Category: Spirituality

This Hermitage Speaks

Carlo Carretto was a Little Brother of Jesus, a religious community inspired by the life of Charles de Foucauld. With a poetic style, he also wrote several books that explored his desire to live a contemplative life in the world.

One of those books was about St. Francis of Assisi (I, Francis), and Carretto in fact died on the saint’s feast day (October 4) in 1988. What follows is an excerpt from the preface in which Carretto reflects on his time spent in a hermitage favored by St. Francis, a cave near the Italian town of Narni:

I sought out this hermitage because it is one of the special places of the Franciscan world, where the Saint sojourned on repeated occasions, and where all blends together in a perfect oneness. Forests, bare rock, the architecture, poverty, humility, simplicity, and beauty, all go together to form one of the masterpieces of the Franciscan spirit—an example to the centuries of peace, prayer, silence, ecology, beauty, and the human victory over the contradictions of time.

When we behold these hermitages, abodes of men and women of peace and prayer and joyous acceptance of poverty, we have the answer to the anguished conflicts that torment our civilization.

You see, these rocks say to us, peace is possible.

Do not seek for luxury when you build your houses, seek the essentials. Poverty will become beauty then, and liberating harmony—as you can see in this hermitage.

Do not destroy forests in order to build factories that swell the ranks of the unemployed and create unrest; help human beings to return to the countryside, to learn again to appreciate a truly well-turned object, to feel the joy of silence and of contact with earth and sky.

Do not hoard up money—inflation and greedy people lie in ambush for you; instead, leave the door of your heart open for a dialogue with your brother or sister, for service to the very poor.

Do not prostitute your labor fabricating things that last half a season, consuming what little raw material you have left; but make pails like the one you see here at this well—it has been drawing its water for centuries and is still in use.

The ill you speak of consumerism is a cover. You fill your mouth with words in order to stifle a bad conscience. Even as you speak, you are consumerism’s slaves, without any capacity for innovation and imagination.

And then . . .

Unburden yourselves of your fear of your brothers and sisters! Go out to meet them unarmed and meek. They are human beings too, just like you, and they need love and trust, even as you.

Do not be concerned with “what you are to eat and with what you are to drink” (Matt. 6:25); be calm, and you shall lack nothing. “Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and everything else will be given to you for good measure. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).

Assisi, the city of St. Francis.

Yes, this hermitage speaks. It speaks and says brotherly and sisterly love is possible.

It speaks and says that God is our Father, that creatures are our brothers and sisters, and that peace is joy.

All you have to do is will it. Try it, brothers and sisters, try it, and you will see that it is possible.

The Gospel is true.
Jesus is the Son of God, and saves humankind.

Nonviolence is more constructive than violence.
Chastity is more pleasurable than impurity.
Poverty is more exciting than wealth.

Try to think about it, sisters and brothers. What an extraordinary adventure lies here before us. If we put Francis’s project into execution we shall be escaping the atomic apocalypse.

Is it not always this way? God proposes peace.
Why not try it?

Called to Love, Called to Serve

The life of a Catholic nun or religious sister is a mystery to many people. Stereotypes abound, but as usual the reality is quite different. Even though some things change over time, the essentials do not: all that is good, true, and beautiful continues to exist.

If you are considering a religious vocation, or you would just like to know more about Catholic nuns today, check out some of these resources:

Light of Love gives viewers a look into the lives, suffering, and joys of religious life captured in a way like never before.”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIwJacw_Z3Y

Imagine Sisters is an organization that exists to expose the beauty of the religious life to a world desperately in need. We are so glad that you’re here, and we can’t wait to share stories of discernment, transformation, and faith.”
imaginesisters.org

Vision Vocation Network presents information on religious communities for both men and women. The site helps people considering a religious vocation to get in touch with the communities that best match their personal interests.
vocationnetwork.org/en/main

Catholics on Call supports Catholic young adults (ages 18-35) as they strive to discover God’s call in their lives, and explore the possibility of a life of service in the Church. A national vocation discovery program of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union, Catholics on Call is dedicated to helping young adults from diverse backgrounds explore a call to ministry in the Church and to learn about leadership roles as lay ecclesial ministers, men or women religious, or ministry as ordained deacons or priests.”
www.catholicsoncall.org

A Nun’s Life provides information about figuring out God’s call in your life. You’ll find articles, videos, and other resources on popular topics.
anunslife.org

Catholic Nuns Today: “What is your image of a Catholic Nun? We invite you to learn more about our active, faith-filled lives by reading our stories and frequently asked questions.”
catholicnunstoday.org

Giving Voice is a peer led organization that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life.”
giving-voice.org

Beloved is a film about the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. “This joyful, holy community radiates their love for Christ and neighbor, revealing in this compelling film what it means to live the consecrated life as both a contemplative and a teacher. They manifest to the world that religious life is all about love and joy, but a love that is different and unique. It is a love that is eternal.”
www.ignatius.com/Products/BND-M/beloved.aspx

The Lord’s Prayer

Sooner or later, most of us will be in a situation where we don’t know what to say. We might be caught off-guard, or there’s something about the circumstances we’re in, or the person we’re speaking with, that ties up our tongue. It happens to just about everyone.

Sometimes words fail us when we are trying to talk with someone very important to us, even someone we love very much. Our feelings are no guarantee of fluency. If people kept track of whenever this occurred, there’s probably one name that would be on every list: God.

Being able to communicate with our Creator is one of the gifts of being human. But even though He made us, and loves us, and is always with us, we don’t always know what to say to Him. Scripture records that even the disciples of Jesus had this difficulty. “Teach us to pray,” they asked Him. Jesus replied with the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

We know the words by heart; they are truly a God-send. The prayer begins with a declaration of faith (Our Father who art in heaven). The petitions that follow summarize the Gospel, instructing us in what we need to desire from God: sanctification through the Lord (hallowed be Thy Name), hope (Thy Kingdom come), humble obedience (Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), trust in providence (give us this day our daily bread), contrition (and forgive us our trespasses), charity (as we forgive those who trespass against us), conversion (lead us not into temptation), and submission to His saving power (but deliver us from evil). It is the perfect prayer, given for our sake.

Perhaps the most important word in the Lord’s Prayer is the first: our. This prayer tells us who God is, and also who we are. If God is our Father, then everyone else is our brother and sister. His Fatherhood eclipses the boundaries of nationality, economic status, and religion that we tend to impose on the world. Too often we forget that Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread,” not “Give me my daily bread.” We belong to each other.

We cannot ask God for what we need without praying for those who go without.

Lessons of Nazareth

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Nazareth is the village where Jesus grew up and lived with Mary and Joseph. For the Little Sisters, Nazareth represents an ideal for their spiritual lives.

In the Gospel of John, Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)

Yes, there is much good to be found in Nazareth. The ordinary life of the Holy Family can teach us things of great value.

Pope Paul VI visited Nazareth in 1964, and he beautifully described the lessons of Nazareth. Here is an excerpt:

“Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus: the school of the Gospel. Here we learn to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning, so deep and mysterious, this very simple, very humble and lovely manifestation of the Son of God. And gradually we may even learn to imitate Him… having obtained some brief lessons on Nazareth.

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this admirable and indispensable state of mind, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life.

“O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of silent prayer known by God alone.

The lesson of domestic life: may Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, a communion of love, composed of simplicity and genuine beauty, its character sacred and unassailable; may it teach us how sweet and irreplaceable is its guidance, how fundamental and incomparable its role in society.

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of ‘the carpenter’s son,’ we want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming value of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it.”

A Prayer for Holy Week

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The following was written by Rene Voillaume on Good Friday, 1948. It is part of his meditations on the “Way of the Cross.”

With the Cross, Christ Jesus, You have taken into Your charge the whole of mankind, with all the weight of its weaknesses and woes and sins and death. Such is Your love for us; such is Your obedience to Your Father.

To have accepted this suffering and this death was alone a mysterious and terrible agony, so great was the contradiction of it with the wholeness and purity of Your nature.

For us, it should be different. But, in the name of Your courage and in the name of Your love, we can only beg for the light by which to discern and face our cross, the cross prepared for us by You, the cross You have fitted to each one’s very being, woven into the fabric and movement of each of our lives.

Teach us to see it as an instrument of redemption, and show us how to take hold of it.


Rene Voillaume (1905-2003) was one of the first disciples of Charles de Foucauld. In 1933, with four companions he founded the Little Brothers of Jesus.

The picture shows Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the traditional path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. Sister and members of her community made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1985.

The Baby Jesus is Still Hidden

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Christmas today has something in common with the very first one: the baby Jesus is still hidden.

We all know why the “reason for the season” gets forgotten in our day and age: the birth of Christ has become, if you’ll excuse us, a God-send for fourth quarter profits. The modern situation is so odd; we celebrate a birthday where the guest of honor is kept out of sight and we drive ourselves silly with the preparation. Yet underneath the hustle and bustle, the stress and fatigue, the crowded stores, gift wrap, and credit card bills, Jesus is there, waiting.

If Jesus is hidden today because of our blindness, two thousand years ago it was by God’s design. In the dead of night when Christ was born, no one in Bethlehem knew that the most important event in human history was occurring, except for Mary and Joseph. After the angels broke the silence, the shepherds found the Infant in a stable, but Jesus remained hidden — hidden in the ordinary — for the next thirty years of His life.

How many people in Nazareth saw Jesus, spoke with Him, heard His voice, ate with Him, laughed with Him, and never knew they stood shoulder to shoulder with the Son of God?

The mystery of His hiddenness continues to the present day. Our Lord gives us His assurance in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew:

I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, a stranger and you welcomed Me, naked and you clothed Me, ill and you cared for Me, in prison and you visited Me. . . . Whatever you did for those who count for little, you did for Me.

This is truly a mystery and cannot be explained fully, but in the hiddenness of Jesus we see the intimate love He has for the human family. We also learn about humility and trust, how to be generous in living for others, and the inherent dignity of every human being. Not least of all, we learn how to love God. It isn’t something we do from afar.

Bethlehem reveals the special love Jesus has for the poor. The abode of the King of Kings was a stable, His bed was a manger filled with straw. The hardships of poverty were not foreign to Him.

Is there a better way to honor the importance of Christmas than to reach out to those in need?

Praying With Five Fingers

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Through his ministry as shepherd and teacher, Pope Francis is presenting the Gospel with simplicity without sacrificing its depth. His words let the truth shine. His actions also speak clearly about the importance of humility.

While serving as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he taught a “simple” method of prayer to children. It’s easy to remember since it uses the five fingers of the hand. It’s also not just for children.

Using the fingers on your hand, start with the thumb and pray these intentions in this order:

1.) The thumb is the closest finger to you. So start praying for those who are closest to you. They are the persons easiest to remember. To pray for our dear ones is a “sweet obligation.”

2.) The next finger is the index. Pray for those who teach you, instruct you and heal you. They need the support and wisdom to show direction to others. Always keep them in your prayers.

3.) The following finger is the tallest. It reminds us of our leaders, the governors and those who have authority. They need God’s guidance.

4.) The fourth finger is the ring finger. Even though it may surprise you, it is our weakest finger. It should remind us to pray for the weakest, the sick or those plagued by problems. They need your prayers.

5.) And finally we have our smallest finger, the smallest of all. Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. When you are done praying for the other four groups, you will be able to see your own needs but in the proper perspective, and also you will be able to pray for your own needs in a better way.

The text for this prayer comes from the Catholic University of America website: www.cua.edu

Be At Leisure, And Know That I Am God

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In the economic world of today, “9 to 5” is being replaced with “24/7.” More and more people feel as if they are always “on the clock.” In fact, because of smartphones, they are discovering they can’t leave work when they go home. There’s no downtime, no freedom from an electronic distraction, no chance to just be.

This is one aspect of living in the age of machines. It also changes our mindset. The standards of function and profit are no longer applied to work alone. “What does this do for me? What do I get out of it?” are questions people ask of everything. They’re asked even of other people.

“One does not work to live, one lives to work,” goes the famous quote by Max Weber, the German philosopher of capitalism. That’s the rule of modern life, a rule that is very limiting.

There is an escape from the confinement of work: it is the idea of leisure, a word that is often misunderstood. Being at leisure is not the same as “killing time” or engaging in a hobby. Rather, true leisure shares an affinity with contemplative prayer. It requires us to step away from the daily pressures and obligations of work and all that is utilitarian. We need to slow down and open ourselves in a receptive way to reality, to creation, to that which God said, “It is good.”

To be at leisure means to join God in this affirmation. Leisure refreshes bodies that are tired and relieves senses that are over-stimulated. In its deepest sense, leisure is sacred time. We “waste” time with God instead of using it for a more “practical” purpose. Perhaps leisure can be described as that which exists for its own sake, that “something else” which makes life worth living and preserves our humanity. True leisure is akin to art.

The frantic pace of modern life threatens the existence of leisure. Many confuse it with the relentless pursuit of entertainment, others feel guilty when they make time for it. But leisure is more than an escape from work: it is a sanctuary for preserving the values of being human.

What follows is an excerpt from an excellent little book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. It was written by Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century philosopher in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Pieper describes leisure as a mental and spiritual attitude, characterized by non-activity and inward calm. Leisure means to not be busy, but to let things happen. It is a form of silence which is a prerequisite for the apprehension of reality. Only the silent hear. In a world of total labor, this contemplative attitude gets crowded out. With it goes the foundation for an inspired and life-giving culture.

His book is worth reading to digest the fullness of his message. Pieper can inspire us to heed the divine call that nourishes our lives: “Be at leisure, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11).

From the 1952 edition published by Pantheon Books, New York:

“Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude – it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a week-end or a vacation. It is, in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul, and as such utterly contrary to the ideal of ‘worker’ in each and every one of the three aspects under which it was analyzed: work as activity, as toil, as a social function.

“Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies in the first place an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being ‘busy,’ but letting things happen.

“Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence, as it is used in this context, does not mean ‘dumbness’ or ‘noiselessness:’ it means more nearly that the soul’s power to ‘answer’ to the reality of the world is left undisturbed. For leisure is a receptive attitude of the mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.

“Furthermore, there is also a serenity in leisure. That serenity springs precisely from our inability to understand, from our recognition of the mysterious nature of the universe; it springs from the courage of deep confidence, so that we are content to let things take their course; and there is something about it which Konrad Weiss, the poet, called ‘confidence in the fragmentariness of life and history’….

“Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who let the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves – almost like a man falling asleep, for one can only fall asleep by ‘letting oneself go.’

“Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are related to one another in a special sense, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man asleep. When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep. Or as the Book of Job says, ‘God giveth songs in the night’ (Job 35:10). Moreover, it has always been a pious belief that God sends His good gifts and His blessings in sleep. And in the same way His great, imperishable intuitions visit a man in his moments of leisure.

“It is in these silent and receptive moments that the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together, only for a moment perhaps….

“Leisure appears in its character as an attitude of contemplative ‘celebration,’ a word that, properly understood, goes to the very heart of what we mean by leisure. Leisure is possible only on the premise that man consents to his own true nature and abides in concord with the meaning of the universe (whereas idleness, we have said, is the refusal of such consent). Leisure draws its vitality from affirmation. It is not the same as non-activity, nor is it identical with tranquility; it is not even the same as inward tranquility. Rather, it is like the tranquil silence of lovers, which draws it strength from concord….

“And we may read in the first chapter of Genesis that God ‘ended His work which He had made’ and ‘behold, it was very good.’ In leisure, man too celebrates the end of his work by allowing his inner eye to dwell for a while upon the reality of the Creation. He looks and affirms: it is good.

“Now, the highest form of affirmation is the festival… To hold a celebration means to affirm the basic meaningfulness of the universe and a sense of oneness with it, of inclusion within it. In celebrating, in holding festivals upon occasion, man experiences the world in an aspect other than the everyday one.

“The festival is the origin of leisure, and the inward and ever-present meaning of leisure. And because leisure is thus by its nature a celebration, it is more than effortless; it is the direct opposite of effort.

“Because Wholeness is what man strives for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the fundamental powers of the human soul. Like the gift for contemplative absorption in the things that are, and like the capacity of the spirit to soar in festive celebration, the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work.

“Only in genuine leisure does a ‘gate to freedom’ open. Through that gate man may escape from the ‘restricted area’ of that ‘latent anxiety’ which a keen observer has perceived to be the mark of the world of work, where ‘work and unemployment are the two inescapable poles of existence.’”

Pieper, Josef. Leisure: The Basis of Culture. New York: Pantheon Books, 1952.

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