Catholic Church: November 2007 Archives

Sloth and Acedia

| | Comments (1)

One of the worst things we face is a sense of boredom or the uselessness of doing anything at all. Father Beck addresses this:

from Soul Provider
Father Edward L. Beck

Someone's boring me. I think it's me.
--Dylan Thomas. . . .

In his famous 1978 Harvard commencement address, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned of the West's "spiritual exhaustion": "In the United States the difficulties are not a Minotaur or a dragon--not imprisonment, hard labor, death, government harassment and censorship--but cupidity, boredom, sloppiness, indifference. Not the acts of a might all-prevading repressive government but the failure of a listless public to make use of the freedom that is its birthright." If we are indeed a listless public, what has made us so, and what can we do to infuse our lives with new vigor?

We can do a few things. The authors I have just quoted suggest that boredom is an evil to be conquers it if leads to despondency, hopelessness, and ingratitude. Sloth is clearly the result of a refusal to celebrate the gift and potential of life. But there is another way to look at it. We can embrace boredom, hoping to transform it into something not boring at all. We have been convinced that we always need to be doing something to be happy, usually something other than what we are doing. So if we are driving, we can't simply be driving. We must also be listening to the radio or talking on the cell phone or doing both. Perhaps we are even listening to our 10,000-song iPod, the contents of which could last us our lifetime. What about simply listening to nothing instead?

The "art of doing nothing" has long been extolled by religious traditions. Nothing becomes something when nothing produces results that something cannot.The power of meditation is rooted in the power of nothingness. . . The reason for stillness in the midst of chaos is so that the chaos does not consume us. Stillness gives us distance from what we cannot see when trapped in the never-ending swirl of diversion. . . .

My only response is "guilty." We credit ourselves with "multitasking" when, what is actually happening is that we are not accomplishing any one thing with anything approaching the attention it requires. While I belong to an order that looks to cultivating silence, it seems that we've all bought into the idea of silence while doing something.

Silence, stillness, the embrace of the moment in which there is nothing in particular required of us is an art. We have difficulty, convinced by some inner prompting that such moments are "wasting time." But perhaps it is our railing against them that is the waste of time. Were we to realize that we are bored precisely because nothing is required of us at this time and rather than seek solace in a book, television, or endless iPod, we should seek solace in the silence, perhaps then we might make of boredom the gift that God intends for us.

Limitless diversion leads to limitless ennui, but a few moments of stillness, of letting the swirl and twirl of existence settle down--these have limitless potential--I need to become better at exploiting it.

Bookmark and Share

Dante's Purgatory


Two points from Ciardi's translation that I found fascinating and beautiful. At the end of Canto IX, Dante and Virgil enter purgatory proper, having spent the first part of the book in a place at the base of the mount called ante-purgatory. And the passage below describes the first experiences of purgatory:

from Purgatorio
Dante, tr. John Ciardi

The Tarpeian rock-face, in that fatal hour
that robbed it of Metellus, and then the treasure,
did not give off so loud and harsh a roar

as did the pivots of the holy gate--
which were of resonant and hard-forged metal--
when they turned under their enormous weight.

At the first thunderous roll I turned half-round,
for it seemed to me I heard a chorus singing
Te deum laudamus mixed with that sweet sound.

I stood there and the strains that reached my ears
left on my soul exactly that impression
a man receives who goes to church and hears

the choir and organ ringing out their chords
and now does, now does not, make out the words.

Which sounds should be sharply contrasted with the first sounds heard in Hell.

On another point, Ciardi makes the following note:

from Purgatorio Note to Canto IX
John Ciardi

I owe Professor MacAllister a glad thanks for what is certainly the essential clarification. The whole Purgatorio, he points out, is build upon the structure of a Mass. The Mass moreover is happening not on the mountain but in church with Dante devoutly following its well-known steps. I have not yet had time to digest Professor MacAllister's suggestion, but it strikes me immediately as a true insights and promises another illuminating way of reading the .

And I would add to that last line, of reading our lives in faith. Part of our Purgatory are the hours gladly spent here on Earth working out the scars and physical remains of sin in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Attended with proper reverence, attention, and intention, the Holy Prayer of the Mass advances us far beyond any other activity in which we might engage. Done in the proper spirit of confession and contrition for sins, the activity of Mass begins here on Earth what is completed afterwards by those who have not achieved God's perfection in Purgatory. And perhaps that begins to help us understand what Purgatory actually is.

One final, wonderful point. The efficiency and efficacy of Ciardi's notes are such that one is led to the following passge of Lucan's Pharsalia:

At this Metellus yielded from the path;
And as the gates rolled backward, echoed loud
The rock Tarpeian, and the temple's depths
Gave up the treasure which for centuries
No hand had touched:

Read the entire work--a recounting of Caesar's return from the battle of the Rubicon here.

Bookmark and Share



I particularly cherished the following experience recounted by Fr. Beck. It spoke to me intimately and provoked a line of thought that I had never really considered. We start as Father Beck is trying to avoid the eye of a modern-day John the Baptist in Time's Square:

from Soul Provider
Fr. Edward L. Beck

I maneuvered to get around him, but, seeming to sense that I was an unwilling convert, he would have none of it. He made a bee-line for me as I lowered my head and tried to get lost in the crowd that I now appreciated. He held a tattered black Bible that he massaged gently with his thumb.

"Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, young man?"

He was standing right in front of me, blocking my passage. (At least he called me young.) I didn't answer, pretending I thought he was talking to someone else.

"You, sir, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?" he persisted.

I looked up, unable to ignore him any longer.

"What?" I said, though I'm not sure why, since I had clearly heard the question.

"Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" he repeated more forcefully. A woman bumped me from behind letting me know in her own not-so-gentle way that I was blocking the path.

"Yes, I do," I said. "I do, thank you." I walked around him and started to make my way down the street.

"Hey," he called to me. I looked back. "Isn't it wonderful?" His eyes were glowing.

"Not always," I answered truthfully.

I continued walking and was about a hundred feet from him when he shouted, "Well, then, repent, blue eyes, and it will always be.

I don't necessarily take the street-corner prophet at his literal word here, but it occurred to me that with a good deal more repentance, and a good deal less Steven, that personal relationship might be made more manifest to those around me. And a personal relationship with Jesus is next to useless if it isn't influencing the world around us. Perhaps what I need more of, then, is a spirit of continual repentance--heaven knows there isn't a day I go through that doesn't encourage me to confession before participation in Mass. I'm one of those who wishes that confession were offered moments before Mass so there would be some likelihood of making it to Mass before needing to get to confession again. I often wonder whether I've ever really managed to gain a plenary indulgence for any of the poor souls because the conditions are so rigorous. If Mass immediately follows confession and/or the action that merits the plenary indulgence, there is a remote possibility. Otherwise. . .

Repentance, it's not just a seasonal thing--it's a way to live, really live, a life.

Bookmark and Share

Jesuit Saints


In a curious bit of historic irony today is not only the day of the Gunpowder Plot, but the day that those who were falsely accused of instigating it celebrate their illustrious dead.

This link will take you to a site that has brief biographies of Jesuit Saints and this one covers Jesuits Blesseds. Both have a great deal of information delivered concisely.

Bookmark and Share



With merely the title of this post I have chased away half of the small audience that might drop by on a regular basis. Renunciation is not a popular subject--most often because it is not fully understood.

However, renunciation is one step on the road to union with God that we all can consider and that with God's grace we all can effect.

There is such a wealth of possibility in Father Edward Beck's Soul Provider, it is difficult to choose among the possibilities; however, for the purposes of supporting the main contention of the chapter, perhaps the conclusion would be most useful:

from Soul Provider
Fr. Edward L. Beck

Renunciation is therefore a kind of purification and asceticism that does not exist for its own sake but rather for the sake of higher goods. Thus, I renounce excessive use of alcohol so that I don't destroy my marriage or my work. Or I renounce consumerism so that I don't lose my soul to what money can buy. . . .

In view of John Climacus's Ladder of Divine Ascent renunciation lights us and frees us so that we can climb less encumbered, ascending without restraint toward the good. Renunciation exists for the sake of freedom. It liberates us and ultimately allows us to love more wholeheartedly. Who of us doesn't want that?

The man who renounces the world because of fear is like burning incense, which begins with fragrance and ends in smoke. . . . but the man who leaves the world for love of God has taken fire from the start, and like fire set to fuel, it soon creates a conflagration.

(Climacus Step 1)

Fr. Beck's book seems to be a very hard-headed, light-hearted, full-spirited survey of how to improve one's life with God. The advice given is solid, orthodox and complemented by insights from other religious traditions that both inform and help to bring out implicit aspects of each topic. Each chapter ends with a set of very hard, very pointed questions that allow the reader to reflect upon his or her own state with respect to the Ascent to God.

In coming days I hope to quote more from this book and to share more of Fr. Beck's insights. In the meantime, if this excerpt interests you, you might do well to seek the book out on your own and not wait for what small portions I might share.

Bookmark and Share

All Saints


Perhaps it is appropriate to record this day with something Sam shared with me.

On Sunday, Sam went on a hayride at a Church Harvest Festival in Inwood, West Virginia. The parish priest drove the tractor that pulled the haywagon around the church and into the fields. I asked Sam what happened on the trip, where did they go?

"To a cemetery."

" A cemetery?" I asked.

"Yes, and Father said that some people are afraid of cemeteries, but a cemetery wasn't a place to be afraid of. It was a place where the people you knew here started on their way to Jesus and that was a good thing."

I don't know enough to comment on the theology implicit in that explanation, but I will be thankful to Father Bryan for a long time for what he said to Sam. It was a beautiful explanation and something that I hope Sam carries with him for a long time. I hope I also am wise enough to learn from Father.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from November 2007.

Catholic Church: October 2007 is the previous archive.

Catholic Church: February 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll