Carmelite Authors 101: Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection



let us recall that we are in the presence of God and that the Spirit of God has gathered us together this morning let us open our hearts to respond to the love that God has revealed to us in the person of his son the holiest and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God it consists in taking delight in and being accustomed to His divine presence speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time the friar that proposed this series on Carmelite authors suggested that we begin with an opening statement like that which would be a kind of a summary of the spirituality of the Carmelite author so actually now you know all you need to know you can go home since however you are still here we can talk a little bit more about him the man we know as brother Lawrence of the Resurrection was born nicholas herman in 1614 in france we have unfortunately no information regarding his childhood we do know for he tells us this himself that at the age of 18 he had some kind of a religious experience some kind of conversion of heart in a very simple way he became aware of the grandeur the providence and the presence of god one day in winter brother Lawrence tells us while he was looking at a tree stripped of its leaves and he realized that in while its leaves would reappear followed by its flowers and fruit he received a profound insight into God's providence that has never been erased from his soul this insight freed him from the world and gave him such a love for God that he could not say it had increased during the more than 40 years that had passed this almost insignificant experience marked him deeply it gave him a real appreciation of the Paschal mystery and a profound awareness of God's presence in his life despite this special grace he did not immediately enter religious life the 30 Years War was going on at this time and he became a soldier during this time he was both arrested briefly and wounded in battle his battle wound resulted in his returning home later in his life he would lament the disorders of his youth and the sins of his past life we wonder if the violence and cruelty of war was what he was talking about for a while he tried to live an aeromedical life that is to live as a hermit but he eventually renounced it most likely he did not yet have the maturity for it he then worked as a valet a servant of a wealthy gentleman in Paris at the age of 26 he made the decision to enter the order of Discalced Carmelites in paris as a brother in august he received the habit of the order and was given the name lawrence of the resurrection two years later he made his solemn profession of vows his early days in the community were surprisingly peaceful in spite of his awkwardness he was content fearing that in his own words his brothers would skin him alive for his faults he would say to God you have tricked me for initially he was at peace and was content and satisfied but then he went through a 10-year period of darkness and inner turmoil he tells us I will admit that during the first 10 years I suffered a great deal the apprehension that I did not belong to God as I wished my past sins always before my eyes and the lavish graces God gave me were the sum and substance of my woes during this period I fell often but I got back up just as quickly it seemed to me that all creatures reason and God himself were against me and that faith alone was on my side I was sometimes troubled by thoughts that this was the result of my presumption in that I pretended to be all at once where others were able to arrive only with difficulty other times I thought I was willingly damning myself and that there was no salvation for me brother Lawrence is describing an inner struggle a painful interior conflict the awareness of God's presence and his Grace's on the one hand and the knowledge of his own sinfulness and weakness on the other were tearing him apart he writes once I accepted the fact that I might spend my life suffering from these troubles and anxieties which in no way diminished the trust I had in God and served only to increase my faith I found myself changed all at once and my soul until that time always in turmoil experienced a deep inner peace as if it had found its center and resting place it is as if God were looking for an attitude of deep resignation and acceptance of his will in Lawrence once Lawrence arrived at that point God gave him this grace of inner peace Lawrence's vocation as a brother was a life of prayer and manual work much of his life he worked in the kitchen as a cook for the large community some years the community numbered close to 100 friars Lawrence suffered from some kind of a physical handicap that caused him to limp this may have been the result of the wound he received in battle as a young soldier he was then entrusted with the sandal shop where he could sit down as he worked he was also given the responsibility of doing errands like getting supplies of wine no easy task for someone who limped and was handicapped he was also at times sent out to beg for the community's money the money that they needed to live on brother Lawrence has been described as someone who was rough in nature but delicate in grace he was open eliciting confidence Joseph de Beaufort his biographer tells us he spoke freely and showed great goodness what he said was simple but always right and made good sense he had an unusual wisdom about him he had the best heart in the world his fine countenance his humor his affable air his simple modest manner won him the esteem of all there was a depth of righteousness and piety about him he was kind and friendly his physical sufferings increased however he was ill three times during the last years of his life six days before his death he wrote I hope for the merciful grace of seeing the Lord in a few days while he was on his deathbed one of the Friars asked him what he was doing his response was I am doing what I will do for all eternity I am blessing God I am praising God I am adoring him and loving him with my whole heart brother Lawrence of the resurrection died on February 12th 1691 in the embrace of the Lord and he offered his soul to God with the peace and tranquility of one asleep he was 70 years old and had spent 50 years in religious life as a disc house Carmelite friar many of you I know are secular Carmelites and you know our saints and it almost seems like the good young Torres was very young the Trinity was very young Teresa of the Andes was younger Teresa Margaret Reddy was young so I find it encouraging to know that there was a friar who actually lived to 70 years old it seems to me then there's hope for those of us who have lived past 30 what did brother Lawrence write actually very little there is a small book called the Maxim's and these are sayings that have to do with fostering the presence of God and the theme of the three theological virtues of faith hope and charity tie this little work together there are sixteen letters that we have from his hand in the Institute of Carmelite Studies version of brother Lawrence this one there is a section entitled the practice of the presence of God which is a kind of summary of his spirituality but actually what it is is a collection of quotes from the letters and the Maxim's it's not actually a new or different work we have for conversations that come to us from the man I just mentioned as his biographer Joseph de Beaufort he was the vicar general of the diocese and he used to go to brother Lawrence for I guess what we would call today's spiritual direction and after he met with brother Lawrence he would write down some of what brother Lawrence said to him and then sometime later he formulated these texts into the version that we have today and so they are by no means verbatim accounts of the discussions but de Beaufort does say that he made the effort so that the content and the spirit of brother Lawrence would come through and there are four of these conversations the conversion experience that I recounted in the beginning the very beginning of this talk comes from one of those conversations there are also two biographical works by Joseph de Beaufort called the eulogy and the ways they're very flattering account of brother Lawrence all these texts are found in the ICS edition of the practice of the presence of God brother Lawrence of the resurrection is known for promoting the practice of the presence of God and this is what he tells us about it the holiest and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God it consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to his divine company speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time this is where we began he adds without rule or measure especially during moments of temptation struggle aridity weariness even infidelity and sin we must continually apply ourselves in such a way that all our actions become a means of maintaining brief conversations with God not in a contrived manner but from the purity and simplicity of our hearts we must perform all our actions carefully not impulsively or hurriedly for such would characterize a distracted mind we must work gently and lovingly with God asking him to accept our work and by this continual attention to God we we'll crush the head of the devil and force the weapons from his hands we must stop periodically during our work and other activities even during our spiritual reading our religious exercises and vocal prayers as often as possible to adorn God in the depths of our hearts appreciating him in passing and on the sly praising him asking his help offering him our hearts and thanking him this presence of God is the soul's life and nourishment and it can be acquired by God's grace here are the means a great purity of heart being actively on guard not to do say or think anything that might be displeasing to God and when something like that happens to humbly ask him pardon and do penance for it a great fidelity to the practice of this exercise and attentiveness to God's presence within and this must always be carried out gently humbly and lovingly without giving in to any disturbance we must take particular care that this awareness proceeds our activities somewhat that it accompanies them from time to time and that we complete all things with it we must not be distraught when we forget this holy practice for all that is needed is to calmly take it up again when the habit is acquired everything will be accomplished with delight to advance in the practice of the presence of God we should let go of all cares including a multitude of personal devotions good in themselves but often inappropriate for these devotions are nothing more than the means to arrive at the and if then we are with the one who is our end by this practice of the presence of God it is useless to return to the means we must continue our loving exchange with him remaining in his holy presence sometimes by an act of adoration sometimes by acts of oblation or Thanksgiving or by any other form we can devise it is not necessary to be in church all the time to be with God we can make of our hearts an oratory where we can withdraw from time-to-time to converse with him there everyone is capable of these intimate conversations with God lifting up the heart is enough a brief remembrance of God an interactive adoration even when on the runde with sword in hand these prayers short as they may be are very pleasing to God and far from leaving us anxious strengthen us in the most dangerous of circumstances the practice of the presence of God is very helpful for personal prayer for it will be easier to remain peaceful during personal prayer when the mind kept from taking flight during the day is fixed on God since all of life is full of dangers and hazards it is impossible to avoid them without God's help we cannot ask him for it if we are not with him we cannot be with him unless we often think of him we cannot think of him except by a holy habit of keeping ourselves in his presence asking him for the graces we need at every moment well it is good for us to recall from time to time God's blessings in the past and while there are times we must reflect on the future and seek to discern God's will brother Lawrence gives us nonetheless a spirituality of the present moment he teaches us to turn inward right here and now for the grace we need at that very moment he inspires us to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit and make whatever prayer brief as it might be we are inspired to offer Lawrence's approach within everyone's reach brings us to live in the presence of God no matter what we may be doing God is not distant he is with us he is in our hearts we need only learn to turn to him and converse with him in the beginning this may take some effort and discipline but as we continue the practice it will become a way of life for us Jesus teaches us to be poor in spirit gentle pure of heart peacemakers and merciful as he himself is if we do so we will enter the kingdom and see God Lawrence gives us an approach to the spiritual life that fosters the kind of complete dependence on God that the Beatitudes Express de Beaufort explains brother Lawrence spoke to me with great fervor and openness of his way of approaching God he told me that what matters is renouncing once and for all everything we recognize does not lead to God in order to become accustomed to a continual conversation with him we need only to recognize him present with us to speak with him at every moment and to ask for his help so that we will know his will in perplexing events and will be able to carry out those things we clearly see he asks of us offering them to him before doing them during this continual conversation we are thus taken up in praising adoring and ceaselessly loving God for His infinite goodness and perfection Laurence's approach did not make him self preoccupied or self-absorbed his biographer tells us since love of God and love of neighbor are one in the same practice you can estimate his love for his neighbor by the love he had for God convinced of what our Lord said in the gospel that the least service rendered to the least of his brothers was rendered to him he took special care to serve them in all the offices he held and especially when he was assigned to the kitchen where providing what was needed for the Friars subsistence he took pleasure in pleasing them as if they were angels we take turns cooking from the coop for the community once in a while I never thought of the Friars as angels he inspired love and all those who succeeded him in this task he helped the poor in their need to the extent of his ability he consoled them in their afflictions and guided them with his advice he encouraged them to gain heaven at the same time that they worked to earn their living in a few words he did all he could for his neighbor and never hurt anyone he became all things to everyone to save them all for God before we comment on the relevance of brother Lawrence's approach let's consider some scriptural background let me say a bit more regarding the Beatitudes and in order to do that we need to reflect on the kingdom of God we know that the dream of Jesus the vision that inspired him was the kingdom of God it was the content of his preaching and the rationale behind his miracles much of his teaching had to do with the kingdom and the signs and wonders he performed were indications it had dawned it was the pearl of great price worth sacrificing everything for Lawrence refers to this treasure in one of his letters the kingdom was not tied down to any geographical place nor limited by any political theory it was God's dream for the whole of creation it was the in break of God's power and love it was his definitive rule over us Jesus doesn't give an objective definition of the kingdom instead he uses similes and metaphors and figures of speech to describe it the kingdom is like a seed that grows slowly imperceptibly but it will grow if the conditions are right and something of power and beauty the kingdom is already at hand yet the kingdom will not come in all its fullness until the future each day we prayed that the kingdom come like the seed that contains and guarantees the future in some mysterious way in the kingdom wheat and weeds grow up together good and evil coexist and God's patience is always directed toward our salvation God gives us time to grow and be transformed yet a time will come where there will be a definitive judgment and the good and bad will be separated the kingdom is a gift and to enter it we must become dependent like a little child who has no rights or merits the kingdom nonetheless calls for our response we must use our talents not bury them so the kingdom expands the kingdom calls for decisive action on our part Saint Paul tells us that the kingdom of God is a matter of justice peace and joy in the holy spirit where these fundamental core values are present there in some way is the kingdom of God when we think of justice however we are inclined to think in terms of judge and jury verdict and sentence in fact when people say they're looking for justice they're looking for punishment for a crime this is not God's view of justice to know God the prophets tell us is to do justice but the Justice of God means setting things right it means establishing right relationships with God with self with neighbor with nature it means creating right order fulfilling responsibilities showing compassion justice is what God does defending the poor and the weak vindicating victims liberating the oppressed peace in scripture is not the absence of war it means wholeness and well-being it is Shalom to be safe and sound often in the Gospels when Jesus heals he says go in peace when jesus heals the lepers for example he restores them to the community from which they were excluded and gives them an experience of God's love for them his concern is for the whole person and His grace reaches all levels of human existence the physical the emotional and the spiritual when jesus heals ev'ry integrates into society those who were excluded and restores them to their dignity joy speaks of the fullness of life and love it is the banquet of the end time where there is abundance it is the finding of the treasure in the field joy is the experience of the kingdom as already present it is the sign of the presence of the kingdom here and now even in the midst of our struggle and insecurity when we glimpse the kingdom when we experience it even if only dimly there is joy what does the kingdom look like what shape does it take when the hungry are fed when the injured forgive when inclusive community is formed and discrimination is eliminated when violence is replaced by Mercy when love overcomes fear there is the kingdom of God and brother Lawrence lived for it how do we enter this kingdom what are the requirements in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us the spirituality of the Beatitudes the Beatitudes are ways to enter the kingdom the Beatitudes present the spirituality of those who seek the kingdom of God the other means to foster communion with God and neighbor once again Jesus teaches the opposite of what the world might think blessed are the rich the powerful of rejoicing we might think they can have and do anything they want instead he said blessed happy are the poor in spirit the gentle those who mourn those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness the peacemakers the pure of heart they are happy because the kingdom is theirs this happiness this peace is a deep inner composure that comes from the experience of God blessed are the poor in spirit blessed are the honorum those who rely completely on God they are the ones who expect everything from God those who hope in God's providence those who depend completely on God in humility and powerlessness they are not self righteous or self seeking blessed are the meek the gentle those who are respectful of God's ways and refrain from anger they accept God's time and God's will they are not arrogant Jesus himself was poor in spirit and meek and gentle of heart learn for me he said imitate me Jesus lived the Beatitudes he taught blessed are those who mourn where there is godlessness and violence blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness Jesus teaches by word and example how to think and act as God wants us to blessed are the merciful those who show deep-rooted compassion to those in need they are the ones who encounter God by responding to the needs of others I was hungry and you fed me naked and you clothed sick or imprisoned and you visited me blessed are the pure of heart they search for the truth they are honest sincere and authentic blessed are the peacemakers they search for wholeness and we'll end well being they are poor violence blessed are those who suffer because they work for peace and justice as did Jesus and the prophets before him the Beatitudes lead us progressively from openness to God to openness to others they bring about a communion of love they are rooted in the life and example of Jesus himself who lived in right relationship with God self neighbor and nature these are the directives of Jesus explaining how to live in the reign of God brother Lawrence lived this way from what we have learned from brother Lawrence himself and from our consideration of Sacred Scripture we can now make some observations about his approach to the spiritual life his spirituality is completely in keeping with a Carmelite tradition and his practice of the presence of God is a way of living the Beatitudes Lawrence is a true son of Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross Teresa in her way of perfection teaches us to be recollected she advises us to look at the Lord who never takes his eyes off of us to keep Christ present represent the Lord himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and humbly he is teaching you believe me you should remain with so good a friend as long as you can if you grow accustomed to having him present at your side and he sees that you do so with love and that you will go about striving to him you will never be able to get away from him he will never fail you he will help you in all your trials you will find him everywhere surely brother Lorenz did just that and to the extent that it made no difference to him whether he was working in the kitchen or at prayer in the choir no matter where he was or what he was doing he kept the Lord present he was aware of the presence of God how did he bring this about de Beaufort his biographer tells us brother Lawrence began by faithfully cultivating this exalted awareness of God's presence by continuous acts of adoration and love invoking our Lord's help and what he had to do and then thanking him after doing it he asked pardon for his sins admitting them as he said without excusing himself before God since his occupations were bound up with these acts and provided material for them he accomplished them with greater ease and far from distracting him from his work they helped him to do it well from this statement we can see that Lawrence's spirituality was one that integrated prayer and action he overcomes the dichotomy we sometimes make between our spiritual life and our regular ordinary daily life with its responsibilities and activities his approach integrates the life of faith and prayer with the occupations of each day activity need not take us away from God rather as Lawrence teaches it can foster our awareness of him st. John of the Cross teaches that faith alone is capable of United II of uniting the intellect with God faith is like the darkness of midnight and it is the means or road for the journey to union with God de Beauvoir tells us brother Lawrence told me that the foundation of his spiritual life was an exalted idea and esteem of God in faith once he conceived of it his only concern was in the beginning to faithfully reject every other thought and to perform all his actions for the love of God he said that the trust we have in God honors him greatly and brings us great Grace's faith was the principal virtue among all those brother Lawrence possessed it was the life and nourishment of his soul it fosters such growth in his soul that you can see he made great progress in the spiritual life it was faith that led him to God and lifted him above all created things making him search for happiness in the possession of God alone we have seen how the Beatitudes open us up to God and then open us up to our neighbor we depend on God completely and by His grace we move toward encountering God by responding to the needs of others the Beatitudes are ways of communion in love that express the reality of the kingdom of God brother Lawrence lived the Beatitudes and entered the kingdom of God by the practice of the presence of God he experienced the presence of the Great King and the depths of his heart he responded to his Grace's and grew into ever deeper union with him his love for God was expressed in love of neighbor thus his understanding of the kingdom was not only a personal interior reality the kingdom was extended to those he met by the love he showed his awareness of the presence of God fostered his experience of the kingdom within his experience of God led him to establish the kingdom without Saint Paul tells us that where the core values of justice peace and joy and the Holy Spirit are found there is the kingdom of God brother Lawrence's awareness of God's presence made him a just man instead of paying attention to his dispositions and examining the road he was walking he looked only at God the end of the journey therefore he made great strides toward him by practicing justice justice charity and humility Lawrence was a man of peace in his own words he was content as father Connor Adam Easter said Lawrence was a man of one purpose straightforward a rock a stable free being who found his simplicity his harmony and his dynamism in the presence of God the source of his quiet glow there was no internal division in him faith and experience United in him enabling him to develop this unified vision he saw only God's plan in what happened to him and this kept him in continual peace he was likewise filled with joy even in the midst of his struggles and sufferings Lawrence experienced the fire of God's love and this filled him with joy he had entered the kingdom even though he made all kinds of efforts to hide the great impulses of divine love burning within him he was occasionally unable to stop their outpourings and his face was often visibly aglow but when he was alone he let the fullness of this fire act and cried out to God Lord give more space and room to the faculties of my soul so that I can give greater expression to your love joy had taken possession of his heart although brother Lawrence lived a hidden life all people no matter what their personal circumstances may be can benefit from his teaching and example he teaches those involved in the world to turn to God to ask for the grace to fulfill their responsibilities to deal with their concerns he teaches them to turn to God in their conversations even during their leisure time in keeping with his example they will be moved to thank God for His blessings and for the good he lets them do and ask pardon for their sins this is not a theoretical devotion that can only be practiced in the cloister everyone must adore and love God it is not possible to carry out these obligations without establishing a heartfelt exchange that makes us appeal to God at every moment like children who depend on their mother's constant help let us conclude with the words of brother Lawrence himself how happy we would be if we could only find the treasure of which the gospel speaks nothing else would matter since it is inexhaustible the more we search the more riches we find let us devote our cells ceaselessly to looking for it let us not grow weary until we have found it I do not know what will become of me it seems to me that peace of mind and soul comes to me in my sleep I only know that God looks after me my tranquility is so great that I fear nothing what could I fear when I am with him I cling to him with all my strength may he be blessed by all amen

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