A Correspondent with Fr. G-L Offers Some Thoughts

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Father Lagrange's book is one of those in which the footnotes occasionally exceed the length of the text above. And in a passage regarding how to find union with God, we find this remarkable excerpt from a letter:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange O.P.

[here quoting an anonymous Novice mistress]

". . . In my opinion, many souls remain at the door of the true life because they lack instruction and are deluded in believing that meditation alone is a sure state. Ordinarily when one enters our monasteries with the required dispositions. . . and when one strives seriously to acquire the virtues, the soul is, in a very short time, subjected by God to aridity and powerlessness, the prelude of the passive purifications. It is almost impossible to make those who have been trained according to the method of reasoned meditation believe that this state is good, and that it is made to lead them to the divine union. They do not understand the teaching of St. John of the Cross: 'To apply oneself at this time to the comprehension and consideration of particular objects, were they ever so spiritual, would be to place an obstacle int he way of the general, subtle, and simple light of the spirit.; it would be to overcloud one's spirit. . . .'

"Those who cling to meditation are still waiting after thirty years and more of religious life for someone to lift them up and show them what they are still seeking. They lead a colorless and dull spiritual life. In the contemplative life the secret of happiness is in knowng how to live this life under the eye of God.. . .

Every soul that is even slightly contemplative, instinctively seeks to rid itself of everything personal and places no value on it. . . ."

I have three reasons for quoting this passage. The first is to show that spiritual direction is almost essential at some point along the way. Perhaps one can struggle through much of the experience by oneself, but eventually there comes a time when one requires help to man the rudder and keep the ship on course.

The second is to note that the contemplative life seems to come very rapidly (to the cloistered) who have the proper disposition and desire. I think this extends to the lay life, but perhaps requires more time given that one has other repsonsibilities and vocations to attend to. Persons who are married and who have children have a primary responsibility to their spouses and children. This is their primary vocation and one better "achieves perfection" through obedience to the necessity of one's calling than through all the straining at the bit with concomittant neglect of one's spouse and child. Obedience and humility seem to be virtues very highly prized by God, possibly because they foster a greater life of charity. Thus, in the married state, one sacrifices to some extent, what one would rather do (direct ascent to God) to what one is required (and in my case, at least, priveleged and overjoyed) to do. So those attending to families should feel no remorse at this temporary delay. The prayer of responsibly iiving out one's vocation will ultimately further union when the time comes.

The third reason for quoting the passage is in the last sentence. It seems natural and right that the contemplative soul, the soul seeking constant communion and communication with God, would naturally move toward shedding the obstacles that stand in the way of that Union. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange goes through a great deal of effort to show that this has been the teaching from St. Paul on; that St. John of the Cross is perhaps a more precise articulator of the mechanisms and the meanings of some of the stages of prayer, but that the doctrine springs from the wells of Sacred Scripture itself, and thus, ultimately the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I find this interesting to reflect upon because it verifies my own observations regarding this. And it seems to be true of every Christian tradition.

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I believe recollection is possible to the soul active in the world; as you say, some of us have duties to our spouse and family. This does not ipso facto mean we cannot also achieve contemplation in our own state in life. I think remaining recollected throughout the day is indeed possible for the secular layman, even while he is busy working in a hospital, school, courthouse, etc.

Dear Christine,

I agree absolutely. However, I also note that it doesn't come easily, and it may progress more slowly than if one were completely dedicated to its occurence. This is by way of suggesting patience with oneself and one's obligations and limitations. It is possible, only it may take more time. All that is really necessary is the desire on our part and Grace from God.



Great care must be taken, I think, to prevent any inference that marriage interferes with the contemplative life.

What makes the inference pernicious is that it in turn implies marriage is a hindrance to union with God, when in fact it is a principal means to union with God for the majority of Catholics.

It's a tricky point, since after all marriage actually does interfere with the contemplative life, but the interference isn't a conflict to be resolved, it's a choice to be made. The actual conflict is between marriage and celibacy; the two states in life afford two different levels of "contemplativity," if you will.

A desire for more contemplativity than your state in life affords is no better than a desire for less. If a husband desires direct ascent to God, let him pursue it in the watches of the night; if he climbs the mountain instead of caring for his family, he's unlikely to find God waiting for him at the top.

Dear Tom,

Yes, you will note that I say that it "slows down" not that it hinders. That is to say that when one has nothing on one's plate except to contemplate an accelerated pace might well be expected. As Christine noted, it IS possible to live in the presence of God constantly regardless of state. But I speak of the majority of us who DO and WILL experience some little frustration in how slowly we seem to progress.

What is really happening, as you so wisely point out, is that the path of obedience, humility, and self-sacrifice marked out by properly living the vocation of spouse and parent strengthens the virtue of charity in ways different from, but perhaps not lesser than certain ascetic and contemplative practices. Obedience to one's state in life is critical. We must serve first where we have been called--not for the reward, which will nevertheless be great, but for love of God. Surely obedience in such a calling is not a hindrance to the proper disposition and development of spiritual life. However, the normal rhythms of family life often work to thwart even very generous attempts at establishing the kind of rhythm that is a fact of life in monasteries and closed communities. We must understand this not as a roadblock, but as a guide to patience and caution, not pushing oneself "beyond grace," but integrating properly the contemplative and the familial aspects of life. It takes time to work it out so patience with the self (of course not to the point of sloth) is a necessary concomittant. But the desire to ascend to God will naturally strengthen and reinforce the desire to fulfill God's will on Earth which is to live out the vocation to which you have been called. In this way, while it may take longer or be more prone to frustration and only seem to take longer, it would seem to me that it is simulataneously more pleasing to God.



However, the normal rhythms of family life often work to thwart even very generous attempts at establishing the kind of rhythm that is a fact of life in monasteries and closed communities.

What I'm trying to get at is that the kind of rhythym that is a fact of life in monasteries and closed communities is not something someone who is married should attempt to establish for himself. Rather, he should attempt to establish the kind of rhythym that is a fact of life in families.

Married people are not mini-religious, somehow squeezing monastic observance into their lives between the demands of work and family. You well know, Steven, that you're not part-friar. Your Rule isn't that of the First Order Carmelites, with "as best you can"s and "as far as possible"s appended throughout.

I think one of the lessons of Vatican II, which we are still in the process of learning, is that there are many ways to answer the universal call to holiness. It's not that laymen follow an attenuated monastic or clerical ideal, or even an attenuated monastic or clerical ideal tacked onto the obligations of family life, but that we follow a full-bored lay ideal, an ideal we as a Church are still in the process of discerning.

I think it might also be helpful, at least for me, to distinguish between "living in the presence of God," where one's heart is lifted toward God even as one goes about daily life, and "ascending to God," where the soul is more or less captivated by God Himself and any awareness of daily life dims or fades away entirely. The former satisfies the commandment to pray always, so everyone should seek it. The latter, though, while objectively more desireable than life itself, is not always and everywhere subjectively desireable, by which I mean God does not desire it for everyone at every moment.

Two Great Tastes
"Hey - you got Dominicanism in my Mount Carmel...

"And you got Mount Carmel in my Dominicanism!"

Steven..glad to see your developing a taste for Fr. G-L :-)

Tom and Steve, I suspect that aridity arrives partially through actively trying to manipulate God. In that respect, perhaps married folks are too busy to try to manipulate God and get to by pass some, if not all of that phase???? :-) I like to think of union with God those moments when you realize there is nothing you can do to fix all the problems of the day but you place them safely in God's hands and do what you can trusting in Him in whom you live, move and have your being.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 13, 2004 6:53 AM.

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