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MOUNT CARMEL MAGAZINE
 

A QUARTERLY REVIEW OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
by
The Teresian Carmelites of the Anglo-Irish Province
AIMS
To help people in every aspect of their lives by sharing and exploring
with them the rich sources of Carmelite teaching on prayer
within the broad perspective of Christian spirituality and life experience.

EDITOR
James McCaffrey, OCD

Assistant Editors
Joanne Mosley

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MOUNT CARMEL MAGAZINE

VOL 64. NO.3 JULY - SEPTEMBER 2016

 

We are pleased to commemorate, during 2016

The Year of Mercy

(December 8, 2015 - November 20, 2016)

&

The Canonisation of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin,
parents of St Therese of Lisieux

(October 18, 2015)

 

IN THIS ISSUE
FOCUS
James McCaffrey

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (1): Pondering the Father's Love
Shelagh Banks

Trusting in God's Mercy: Scenes from the Life of St Thérèse
James Geoghegan

Sts Louis and Zélie Martin (3): Sensitive to Others, Welcoming and Generous
Saverio Cannistrà

Voices of the Heart

Thérèse of Lisieux: An Apostle of Love
M Pauline Gibson

'Forgive us our debts as we forgive…': Reflecting on Mercy in the Writings of Teresa
Aloysius Rego

The Little Way of Trust: St Therese and Divine Mercy
Susan Muto

Springs of Living Water

The Quality of Mercy…: St Thérèse and her Mission to Help Souls
Philippa Mary Reidy

Sts Louis and Zélie (3): Louis, Beloved Patriarch of the Family
Tadgh Tierney

The Fire Burning in the Soul: The Missionary Spirit of St Thérèse
Paula Moroney

Food for the Journey - Books

 

PRAYER OF POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE YEAR OF MERCY

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face, and we will be saved.

Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
you made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.

Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
'If you knew the gift of God!'

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.

We ask you this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.
Amen.

 

******

 

 

FOCUS

 

James McCaffrey

 

Dante saw St Luke as the writer of the mercy of God, describing him as 'the scribe of Christ's gentleness'. For Luke, Jesus is the Spirit-filled prophet who proclaims God's message of mercy, gentleness and loving-kindness to the people of his own day. So it is not surprising that Luke portrays Jesus, right from the earliest days of his ministry, as the great healer: we see him reaching out with compassion and tenderness to heal Simon Peter's mother-in-law, and all those who came to him to be cured of various kinds of diseases. Luke did not, of course, give us only his Gospel: he also wrote the record of the early church and of Paul's missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles. These are the two complementary volumes of Luke's story of salvation history.

The missionary spirit of St Paul dovetails beautifully with the teachings of St Luke. We note that, on the day after the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, the crowds tried to prevail upon Jesus to stay with them and not to move on elsewhere. But all to no avail. 'I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns too,' Jesus tells them, 'because that is what I was sent to do.' And Paul expands on this desire of Jesus to spread his message further afield, when he writes to his Gentile converts in his letter to the Colossians:

The good news which has reached you is spreading all over the world and producing the same results as it has among you ever since the day when you heard about God's grace and understood what this really is.

This, in brief, in a very brief nutshell, is the story of the Acts of the Apostles, where the final words of Luke's Gospel will be fulfilled: 'Thus it is written,' Jesus tells his disciples after the resurrection, 'that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.' This is what Jesus says to his disciples as he sends them out to continue his own mission and to proclaim the gospel in the power of the Spirit beyond the confines of the people of God, so that his teaching can reach even to the ends of the earth.

At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, after we have read about the temptations in the desert, he returns to his home town of Nazareth. He enters the synagogue, stands up to read, and there proclaims his message of mercy and compassion in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

In this episode, as told only by Luke, Jesus concludes with these words: 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' And here, Luke is distilling the teaching of his Gospel and Acts into this one single passage, this saying uttered on the lips of Jesus.

At first, the people receive the words of Jesus with enthusiasm. But this soon gives way to outright rejection. Why? It happens when Jesus appears to direct his teaching away from his own people and towards the Gentile world, for the examples he gives are those of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were sent by God to beyond the confines of their own people. The rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth is all the more harrowing as the message he is giving, in these stories of the prophets, is that of God's mercy: the compassion shown to a poor widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon, and the healing given to Naaman, a leper in Syria.

This lesson of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth was clearly a provocation for his listeners, who would have felt that he was saying that the message of God's mercy was being taken from them and given to the Gentiles. But it is, of course, a gift for everyone. The good news is that mercy is not given only to the people of Israel, but that it extends beyond them as well - the message of comfort and forgiveness reaching even to the whole Gentile world. And so, Paul will be able to reassure his Gentile converts:

The good news which has reached you is spreading all over the world and producing the same results as it has among you ever since the day when you heard about God's grace and understood what this really is.

Our God is a God of healing, compassion and love. Jesus gives us the good news of the gospel, as we see in this passage from Luke: 'The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them…'

No one must ever forget that this message of mercy is not just for the people of God - indeed, not just for the disciples of Christ - but for all, 'from every tribe and tongue and people and nation'.

******

 

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (1):
PONDERING THE FATHER'S LOVE

The author is a Carmelite nun in the community of Quidenham, and a frequent contributor to Mount Carmel with her articles and reviews. In this article, the first of two parts, she explores the Parable of the Prodigal Son, so relevant for the Year of Mercy - a story that invites us never to despair, but to own our wretchedness and present it to God who loves us as he does his own Son.

SHELAGH BANKS

A man had two sons…
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) is a text we can go back to again and again, to delve into the mystery of God's love revealed to us in Jesus. The story is simple and yet profound.

'There was a man who had two sons…' And the younger one asked his father to give him his share of the inheritance. In the culture of first-century Palestine, for a son to ask his father to give him his share of the property while the father was still alive was a grievous affront. Nevertheless, the father allowed his younger son to take his inheritance. The son now proceeded to squander it in a far country, which eventually led to his being reduced to serving a Gentile as a swineherd. For a Jew, there could have been no greater disgrace, no place further from 'home', as it were; and what is more, he had nothing to eat. When he finally hit rock-bottom, he 'came to himself'. This is the first part of the story.

'One day of humble self-knowledge'
Such moments of self-knowledge can be exceedingly painful, but St Teresa counted one day of humble self-knowledge a greater favour from the Lord than many days of prayer (cf. F 5:16). The son was now able to acknowledge that he had sinned - he even felt unworthy to be called a son. He made up his mind to return to his father and ask him to treat him as a hired servant. Some see only self-interest in the little speech he rehearsed; but surely, knowing how mixed our own motives habitually are, we can allow him at least the seeds of true repentance.

Anyway, he made his way home. And what humiliation and dejection he must have experienced as he trudged along, returning ragged and hungry to the home where he had once planned such a glorious future! In Semitic society, a father would on no account go out to meet his son - the son must come to the father. And certainly a dignified landowner would never hitch up his garments and run! But the father in this story seems to have been actually watching out for his good-for-nothing son.

When he became sure that the woebegone figure approaching really was the son he had lost, he 'had compassion' on him. Instead of looking on from a distance and waiting to see what his son would do, the father entered into his son's sorrow and dejection, and desired only to share his own joy with him. To do this, he did not hesitate to run out and meet him, thereby sparing him any possible censure; and he welcomed him home as his cherished and honoured son. The young man did try to deliver his prepared speech, but the father cut him off, so eager was he to get a party under way. We can only imagine the feelings of the son.

The elder brother
Next, we encounter the elder brother who has stayed at home. When he comes back from the fields, he hears the sound of the party warming up. We surely do not need to feel sorry for him, as if he had been forgotten while he dutifully went about his work and everyone else had a good time. It would have taken several hours, after all, to kill the fatted calf and prepare the banquet, and the whole village would probably have turned up by the time the food was ready. There can be no doubt that the father wanted to share his joy with both his sons. However, when the elder son found out the reason for the party, 'he was angry and refused to go in.'

Once again the father spared no thought for his own dignity, but came out to his son and 'entreated him'. He tried to draw him into the love and happiness of the banquet, but met with a chilling response. The elder son expressed his resentment at the way he had been treated: he had served his father faithfully, he said, yet he had not received the payment he considered he deserved; 'you never gave me so much as a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.' One wonders what sort of friends he had! To him, the prodigal is just a bad lot, deserving punishment and rejection. He needs to blame his father for being unjust, because this elder son cannot bear to allow his father's uncompromising, unconditional love to displace his own sense of what is right.

'You are always with me'
The elder son may have been staying at home, but he has not lived in the house as a family member: rather, he is the one who has acted as if he were a 'hired servant', working for pay. He rejects the family relationships that should have been his joy and solace. He will not acknowledge the younger son as his brother, but refers to him as 'this son of yours'. Nor will he use the word 'Father', but begins bluntly: 'Idou' ('Lo', or 'Look here'). He is angry, and has no intention of relinquishing his righteous indignation.

The father, on the other hand, responds gently, addressing him with the specially affectionate word teknon ('child'). 'Teknon,' he says, 'you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.' Here, we may be reminded of some of the sayings in John's Gospel: 'Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands…' (Jn 13:3); 'All that the Father has is mine' (Jn 16:15); and 'I am not alone, for the Father is with me' (Jn 16:32). And the father in the parable goes on to refer to the younger brother as 'this your brother', affirming the bonds of relationship. 'It was fitting to make merry and be glad,' he says, 'for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'

The missing ending
And there the parable ends. This final verse corresponds closely to the ending of the earlier part of the parable, where we read: '"for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." And they began to make merry.' The difference in this final part is that it lacks the words 'they began to make merry.'

The context in which Luke sets this parable is criticism of Jesus by the Pharisees and the scribes. They have been saying: 'This man receives sinners and eats with them' (Lk 15:2). In response, Jesus tells the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. The father's plea to his elder son to come in and join the party forms the end of this discourse. Clearly, the elder son represents the people at whom the parable was directed: those who prided themselves on their righteousness. It was up to them to supply the missing ending, and rejoice. But did they?

An invitation to relationship
This parable can be seen as an epitome of the Gospels. It is not a moralistic fable. So it is beside the point to ask whether the father was not in fact somewhat imprudent in allowing his younger son to go off and squander his share of the family inheritance; or to see the younger son's ruin as a consequence of wrongdoing (when in fact it is presented rather as a consequence of separation from his father); or to argue that the elder son's resentment had some justification; or to suggest that things might have been different if the father had been a mother. No: Jesus is simply showing us what God is like.

God, who is just as much our mother as our father, loves every one of his children equally, just as the father in the parable loves both his sons equally: 'for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust' (Mt 5:45). Can we dare to believe that the Father of Jesus loves us as much as the father in the parable loves both his flawed and unsatisfactory sons? - indeed, that he loves us as much as his own Son? And can we learn to love in response, as we are invited to do? God offers us total, unconditional love and forgiveness, and an invitation to intimate relationship with him, regardless of our manifold failures, selfishness, meanness and inadequacies. God's love is not tempered by human notions of prudence or justice: he is, as Thérèse could see, unstoppably, extravagantly merciful.

In him we see the Father
Furthermore, in telling this parable Jesus is saying that by relating to sinners as he does, he is doing what God does. In him we see the Father. By associating freely with the lost, the weak, the corrupt and the hopeless, Jesus shows us how God relates to us all. He does not mete out approbation, criticism, or blame according to our deserts, but he says to each one of us: 'All that is mine is yours… Let us therefore eat and make merry.'

This can present a difficulty for us, for we should like to be worthy of what we receive. We may seek to derive some comfort from thinking that we are not, after all, as bad as we might be. However, the closer we come to God - and the more we see ourselves in the light of his infinite goodness - the more we realise that our little notions of good, bad, better and worse are neither here nor there. The only words left to us are: 'Lord, have mercy…'

'The Lord and the Servant'
One person who plumbed the depths of this parable is Julian of Norwich. Her simple, inconclusive, but profoundly suggestive Parable of the Lord and the Servant, recounted in Chapter 51 of the Long Text of her Revelations of Divine Love, is clearly the fruit of long and prayerful meditation on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It goes like this:

I saw thus: two persons in bodily likeness - that is to say, a lord and a servant… The lord sitteth in solemn state, in rest and in peace. The servant standeth before his lord reverently, ready to do his lord's will. The lord turneth upon his servant a look full of love, sweet and meek. He sendeth him into a certain place, to do his will. The servant not only goeth, but starteth out suddenly, and runneth in great haste, for love, to do his lord's will. But straightway he falleth down into a ravine, and taketh full great hurt; and then he groaneth and moaneth, waileth and turneth about, but he cannot rise or help himself in any manner. (RDL, pp. 132-3)

The servant wanted only to do good, and yet things went so wrong! Julian explains that the servant is Adam, and that Adam is every man or woman. But the servant is also Jesus. 'When Adam fell,' she says, 'God's Son fell… Adam fell from life to death'; and 'God's Son fell, with Adam, into the deeps of the Maiden's womb'. And why did he fall? 'For to excuse Adam from blame in heaven and earth' (RDL, p. 140). Such is the divine compassion for the predicament of fallen humanity, that God's Son makes the journey to the far country where we are lost, to be one with us in our plight, and to show us that in God's sight we have incurred no blame, no wrath, no retribution.

'We are his crown'
Jesus delights in being one with us, even to accepting death in order to rescue us. He went joyfully to the cross, from which he could not 'rise or help himself in any manner' (RDL, p. 133), but 'yielded his soul into the Father's hand along with all mankind for whom he was sent' (RDL, p. 142). Then God raised him up, and in his joyous return to the Father, Jesus takes us with him. For Julian saw that 'Jesus is all that shall be saved, and all that shall be saved is Jesus' (RDL, p. 141).

This means that in whatever far country we may have got lost, we need never despair. And when the father of the Prodigal says: 'this my son was dead, and is alive again', the light of the paschal mystery shines through his words. Jesus, our brother, has achieved the victory over whatever enslaves and imprisons us, and offers us his hand so as to raise us up with him. Now he stands before the Father - no longer as a servant but 'on an equality, richly clothed in blissful fullness, with a crown upon his head of precious richness. For it was shewed that we are his crown - the crown which is the Father's joy, the Son's worship, the Holy Ghost's liking, and endless marvellous bliss to all that are in heaven' (RDL, p. 143).

 

MOUNT CARMEL VOL 64. NO.3

JULY - SEPTEMBER 2016