"Those seducers who under an appearance of virtue and honesty lure innocent, simple souls from the right path, and lead them to vice and shame: who by sweet words, such as: "God is full of love, and will not be severe on sin, He does not require so very much of us. He knows we are weak, and if a person sins, he can be converted, " seek to steal from souls all modesty and fear of God. Guard against such hypocrites for they have the poison of vipers on their tongues."
from "The Church's Year" by Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On a feast like this we celebrate all of the Carmelites that have blessed our lives, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Terese the Little Flower (and of course, all of those secular Carmelite Saints). I thought it would be fun to think of the littlest one, the one called the Little Flower...perfect for a site entitled ChristianManhood.org!
I have always been intrigued by this little girl who forces the hands of all of the tough guys around her so that she can hide herself in the Lord's secret garden. Her father, Louis, was a simple and holy man was her first example of a holy man, and I believe this helped her to achieve her level of sanctity...but this post isn't about him. Her mother Zelie, along with Louis, was a secular Franciscan, and was undoubtedly a holy woman...but this post isn't about her either. While we usually speak about men and family issues, I was thinking, this little girl has something to teach us men about prayer and holiness.
Do you know about St. Therese's Little Way? Do you try to live it? While I could go through her autobiography and pick out all the nuances of her spirituality that led her to be proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, I am going to keep it simple, just like her. The two things that stand out, particularly for us men are the following:
1. Simple Prayer
2. Simple Sacrifice
St. Therese had a great way of looking at her relationship with God. She wanted to be closer to Him everyday so that she could simply "gaze" upon Him. As men, we may find ourselves struggling with "wordy" prayer and becoming uncomfortable when put in a position to have to "ad lib" a "spontaneous" prayer publicly. We may also find ourselves unable to get comfortable with long, dictated prayers or other pre-written forms. This cuts to the root of how God made us as men to communicate. We (generally speaking) don't communicate emotionally without forcing it. We prefer to sit in the canoe fishing quietly as opposed to sharing intimate feelings with our pals. This, of course, drives our wives crazy, because they are wired differently and communicate emotionally all the time. Their gaze is inward, ours is on the horizon.
This way that God has designed us is, of course, perfect for us. This gazing outward is a wonderful way to pray. For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have gone for rosary walks in the evening and are always blessed by the sunsets over the open fields on the top of our property. I look at the clouds and bless the Lord, my gaze drawn from the physical world to God. This simple way of "glorying" in God's creation is humbling and a great starting point for deeper prayer. This gazing can also be used in Eucharistic Adoration, gazing upon religious Icons ("windows to heaven"), or by just acknowledging God's presence in other persons.
The beauty of this type of prayer is that one doesn't need to complicate it with many words. I can simply "gaze" and maybe add a few phrases to keep my attention, such as "Praise God", or "God have mercy". These phrases were traditionally called "aspirations" and spring from a heart focused on God. These short prayers can also be used to gain a spirit of recollection during one's workday, the most famous being the long form, "Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me, a sinner!" These are all simple ways of growing our relationship with God - aka Prayer.
The second thing that Little St. Therese can teach us tough guys is how to live a life of sacrifice. If you haven't read her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, do it NOW! This little girl combines the focus of a person set upon her goal (life in the Carmelite monastery, and ultimately Heaven) and yet does this without willfulness. She constantly accepted little sacrifices, and it was in this that she gained her great holiness. When one of the nuns was asked to fix her favorite meal (since her health was failing), the nun responded that she had no idea what her favorite meal was because she never complained. For the nuns around her, St. Therese had no specific tastes at the dinner table, but in truth, there were things she liked and didn't like.
I often think of this when my wife serves something not totally suiting my tastes. I have a choice of accepting the little sacrifice and complimenting her cooking, or I can complain, acting like the overbearing bull that most feminists "see" manly patriarchs as. One is a way that brings about the Kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of "me"! It is these little sacrifices, that St. Therese has taught us, are the way to move us further and further away from ourselves and the world, and closer to God.
So, as big, tough guys, let us embrace the Way of the Little Flower. Be simple. Be prayerful. Be Holy. Be a Man!
A short reflection on Psalm 100
The Norm of Life for Rulers
A psalm for David himself. Mercy and judgment I will sing to thee, O Lord: I will sing,  And I will understand in the unspotted way, when thou shalt come to me. I walked in the innocence of my heart, in the midst of my house.  I did not set before my eyes any unjust thing: I hated the workers of iniquities. The perverse heart did not cleave to me: and the malignant, that turned aside from me, I would not know.  The man that in private detracted his neighbour, him did I persecute. With him that had a proud eye, and an unsatiable heart, I would not eat.
 "I will understand"... That is, I will apply my mind, I will do my endeavour, to know and to follow the perfect way of thy commandments: not trusting to my own strength, but relying on thy coming to me by thy grace.
 My eyes were upon the faithful of the earth, to sit with me: the man that walked in the perfect way, he served me.  He that worketh pride shall not dwell in the midst of my house: he that speaketh unjust things did not prosper before my eyes.  In the morning I put to death all the wicked of the land: that I might cut off all the workers of iniquity from the city of the Lord.(Psalm 100)
At first glance, many people jump on those "valuations" of motherhood. You know, the ones where someone quantifies all the tasks that a mother does and gives it a dollar figure. So mother cooks, cleans, drives kids around, does the grocery shopping, organizes the drawers, etc. etc. I have seen many pro-life, orthodox, Catholics fall into this trap!
Yep, I said "trap". Trying to put a monetary value on a mother should degrade most mothers, but alas, it is a symptom of how us modern folks look at life. We monetize everything, and yet value little. I can tell you how much that double cheeseburger costs at the fast food joint, but I would have a hard time valuing its worth. I know that sounds odd, but I am struggling to make a point - is real value only tied to money?
Recently, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The press jumped on his statement about financial speculation on agriculture and the evil of treating food as a commodity to be traded. There was a statement of his that got almost no media attention, mainly because the modernists don't get it because it has to do with the true worth of a human being.
He states, "
What is this "essential role of woman" other than that of mother and homemaker? It is essential because it is of a woman's essence, it is of her nature to be a mother. Anyone that has ever been or witnessed the life of a farmer's wife knows just how essential this role is. Also, anyone that has witnessed the life of a mother of a large family knows how important and essential this role of a woman is. On the farm, a homemaking wife either makes or breaks the farm. A farming man knows this and learns to appreciate the grace and stamina needed for his wife to carry out all the varied tasks she needs to complete each day.
This essential role is of great importance to the welfare of the mother. She now has children, animals, gardens, and a husband completely dependent upon her. Her family learns to value her "special recipes" and "touches" she has on her home. She inherently knows her value and worth by these dependencies. While she may, at times, experience this as a burden, she undoubtedly experiences this as a blessing and a reminder of how important she is.
Now contrast this with the suburban or city wife. (forgive the following generalizations) She may have no children or only one or two. She may have no gardens and no animals to tend to. The higher income available in the city means that the need to bootstrap and grow and make your own food means less need to tend to the house and cook. More expendable cash often means more entertainment is available. No longer is the success of the home tied to the homemaker's abilities. In other words, she is now no longer "needed" in the home. Now she is "free" to work outside the home to bring in more cash. The family can now hire a maid, go out to eat, hire a lawn mowing company, place the children in daycare...in other words, outsource.
Unfortunately, these generalizations about city and suburban life are often too true. By eliminating the "need" for the mother in the home, we have eliminated the "need" for a mother. The husband can now cast her off as easy as the Donald "fires" someone on his show. The husband may struggle to find value in a wife other than the income that she brings into the home. The many divorced couples that continue to live together due to tough financial times, demonstrates this. The don't value each other enough to be committed to each other, except to share rent. These situations show us just how far we have come to devalue motherhood.
The argument may be made that I am trying to place a woman's worth strictly upon the tasks she completes in the home. Others may argue that a woman may "feel" her worth more in the marketplace, making her way in a career outside the home. On this second point, I would agree that for a modern woman, especially one that lives in suburbia or the city, staying at home would be akin to staying in a prison. One would have nothing to do but watch tv, blog, or be overly involved in civil activities. That mothering instinct would then be put to use, as we see so often, in civil or school activities including politics. (another whole can o'worms) This involvement, unless caused by biological barrenness, is a poor replacement for real motherhood. How many women today choose to purposefully sterilize themselves, killing the ability to live out their "essence" so they can become a career woman?
Now to the first argument, that tying a mother's worth to her home is only valuing her for the tasks she completes. That is only how it appears on the surface. When we take into account the fact that a mother as homemaker and tender of her children she is fulfilling her "essence" we are viewing the deeper reality. By fulfilling this essential role she is able to become fully human and grow closer and closer to the image God has of her. While she may be physically tired at the end of the day, her mental and spiritual health is on a solid foundation. She sleeps soundly knowing her husband and children depend on her motherly "touch". She gives heart to the home. While we may value our heart for the fact that it pumps our blood...we realize that without that heart, the entire body will perish. And while the heart may be a physical organ, we also speak of it as the center of our being and use it in connection with love and emotion. This is the mother...she is an important "organ" within the family, but she is so much more....she is the love that moves a home, she is the center of affection and beauty, she is the one that truly brings life to the home - she is the heart of the home!