The Trinity with Brother Charles

As we journey deeper and deeper into God, we become more and more aware of his presence in everything that is good and in all the opportunities to turn evil things on their head, we become more and more aware of his presence in other people, and we grow in our lived experience of God as a Trinity of Persons.

That is the Christian mystery that is at the centre of all the other great Christian mysteries: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will come to learn this more and more and see that God is a communion, a unity, and Love.

Some Catholics tend to have devotion that focuses more on Jesus, more on the Father, or more on the work of the Holy Spirit. And that’s OK. But then again, many Catholics have a very Trinitarian spirituality. This is spirituality that appeals more to me, personally. When I think of spirituality focuses on the whole Trinity, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity comes to mind, of course (she is even quoted in the Catechism to this effect).

Another saint with Trinitarian spirituality is Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

Charles de FoucauldBrother Charles is perhaps best remembered for his Jesus-centred thinking: “I should carry on in myself the life of Jesus: think his thoughts, repeat his words, his actions. May it be he that lives in me.” It is a very real part of his way of living his faith. He meditates constantly on the Gospels. He loves to adore Jesus in the Eucharist. He must become as Jesus so that Jesus can be taken to those who need his divine care and love.

But the spirituality of Charles is not only Jesus-centred. He was also conscious of the presence of an all-powerful Father. In one of his meditations he wrote down these words:

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

And nowadays, those who are inspired by Charles’ example perhaps know this passage of his writing best. It is writing about the Father who governs all by his providence and to whom we can run like a little child.

In addition, Brother Charles himself prayed the Veni Creator, a hymn to the Holy Spirit, daily. He implored the Creator Spirit to come, bestow his sevenfold Gift (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Piety, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord) on us and guide us in ways beyond our conscious understanding and apprehension:

Come Holy Spirit, creator, come
from your bright heavenly throne,
come take possession of our souls
and make them all your own.

You who are called Paraclete
blest gift of God above,
the living spring, the living fire,
sweet unction and true love.

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
finger of God’s right hand;
his promise, teaching little ones
to speak and understand.

O guide our minds with your blest light,
with love our hearts inflame;
and with strength, which never decays,
confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our deadly foe;
true peace unto us bring;
and through all perils, lead us safe
beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know;
through you the eternal Son,
and you the Spirit of them both,
thrice-blessed Three in One.

All glory to the Father be,
with his co-equal Son:
the same to You great Paraclete,
while endless ages run.
Amen.

So here, with brother Charles, we have an example of Trinitarian spirituality, with no clear focus on any one Person of the most Holy Trinity. We can emulate this example, if we wish, by praying the Prayer of Abandonment and the Veni Creator, combined with a meditative reading of the Gospels or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. In such an approach we would invite communion with each of the Three Persons individually and together.

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Novena for Brother Charles of Jesus

Charles and friend

23 November is eight days from 1 December, the feast day of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. This means that a novena for Brother Charles, contemplative in the world who wanted to “see Jesus in all people”, could begin today. At least it’s a reasonable day to do so.

Just a suggestion or a notice! For my part, I think this is a wonderful way to grow in the desire to be a contemplative in the mud.

How Did Mary Pray at the Wedding at Cana?

The Wedding at Cana: mural at the Chapel of Father Ray at the Redemptorist Center in Pattaya, Thailand

The Wedding at Cana: mural at the Chapel of Father Ray at the Redemptorist Center in Pattaya, Thailand

How did the Blessed Virgin pray to her Son at the wedding at Cana in Galilee?

She said, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3).

The Gospel doesn’t tell us what she asked Jesus to do. Actually, the Gospel rather neatly implies that she didn’t ask him to do anything. Nothing specific. No specific requests. No ideas on what the world needs. She simply and directly related the situation. She put herself in the presence of Jesus and told him, as he must already have known in both his divinity and in his blessed humanity, what the situation was. In this, she showed that it concerned her, and that she trusted Jesus.

Then she made sure both she and everyone else had done everything possible to prepare themselves for her Son’s decision: “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to the servants (Jn 2:5).

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Isn’t this a “method” of prayer? And, I dare say, isn’t it a very contemplative “method” of prayer?

  • Jesus, this is what is happening.
  • Jesus, I am ready.
  • Jesus, with your divine help, I will take each opportunity to be ready; please come to my assistance for the sake of my neighbours.

We are allowed to ask for something specific; the Gospel is clear about that. But if we trust and just lay it in God’s hands, like Mary at Cana, that is prayer, too.

What does this have to do with everyday life?

  • I can’t always imagine going to the tabernacle and telling Jesus what he needs to do. Some days, it’s just inconceivable to me. How could I tell him? He is God. God knows what he permits. I don’t. There is a certain silence this entails on our part.
  • But I can very much imagine going to the tabernacle and telling Jesus how the world is, talking to him simply and directly about the way things are, what problems there are, what someone’s life appears to be like and what is hurting their heart and body; telling him what I know; resting in him, being present with him, becoming ready; and going out to make sure everything is prepared for whatever decision Jesus makes. That sounds like prayer! Prayer that suffers with our neighbours and contemplates Jesus; prayer like Mary’s.

I think we can practise prayer the way that Mary did at Cana. It seems fitting (เหมาะสม) for anywhere and everywhere. But isn’t it especially fitting for silent, contemplative prayer before the very Humanity of Jesus? Simply and directly say, without a loss of confidence and without deviating our heart from Jesus, “They have no wine.”

A “Method” of Prayer for (Busy) Contemplatives

There is one “method” of contemplative prayer that I like very much.

To be strictly true, any method implies a discursive or measured use of our thoughts, our reason, and so on. So it’s better to say that it relates to meditation, not contemplation.

Brother CharlesBut as far as methods go, there’s one that throws itself straight at contemplation. I picked it up from Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who seems to have “invented” it. Brother Charles was a great reader of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross. As much as he loved to meditate on the Gospels, he placed the right value on talking with Jesus, on contemplation, on love. He put that first. For Charles, all methods, all meditations, came second.

Blessed Charles’ method is like this.

  1. “Jesus, what do you want to say to me? … [listen] …”
  2. “This is what I want to say to you, Jesus: … [form thoughts] …”
  3. Gaze on the Beloved in silence.

So, you see, it is a “method”. But it’s really just a preparation to empty our heads – and get close enough to, and be open enough with, Jesus – to hold a contemplative gaze on him, to be with him, to enter into contemplative communion, to suffering things divine.

The best part is, it is brief. It requires little mental exertion. When we’re fatigued, it works just as well as when we’re of good body and mind. It can be practised on the street, on the bus, in the middle of a busy workload, in a short pause between tasks at work, at home, doing the dishes, during regular prayer – practically anywhere and practically any time. Why? Because, although it has a particular structure and thus relates in some way to meditation, its true heart and purpose is to thrown us back into contemplative silence.

I like this “method” very much.

All-Powerful God, Make Me a Saint!

Alphonsus LiguoriToday is the feast of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of Prayer. This is one of my favourite prayers from this saint who was a teacher (doctor) of prayer:

O God, you are all-powerful; make me a saint!

The saints were not passive in the sense of resigned to being or living with the muck that we are born with. They wanted to be cleaned up. They knew it took God’s all-powerfulness to do it. They asked for it, no matter what it took and how much it hurt and how much it may have seemed to strip them of their own senses and their own will (only to gain them of course). But God can do all this! It’s beyond us. But with God, sanctity is possible. This is confidence:

O God, you are all-powerful; make me a saint!

Veni Creator Spiritus

Pentecost: mural on a lane in Sampran, Thailand

Pentecost: mural on a lane in Sampran, Thailand

My conversion to Catholicism, like all conversions, did not follow any typical model and was full of surprises. Prayers I learned in funny orders. Saints I discovered the “wrong” way ’round.

Just months after the beatification of Charles de Foucauld, my conversion to Catholicism began. I accepted the idea of converting and within weeks found myself absorbing the new blessed (I didn’t even know he had been beatified). I learned the Veni Creator prayer in learning about Charles de Foucauld. He would pray it everyday. I came to like it even more because, aside from being an invocation of the Holy Spirit, it speaks specifically about the seven Gifts, without which I’m nothing.

Come Holy Spirit, creator, come
from your bright heavenly throne,
come take possession of our souls
and make them all your own.

You who are called Paraclete
blest gift of God above,
the living spring, the living fire,
sweet unction and true love.

You who are sevenfold in your grace,
finger of God’s right hand;
his promise, teaching little ones
to speak and understand.

O guide our minds with your blest light,
with love our hearts inflame;
and with strength, which never decays,
confirm our mortal frame.

Far from us drive our deadly foe;
true peace unto us bring;
and through all perils, lead us safe
beneath your sacred wing.

Through you may we the Father know;
through you the eternal Son,
and you the Spirit of them both,
thrice-blessed Three in One.

All glory to the Father be,
with his co-equal Son:
the same to You great Paraclete,
while endless ages run.
Amen.