Religion

Magnificat, a Magnificent Help

(Pixabay)
We’re not without help in these trying times.

The magazine I most love that I have never written for fits comfortably in the human hand and feeds the hungry soul. It’s Magnificat, a monthly devotional that includes the Scripture readings of the day for the Catholic Mass, abbreviated morning and evening prayers (based on the Liturgy of the Hours, the continuous prayer of the Church — that of priests, religious, and consecrated, and of laypeople who choose to participate). It’s been edited for the last twenty years — its life thus far —by Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., a playwright with, I’ve often thought, some beautiful mystical gifts. At the end of the year his editorship transfers to his talented younger (as he moves on to help with the formation of Millennial missionaries at a dynamic ministry called Hard as Nails) brother Father Sebastian White, O.P., also a Dominican priest, who most recently served as the Catholic chaplain at the vibrant New York University campus ministry. Magnificat was founded in the 1990s by French publisher Pierre-Marie Dumont, and for 20 years I’ve loved and have occasionally benefited from and been around some of its people and projects, but this month it packs a particular punch. The October issue could be a retreat guide for the entire Catholic Church. In the interest of sharing the gifts, I offer a few samples for you to enjoy.

Thursday on the liturgical calendar was the memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi. Magnificat included this meditation from the French writer Georges Bernanos:

Whoever pretends to reform the Church with . . . the same means used to reform temporal society — not only will he fail in his undertaking, but he will infallibly end by finding himself outside the Church. I say that he finds himself outside the Church before anyone has gone to the trouble of excluding him from her. I say that it is he himself who excludes himself from her by a kind of tragic fatalism. . . .

The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her. The only way of reforming the visible Church is to suffer for the invisible Church. The only way of reforming the vices of the Church is to lavish on her the example of one’s own most heroic virtues.

It’s quite possible that Saint Francis of Assisi was not any less thrown into revolt than Luther by the debauchery and simony of prelates. We can even be sure that his suffering on this account was fiercer, because his nature was very different from that of the monk of Wittenberg. But Francis did not challenge iniquity; he was not tempted to confront it; instead, he threw himself into poverty, immersing himself in it as deeply as possible along with his followers. He found in poverty the very source and wellspring of all absolution and all purity. Instead of attempting to snatch from the Church all her ill-gotten goods, he overwhelmed her with invisible treasures, and under the hand of this beggar the heaps of gold and lust began blossoming like an April hedge.

Ah, yes: I’m well aware that in these matters comparisons aren’t worth much, especially when seasoned with a little humor. Would you still allow me to say, however, in order to be better understood by some readers, that what the Church needs is not critics but artists? . . . When poetry is in full crisis, the important thing is not to point the finger at bad poets but oneself to write beautiful poems, thus unstopping the sacred springs.

Do you see how every bishop could afford to meditate on that? Can you see how we all could? Beauty will save us yet. Be creative with the truth, but always be wedded to it, and not adding to the confusion.

This past Friday was the day the Church remembers the life of Saint Faustina, the Polish nun whose Divine Mercy devotion was popularized by Saint Pope John Paul II. It includes this:

Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.

True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.

Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears, and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.

I thank you, Jesus, you who first drank the cup of bitterness before you gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of your holy will. Let all be done according to your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In you, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank you, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon you, O incomprehensible God! . . .

O Uncreated Beauty, whoever comes to know you once cannot love anything else. I can feel the bottomless abyss of my soul, and nothing will fill it but God himself. I feel that I am drowned in him like a single grain of sand in a bottomless ocean.

At this time of such misery in our politics and the Church and our lives and the world, see how this, with its brutal honesty, can help with context and meaning?

This coming Monday’s Magnificat has this from the letters of Saint Catherine of Siena:

But let’s beware of putting the sword of hatred and love God has given us into our enemy’s hands. For then the armature would do us little good, because it would become weak precisely where it is strong now. I know well that neither the devil nor anyone else can ever kill me except with my own sword, with the very sword I use to kill him. If I surrender it to him, he will kill me.

What kills sin and vice? Only hatred and love — the contempt I have conceived for sin, and the love I have conceived for virtue for God’s sake. Should the devil and sensuality want to change this hatred and love around, so that you would hate the things that are in God and love your sensuality which is always rebelling against him (and this is what the devil wants), he could not do it unless the strong arm of your will gave him a helping hand. And if you gave it to him, he would kill you with your own sword. You have to see, then, how displeasing to God this would be, and how harmful to us. . . .

We surely have cause to rejoice, because this gentle Son of Mary, God’s Only Begotten Son, has weakened and sickened every enemy of ours. The devil is so weakened that he can no longer hold sway over us: he has lost his dominion. Our flesh, taken on by God’s Son, was scourged with disgrace, torments, scorn, and insults; so the sight of his flesh should quickly make us loosen our hold on our rebelliousness. Human praise or abuse or anything else will seem like nothing when we set them before the gentle Jesus, who let neither abuse nor flattery nor our thanklessness keep him from doing what he was commanded to do for God’s honor and our salvation. So desire and love for God’s honor hurled worldly honor to the ground.

Run, then, along this same path!

Not unrelated to this, later in the month this, from the (extraordinary) Armenian monk Saint Gregory of Narek, appears:

I, breathing dust, have grown haughty.
I, talking clay, have become presumptuous.
I, filthy dirt, have grown proud.
I, disgusting ashes, have risen up,
raising my hands with my broken cup, strutting
like a swaggering peacock, but then
curling back into myself, as if rejected,
my speaking slime glowing with anger.
I grew arrogant, as if I were immortal,
I, who face the same death as the four-legged creatures.
I embraced the love of pleasure
and instead of facing you, turned my back.
In flights of fancy I darted into lurid thought.
Indulging my body I wore out my soul.
In strengthening the sinister side

I weakened the force of my right side.
I saw your concern for me, too deep for words,
and paid no heed. . . .

And again, O compassionate Lord, who loves mankind,
almighty God, as you consider these words of pleading,
treat them as a confession from a contrite soul
fallen at your feet in repentance.
And as you judge, note and weigh
the tearful soul, the heaving sighs,
the quivering lips, the dry tongue,
the clenched face, the good will in the depth of the heart,
you who are the salvation of humanity,
the seer of the undone, the creator of all,
the healer of invisible wounds,
the defender of the hopeful and the guardian of all,
to you glory forever and ever.

Amen.

At a time of such terrible pride and arrogance, what a penitential and hopeful read. These are the kind of prompts that can help us become more humble and truthful and clinging to God. These are blessings. Magnificat is a blessing.

There are other meditations, from the Jesuit North American martyr Saint Isaac Jogues, Saint John of Ávila, and Flemish mystic Blessed John of Ruysbroeck, among many others. But you get an idea — and a helpful taste, I hope and pray. Elsewhere I’ve written with gratitude about how the Liturgy of the Hours is a great gift — a survival guide, even — for these times. Thanks be to God for things that help. Thanks be to God for wisdom. Thanks be to God we are not alone in the challenges that we face daily — most important, in our own encounters with one another every day. Pray for the people who have had anything to do with Magnificat over these two decades and to come. Pray for anyone who helps in these trying times with growth in love and humility and courage. And, as I’ve done a few times, learning from smart and generous friends who do the same, think about subscribing for yourself and a friend or two. It can’t hurt.

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