Proposals for meditations on the semons of Father Lataste to the women at Cadillac prison.
First sermon of Father Lataste
to the women at Cadillac Prison
"My dear sisters" 1)
Before an unknown audience unaccustomed to living three days of spiritual retreat, the young preacher Jean Joseph Lataste, influenced by the prejudices of his milieu, feels his heart constrict and his morale deflate: "What good can come out of such an audience?"
How can one not to think of Nathaniel's question: "What good can come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).
Yet through his encounters with the women of Cadillac another question arises, burning in his heart. "What will happen to them when they leave this place?" Here, Father Lataste shows himself to be a true disciple of Dominic, crying out in a loud voice night after night: "My God, my mercy, what is going to become of sinners?"
From those two supplications gushes forth as from a powerful spring the famous "my dear sisters". Father Lataste is at that moment the brother of all of humanity, a sinful humanity saved by love: He recognizes himself as the brother of those despised women, their dignity restored through the saving love of the Lord.
Reflecting on his own story, he feels that he is a true brother of these women! The depth of their forgiveness toward those who brought about their unhappiness and the humble recognition of their mistakes make them more open to the love of God than they were before their fall.
Our blessed Fr. Lataste becomes conscious that we are all brothers and sisters in Adam, all created and fashioned from the same earth, the same flesh.
Even better, his prayerful meditation leads him farther: We are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, all saved by the same blood, at the inestimable price that is the flesh of God, the Father of all.
Bethany was born from this spiritual and revolutionary path, coming to life from the adoration and meditation of blessed Fr. Jean Joseph.
We are all sisters in truth, totally, eternally, lovingly sisters from life to death. What does each other's past matter? It is the present that is our school of mutual trust, of sisterly and brotherly communion, of love in spirit and in truth.
During the second retreat, "my dear sisters" became "my dear children". The brother in his humanity becomes the merciful father, whose tenderness gave back joy and hope where there reigned only harsh and naked despair.
This spiritual paternity leads us to become mothers in spirit and in truth, spiritual mothers to all those wounded by love, known or unknown, near or distant.
Jesus reminds us that our neighbor is the one who approaches us; that is why a Bethanian spiritual motherhood, the fruit of our brotherhood and sisterhood by grace, can reach all of God's children, on all continents, of all religions, of every opinion.
Questions for meditation:
- Do I feel myself deeply and truly a brother or sister to those I would prefer to hold at a distance?
- Am I moved with tenderness for those who come to me?
- Do I consider my brother, my sister as the one the Lord gives me to love, reminding me of the words of blessed Jean Joseph: "It is by loving them that you will save them."?
A sister of Bethany Monferrand
1) "Precheur de la Misericorde" JM. Gueullette o.p., ed. Cert/Fates, page 67 and 70.
2) Ibid, page 186.
First sermon of Father Lataste
to the women at Cadillac Prison
THE JOY OF LIFE WITH GOD
"See, you lowly ones and be glad;
you who seek God, take heart!"
From the very beginning of the retreat, Fr. Lataste puts "his dear sisters" in the presence of GOD-LOVE. "God has brought you here only because he loves you." 1) Fr. Lataste both perceived and lived that primacy of God from the beginning of his religious life: As he shared with a friend: "Brother, come to this place; here is real life, here is joy and happiness, here is love, not love that passes, but love that endures." 2)
Fr. Lataste immerses himself in this project of the love of God, and so can say to these women "Poor souls, how I pity you and how I love you also in spite of you falls and how I would like to be God's hand to help you get up again." 3)
He is already showing them the path of Hope and freedom that nobody or nothing can take away from them. He speaks to them about the lives of the Carmelites... Trappists... Dominicans... "and the one thing that makes them happy in spite of so many privations, and in the midst of a rather harsh life is the Love of God. To love God and to be loved by him... and you can experience this joy." 4)
Fr. Lataste draws a parallel between life in this world and life with Jesus:
"People forget you : Jesus thinks about you"
"People disdain you : Jesus calls you"
"People punish you : Jesus opens his arms and blesses you"
The women recognize in these words, although sometimes hard to hear but always loving, the voice of the Good Shepherd.
As soon as he had spoken to them about the love of God "they raised their heads up high like flowers after a storm....and little by little, their faces blossomed."
As a model he gives them Mary Magdalene - "Follow her example"... "She makes use of the same things that she once used in sinning to express her repentance and her love for the Savior." "From now on, so must you spend all the strength of your youth, all the activity of your soul... all the energy and all the tenderness of your heart for loving him and serving him " 5)
Father Lataste was deeply moved by all he saw and heard and he will loudly exclaim "I saw wonders, I saw wonders"; yes he saw grace at work in Cadillac's women, the ones they called "the lost girls" who were banished from society.
Yes, whatever he may be, there is always within every the human being a corner of the heart which has remained pure, because man is created in the image of God. It is beginning with this corner, small as it may be, that the Lord will make LIFE spring forth.
In the sermon on the Eucharist Fr. Lataste says: " In the midst these dark clouds of sadness in which your soul is indeed enveloped, it is amazing to me to find flashes of an unexpected sweet joy... yes, I will never forget it; I just have to tell you this before I take my leave of you ...." 6)
At the end of this sermon, he will again make the make the comparison between the life of a Dominican [and their lives], but he will go even further.
It is then that he is going to say to them these astounding and truly extraordinary words, given that they are in prison: "Yes, my children, you are on the right path, continue. No matter what your past may have been, don't consider yourselves any longer as prisoners, but as souls dedicated to God, just like the souls of the women religious." 7)
Yes, he proposes that for the love of God, they choose freely the harsh conditions of life that have been imposed on them. Like the religious, this is not to be a passive submission but a free response to a vocation as an act of love.
As dark as our past - or our present - may be, God comes to join us in the depths of our being. It is simply a question of responding to a Love, and to love, not only with our own strengths, but also and especially with all of our weaknesses. Yes, our weakness can be the place to discover and encounter the tenderness of God.
Here is the true joy that "nobody can take away".Jn. 16:22
1) What is the deep conviction which was able to give Fr. Lataste the certainty of believing in the possibility of a religious life, for those women banished by society?
2) What was the key factor that made them get up again and look at their responsibility and their choice?
Two sisters of Bethany Montferrand
1) "Prêcheur de la miséricorde", JM. Gueullette o.p. édition cerf/Fates page 68
2) " page 70
3) " page 73 4) " page 75
5) " page 128/ 129
6) " page 149
Sermon of Father Lataste to the
women at Cadillac Prison
"Prêcheur de la miséricorde" p. 88
"CAUSE OF THEIR FALLS"
Called not only to raise up those who have fallen,
but also to keep them from falling
Can falling really be prevented? "Who is the soul who has never done anything to reproach himself for...? Who would be able to throw the first stone? "and among those who have always remained pure, who is there that at any given moment hasn't felt that if the hand of God had not firmly held him up, he would have been on the verge of falling" says the apostle St. Paul and St. John adds: "If anyone says he is without sin, he is a liar and he is deceiving himself." 1) So what could possibly prevent the fall?
When a child is learning to walk, the child looks less at the next step and more at the goal. He listens to encouraging calls, his eyes are fixed on the loved and familiar face and the outstretched arms that are before him. To keep one's sight on the goal is also what St. Paul advises us. We can do it only by the revelation of God who has given us this favor through his incarnation. Whereas in the time of the Old Testament an ordinary person could not see God and would hide his face before the presence of God for fear of losing his life, now God has shown us his Face in Jesus Christ. We can and we must look at Him and recognize his face in the tender face of the child, in the beautiful face of youth, in the wrinkled face of the elderly man, in the tortured face of the suffering brother, in the smiling or tear-stained face of the sister; we must meditate on Christ in the loving contemplation of his presence in the Eucharist. So do not be afraid to look at Him with a burning desire, He whose bruised face gives us back our self-respect which we so desire. Yes, I want and I need God to look at me, to see everything that is not visible in my life, which has disappeared from sight: my effort, my work, my love, my wound, my anguish, my suffering, my cross, my powerlessness, my....
If you see all that, my God, I no longer have to seek so desperately to show it to others by human means. Through your eyes full of tenderness I become free in the look you give me, a look full of trust, becoming more and more my Face-to-face. I no longer fall;
I no longer collapse under the effort to derive my self-esteem from others. So let us not hide ourselves before the Face of God because we are naked. We don't have to hide our nudity and our face. Let us allow God to read what is in us, for he loves to gaze upon us. He looks at me with loving the loving eyes of Christ, who looks upon me so personally, who calls me, saves me, heals me, reconciles me, sends me, upholds me, carries me or picks me up.
I like to pray the verses of the Sunday hymn of Lauds in the German breviary: "Lord, when we fall, turn toward us and heal us by your look. Your look erases all our sins and our faults are transformed into tears."
To take in this look and respond to it creates a relationship which allows us to look at our neighbor with this extraordinary look, this esteem for the other. It allows us especially to regard those who are not esteemed by others, those who hide and are no longer visible. If they could experience our look and thus be strengthened, one fall or another might be avoided. How much a kindly look or an encouraging smile can do to change everyday life.
Questions for reflection:
- Am I able to reveal myself to God the way I am now or would I prefer to hide until I change? Do I like God to look at me? Do I take enough time to encounter Him?
- In what way am I confronted by a brother or sister I avoid? Do I present that to God? Recently, what person in my entourage have I avoided looking at? Who would need my look?
- How do I see myself? When have I been touched by my own kind look? Am I able to receive the caring look of others?
A sister of Bethany Venlo.
"Precheur de la misericorde" JM Gueullette o.p. ed. cerf/Fates, page 147/148.
"The mercy of the Lord is for everyone"
The experience of Cadillac in prison
God hates me, He doesn’t listen to my cry; it is too late for me. Or is it? Sometimes we feel as if our cries for mercy have fallen on God’s deaf ears. Despite our inner, heartfelt desire to be reconciled, we hesitate to surrender ourselves totally to Him in hopes that He would understand that “at least, we are trying”, and perhaps gives us one more chance, one more opportunity to do what we do best, which is to continue to sin.
Then one day, we come to realize that God is so good that when He sees us sinning, running to our ruin, He chases after us, calling us, entreating and accompanying us even to the very gates of hell. It is there that we hear the voice of God telling and asking us to turn away from the habit of sin, or we may fall into the abyss. We stop and turn around; we see Jesus Himself who calls us and who, with His wounds and so many eloquent words, cries out to each of us to lift up our eyes and see all the graces with which He has enriched us to insure our eternal salvation.
Yet, we continue to resist God’s grace; we are frightened and we are also doubtful. We cannot conceive how God could be so merciful and come to our rescue, when we have done nothing but offend Him over and over. God’s grace is limitless! Powerful enough to rebuild even the most destroyed life. Even in this prison, behind these high concrete walls, we can live our lives bearing witness to mercy and forgiveness, when we ourselves, take the time to accept it and receive it with love.
God doesn’t care what we have been. He only cares about what we are, and if there is one thing I have come to know in knowing Bl. Lataste, it is this: He has helped me to discover and live the hope that dwells within me, and I have come to an awareness that this hope is stronger than the wrongs inflicted on us or those we have inflicted on others.
Our Church is a people of pardoned sinners, justified and saved by Christ and gathered together by the Holy Spirit in order to bear witness to the mercy of the Father who so
loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it. (Jn. 3:16-7). As Christians and as Catholics, we are first of all beneficiaries of the divine love which calls, welcomes, pardons and hopes. We have not been forgotten. We have never been nor will we ever be forgotten. Matthew 18:21 reminds us that Christ places great hope in the repentant
sinner, exhorting us Christians to trust those who keep falling into sin and to forgive even seventy times, that is to say, ALWAYS.
God’s mercy is so infinite that Jesus tells us over and over again just how much God the Father welcomes us, forgives us, hopes in us and rejoices when we return to Him. We can clearly see in the parable of the prodigal son, that God welcomes us without questioning us about our past and without reproaching us.
The prodigal son doesn’t even have the time to apologize or ask his father for forgiveness. His father runs toward him, throws his arms around him, kisses him tenderly and orders his servants to begin making preparations for the feast, for his beloved son has returned home! Just the way God rejoices when we return to Him.
The Gospels are full of such stories where we can very clearly see how Jesus loved the poor, the sinners, the rejected, the excluded, the sick: How He places His trust in the adulteress woman without condemning her (John 8:1-11), in Zacchaeus, who received Him into his home (Luke 19:1-10), in Mary Magdalene (Luke 7:36-50), in the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26), etc. It could not be otherwise because Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) of the Father of mercies (2 Cor. 1:3).
So there is no better time to return to Christ than NOW: When we feel overwhelmed by the weight of our cross. When we are burdened by sin and feel hopeless. It is important to realize that God has not abandoned us. He is simply waiting o show us His mercy, for where sin abounds, grace abounds eve more. Like the good thief on the cross, let us ask God for His forgiveness and his mercy. Let us ask confidently knowing that He has never abandoned us. Never!
Robert G., OPL Norfolk
Questions for Reflection:
- When visiting the men at Walpole prison, Mother Teresa said to them, “Do your time for God…and pray. How can I translate these words into my everyday living experience?
- Where do I hear the voice of God speaking to me in my daily life? Do I listen; do I respond; do I accept God’s mercy?
- How can I use my “time” for the honor and glory of God?
A member of the Dominican lay fraternity of Bethany in Germany
to the women at Cadillac prison
"Prêcheur de la miséricorde" p. 123
"Mary Magdalene" - patroness of Bethany
In a legend, we read that Mary Magdalene lived in total isolation for 33 years in a cave in the mountains of Southern France. Seven times a day two angels carried her to the summit of the mountain because she wanted to be as close as possible to Jesus, just as she desired to be near Jesus while she was alive. In the chapel of the grotto of St. Maximum in Sainte Baume, there are three windows depicting three episodes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene.
In the first window, one can see Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee.
Mary Magdalene repents of her sins. In order to be near Jesus she breaks a taboo. As a woman and a well-known sinner in the town, she enters the Pharisee's house in which men were invited for a meal. Humbly and in tears she sits at the feet of Jesus, washes his feet with her tears and anoints them with precious oil fit for a king. The Pharisee and his guests must have been flabbergasted by this. Jesus, on the other hand, says to Simon: "Do you see this woman? ... her sins, her many sins, have been forgiven because she has shown much love." And Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: "Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (Luke 7:36-50)
The second window depicts Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha. Jesus is a guest in their home in Bethany.
Mary wants to serve him and she prepares the meal, which is the task of the hostess, but Mary Magdalene is sitting at Jesus' feet and is listening to him attentively. Martha gets upset because Mary Magdalene is not doing her job. Martha complains to Jesus. The Lord says to her in reply: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke10:41-42))
The third window shows Mary Magdalene with the Risen Jesus.
Overwhelmed by sadness and despair, she stands near the empty tomb of Jesus. She cannot understand why Jesus is not there. She sees him, but does not recognize him. Jesus says to her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?" (Jn. 20:15) It is only when he speaks her name that she recognizes him. "Jesus says to her: "Do not touch me... I am going to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God." Mary of Magdala goes and announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord and relates what he said to her. (Jn. 20:17-18)
Mary Magdalene - three scenes of a life marked by great love, trust and conversion. Mary Magdalene must have been a courageous woman. She exceeds the norms of society. She radically changed her life and returned to follow Jesus.
What meaning does the life of this woman have for me and for my life?
- God has given each of us gifts. How am I putting them to use?
- The daily demands of life are challenging. Do I have the courage to go against the norms of society, to acknowledge my faith in God and to make time for him?
- Near the tomb Mary Magdalene did not immediately recognize Jesus. Do I find it hard to recognize God in my daily life or is it perhaps that I do not want to see him at that particular moment?
A member of the Dominican lay fraternity of Bethany in Germany
One day we visited the solitary confinement cells of the prison at Walpole: Ruth, the chaplain at Walpole and a member of the lay Dominican community " Our Lady of Mercy" of Norfolk, Charlie, a volunteer and also a member of this lay community of Norfolk, Sr. Pia Elisabeth, Sr. Cécile of Bethany Mont, Sr. Judith and Sr. Sara of Bethany Venlo.
An overwhelming experience: 140 men are enclosed here in individual cells, in a very limited space, almost without communication with the outside world, exposed to the gaze of guards who can observe them at any moment through the window of the door leading to the cell. Some men wish to speak to us; we pray together and exchange a few words. Three of them ask for communion.
We cannot go into the cells. Ruth asks these men to slide a paper under the door of their cell. She puts the consecrated host on it and carefully slides the paper under the door toward the inmate. He takes communion and he prays.
God makes himself so incredibly small to come to this inmate, whose heart is wide open to the grace and mercy of God.
The experience of Cadillac! There, Fr. Lataste lives the meaning of God wanting to come to us. When in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament with the women inmates, he realizes that it is God who awaits us in the vulnerability of a tiny host. It is He who opens himself up to us and not the other way around! He does not impose himself upon us; on the contrary, he makes himself totally dependent on the way we welcome him into our hearts.
Did not Fr. Lataste say in his preaching that it all depends on us? He is speaking of repentance, of a change of heart, conversion, of leaving behind one's old self, the past, and of the need to ask for forgiveness.
I must - I must - I must! And what if we have no more strength to do something? Let us continue to reflect on this! And let us consider the men in solitary confinement.
It is not about being able to present a perfect self or a perfect conversion, nor a perfection confession, nor is it about being perfect. It is only about opening a little crack in our heart, for Him who desires to come into our heart. That is what conversion is: t o leave the past behind; that is what Fr. Lataste meant!
The only thing that God asks of us is to give him some space, even only as much as is needed for a piece of paper with a host placed under the door of the prison.
It is a space that God would like to fill and enlarge in the Eucharistic celebration, a space where He would like to give himself to us from his abundance - yet he remains small and self-effacing.
It is a space that He would like to fill when we are near Him in Eucharistic adoration if we are not there simply to spend time with Him; on the contrary, we can do away with pious reading and just accept that he supports us, that he holds us.
The fellowship is in the Eucharist.
A small gap under the door of a prison! But no longer small either.
Questions for reflection
What does the Eucharist mean for me in my spiritual life -the celebration of communion - Eucharistic adoration?
How can God find space in me, in order to fill me with himself?
What prevents me from opening myself up to Him, even if it is just a tiny crack?
How do I experience, where do we experience Bethanian communion in the Eucharist?
A sister of Bethany Venlo
"My dear sisters..."
Called to live like sisters or brothers in community.
"The joy of life with God"
The comparison with religious life in the first sermon of Father Lataste to the women
" Don't consider yourselves any longer as prisoners, but as souls dedicated to God, just like the souls of the women religious."
As a model he gives them Mary Magdalene - "Follow her example"
"Cause of their Falls"
Called not only to raise up those who have fallen, but also to keep them from falling
Let us allow God to read what is in us, for he loves to gaze upon us.
"The Mercy of the Lord is for everyone"
"Do your time for God...and pray" Mother Teresa at Walpoe
to the women at Cadillac prison
"Precheur de la misericorde"
Preacher of Mercy
Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet.
Second Window depict Mary Magdalene and her sister Martha. Jesus is a guest in their Home in Bethany.
Mary Magdalene with the Risen Jesus
Bethany is born during nocturnal adoration at Cadillac Prison
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