Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Poet and Contemplative

“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).

In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.

I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.

~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

God's Desire

This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
     hallowed be your name,
     your kingdom come,
     your will be done,
     on earth as in heaven…
Mt. 6:9-10

As a student at the University of Illinois, like most others I used to go home for the weekend every so often.   For me, though, that meant only an hour’s ride by bus across the cornfields of the Illinois prairie.  It would be late Friday afternoon.  I’d be cruising along, quietly ensconced in my seat on the bus, looking out the window.  Usually the sun would be sinking in the West, the sky softening as night drew near streaked with the varied reds of sunset.  And all around, of course, was the far expanse of the prairie.
Gliding along, gazing out the window of the bus, feeling almost as though suspended in time, I’d sometimes feel, if only for a brief moment, as if something truly wonderful or miraculous, something world-redeeming or revelatory, were about to happen—and I were set to be its witness.  Of course, nothing ever did, except maybe the desire itself.  But that in itself was wonderful enough—a moment charged with such expectancy and longing.
As I think back on such moments, and others like them, from my vantage point today, I believe God was teaching me through these moments how to pray.  Of course, the 

moments were not, in themselves, prayer, at least not explicitly.  But by them God was, nonetheless, softening the earth of my soul, readying it for prayer.  And when, through the gift of His Word awakening my understanding, God began to rain down a clearer, more defined awareness of Himself—doing so through preaching, church life and practice, the example of other people, my participation in Eucharist—then it become easy to see whom and what I had, through all these years, been longing for.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  It was that final, full Sabbath of God’s goodness, of his love and peace, celebrated by all creation, there where we shall at last be able to truly keep holy the Father’s name—this was that something wonderful and miraculous, world-redeeming and revelatory, that seemed just about to happen, although delayed once more, but happening, nonetheless, in my desire for it.
And so by God’s help we learn inwardly how to pray, not by a multiplication of words, but to pray by means of a longing that is also a way of paying quiet, loving attention to the one who knows our needs even before we ask—indeed, who has what we might call a”grand plan” for each and all of us.  We learn to pray, that is, by means of a longing that is also a way of waiting expectantly upon God as though upon something or someone wonderful and miraculous, world-redeeming and revelatory just about to happen. 
We wait, in other words, that His Will be done upon earth.  We learn to pray as though standing upon the verge of God’s kingdom, where we can let God’s desire for that kingdom take root in our lives and bear fruit in time.
We all undoubtedly have our own stories of such moments in our lives where, it is clear to us now, God was there teaching us how to pray—softening the earth, readying the soil.  And when, with the gift of further formation in God’s Word, God implants His desire in our hearts, then, as though from a wellspring, He can began to bring forth that fruit of grace He has instilled in us through prayer.
It is the fruit of His Will being done upon earth whenever we are true to our truest selves and deepest longings.  After all, without such an inner teaching from God’s Holy Spirit, the OurFather is itself just a multiplication of words.  But our Lord has given it to us to be a Word that speaks his desire for us. Thus, He catches up our own deepest longing for Him and makes of it true prayer.

Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD

God’s Time

Image by GK von Skoddeheimen from Pixabay

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
Eccl. 3:4, 6-8

Time is not just a ticking off of uniform moments, one after another, each no different than the other.  Rather, time’s passage brings forth out of its varied moments the moment that has just now come to be—in which opportunities have grown ripe, or insights have crystallized, where calls to action have rallied forth and grabbed hold of our determination, or the surfacing of realistic hopes, or freakish, unimagined turns-of-events, or suddenly materialized positive circumstances—all of which seem exquisitely timed—have imposed themselves on our receptive hearts as nothing less than the workings of divine grace.  It is the moment, therefore, where choices emerge that must be made right now, for to delay another moment would be a failure of will to correspond with grace.

Time, in this sense, passes more like the notes of a melody than numbers on a timeline.  We must listen hard to hear the melody and stay in tune; but when we come to the last note, we have not the Endwe have the Song

For there is “a time to weep, and a time to laughter.”  You would think that most of us would have little trouble recognizing such moments when they come.  To weep when we feel like weeping, to laugh when we are glad.  But we know it’s not so easy as that.  We know how hard it is for us to learn how to weep, in a way that is natural and fitting, real and honest; and, by the same token, to learn how to laugh and rejoice when the heart is full and glad.  Moreover, there are moments ripe for weeping or for laughing even harder to recognize—namely, moments in which we are called to set our own selves aside and share in another’s joy or sorrow.  But how often we are out of joint with such moments when they present themselves to us.

And there is “a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast a way.”  Are there ever moments in life when it’s no longer proper or fitting to go on seeking, to persist in seeking—for aren’t we all always called to seek; aren’t we all always called to be seekers along life’s pilgrim way?  Of course, when precisely the one thing being asked of us is to stop, step aside, and acknowledge the fact that we have received, speaking in our hearts of what we have been given with words of gratitude and joy.

Thus, we repeatedly acknowledge that our lives themselves and the gifts that fill them as from God’s hand—and we simply accept that fact for what it is.  They are precious gifts because they hold within them God the Giver, and God asks us to stop and cherish, to keep his gifts from time to time, so that we might thus cherish the Giver.

Of course, later will come the moment to cast God’s gifts away, so to speak, to cast them behind us.  Or there will come the moment in which these gifts will be taken away from us, the moment of loss.  But when that time comes, it will be because God is only continuing to ask us to cherish the Giver in his gifts—only now by casting off his old gifts so as to seek new gifts from the Giver.

“A time to love, and a time to hate.”  I’m not sure what “a time to hate” might look like.  How do we recognize it when it arrives?  Maybe it looks like this—

We can know that a time to hate has arrived and grown ripe in our hearts when we also know—in our heart of hearts—that now, more than ever, at this very moment, it is the time to begin really, truly to love, the time when it is especially difficult to choose love over hate.

“A time to be silent, and a time to speak.”  Since God has made everything appropriate to its time, we are called by this timeliness, when it is necessary, to speak—in prayer or meditation or spiritual direction or prayer-journaling or personal reflection; for then we can better attend to, by our efforts to name them, those moments of light and grace, of blessing or crisis, which the Spirit has breathed into our lives.

Yet, since God has put the timeless into our hearts, there are also those moments in prayer, meditation, perhaps even in spiritual direction, journaling, reflection, when it is best to keep silence.  Or maybe it’s better put this way—there are moments when it is best to fall silent.

We strive to speak in prayer, for example, if only to speak the one word “Lord.”  And then, failing that, we fall silent.  And our silence itself names the moment.  It’s not the silence of one who has nothing to say; it’s the silence of one who knows that now is the time to keep silence.

Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD


God's Righteousness

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I.  Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless.  [But] whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.  More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Phil 3:4b-11

What Jesus first gave us in his preaching, especially in many of his parables, he gave us again—exemplified, accomplished, fulfilled—in the conversion of St. Paul.  What was first given in the gentle light of our Lord’s invitation to see and be converted, with Paul is given fully, blindingly, in the light of the Cross and Resurrection.
It is the invitation of God’s Kingdom—(1) the invitation to see our nothingness for what it often truly is, our attempted self-righteousness; and then (2) to be converted to God’s saving love and grace, to God’s righteousness.  And this invitation Jesus has accomplished in Paul, fully, radically, blindingly, with the power of his Cross and Resurrection.
The Cross has revealed our human righteousness as being so much self-righteousness—laying bare its deepest root, and exposing it as not so much true righteousness but as a claim to a divine prerogative, even a sacred duty, to despise and curse and cast out, to prosecute and, if need be, execute, those who are deemed our moral, social, political, religious enemies—that is, all the sinners and law-breakers, the evildoers, the blasphemers, all the guilty, all the others.
The Resurrection, in its turn, has revealed God’s righteousness as being, namely, the power of His love and mercy and grace, the power His kingdom, shining out from the eyes of the others, the potential victims of our self-righteousness.  On their lips the Resurrection speaks the Lord’s simple plea, the one He made to Paul on the road to Damascus, speaks it as being God’s own plea—“Why, Saul, are you persecuting me?”

And so, Paul was converted from one “breathing murderous threats” and armed with letters authorizing him to seek out and round up and arraign for just punishment these latest enemies of God’s Law and People (see Acts 9:1-2)—converted to one who would later write the church in Philippi:  “As to righteousness under the Law, I was blameless … but for the sake of Christ I have suffered the loss of all things… not having any righteousness of my own, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God.”
Maybe it is in this sense (at last in part) that Paul’s conversion can be canonical and apostolic for us.  Paul was not converted from Judaism to Christianity as though from one religion to another.  He was converted from his own sense of righteousness to a vision of those who are victims of his righteousness—and then to the invitation of Christ, given in that vision, to share, together with these victims, in God’s own righteousness.
Of course, God’s righteousness is not one of superiority, of purity, of exclusion, of merit, of perfection, all measured out against God’s purported enemies.  God’s is a righteousness found in acts and attitudes that lead to forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, communion, a commitment to hope and peace, to a life-giving, unremitting love of all others.
And so, for the Christian, we too must be converted from our own righteousness to this righteousness from God.  And, like Paul, perhaps we able to see the offer of that righteousness from God most clearly, most blindingly, when we look into the eyes of the victims of our self-righteousness and hear in them our Lord’s plea—“Why are you persecuting me?”

Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

Refelctions on Holy Week – Part 4 of 4

Image by Joseph Redfield Nino from Pixabay

     And so Jesus, raised from the dead, is present here among us bodily—working, acting, giving of himself, handing himself over for the sake of his cause, uniting himself in communion with us for the sake of coming of the Father’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”  But, having been raised from the dead, he is here, yes, in this way—he is here among us bodily—but he is here bodily from the other side of death.  That’s the fundamental affirmation.  Then, to explain what we mean by the other side of death, we can use whatever resurrection story we wish, although some are more canonical than others.

    He’s here among us from the other side of that question which death puts to us in our bodily existence—namely, will I collapse at death into utter physical isolation and abandonment, or will I pass through and beyond death into a new communion with others and with God?

    Or he’s here among us from the other side of a surrender to death—indeed, to a shameful, torturous death—which is really a surrender to others, namely, to the Father and his kingdom, present and coming.

    He’s here, we might say, in the power of the Father’s divine Yes to this surrender.  For Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, that which he lived and died for, the Father’s kingdom, has already come “on earth as it is in heaven.”

    Jesus is here for any who would likewise join themselves to this bodily presence of his enduring life’s work, cause, and person.  And he is here for any who would unite themselves in communion with others for the sake of his presence among us.  He is here for us, for all of us together, from the other side of death—which is to say, in the power of the Father’s divine Yes.

    Jesus becomes, therefore, our own personal yes, only as given, received, and returned, all from the other side of death—“from beyond the veil.”  Thus, throughout our lives we can withstand any and every confrontation we might have with the potentially devastating question of death—For whom/what have I lived, with a faith, hope, and love that transcends my isolated, autonomous, atomistic life and connects me with what endures, with what is true and good, human and divine?

    Inasmuch as I sincerely try to live for Jesus and for what he lived for, living on this side of death, I can hear and know him present to me bodily from the other side of death.  That’s what happened to body of Jesus.

    Jesus of Nazareth, once present among us, who lived for his cause, the Father’s kingdom, and died for it, has now become Lord of it, the very embodiment of it.  Such is the power of resurrection, of the Father’s divine Yes both to Jesus and to us in our communion together with him.

Written by Fr. Bonaventure, OCD
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