Carmelite: October 2004 Archives

. . . and their proper interpretation

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel
St. John of the Cross

[from Book II, Chapter 19]

For two reasons we have said that, although visions and locutions which come from God are true, and in themselves are always certain, they are not always so with respect to ourselves. One reason is the defective way in which we understand them; and the other, the variety of their causes. In the first place, it is clear that they are not always as they seem, nor do they turn out as they appear to our manner of thinking. The reason for this is that, since God is vast and boundless, He is wont, in His prophecies, locutions and revelations, to employ ways, concepts and methods of seeing things which differ greatly from such purpose and method as can normally be understood by ourselves; and these are the truer and the more certain the less they seem so to us. This we constantly see in the Scriptures. To many of the ancients many prophecies and locutions of God came not to pass as they expected, because they understood them after their own manner, in the wrong way, and quite literally. This will be clearly seen in these passages.

Guess this leaves the "Left Behinders" with rather short shrift. And well done, too. Literal reading of Biblical test is a never-ending morass of confusion and misunderstanding in many cases. One must, of course, understand the literal meaning of the words, but that does not mean that what is expressed on the face of it it what ultimately is intended by it. A simple example is when Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." We look neither for a wick, nor for a switch. We understand this to be said metaphorically. We all know this, but there are some pockets of Protestantism in particularly that insist on literal readings, most particularly of texts that were never written to be read literally. (The Apocalypse comes to mind.)

One must never attempt to understand what is being said in the Bible by leaping over the literal meaning to some cracked figurative meaning. But then neither should one stop at the literal meaning thinking that is all that is present. The word of God is sharper than any two edged sword.

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Wilfrid Stinissen Revisited

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I suppose I am riding this hobby-horse to death, but I find so much within Stinnisen worthy of attention. I was remarking to the leader of the group with whom I am studying this book a second time that like our other works (Rick Warren and Alan Jones), I am having real problems with this study. Unlike our other studies, my problems with this one is that there is so much in so few pages that I cannot seem to force myself through the book at the pace we want to maintain. I get lost in the magnificence of some of the ideas, and I'm constantly reaching for my Bible--the latter probably the greatest tribute one could pay to such a work.

from Nourished by the Word
Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen O.C.D.

The Bible gives us a synthesis of all of reality but not thereby a system. One does not find an elaborated systematic theology or anthropology in the bible. It is always life which is primary. If you direct theoretical questions to the Bible, you receive practical answers. Who is God, you ask? And the Bible replies: live as a child to your heavenly Father, dare to be children, trustful and lighthearted; follow Jesus, who is the Father's image in the world, partake of his suffering and be like him in a death like his; wait for and listen to the Spirit and let its inspiration be shown to advantage in your life. What is prayer you ask? And the reply sounds imperative: so shall you pray: Our Father . . .

What is love? It is wonderful to philosophize over love, over Eros and agape, but you don't have the time; do like the Good Samaritan, give food to those that are hungry.

Will there be many who will get to heaven or only a few, a majority or a minority? "Strive" replies Jesus, "to enter through the narrow door" (LK 13:24). Don't waste your time with speculations over quantities, don't occupy yourself with statistics, but see to it that you yourself are present.

As I have grown in the Carmelite charism, I have discovered any number of wonders implicit in the ancient Rule of St. Albert and spelled out more clearly by the ongoing reformation and redefinition of the Order, particularly in the rule for the third Order. One of the things emphasized at every opportunity is the necessity and the glory of lectio divina. So much so that one Priest of the order described lectio as the glory of contemplative prayer. The order has said that it is highly desirable that communal lectio divina be part of our monthly gatherings. And when we are faithful to that, the monthly meetings are fruitful, productive, and life-changing. When we fail in it, then little else that happens at the meeting is of any worth.

All Catholics and all orders highly prize the word of God, they cannot do otherwise. The Dominicans show how they cherish is in the charism of preaching the word--making it clear for those who have a lesser understanding. But such preaching can only be fueled by spending time in the word, steeping oneself in it. Franciscans bring it to life through evangelical poverty. But such poverty is meaningless unless it calls to mind Him for whom we endure poverty, unless it reifies the word in the world.

The mission of the lay Carmelite is to bring the word of God into the world through our evangelical works. But how can one do that if one is not aware of what the word says? How can one preach by actions if one's own actions are not informed by the Word of God. All that we would say would be falsehood.

Stinissen points out here that above all else, the Word is practical or it lacks any meaning at all for us. We are not given a philosophical system (not that there is anything wrong with such), but rather a set of instructions, commandments, or guidelines that tell us how to be God's children. More than that, we are given multiple views of His Only Begotten Son so that we might better see what it means to be a child of God. And with this equipment, we are to go out into the world and make it real for people who do not even begin to suspect its truth.

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For as long as I can remember October has been my favorite month--filled to the brim with my favorite things (outside of Florida)--the turning of the leaves, the harvest of apples, and most heavenly of all the myriad products that are the fruit of the pumpkin.

It is also the month of the Feasts of two major Carmelite Doctors of the Church--St. Thèrése and St. Teresa of Avila. Moreover it is the month of one of the great feasts to honor our lady. The feast that bridges that infamous Domincian/Carmelite gap--The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Frequent readers will know that I have no strong devotion to the rosary, regarding it as, at best, a penitential practice. However, this is only because of me, not because of the Rosary, the praying of which is the source of many virtues for those who try to live out the promises of its mysteries.

So three major feasts and apples, leaves, and pumpkins. One might call it coincidence. But on careful reflection, I call it providence. Even early on God was speaking to me and in oblique, beautiful ways directing me to where he wanted me to be.

Praise to the Lord, our Gracious King, who grants us the gift of this most wonderful month of the year. The gradually shortening day lends a pleasant air of melancholy, and the fruits of the harvest give us the wonderful heady aromas of spiced cider and pumpkin cake. All these goods from the greatest of goods, our Lord and our God. And every Earthly good should give us pause to reflect upon Him who is the source of all goodness.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from October 2004.

Carmelite: July 2004 is the previous archive.

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