From St. Augustine to St. Mary

Almost a decade ago, I yearned to get closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ outside of the Sunday Mass. It started by my visiting a small church on my way to work every day to pray before a Pietà. Ever since then, I shifted into a higher gear in a wonderful spiritual journey. But this spiritual journey started about a quarter of a century ago when I read St. Augustine‘s Confessions for the first time and I left a life with just a dim light behind me and have sought to follow the Light of Christ.

What wasn’t my surprise when visiting the St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix last week to pray my daily Rosary in a hot afternoon when I found myself before this beautiful juxtaposition of these milestones of my spiritual life?

Pietà

Pietà

There was I, praying the mystery of the crowning of Jesus with thorns, before a Pietà exactly like the one before which I first started praying the Rosary, except for the added colors, sided by stained glass windows portraying St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica.  I was filled with joy for this great visual gift and my soul was uplifted, right at a time when I needed it.

Before I went to World Youth Day in Rio, I knew that I would return to a different life, but I was surprised that I too was different on my return, in a subtle but definite way.  I am sure that I will recall this pilgrimage as another milestone of my spiritual journey.  So, after less than a month back from Brazil, standing before these milestones of my spiritual journey to Jesus, Our Lady and St. Augustine, in a moment of turmoil in my life, brought me great comfort.

I am not alone in this journey or in this life.  God is in control, even when things are so hectic that it doesn’t seem so.

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JMJ Rio WYD: Day -10

After arriving at the airport  in Rio, our first order of the day was to dedicate our pilgrimage to Our Lady, so we went to a shrine dedicated to her, the basilica of Our Lady of Penha.

Our Lady of Penha

Our Lady of Penha

After getting to the place where the shrine is, pilgrims have to climb the famous 300 steps up the hill to get to the church. It’s a local tradition for one climb on his knees to thank for graces granted. However once he climbs the steps, he is rewarded with a beautiful shrine in honor of Our Lady atop a hill overlooking Rio. For WYD, the Pilgrim Cross and icon were in the church for veneration by the pilgrims.

The icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani, and the Pilgrim Cross

The icon of Our Lady, Salus Populi Romani

Though Rio is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world, it has its seedy areas and they conspired against this assessment along the way from the airport. The only way to validate it is by paying a visit to Rio’s crown jewel, the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

I didn’t know, but there is a chapel at the feet of the statue which can be scheduled for masses. Unfortunately, we couldn’t book it  due to a conflict, but it’d be too small for our group.

Rio de JaneiroRio de Janeiro

And then there’s the view of Rio…

Rio de JaneiroFrom Rio, we headed to Volta Redonda, where its citizens greeted us as warmly as those we firstly met on the Penha hill.

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Igreja Matriz de Santo André

Santo André

Saint Andrew

There is something special to go to daily mass at the church where I became a son of God, the Igreja Matriz de Santo André.  And not only I, but so many in my family as well.  As far as I remember, in this church my mother received First Communion, married my Dad, baptized my siblings and I.  It is the church where I received First Communion and Confirmation and my son was baptized; where I came to so many times to receive the balsam of Reconciliation and to be nurtured with the Body and Blood of Our Lord.

Interior

I recall many events in my family which were celebrated there: baptisms, weddings, funerals; when many relatives came to Christ, were united in one sacramental flesh and bid farewell to their true home. As a wee lad, I would just sit there admiring the artwork, including the statuary, the stained glass windows, the frescoes, the side altars.  I can truly say that I was first catechized through its art, which is etched in my memory to this day.

When I was a learning photography, this church was one of my first subjects.  I perfected photography of stained glass windows in it.

As a young teenager, I and other boys would go to the church for instruction with a young Carlist priest from Italy who dedicated himself to catechesis.  Everyone loved him and were grateful for bringing so many youth to practice the faith.  He once granted us a special treat: climbing up the stairs of the bell tower into the clock mechanism and then to the campanile, right before the bells tolled the eleventh hour.

Exterior

It was also in this church that I got enthusiastic for the faith for the first time.  I went to morning Sunday mass expecting also to meet friends and school colleagues.  It was one dear friend of mine from school who quenched my yearning to sing to the Lord, frowning at my horrible lack of musical talent, something that only recently have I been able to overcome, though I still lack any talent.

Years later I used to meet my maternal grandmother at the vigil mass.  She was my godmother too and had a special love for me and I, for her; to the chagrin of my cousins, I was her favorite.  She was filled with joy to meet me there, perhaps the only other family member practicing the faith.  Sometimes I would be “volunteered” as a lector and she would be filled with “holy pride”.  I have no doubt that I owe my faith to her prayers.  May she continue to intercede for me before the Lord’s face.

As a young adult, I came to know St. Augustine through his “Confessions” and I identified myself with his conversion story, inspiring to seek t sacrament of Confirmation, when I returned to this church for the preparatory classes.  After a few months I was anointed with the fullness of the Holy Spirit by D. Cláudio Hummes and took the same St. Augustine as my patron saint.

However, my adult life took place at increasing distances from my mother parish.  Yet, whenever I come to visit my parents, who still live just a few blocks away from it, I answer the call of its bells everyday to celebrate the Sacraments and to enjoy this sacred place where I came to know God, and His Church, where my family on earth met my family in heaven.

The church building is now 55 years old, but the parish was erected over 100 years ago. This short video was produced for the celebration of its centenary in 2011.

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The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!

"Job and His Wife" (Albrecht Dürer), Oil on panel, c. 1504, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt

Job

St. Peter in "The Four Holy Men" (Albrecht Dürer), Oil on panel, 1526, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Peter

Job and Peter are rather prominent figures in the Holy Scriptures. Though the book of Job is just one among the wisdom books of the Old Testament, his story resonates with that of many people living their own hardships, inevitable on this side of Heaven, which perhaps explains his popularity. Peter, of course, was the prince of the Apostles chosen by the Lord and was the rock foundation of the Church and in the evangelization of the whole world.

However, I have been led to regard both these figures of different times in a similar way.  If, on one hand, Job was a wealthy and righteous man, on the other hand, so was Peter, at least from what I can infer from the brief mention of his fishing business at his calling by the Lord to follow Him.  It also seems to me that both Job and Peter were both patriarchs of their respective extended families.  And while Job’s righteousness was mentioned directly, Peter’s was mentioned only indirectly by his faithful allegiance to the Lord.  Indeed, while Peter’s righteousness had not been perfected yet before the resurrection of the Lord, neither was Job’s perfect right after he was tried by the enemy.

But there is another similarity between them that was pointed out to me that is perhaps more important: both Job and Peter suffered for the Lord.  Yet, in their suffering may also be where both differ.  It seems to me that Job’s suffering led to his questioning the Lord’s will and wisdom, whereas Peter’s led to his beginning to accept the Lord’s will and to understand His wisdom.  Perhaps I could say that Job’s faith suffered along with him and that Peter’s faith grew along with his suffering. Eventually, the faith of both Job and Peter was perfected by the Lord Himself, but I have the impression that only after they also grew in hoping in the Lord’s providence.

As for me, some of Job’s sufferings are quite familiar.  Surely, nothing as terrible has happened to me as to Job, as the Lord, in His kindness, has only allowed my share of sufferings to be analogous to Job’s.  Yet, like him, I too moan and look up to Heaven for some consolation.  I cannot say that these sufferings are as rubbish to me (cf. Phil 3:8), but I am starting to get a glimpse of the wisdom and mercy of the Lord, for as much as He has not allowed me to suffer more than I can handle (cf. 1Cor 10:13), so has He granted me the graces to bear it for a little while.  With Peter, I hope and pray to come to accept the Lord’s will for me and, like him, to surrender myself completely to the Lord and, with Job, say: “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Jb 1:21)

As much as the Lord has done for these patriarchs, He has not removed suffering from the lives of Job and Peter.  For, like the Lord, they too were, as I am, to be perfected through suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so that what I now know partially by faith and hope for, I come to love fully, for “faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor 13:13)

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The Ecstasy of Sts. Monica and Augustine

St. Teresa defined contemplative prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (Life 8:5)  Of course, St. Teresa meant the friendship between God and each of us, his creatures and adopted children, whom Jesus has called his friends (Jn 15:15). Contemplative prayer is thus typically understood as intimacy between God and an individual. Yet we know that as there are many of us not only does God have many friends, but so do we. One could then wonder if contemplative prayer can include more than one individual sharing this gift of God. The answer is affirmative, because St. Augustine of Hippo experienced this divine gift together with his mother, St. Monica, at the city port of Ostia, right after his baptism and a shortly before her death.

St. Augustine, who St. Teresa read avidly and of whom she was very fond of, left us these touching words about that moment he shared with St. Monica, whose feast we celebrate today:

As the day now approached on which she was to depart this life… it happened… that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen. Here in this place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage after the fatigues of a long journey.

We were conversing alone very pleasantly and “forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward toward those things which are future.” (Phil 3:13) We were in the present — and in the presence of Truth (which You are) — discussing together what is the nature of the eternal life of the saints: which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man. (1Cor 2:9) We opened wide the mouth of our heart, thirsting for those supernal streams of your fountain, “the fountain of life” which is with You, (Ps 36:9) that we might be sprinkled with its waters according to our capacity and might in some measure weigh the truth of so profound a mystery.

And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of that life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with a more ardent love toward the Selfsame, and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marveling at your works.

And we came at last to our own minds and went beyond them, that we might climb as high as that region of unfailing plenty where you feed Israel forever with the food of truth, where life is that Wisdom by Whom all things are made, both which have been and which are to be. Wisdom is not made, but is as She has been and forever shall be; for “to have been” and “to be hereafter” do not apply to Her, but only “to be,” because She is eternal and “to have been” and “to be hereafter” are not eternal.

And while we were thus speaking and straining after Her, we just barely touched Her with the whole effort of our hearts. Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end. But what is like to your Word, our Lord, who remains in Himself without becoming old, and “makes all things new” (Wis 7:21-30)?

What we said went something like this: “If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced; and the phantoms of earth and waters and air were silenced; and the poles were silent as well; indeed, if the very soul grew silent to herself, and went beyond herself by not thinking of herself; if fancies and imaginary revelations were silenced; if every tongue and every sign and every transient thing… and if, having uttered this, they too should be silent, having stirred our ears to hear Him who created them; and if then He alone spoke, not through them but by Himself, that we might hear his word, not in fleshly tongue or angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a parable, but might hear Him — Him for whose sake we love these things — if we could hear Him without these, as we two now strained ourselves to do, we then with rapid thought might touch on that Eternal Wisdom which abides over all. And if this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and envelop its beholder in these inward joys that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after, would not this be the reality of the saying, ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’ (Mat 25:21)? But when shall such a thing be? Shall it not be ‘when we all shall rise again,’ and shall it not be that ‘all things will be changed’ (1Cor 15:51)?”

Such a thought I was expressing, and if not in this manner and in these words, still, O Lord, You know that on that day we were talking thus and that this world, with all its joys, seemed cheap to us even as we spoke. Then my mother said: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?”

St. Monica, pray for us!

(Source: St. Augustine, “Confessions”, Book IX, Chapter X, “Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

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Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Virgin Giving the Scapular to St. Simon Stock

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in connection with her apparition to St. Simon Stock, prior general of the Carmelite Order, late in the 13th century in England.  In this apparition, Our Lady gave St. Simon a scapular, a part of the religious habit, and promised him that whoever wears it until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance.  This gesture was extremely important and a later on it gave rise to perhaps one of the most popular Catholic devotions, the wearing of the Brown Scapular.  Even the beloved pope Bl. John Paul II has worn the Scapular of Carmel over his heart from youth.

History

The Carmelites started as a group of hermits who lived in caves on Mt. Carmel near the Fountain of Elijah early in the 13th century.  Inspired by the examples of the prophet Elijah and of Our Lady, their life was centered on prayer and on pondering the Holy Scriptures.  They took Our Lady as patroness and had the oratory near their caves where Holy Mass was celebrated dedicated to her.

However, when the Moors rose against the Christians in the Holy Land, the Carmelites fled to Europe.  Finding themselves away from Mt. Carmel, they found it very difficult to live the heremitical life in a fairly urbanized Europe.  So the Carmelites were faced with the difficult challenge to become friars in a foreign land while preserving their contemplative charism.

An external reflect of their challenges was also in their peculiarly striped habit.  Besides being an unusual characteristic, the materials used in its making were not readily available in Europe and were not appropriate for its temperate climate.  As the religious habit is part of the identity of the religious, it was not without anguish that the Carmelites had their habit changed to one using just one of the original colors, brown, made of wool.

Amidst these challenges was when Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock and confirmed the new habit by clothing him with the Brown Scapular and, in some representations, wearing herself the new habit of the Carmelites, further guaranteeing them her motherly protection.

By the end of the 13th century, the Carmelites had successfully transitioned to their new way of life in Europe and received official recognition as a religious order of friars from pope Innocent IV.  The Carmelites attributed this success to the patronage of Our Lady and they developed a great devotion to their habit as her special gift to them.

As the Carmelite Order grew in size and spread all over Europe, they shared their zeal for the Lord and their devotion to Our Lady with all who wanted to listen and by the 15th century the devotion to the Brown Scapular among the faithful was already popular.

Brown Scapular

Hermits at the Fountain of Elijah

The Brown Scapular is a sacramental, a sign that prepares us to receive God’s grace.  It has several aspects, but the most relevant is that it is a Marian sacramental.  As such, it inspires us to follow the example of Our Lady in being open to God, prayerful, attentive to the Word of God, and sensitive to the needs of others.

Another aspect is that the Brown Scapular is a piece of clothing.  More specifically, a religious habit, or, in a way, a habit in miniature. Therefore, one who wears it becomes associated with the Carmelite family.

But clothing is rich in biblical symbolism too.  We learn from the Holy Scriptures that when the mantle of Elijah fell on Elisha, he inherited the spiritual blessings of his master and when the Holy Spirit covered Mary, Jesus the Christ was conceived.

So all those who are inspired to follow Jesus by the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary find in being clothed with the Brown Scapular an excellent sign of their familiarity with her as mother, sister and model.  Moreover, just like our mothers clothed us, being clothed by our Heavenly Mother with her own habit has such a significance that needs no explanations.

Wearing the Brown Scapular is an excellent symbol of filial and grateful recognition to the mission that God willed to confide to Our Lady, a mystery of mercy.  In the words that Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity placed on Mary’s lips:

“I bring you a scapular as a sign of my blessing and my love and, at the same time, as a sign of the mystery which will be accomplished in you.  I come to fully clothe you in Jesus Christ so that you may be rooted in Him, the royal way, in the depths of the abyss, with the Father and the Spirit of love.”

Reference: Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

worn the Scapular of Carmel over my heart for a long time
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Jesus Was Led by the Spirit into the Desert

As the 40 days of Lent start, this period of penitence may come across as a gloomy period.  Certainly, penitence is not be enjoyed for its own sake, but it can be enjoyed in expectation for what lies on the other side of it.

Pillar of FireIn biblical literature, the Israelites often used numerals as figures of speech.  Therefore, when numerals appear in the Bible, they may oftentimes be understood as shorthand notations.  For example, the numeral 7 denotes perfection,  the numeral 40  denotes purification.

We read in the Gospels (e.g., Mat 4:1) that, after being baptized by St. John the Baptist, Jesus is led into the desert for a 40-day stay and is then tempted by the enemy.  A similar journey through the desert was made by Moses and it lasted 40 years.  The place may be the same, yet the time was different, but it is not important.  What is important is that the purpose of that period in the desert was the same: purification, as denoted by the numeral 40.  Moses had to be tested in the crucible for a pure faith.  Jesus had to be tested so that His followers would see that His faith was pure.

But perhaps the best known period of purification in the whole Bible was the time of the Exodus, when God led His people through Moses out of Egypt into the desert to the Promised Land.  This journey took, again, 40 years, to put the faith of Israel to the proof.  The Nile valley is not that far from Palestine, but God desired to purify  His people by taking Egypt out of them.

God understood that although life in Egypt was slavery, His people would still look back to it in the crucible of the desert.  For, though slavery, they were used to their abodes and livelihood.  The work was strenuous, but they would be fed, if only enough to be worked like beasts again on the next day.

But the God of Israel is the God of Mercy and He would not lead His people into the desert to die, but to leave behind an illusion of life, so that they could live.  God provided them with food that would fall down from heaven (Ex 16), with water that would flow out of a rock (Ex 17:6), with a pillar of cloud to guide them, a pillar of fire to give them light (Ex 13:21-2).  They were given the Commandments (Ex 20:1) to shape their hearts after God’s own heart.  And the people of Israel kept these things in the Ark (Heb 9:4), for even after getting to the Promised Land, they longed for that time in the desert, because God had never been so close to them again.  Or rather, they had never been so close to God, put everything into the hands of God and trusted in Him for all their needs, Who had never left their side

Jesus into the DesertJesus did the same, depending on the Father for everything.  In no other place is this made more clearly than in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:42), but the same attitude had already been demonstrated to the people in Galilee after His spending 40 days in the desert (Lk 4:14).

Today, the Church, guided by that same Spirit that led Jesus into the desert and that guided Moses, calls on the people of God to step into the desert as their ancestors and their Lord did.  We are asked to leave what we do not need in “Egypt” and to walk with the Lord as our pillar of light for 40 days.  Yet, it is still a walk through the “desert”, so we suffer from the privation of some needs as Our Lord did, trusting that the Father will provide.  We strive to trust in Him with our cares, for He takes every step with us.  And at the edge of the desert lies the Promised Land, the Resurrection of the Lord.

Father, You call us out of Egypt in this Lent so that we learn to live this life trusting in You.  Lead us from this Egypt to your Promised Land where death is defeated.  Be our light and give us the bread from Heaven all the days of our lives.  Amen.

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OCDS Profession

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Profession of
Evandro of the Good Shepherd
in the
Secular Order of
Discalced Carmelites

Sunday, April 18, 2010
at 11:00 in the Chapel

Cedarbrake Retreat Center
5602 N Hwy. 317, Belton, TX

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Please, pray that Our Lord grants me the graces to live out the Evangelical Counsels in the spirit of the Beatitudes as a son of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross.

Pax Christi,

Evandro Menezes

St. Albert of Jerusalem Presents the Rule to the Carmelites

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Lady Poverty

Detail of a triptych by Sano di PietroDetail of Gérard's 'St. Teresa'In the second chapter of St. Teresa of Avila’s “Way of Perfection”, she refers to how St. Clare of Assisi described the Evangelical counsel of Poverty as providing tall walls around a community.

I had never thought of the Evangelical Counsels as protection. Against what can they protect? Even today Our Lord recommended the young, rich man Poverty in order to tend towards perfection (Mt 19:21). Of course, Our Lord has never recommended anything that He Himself hadn’t embraced. However, as Jesus said, following His commandments already opens the doors of Heaven to us. Yet, He proposes something extra to be perfect. Although we are creatures, the Lord, Who is all-perfect, calls us to the same perfection, as Our “Father in Heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:48), to “be holy… for I AM holy” (Lv 19:2).

In striving to be more like Jesus, it seems that St. Clare climbed a mountain where the fowler would not lay his snares so easily. As though the Evangelical Counsels set up a perimeter that the enemy dares not trespass. According to Scripture, the enemy doesn’t want to have anything with Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Conversely, Jesus doesn’t want do have anything to do with the wealth of kingdoms, or with the lust of abundant food, or with tempting the Father (Mt 4). The Evangelical Counsels do raise a wall too tall for the enemy, as Jesus demonstrated.

But if the Evangelical Counsels perfect something, it has got to be the work of grace in us, the life in the Spirit through the infusion of the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity at Baptism. Since the exercise of these virtues are necessary and sufficient to enter Heaven, Jesus however calls us to live Faith perfectly through Obedience, Hope through Poverty, Charity through Chastity, just like He has done since ever.

When Jesus calls us to be like Him, it certainly is not something that we can do on our own. He Himself told the young man to follow Him after embracing Poverty, because in itself it is naught. The Lord will complete the work provided that we say “yes”: “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (Lk 1:38).

Jesus became man so that men can be made divine, to be welcome not only to God’s Kingdom, but before Him, face to face.

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My Lord and my God!

Detail of Caravaggio's 'Incredulity of St. Thomas'+JMJ+

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