June 2003 Archives

More on Lectio


More on Lectio

A generous reader contributed this website which is from the Valyermo Benedictine on lectio It includes tips for private consideration of the prayer and for communal forms. Quite often our Carmelite group does this with great effect for everyone--it allows an exploration of the message of scripture in a way that is impossible for a single person. Also, it better helps tease out some of the applications one might make of the scripture. My thanks to the person who so generously sent me this link. (There are a great many links out there on lectio. This one is nice because it is succinct and yet pretty thorough, it seems.)

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A Moral Lesson from Harry Potter


Yes, I know there is much clamor in the world regarding this, and I don't mean to stir up a wasp's nest, but I couldn't help share this as it occurs to me each time I read the book or see the film. (Several at this point.)

Toward the end of the first book Dumbledore asks Harry why it was that he was so damaging to the enemy. Harry, of course, doesn't have a clue and Dumbledore explains (I paraphrase here). When your mother gave her life it was for love of you. Love like that leaves a mark--no, not on the outside, but in here (touching the heart).

This is so true in merely human terms. We are transformed by this giving in a merely human way. So, what about the Love who gave Himself. Surely that should leave a mark, and surely by the size of the giving, the Mark must be greater. And yet, often when I speak with Christians, I see no sign of that mark. Too often people are so wrapped up in their agendas and in their complaints, that the sign of that great mark is too effaced to make a difference.

There are two quotes, and again I paraphrase, related to this. The first attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, "Christianity is a very fine religion. Too bad so few practice it." The second is Chesterton's, and the experts among us may correct me: " It is not that Christianity has been tried and been found wanting, but it has been found too difficult and not tried."

Again, because this is a morning of it, I accuse myself--too often wrapped up in personal problems, agendas that I don't even recognize, and things of the world, I give a very poor image of Christ to those who might seek Him if they had better examples. Surely the great love that led to the death of Love Incarnate is sufficient to make a mark that will do more than vaporize imaginary wizards. Surely it is a great fire that would consume all and make it Holy, if only I would fan the flames and take it out of the protective glass case I have placed it in. Isn't our mission to spread the light, not merely to preserve it? Good God, help me, I have failed so greatly in this commission.

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Talk About Dismaying


Talk About DismayingIn my study of The Ascent of Mount Carmel I was sent by footnote to the first few chapters of Dark Night of the Soul The first chapter of this great work will require greater explication and discussion at another time, because right now I wish to make a public confession, hoping that it will help me amend my behavior. In the third chapter of the first book we have the following description:

from Dark Night of the Soul Book 1, Chapter 3 St. John of the Cross

MANY of these beginners have also at times great spiritual avarice. They will be found to be discontented with the spirituality which God gives them; and they are very disconsolate and querulous because they find not in spiritual things the consolation that they would desire. Many can never have enough of listening to counsels and learning spiritual precepts, and of possessing and reading many books which treat of this matter, and they spend their time on all these things rather than on works of mortification and the perfecting of the inward poverty of spirit which should be theirs. Furthermore, they burden themselves with images and rosaries which are very curious; now they put down one, now take up another; now they change about, now change back again; now they want this kind of thing, now that, preferring one kind of cross to another, because it is more curious. And others you will see adorned with agnusdeis and relics and tokens, like children with trinkets. Here I condemn the attachment of the heart, and the affection which they have for the nature, multitude and curiosity of these things, inasmuch as it is quite contrary to poverty of spirit which considers only the substance of devotion, makes use only of what suffices for that end and grows weary of this other kind of multiplicity and curiosity. For true devotion must issue from the heart, and consist in the truth and substances alone of what is represented by spiritual things; all the rest is affection and attachment proceeding from imperfection; and in order that one may pass to any kind of perfection it is necessary for such desires to be killed.

[emphasis added]

He hit the nail on the head for me. I am so often wrapped up in reading about spiritual matters and trying to take counsel from one and all that I end up putting relatively little of it into practice in a relatively remote and mild way. Yes I pray. And yes, I think I'm praying as I read these books seeking to mend my ways and my life. But the reality is, at least in part, I do what I do to avoid prayer and quiet time with God. He frightens me, not because of who He is, but because of who I am. Approaching Him, I feel like the Cowardly Lion approaching the Wizard of Oz. I don't know what I expect, except perhaps that it is likely to be painful, unpleasant, and difficult. My expectation have not been met most of the time, but there are times, sometimes long times, when they are. I say this with full intent of accusing myself and with certain knowledge that it may alienate some. I pray that you do not think less of my mentors or of the great Saints who have guided me because I am such a feeble reflection of their guidance and goodness. The passage just before that which referred me to the Dark Night has one of the most famous of St. John of the Cross's metaphors and I put it here to complete the picture.

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel Book 2, Chapter 5 St. John of the Cross

6. In order that both these things may be the better understood, let us make a comparison. A ray of sunlight is striking a window. If the window is in any way stained or misty, the sun's ray will be unable to illumine it and transform it into its own light, totally, as it would if it were clean of all these things, and pure; but it will illumine it to a lesser degree, in proportion as it is less free from those mists and stains; and will do so to a greater degree, in proportion as it is cleaner from them, and this will not be because of the sun's ray, but because of itself; so much so that, if it be wholly pure and clean, the ray of sunlight will transform it and illumine it in such wise that it will itself seem to be a ray and will give the same light as the ray. Although in reality the window has a nature distinct from that of the ray itself, however much it may resemble it, yet we may say that that window is a ray of the sun or is light by participation. And the soul is like this window, whereupon is ever beating (or, to express it better, wherein is ever dwelling) this Divine light of the Being of God according to nature, which we have described.

7. In thus allowing God to work in it, the soul (having rid itself of every mist and stain of the creatures, which consists in having its will perfectly united with that of God, for to love is to labour to detach and strip itself for God's sake of all that is not God) is at once illumined and transformed in God, and God communicates to it His supernatural Being, in such wise that it appears to be God Himself, and has all that God Himself has. And this union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favour, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation; although it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before, even as the window has likewise a nature distinct from that of the ray, though the ray gives it brightness.

8. This makes it clearer that the preparation of the soul for this union, as we said, is not that it should understand or perceive or feel or imagine anything, concerning either God or aught else, but that it should have purity and love -- that is, perfect resignation and detachment from everything for God's sake alone; and, as there can be no perfect transformation if there be not perfect purity, and as the enlightenment, illumination and union of the soul with God will be according to the proportion of its purity, in greater or in less degree; yet the soul will not be perfect, as I say, if it be not wholly and perfectly bright and clean.

I think I say enough when I say the passage was written for me and it seems that I need to make a major investment in some spiritual Windex.

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It is time again for me to issue a fairly standard disclaimer. I recognize the presumption inherent in giving advice to anyone about anything dealing with prayer considering the state both of my soul and my prayer life. However, if we waited for those who are perfect to hear advice, we would labor long and hard without hearing a word since the time of Christ. So please forgive me both the arrogance and the presumption and take these as intended--mere bread crumbs to help those who may profit from them--myself among them.

Now to meditation advice. Many are reluctant to start on the path of lectio because they see it as more demanding and difficult than they are up to. Many doubt their own ability to "think" of things to pray about. Many say they lack imaginations and so have difficulty getting into meditation. All of these I understand. And yet these same souls are the ones who pray fifteen or twenty decades of the Rosary each day--whatever in the world are they doing all that time. They are meditating--but they have worn that path so often and so long that it is second nature--the territory is familiar and so the meditation is a natural concommitant of the prayer.

So it will become with lectio, but it may take a while and you may need help at the start. In addition to innumerable books in print about meditation and how to do it (most of which have never been much help to me) there are some helps to get you started. One thing I would recommend is a good bible-study guide, such as those now being produced by Ignatius Press. At the back of each printed gospel are two sets of questions for each chapter of the book. The questions for application make excellent meditation starters. Look at the question and then read the passage associated with it. Read the passage listening for the answer to the question and for the other questions raised by the passage. Do not read looking for some literal answer, but read expectantly, knowing that if we knock it will be answered, and if we seek, we shall find. The presence of application questions indicates that at least one other person found something here worthy of your attention--worthy beyond the mere study of words or understanding of the text--worthy to the point of doing something about what is said. Thus you are offered simply a way into the text--a path for initial meditation.

I hope as we go along to post other helps along these lines, but I welcome the suggestions and the helps of all of those already engaged in these kinds of prayer. They will be of benefit to all.

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Prayer Request Please pray for


Please pray for Katherine's mother. She was scheduled for some fairly serious surgery tomorrow, but was taken ill and taken to the hospital early this morning. As yet, no one is quite certain what is going on, so much prayer is needed.

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Berkeley and UC Press


Berkeley and UC Press

Apparently a great many books from these two sources are available online. Some of them of may interest some St. Blog's parishioners. I have yet to discover a good means to knowing everything available, as there doesn't appear to be a central index. But here's a couple of titles that may evoke some comment:

Papal Patronage and the Music of St. Peter's 1380-1513

Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring.

Later: Found the link to a general index:

University of California Press E-Scholarship Editions

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Wodehouse Fans


For some reason can't seem to get to Catholic Bookshelf to blog so I leave this notice here.

You may want to check out Blackmask, which has two works (look like collections of short stories):

Death at the Excelsior


The Politeness of Princes

and another from Gutenberg, certain to show up at Blackmask shortly:

The Man With Two Left Feet

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Continuing from this morning's post on prayer, this passage from the Psalms for the office of readings for the Feast of the Sacred Heart:

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

(psalm 36)

If we do not hold His word in our hearts, then it is most likely that we must number ourselves among those derided in this Psalm. Where His Word does not dwell, emptiness is enthroned. And we all know that nature abhors a vacuum--so that emptiness will soon be filled either by cares of the world, or more likely, by sin. And then, rather than contemplating His Word and hiding it in our heart, we are conversing with our sins and seeking clothing behind fig-leaves.

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From the Intercessions in this


From the Intercessions in this Morning's Magnificat

If nothing can separate us from the love of God made manifest in the human heart of Jesus Christ, then nothing is too small or too great for His concern.

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The ancient practice of lectio is a gateway from verbal prayers to the richness of meditation and contemplation. When I think of lectio, I think of the passage from psalms "I will hide His word in my heart that I might not sin against God." (RSV: "I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. "--Psalm 119:11). I also think of our model in prayer, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. " (Luke 2:19).

In the practice of lectio, most commonly done with scripture as the basis, we ponder God's word to hear what He is saying to us. A lot of people I know shy away from this because they perceive that such close communion in the Word borders on private interpretation. I think the fear may be overstated if the practice is rightly conducted. Moreover, the purpose of meditation is not to come up with new doctrine and new explanations for the way things are, the purpose is to talk with God and listen to Him in a way that is transformative. If prayer does not change you then it is not as efficacious as it can be.

How does one "do" lectio? All the standard rules of prayer apply--a quiet place, a few moments to recollect oneself and place oneself in the presence of God, an invocation of the Holy Spirit to guide and inform us as we meditate and to protect us from error and intrusion. And then we turn to a passage of scripture. It needn't be long--a single pericope from the gospels, a passage from daily Bible reading in your plan to read through the Bible, or the daily readings from Mass. Even the short verse used in morning and evening prayer can provide a wonderful foundation for prayer. God's word is loaded, packed, and infinitely expandable and ponderable. We read His word slowly and reverently knowing that His Word resides in these words. Jesus is present in the Word, throughout all of scripture. In the Old Testament, He is foreshadowed, announced, and present in a shadowy way and in images and types. (For example Jesus likens himself to the bronze serpent mention in Numbers 21:9 "So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." And again in 2 Kings 18:4 "He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Ashe'rah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehush'tan. ") When we look for Jesus in God's Word we will find Him. When we find Him, we need to listen to what He says.

How do we listen? There are a number of ways--we can pursue active imaginative meditation. We can place ourselves in the scene. For example, read the passage of the Gospel of Luke about Zacchaeus. (Luke 19: 2-10 or so). Where are you in the passage? Are you Zacchaeus, are you in the crowd milling about Jesus? Are you standing off somewhere watching the whole thing? Listen to what God has to say to you as the person you are in the meditation. If you are merely observer, what does that say about your involvement in the things of God?

In addition to meditation, if you take a sufficiently short passage, you can simply repeat the passage, turning it over and over in your mind, worshipping God in His holy word. You might in times of dire trouble turn to the Letter of Paul to the Philippians (4:13) "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. " We might rest in this word, awaiting the strength, taking to us the grace that comes from this promise, recognizing its truth and applying it to our lives.

There are many ways of conducting lectio and many worthy sources and books on how to go about it. But first and most important is to immerse yourself in the Word of God. The Church thinks this so important that a plenary indulgence is granted daily to the person who meets all the usual requisite conditions and spends a half-hour or more reading scripture. By reading scripture, I have always assumed that they meant even so small a portion as a verse considered continuously in meditative prayer for half-an-hour; however, I suppose one should consult a canonist on the actuality of this. Even lacking a plenary indulgence, spending half-an-hour in the Word is much like an entire day of vacation. Many cannot spend that much time, but any time spent is well worthwhile.

One major caution: lectio is NOT Bible Study. Bible Study is a good, necessary, and concomitant action that accompanies lectio, however, your meditative prayer time is not the time to mull over the aorist tense of verbs in Pauline injunctions. It isn't the place to ponder the civilization and achievement of the Hyksos or the Chaldeans. It isn't time to speculate about the kerygmatic implications of the Book of Micah. Bible study is a necessary outside activity that inculcates a base-level literal understanding of the text. In the course of Bible study, you may find yourself drawn off into lectio and you would do well to abandon your trials and worries over the text and vanish for a moment into your "private room" where you might spend a few minutes really speaking with God about what His word means.

Lectio is a very powerful, very fulfilling means of prayer. When we conclude our time of prayer it is well to finish with an "Our Father," and with one firm resolution of what we will take away from the time we have spent and practice in the world at large. That is, lectio should touch you where you live and change your life in some small way. After all, how can one sit with the King of Creation and not be transformed?

More about lectio, keeping a journal, and prayer later. For now, just go and try.

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Life is made much simpler when other bloggers say what you would eventually get around to. The Blogmaster of Disputations has posted a remarkable little note on prayer as talking with God.

It seems we most often go wrong with prayer when we make it a lengthy list of petitions and pious meanderings through the wide fields of our daily concerns. These are legitimate topics for prayer time but they are not the sole purpose of prayer. There are times when we must share those things that burden us so that God can help us, so we utter our petitions. But we should make a space around our petitions to hear what God has to say back to us. Thus, if we have long lists of concerns and people for whom to pray, we should write everyone of them down, and offer God the entire list. And then, as we are moved to do so, talk with God about them--not monopolizing the conversation as it were with one petition after another, but taking those things that lay heavy on our hearts and offering them to God. Speaking the depth of our concern and then pausing, ending our portion of the conversation and assumng an attitude of listening.

I find petitions work quite well with Lectio. By that I mean that one spends some time listening to what God has to say. Hearing the word may in the course of events bring to mind certain concerns that then express, and we can return to the word to listen again. More on the ancient practice of lectio in another post.

But petitions must not merely be uttered, they must be offered and they must be the subject of deep conversation with God. Try to give them time and to hear what God has to say about them. You'll be surprised at what a fulfilling experience merely mentioning someone's name may be.

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Courtesy of Mr. Dhingra


A lovely and moving account of one man's Thirty Day Retreat. What a blessing!

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An interesting and speculative notion sent to me by a colleague, Constantine's Sign.

From the same gracious colleague--New Critters near New Zealand.

And one final link--same source--probably more useful to those using PCs--a "Who Links to You engine.

Both cool science things for those into impacts and critters. A short break from the heavy-going.

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One of the first exercises in the Ignatian Retreat I attended was to focus on the fact that as unlovable as we tend to see ourselves, we are, nevertheless loved. This step was necessary before anything else could be done because recognizing that you are loved unconditinally makes it possible for you to let go of things that you tend to hold onto. For example, it made it far easier to feel contrition. You feel far worse for a trespass against a loving Father than you feel for rebellion against a stern tyrant with an iron fist. You are far more inclined to do something for the former than for the latter. And finally, there is the realization that if there is something truly lovable about you, despite your wretchedness, perhaps the same hold trues for the rest of creation. Perhaps service is not only an option, but a requirement. Perhaps others are as worthy of God's love as you, and perhaps, if they are worthy of God's love, they are worthy of your own weak reflection of it.

The meditation served other purposes in the grueling thirty-two week effort, as well. But it was most important for starting with the proper focus, "God loves me as I am, despite WHAT I am." When this really sinks in, the world begins to change. If it is so, then perhaps I will act in conformity with that love--perhaps I will act lovable to be loved. Perhaps I will love others as a share in this divine love.

Take time out to realize that God does love you. Take moments to see evidences of it. Be aware of the grace that surrounds your life. To use the stock terminology--"count your blessings." But really do it. This flows naturally from yesterday's thanksgiving litany. As you are giving thanks for each of these things, recognize in each one the sign of the Father's all encompassing love. Embrace each one as a cherished gift from the Father and send back a heart full of thanks.

Knowing that God loves you is opening a necessary door to love. But really knowing that God loves you takes much more work than you might think. You must break through years of knowledge of your own unlovableness. You must accept and embrace that as part of you. You must know that the Father loves you tenderly as though you were the only person in existence--His only Son or Daughter.

If you are a parent think of the things your child did as an infant or toddler that defaced, destroyed, dirtied, or otherwise diminished those cherished things around you. And yet, you did not stop loving this child of yours. So too with all the things we hold against ourselves. God does not stop loving us. He picks us up, washes us off, if we're lucky He uses His minister to help guide us, and then sends us on our ways. We are dirtied, but He loves us nonetheless. Dig below your own unforgiveness of self and find there the image of His Son, whom He cherishes and bestows upon us. Know that you are loved and you are lovable because He loves you.

The first step to loving is accepting love and knowing what it looks like and what it does. Learn from the Father who showers every blessing upon us. We all are loved, and in His eyes, despite our terrible rebelliousness and sin, we are all lovable. We are worthy of this love because He loves us.

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Blogger Template Change Saves St. Blog's Parishioners

Yes. Because the template change occurred last night when my fevered brain wished to assault you with a lengthy discussion of St. Alphonsus di Liguori, you all may consider yourselves extremely fortunate. That brain wave passed and vanished into the sand. I may be able to reconstruct it in part, but rather than trying, I may just say, read Uniformity with God's Will. It's like a pocket version (perhaps a half-hour straight-read--hours and hours of Lectio or meditative consideration) of Jean Pierre de Caussade's monumental Abandonment to Divine Providence (q.v.) (Also highly recommended reading).

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Incrementally, the discussion continues. Please bear with me. As people bring up points, it seems that there is more to say.

Today's point--detachment is not a comfortable or easy exercise.

Below a commenter says that "it is easy to slip from detachment to indifference when it is difficult for you to form attachments anyway." Part of that statement evokes a certain misunderstanding of what detachment is. First to repeat: the point of detachment is to love God and the love of God needs some expression. That expression is found in love of neighbor and self. Proper exercise of detachment becomes a discipline of self-giving.

The desire or habit of not forming relationships is an attachment itself. There is something that has proven successful about not forming relationships. So detachment forces one out of this stable mode and into the mode of loving God through loving neighbhor. Love without works is dead (as St. Therese implies). And Jesus tells us, if we love Him, we will keep His Commandments. One of His commandments is feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. When becoming detached from our own preferences and our own desires, the road to indifference is a temptation, but not when the way of detachment is clearly the way of the cross.

Detachment is uncomfortable. It is a source of constant unease. It is constantly against the grain. If we would rather not become involved, then we are attached to the concept of non-involvement. And it is from this that we may have to work particularly hard to escape.

This is where detachment becomes really difficult. It's hard to identify what the attachments are. Sometimes they are defense mechanisms so thoroughly ingrained we can't see them. Sometimes they are participation in a really good thing. For example, if you absolutely must go to a Latin Mass--you wrench your schedule, the schedule of your friends and family, and generally discomfit and discombobulate everyone and everything around you in the search for a Latin Mass, that is a pretty certain sign of attachment. If you go to a Mass in English that, except for being in English, is otherwise properly conducted and carp about the music, the way the prayers are said, whether one is standing or kneeling, etc.--you are probably attached. When you cannot see Jesus for want of your preferences, attachment is indicated. John of the Cross says that even when you prefer your food prepared a certain way and will not eat otherwise, that is an attachment. (Obviously this is aside from doctor's orders. In fact, the unwillingness to follow a doctor's orders with respect to food indicates attachment.)

So, one of the difficulties is identifying the attachments. That is where prayer, patience, and focus help. If our eyes are on Jesus and we truly love and adore Him, everything else fades into the distance. Jesus truly becomes Lord of our life, and detachment from created things is a natural corollary. We might start by working at detachment, but unless our eyes are firmly set on Christ and Him Crucified, we will quickly lose our way.

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It seems ridiculous to talk about training in love. We all know what it is, we all know how it goes. Well, true and false. We all know what the emotional aspect of love looks like, but as a fallen people we rarely live out what the emotional aspect calls for.

We all know, intellectually, that love is a movement of will, not merely an emotion. Love can act without an emotion necessarily being attached. More importantly, one of the tremendous pieces of doctrine that St. Thérèse of Lisieux left with us is that love without works is dead. This is a natural outgrowth of the understanding in the Letter of James that faith without works is dead. Faith, Hope, and Love grow together or die together. When one is supported and nurtured, all three thrive. That is why love is so important in approaching God. Love causes faith to thrive and gives birth to new hope that sustains us through the long languors of love.

Training in love seems a good idea. How do we begin to love God passionately if we do not already do so?

Pardon a brief digression here. Wittgenstein is reported by some to have intimated that words shape reality. I do not know if he actually said this, but if it is true, the man obviously needed a psychiatrist. Reality is. The Ground of Being that reifies all that is, is unchangeable, so too the reality built upon His constant attention. That is not to say that things do not change, but that reality is and is discernable and understandable to some extent to the human intellect. (Good thing Wittgensteinian disciples didn't promulgate their nonsense until after we had a firm foundation in the sciences.) At any rate, words do not shape reality. However, they do shape our perceptions of reality. How we talk about or describe something shapes our feelings about that thing. How we talk about or to a person shapes our feelings about the person. Talk is not everything, but it is a powerful way to shape perception. (Hence, part of James's further admonition to "bridle the tongue.")

So my first suggestion for training in love is to change or enhance the way we talk to God. In addition to formal written prayers or spontaneous prayer it might be good to add to our daily routine a litany of thanksgiving. Perhaps the first prayer in the morning could start with a line from Psalms--"This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it." From there we could move to a simple litany of thanksgiving, being mindful of the presence of God in morning ablutions and preparations. We thank Him for our own being, for another day, for our spouses and children (if any), for our lack of spouses and children (if we lack them), for our material goods, for our health, and then we move on to thank Him even for the challenges of the day--poor health, difficult tasks, even worries. We hand them all over in thanksgiving, knowing that He will support us through them all. The litany of thanksgiving puts us in the mindframe to be grateful and to perceive God's hand in the events of the day. A very wise Jesuit once said, "A grateful heart finds it hard to be unhappy." And a happy heart finds it easier to love the Person who gave it so much happiness.

Thus my first suggestion--start the day with a litany of thanksgiving. Everything you can think of to praise and thank God for say or sing in your own private litany. Thank Him for all that you have, all that you are, and all that is around you. Thank Him for being present to preserve it all. Thank Him for the guidance He gives and the love He pours out.

Perhaps this starts as mere words, but as the practice develops and continues it grows into a yearning to do something to express thanksgiving, to share with others the fantastic joy of knowing God. This is a first step in the dance of love. We are moved to do something, however small, however seemingly meaningless. We are moved to DO something beautiful for God.

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Here's another very critical point about detachment. Detachment in the sense used here does not have the same definition one might give it in ordinary life. It takes on the patina of a technical term. Detachment is NOT synonymous with indifference. Detachment allows you to separate from creation in order to make room for the Creator. The end result of this will be to love Creation and Creator far more than you could otherwise do. Indifference is the true opposite of love--it is a cool and killing emotion or attitude that can look upon a drowning person and say, "I warned you not to go in the water." Detachment sees the same person and for the sake of the love of God sacrifices itself in order that the other might live, and does so joyfully. Hope this helps somewhat. Please, please, ask questions so I can clarify these points that I kind of take for granted.

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On Detachment


[Sorry, another long post, but may as well write them as they occur to me--otherwise they're gone.]

You may wonder why I tend to go on so about detachment. Putting aside the fact that it is absolutely central to all of the teachers (and Doctors of the Church) within my Order, there are good and proper reasons for thinking about detachment and taking steps to become detached.

In all of my reading of the lives of the Saints the central theme is one of self-giving love. For one to be able to be self-giving, one must not be too strictly tied down or restricted in motion. One cannot give oneself if one is not free to do so.

Jesus told us, "You cannot serve God and mammon." His statement was not strictly about money, but about split allegiances. You cannot serve two masters. When you are attached to things you are serving the master of self-interest while trying to serve God. These two, while not always diametrically opposed do often tend to take different forks in the road. You cannot travel two paths.

St. Thomas Aquinas has a long discussion of the simplicity of God (practically the only thing from the Summa that I think I grasp). In it, he ultimately proves that God is simple, speaking in the terms of the time, He is of one substance and mind. How can anything that is duple (or worse) hope to unite with what is simple and single? It can happen via miracle, but God prefers methods that are not so invasive of creation and of personal sovereignty. And personal sovereignty, make no doubt of it, is what God is asking us to surrender. We are to give Him rule of our lives. If we are being pulled this way and that by creation, we cannot be drawn as swiftly to the creator.

Detachment is a means to an end. It is a necessary means, but in no way a sufficient means. Grace, sacraments, prayer, and many other attainments of a life lived in accord with God's will are required. But without detachment, all of these other things will not bring one to Union with God--the ultimate aim of all Christians, and an end that is within the grasp of all at God's good pleasure. Every Saint teaches detachment in one way or another, either through their writings or through their practice and the lives that they lived.

Detachment is not easy but it is very simple. On our own it is impossible, with Christ it becomes possible. It is "simply" a matter of learning to live as St. Paul described when he said, "I know how to be rich and I know how to be poor." That is, your state in life becomes meaningless because all meaning is invested in the centrality of God.

Detachment is not easy for several reasons. First, we often don't recognize attachments. Second, even when we recognize them, we often rationalize them. An example--I was in an extended Ignatian Retreat with a gentleman who was very devoted to the Rosary. The retreat master laid out the rules in the first session--there would be no spiritual reading material other than the Ignatian Exercises, the Holy Bible, and The Imitation of Christ. All other habitual devotions should be put aside for the duration of the retreat so that energy could be focused on the intense retreat exercises. The gentleman asked about the Rosary, and while the good Priest praised the devotion, he discouraged it for the duration of the exercise. The gentleman did not return. Now, this could well be a case in which the man discerned through this mechanism that he was not called to the retreat, but equally likely, it could be an example of an attachment getting in the way of a good that could draw one on toward God. I cannot know that, but proper discernment by the person involved could show which was true.

Third, even when we do not rationalize and we do recognize, sometimes we simply do not wish to give up the object, idea, or practice to which we are attached. This is typified by St. Augustine's famous prayer, "Lord make me chaste, but not just yet." Yes, Lord, I want sanctity, but not as much as I want ___________. And the things that fill in the blank vary from person to person.

The first step toward union with God is recognizing that our entire lives are meaningless without it. When we finally come to terms with the fact that God is our meaning and He is the only thing that will completely fill the empty spaces we try to cram with all manner of junk, then we can begin down the proper road. In other words, when love of God takes priority, detachment from things becomes a possibility, but not until then. And detachment is only a means--it must happen, but it doesn't happen necessarily by focusing on it. In some really tough cases, you might have to concentrate energy, prayer, and resources on becoming detached. But detachment is often a natural corollary of loving something else more. I have no difficulty choosing between say flan and chocolate because I have a built-in liking for chocolate. The choice becomes easy. When you prefer God to all other things, it becomes a matter of making choices that reflect that preference--detachment has begun.

Detachment is also somewhat like Zen. If you become aware that you are practicing it, you almost undo its effects through pride and through the idea that YOU are practicing it. Yes, your will is involved and you are actively doing something, but God and the Holy Spirit within you are more important in the overall efficacy. Here again a statement of Jesus applies in context, "Do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing." Detachment is most effective when you are detached from doing it and its effects.

However, as I pointed out, sometimes it is sufficiently to light wash and rinse the pan, at other times one needs steel wool or scouring pad. At these times, a deliberate, prayer-infused, sacrament-powered pursuit of detachment is called for. Put in the proper context, it is amazing what one person can do. My father-in-law went for a medical checkup one day and the doctor informed him that cigarette-smoking was shortening his life and interfering with his health. He could choose between cigarettes and unassisted breathing. He went home, dumped the cigarettes and never again took a puff. A truly remarkable instance of the power of really making a choice.

So, detachment is necessary--but it is a means that should not be a focus. Detachment comes very naturally when the things to which one is attached are not valued as much as something else. So the next step is to think about the cultivation of active, responsive, all-encompassing love of God.

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More About Becoming a Saint


It seems that the first step toward becoming a Saint is deciding to do so. It seems probable that the majority of us in St. Blog's have consciously or unconsciously done so. So, once you've decided what it is you are called to, how do you go about achieving it?

There are several difficult points in this whole formulation, probably more than spelled out below. Here is a start on some disconnected thoughts having to do with the pursuit of holiness.

(1)The very first decision you face upon opting for holiness is the question of your motivation. Why do you wish to become a Saint? There are several possible reasons, all with a psychological validity, but all with different degrees of spiritual efficacy. The worst reason is the selfish one, which will act as an immediate obstacle to your pursuit. You want to be a saint because people will then remember and perhaps even venerate you. Everyone can see immediately what the problem with this is so I will not continue. But I have come to believe that there is a small element of this in most beginners on the road.

The second reason is because you are commanded to do so by Our Lord and Savior. This is a much better motivation, very close to the best, because it is related to the best. But if we act merely under commandment, the will flags and the pursuit fades. We soon are trudging down the road of sanctity in a way that reminds me of one of La Madre's quotes, "Lord, preserve me from sour-faced saints." Pure obedience and doggedness can lead very readily to becoming a sour-faced saint--or, in other words, not much of a saint at all.

However, if that obedience springs from and is constantly nourished by the best motive, it is nearly certain that you will succeed. Naturally, the best motive is sheer love of God. We become Saints out of obedience that springs from our desire to do everything possible for the beloved. We love God so much that we fear to offend Him--not fear in the servile sense, but fear in the sense that we never wish to cause pain to the one we love. I am only now beginning to open up this mystery myself. I have always wondered about the meaning of "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." And certainly some conversions and some part of our turning to God comes from the sense of what He could do if He chose to. However, (and I may be very off-target here) what fear of the Lord is likely to turn into, particularly if it is to be fruitful, is fear of offending the Lord--not because of the consequences meted out by God, but because of the pain it would cause both God and the true lover of God. Obedience that proceeds from and is fed by this spring of love is the well-spring of sainthood.

(2) How do we get to this point of being true "lovers of God?" I would propose that the essential element is self-emptying--"I must decrease so He may increase." And this self-emptying occurs most often through detachment. I will not say that there are not other means; however, it would seem that so long as we are attached to any of the created things of the world, we inhibit progress toward God.

How might one achieve detachment? It would seem to me that there are a great many ways--numerous paths delineated throughout time by different Saints. Let us examine very briefly two that often show up here--Carmelite and Dominican. I will start with the spirituality about which I know nothing, but describe how I believe it to work in part. It would seem that Dominican spirituality is predicated on knowing God thoroughly and intimately through the works of the intellect. These works of the intellect cannot be done without affecting the will. As we come to know and understand better, we gradually learn to leave behind what does not honor God. Seen from outside and interpreted with this Carmelite's mind, I see the Dominican path as a way of gradual detachment from our own agendas and a gradual emptying of self through glorying in what can be known of God. Please understand, this is sheer speculation but I would call it "detachment through knowledge." It is not Carmelite because the detachment comes more in a "via positiva" as knowledge is an essential good. In this sense, I see Dominican and (forgive me John d) Ignatian Spirituality quite closely related. In some sense it is like Jacob wrestling with the Angels--eventually, after enough wrestling, the pathway is opened up to pure and serene surrender. The intellect is sated and one can continue to pursue God's will in a new and uplifting way. Dominicans who have struggled to this point are supremely equipped to tell others of the Glories of God, and thus their charism of preaching.

Carmelites on the other hand pursue a "via negativa" in a shroud of silence. (Though one would not know that by visiting this blog.) Detachment is an active pursuit, aligning your own will to God's through identifying and releasing yourself through the sacraments and prayer from the bonds that hold you in. I have talked some in the past about the Carmelite way of detachment, and will probably do so more in the future. For the sake of abbreviating this post, let me say simply that the Carmelite way of detachment is more like a waltz than wrestling. We seek to know God not necessarily through the faculty of the intellect, although there is nothing wrong with really knowing Who God is, but through Love. As Thérèse said, and the recent Carmelite rule repeats and admonishes all Carmelites, "My vocation is to be love at the heart of the church." Thus, in the body framed for us with Christ as the Head, metaphorically we might see the Dominicans and Jesuits as the "brains" of that body, providing the faithful with good reason for faith and achieving union with God and deep and pervasive Love for him. through truly knowing him. We might see Carmelites, Franciscans, and other contemplative orders as the "heart" of the Church, seeking God somewhat through knowledge, but mostly through ardent burning love. Now, this is merely metaphorical, and it does gift short shrift to the importance of Love in both Dominican and Jesuit vocations, and it does diminish the critical importance of the intellect in the contemplative vocation--but it is for illustration only.

(3) Now, with regard to this second point, people have developed a million and one very clever, very useful means of avoiding the detachment that leads to doing God's will and to sanctity. One of these is hinted at by the quote from Dorthy Day that Mary offered in a comment box below. Paraphrased it says something like, "Don't call me a Saint, I don't want to be dismissed so easily." That is, we have constructed paper Saints--really unholy images of otherworldly sanctity that lies outside the realm of what a real person in the real world could possibly obtain. We look at the real accomplishments of Saints and say, "I could never do that. They were so holy from the very beginning." You know the kinds of things that might spring to mind when you read the lives of the Saints. There is really only one response to this obstacle and that is to crush it. No, you could never do that, I could never do that (whatever it may be), but then why would God want me to--after all I am not that person. My path to sanctity will not be the same, whatever is accomplished in the course of it will be uniquely the expression of God's grace working on the talents He has granted the individual. We should not look at the saints and despair at their actions, reactions, or accomplishments. We should look at the saints as individual mirrors of God's all-encompassing love. Thus, when we see Thérèse smiling at an unlikable nun, we should not think, "I cannot do that," but rather, "Lord, show me how you would like me to bring your love to the world." It may not be your vocation to smile at unlikable people, but rather to help the underprivileged, to assist those who have lost their way, to smile at those who have been confined to nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. Do not despair, but see first the love and know that the same love, the same Holy Spirit lives within each of us and is capable of expressing itself in ways miraculous--if we will get out of the way.

Another way we throw up obstacles for ourselves is that we become attached to the method rather than the goal. Thus it is entirely possible for a Dominican to be one of the great scholars of the age and yet to have that scholarship and study not ever touch his heart. We can have wonderful Carmelites so engaged in omphaloskepsis and nearly fetishistic pursuit of detachment that denial becomes the whole point of what they are doing. Neither the cultivation or the intellect nor the pursuit of detachment is an end, both are merely means to the same end--Union with God and a life of holiness. However, if we do not keep our reason for these pursuits clearly in focus, they quickly become an end in themselves. There is no point to detachment if it leads merely to endless self-examination and scouring to get out this or that tendency. Detachment should very naturally make room for God as we remove the clutter of self, God fits more naturally and more evenly into our lives. So too with intellectual pursuits in a different way. As we come to know and understand and revel in the glories of He who created all, as we get a sense of the complexity and brilliance of the Divine Way, we cannot help but more away from our own things and toward those that He has designed. And I'm sure this works for any number of other ways of approaching God. But we need to clear the path. When a method becomes an obstacle, it must be cast aside no matter how fond we are of it. If Teresa of Avila had spent all of her time detaching herself, she would never have had time to establish her foundations that changed forever the face and character of the Carmelite Order.

I've gone on quite a while here already, so I'll leave off, but I hope it is with some sense that each of us has the means to achieve holiness. We cannot do it on our own. In fact, given our stumbling steps, I would say most of us are just learning to walk. So we cannot take more than a step at a time. And the first step is to cultivate through sacraments, prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and growing selflessness an ardent desire to be God's presence in the world, not for our own sakes but for the sake of the world and for the sake of the many we see about us floundering and without hope.

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Pepys Online


I have read now, in several places, of the Pepys Now project, and heartily recommend it to your attention because the blog entries that have resulted from it have been most fascinating and enjoyable. I don't know about the promised instant immortality but I do think the personalization of history through such details is a powerful and persuasive argument for it.

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From Where Obedience?


The post that follows started as a response to Mr. Dhingra's comment on a post below. It grew too large for the comment box and so it ends up here.

Once again you [Mr. Dhingra] ask some interesting and pertinent questions and this is an area that is new for me. I had not considered the matter. There are a couple of points I'd like to make.

(1) I'm not against those who speak their minds even in opposition to the opinion of the Bishops in prudential matters. I just choose not to be one of them. I think your point about continually asking questions is important, but I do not feel qualified to ask those questions. Anyone who has read the disputed questions here on the site will know why. Reasoned argumentation on theological matters is something I am better at following than I am at producing. I understand the articulation of theories and notions, but I do not have the background to say anything. The same holds for most economic and social theory. I have opinions, but the opinions are rarely formed from sitting down and carefully reasoning through each issue. More often they are the result of anecdotal observations of causes and effects. Therefore, I leave all logical dissent to those better informed and more capable of considering the ramifications.

(2) On a personal note--where did obedience come from? I wish I could say that obedience sprang naturally and is the milieu in which I thrive. Unfortunately, that is not completely so. My obedience comes only after endless wrangling, wrestling, and explanation, hundred and thousands of questions. I do not act in opposition to what is stated, but I do question it to some point. So, too, with the Church. I spent a good many years questioning not merely prudential judgments, but judgments that carry the weight of the magisterium. As a protestant entering from the enlightened world of our present society, the first bit of wisdom I challenged was Humanae Vitae. Along with this I also questioned the Church's teaching on homosexuality, marriage and divorce, etc.

Over time, I found that the Church was right, again and again, on dozens of lesser matters that I questioned. Over and over again, I saw the weight of truth on the side of the Bishops, and most particularly of the current Bishop of Rome. This man I came to see as nearly miraculous in his grasp of the truth and its implications. I won't claim to understand everything the Holy Father has written, nor even to have read it, but everyday personal experience convinced me of its correctness. So much so, that my eyes were opened to the fact that in making judgments about theological matters and even about matters affecting society the bishops drew upon two-thousand years of tradition, reflection, and consideration of social, political, and theological considerations. In that time, the Bishops undoubtedly made a great many errors, even as they may do so today; however, it seemed sheer folly for a single person of limited experience in the world to set his judgment against that of so august a body.

So long experience has shown me how weak my own intellect is when wrestling with these matters, I choose to defer. The Church has long proven prophetic in its utterings, and I have come to trust that voice. Yes, the Pope could have been wrong when he spoke out against the recent conflict in Iraq--I'm still pondering that, but more and more, I become convinced that he was not wrong. Despite the good that was done in delivering the Iraqi people and the world from the hands of a monster, I still wonder about the means and its propriety. (I say that without any hint of a lack of support for the brave men and women who effected the will of this country's President.) But I gradually come to believe that the Holy Father was once again correct in his statement concerning it.

I could dredge up endless examples from experience, but let's leave it at the fact that the Bishops have been correct on many things more often than I have.

(3) Obedience stems from a third source and that is sheer human limitation. I have neither the experience nor the intellect to consider ever single issue on which the Bishops see fit to make some sort of statement. Some issues I feel that I have better capacity to understand and make decisions. More often that simply means that I've formulated an opinion and so feel qualified to discourse upon it. For example, when the Pope or the Bishops speak about the death penalty, because I have spent a great deal of time formulating an opinion, I feel that it is a matter on which I can speak with some authority. In fact, my opinion have no authority, nothing to back them up, and no real logic to hold them together. I naturally embrace the Church's teaching on this issue because it agrees in large part with my own opinion, so there is no struggle. But the Church, by issuing a teaching, has given a coherent presentation to my rambling thoughts on the matter. I "feel" that the Death Penalty is wrong, and the Church articulates why that might be.

In some cases, I disagree, or more likely, I know nothing of the matter whatsoever. I recently read a rash of criticisms of some bishop's letter or another that talked about Jewish/Christian relations and "ecumenism." I have no real idea what the Bishops said or why they were so roundly criticized for the statement. But this is a case where I have no expertise in Church tradition or law to say whether they were correct or not, and that whatever the statement, it has no real bearing on my life or conduct. Whatever they may have said (or may not have said) regarding the salvation of the Jews, seems to me a matter between the individual Jewish person and God. My duty in the meantime is to love all, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, whatever ilk or stripe, as I love myself. To hold them in respect and to exercise whenever possible the spiritual and corporal works of mercy toward them. How God effects their salvation is a matter for theologians to tussle over and which has no relevance to how I am to conduct myself.

(4) Obedience is also an exercise both in humility and detachment. When I spend my time second-guessing Church leader, formulating opinions in opposition to suggested guidelines, and questioning how we might best implement this or that prudential judgment, I wind up tied in knots emotionally and intellectually--unable to speak to God in any way that would be meaningful and resentful of Church authority and magisterium. I become self-absorbed and self-interested. So, very obviously, the questioning of prudential judgments is often an occasion of pride. My whole life is better when I accept the judgment and attempt to act on it (if it is something that I can act upon). Or, often, it is simply better when I don't worry about the prudential judgments of others at all--when I choose not to formulate an opinion, but act on the general principles we are all to be living. No matter what the Vatican chooses to do about Bishops like Bishop O'Brien, I will not change the fact by vociferously dissenting, nor will I help Bishop O'Brien by becoming wrapped up and tossed about by the issue. Rather, I lend my help through constant prayer for the wisdom of those taking action, and for the soul of Bishop O'Brien that he might find himself "right with God." Rather than worrying whether this or that action is the right and proper thing to do--a point I leave to those better qualified to judge, I can always pray for the Bishops and for those affected by the ruling as I continue to feed those who are hungry and visit those in prison. . .

I guess part of what I'm saying is that just as i wouldn't go around challenging every prudential judgment I hear from the gallery, neither am I inclined to do so with respect to the Church. Moreover, I am inclined, when the issue comes up to ask first, "What does the Church say?" If the matter is not definitive, my second recourse is almost always, "What do the Bishops (the Pope) say?" I find that it spares me a great deal of conflict in my already conflicted world. Moreover, it also wraps me in a mantle of protection when accosted by supporters of this apparition of Mary or that revelation of some seer. My first question can always be, "What does the Holy Mother Church say of the matter?" If she has not deigned to speak, I'm not inclined to pay attention.

All of that said, I'm not inclined to say that all should follow this path. I think I say all of this merely to be truthful to my readership, so that they (and incidentally I) will have a better understanding of my failings. When it comes right down to it, I'm more inclined to trust the Church than to voice my own opinion--my track record is far worse than that of the Bishops in Conference.

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This brief passage, excerpted from a letter of Sophia Hawthorne may give some indication of why Rose Hawthorne Lathorp was able to develop in the way she did. For the complete work, look here

from Memories of Hawthorne Compiled and annotated by Rose Hawthorne Lathorp

We breakfast about nine o'clock, because we do not dine till three; and we have no tea ceremony, because it broke our evenings too much. I break my fast upon fruit, and we lunch upon fruit, and in the evening, also, partake of that paradisaical food. Mr. Emerson, with his sunrise smile, Ellery Channing, radiating dark light, and, very rarely, Elizabeth Hoar, with spirit voice and tread, have alone varied our days from without; but we have felt no want. My sweet, intelligent maid sings at her work, with melodious note. I do not know what is in store for me; but I know well that God is in the future, and I do not fear, or lose the precious present by anticipating possible evil. I remember Father Taylor's inspired words, "Heaven is not afar. We are like phials of water in the midst of the ocean. Eternity, heaven, God, are all around us, and we are full of God. Let the thin crystal break, and it is all one." Mr. Mann came to Concord to lecture last week. He looked happiest. What can he ask for more, having Mary for his own? Hold me ever as Your true and affectionate friend,


I love the image of "phials of water in the midst of the ocean." We cannot see what surrounds us even though it is at the same time within us.

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Rose Hawthorne Lathorp


Rose Hawthorne Lathorp

The following is excerpted from a Gutenberg edition of one books of Ms. Lathorp's poetry.

from Along the Shore Rose Hawthorne Lathorp


Somewhere, somewhere in this heart
There lies a jewel from the sea,
Or from a rock, or from the sand,
Or dropped from heaven wondrously.

Oh, burn, my jewel, in my glance!
Oh, shimmer on my lips in prayer!
Light my love's eyes to read my soul,
Which, wrapt in ashes, yet is fair!

When dead I lie, forgotten, deep
Within the earth and sunken past,
Still shall my jewel light my dust,--
The worth God gives us, first and last!

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An Addendum to Lee Ann


Who recently republished a very lengthy and good series of posts on poetry, the majority of which I concur with.

However, the list of worthwhile poets (extending back to Blake) probably needs qualification because it excludes the now infamous, and not lately mentioned Glorious Seventeenth Century.

So to Lee Ann's group of necessary, interesting, and powerful poets we add the following:

John Donne--surprisingly modern in his concerns, some techniques and concerns. And yet stolidly metaphysical in rejecting the spirit/body dichotomy espoused by the Puritans and so blatantly affecting culture today and making it the somewhat schizophrenic qualities it has.

Henry Vaughn What can one say about the poet who "saw eternity the other night, like a ring of pure and endless light."

Richard Crashaw

Oh, let's face it-- the entire Luminarium set.

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There are a great many people who have opinions on how best to solve whatever the current crisis may be. (Very honestly, I know too little about whatever crisis people are talking about to make any informed comment whatsoever.) Many would probably like to be advisors to the Vatican, and I applaud them for their willingness to advance and defend opinions I can only just begin to understand.

However, one of the great Spiritual Mothers of the Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila, has some better advice for me, which I have found enormously helpful in these crises--obedience. Obedience is one of the very hardest things in the world--particularly when our judgments on matters that are open to dispute differ. And yet, it is at this time that obedience may be at its most important.

God, for whatever reasons He may have, has placed over us a hierarchy of people who have authority in spiritual matters. In all matters touching on faith, these people are our leaders. Now, this is not to say that if someone suddenly did something in direct defiance of Scripture, Tradition, or sanity, that I would blindly follow their lead. I am not becoming a Pelagian or a Nestorian (I sometimes think the poor bishop was terribly maligned, but I leave that to others) any time soon. However, if the Pope determines that a given Bishop will stay in office, then I assume he has done so for very good reason and that Bishop will remain. Would I like a Charles Chaput in every Bishopric? No question. Will the Pope give me one? Probably not, for more reasons that I will not go into (considering I am already following La Madre in the tacking-on of endless digression).

But Teresa of Avila was adamant in her insistence on obedience. She said that you explicitly and implicitly follow the law of those who are over you spiritually and you pray continually to God about the matter. If it is in His Will to change the heart of your director (or priest, or Bishop, etc.) He will do so. If for some reason it is not, it is better to serve obediently.

Now I'm certain La Madre would not countenance anything that went explicitly against all of Church History and teaching--if, say a Bishop came out and said that all pro-life teaching was null and void. But when it came to matters of individual judgment, she encouraged us in spiritual matters to abandon our own and cling to that of our superiors.

Why might this be? I think it is part and parcel of humility. That is, we abandon ourselves and prefer the judgment of those God has set over us. (Or in the cases of the two diocese that I have recently lived in, the lack of any stated judgments.) Thus, when I became a Carmelite, I promised obedience to the Carmelite Superiors in the Province and in the Order. When they produce a document or revise the rule, my life and my choices are guided by that. I may not like some of the statements or provisions they have made (in point of fact, that is not the case, I delight in the recently promulgated revision to the rule), but I have promised obedience, and that promise is a promise not just to the superiors of the Order, but to God Himself.

What is the point of all of this? I suppose it is to confess what will probably be viewed as irresponsibility on my part. But in the matter of prudential judgments I prefer the judgments of my superiors, in the Order and in the Church. If the Pope says it is wrong, then it is wrong. If the Bishops say one thing or another, that really matters and affects me where I live, then I should prefer their judgment to my own--even in matters that are open to discussion. So on matters of controversy, I try as much as possible to follow our magnificent Pope. I trust his prudential judgments as worthier than my own for several reasons--(1)surely some of that guidance of the Holy Spirit that protects the Church rubs off on other matters of opinion (perhaps not, but a man of deep prayer seems reliable in more than the statements recognized as infallible), (2) deference to age, experience, and intellect--this good man has all three, hands down, over me, (3) track record.

So, when the Pope makes a decision, I do not consider that I have the wherewithal to second guess him. Ditto for most of what the Bishops have to say. When one makes a blatantly idiotic remark on a subject outside his purview, we're talking another matter. But in all matter affecting the Church, the better part seems to be simple obedience and constant prayer for God's guidance of the hierarchy. I'll leave the espousal of differing opinions to others. I'll also say, that in matters where there is some doubt it is important for people who are qualified in the matter to express their opinions. However, until such opinions trickle up to the hierarchy and effect a change, I will decide obedience to the opinion given and not trouble myself with things that doubtlessly beyond me. (Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows how unreliable my own judgments and thought can be on disputed issues.)

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Thanks to All Who Responded


My thanks to everyone who responded to my request yesterday. A special belated thanks to all those who commented on the Trust post and helped me to identify some areas where I need more precision in language and accuracy in conveying my thoughts.

Also, an invitation to all. Many wrote expressing that practical application would be helpful. I often think that I have included that because when I write I pass into a kind of fog. I absolutely concur with you all and I make a point of this to my Carmelite group--what we read should help to change our lives or there is no real point in reading it (speaking of spiritual works.) There is no point in reading St. John of the Cross to say that you have done so. The only point to reading St. John or about St. John is to manifest a real change in your relationship with God. So too with much that appears here--you all know the posts I mean. And so, if I have been vague in means, please ask. I may not know the answer, but because there are so many who are seeking the same path, the multiplicity of views about how one does one thing or another will help those who are seeking. As I said in another post--the strait gate and narrow way are at once narrow and tiny and as broad as God's Love itself. The way to find deeper prayer, humility, patience, meekness, whatever, is very probably a little bit different for each person. So when we hear and share those different ways with one another we become more aware of the fact that God wishes us to find our own way in the broad array before us. We have the gifts and talents He has given us, the path of perfection will perfect those gifts and talents for use to His Glory. We find these steps in the experiences and companionship of others who tread or have trodden the same road.

In sum: Tell me I've been vague about means, and I will either amplify, or ask others to help. The reality is, you all know everything I can tell you, you just don't realize that you know it. In conversation and communion with others, we discover the truth that we long have known through the nourishment provided in the Word of God and in the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church.

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On Humility


On Humility

Laura asked in a comment to a post below

What does humility look like in our everyday lives? What do we think it is, but is really only a disguise for pride.

And there were a couple of very fine answers. I particularly liked Tom's:

St. Catherine of Siena wrote that "humility proceeds from self-knowledge." I think self-knoweldge is necessary and sufficient for humility -- if you know who you are and who you aren't, what you can do and what you can't, you will be humble, and if you are humble you know these things. So I'd take signs of self-knowledge as signs of humility, and their absence as an implication of pride.

And Alicia's point is a powerful one and the specific case of Tom's more general answer:

sometimes humility is in silence, sometimes in speaking up. what it isn't is aptly described by charles dickens in david copperfield - mr.micawber (I think) - the one who was 'so 'umble!"

Humility will look quite different on different people depending in large part on their personalities and on the gifts that God has given them. Because humility is at its core truest knowledge of the self and knowledge of the self with respect to the grand Other that created all that is, humility is best displayed when we are not wearing one of the many masks that we don for purposes of moving through society. A truly humble person does not change in demeanor from one interaction to another. Paraphrasing from what you must all (by now) recognize as one of the great "sacred texts" in my life, "(Being a Gentleman) Isn't so much a matter of treating one person better than another, but treating them all the same. You treat a flower girl as a duchess and I treat a duchess as a flower girl..." (Henry Higgins).

That is the reality. Humility is self-knowledge and true self-knowledge allows us to look at others and see Christ. When we can do THAT, then what can we do but treat everyone equally and show ourselves for what we are, lowly servants, "Not fit to undo the strap of His sandal."

However, you can fake this as well. You can be in public service oriented and mild and meek and smiling, and return to your house kick off your shoes and say, "Thank God, that's over with, what a unwashed mob." Humility must be carefully nurtured and cultivated. It starts from knowledge of self, as St. Catherine of Siena and countless others have pointed out. But it grows through prayers (as do all virtues and habits of sanctity) and it grows through aligning our will with the will of God and (to quote another Text of some considerable import) "Looking for the Good in people." (Pollyanna). Because when your look for the good in people (as the film shows), you will surely find it. And why is that so? Because Christ is in our fellow human beings. So we sheer away all the prickly surfaces, all of the personality that we don't care for, all of the tics and quirks that irritate us and we embrace Christ in that person.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux cultivated humility with a smile. Everyone knows the tale of the nun whom no one cared for--a particularly, prickly, sour, disagreeable nun all the other nuns did their best to avoid. St. Thérèse went out of her way to smile at this person though she had no real affection for her. She smiled brilliantly every time she met her to the point that the nun once commented to St. Thérèse, "You must have a most special affection for me. Everytime you see me you give me such a broad smile." What Thérèse loved was the image of Christ in this person and she subdued her own natural inclination to dislike the nun so that she was able to recognize Jesus.

Humility must be cultivated through prayer, love (expressed in works, even so small a work as a smile at someone you dislike), and detachment. These four and others are constant companions. It seems, and I may be very wrong here, that none may grow long without the others and they all grow with the cultivation of one. Cultivating humility drives one toward prayer--when we really look at ourselves and see ourselves as God does, when we have solid self-knowledge that includes both our wretchedness and the fact that despite our wretchedness we are prized as much as or more than the most precious Person who ever lived, we come to understand the supreme value of every living soul. We cultivate humility through knowledge of Christ--in the scriptures, in the writings of the great saints, and in prayer. We also cultivate it through a daily (or more frequent) examen to see how we have been greeting God in our fellow human beings.

Tom's post mentioned St. Gaspar del Bufalo's "Maxims for the Pursuit of Humility" (available courtesy of Father Keyes at the excellent New Gasparian site. Posted on this site is a kind of examen list, St. Josemaria Escriva's Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility. If you are not disinclined to Opus Dei spirituality, you might visit this site and use the very fine search engine to look up and read the brief passages on humility.

Humility is "Something Beautiful for God," it is ultimate self knowledge, and at the same time, paradoxically, self-forgetfulness in the beloved. It is a garment cut to the individual and expressed quite differently by different people. It might appear shockingly off-putting, as when Mother Teresa spoke at the Presidential prayer breakfast and raked the people there over the coals for the culture of death they supported and cultivated. Humility is true love so that it never lies, nor does it seek to wound or hurt.

That's as much as I can say to help you on the way. All of the saints address it, many of them tell you how to cultivate it far better than I can do. (After all, I have to spend some time doing so before I would know what to tell everyone else.) But humility is the important garment that holds many of the virtues together and allows truthful expression of them. Humility guides us in what to say and how. Humility may show up as humor, as when St. Teresa of Avila spoke to the Almighty after falling from her horse, "If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few." Humility speaks the truth in love, always. I pray for this virtue, but do not spend enough time actually seeking it out. I pray for an increase in the resolution to cultivate and express humility for by so doing, I can help the lives of those around me to be just a little better.

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E-Books for All


E-Books for All--From the Bruderhof Community Website

I've never been quite sure what to make of the Bruderhof communities, and because I do not know, I will refrain from advancing an opinion. What I can say of the collective is that I have very much enjoyed some of the books they have published. You now have a chance to sample some of their work through an extensive e-book collection (perhaps as many as 28 titles.) This includes such works as a sampler of Soren Kierkegaard titled Provocations and other books that might appeal to some in St. Blogs. Go to this site and click e-books. I hope you enjoy them. Warning to the Nervous: Very Social Justice Oriented and VERY Anabaptist.

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From Morning Prayer


From Morning Prayer

And incidentally from the First Letter of Peter:

1 Peter 4: 10-11a As generous distributors of God's manifold grace, put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received. The one who speaks is to deliver God's message. The one who serves is to do it with the strength provided by God. Thus, in all of you God is to be glorified through Jesus Christ.

What really struck me this morning, although I know it sticks somewhere in the back of my mind most times, is the wonderful notions that we are "generous distributors of God's manifold grace." That is, we are instruments of His grace, sometimes unwillingly, most times unknowingly, but nevertheless it is true. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could be more aware of it more of the time and act in accordance with the responsibility that implies? I mean many organizations and groups have dress codes and requirements for the people they send out to represent them to the public. Shouldn't our dress code be love, patience, humility, and prayerfulness?

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Requesting Feedback on a Concern


Over the last couple of days, I have posted some rather strongly worded posts that I would characterize, perhaps, as exhortations. The silence on some of these has been deafening. (I'm surprised by how much feedback came on the issue of trust and everyone's comments have helped me to start rethinking exactly how to say what I'm aiming at--thank you). Now, I've come to expect that in certain cases, but as these pieces are part and parcel of a continuing work, what I'd like to make certain of is that they are not too shrill or angry. Having come from a long line of preacher-men, I'm always concerned about sounding too much like pulpit thumping and not enough like loving exhortation to do what I know God can make possible for all of us. So, if these posts have caused offense or hurt, please let me know ASAP and accept my apologies in advance. If there are specifics that you find offensive, please do not hesitate to let me know. My work can only improve if I know where it fails in its intended goal. Thank you all so much for being the patient, longsuffering audience you have been and continue to be.

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Mr Serafin sends readers to a wonderful site Dovesong Foundation. At this site one can download for one's own use, apparently legally, recordings of western Classical and Sacred music and Classical music of other traditions. In addition, there appears to be a collection of sheet music. If you have not already discovered the riches of this site, you may want to make your way over to it.

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Called To Be Saints


Why is it when I say this in some very faithful Catholic groups, I get looks of doubt and a "not me!" sort of shoulder shrugging? Why is it that people refuse to believe that we are all called to be Saints, and by that, I do not mean the little "s" saints that seem to have no real meaning other than belonging to Christendom at large? We are called to be capital "S" Saints, even if we are never canonized or recognized. We are called to lives of heroic virtue--every single one of us by virtue of our baptism. We are called to lives of sacrifice and praise, lives that honor God not in the acquisition of material goods, but in the salvation of souls through corporal and spiritual works of Mercy that bring the grace of God to the individual.

Did Jesus not say, "Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect?" If Jesus commanded it, is it impossible to do? Even if it is impossible for us alone, Paul reminds us in Philippians that "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." So why is it that so many people deny their responsibility in this? Why are we so reluctant to believe that all are called and chosen--that sanctity is not merely for the few but for all people everywhere at all times.

Well, I say once again, we are called to be Saints, and we don't get there alone. We only achieve the seemingly impossible by complete cooperation with grace in the Will of God the Father through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We must recall the famous formula for sanctity, given by Our Lord and incumbent upon all of us even though it was spoken of Him in particular, "I must decrease so that He might increase." Might here is not an expression of probabilistic formulation, it is a given. If we decrease, get out of the way, and turn ourselves to cooperation with God's will, He will increase in us so that our lives will be lives of heroic virtue.

How do we do this? Each Order has its own formulation of the principle, but it all boils down to the same thing--Prayer, prayer, prayer, service, service, service, and humility, humility, humility. By the habitual exercise of Faith, Hope, and Charity, we begin to align ourselves with God's will. In prayer, we being to make out vaguely what shape that Will may take for us as individuals. We may not see everything clearly, and we certainly won't see more than a step at a time, but we will be given enough to move forward. In prayer we also express our deep love for God and by expressing it, help to make it more real to ourselves and thus help it to grow. You may love someone deeply and completely, but if you do not say it, then it is not real for that person, and in a very real sense it isn't even very real or valuable to you. When we say that we love someone it comes as both a true statement and a reminder of the truth. In prayer when we tell God we Love Him, we remind ourselves of the fact, and incidentally what the fact demands of us--"If you love me you will keep my commands."

Prayer and love of God leads very naturally to service. James told us "Faith without works is dead." St. Thérèse tells us that "Love without works is dead." And that great theologian Eliza Doolittle reminds us in no uncertain terms of this understanding, "Don't talk of stars burning at night, If you're in love, show me!" So too with God. If we're in love, we must show Him. We show Him by acts of love and service toward his people here on Earth, most particularly the oppressed, the imprisoned, the ill, those less capable of caring for themselves, the underprivileged, and those who suffer from every form of mental illness and oppression. Not one of us is free of the obligation of service in some form. The forms will all be different dependent upon our talents and upon the people whom we are called to serve. But service is an active, powerful sign of true love in the heart. It is the powerful manifestation of our heart of love.

And humility. Humility is the key ingredient so that we don't start patting ourselves on the back for our excellent service and show of our love for God. We are not permitted pride in our work. Pride will kill love any day in our weak human natures. We must exercise humility, valuing ourselves little and God within us greatly. We must see our works exactly at they are, very small in the large scheme of things and hardly a dent in the surface of the misery of the world. Nevertheless, these works we must do and this service we must perform and we must do it in love of God and humble thanks to Him for the opportunities He grants us.

So, we are all called to be Saints. It's time. If you haven't started, get in Contact and find out what kind of Saint you are called to be!

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Dylan's Birthday


I sent him wishes from all of St. Blogs. He sounds as good as circumstances can warrant.

Special prayers for him on this day of days.

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A Coda to Disputations


John da Fiesole is ably defending the truth against various detractors. In response I found this absolutely irresistable piece of anti-Catholic diatribe, enshrined in the archives of Catholic-hating protestants everywhere. Ms. Monk purports to give a true account of the awful goings-on in a Canadian Nunnery. (Although given a recent post by Mr. de Vere at Catholic Light, it would seem that Canada has enough to account for on its own.)

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I sometimes wonder if many of us actually trust God. Let's face it, His track record isn't great--He allowed His own son to die--something few of us would allow had we any ability to prevent it. What then does one make of such a God? Is He reliable? Can we be certain of what we are getting from Him?

The answer is, of course, yes. However, we more often than not do not act as though we can or do trust Him. We act on the principle that we know better how to arrange and organize things for the benefit of all. That, of course, is out of fear--fear of the loss of control, fear of the unknown, sometimes fear of God Himself. We are told the "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Of course, it may also be the font of enormous foolishness as well. Fear of the Lord can lead us to do all manner of idiotic things.

The problem is this--from the time we were children many forces in society and personal experiences have taught us time and again to trust no one. I truly believe that a principle espoused in the Bible works here as well--"If you do not love those around you whom you can see, how can you hope to love an invisible God?" So too with trust. If you cannot trust what you do see, how do you being to trust what is invisible and largely unknowable--shrouded in mystery after mystery, glimpsed dimly but poorly understood?

The answer is that despite potential vulnerability, you begin to trust what you do see. We may make mistakes in where we place our trust. We may put our trust in a good place, but all human and created things are fallible, and they will eventually fail us. However, we cannot begin to understand and practice trust without taking this step. We may say that we trust God, but look at all the bulwarks and supports we put in place in case God does not come through. The Saints of the past had unending trust in His Wisdom--we need to cultivate the same. Whatever happens to us is at least allowed by Him for some good that we may not completely know. We trust surgeons to cut into us and remove bits and pieces or alter us in some way--knowing that we may suffer pain as a result. Some of the pain we feel we bring upon ourselves, and some is the pain of the surgery that will ultimately restore health.

Trust is difficult, but it is essential. You do not speak from the fullness of your heart to someone you do not trust. If we do not trust God, how then can we hope to pray effectively.

Perhaps the most difficult part of trust is discerning where it is we do not trust God. To which questions do we demand firm and absolute answers? What things do we refuse to leave alone, do we continue to worry? We need to look deeply into ourselves and recognize our deep lack of trust and pray with the man of the gospels, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief."

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Reflections on Silence


Sometimes silence is more difficult than at other times. Sometimes silence is comfortable--a space to be with God. Other times silence is merely being alone. God may be present in the silence but circumstances preclude the recognition of His hand in what is going on. Silence is simply emptiness. It may be good to experience these times of emptiness, but more often than not it is a trial. Worse yet is to be within a pocket of silence while everything around you seems to be in a whirl. You see life going on outside the little vacuum that defines your present world and you wonder what it is you do to join that boisterous, seemingly fun crowd.

Silence, however, does always nurture dependence on God, and it may be one reason that we try so hard to avoid it. We fill our time and space with noise, sometimes small, insignificant noise, but sometimes enormous, overwhelming noise. We seek to avoid too close an encounter. We reason, we think, we fill our time with small disputes, argumentations, conversations, thoughts. Or we fill silence with music, television, telephone conversation, anything to avoid facing the reality that sits immediately beneath the surface. Much of our business is simply the flurry that gives us excuse to ignore the invitation from the Almighty.

Still, we are human, silence is only ocassionally comfortable, and as one progresses, silence becomes progressively less comfortable. As one is weighed down under the normal routines and burdens of life, silence becomes the time when all the cares, concerns, troubles, and potential disasters rush in at once. How do we avoid the press of concerns and move through the silence to the place we ought to occupy--an awed and loving gaze at the Father, Creator, King of All?

I have no simple answer, but I do have the advice of a great many pray-ers from the past that tells me that you do not seek to avoid these things. Rather, you let them flow over and through you into the hands of God Himself. In itself, this is a form of prayer. God knows our concerns and they will come like harpies to pick and distract. If we hand them over immediately, they may still return. But the process is continual--every time they stop by to interrupt us, we hand them over to God. Eventually we will be able to entrust them to Him, and we will stop being distracted. More than that, the things that concern and frighten us will begin to have less power over us. We won't dismiss them, but we will being to understand that they are in hands far more capable than our own.

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Another splendid passage:

from Anger
Thich Nhat Hahn

"Happiness Is Not an Individual Matter"

This does not mean that you have to hide your anger. You have to let the other person know that you are angry and that you suffer. This is very important. When you get angry with someone, please don't pretend that you are not angry. Don't pretend that you don't suffer. If the other person is dear to you, then you have to confess that you are angry, and that you suffer. Tell him or her in a calm way.

In true love, there is no pride. You cannot pretend that you don't suffer. You cannot pretend that you are not angry. This kind of denial is based on pride. "Angry? Me? Why should I be angry? I'm okay." But, in fact, you are not oaky. You are in hell. Anger is burning you up, and you must tell your partner, your son, your daughter. Our tendency is to say, "I don't need you to be happy! I can be on my own!" This is a betrayal of our initial vow to share everything.

Even though Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist, he once again touches gently upon some central Christian themes here. The commentary that follows has little to do with the actual passage, which I find true and meaningful, but with meanings that come from its title and its ramifications in the emotional life of the individual.

The beatific vision does not occur in utter isolation from all other human beings. Nor can we truly be happy on Earth so long as one who is near and dear to us is suffering. We can rejoice in God, but like Mother Theresa, we will work to alleviate the unhappiness. And as we grow in our Christian vocation, more and more of humanity becomes near and dear to us, until, separated from all, we become All and every person is valuable to us.

This is why the matter of hoping for the salvation of all is such a major issue to many of us. The thought of even a single soul not sharing the beatific vision is actually painful. As much as part of us lusts for vengeance and proper treatment of those who have done wrong, as much as part of us longs for justice, another part, perhaps much smaller, longs for mercy. We recognize what wretched people we all are and we pine for the blessing of God's grace and mercy. We hope for this grace for ourselves and as our hearts become more like the Sacred Heart, we long for this same mercy to be received by all souls.

Part of us knows that there are a great many hardened, hurt souls who might possibly refuse this grace and mercy, continually offered, continually showered down upon all. Part of us knows that Pride makes us want to "make it" on our own. But still we hope that grace is ultimately irresistable. Certainly God will not force Himself on any, but perhaps the flow of grace will draw people into it, however unwillingly. I think of the miser in Fraçois Mauriac's marvelous novel Tangle of Vipers and the way that grace eventually works its way upon him.

And I do hope because happiness is not achieved in isolation. Although I suppose if I were the only person in heaven with God, I would be happy in some way but I cannot imagine it. Again, St. Thérèse spoke lightly (but meaningfully) what means more and more to me as time goes on, "I want to spend my heaven doing good on Earth." I begin to know God's hunger for all to return to Him, for there not to be a single soul lost and alone.

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In this counsel we hear the echo of the great St. Francis of Assisi:

Strive always to prefer. . . Not that which is consolation, but rather that which is disconsolateness

Always keep in mind that introductory phrase of the counsels--it is critically important. "Strive always to prefer" is an explicit injunction to habit of mind, training in thinking, feeling, and doing. In this case it is not a command to go out and make yourself miserable. As in all things, when we have a choice of spending time with those who are mourning and grieving, who are hurt and wounded, or those who are "making merry," we should prefer to spend time with those who are hurt. When we have a choice between hard work and leisure, we should prefer the hard work. When we have a choice of working with great emotional satisfaction and having our work constantly criticized and demeaned, we should choose the latter. Why? Again the refrain--because it is a discipline that teaches us to value our work for what it really is. It teaches us to let go of anything connected with us and let it rise to praise God. When we are enormously attached to our work we can only do as well as we can do. When we let go of it, we let it rise to God in splendor and He perfects the work--perhaps even unto the salvation of souls.

Why disconsolateness? Because the lack of emotional reward and even emotional hardship causes us to lean more heavily upon Him who bears our burdens and carries us over the difficult track. When we take great satisfaction and contentment in our work and our lives we are less inclined to look at Him. When we are downcast and not focused on ourselves we look at the Face of Glory and in it have some great respite from our Earthly trials.

Prefer always to serve without notice, to serve those who are unappreciative, to serve without emotional reward, to seek out those who grieve and mourn, those whom we find less pleasant company, and like St. Thérèse bestow upon them a small benediction--a smile, a handshake, a hearty good morning, some sense of that person being welcomed. Do not seek to rest in pleasant and easy emotions, but seek to work through rough periods and to put everything into God's hands. In not seeking consolation we attain the very greatest consolation there is--God Himself.

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Arvo Pärt


I have only recently discovered the liturgical and religious music of Pärt and Penderecki. Pärt hails from Estonia, I believe, and even as I write I am listening to a wonderful, mysterious, and moving Magnificat. I read a short musicological sketch that suggested that Pärt experimented for a time with a twelve-tone system á la Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. From this he developed a distinctive musical style that some have labelled minimalist and others (perhaps Pärt himself) have called the tintinnabuli style. He seems to limit himself to a very restricted range of notes and frequent repetitions. The end result sounds like something between Gregorian Chant and more elaborate Renaissance Polyphony. It isn't strict Chant because there are definite harmonies in the voices, and yet there is something about it, perhaps all voices together with no additional "background" lines against which lines are sung, that suggests Chant at times.

Anyway, if you have not encountered Pärt, I would heartily recommend him as some of the very finest sacred music of recent times. It is in many cases beautiful and mysterious beyond words. There is a blend of the serene and the exalted that transports the listener into another realm.

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One of the most superb collections of Americana available to all may be found here. Incorporating collections of literary works, presidents papers, photographs, films, and sound recordings, the collection is an invitation to the study of American History. You can view films from the Pan-American Exposition that marked the final days of William McKinley. You can see footage of early New York City. You can see letters by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in their own hand--a couple of them taken from the blotter rather than the original. You can read about the Donner Party. The collection is searchable and it is also organized into "special exhibitions." Truly worth the time anytime you have something you want to research. (Oh, and if you wish to see it, there's even a famous fragment of a "Gertie the Dinosaur" cartoon.)

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Prayers Needed


My very good friend Gordon goes for the last of a series of grueling interviews today. It is hoped that he will receive an offer and will be able to start ASAP. Please pray for this eventuality.

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A Father's Day Observation


One sometimes puzzles over why there seems to be less of a masculine presence in the Church today. Yesterday, I had something of a glimpse of the reason.

Every year on Mother's day, the church I attend goes out of its way to have literally thousands of roses all over the altar area. This year there was something on the order of twelve-thousand roses decorating the Church. On mother's day a long blessing and much of the homily was dedicated to the role of mothers in our lives. Don't get me wrong--so long as the liturgy is not warped and the theme can be worked into a reasonable homily, I don't have any real problem with this--it is right a proper to give all due respect and dignity to mothers. However, when we got to Father's day, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity--certainly a day in which one could easily talk about the image of Father that men are all called to emulate--not a word. Not so much as a recognition that it was Father's day. Certainly no blessing, no special recognition , no flowers. (Not that I'd care for roses anyway--Dendrobium orchids seems appropriate--in fact, orchids of any sort, given the etymology of the name). I find this dismaying--dismaying and yet entirely predictable. When we view the Holy Family, although we pay a moment of lip-service to Blessed St. Joseph, the model of all fathers, we quickly pass over him to Jesus and His Mother.. All well and good--but utterly damaging in service to the family. A Marian emphasis is wonderful, uplifting thing--but a Church that does not recognize fathers for their contribution to the family is not a church that invites men in. This is only one of many ways that the Church, perhaps in an attempt to undo a perceived wrong in a completely male hierarchy, actually overlooks men and chooses not to invite them equally if they are not part of the clergy.

I'd like to think that what I observed was an anomaly, but I have noted it in nearly every parish I've been to. Mother's Day is made much of, Father's day, if it is mentioned at all, is usually some sort of joke. This may reflect societal influence, but the point of the Church in culture is not to reflect society but to direct it. If you want to invite men into the Church, then the day that celebrates the vocation of the vast majority of men should have the same or similar degree of celebration as that which celebrates the greatness of Motherhood. At a minimum, it seems appropriate to read a special blessing for fathers or to say a single prayer for strengthening fathers in their vocations. So long as the Church continues to slight this important vocation, we will have failed families--divorce, child abuse, and adultery. All vocations take great strength and perserverence. To expect once a year a blessing to help strengthen that vocation does not seem to be asking overmuch.

(Oh, and then I should probably say something about the way the Church treats those who are childless through no fault of their own--or in many cases even worse, those who are single either temporarily or by vows, and yet not part of the Religious. These are imperfections of the practice, not of the institution, and they can and should be addressed and remedied.)

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I've been reading Thich Nhat Hanh's marvelous book Anger. In doing so, this passage leapt off the page:

Thich Nhat Hanh

Punishing the other person is self-punishment. That is true in every circumstance. Every time the United States Army tries to punish Iraq, not only does Iraq suffer, but the U.S. also suffers. Every time Iraq tries to punish the U.S., the U.S. suffers, but Iraq also suffers. The same is true everywhere; between the Israeli and Palestinian, between the Muslim and HIndu, between you and the other person. It has always been like that. So let us wake up; let us be aware that punishing the other is not an intelligent strategy.

What I am sometimes amazed by, more often encouraged by, is the wisdom that echoes of Christianity found in nearly any sincere practitioner of his or her faith. This echo, this strain, reminds me of the passage in the creed: "One holy, apostolic, and Catholic Church." It casts new meaning on "no salvation outside the Church." It would seem to me that Christ reaches out from the heart of the Church to embrace people who are looking for Him though they may not know His name. Nhat Hanh certainly knows His name, having written several books in which Buddhism and Christianity are laid side by side and explored. But there are a great many Buddhists for whom Christ is unknown. Jesus still reaches out to these people through the truths of their faith. These are sheep that hear His voice and know it, but who have never seen the Shepherd and do not know His name. Or so I think--naturally, I have no proof of this, and I do believe that they would be even better off were they to know the fullness of the Catholic Faith. But sometimes people are born into a place where that is not a possibility--I believe that even in those circumstances the voice of Jesus is heard. I pray for the salvation of all, that all may be brought into the fullness of faith by our loving Father.

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The Matrix Reloaded


I had the opportunity to see The Matrix Reloaded this weekend. While I found it enormously entertaining and quite beautiful, I do wonder what all the buzz is about. I saw nothing particularly Christian in it, nor did I find long patches of dialogue about causality and free-will particularly compelling evidence of a Christian foundation. On the other hand, neither were there any evidences of a strongly antipathetic approach to religion and Christianity. So, for a film-goer looking for amusement, entertainment, and some beauty, the film was a marvel--the fight choreography stunningly beautiful at times, the plot a relentlessly messy tangle of picaresque chess-playing motions that seemed to have no real end in mind (not that that bothers me in the least).

No, that it is a beautiful film is probably undeniable. As to a meaningful film--not for me.

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Prayers Needed


If you do not already do so, please visit Our Lady of Loretto Carmelite Prayer Chapel and review the needs posted there over the last week. We have many parishioners, family members, and friends in need of healing prayers and the balm that comes from knowing that someone is concerned, loves them, and wishes to share the bounty of God's grace in prayer. I am among the number so much in need of prayers that my own ability to pray is impeded, so I request that all assist in shouldering this task. Thank you.

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Pursuant to remarks of this morning, this scripture came to mind--and suddenly there seemed to be an enormous depth that opened up. Jesus pointedly comments that the path of salvation is narrow and the path of destruction wide. And yet, here is another paradoxical truth. That strait gate and narrow way are actually much wider and more encompassing than the path of destruction. The path of destruction is our own self-limiting, narrow, wills. The strait gate and narrow way are God's will. God's will is identical for each person in that it demands holiness, but it is unique because it demands holiness of the person. As each person differs, God's will for each is different. Thus God's will is a broad plain in comparison to the road of destruction. But because we experience only a small facet of that broad plain (God's will for us is for us as individuals and therefore a narrow and small way) what we observe as individuals is that the path of destruction seems enormous in comparison with the path of God's will. This is the true beauty of the depths of God's word. What is spoken seems so simple and straight-forward, but what it means has depths we will never in our lifetimes completely plumb.

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Parsing the Counsels of St. John of the Cross II

Strive always to prefer, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult; . . . Strive thus to desire to enter into complete detachment and emptiness and poverty, with respect to everything that is in the world, for Christ's sake.

It seems best to quote not just the counsel but the ultimate goal. Many of the counsels are perfectly obvious. One doesn't need to explain what the statement "Strive to prefer not that which is easiest but that which is most difficult." It's meaning is perfectly transparent; however, the reason for it may not be. This sounds like making things difficult for yourself for no particular reason--which is why I quoted the end of the counsels as well. The goal is detachment from self--detachment from the nexus of selfishness and self-centeredness that comprises most people.

The first step is detachment from our own preferences and complacency. If you look at the entire list of counsels (included in this post) you will see that everyone of them is a call to action. They require us to abandon passivity and make some sort of effort. This is odd, because most people seem to think that St. John of the Cross was about inaction--allowing things to flow over one and pass away. That is also true. This is a paradox that others can explain better than I, but I suppose it is best to say that even allowing things to flow over one is an active practice because one must sometimes push them off and speed them on their way.

Why all of this emphasis on action, activity, and comfortlessness? The answer is simple and we have all experienced it. In times of turmoil, upset, and emotional overflow, we find it far easier to turn to God for help and solace, to think about Him frequently, and even if we do not pray coherently, we offer up petitions and cries for help. During the "good times" we are far too inclined to forget that God has provided the good times. We pay lip service, and I'm sure many do thank God sincerely, but good times tend not to elicit the depth of response. Part of what St. John is doing in the counsels is recommending that we always be ready to stir the pot. Detachment is not a passive exercise--it takes great determination, strength of will, and an endless supply of strengthening grace. To be able to achieve it, we must flex muscles we rarely use. St. John tells us how. He tells us not to seek comfort, where we are inclined to rest on our laurels and allow things to move as they will, but always to seek out work and the harder way.

It is interesting, but St. John's way even makes sense psychologically. All of our experts tell us that when we are stressed or angry we should engage in some vigorous physical activity or exercise. No matter the reason, such activity tends to disengage us from thoughts about ourselves and direct us toward our activity. We move out of the center and toward other things. St. John's goal is to make sure that God is Who we are moving toward. Thus when he makes all this advice that sounds wearisome and dreadful, our reactions are those of people on the outside looking in. When I hear about the life of a Saint from a Saint, I don't hear endless complaints about toil and effort and endless fruitless labor. I hear statements like, "Something beautiful for God" or "Small things with great devotion" or any of a number of phrases that show us that detachment and work for the Lord is the greatest of pleasures--that only in service to Him are we truly refreshed and relieved of the cares of this world. This servitude makes us free, this service gives us true rest. In the world we must be both Martha and Mary, for though Mary has the better part, it is only the effort of Martha that make it possible. So, to rest in the better part we must work in our wills and in our world.

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Holiness Is Not an Option


Holiness Is Not an Option

It is a requirement of all Christians, whatever their state of life. Our task is to find God's way of holiness for each one of us. Sometimes I think Jesus's statement, "My Father's house has many mansions," is a reference to that fact that holiness is the truest realization of self. Holiness is becoming a mirror for God, we all reflect exactly the same thing--the eternal, unchangable, omniscient face of Love Incarnate. But surrounding the glass that reflects the image is a frame--it is the frame that is individually crafted and worked on by our loving Father.

Think about it--you have Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and so on. Each one is a model of holiness, but each one is unique. Thus, when one says something like, "I can't be like Thérèse" (as I sometimes hear at my Carmelite Meetings), my response is always, "Why would you want to be? God already has one of those." God gives us the Saints as examples, not as templates. Not one of us is constituted in exactly the same way as any one saint, and so our paths will be different. And in being different our paths will light the ways of people in the future.

We must be holy as we are--not as Thérèse or Francis Xavier is--but as we are. In holiness we have worked with God to polish the mirror in which all must see the image of God, and so have the proper light to see the glorious frame that is the individual Saint. Do not despair because you cannot do as others do. We are not called to that. We are called to do as God would have us do, and His grace strengthens us to that end.

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One of the joys of stats is that one can see who visits from whence. And occasionally that leads to a very interesting link. I have no idea how one gets to my page from the one that follows--but if you've ever wanted to create your own 1 atmosphere plasmoid and destroy your microwave, kitchen, and perhaps entire house in the process--here's the link for you. This is actually quite cool, and the page writer provides a real-media file to view the results for those disinclined to experimenting themselves.

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An Urgent Need for Prayers


An Urgent Need for Prayers

The following comes to me regarding one of the Carmelite sisters in the Carmel at Port Tobacco (I think). Please pray for her today.

We beg prayers for Sister Anne, who is in danger of death. She was doing so well, coming to Mass almost every day, but became ill over the weekend, and missed Pentecost. The following day (yesterday), she was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room at a larger hospital about 20 minutes from here, rather than the one here in town. She was found to have an obstruction in the small intestine. She must have an operation soon, or the bowel will burst. It would be a terrible and painful death. However, she is so weak and has so many problems that she may not survive an operation. We expect the operation to take place tomorrow, June 11.

In addition, please visit Our Lady of Loretto Carmelite Prayer Chapel and pray for the intentions posted there--all of them are urgent needs.

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Ways of Holiness In response


Ways of Holiness

In response to this post at Disputations Mr. O'Rama replied:

I found this very interesting. It is reasonable and persuasive. Yet should we not mark Christ's words that Martha had chosen the better way? Does not the religious life, with its constant prayer, its constant access to the sacraments, to trained spiritual directors, et all not make a difference? But God is not bound by those things. Certainly our experience screams that the religious life confers not so much advantage as we might romantically think - Thomas Merton paints a picture in his journals of his fellow monks as, well, not quite completed Christians. No surprise there.

This seems to imply that Martha's way is not available to those in Secular life, and yet. . . Martha and Mary both were not cloistered Monastics. Jesus was not speaking to a group of people who lived outside the stream of life. It seems to me that one way is not more holy than another--to seek the God's will in everything is the source of grace and holiness. If God does not call one to the cloister or monastery, one must be open to what God is calling one to. St. Catherine of Siena was very holy, and yet she was not cloistered, even though she belonged to an Order. Louis and Zelie Martin were very holy people by all accounts. St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton, and countless others demonstrated the holiness possible in everyday pursuits.

I think I'm disturbed by this kind of reflection, not because there isn't an element of truth to it--a call to the religious life is the highest kind of call--but because many people use these reflections or things similar to it to deny their own responsibility in the cultivation of holiness. I often hear from my confreres, "I can't do that because I'm not a religious. I can't follow this way or that way because I am not in a convent or monastery." And for some things, that is true. But being outside of a religious order or establishment is not an excuse for failing in holiness. After all, if we choose it, most of us have reasonably constant access to the sacraments, and all of us are called to pray constantly, to raise our daily work as an offering of prayer. Many of us don't take advantage of these things, but then, many in monasteries and religious life may not do so either--we cannot know.

I understand the sense of Mr. O'Rama's comment and agree that religious life is the higher calling. However, I disagree that it gives some leg-up on holiness. Holiness is the struggle with the assistance of God's grace to conquer the self and that same self is with you--in a convent or monastery, or in a married life. The struggle is on different terms in different vocations, but nevertheless we all "work out our salvation in fear and trembling."

Holiness is not only possible, but it is required of all God's people. We are all called to be saints, whether we are canonized or not--"Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect." Perfection, I reiterate, is uniformity with God's will--living out a union with God. And we are told that this is possible in God's time and in God's way for all people. If our row seems harder to hoe, it is because we have never had to try to work the field elsewhere. There are profound troubles, problems, and obstacles to holiness wherever we live out our vocations.

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Not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing;

I'm starting with the second of the several counsels I posted yesterday. I'm starting with this because it is in many ways one of the easier ones to discuss both in terms of requirements and results.

Here St. John of the Cross advises us to cultivate an attitude of mind that allows us to make small mortifications of the flesh in order to discipline our wills not to seek out sensory delights. This is one of the most obvious because it is one in which most of us indulge ourselves. Let us start at the most basic level--when we are presented with choices, in food, for example, we are not to choose that which most pleases us and which delights the taste buds, but that which we would prefer not to eat. Now, first, reiterate the reasons for this choosing. Food that is well-prepared and that tastes good is NOT sinful, nor is it wrong to delight in such food. And if our host should place such food before us, we should in good fellowship and with a sense of Christian Harmony partake of it to some extent less than gluttony. However, when we are presented with a choice, it is better to choose the thing we less like to eat and to offer that choice to God as a small sacrifice, and to ourselves as a small advance on where we were. That is, by depriving ourselves of, say, Beef Wellington, and eating instead say lima beans and corn bread we perform a small mortification that actually helps others indirectly and that tries to rein in the rampaging horses that are appetite and desire.

What John seems to emphasize is that each choice can be made to discipline desire and to offer glory to God. The Buddhists call a similar approach to things "mindfulness." Father de Mello referred to it as Awareness. We need to be aware of our choices and to take control of them--not merely to be disciplined, but as a voluntary offering to the Lord who offered everything to us. We must gratefully accept all things from His hands, and to the extent possible, offer them back to Him. We do this in the small things. St Thérèse is often misunderstood when she speaks of "small things with great devotion and love," but this is exactly what she refers to. Every day we have innumerable choices, and each choice should be made in such a way as to direct our attention to God. Everything we eat, everything we do, even everything we choose to look at. It is an austere way and a way of much discipline and small sacrifice, and yet, I cannot but think that it is a way arrayed in costliest finery--more splendid than gold and jewels, more marvelous than the most beautiful orchids, because it is a way paved with the Blood of Christ Himself and with the Blood of all the Martyrs in Flesh or of the Spirit who followed Him. It is a "little way" of Martyrdom to the enticements of the world, that robes us in the richest raiment possible.

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A Prayer of Carmelite Saints


A Prayer of Carmelite Saints

from Drink of the Stream compiled by Penny Hickey, O.C.D.S.

A Prayer of St. Thérèse

My God, "I choose all!" I don't want to be a saint by halves, I 'm not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will so take it, for "I choose all" that You will!

A Prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

O Lord, what does it matter, when I can retire within myself, enlightened by faith, whether I feel or don't feel, whether I am in light or darkness, enjoy or do not enjoy? I am struck by a kind of shame at making any distinction between such things and, despising myself utterly for such want of love, I turn at once to You, my divine Master, for deliverance. Help me to exalt You. . . above the sweetness and consolation which flow from You, because I have resolved to pass by all else in order to be united with You.

What strikes me here is the naturalness with which both of these Saints entered into St. John's dark night of the senses, without pause or seeming difficulty. Sometimes it strikes me as unfair that some have it so much easier than the rest of us. Through no fault of my own I was not born into a Catholic Family. My parents were the nominally religious semi-churchgoers who eventually stopped goind at all. I did not have a Louis and Zelie in my life to cultivate an interest and a yearning toward such things.

But why bemoan fate? The path is traced out for each of us. We are each born into a different situation and live out that situation. Our object is to live it out in accord with God's will to the extent that we can discern it. Sometimes our discernment is weak. At other times, it is a tower of strength. We pull with our poor strength to draw close to God, and He, in turn, sweeps us in with a mighty current. Sometimes our stroke is off, so that we end up resisting the current and tiring as we seek to get away from the torrent of His Love. But, if our hearts are in it, we will resume our rowing until we realize that even that weak effort seems to diminish His own swift waters. And so instead we retire to the rudder and steer the ship along the strongest lines of the current, heading my the most direct means into the Heart of God.

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Not for the Faint of


Not for the Faint of Heart

I have ventured into regions of the blogworld that while fascinating have caused me to blanch and retreat homeward quickly. I'm certain that a great many have read the debates of the neocons and the radtrads or whatever each calls the other. I find myself appalled and feel the necessity to retreat to prayer. Yes, I know there are divisions and disagreements, but somehow I find this particular rift with a sometimes-sense of triumphalism on one side or the other particularly sad and disturbing. I disagree with a great many Catholics on a very large number of issues, and yet, I feel no need to be right at the expense of others. It seems that such an attitude is not shared throughout the world of reasoned argumentation. I see and understand points on both sides, but the extremes of either side are unpleasant in the extreme and do not help their cause or the cause of Christ Himself who must be wounded over this division and this insistence upon difference. If a person chooses to attend a Tridentine Mass and thinks all manner of error about Vatican II, then so be it. Still, this person is a brother in the Lord and needs to be loved.

Now, to give credit, there are a great many who are capable of civil disagreement without ad hominem arguments and attacks. I had no idea things were quite so ugly out there. Perhaps because I am not of an argumentative nature (Okay Tom, stop laughing) when my views differ and they have not been requested by others, then I keep them to myself. (See St. Josemaria Escriva's Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility No. 5).

I don't know, it just saddens me greatly to see such unpleasantness within the Body of Christ. I am not naive enough to believe that everything goes forever smoothly, but the degree of rancor and unpleasantness suggests the resurrection of the Reformation. I mean after all folks, the Campos group in Brazil (Lefebvrists of some stripe) have been reunited with Rome--all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us.

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St. John of the Cross--Counsels on Discipline and Love

At the end of the first book of The Ascent of Mount Carmel St. John of the Cross gives a magnificent set of directions for those who seek union with God. The whole point of the first book is that one must enter into the first Dark Night, called the active night of the senses. The active night is so called because it requires of the person some movement of will in order to accomplish entry. (In other words, it is not Quietist--waiting around for a stunning revelation to smack you upside the head.) It is the dark night of the sense because it aims first to purify the physical senses and data input, as it were. It deals with the sensual side of the human being, and the entry of sense information into the soul.

When talking about this with the Carmelite group on Saturday there was a collective gasp as they at last got the point--this is neither easy, nor pleasant, nor is it in accord to what we are taught by society and the world around us--and yet, it is utterly necessary as a first step forward. In sections 6-13, St. John gives some advice about how to enter into this first dark night. First, prior to any of this, one must have cultivated an active and fruitful prayer life in the ordinary mode--that is, Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, and other devotional and meditational prayers. So St. John of the Cross assumes a commitment to moving toward union for God, and he speaks of people who have all these prerequisites as "beginners" in prayer.

Next his practical advise follows in the translation by E. Allison Peers. I recommended this list as a daily examen for the members of the Carmelite community with the main question being--where did I do these things, where did I depart from this advice.

Ascent of Mount Carmel--Book I, Chapter 13, Section 6

Strive always to prefer,
not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult;
Not that which is most delectable, but that which is most unpleasing;
Not that which gives most pleasure, but rather that which gives least;
Not that which is restful, but that which is wearisome;
Not that which is consolation, but rather that which is disconsolateness;
Not that which is greatest, but that which is least;
Not that which is loftiest and most precious, but that which is lowest and most despised;
Not that which is a desire for anything, but that which is a desire for nothing;
Strive to go about seeking not the best of temporal things, but the worst.
Strive thus to desire to enter into complete detachment and emptiness and poverty, with respect to everything that is in the world, for Christ's sake.

Now, what St. John of the Cross says here is that one must cultivate the mindset that seeks these things. However, there are two things he DOES NOT say that are commonly attributed to him. He does not say that material things are bad and to be avoided, and he does not say that one should go out of one's way to avoid these things if they are sent. By that I mean that we are to accept all things in God's will, but as a matter of discipline, when we are given a choice, we should choose according to these guidelines to gradually separate us from our attachments to physical things and sensations. What John is doing here in giving practical instruction on the words of St. Paul, "I know how to be rich and I know how to be poor." We are to know how to be each without being attached to either. That is to say, when good things come our way, we are to accept them gratefully as gifts from God and be equally grateful when the opportunity comes to let them go. I illustrate it with a little "parable" from my experience here in Florida. One day I looked out my back window and a Sandhill Crane couple and baby were strutting around the back yard as though they owned the place. This was a richness sent from God. The proper attitude to it is not to shut my eyes and wish it away or pretend it does not exist, but to thank God from the bottom of my heart for this blessing and then not to seek to lengthen it by, say, making a cage and putting these noble and magnificent birds in it. I praise God and let the gift go as easily as it comes, relishing the moment, grateful for the grace, and open to the movements of God's will. It is Job's famous statement, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed by the Lord."

That is the attitude we are to cultivate, not to seek to lengthen the pleasure of the experience, not to try to "own" it, but to allow it to happen, accept it gratefully, and allow it to pass, accepting all from the hand of God equally. But with our modern mindset and with society's encouragement, we are a people who must own and contain. We cannot let things go.

One person in the group brought up an interesting point, she said, "But as a mother with two small children, I really want those periods of quiet and respite that allow me to regenerate and be a better mother later." I pointed out to her that her desire for quiet was likely to make her unquiet. The need for the time of regeneration would be likely to engender short-temperedness and other negative qualities, because we seek rather than accepting what comes. There would be nothing wrong with using quiet time that comes to us to regenerate, but it is in seeking it that we go wrong, because then it becomes a driving goal--when we do not achieve it we are diminished, tired, angry, frustrated, and less capable of being ourselves. I noted that the saints seemed to work tirelessly, dawn to dusk, without complaint, without request for rest, though they undoubtedly could do with some. And they did this because their hearts were always seeking what God desired. They did not desire for themselves anything other than what God would give them. Their longing was always to demonstrate in the fullness of their being their tremendous love of Christ.

So, St. John of the Cross is training us to be saints. The question is, are we willing to accept the training? Are we willing to assume the "yoke that is easy, the burden that is light?" If so, we can boldly start to practice these disciplines, seeking always not to indulge the senses, but to indulge so far as we are able to discern it God's will, and to separate ourselves from the deep attachments that keep us as spirits in bondage unable to rise to the heights the Father wishes to give us.

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Initial Topic Announcement

Eric has announced his initial topic for discussion. Because no one seems to have comments working this morning (enetation or haloscan), I thought I'd post a couple of considerations I had over the weekend that might make for an interesting strain to trace first as a "complete" overview. If one were to do a setting that treats the same text through the different ages of music, it might be somewhat easier to observe through familiarity some of the differences that occur. It might be well to consider some very established poetic text and its treatment from plainchant/gregorian times to the present day. Particularly, something like the "Ave Maria" might lend itself well to such treatment. Heaven knows there are enough compositions based on the text--it would serve well to take us from the periods Erik characterizes as "pretonal" to "postonal." Another such text might be the "Stabat Mater." The advantage of these texts is that we are all familiar enough with the one that we can also examine how the composer treats the text in order to make of it the musical sense that he wishes to convey. For example in the Bach-Gounoud "Ave Maria" there is key repetition of text that is NOT repeated in the actual prayer. This repetition serves both a music/rhetorical purpose, and conveys something about the sense of the text that the composer wished us to have.

Moreover, the usual treatment of the "Ave Maria" is brief enough that it serves well. Finally, it would also allow Erik to make some comments regarding orchestration, conducting, and performance--other key factors that influence our enjoyment of the music, but which often go completely unremarked by most people. There are composers about whose music I am very concerned regarding the Conducter. Wagner is often horrid in the hands of a conductor not used to the weight of the music. Debussy, likewise has been mangled by those not sensitive to the delicacy of some of the structure ( I think here of an abysmal recording of "Prelude" under the baton of Herbert von Karajan, whose style I generally like in dealling with the German Composers). Anyway, it is just a suggestion that might serve well to give us a rapid overview to be followed by a more intense careful prowling through music and Art.

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Effectus Geminus

Two interesting new blogs that you may want to visit:

Effectus Geminus by a self-described Neocon, Neo-thomist


The Kingfisher's Wing--what can you say about a blog that takes it name from T.S. Eliot?

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For Erik--A Message About Brahms

Enetation seems to be hiccoughing. I've tried several times to post this comment to Mr. Keilholtz, so please forgive me if I make it public here, but I have a feeling that all will be enlightened when Mr. Keilholtz holds forth on the subject at hand.

Dear Erik,

You mentioned talking about Vermeer, and I'd like to assess the implication of Hockney's Camera Lucida theory and its relevance, if any, to the question of the art and the accomplishment of Vermeer.

Also, I think musically, I'd be most interested in one point in particular, which should give you an early opportunity to rant. Why the antipathy towards Brahms?

I have to admit to having no fondness whatsoever for his work, but it extends generally to the German"style." I find everything from Beethoven through the twentieth century to be too "heavy"--as though orchestrated by Phil Spector--but that's just a matter of taste. What do you so dislike about Brahms. For example, the "Alto Rhapsody" seems to me to be quite a lovely piece of music. On the other hand, as much as I love violin concerti I find Brahms's attempt to be dismal in the extreme.

Anyway, I'd like to hear a great deal more about Brahms before you start talking about real accomplishments. A rant would do me good right now.

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This is the part of the book that must be remarkably unpopular with the Thomists of the world--and which on the surface may seem to make no sense whatsoever. But that lack of sense is more a matter of misinterpretation and misrepresentation than it is a reality of the teaching of St. John of the Cross. And it does make sense when you pause to think about it.

It is important to bear in mind that St. John DOES NOT indicate that there is anything wrong or bad about intellect, mind, or study. But he does affirm quite clearly and with no possibility of demurral that there comes a point in the road to Union with God when this apparatus presents a far greater hurdle than it does a help. And it is at this point that it must be abandoned entirely. Not that we forget what we learned or refuse to use our minds, but rather that the insistence on answers, on knowing, and on having everything explained is abandoned in favor of the journey in "the Dark Night of Faith."

Ascent of Mount Carmel VI
Beginning of Book II

Read pages 154-162 (Chapter 1-4). St John of the Cross is beginning his discussion of the Dark Night of the Spirit. Book I dealt with the necessity of the Dark Night of the Senses. Each of the Dark Nights has two phases, one that we contribute to by effort of will, called the Active Dark Night and one that we do not do anything to contribute to, in which God acts as surgeon and doctor—the passive Dark Night.

Chapter 1
1. What is “the sheer grace” referred to in line 3 of the poem?
What is the secret ladder? Why does John use this image?
Why was the soul “disguised?” What effect does this have?
What does St. John mean by the last line of this section? Why is it important?

2. Why is the journey in darkness secure?
What is the darkness?
Why is “the house now all stilled?”
What is required of the soul to achieve a union of “simplicity and purity and love and likeness?”

3. Why is the darkness of stanza 2 darker than the Dark Night of Stanza 1? What does this indicate?

Chapter 2
1. Describe the three “parts” of the dark night. What does each consist of? What is the final arrival place?

2-3. What does the first night refer to? The second? Why is the second darker?

Chapter 3
1-2. Why is Faith a darkness? Read these two sections slowly, carefully, and several times. Explain them in your own words.
3. What does faith do in the soul?
4. Explain how the Dark Night of Faith gives the soul light.
5-6. Read these passages carefully. How does the dark night of faith give knowledge? How certain is that knowledge?

Chapter 4
1-2. Why must the soul “perfectly and voluntarily empty itself?”
3-4. How must the soul seek Union with God advance?
5. What does entering the road to union require of the soul? What do the many “modes” St. John refers to mean?
6. What should the soul’s desire and aim be?
7-8. Explain what St. John means when he says, “By blinding one’s faculties along this road one will see light. . . “ How will this happen?

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Another Talk About Population Density

Video Meliora is concerned about the drop-off in visitors. Well, concerned is perhaps a strong word--let us say that T.S. has noted the declilne. While I do not agree with Mr. Culbreath on the particulars of why this is a good and healthful thing, I see no cause for alarm. As St. Blog's grows, individual sites are likely to attract a smaller portion of the audience as people gravitate toward those things that interest them. For example, I only occasionally visit sites that feature comments on News of the Day. I can depress myself quite well enough, thank you. I don't need others pointing out the earth-shaking and possibly apocalyptic ramifications of the latest "art" idiocy or indiscretion of the clergy. However, for others, such sites are wildly popular. My concerns, announced from the very first, tend to dictate the sites I'm likely to find interesting and to visit with any frequency. Those who make comments on the arts--any of the arts--are likely to be magnets. Those who comment on matters of Catholic Theology, Philosophy, and Spirituality are even higher draws. Anyone who tells me anything about raising small children as Catholics will have my loyalty--for that matter, anyone with insight into the lives of small children. As a result, as new additions occur and such sites increase and the number of hours in the day remains the same, my ability to visit is drawn quite thin. I have something like 95-100 sites listed in my blogroll. A goodly number of them I visit daily. Each week I will have visited every one of them. But because the number has increased so greatly, I do not frequent with anything like my previous pattern, any one of the sites. One day Disputations might draw me in for several views by one of the provocative comments. Another day it might be Video Meliora, or Gospel M*i*n*e*f*i*e*l*d

Thus, my conclusion is that the dropoff, precipitated by Lent, but exacerbated by all of the truly excellent sites available is indicative of the growth of the community and thus is a healthy indicator for all. I do not lament it, as the lower numbers indicate to me the core of the loyal audience, from time to time supplemented by the many gracious visitors who drop by. I am blessed by each visitor, and I am blessed by the opportunity to state my opinions and ideas and to learn from others as they comment. I would like to see a great deal more interaction, but as most visitors also maintain their own blogs, it is hard to comment everyplace and say anything worthwhile at home. But I do love the conversation and interaction the may develop from time to time, and I am often disappointed by the lack of interaction in some places (not here). But that, I'm sure, will change as those places develop their own core of loyal followers.

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Another Absurdity from NPR

Yes, I know, what can I expect from such a service. However, they pulled out all the stops this morning when one of their announcers had the audacity to say, "Not a day for the Beach." What nonsense--what sheer utter lunacy--why, it's akin to saying, "Not a day for breathing." When will these people learn? Oh well, I suppose one must endure such, it's part of the cross some of us are destined to carry.

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A Cadre of Artists--or at


A Cadre of Artists--or at least Artistic Discussion

So now I count about three blogs dedicated in whole or in large part to discussion of some aspect of the arts (this does not include blogs dedicated to the presentation of the arts such as Victor Lam's blog or Mixolydian Mode--which are quite a different matter)--Literarium, Erik's Rants and Recipes, and Catholic Bookshelf.

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Selected Quotes Quote/Reminders from Alphosus di Liguori

from "Uniformity with God's Will"

--The man who follows his own will independently of God's, is guilty of a kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God's will, he, in a certain sense, adores his own.

--It would be the greatest delight of the seraphs to pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all eternity, if they found out such was God's will.

--A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint. Behold while Saul was persecuting the church, God enlightened him and converted him.

--beause he who gives his will to God, gives him everything. He who gives his goods in alms, his blood in scourgings, his food in fasting, gives God what he has. But he who gives God his will, gives himself, gives everything he is.

Read more of this very brief treatise.

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A Discussion of Art and


A Discussion of Art and Music

Erik has promised a continuing discussion of the aesthetics of modern music and art. (Direct Link doesn't appear to be working, so go here and page down.)

I find this an interesting and potentially very entertaining (not amusing, but entertaining) proposition. I will be most interested to see how Mr. Keilholtz manages to fit modern art into anything other than modern philosophy. And if the aesthetics chosen are modern, then it would interesting to see the justification of the Modern Aesthetic, given such points of departure as Mortimer Adler's immortal and finely reasoned Ten Philosophical Mistakes.

What is most interesting about this is the question of what Mr. Keilholtz finds interesting, beautiful, or wonderful about modern pieces. There are some that are truly interesting and transcendant, but I would argue that most betray a warped and unsound aesthetic that, in fact, diminishes the art itself. Recent exhibits in museums and galleries that include such wonderful items as a room in which a single bulb goes on and off periodically and the artists own unmade bed with "accessories" suggest that most moderns don't have a clue any more. They do interesting tricks and they do the Duchamp outrageousness without an iota of his talent to play to an audience of bored intelligentsia, who in turn perform backflips to try to justify this (in some cases real) excresence to a population that knows better. Much of modern art (not all) suffers from "The Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome. However, it will be interesting and entertaining to see which artists and composers Mr. Keilholtz chooses and to hear exactly what is appealing in them. I await the discussion of Alban Berg's Wozzeck or even, perhaps creepier, Lulu, an opera featuring Jack the Ripper and mysterious a snake named Lulu. (Both of these are powerful, powerful works, though hardly conventional, and better seen than merely heard the first time.) Also, one of my favorite Bartok pieces, Bluebeard's Castle. I don't know where these will fall on the peripatetic excursions into the arts, or whether they will fall at all, but I hope so. I look forward to reading and I hope constructively disagreeing (or who knows, actually agreeing) with Mr. Keilholtz. Now, we all have to keep after him so that he actually does as he promises. Go over there and suggest things you'd like to talk about.

Perhaps we can even spend a few moments discussing whether Hockney's theory of the camera lucida and Vermeer makes any real difference in the accomplishment that is Vermeer's oeuvre.

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Khachaturian's Birthday

Listening on NPR I discovered that today is Aram Khachaturian's birthday. Khachaturian, an Aremenian composer who used a large number of folk melodies in compositions that defy categorization, is mostly remembered for a single wild composition that could be heard nearly anywhere--"The Sabre Dance" from the Ballet Gayaneh. However, listening to the NPR piece I was reminded of the lush orchestration and flat out gorgeous beauty of some of the music from Spartacus. The report said that there have been no recordings of his major works since about the 1960s and decried this as a great musical loss. From what little I know, I'm inclined to agree. Like Tchaikovski, I suspect that a large dose of Khachaturian would begin to pall, but a sprinkling would help to ameliorate some of the excesses of his compatriots Shostakovich and Prokofiev--both quite fine, but much more "modern" in their works.

You can go here to listen to brief excerpts of the work. The link is an "occasional piece" so it may not last long. But I can tell you that I would really like to go seek out the Naxos recordings of Khachaturian's work now. For those with more refined tastes, I apologize, but the "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia" is always evocative--typified in the broadcast as "Neo-romantic".

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Lessons from the Letter of


Lessons from the Letter of James

Mr. Keilholtz's comments below on Stockhausen, gave me pause, for a couple of reasons. Let me quote what Stockhausen said with regard to what happened on 9/11:

What happened there is—they all have to rearrange their brains now—is the greatest work of art ever. That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for 10 years, completely fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos.

And of this Mr. Keilholtz says:

In fact, Stockhausen was likening the terror attacks as an act of Luzifer. He used the word art because he saw the parallels between the planning of that and the rehearsal necessary for a performance of art. I have to say, on rereading Stockhausen's comments (as well as his clarification), that there was nothing that outrageous.

Now, at first, I must say that I was a bit perturbed at the defense of this bit of, at best callousness, and at worst, out-and-out evil. But then I thought about what Mr. Keilholtz was saying and saw in it some sense. And it brought to mind some thoughts from the Letter of James.

Even if Mr. Stockhausen did not mean what he said, having said it in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was a gross dereliction of Christian and even human duty. You may think all manner of things, but common decency requires some careful consideration before making such comments. They smack of the "no publicity is bad publicity" ethos. But let us assume that an old gentleman simply let spill some of the thoughts that were in his head--something that may have happened due to the stress and the shock of the situation. This is precisely where the Letter of James comes in.

James--Chapter 3 1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2 for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4 It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot's inclination wishes. 5 In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6 The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11 Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.

This is enough to get the point. Our mouths are our worst enemies. From them spew all sorts of filth and nonsense. Even if Mr. Stockhausen's comments were not malicious, the time, context, and statement converge to give a most unfortunate impression.

As Christians we are called to watch what we say in every particular. Our mouths pave the pathway to Hell for a great many unsuspecting people. When we are harsh, when we are malicious, but sometimes even when we are simply mistimed. A friend of mine recently had a severe trauma because she made a very innocent remark that was misinterpreted by another merely because of the context of the conversation. This bothered her for several days and had she not taken strong measures to correct the problem might have resulted in the end of a friendship. Our words have far greater influence than we give them credit for. We need to be aware of what we say. We must not say things merely to stretch or break convention. For example, whether intended literally or not, a statement such as Breton's assertion that the ultimate act of surrealist art would be to randomly shoot someone in the attending audience is ill-considered, callous, and I think, downright evil.

To conceive of the death of another human being in the context of Art shows us the degeneration and destruction of the definition of art and demonstrates the ultimate fallacy and problem of PoMo criticism and notions of reality. For example, Michel Foucault, the primary theorist of PoMo philosophy, is said to have attempted to show that a retrovirus is not the cause of AIDS by repeatedly engaging in sexual activity even after he knew he was infected. PoMo reminds me of the "Stan who shall be called Loretta" syndrome of Life of Brian. In the movie one character says that Stan's desire to have a baby is "Symbolic of our struggle against the Roman Oppression" and the John Cleese character comments, "It's symbolic of his struggle against reality."

Our words shape the way we perceive reality. When we say negative things, we tend to think in negative ways and perceive things in a darker way that we might otherwise do. When we are uncharitable in language, it is pouring out of our hearts. We need always to bear in mind the words of our Savior--, "It is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him."

If we find ourselves spilling out statements like those of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Andre Breton, we would do well to get ourselves to confession ASAP and discover what the source of this wellspring of evil. Our words do real harm!

(But it is good also to remember the reverse is true--our words also do real good.)

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Books for those who like


Books for those who like O'Brien

A place called Athelstane in the UK is producing a large number of books by Frederick Marryat (In fact, all 26 of his published works) as well as 62 works by Robert Ballentyne--probably best known for his work The Coral Island. Find all these and others here.

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A Stunning Revelation--The Harpsichord Continued

Recently got a recording of György Ligeti's Mechanical Music that has a surprising little piece for harpsichord called Continuum. It is vaguely reminiscent of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich and other minimalists, but all its own wonderful compostion. I am not a fan of modern music, but as soon as I say something like that, someone like Ligeti comes along and smacks me between the eyes. I don't think I've heard a single piece of music by him the I have disliked--some I find transcendant and beautiful beyond words (for example the pieces used in association with the Monolith in 2001) and some I find intriguing and fun. If you have a chance, you may want to give him a listen. He isn't everyone's cup of tea, as there is a certain discordant if not dissonant aspect to his compositions--but they are quite beautiful. Still aquiring the taste for his contemporary near compatriot Penderecki and as for Karlheinz Stockhausen--well, the less said, the better--particularly after his comments on 9/11.

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"Why is God Bleeding?" and


"Why is God Bleeding?" and other inexplicables

Yes, a question from yesterday, just one of a panoply of questions that is pouring out of my young one. Today just before I wrote this, he asked, "Why can't God get off the cross?" I told him the God could, but because He loves us He did not. Then Samuel responded, "Well, I want Him to come out of the Church."

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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