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“A Matter of Mercy”, Reflection by Rev. Brian Mullady, O.P.

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    There is a dramatization put out a few years ago by the BBC of an actual correspondence between George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Cockerell and Dame Laurentia McLachlan, the abbess of Stanbook Abbey in England. In this correspondence, George Bernard Shaw, an avowed atheist, writes that he relies on the prayers of the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey. The reason is that his friend, Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight champion of the world was on a vacation with his wife at a remote island in the Mediterranean. She contracted a dreaded disease for which there was no known cure and would have died within 24 hours. Shaw remarks that Tunney dropped to his knees and returning to his childhood faith, prayed for her delivery. Unexpectedly, a doctor who was the world’s only expert in this particular disease arrived on the island the next day and cured her. Shaw, the avowed atheist, was so impressed by this that he recognized the value of the mercy of God, which was, to his mind, God’s response to prayer. For him, the cloistered Benedictine nuns were the perfect intercessors.
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    If an avowed atheist could be so moved in this secular age, the prayers of cloistered and monastic religious must be powerful. This is because they participate in the spousal union of the world with God in a direct way under the special title of their consecration. In the Gospel passage today, Christ explains the origin of this relationship. Asked to resolve a theological dilemma about marriage proposed by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead Christ replies: “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage […] for they are like angels” (Lk 20:35-36).
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    The emphasis of Christ’s answer to the Sadducees places in special relief the complete transformation of the soul in God offered to the human race in the resurrection. He does not say they will become angels for grace does not destroy nature. However, Our Lord says they will be like angels because they will experience a new relationship of their bodies to their souls. On earth, the soul comes to exist after the manner of the body. This is why, for instance, intellectual knowledge begins in and depends on the senses for its origin and authenticity. But in Heaven, the body comes to exist after the manner of the soul. Since the soul is a spirit and has its origin in a direct creation on the part of God for each person, this means that the final perfection of each man and woman can only be found in the direct knowledge of God that occurs in the Beatific Vision. In the general resurrection the body comes to life and experiences either happiness or pain according to the experience of the soul of this vision.
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    This knowledge is complete and the degree to which the subject experiences it is determined by how much the subject has loved God on earth. The transformation in love involves a sharing of life between God and the soul through grace. Although all men must experience it to go to Heaven, this transformation is especially the lot of the cloistered religious who are a sign of the mystical “alone with the Alone” which will characterize Heaven.
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    This experience demands through love that the religious adopt the same attitude towards the world as the Trinity that is witnessed in Christ and His mercy. The prayers and sacrifices of cloistered religious offered for everyone see not what is ideal but what others are and what they could be if they would accept transformation in Christ. Though no man can merit the salvation of another, by the proportion of love and because friends love what their friends love, God can use the prayers of someone to bring about the salvation of another. “For if we do God’s will in a state of grace, it is a fittingly friendly thing that God should do man’s will in return and save the other person; though sometimes of course that other person impedes his own reconciliation.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 114, 6)
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   Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Mercy. This is a most important virtue for him. The Holy Father says: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2)
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    Antiochus Epiphanes died because too late though he did not show mercy, he wanted and needed the mercy of God. Gene Tunney prayed and his prayer was used by God to affect the cure of his wife. The power of mercy shown by contemplative religious is needed for both because of the friendship with God which spousal, virginal love inspires. As the Church celebrates Pro Orantibus Day, a day of spiritual and material solidarity with cloistered and monastic religious, let us always remember that “prayers rely on mercy” (Aquinas, ST, I-II, 114, 6).
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Rev. Brian Mullady, O.P., is the theological consultant for the Institute on Religious Life. Father has a doctorate in moral theology from the Angelicum in Rome and currently teaches at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT, and as adjunct professor for the Vita Consecrata Institute at the Graduate School of Christendom College. Father Mullady also conducts retreats and parish missions, as well as working on Catholic radio and television. His latest book is Christian Social Order (New Hope Publications).

Fr. Robert Barron on the 100th Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Birthday

articlermertonI write these words on the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century and a man who had a decisive influence on me and my vocation to the priesthood.  I first encountered Merton’s writing in a peculiar way. My brother and I were both working at a bookstore in the Chicago suburbs.  One afternoon, he tossed to me a tattered paperback with a torn cover that the manager had decided to discard. My brother said, “You might like this; it’s written by a Trappist monk.” I replied, with the blithe confidence of a sixteen year old, “I don’t want to read a book by some Buddhist.” With exquisite sensitivity, he responded, “Trappists are Catholics, you idiot.” 7storey_ The book in question was The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton’s passionate, articulate, smart, and deeply moving account of his journey from worldling to Trappist monk. Though much of the philosophy and theology was, at that time, over my head, I became completely caught up in the drama and romance of Merton’s story, which is essentially the tale of how a man fell in love with God. The book is extraordinarily well written, funny, adventurous, and spiritually wise.  In one of the blurbs written for the first edition, Fulton Sheen referred to it as a contemporary version of St. Augustine’s Confessions, and it was fulsomely praised by both Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.  Moreover, it contributed massively to the startling influx of young men into monasteries and religious communities across the United States in the postwar era. I was so thrilled by my first encounter with Merton that I dove headlong into his body of writing. The Sign of Jonas, a journal that Merton kept in the years leading up to his priestly ordination, became a particular favorite. That work concludes with an essay called “Firewatch:  July 4, 1952,” which Jacques Maritain referred to as the greatest piece of spiritual writing in the twentieth century. In this powerful meditation, Merton uses the mundane monastic task of walking through the monastery checking for fires as a metaphor for a Dantesque examination of the soul. The Sign of Jonas is marked by Merton’s playful and ironic sense of humor, but it also gives evidence of the enormous range of his reading and intellectual interests. To devour that book as a nineteen year old, as I did, was to receive an unparalleled cultural education. For many people of my generation, Merton opened the door to the wealth of the Catholic spiritual tradition: I first learned about John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, Odo of Cluny, the Victorines, Origen, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Hans Urs von Balthasar from him. Perhaps the central theme of all of Merton’s writings is contemplation.  What he stressed over and again in regard to this crucial practice is that it is not the exclusive preserve of spiritual athletes, but rather something that belongs to all the baptized and that stands at the heart of Christian life. For contemplation is, in his language, “to find the place in you where you are here and now being created by God.” It is consciously to discover a new center in God and hence at the same time to discover the point of connection to everyone and everything else in the cosmos.  Following the French spiritual masters, Merton called this le point vierge, the virginal point, or to put it in the language of the fourth Gospel, “water bubbling up in you to eternal life.”  In his famous epiphanic experience at the corner of 4th and Walnut in downtown Louisville, Merton felt, through le point vierge, a connection to the ordinary passersby so powerful it compelled him to exclaim, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” Read more here.

Online Resources Available for World Day of Cloistered Life

ProOrantibusLogo2014Catholics throughout the world are encouraged to honor the cloistered and monastic life on Pro Orantibus Day, which is Friday, November 21, 2014, the Memorial of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. “The primary purpose of Pro Orantibus Day (“For Those Who Pray”) is to support—both spiritually and materially— the gift of the cloistered and monastic life,” noted Rev. Thomas Nelson, O. Praem., National Director of the Institute on Religious Life. And as Pope Francis reminds us, “it is a good opportunity to thank the Lord for the gift of so many people who, in monasteries and hermitages, dedicate themselves to God in prayer and silent work.” In 1953 Pope Pius XII instituted Pro Orantibus Day, also known as World Day of Cloistered life, to recognize those men and women who so generously give of themselves to this unique vocation and who each day, from the various convents and monasteries spread throughout the world, offer their prayers unceasingly to build up the Kingdom. Pope John Paul II later expanded its celebration and encouraged the faithful to support this special vocation in any way possible. Last year at a general audience in St. Peter’s Square Pope Francis reminded the Church, “Let us give thanks to the Lord for the powerful testimony of cloistered life.” He urged the faithful to lend their spiritual and material support to these brothers and sisters of ours “so that they can carry out their important mission.” Pope FrancisCamaldolesemonastery As a sign of spiritual solidarity Pope Francis visited a Camaldolese monastery to celebrate vespers on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. In his address the Holy Father stressed Our Lady’s great witness to hope, even in the face of difficulties and obstacles. The Holy Father urged all cloistered nuns to keep the “lamp of hope” burning brightly, and that monastic religious must strive to conform their lives to the model of Our Blessed Mother. The nationwide effort to publicize Pro Orantibus Day is coordinated by the Institute on Religious Life, a national organization based in the Chicago area. The IRL was founded in 1974 by Servant of God Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J., and is comprised of bishops, priests, religious and laity who support and promote the vowed religious life. For more information or to download resources, click here.

Prayer as the Foundation of the New Evangelization

carmelite-nuns-chanting-salve-regina The cloistered contemplative life is ordered exclusively to prayer, the one force that Our Lord said could dispel certain demonic strongholds. The early Christians were aware of this. In looking at the early monastic literature, one of the principal motives which drew men into the desert was to battle with Satan, and this in imitation of the Savior who entered the desert to battle with Satan. And their battles were not merely personal. They were trying to bind the demons, to tie them down so they could not go into the cities, where the people lived, to tempt them. So they saw themselves as soldiers, indeed, officers in the Lord’s army engaged in a real spiritual warfare, fighting back the demons so they could not enter into society. This is what contemplative communities should be, centers of prayer to fight back the demonic. Entering the cloister has always been seen metaphorically as entering the desert, far away from the distractions of the world, and as a place where one fights the demons within oneself—but also to fight back the forces of evil as they attack the Church and society. We are all in the midst of this spiritual warfare, but the fighting is particularly intense in the cloister. If they win the battle within their own souls, within the cloister, then the demonic strongholds will be broken and we can more easily overcome the devil’s influence in our families and in society and successfully. Now that is the responsibility of all Christians, to pray. But the contemplative life is exclusively ordered to and organized around the ministry of intercession. And because of their consecration to that work, their prayers are especially efficacious. Read entire reflection here.
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Vatican Document
Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on Woman's Contemplative Life
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Special Event
World Day of Cloistered Life - Pro Orantibus Day
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Free Audio Book
A Right to Be Merry By Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
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Terms
Glossary of Cloistered Life terms
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