Half-Way or All the Way

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For the following to make any sense whatsoever, you first need to read the post below and Tom's response to it. (I apologize, I can't figure out a way to link to it) I started this response in the comments box and then decided that it said enough of what I wanted to say that it would be worthwhile to preserve it at an upper level.

Dear Tom,

You are correct in this, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think:

But what I'm willing to say, which I don't think you are, is, "Half-way to union with God is as far as I'm going to get before I die, and that will be enough, since my hope in Christ is that God will cover the rest of the distance then."

I am not willing to say it, not because I don't recognize the truth of it in the case of nearly everyone, but simply because it isn't good enough. And by that, I mean for myself. Yes, you are correct, half-way may be as far as I get, I pray that it is not; I know that it WILL be sufficient because I do believe that is what the Church teaches. So I don't think my salvation depends upon achieving this goal.

However, as a personal matter, I do not want to disappoint the Father who knows I can do this and who calls me to it. The thought of that is probably worse than the thought of sin. Here is one who loves me and trusts me with an enormously valuable and important mission and gives me every possible help and aid in completing it. And I, through my own faults and failings, do not so so. My heart literally breaks at the thought of it. For me to hear the call and not respond with everything I am and with every hope of attaining the end is like spitting on Jesus. (I'm not censuring others, please note, I'm just trying to say how it feels in my gut.)

I do not think anyone should be willing to allow that to happen. I think it is proper to recognize that everything is in God's hands as far as all of this goes. And it might be realistic to assume that by my own efforts I will not advance far along the path. But if I start off thinking that way, then I doom any efforts I may make. So I cannot see the goal in those measures.

But I must make clear that I don't see this as a salvation issue. It is an issue of calling, and God wants us all to do our best along the road to union, recognizing that we are faulty and failed people. He will not punish us for trying and not succeeding. But we should not doom our efforts to failure with the thought that it is not likely that we shall advance.

I guess, just as the Dominicans are the "Hammer of Heretics," the Carmelites might be called the "Hammer of the Half-Hearted." Our job is to evangelize those who are already on the road to salvation, letting everyone know what lies within the realms of possibility, if not probability, for all. The sense of the good news that we convey is that not only is the path open to all, God gives us all that is necessary to walk it. If we start with full measure, we still may not make it, but we at least dispose ourselves to allowing grace to carry us farther along.

I don't much care whether one takes the Carmelite road, the Franciscan Road, the Jesuit Road, or a road that has no name whatsoever. What I do care about is that whatever road is taken it is undertaken full of joyful hope and expectation (not presumption) that there is some possibility of walking it. What I want everyone to garner from any of this is that here is one way the road has been marked out. The trail has been forged and in this way you can find the path to where you want to be. If you choose to follow another guide--God Bless. Follow him or her whole-heartedly and do so with all of your heart, your strength, your mind, and your soul with Love of God the sole destination.

As to your last point--I think the spirituality of the desert fathers is our example. Love of neighbor demonstrated itself not in sitting in your cell, but working in community and offering hospitality. These things are not incompatible with apophatic mediation. Indeed, I think success in the latter requires a concentrated effort to love one's neighbor in substantive ways. Remember, I'm the one who keeps pointing out that for St. Therese love is not idly sitting by and thinking slow and wonderful thoughts about another. Love is active and love has its works just as does faith.

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Dear Steven and Tom,

May I try to mediate? I think that we can nicely identify your points of contention with two excerpts from the Dominican priest Benedict Ashley's _Spiritual Direction in the Dominican Tradition_ (which I just happen to have at hand):

1)"No earthly vision or revelation or miraculous phenomenon can bring the soul closer to God than such simple acts of faith, hope, and love which every Christian by baptism is able to perform. It is essential, therefore, for directors to make it clear to Christians that the earthly goal of the spiritual journey is not some extraordinary experience, but simply union with God by profound acts of faith, hope, and love. This teaching of Aquinas is affirmed by all the great spiritual doctors of the church, not only by the Dominican St Catherine, but by the Carmelites St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila. True prayer must become second nature so that we often do not realize we are truly praying. The down-to-earth Fr Vincent McNabb of the English Province said,

"'If you and I took these two parables (Lk 18; the Importunate Widow, and the Public and the Pharisee) to heart and lived them, we should know how to pray, even though we might not know we knew. The publican did not know he was justified. If you had asked him, "Can you pray?" he would have said, "No, I cannot pray. I was thinking of asking the Pharisee. He seems to know all about it. I could only say I was a sinner. My past is dreadful, I cannot imagine myself praying. I am better at stealing."'"

Perhaps we can say that the Dominican will always be a little suspicious that the Carmelite is devaluing the profundity of simple acts of faith and love in favor of some sort of self-consciously contemplative experience or an overly romantic notion of union with God through self-annihilation. That is, the Dominican will always worry that the Carmelite thinks that he knows how to pray and thus never lets prayer - now limited to unrealizable levels of sublimity - really become second nature. This suspicion is evident in, for instance, Fr Simon Tugwell's books.

2) "Perhaps it is the case that this gift of infused contemplation is far more common than we imagine - that at least moments of such deepened insight and love take place in the lives of all sincere Christians and throughout their lives, but in such quiet and undramatic ways that they are not recognized, so that in some souls this purifying and illuminating and uniting action of the Holy Spirit becomes constant while remaining obscure. Naturally, it is only in the lives of the great saints, who have lived the Christian life with such great intensity that their sanctity has become visible as a witness to others, that this mystical prayer takes on a dramatic, phenomenal character. Every Christian can and should pray for the fulfillment of these gifts of the Spirit, but should not be conerned to enjoy them experientially, but instead to believe, hope in, and love God with a whole heart ... (I)n the seventeenth century, Alexander Piny, OP, spoke of the 'prayer of the heart' which he did not claim to be mystical but very fruitful:

"'Prayer is nothing else than a raising or loving union of the soul with God, or, at least having that loving union as its principal goal ... It is easy therefore to see what is meant by the prayer of the heart ... It is nothing else but a loving union of our will with God ... during the entire time of that prayer. Thus one makes this prayer perfectly as long as the soul remains disposed to will to continue to love, adore, and pray to God.'"

Perhaps the Dominican is suspicious that the Carmelite, thinking that he now knows how to properly pray, will become preoccupied with the dramatic and phenomenal, impatient with the quiet and unrecognized, and thus overly preoccupied with the experiential quality of what he sees as "true" prayer - a preoccupation compensated for by the occasional masochistic "dark night".

Does this sound right, if a bit exaggerated? Needless to say, the above excerpts also identify some rather important common ground.

Thank you to both of you.


On only hoping to get half-way there:

"I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."


I suspect when I read of St. John's way of nada, I read it as though I wrote it.


That is eerily correct.


I love you too.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 2, 2004 5:52 PM.

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