Monday, November 5, 2018

Spiritual Combat in the Liminal Spaces

by Cabrini Pak, Ph.D.

Archangel Michael Hurls the Rebellious Angels into the Abyss, Luca Giordana, circa 1666

This article originally appeared in the Winter Issue of the Ven. Bruno Guild Newsletter. Enjoy! 

Our Catholic world has found itself in a troubling liminal space, “betwixt and between” an old regime of silence and suppression and something yet to be realized in the Church: a new order? Liminal spaces can be ambiguous, ambivalent places of uncertainty in our lives where we may be tempted to abandon our beliefs or practices. It is there that we, as individuals and as part of a mystical body, may find ourselves plunged into a fierce spiritual battle for our faith, our way of life, our very being as Christians. We see human beings who have committed great evil in the Church and seemingly remain untouched by the justice due them. We also see the wreckage they caused in the lives of their victims and the scandal they caused among the faithful. The sheep have scattered. Our minds and hearts are torn with conflict, especially among Catholics who have been faithful to a 2,000-year-old tradition, who trusted in the shepherds and bishops to guide us Home. Instead, many shepherds and not a few bishops appear to have paved the road to Hell. Many, but not all. The battle begins.

Ven. Bruno Lanteri was no stranger to tumultuous times in the Church. He lived in a time when sovereigns around the world were hostile to Rome, and religious orders and monasteries were suppressed to weaken their influence on the people. For much of his adult life, he lived under the occupation of a foreign power that sought to destroy the Church’s influence in his country. He was placed under house arrest for years after being caught helping the imprisoned Pope Pius VII to reach out to the faithful and inform them that Napoleon’s unilateral actions in the Church were invalid. 

About five or six years before Napoleon invaded Italy, Ven. Bruno, then between 30 and 32 years old, wrote down some fruits of a retreat. The fruits of these reflections would have well-prepared him for spiritual combat in the years that followed, and given that they survived intact after his death, they were likely lessons he revisited regularly. The structure of his brief reflection seems almost to mirror a tactic found in the fourteenth rule of discernment in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:[1] 

"The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal, and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm."

In his 1789 – 1791 notes, which took up a single sheet of paper on both sides, he noted his own defects and their remedies. His defects, he says, include “negligence in the things of God, done therefore in a superficial way and with no real commitment; hardness, roughness with my neighbor; little charity and concern for the body and soul; over-concern for temporal matters, too much attachment to materials things; fear of making an effort when it costs me to do so.” The first item on his list of remedies is scripturally grounded: “Verify in myself often throughout the day, that is, with frequent exams, whether truly: I love God above all things. I love my neighbor as myself.” All of his remedies mentioned after that directly addressed each defect that he noticed about himself. He summed up the efforts towards a particular disposition: “freedom of spirit, built upon the desire to die to myself, to please God.” [2] 

We can learn three things from Ven. Bruno’s example about spiritual combat in the liminal spaces. First, in times of peace, become well-acquainted with one’s own weaknesses in virtue and work with the Lord to strengthen those virtues with the development of good habits.  Second, stay grounded in scripture when meditating on antidotes to one’s vices.  Third, when we enter the liminal space, listen. Acknowledge. Then act. Ven. Bruno did all three of these things throughout his life, especially in the liminal spaces of his time.  

“Listen. Acknowledge. Then Act.” 

What I mean by the trio, listen, acknowledge, then act, is this: listen with a critical ear to what is happening around you. Don’t take mental shortcuts or get sucked into a mob mentality of panic or rage. Process that information carefully. Acknowledge or name the troubling phenomena contributing to the flux in the liminal space. Then act to address the problem. When acting, as Ven. Bruno did, remember that one does not have to do it alone. For example, Ven. Bruno collaborated with members of Catholic secret networks, among them the Amicizia Cristiana, to get needed work done for the imprisoned pope even in the chaos of war. 

There are good shepherds and bishops who, while the sheep scatter from scandal or injury, work tirelessly to help get them back to safety and strive to protect them from predators and evildoers. You will not often see them in the spotlight of TV shows or news agencies. Instead, most are quietly working in the background, continuing to make the sacraments available to the faithful, going to visit the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the elderly, and celebrating Mass with a prayer for the people in their midst. They will be offering spiritual direction and retreats for the weary. They too, will be in the midst of the spiritual battle, ready to walk with those in need of a battle buddy. 

Prayer is one way to take action. Asking for the intercession of the living and the dead, including the saints, is a powerful, scripturally grounded practice that also supports those engaged in spiritual battle. Having a prayer partner is another way of being accompanied in spiritual battle. As Ven. Bruno's spiritual sons, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary help to form their own seminarians and other men and women as prayer partners through the Lanteri Center in Denver and the Prayer Partnering Program in Boston.  For more information, please see the newsletter, pg. 5.

Works Cited 
1. Puhl, SJ, Louis J. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on the Studies in the Language of the Autograph. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1951. 
2. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The Spiritual Writings of Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri: A Selection. Boston: Oblates of the Virgin Mary, 2001.

Ven. Bruno Guild updates | Fall/Winter 2018

It has been a while since we've posted an update about the Venerable Bruno Guild. We are excited to share the latest with you here.

Website Updates
The Ven. Bruno website has a number of new additions!

1. The Intercession prayer is now available in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Tagalog, and Italian.

2. Two books on Ven. Bruno are available for download:
A Cross for Napoleon and The Spiritual Writings of Ven. Pio Bruno Lanteri.

3. The Counsels of Mercy, a short pamphlet with Ven. Bruno's writings, is also available in three languages:
English, Spanish, and French.

Guild Activity
We now have Guild members in PA, MA, DC, VA, IL, CA, FL, and CO, all helping to spread the story of Ven. Bruno and his spiritual sons, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. Our Guild meets in-person together with folks from around the country via Google hangouts and learn more about Ven. Bruno through internal Oblate resources. We also share insights in how we spread Ven. Bruno's story around the country.

We also have a little Lanterian prayer booklet that was created by a Guild member and can be distributed with prayer cards. It is available at Oblate locations around the USA and online.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Venerable Bruno Guild is active in Boston

March 11, 2018

Happy Laetare Sunday! I hope that this Lenten season has been a time of grace as we deepen our meditation of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection and renew our bonds of friendship with the Lord.

I want to provide an update to our Bruno Lanteri project followers and let you know that since the Venerable Bruno Guild launched a few months ago, we had enough local interest in the Boston area to begin having in-person meetings.

We've had some questions about what the Venerable Bruno Guild is and what people do. The Guild, like many other guilds for people's causes for canonization, simply helps to tell the story of the person whose cause for canonization is under way. Venerable Bruno Guild members come together because they share a common love of the Lanterian spirituality lived by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in the USA and beyond. Our members are learning more about Ven. Bruno through our informal meetings, Fr. Tim Gallagher's recent biography of him, and resources that I can connect them with at the seminary in Boston. Through our meetings we grow in friendship with Ven. Bruno and one another as we continue to spread the message of his story, which is really the story of a humble priest's deep love for Jesus and Mary, and his love for the people he encountered in his ministry. Guild members also join with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in praying for the many prayer intentions that have been sent to us, asking for Ven. Bruno's intercession. Anyone with an interest in joining us or learning more is welcome to contact us via the Guild website.

On April 18 I will be giving a talk at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston on Venerable Bruno and his cause for canonization. Details can be found here. All are welcome! Peace be with you.

Cabrini Pak, PhD, Religion and Culture
Co-founder, Amicizia Cristiana USA