Thoughts for Advent
In a long course of years, I have made many mistakes. I have nothing of that high perfection which belongs to the writings of Saints, namely, that error cannot be found in them; but what I trust that I may claim all through what I have written, is this—an honest intention, an absence of private ends, a temper of obedience, a willingness to be corrected, a dread of error, a desire to serve Holy Church, and, through Divine mercy, a fair measure of success. And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as in it, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often…
Cardinal John Henry Newman Excerpt from his words upon receiving the Cardinal’s hat, the “Biglietto Speech,”1879 –
Dear Friends and Supporters of St. Mary’s Hermitage,
As we approach to the end of the liturgical year, and the calendar year, too, we are once more faced with the consideration of the end of time – and most people sense a personal realisation of it, in a way, because we all must admit how swiftly this year has passed. These days of a waning November always give a sense of looking back and reflecting. One’s reflections may be mixed with gratitude and warm remembrance, but perhaps also some regret, a little weariness, and a wondering for the future.
How greatly the life of the soul is enriched when reflections turn to prayer, remembrance to gratitude, regret to penitent, loving sorrow, and one’s weary path and disquiet to steadfast hope in the God and Father Who loves us. This is the life of trustful abandonment and of attentive watchfulness to Our Lord’s presence in the simple events of daily life. Manifest and constant are the signs of His work in our souls each day.
My sermons can be summed up thus: be simple with God. Serve Him with simplicity, love him with simplicity; no violent or extraordinary states, but peace of heart and soul in Our Lord. Busy yourself with Him more than with yourself. Any mania about becoming “deeper” is dangerous, and apart from the time that it wastes, it leads to nothing. Is it necessary to chew over oneself so much in order to be aware that one is full or wretchedness in the past, of imperfections in the present, or weaknesses in the future? As for the past: love God. As for the present: love God. As for the future: again, love Him and that way all will be well. For it isn’t the present or the past or the future, or yourself that should occupy you, but God: He who gives Himself to you and becomes impatient when you amuse yourself by dressing yourself up endlessly in order to go to Him, when it is you that He asks for and not all your adornments. The point is to love God a great deal. How is one to love God a great deal? By loving Him little by little.
— Abbot Dom Guéranger, The Spirit of Solesmes
This is the spirit of the Holy Liturgy, and of the coming season of Advent, in particular. Expectancy, hope, readiness – to search, to labor and to trust – and to welcome the arrival of Our Lord in whatever way He chooses to come to each one of us.
The Christian, whatever his profession or path in life, must strive to be all for God, since we are, after all, His children, His “possession from the beginning.” Further on in our letter, we will share excellent counsels from the saints for the spiritual life and Advent through prayerful reading. You can also see our past Advent newsletters to read more about this important liturgical season.
The Infant of Prague Devotion
Looking toward Advent and Christmas, it seems appropriate to speak of devotion to the Infant Jesus [1. Novena to the Miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague]. The most celebrated form of this tender devotion is the Infant of Prague. Jesus Christ as a child, yet King of Heaven and earth, is a mystery to contemplate in prayer. The seemingly opposed virtues of humility and powerful authority are joined in this view of Jesus Christ. We are drawn to imitate His humility and to trust in His sure providence and care over us, this “Great, Little King”. The best images of the Divine Infant illustrate the Child’s countenance, radiant with innocence joined to age-old wisdom…
As far back in Old Testament times the prophet Isaiah spoke: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord..” (Isaiah 11:1-2) The Christ Child is given to us, He who “he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Our Eternal Father ordained that His Son, Jesus, should know all life’s stages: infancy, childhood, youth — and that He should be like us in everything, except sin. Above all, we have Our Lord’s own instruction about spiritual childhood and its necessity for salvation: “Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever, therefore, humbles himself … he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Most historians believe that the original wax statue known as the Infant of Prague was carved in Spain around the year 1340 in a Cistercian monastery. Some traditions claim that a monk had a vision of the Child Jesus and fashioned the statue after what he saw. The statue remained in Spain for several centuries, and a pious tradition claims that St. Teresa of Avila possessed the statue in the 16th century. Whatever the case may be, the statue found its way to Prague during the reign of the House of Habsburg in 1556.
In 1631, when enemies of the Church sacked Prague, they mocked the Holy Infant and threw the statue into a heap of trash in an obscure place. Some years later, Ven. Father Cyril of the Mother of God of the Carmelite Monastery in Prague, found the statue. One day, while praying in reparation before the damaged holy image, he heard the consoling words, “Have pity on Me and I will have pity on you; restore My hands and I will give you peace; the more you honour Me, the more I will bless you.” The image indeed was, through the labours of this holy Carmelite priest and a series of trials and difficulties, repaired and restored.
In the ensuing centuries, so many graces, blessings, and miraculous cures came to those who embraced this devotion, that it spread throughout the Catholic world and continues to be a source of much grace to this day. Many books and sacramentals promote and express this devotion, dear to Holy Church and one especially realised and appreciated at the Season of the Nativity, so quickly approaching. More can be read in this book A Gem from the Diamond Mine which had been long out of print. It tells the story of the life of Venerable Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament O.C.D. (al secolo Margaret Parigot 1619-†1648), another Carmelite, who was chosen by God to propagate this devotion.
We opened this newsletter with a strong, relevant-to-our-day statement of the great John Henry Cardinal Newman. How grateful we must always be to the truly holy men of God, who speak for us even now, and instruct us. This is why we are so very pleased to have the beautiful soul of this 19th century English convert teach and assist us in our observance of Advent in his book Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, Waiting for Christ [Sermon III pp. 31-46]; There is also a book entitled Waiting for Christ – Meditations for Advent and Christmas [from Amazon], Containing selections from Cardinal Newman’s fine sermons and writings provide excellent reflections for meditation and prayer for each day of Advent (beginning on November 30th), the Octave of Christmas, and the days up to and including the Feast of the Epiphany. The reputation of this brilliant man tells not only of his astounding intellect, but his empathy and his deep understanding of the human heart. We warmly recommend this book and share just this short sample from the meditation of December 13th, called “Watching”:
… Let us consider this most serious question, which concerns every one of us so nearly: what is it to watch for Christ? He watches for Christ … who is zealous in seeking and honouring Him, who looks out for Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.
This then, is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as He came once, and as He will come again; to desire His second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of His first. And this it is, in which we shall find that men in general are wanting… Year passes after year silently. Christ’s coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as He comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray Him to give you the heart to seek Him in sincerity. Pray Him to make you in earnest…
Along with this excellent meditation book, we recommend yet again the wonderful work, Liturgical Year [entire 15-volume set downloadable free from the Internet Archive]. The Advent volume [Vol I] holds so much — history, doctrine, tradition — as the holy Abbot Prosper Guéranger (quoted at the beginning of this letter) explains fully and with unction the purpose of the liturgy of the Church – and its sublime beginning each year with the season of Advent.
November and Purgatory
St. Catherine of Genoa was a soul gifted by God with graces in prayer to understand deeply the merciful work of God in the place called Purgatory. In addition to her Treatise on Purgatory, Purgation and purgatory; The spiritual dialogue, we have added the small volume, Fire of Love! – excerpts from her writings that invite prayerful study and meditation. St. Catherine was God’s instrument to make the world know that the purifying fires of Purgatory are the radiant fire of His own love.
Our brethren who have passed out of this life are in our daily remembrance, most especially during November. We wanted to share with you that the response to our emails for Masses for loved ones during this month was simply astounding, and we thank you for your whole-hearted response. So many souls whose names are even now resting on our chapel altar, very near the tabernacle, are being remembered each day many times. As one of our priests said in his sermon for the Mass of that day, the image of their names, contained in the envelopes that are placed near the tabernacle, is a very tangible reminder that these souls could not be closer to Our Lord than they are now… until they are received by Him into Heaven.
More Rare and Out of Print Books
The adventure continues with our discovery of excellent Catholic literature, now out of print on the internet. You will be reassured to know that all of these titles have been highly recommended to Catholics for generations. Priestly guidance has put them into our hands and onto our library shelves for over 22 years, and it is from there that we set out on our internet book hunts. Our eremitic life does not allow us a great deal of time for this particular endeavour — we cannot leave our cells and search old book stores! But what we ourselves are so blessed to have, we wish to pass onto you in the measure that we are able.
Christian Perfection and Contemplation – Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange O.P., Christian Perfection and Contemplation is an entire treatise on the operation of grace in the spiritual life that clearly and skilfully explains the great principles of the spiritual life according to St. Thomas Aquinas and other sterling Catholic Sources. In fact, the authors fascinating and extremely informative footnotes are themselves worth downloading this free book. Impr. 470 pages. (PDF, EPUB, KINDLE, DAISY.)
Be sure to check all of the titles available on our Archive-Hermitage website — a few we have mentioned in the past and can be found in our other articles, just browse through them.
This coming Sunday we will be celebrating the Feast of St. John of the Cross. Though many find St. John of the Cross and his writings somewhat foreboding and severe, his prudent, gentle personality won the hearts of those of good will. Many are the stories of his tender-hearted generosity, charitable discretion, prudent direction. He understood the human heart and mind and guided souls with compassion – and with practical counsels.
Our Prior & editor, Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria is recovering slowly after his third operation, we are informed that he is recovering well in London and should hopefully be back before Christmas. In his absence we have now completed the annex to his cell for his workshop and nearly finished his garden, adding yet more fruit trees, unfortunately we were not able to complete this before the weather turned. In His absence one of his cat Buffy passed away peacefully aged 28 (I believe). The library stock was increased by some more donations from Magdalene College Oxford where Fr. Ugo-Maria used to teach and also from the University of Salzburg.
We are grateful for all the blessings God sends our hermitage. We close our Newsletter sending our thanks to you for your kindness, interest and support, along with the encouraging reminder that amidst the challenges, sorrows and joys of life, our conversation, our citizenship, is in Heaven. “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Now to God and our Father be glory world without end. Amen.. (Philippians 4:20).” What a hopeful reassurance for all true Christians as we look forward to the holy season of Advent, the season of earnest preparation and sincere longing for Redemption.
With our continual prayers, grateful prayers,
Your brothers in Christ at St. Mary’s Hermitage
… Joseph sought among the dwellings of Bethlehem one that would open its door and let the Son of God be born of a Virgin. That was not the first time, nor the last, that God was on a threshold knocking and waiting for a voice to invite Him in. In the soul of every man is a chamber that is meant to be God’s dwelling place: an airy chamber large enough, once its door has been opened, to hold even Him in all His infinity…
The emptying out of the human heart in preparation for divine occupancy is a process that lasts an entire lifetime, and it is carried out with the help of a simple tool, humility…