoration and that it cannot be divorced from the Eucharistic Mystery even if we pray our Rosary in our homes or in our cars, nor even from Baptism of which the Eucharist “is the source and summit” (CCC 1324). Now if indeed the “Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” then Mary and Marian devotion, namely the Rosary, is the well in which this source is found, and the path which leads to its summit.




[1] Louis Marie de Montfort, Secrets of the Rosary, A Red Rose for Sinners.
[2] John De Marchi, The Immaculate Heart, New York: Farrar, Straus and Young: 1952.
[3] John De Marchi, The Immaculate Heart, New York: Farrar, Straus and Young: 1952, p.144.
[4] Wikipedia, ‘Our Lady of Fatima,’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_F%C3%A1tima#Miracle_of_the_ Sun.
[5] Wikipedia, ‘Miracle of the Sun,’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_the_Sun.
[6] Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, Apostolic Exhortation, 66.