Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grounds for Holiness

I’m hunched over the coffee pot brewing my morning allowance of Mystic Monk coffee, and I squint through the darkness at the picture of the monk on the side of the coffee bag.  He sits in his stone cell, hood on, contemplating God’s law over a cup of his brew.  Immediately I’m there with him and his Carmelite brothers—in my head no one’s bothered by the strange laywoman in her JPII pajamas—praising God in the silence and majesty of the Rocky Mountains.  The coffee pot gurgles, and I pour the perfect cup of coffee.       
Mystic Monk coffee truly is an experience.  It’s smooth, delicious, and beautifully flavorful without a hint of bitterness.  And no matter what flavor or blend I open up, it’s always the same.  Without fail, Mystic Monk coffee tastes like it doesn’t matter that I sprained my neck and can’t look to the right.  I can still swallow.  It tastes like it doesn’t matter that the little guys woke up crabby, the day’s looking long, and it’ll be eleven hours before my husband gets home, because it’s Mystic Monk time right now.  It tastes like it doesn’t matter that my moms’ group isn’t meeting this week and we’re going nowhere because I’ve already been to Wyoming and back.  No matter what flavor it is, it tastes like heaven and reminds me that there is indeed something greater than this world to look forward to.  And Mystic Monk coffee will be there.
The coffee is the fruit of the labor of the young Carmelite Monks of Wyoming.  Their website describes the brothers, who wear tonsures and the brown Carmelite scapular and white mantle of our Lady of Mount Carmel, as men who “seek to perpetuate the charism of the Blessed Virgin Mary, living the Marian life as prescribed by the primitive Carmelite Rule and the ancient monastic observance.”  Hoping to create a Mount Carmel in the midst of the Rockies, “this new monastery of contemplative monks lives a life of faithful orthodoxy to the Magisterium, where joy and peace abound in a manly, agrarian way of life.”  I’ve caught my husband with the Carmelite brochure more than once looking longingly at the pictures of the brothers gathered for Mass, hard at work roasting coffee, and playing football in their habits, the beautiful and wild-looking Rocky Mountains looming in the background. The pictures from the monastery reveal a rule of life ordered toward absolute holiness, absolute manliness, and it’s absolutely the first place I would go looking for my husband should the noise at home ever get to be too much.
I’ve often wondered just what makes their coffee so good.  Recently, I emailed the brothers with a few questions about their craft and they were quick to respond.  We use the best quality Arabica coffee, and have perfected the roast for each type of bean we use. We also use special foil bags that have a freshness valve that lets air escape, but doesn't let air in.” 
Do they pray for their customers?  “Yes!” they wrote. “We do pray for our customers during our work, while we roast, bag and package the coffee.”
How do they decide on and create new flavors?  The brothers replied, “We're always thinking of new flavors and blends.  We sample many different coffees, with only a select few making the grade.  Before a new blend or flavor is released, we experiment with different variations of each bean and flavor, before deciding on the very best.  Only when we're 100% satisfied with the taste do we make it available.”
And, finally, do the brothers have specific rules concerning when they can enjoy their coffee and whether they’re allowed cream and sugar?  The answer:  “We don't really have any specific rules, but we prefer drinking our coffee black!”
There you have it.  Mystic Monk coffee.  Gourmet coffee that can actually make you holier.  Moms, I can’t think of a more perfect gift to give or receive this Christmas.  Just be sure to hide the brochures.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forgetting Myself: An Experiment

I decided to conduct an experiment the other day. What would happen, I pondered, if I spent the entire day forgetting myself?  It really was a frightening proposition because I’ve never done it before.  I’ve forgotten keys, wallets, purses, kids, cell phones, birthdays, God, lyrics to universally popular songs but never myself.  No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always seem to have my best interests and desires at the forefront of my mind. 
I have a beautiful friend who can so completely lose herself in care of her family that she can wind up having some pretty rough days.  Listening to her talk about her day, I’ve found myself thinking, “I’d never let myself have that bad of a day—I’m too selfish!”  If the kids are fighting and the baby trips and falls into the corner of giant plastic block, I’ll eat some chocolate on the sly and yell at someone to take the edge off.  If my morning chores seem simply insurmountable, I might drink a second cup of coffee and read the news for an extra half hour thinking, “Ha!  Take that, Day!  You were preparing of morning of suffering, but I’ve turned it into an opportunity for indulgence!  I win!”, sensing, vaguely, that I hadn’t. 
But what was I missing out on?  By shrinking from the little trials of the day, what blessings was I preventing God from giving me?  I was suspicious, fearful, but intrigued.  I wondered how I’d feel at the end of the day if I had spent the whole day doing His will, experiencing it as perhaps He wants me to.  Would I feel tired and resentful, as I’ve been tempted to wonder, or would I instead feel something different, having spent the day in loving service to God and others and, for once, not myself.  I was also a little afraid:  if I forgot myself, who would remember me?  And would I have the stamina to keep that up all day?   It was a struggle just to get through the day selfishly; would I collapse by lunch from practicing saintly virtue?  Probably, I figured, but at least it would mix things up a little.
So I did it.  Imperfectly, to be sure, but I did keep at it all day long.  With God’s grace, I tried mightily to attend to the needs of the day as I thought He was leading me to do.  I did my chores promptly.  I talked to my children gently and gave them lots of hugs and kisses.  And when they needed to be disciplined, I tried to do it out of love for them and for their good instead of out of annoyance or anger.  When my husband came home, I set aside my own desire for appreciation and affection to instead listen empathetically as he told me about the challenges of his day.  I made his dinner the way he liked instead of doing it the easier way and then served it to him with a genuine smile.  Who was this charming woman?  It was thrilling.  And I felt beautiful inside.
So, for the big fear:  in forgetting myself for the day, was I forgotten?  A resounding no. God, aware of my extreme weakness in this area, treated me with such kindness that except for the first 20 minutes of the day, I felt so completely taken care of by Him that I didn’t feel the need to “care” for myself by cutting corners or seeking pleasure during the day.  He arranged for an encouraging phone call from a friend, a popular Facebook post from my husband about something funny I’d said (so ridiculous, I shouldn’t care, but it did give me a boost), and a seamless, productive afternoon that could only have been from Him.  Most importantly, however, I noticed by the end of the day that the household was warmer, gentler, and more joyful than usual.  I was tired, admittedly, but so happy: remembering to forget myself had turned out to be such a joy.

“We are blocks of stone that can move and feel, that have a perfectly free will. 
God himself is the stone-cutter who works on us, chipping off the rough edges, shaping us as he desires, with blows of the hammer and chisel.

Don't let us try to draw aside, don't let us want to escape his will, for in any case we won't be able to avoid the blows. We will suffer all the more, and uselessly— and instead of polished stone, ready for the work of building, we will be a shapeless heap of gravel that people will trample contemptuously under foot.”
 St. Josemaria Escriva,The Way

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Annihilating Love: Starbucks, Sundays, and the Ever-Manly Faith of Blessed Louis Martin

I’m pretty sure I was beaming.  I filled up my travel mug with my Mystic Monk coffee (more on my beloved brothers from Wyoming and their magnificent brew in a few weeks) and was planning my escape to Starbucks, unsure of whether to buy upon arriving a giant chocolate chip cookie or a giant peanut butter cup cookie, leaning, however, toward the latter.  I snapped the lid on my cup as I pictured the little ridges on the miniature peanut butter cups sticking out of the soft dough.  My stomach twisted in anticipation and it was just then when a thought tore to the front of my mind, courtesy of my guardian angel: it was Sunday.
I froze in the middle of the kitchen as my husband was already In the process of taking over for the afternoon while I could go write.  Usually we did this on Thursday evenings, but this week due to an unavoidable circumstance it had to be Sunday.  Immediately, my brain raced into overdrive, desperate to propel my body to the Starbucks bakery display.  I recalled paragraph 2187 from the Cathechism: “Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort.  Every Christian  should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day.  Traditional activities (sport, RESTAURANTS, etc)…require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take time for leisure.” 
Whew!  That was close.  Good thing I had my heart set on going to a restaurant, and I resumed preparations for my departure—oh sweet cookies!  I am coming!  I turned off the coffee pot and picked up my mug to leave when I stopped again in the middle of the floor, this time a detail from Blessed Louis Martin’s life came to mind: though given permission by his spiritual director to keep his shop open until noon on Sundays, Louis freely chose not to use that permission, “preferring instead to lose business” rather than be employed on Sundays.  I sighed.  Louis, a man of great faith, a great hope in God, and a great lover of the Lord’s Day, I decided, would not have gone today to Starbucks where a team of four people would prepare his cup of coffee--though it be allowed.  Would I really be honoring his memory by writing about him there today?
I lowered my head, walked past the front hall, and trudged upstairs to our bedroom.  I sat down on the floor and leaned back against our bed as the bedframe both dug under and pushed up my shoulder blades.  I laughed because I was so uncomfortable.  And so happy.  Some friends these Martins have turned out to be.  I opened up The Father on the Little Flower by Celine Martin and turned to the second section entitled, “Faith—Hope in God”.
Celine makes it clear that her father was most certainly a man of contemplation, accustomed to placing his hope firmly on the promises of God and not on the trappings of our earthly existence.  She writes that she and her sisters would often find their father gazing out the window with “an expression of heavenly happiness”, deep in contemplation, often chanting a favorite quote of his: “Ego ero merces tua magna nimis,” or “I am thy reward exceeding great” (Gen. 15.1).  The titles in the Martins’ libraries reflected this desire to meditate upon the eternal, as Celine writes, “At the Pavilion of Alencon, as in the Belvedere of Lisieux, there were only books dealing with the things of faith,” and her parents often talked about heaven and eternity.  Eschewing the comforts of this world in favor of the glory of the next, Louis often made penitential pilgrimages on behalf of his family or country.
Blessed Louis was greatly devoted to the Five Wounds of Christ, and Celine writes, “Everything which referred to Our Lord touched him deeply.  One Christmas Day towards the end of his life he said to Sister Agnes at the Carmel parlour: ‘A little Child!  a Babe!  Ah! how can a person not be drawn to love the good God who so annihilated Himself!  A babe is so lovely!”
Louis’s faith in God led him to act boldly on His behalf on several occasions, as Louis sought to impress Our Lord instead of his neighbor. “Human respect did not affect him,” writes Celine, “ on the contrary, he took a kind of pride in proclaiming his religious opinions.”  Once, when a group of pilgrims from Lourdes was being taunted by a crowd, Louis “went to the head of the frightened group and, wearing a large carved wood rosary around his neck…passed boldly through the midst of the crowd which stopped jeering and quickly dispersed.”  On another occasion, as a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament was passing through the streets, Louis “tipped off the hat of an individual who through bravado would not take it off”.  Also, Celine writes, “He could not endure to see Mass-servers careless and forgetful of their duties.  I was surprised one day to see him get up at the Consecration of the Mass and go up himself to ring the hand-bell, which happened to be placed near the congregation, when the boys neglected to do so.”
As mentioned earlier, one of the most overt ways in which Louis’s faith manifested itself was through his strict observance of the Lord’s Day.   On September 29, 1875, Zelie, Louis’s wife, wrote to her sister-in-law: “Very often I admire the strictness of Louis, and I say to myself: ‘There’s a man who never tried to amass a fortune.’  When he was starting a business, his confessor suggested to him—so he told me—to open his jewelry store on Sundays until noon.  But Louis never wanted to use that permission preferring rather to lose business.  In spite of that he has become rich.  I can attribute his comfortable financial position to no other cause than a special blessing of God, a result of his faithful observance of Sunday.”  Celine concludes this section by writing, “I notice that I frequently employ the words ‘never’ and ‘always’.  That is because our father had in all moods and tenses, so to say, a military uprightness.  His virtues never swerved; they followed tracks firmly fixed in the ground without any possibility of being upset one way or the other.” 
I finished the section.  My bottom was numb and I was still thinking about those cookies.  And I marveled at the awesome power of Our Lord and the incredible efficacy of our saintly friends’ intercession that obtain for us the grace to obliterate the selfish desires that keep us from truly being one with Him—the grace to annihilate ourselves.     

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On Manly Piety: Blessed Louis Martin

When we arrived at church for our morning playgroup’s Halloween party, the children and I stopped in at the adoration chapel for a moment to visit the Blessed Sacrament exposed before joining our costumed friends in the adjacent hall.  I knelt down and glanced to the right to make sure that my three-year-old son who had dressed up as Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty for the day had done the same.  I hope to remember what I saw forever.  In the gentle light of the late October morning, shield in one arm and sword in the other, my son was perfectly still, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, his beautiful blonde head bowed solemnly as it glinted in the sparkling morning rays.  I, along with the other adults in the chapel, stared at him for a few brief moments, watching as the little knight paid homage to his beloved King.  Then, in an instant he was off with his sister, hurrying through the doors to join their friends for some Halloween fun.  I quickly said a prayer of thanks for my son’s show of piety and for our magnificent faith, whose beauty can capture the youngest of imaginations and inspire the bravest of hearts. 
Blessed Louis Martin was born in Bordeaux, France on August 22, 1823 to a French army officer Captain Martin and his wife.  At the age of 20, Louis tried to enter the Religious Order of the Great St. Bernard but was denied entry on account of his lack of knowledge of Latin.  Sometime later, Louis opened a watch and jewelry shop, and it wasn’t until the age of 35 that he married Zelie Guerin, later beginning what would be become their famously holy family.  Louis and Zelie had nine children in total, with four dying in infancy.  Their youngest, Therese, would eventually become the greatest saint in modern times, the Little Flower, Doctor of the Church.
It should come as no  surprise that the patriarch of this model family was a man of great piety who greatly longed for eternity.  After opening his store, Louis purchased a property outside of town called the Pavilion, which boasted a tower to where he used to retreat to read and pray, “having kept his taste for the life of the cloister,” writes his daughter Celine Martin in The Father of the Little Flower.  “He himself had inscribed on the inside walls sentences such as: ‘God sees me,’ ‘Eternity is drawing near.’ 
Louis and his wife also had a great devotion to the Eucharist.  They both attended daily Mass, and on days when he would receive Communion, he would be silent on his way home, telling his girls, “I like to continue my conversation with the Lord.”  Louis visited the Blessed Sacrament every afternoon, and always walked right behind the Blessed Sacrament in the Corpus Christi processions in town.  He was a dedicated scheduled adorer in nocturnal adoration, and freely chose “the most inconvenient hours”.  He was also instrumental in starting Eucharistic adoration in the cathedral in Liseux.  He often accompanied with a lit candle priests who were delivering the Viaticum, and in 1888, Louis “spontaneously” donated 10,000 francs ($2,000) for the purchase of a new high altar for the Liseux Cathedral.
I’m sure there were many more pious practices of Louis that Celine simply couldn’t fit in the book, but one of my favorites was this: “In passing a church he always raised his hat, and this irrespective of the company with whom he was walking.”
Dear Blessed Louis, please pray especially for the men in our lives, that they may always be brave enough to pay respect to the Lord, irrespective of place or company; that they may always be courageous enough to lay down their arms at the foot of their beloved King.