testing point of the saint

Every martyr knows how to save his/her life and yet refuses to do so.
A public repudiation of the faith would save any of them.
But some things are more precious than life itself.
These martyrs prove that their 20th-century countryman,
C. S. Lewis, was correct in saying that courage is not simply one of the virtues
but the form of every virtue at the testing point, that is, at the point of highest reality.

(as seen on the CSSF site / Felician Sisters)


(Virgin entroned with angels and saints / Duccio di Buoninsegna 1285)

This past week has seen me so incensed over the absurdities that are taking place
all over this country…
Absurdities being shared as “news” stories, taken from across the land…
yet stories with one central missing theme…that being the key theme of common sense.

So incensed that I had a few volumes of the assinine posted in order to shed some
light on our glaring lack of common sense.

And I should note that the absurdities just keep coming as I now must confess that
I am actually finding myself feeling a bit sorry for the current Speaker of the House
as she toils to keep her Fab 4 newbies in line as they continue having
temper tantrum after tantrum.

They may be known best as formidable twitter warriors, but they fall woefully short in
the area of common sense.
Theatrics yes, common sense no.

Throw in a serious lack of humility and we have a wealth of trouble on our hands.

But I digress and must move on because their finger waging tantrums simply leave me
tired from all the eye-rolling and head-shaking I’ve caught myself doing as of late.

So today we won’t focus on the wealth of lack of common sense that is now engulfing our
land but rather we will look at something much more nobler than any one of
our legislators or governing officials seem to demonstrate,
acknowledge let alone possess.

So yesterday I was reading a post regarding the Saints of the Day from one of the
Felician Sisters blog sites.

The saints were actually two Englishmen…
John Jones and John Walls.

These two friars were martyred in England in the 16th and 17th centuries
for refusing to deny their faith.

John Jones was Welsh. He was ordained a diocesan priest and was twice imprisoned
for administering the sacraments before leaving England in 1590. He joined the Franciscans
at the age of 60 and returned to England three years later while Queen Elizabeth I
was at the height of her power. John ministered to Catholics in the English countryside
until his imprisonment in 1596. He was condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
John was executed on July 12, 1598.

John Wall was born in England but was educated at the English College of
Douai, Belgium. Ordained in Rome in 1648, he entered the Franciscans in Douai several years later.
In 1656 he returned to work secretly in England.

In 1678, Titus Oates worked many English people into a frenzy over an alleged papal plot
to murder the king and restore Catholicism in that country. In that year Catholics were
legally excluded from Parliament, a law which was not repealed until 1829.
John Wall was arrested and imprisoned in 1678, and was executed the following year.

John Jones and John Wall were canonized in 1970.
(Felician Sisters)

And so let me be clear, saints are no different from you or me…
We are all sinners and we are all also very capable of eventually becoming a saint.
For saints are simply the ordinary doing the extraordinary.

The one important thing we need to remember, however, is that saints
are of a humble lot.

And humility is often in short supply in our land these days.

Saintly is a matter of doing what is right when no one is looking,
listening or paying attention because what is being done is for the betterment
of others…with no regard to self and no recognition or applause.

Saints have no twitter accounts or Facebook posts.

It’s doing those things that are not popular, trendy or politically correct but are being done
because they are the right thing to do regardless of what the world may have to say.

Even despite the threat of harm or even death.

It’s a conviction.
It’s a drive that reaches far beyond personal desire.

It’s falling face down in the mire.
It’s being the sinner who picks himself up and says no more.

Sights shift.
Hearts change.

It’s doing what God calls to be done…not what the self would want done.
It’s discernment along with death to self.

It’s hard.
It’s not easy.
It can be dangerous.
It might be life-threatening…
…but none of that seems to matter.

The thought of self is never even considered.
Self is never an issue.
There is no personal gain but rather personal loss.

The spotlight shines elsewhere.

There are no stats or likes.
No followers.
No trending.
No polls.
No cameras.

No, saints are not far from sinners at all.
In fact, a saint is a sinner who simply turned his eyes outward rather than inward.

Some things are more precious than life itself…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the
twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp,
and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8

the old shell of self

God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger,
but by making us weaker and weaker.
That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say;
but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin,
not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him;
not by helping him to do anything, but by removing him from the scene of action.

Watchman Nee

We must die if we are to live.
There is no spiritual life for you, for me, for any man, except by dying into it.
Have you a fine-spun righteousness of your own?
It must die.
Have you any faith in yourself?
It must die.
The sentence of death must be in yourself, and then you shall enter into life.
The withering power of the Spirit of God must be experienced before his
quickening influence can be known:
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.”
You must be slain by the sword of the Spirit before you can be made
alive by the breath of the Spirit.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon


(the shells of cicadas discarded on a pine tree / Julie Cook /2017)

Summer, to a young child growing up in the South, meant evenings spent
catching lighting bugs in an old mayonnaise jar or scouring the sides of pine trees
for the crunchy fragile brown leftover shells of cicadas.

These leftover exoskeletons often found on the sides of pine trees or fence posts
are simply the shedding of the old skin of an ever growing and ever changing cicada.
Cicadas being the creatures responsible for the loud raucous screeching heard
throughout the landscape of the waning days of a southern summer.

Finding a shell was akin to finding a small treasure…
of which was then joyfully and ceremoniously carried to the start of school,
nestled safely in a small cotton ball lined box,
all for the start of the new school year’s show and tell.

But the shell was always quickly beaten out for the coveted oohs and ahhs
when the shark tooth, that someone else brought in from their summer trip
to the beach,was triumphantly presented…

Science teaches us that there is a wealth of amazing creatures scattered
across this globe…all of which constantly shed their old shells or skins only to
emerge as something new, clean and fresh…

And the fact is… that we, that being you and I, are really no different.

Whereas we may not break out of our skin, leaving the old sloughed off
empty layer littered along the floor, we do however…and we must…
do away with our old selves.

For if we insist on keeping that which is old and bound to this world, refusing to
relinquish worldly flesh, then we are bound to death….
for all that is of the world’s will perish.
There will be no new birth, nothing fresh, nothing clean.

Yet if we are willing to die unto self, surrendering that which is earth bound,
yielding to the desire of the spirit to be reunited from whence it came,
then we will have life eternal…which is the treasure indeed.

So then…
Two choices…
life or death….
that should be an easy choice….
and yet oddly, it is not.

“Many, indeed, cry “Lord, Lord,” and make mention of him,
but honour him not at all.
How so?
They take his work out of his hands,
and ascribe it unto other things;
their repentance, their duties,
shall bear their iniquities.
They do not say so; but they do so.

The computation they make, if they make any, it is with themselves.
All their bartering about sin is in and with their own souls.
The work that Christ came to do in the world, was to “bear our iniquities,”
and lay down his life a ransom for our sins.

The cup he had to drink of was filled with our sins,
as to the punishment due to them.
What greater dishonour then, can be done to the Lord Jesus,
and to ascribe this work to anything else, –
to think to get rid of our sins by any other way or means?”

John Owen

submission

It is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence –
“Not unto us,
not unto us,
but unto Thy name be glory.”

– Charles Spurgeon

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(image of Mary, Illuminated Manuscript)

Jesus.
The name of our Lord and of my Order [The Society of Jesus]
shall be the first word I write in the New Year.
The name stands for all the things I desire when I pray, believe and hope;
for inner and outer redemption;
for relaxation of all the selfish tensions and limitations I place
in the way of the free dialogue with God,
all the barriers to voluntary partnership and surrender without reserve:
and for a speedy release from these horrible fetters.
The whole situation is so palpably unjust;
things I have neither done nor even known about are keeping me here in prison. ”

The name Jesus stands also for all that I intended to do in the world,
and still hope to do among mankind. To save, to stand by ready to give immediate help,
to have goodwill towards all men, and to serve them. I still owe much to so many.

And in conclusion the Order, too, is embraced in my invocation of this name–
the Order which has admitted me to its membership.
May it be personified in me.
I have pledged myself to Jesus as his loving comrade and blood-brother.

The Name stands for passionate faith, submission, selfless effort and service.

Excerpt from Fr. Alfred Delp’s diary
January 1, 1945

In 1944, at the time of Father Delp’s arrest and subsequent trial for treason against the Nazi State,
the young Jesuit’s date for his profession of his final vows as a priest had been
indefinitely postponed.
And as Hitler had decreed that no priest was to study for the priesthood,
as he had shuttered all seminaries, Delp’s friends arranged to have a priest, a confrere
with full support of the German Catholic Church, visit Delp while in prison in Berlin.
He would hear Delp’s profession and receive him fully into his order.

The visiting priest, Father Tattenbach,
knew that he had to disguise his visit as merely a sympathetic gesture offered to
a condemned prisoner.
The visit could have no whiff of official Church business as such had been long outlawed.
Nor could he let it be known what the two men were actually doing.
He also feared that the prison guards would be suspicious especially as the vows
were to be made in Latin…
he worried the guards would think that they talking in code while passing secrets.

So Fr Tattenbach explained that he was going to be praying with Fr Delp in Latin
and actually wrote out what he would be saying in German…
yet the guards remained suspicious hovering about as the two men
entered into a sacred, holy and solemn moment in time…
and oddly allowed the two men to conduct their most important “prayer session”…

To be submissive.

It is a word that is growing ever more difficult to act upon as our
society deems the act of submission to be a serious and egregious act of weakness…
Something that is to be scorned, reviled and forbidden.

The negative connotations associated with acts of submission are endless.
Particularly as the militant feminist movement has cast the word into the realm of all things taboo.
As they claim that the very word seethes with all things vile and odious in nature.

Yet throughout this season of Advent,
we are constantly reminded of what complete and utter submission looks like.
It begins in the form of Mary’s selfless, obedient and submissive willingness to play a part in God’s grand plan…
spanning the chasm of time to the Springtime reminder of that same selfless,
obedient and submissive willingness offered freely by her son as he walks from
the start of his life in that obscure stable to his destiny on Golgotha.

And thankfully there remains those few souls among us who make wide their beings…
opening and allowing for the totally emptying of self.
They forgo all aspects of their own wellbeing…
in turn allowing for the betterment of all humankind… at the cost of their own existence.
They act as our polestar.

And just as Father Delp demonstrated,
with hands chained and a noose waiting to be placed around his neck,
submission to the service of God is an act so much greater than any fettered or
tethered limitation imposed by man.

So may we, this season of Advent, learn the importance of submission…
May we be both strong and courageous as we learn to yield our hearts, minds and our very beings
to the will of the One True God…

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.
For there is no authority except from God,
and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

Romans 13:1

And the sheep were silent…

“The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision.
It is a silent acquiescence to evil.
The Tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction,
while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen

DSCN0884
(a sheep farm outside of Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where does one begin…
Where does one look when attempting to sort it all out?
From whence has it come?
What was the root cause?
What was the catalyst?
How did it ever come to this?

Standing in the center of the raging maelstrom
Silent and dumbfounded…
Only a remaining handful are left to sort it out.

As the majority silently chooses to ignore it…

We choose to turn our heads.
We refuse to call truth by its name.
While hoping it all just goes away.

We don’t want to get labeled.
We don’t want to lose our businesses, our jobs, our positions.
We don’t want to be taken to court.
We don’t want to be disliked, unliked or disconnected.
We don’t want to be shamed…

All the while we are being told we’d best accept things or otherwise shut-up.
We are told to get on board or get out.
We are vilified,
We are hated
We are deemed ignorant.
We are considered backwards.
We are called all manner of vile names
We are stalked by the shadows…

That is unless we recant, we back down, we reconsider,
we change our minds, we accept the once unacceptable…
as the bitter taste is no less palatable, yet we swallow for survival.

And it is because of one thing and one thing only…
We carry the name Christian or Jew.
We support the cross, we support Israel and we hold the word of God as just that…
The Truth.

Yet even under that banner there are those who toil
at rewriting and altering ancient words and law in order to
“modernize” them.
“God didn’t mean that, He actually meant this instead….”
As we don’t like thinking about sin and Hell, so let’s
just throw the blanket out covering everyone…as in
it is all indeed good…because we are all about feeling good.

We stand before the manger feeling all warm and fuzzy,
as we look upon that peaceful nurturing scene of Mother and Child…
All the while we throw up our Christmas trees as the media screams at us,
telling us what we must have and actually need under those trees
in order to be forever happy…
never mind what we really need or want….

…simply to love and be loved….
as in forever…

We want our God to be all loving, all caring, all good, all giving
all about us….
He loves everyone no matter what, right?
He tolerates everything right?
He accepts us no matter what right?

Cause if that’s not right, we don’t want Him.

Cause and effect.

Have we forgotten?

For every cause, there is an opposite reaction or effect.
Up, down
push, pull
lift, drop,
climb, fall….

Yet we decide that the law of physics will not apply to us.

We will live as we choose, with a God who we demand will
abide by our choices and our will…or else…
We will simply rewrite Him…

…or deem Him ill suited, outdated, or better yet…
the product of mere myths…

We deem marriage is not just between man and woman.
We decide boys can be girls and girls can be boys.
There is no separation, no division, no balance…
We don’t like results so we kick and scream until we get the results we like.
We don’t like the flag so we burn it.,
We don’t like religion so we ignore it,
We don’t like those over there cause
we are paranoid and think they don’t like us over here….

We are so busy being us and loving us…as in me, myself and I…
that we are failing to see what is happening all around us.

We are so afraid of offending anyone and everyone that we can’t call terrorists what they are.
We can’t admit that radical Islam wants to annihilate us so we instead invite
them to all come live with us.
We bend everything about us…
until we break, all in the name of acceptance and equality.

And yet we still just don’t get it.
We can’t see it.
We don’t want to admit it….
We’d rather just stare at the crib feeling all warm and fuzzy…
as we forget that the road to Bethlehem, and it’s inviting manger, leads directly
to the Via Dolorosa…

Cause and effect.

Birth and death
Life or not…

If we claim to be Christian or Jew.
If we believe in morality as a guiding principle.
If we believe in cause and effect
If we believe that God is God and we are not…

Now is our moment to be silent no more….

DSCN0866
(a sheep being sheared at a sheep farm outside of Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
Acts 18:9-10

prophetic spirit….

“I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me”
Jeremiah 33:8

09_1pr6a
(image of the prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel)

Despite the distress of our time, we have lost touch with this prophetic spirit.
In fact, the inmost nature of prophecy has become an enigma to us.
We no longer grasp its primary source anymore.

Eberhard Arnold

Where are the voices…
those strong, confident and defiant voices that portend the fate of man?
Those ancient distant voices which proclaimed, declared, lamented, warned and foretold…
Those quixotic ones, from the days of old, whose words spoke of both power and truth …

In this oh so modernly smug time of man, believers are left to silently wonder,
as the non believer ridicules and scoffs.
Taunting the faithful while arrogantly puffing their chests.
For modern man has declared himself his own deity and god.

As Eberhard Arnold pragamatically observes, we have lost touch with that part
within ourselves which allowed us to hear those prophetic voices.
We have grown cold to our spiritual nature…
As we have distanced ourselves to the point of total disregard,
For that innate piece of the Divine that was once very attuned…
Allowing rather the void to be filled by our haughty sense of self.

Those voices however have never been silenced…
Never stopped or cut short over the windswept history of time…
they have not grown cold as the hard stones of earth…
but rather it is man who has grown cold, having lost his ability to hear them.
For man has turned a deaf ear to the apocalyptical.

Yet it is in that same breath of disheartened resignation that
Arnold offers us a bit of hope…

“The attitude is [still] possible only when a different heart beats within us,
different from that which has been in us so far, and when God’s spirit dwells in us,
as Ezekiel promises for these last days (Ezek.11:19).

If the earth is to be filled with the glory of God,
then the triune Spirit must fill and pervade the people who dwell on it.
Only when the Spirit gains influence over us, a sovereignty thus
far completely unknown,
can we expect the social and moral transformation that Mary sings about…”

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

The Magnificat
Luke 1:46-55

“Maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always”
Hosea 12:6

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

loveliness amongst the lilies….

The day the power of love overrules the love of power,
the world will know peace.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

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(a water lily blooms / Deer Lake, Watercolor Beach Community / Julie Cook / 2016)

Any pond owner can tell you all about the love / hate relationship they have with water lilies.

On the one hand, water lilies are pleasing to the eye as they languidly spend life just floating around.
They help to conjure up thoughts of idyllically kayaking or canoeing around said peaceful bodies of water…as we languidly long to spend life much like the water lily, just kicking back and letting life be….

Lilies provide and offer inviting homes to a myriad of reptiles, amphibians, fish and water fowl.
They provide delightful visual bursts of color across an otherwise barren greenish body water….
They offer shade underneath the water and help to encourage mini ecosystems within the pond itself.

However if left unchecked and unmanaged, they can grow out of control…giving into their invasive
tendencies.
As they will eventually choke out the very fish and aquatic animals who they once provided shelter and nourishment to…
Sucking out the very oxygen and nutrients from the water which helped to
sustain those dependent on such.

Lilies will eventually cover and clog a once thriving body of water…
rendering it dead, empty and useless.

So what is initially considered lovely and even beneficial in moderation,
is anything but lovely when left to its own devices….

Much like ourselves.

We often have good intentions.
We start out wanting to do the right things,
to do well,
to be productive,
to aid our fellow man…

We work on focusing on the positive and all which is good.
We put our best efforts and best foot forward.
We are filled with all things altruistic, looking outward rather than inward…

Yet something happens…
our vision begins to fade…
as our sights shift…
Outward becomes inward
as the ‘theys’ become less and the ‘mes’ becomes more…

We grow out of control…
We allow ourselves to go unchecked, unmanaged.
The negatives become invasive, choking out all the positives

Intentions easily turn…empty.

There is but only One who can manage this unchecked overgrowth of ours…
Turning unmanageable ways…from the negative back to the positive…
It is a matter of focusing,
self discipline
and daily yielding…
Yeilding to the only One who desires to maintain that which has gone awry …

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—–
to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Revelation 1:5-6