Jan van Ruysbroeck I have


Jan van Ruysbroeck

I have heard this person variously referred to as "Blessed" and "Saint" so I do not know his present standing in the church; however, the Catholic Encyclopedia entry describes him as "the foremost of the Flemish mystics." That is certainly true, as I am uncertain that I have ever heard of any of the other "Flemish mystics." This excerpt is from The Sparkling Stone. It is available online at CCEL.

From The Sparkling Stone Jan van Ruysbroeck Chapter 1 THROUGH THREE THINGS A MAN BECOMES GOOD

HEAR now three things which constitute a good man. The first, which a good man must have, is a clean conscience without reproach of mortal sin. And therefore whosoever wishes to become a good man must examine and prove himself with due discernment, from that time onward when he could first have committed sin. And from all these sins he must purge himself, according to the precept and the custom of Holy Church.

The second thing which pertains to a good man is that he must in all things be obedient to God, and to Holy Church, and to his own proper convictions. And to each of these three he must be equally obedient: so shall he live without care and doubt, and shall ever abide without inward reproach in all his deeds.

The third thing which behoves every good man is that in all his deeds he should have in mind, above all else, the glory of God. And if it happens that by reason of his business or the multiplicity of his works, he has not always God before his eyes, yet at least there should be established in him the intention and desire to live according to the dearest will of God.

Behold, these three things, when they are possessed in this way, make a man good. And whosoever lacks any one of these three is neither good nor in the grace of God; but whenever a man resolves in his heart to fulfil these three points, how wicked soever he may have been before, in that very instant he becomes good, and is susceptible of God, and filled with the grace of God.

This puts me in mind of how very fortunate I am here. We have a local church designed to serve our large tourist base. This church boasts of having a priest available more than forty hours a week for confession. They announce this and encourage everyone to take advantage of it at every Sunday mass. The priests there have been magnificent confessors. They have been helpful in encouraging you to make a good confession, and they have been wise councilors about how to avoid the occasion of sin.

The Holy Father emphasizes over and over the importance of confession. I have seen some wording to the effect that there is a "crisis" in confession. This, I cannot understand. Why wouldn't you avail yourself of the strength and the grace that comes from this sacrament. I guess part of the reason is that many churches offer confession for an hour to a half-hour before the Saturday Vigil Mass, otherwise you need to make an appointment, and that is not always possible.

Part of the problem seems to be priests who think that everyone is basically okay and there isn't a lot of need for this morbid emphasis on confession. These people have their hearts in the right place, but I think they are hopelessly fuddled on the situation of the average person. Most of us are not "basically okay." Most of us are not necessarily in mortal sin, but we sure have enough venial sin piled up that the slide down to mortal wouldn't be all that difficult. Our vision of God is obscured through mirrored lenses that only allow us to see ourselves and our agenda. We are lost sheep, wandering around in a field of self-satisfaction, self-recrimination, and a generally poor attitude toward others. We are not only social conservatives, we are fiscal conservatives who have abandoned the Church's teaching on social justice and we toe the hard line in 2 Thessalonians, "If they do not work, they should not eat." We have all sorts of small waywardnesses that need to be constantly kept in check. The confessional provides for us a certain accountability. Knowing that I will be there each week is an encouragement to do better and not to do some of those things that I will have to confess. I know that this is not the best attitude; however, sometimes it is all that really keeps us from our falling into the vacuum of our self-centeredness.

So keep in mind the first of these three things--purgation from sin. As to the second, I find it most interesting the order in which van Ruysbroeck lists our necessary loyalty--God, Church, and conscience. We are required to form ourselves in this fashion. First is faithfulness to God, which is formed and informed by the teaching of the Church. We must be obedient to both of these first and foremost. When conscience and self comes into conflict with either of these, it is necessarily wrong and must be corrected. Being Americans we can argue ourselves into the "right" to almost anything. We have no rights save those granted by God alone, and such rights do not include self-determination--hard for an individualistic society to accept, but true nevertheless.

Note that the third guide is conscience. I read this to mean that conscience can place an additional group of things in mind, such as are neither strictly required nor forbidden by Church teachings. For example, so long as one holds to the Church teaching that there can be such a thing as a "just war," individual conscience may further dictate that any participation of the individual in war is not permitted. That is not to say that such an individual is then free to proselytize his particular conscience as Church teaching or as required by obedience to Jesus Christ. However, the person so convicted by conscience is required, upon pain of sin, to refrain from participation. And so on with less serious things and things not forbidden by the Church. For example, part of my conscience, formed by Baptist upbringing will not allow me to partake of any alcohol nor to give alcohol as a gift. I am not scandalized when others give or receive it, nor am I offended when someone unaware of my convictions generously gives me such a gift. However, other than in cooking, the use of alcohol is something I do not feel permitted. This is a hallmark of conscience--not the church, not God, but individual conviction. As such it is neither good nor bad, but it is an additional structure in my life. We all have them. The problem comes in when the dictates of conscience go against the teaching of the church. For example, if your conscience were to tell you that it is okay for people to have abortions if the child conceived is not wanted because every child deserves a loving home, your conscience would be monstrously malformed because of the secular agenda it has absorbed. Nearly every form of dissent is conscience in opposition to Church teaching and God.

A properly formed conscience cannot reasonably oppose either of these, and where it seems to, deep examination is required, because there are usually other factors of convenience hidden there. I note that the vast majority of these conflicts seem to center around the question of sex. It is a place where natural pulls work more persuasively to convince us that 2,000 years of teaching (more like 4-6,000 if you count Levitical Teaching as the forerunner) are simply wrong. Van Ruysbroeck makes it clear that our required obedience is (1) to God; (2) to Church and (3) our own consciences. Anything else is dissent and dissent borders on sin. A canonist or someone who truly understands the deep meanings of many of the moral laws and definitions would be required to tell whether or not. In any case, it will set the person in direct opposition to God and open the doors to further disobedience. Their prayers are likely to be self-delusional rather than true correspondence with the divine, and much of their lives will be colored by this dissent.

Okay, okay, I've tried your patience too much. But you can see how simple writing of people close to God can inspire great reflection, great understanding, and a much closer approach to God Himself. I pray for everyone who reads this and for those who do not, that God will draw you closer in and bind you to Him with ties of love. I also pray that neither pride nor a stony heart nor fear will prevent anyone from following His gentle lead.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 29, 2002 8:20 AM.

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