As usual, Tom says it exceptionally well.
Christian Life/Personal Holiness: February 2004 Archives
In the course of this day I have--
--witnessed an utterly illogical defense of the indefensible,
--been told how wonderful a certain set of products that is designed largely to seem likeit might do something for someone when in fact SEEMS is all it does
--been told that I really have no understanding, despite a great many years in the industry, of what it is I do
--watched a patently unfair and subversive tactic used to deprive my son of one of the very few things we can give to him.
I have been deeply angered and hurt by these things.
And then I read this in a book just obtained from Ignatius Press:
from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis
How great your patience,most gentle Jesus, and how great my impatience!
Alas! How poorly I tolerate a brother when he has said or done something against me. But you, for so long a time and without complaint, have endured your disciple Judas, who would soon sell and betray you, while I, for a platry insult, quickly yield to anger and think of various ways of vindicating myself or of offering excuses. Where then is my patience, where is my meekness?
An award, utterly unmerited in so many ways, for which I am deeply thankful. The people of St. Blogs rightfully awarded this to Mr. Gerard Serafin of A Catholic Blog for Lovers and if he should ever change his mind regarding it I will, with great pleasure, return it to him.
I would like to point out that not only did I not win this award, but even had I won it, I think it unmerited. Mr. LeBlanc, of the awards committee, defines "most pious" to mean most reverent. I am deeply gratified that many people think of my blog in that way, but I would suggest that there are many other more worthy sites--Mr. Serafin's among them, but perhaps Ms. Knapp's would be my choice for such an award.
I belabor the point. I am humbled and delighted by the expression of support and love that it represents, and I am deeply grateful for receiving it. I only pray that I can live up to the expectation set by it, not only on the blog, but in my whole life.
There are at least two possible ways to think about "giving things up" for Lent. Certainly it is sufficient to think of this as a penance, as a deprivation of a good both as a matter of self-control and a matter of a sacrifice. And I believe that Tom of Disputations has pointed out that this is highly commended by the Church (perhaps even indulgenced). So for the time of Lent we give up something in order to remember the holiness of the season and to put us into a different frame of mind to better approach God.
But another way of thinking about this practice is to consider it a rehearsal for true detachment. Think of it this way--"If I can give up chocolate for forty days, I can give it up forever." Substitute for chocolate whatever it is you have chosen to forego. In some cases the benefits could be tremendous--sweets, smoking, and alcohol come to mind. But the reason for giving them up is not the physical benefit that accrues, but a gradual shedding of those things that too firmly attach us to the goods of the world. As a true penance for Lent, I have chosen to give up the purchase of all books. In fact, I may not enter a library in the course of time. I chose this because this is perhaps my most pronounced attachment. Food, tobacco, alcohol, and other such indulgences have little sway for me. But giving up the purchase of books, for me, would be like Erik making a vow to eat only at McDonalds for the entire season.
One of the possibilities of Lent is to train ourselves in one small thing to become like St. Paul when he says, "I know how to be rich and I know how to be poor." I interpret this to mean that St. Paul was detached from things--when they were available he licitly used them and when they were unavailable he did not mourn the loss. Thus, if we could take a small step, like breaking the habit of a cup of morning coffee--gladly accepting it if we're with someone and hospitality dictates that it is appropriate, but also gladly leaving it behind when there is no such dictate--we would be on the road to detachment.
Now, what makes this possible? Certainly grace, for without His help we can do nothng but sin. But also, we need to focus less on what we are giving up and more on the reason for giving it up. Everything that occupies our attention in any way fills up space and time that could otherwise be occupied by Jesus. Thus each little thing that we can give up makes room to spend more time with Jesus. Spending time with someone increases our devotion to and love of that person. So rather than focusing on what we have deprived ourselves of, when we feel the need for it, think about Whom we are making room for. In this way, the deprivation will seem much smaller than it looms in consciousness if there is no purpose to the sacrifice. Giving things up by our own will is a laudable practice, but giving them up to make room for God in our lives is a salvific practice.
Detachment does not bloom from focusing on the things from which we must become detached. Detachment blooms from ardent love of Jesus Christ. When He is truly important in our lives, everything else is necessarily put into perspective.
So as you continue your Lenten practice, strive to think less about what you are giving up than about for Whom you are making room. Widen the spaces inside to accommodate the Lord who loves you. (And remember too that God is simple, and He cannot coexist with what is not single-hearted and single minded. He cannot dwell within us if we are divided, we too must be simple.)
With grace, work to destroy your need for things and to build your love of the One Thing Necessary. Think like a small child, for whom the greatest comfort comes not from things, but from the loving embrace of mommy or daddy. Then spend time in your Father's loving embrace.
To conclude, one of the intercessions and the conclusion from Morning Prayer:
May our hearts thirst for Christ,
the fountain of living water.
may everything we do
begin with your inspiration,
continue with your help,
and reach perfection under your guidance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with your and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Speaking to a very dear friend yesterday, I was inspired to take one of two paths that seemed to lay before me in Lent. This path wanders down the road of certain classics of a mystical bent. And a good start to this wandering is a small reflection of the first chapter of the first book of Thomas á Kempis's classic The Imitation of Christ. In the first few chapters he is attacking overblown and puffed-up and pretentious knowledge--that is knowledge absent a love of Christ.
In that first chapter we find this reminder for Lent:
"It is better to experience contrition than to be able to define it."
Contrition--" And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." (Joel 2:13)
Contrition is perhaps the first turning of repentence. Regret what you have done, the time you have wasted putting a space between yourself and the Lord. And more than mere regret, act upon the knowledge of what you have done. Now is the appropriate time, now is the acceptable season--not merely because it is Lent, but because the present is the only moment we have to make any changes. We cannot walk the path alone, but we can be steadfast in our determination to walk it no matter the cost.
The season of Lent is a gift given to remind us of the necessity and value of walking close to God and speaking with Him frequently. Too often we put everything off for this season and we spend forty days in a workout. (Better forty days than none at all.) But what is the point of Lent if you start a good work and at the end of the time let it go? Lent is about changing your life, not merely for forty days but for all of eternity. It is a time to take a step closer to God and to hold your gains against the ebb and flo of the world. Don't take on the discipline of Lent with a grim determination that you'll make it through these forty days and then it will be over. Take on Lent as a joyous garment, as a coat of many colors, a gift from your Father in Heaven. Dance before the Lord in joy and hope, knowing that He wants nothing more (and nothing less) than all that you are and all that your will ever be. He wants your unstinting love, your total gift of self and in return you will get . . .
Everything. Everything. Everything that the creator of all can bestow upon you--all the love in the outstretched arms of His son, all the love of a true Father's heart, all the Love that gave rise to the Holy Spirit. You will become the true temple of the Lord's delight. You will be the palace of celebration and a sign of joy to all the world. You will be a vessel of the light of Salvation and the apple of your Father's eye.
Reach out in Joy to the Father who reaches out in joy to you. Rend your hearts, not your garments, regret the time together you could have had and let that fuel your desire to come ever nearer. Rejoice that the season of invitation is upon us once again and make good use of that season. Rejoice in the God who loves you and let that love lead to a permanent and obvious change in the way you conduct life. Nothing less is an acceptable return for the wonderful gift God gives us every day.
Q. So who is called to this union with God anyhow?
A. You are.
Q. What do you mean me? That stuff is for the Saints.
A. And by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ you are among them.
Q. Yes, I'm one of the saints but I'm not one of the Saints. I can't do what they did.
A. True, you cannot because you are you and they are who they were. But you can't get around the call to the kingdom. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads unto salvation." The strait gate and narrow way are Jesus Christ Himself. Contemplation of God is the road to union. Contemplative prayer opens the gate--the way is open to all, but few choose to follow it.
Q. But I can't be a contemplative, I'm too busy.
A. Yes, you can. You need to decide to do so and then lean completely on grace. We are nothing of ourselves, what we do we do through Jesus Christ.
Q. Okay, back to union with God. Why is this so important?
A. Precisely because it is what God has ordained as your destiny. Either in this life or in the next you will be in union or not. And not being in union is like being perpetually unmade and at sixes and sevens with all around you. We call it Hell. Heaven is divine union where the body of Christ functions as a body.
Q. Yes. But isn't union with God something only special people can do?
A. No. It will happen to the faithful who die in God's grace. Some of these lived the life while on Earth. Some will come to live it only after a time of conforming to God's will--a place called purgatory. But all who die in His good grace will get there, one way or another.
Q. Well, I can just wait and let my firends and family pray me out of purgatory.
A. Yes, you could do that. But think of what you are missing now. You could be living in heaven itself while on Earth. You could know how deeply and completely God loves you. You could be the instrument of salvation of thousands of lost souls. You could be the teacher of many who lack any substance whatsoever in thier lives. Union is not a thing to fear and avoid, but a destiny to be pursued relentlessly. "As a deer panteth after running streams, my heart panteth after thee O my God."
Q. Okay. But isn't it a lot of hard work and difficult thinking?
A. Not at all. Is it hard work and difficult thinking to talk to your son or daughter. Is it hard work to meet a friend for coffee and listen to her pour out her heart about her current trials and afflictions? God longs for this from you. He loves you as though you alone were the whole Earth and his desire for you is more fierce than Satan's and more fervent. The difference is that He loves you enough to ask you to come home by your own will. Satan will gladly drag you wherever he'd like you to go.
Q. How do I start?
A. In two words--shut up. Longer, "Be still and know that I am God." And yet more, go to prayer with the expectation that the Lord will communicate as He sees fit, and say it to him, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Fifteen minutes a day--ten minutes to start--go and wait upon the word of God. Don't expect miracles--it didn't take a week for you to become so mired in the world as you are, it won't take a week to escape from its trappings.
Q. But how do I know it is working?
A. You don't. But it is. Remain faithful to your meeting time and if nothing else happens, simply offer up the time in love and quiet. At the end of it say a short prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
Q. What if I get distracted?
A. Ah, a question for another time. Right now, don't worry about it. Go and wait. Send out love and love will return.
(By the way--I'm in the same place as a great many in St. Blogs--no further along, and perhaps even trailing a lot of you. What I report here I do not report from the fullness of my own experience--I report it from the depth of the experiences of the saints. So do not be disheartened and above all else do not dare to compare yourself with another--the heart cannot be the lungs, the hand cannot be the feet. Rejoice in what the Lord has granted you and live it to the fullest. Aspire like St. Thérèse to return to God empty handed, having given out and passed back all the graces you have been granted. God will see the lowliness of your estate and rejoice in the love you have shared with all.)
A couple of excerpts from an introductory essay:
from "An Introductory Essay" before Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection
Rev J. B. Dalgairns, Priest of the Oratory
It is very difficult for men living in the modern world to understand a life of prayer; yet they must accept it as a real fact. Thousands of Christians have lived such a life without becoming either praying machines like the Buddhists or fakirs like the Brahmins. The principle of Christian asceticism is as far apart from Manicheism as possible. It is simply the principle of expiatory suffering and prayer involved in the very idea of the sacrifice of Christ. The gulf which separates the anchoress from the fanatic is the love of Jesus. . . .
[quoting from a noted Anchoress]
In another place, after a beautiful and minute description of the crucifixion, and how the "hellbairns" betrayed and crucified Him, she breaks out: "Ah! Jesus, my life's love, what heart is there that will not break when he thinketh hereof; how Thou, that art the Saviour of mankind, and the remedy for all bales, didst thole [endure] such shame for the honour of mankind. Men speak oft of wonders and of strange things divers and manifold that have befallen, but this was the greatest wonder that ever befell upon earth. Yea, wonder above wonders that that renowned Kaiser, crowned in Heaven, maker of all that is made, to honour His foes would hang between two thieves. Ah, how can I live for ruth that see my darling on the rood, and His limbs so drawn that I may tell each bone in His body! Ah, how do they now drive the iron nails through Thy fair hands into the hard rood and through Thy noble feet! Ah, now from those hands and feet so lovely streams the blood so ruefully! Ah, now they offer to my love, who says He thirsts, two evil drinks in His blood-letting, vinegar, sourest of all drinks, mingled with gall, that is the bitterest of all things! Ah, now, sweet Jesus, yet besides all Thy woe, to eke it out with shame and mockery, they laugh Thee to scorn when Thou hangest on the rood! Ah that lovely body that hangs so ruefully, so bloody, and so cold! Ah, how shall I live, for now dies my love for me on the dear rood, hangs down His head, and sends forth His soul? But it seems to them that He is not yet fully tormented, nor will they let the pitiful body rest in peace. They bring forth Longinus with the broad sharp spear. He pierces His side, cleaves the heart, and there come flowing out of that wide wound the Blood that bought us, the water that washes the world of guilt and sin. Ah, sweet Jesus, Thou openest for me Thy heart, that I may know Thee truly, for there I may openly see how much Thou lovedst me. With wrong should I refuse Thee my heart, since Thou hast bought heart for heart. Jesus, sweet Jesus, thus Thou foughtest for me against my soul's foes. Thou didst settle the contest for me with Thy body, and hast made of me, a wretch, Thy beloved and Thy spouse. Brought Thou hast me from the world to Thy bower. I may there so sweetly kiss Thee, and embrace Thee, and of Thy love have ghostly liking. What may I suffer for Thee for all that Thou didst thole (endure) for me? But it is well for me that Thou be easy to satisfy. A wretched body and a weak I bear upon earth, and that, such as it is, I have given Thee and will give Thee to Thy service. Let my body hang with Thy body nailed on the rood, and enclosed within four walls, and hang I Will with Thee, and never more leave my cross till that I die."
If we set our eyes on Jesus and we set our hearts on Him, we cannot fail in prayer or in life. Jesus will carry the burden for us, and our only duty is to walk with Him and talk with Him. We need to listen more than we talk. We need to hear from Him the Father's expiatory, exalting, and exultant Love.
Jesus is the elder brother we do not hear about in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He is the elder brother who rushed out to greet the one coming home and ushered Him into the Father's embrace. So he does for those of us who are willing to spend time with Him. He is the sure sign and the presence of the Father's Love. It is through His tangible and real presence that we come to know what the Father feels for us.
St. Blogs has shown itself to be a community of powerful prayer "warriors," storming heaven and obtaining by our prayers many graces and blessings, and perhaps even a miracle.
Therefore I encourage all to share their needs either by e-mail or in the comments box of the week-daily prayer requests. (I'm going to try to keep the prayer requests going through the weekend as well, but I've had trouble posting on weekends recently.)
And to all who have been praying--thank you for the breathtaking faithfulness and true Christian love that obtains the graces that come through Mary's hand from God's all-encompassing love. Thank you so much for your faithfulness and perserverance in prayer. I have been strengthened by your powerful witness, and through our prayers God is changing the world one small piece at a time. Please continue in your faithful love.
(although truth to tell--I rather think she's off brushing off her platform). it's time to break out the big, medieval guns.
from The Cloud of Unknowing--"Prayer from the Prologue"
GOD, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaketh, and unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee, and worthily praise Thee. Amen.
At the time of writing his letters, Paul had no greater knowledge available to him than that the body is made up of parts and so his analogy of the individual Christian to the body of Christ. With our greater knowledge of anatomy, we can better understand Paul's intent.
We are each a very small part of the body of Christ. Even the most brilliant person is not a significant part of the "brain" of the Church, rather he or she might represent a complete neuron. A less brilliant scholar a mere axon. (Some of us feel like the synapse--sitting in the void between the cells and watching the messages flash past with a sense of understanding, but no real grasp of the matter.
When we consider our place in the whole of the body of Christ, it gives us pause. We have nothing to boast of--can a single cardiac muscle fiber boast? Of what use is it without all other such fibers? Can a single islets cell exult in producing insulin--the amount made is minute--useless without all the other cells.
We function only when we function in the body with all the other cells of like function. We cannot function outside of the body at all, and if we spend our time wishing we were other cells, we are more a detriment that a help to the body.
We need to learn to accept who and what we really are in Christ and then humbly and boldly assume that role in the body. We are blessed to have a place and blessed to be able to serve. And when we do so we become part of the corporate body of Love--we bring love into the world and we transform the world through God's love working through us.
Mark at Minute Particulars has summed up what I've always thought about holding hands during the Our Father. And while it may not be in the rubrics, I am quick to point out that frequent confession was not always the practice either and a groundswell of popular opinion moved it into the realm of the blessing that it is.
Too often we cut ourselves off. The very gestures we use in prayer tend to indicate a closed circle, an isolated fortress, a Man alone Before God. I like the connectivity of holding hands, and even if I hold no other hands, I must be connected to the family I love, my lifeline and my tangible, visible, constant, gift from God. But holding a stranger's hand is good as well--perhaps even better because it indicates a willingness to unite our fates, to both go willingly where the Lord leads, and to some extent to help one another. The gesture forces us to break the closed circle of our prayer and to momentarily step into community.
Now, I'm not for forcing this on anyone who is not so inclined. But I have to say that I am always favorably impressed with the congregation, if not necessarily the liturgy in the place where I see this done. I enter into the gesture willingly because it is only in each other that we receive the tangible sign of God's love.
However, not all are comfortable with this, and each must have the freedom of his or her conscience. It is not up to me to impose rules, and I do try to obey those imposed by the Bishops. However, this one always overcomes any qualms. Sometimes it is necessary to express what is in the heart and move forward with it--perhaps the Bishops might perceive what is being silently spoken there and recognize both its worth and its necessity. Perhaps not. But I suppose one of the advantages of not being raised Catholic is I don't have the burden of the past to deal with. I can go with my heart.
"A Voice I did not know said to me:
'I freed your shoulder from the burden;
you hands were freed from the load.
You called in distress and I saved you. . ." (psalm 81)
Have you heard a voice you did not know? Perhaps at times it spoke from scripture. At others from life itself. Have you heard the proclamation of your freedom, or has the din of all around you drowned out the voice that would speak to you?
Most of us like to think we've heard God speak. We'd like to think that we know His will. But we deceive ourselves. Often we hear our own wishes speak, we hear our innermost desires articulated. The voice is all too familiar because it is our own.
But wait upon the Lord, tarry a minute or two and be surprised at what jumps out at you. Look out the kitchen window as you work. Pause in the labor of the day and attune your ear to what there is to be heard. The voice of the winter morning, the cry of the bird, the song of cloud and snow and rain, and soon the voice of spring. All these sing His praises for they cannot do otherwise. Wait and listen and the Voice of God will speak--from scripture or from life.
And how will you know its message? The freedom it proclaims wells up from the soul and floods all of life. The joy that comes cannot be repressed. The voice will be unfamiliar, not your own repeated inner longing--rather the proclamation of life itself. The voice of God speaks and burdens are lifted--self-imposed shackles are cut off and we are freed.
Do not pause to refit the shackles (something we're all too good at). Take this voice at its Word--Love incarnate. What He says is truth and life and love. Embrace it and turn toward it.
We can argue in the scholastic way that God is simple and all that pertains to God to be of God must also be simple and so it follows that God's love is simple or:
from Jesus Loves Me
"Jesus Loves Me" is our simple, world-class anthem. It is rooted in our childhood.
Who can chart the varied ways he comes to us? He sometimes comes upon us suddenly in a rush of overwhelming love. His presence is as warm as a desert wind let loose in the Arctic winter of our despair. He sometimes comes more quietly to touch our lives and set God's grandeur dancing with our need. But always his coming brings joy. I have felt it and wept. Why? Because in the midst of a pointless universe I drink of true significance. I feel Jesus' love. No--I more than feel it. I claim it, deposit it at the bank, and draw daily on the account.
"Jesus loves me" is the heart of all I cherish. Indeed from year to year I revel in it. Its warmth lingers about me in every instance of threat or pressure. This simple song calms me, strips off my threats, and drains my stress into reservoirs of God's serenity.
"Suffer the little children and forbid them not, for of as such as these is the Kingdom of Heaven made."
And I am reminded,
"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer. . ."
from The Spoils of Poynton
It was hard to believe that a woman could look presentable who had been kept awake for hours by the wallpaper in her room; yet none the less, as in her fresh widow's weeds she rustled across the hall, she was sustained by the consciousness, which always added to the unction of her social Sundays that she was, as usual the only person in the house incapable of wearing in her preparation the horrible stamp of the same exceptional smartness that would be conspicuous in a grocer's wife. She would rather have perished than have looked endimanchée.
It would be better not to know this person, and yet too often we ARE this person. Perhaps not in matters of attire or anything so seemingly superficial. But it seems to be a quality of the human animal that we must make us/them distinctions. "Oh, we would never go to THAT restaurant, they make lima bean souffle with lard." "Oh we couldn't worship at that church, they hold hands during the 'Our Father.'" "We couldn't consider a mass in the vernacular--it is so completely ordinary and devoid of the majesty and true worship of our Lord and King." And so on. This internal riving is ugly and unbecoming no matter what justification we drum up for it. Yes, it's perfectly fine not to care to hold hands during the 'Our Father.' (In fact, it appears to be the "rule.") Yes, preference for the Latin Mass is perfectly legitimate. It is in making a point of these distinctions that we are becoming like the woman in James's passage. We harden and abrade. We choose our own and exclude those who do not toe the line. We ridicule the One who would dine with tax collectors and prostitutes.
It is very difficult to see sometimes. But perhaps a little time could be spent profitably seeing where we build fences rather than bridges. We do our Lord no justice in supporting an idea or artifact, no matter how good, by hurting people. We do ourselves no good if our self-esteem is erected on the thousand little cuts we need to give those around us.
C.S. Lewis makes some remarkable points about the sin of gluttony in Screwtape XVII
from The Screwtape Letters XVII
This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on the gluttony of Delicacy, not the gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother. . . is a good example. She would be astonished--one day, I hope, will be--to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? . . . She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, "O please, please . . . all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast." You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome if may be to others. . . .
The real value of the quiet unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be guaged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life.
I suppose all of the capital sins show this brand of two-facedness--of excess in at least two directions, one of which is much more subtle and much more difficult to identify than the other. Who would have considered eating a piece of dry toast with weak tea an act of gluttony? But the point is that such a demand focuses all attention on the self and sets one in a habit of thinking about oneself rather than others. Rather than taking what is given, a person is always seeking something other--something bigger, smaller, tastier, less tasty, less fatty, more fatty, less carbohydrate-rich, more carbohydrate rich. It is one thing to eat sensibly and carefully, another entirely to expect the entire world to wait upon you, and yet another except under extraordinary circumstances (highly restricted diets) to "bring your own." And yet people today think nothing of these things.
I am not so clever as C.S. Lewis, but his passage makes me think, what other faces do the Seven Deadlies wear that we might not be quite so sharply attuned to. For example Pride that expresses itself by denying what is ostensibly true in praise coming from another so that the praise is repeated or rephrased. Some call this demurral modesty, but in nearly every case it is fishing for compliments. (There are cases of legitimate surprise--when your work is compared with that of someone you admire deeply and you didn't notice the basis of comparison, or when some other unlikely thing is mentioned that hadn't crossed your mind. Still, the correct response to all of this is a polite, "Thank you, the comparison hadn't crossed my mind before. So-and-so is one of my very favorite [authors, painters, composers, auteurs].
I guess as I approach Lent, I am less concerned about the imperfections I can readily perceive (and thus readily confess) than those that are hidden and mysterious to me. It's easy to see how you might be lustful, but perhaps harder to see how you are being prideful or avaricious. Part of my Lenten preparation and prayer will be to ask that some of these darker, more obscure tendencies on my part be brought to life and healed by the graces of the Lenten journey.
Before I move on from the veritable hotbed of controversy-praying the liturgy of the hours (more comments on this one than I've ever had on any single post before--didn't realize the depth of feeling regarding it) one final note. Yesterday Tom made a distinction between the full Liturgy of the Hours and any other similar system of praying by the hours. I tend to disagree with him on this one as well. I find the Magnificat nearly perfectly suited for a "little hours."
Throughout recent time the Church has produced abbreviated versions of the hours for a variety of reasons. Most popular among these is the "Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary." Even the Book of Common Prayer has a simplified morning and evening prayer from its earliest editions. I make the assumption that was borrowed from common practice of the time and thus ultimately from Catholic Sources--but that is merely an assumption, I've done no research to document it.
As such, I find the importance of the Liturgy in sanctifying the day. If for whatever reason one finds it difficult to do with the full hours, the point and purpose is certainly laid out in the Magnificat. There you have three full hours in shortened format--Morning, Evening, and Night, as well as a kind of shortened "Office of Readings" in the reading and saint of the day material that appears. I would think that following the format of the Magnificat, while not having the full stature and grandeur of the full Liturgy would certainly serve to sanctify the day with formal prayer of the psalms and scripture after the manner of the Liturgy of the Hours.
After all, I note that Jesus from the cross did not recite the full psalm, but simply prayed it's first line--that being sufficient to convey the intent. So, I would encourage all who can afford to do so and who are receiving the Magnificat, to take full advantage of all that is offered there. Perhaps the stepping stone will lead to fuller participation in the formal Liturgy of the Hours, perhaps not. Nevertheless, it will be a good step. Also recommended for those on the run and on a budget "Shorter Christian Prayer." Derived from the Liturgy of the Hours, but somewhat simplified, without all of the seasonal variations, but including the most important seasonal antiphons.
Regular, formal, "work of the church" prayer is a great step toward making your life more oriented toward God. It need not be wrestling with the four volume (plus if you're a member of religious Order) complete Liturgy, but regular intervals of formal prayer will give you a focus and a support. This works as a mainstay and provides regular fuel for practicing the presence of God.
from The Hidden Life--"Before the Face of God II"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
"Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever." With these solemn words, the priest ends the eucharistic prayer at the center of which is the mysterious event of the consecration. These words at the same time encapsulate the prayer of the church: honor and glory to the triune God through, with, and in Christ. Although the words are directed to the Father, all glorification of the Father is at the same time glorification of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the prayer extols the majesty that the Father imparts to the Son and that both impart to the Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity.
All praise of God is through, with, and in Christ. Through him, because only through Christ does humanity have access to the Father and because his existence as God-man and his work of salvation are the fullest glorification of the Father; with him, because all authentic prayer is the fruit of union with Christ and at the same time buttresses this union, and because in honoring the Son one honors the Father and vice versa; in him, because the praying church is Christ himself, with every individual praying member as a part of his Mystical Body, and because the Father is in the Son and the Son the reflection of the Father, who makes his majesty visible. The dual meanings of through, with, and in clearly express the God-man's mediation.
The answer is yes and no. Or perhaps, "Not merely." We achieve holiness by God's wil and grace alone. Without these necessary elements we can plan until doomsday and we won't be any closer to holiness. God wills that we be holy and for that reason alone the goal is within reach.
However we must also will it and that will must take some expression through the grace of God. We must will what God wills for us. We must follow in obedience His plan for us. How do we know what that is?
It isn't so mysterious as many of us like to think. One of the reason we tend to focus on the mystery of it is that we don't really want to achieve it. However, the "plan for holiness" was revealed in Jesus Christ and in His body, the Church. It is really quite simple--atttendance at and participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice and the feast of the Word, frequent recourse to the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation, attendance to the holy round of prayer known as the Liturgy of the Hours, and the practice of the presence of God in Himself and in His people. The first three elements of this plan strengthen us for the last element. In a sense this last element is the living out of the promise of the first three.
As people in the world we are not permitted the luxury of living as though we occupied a cloister. Our faith must have real physical expression. It must reach out to the world through our actions. It must bring grace where grace was unknown. The only way this can be possible is through taming the unruly self to through the training that comes with obedience to the Mass, Confession, and constant prayer. Our actions outside of prayer are merely our own and subject to all the human failings of anything else we may choose to do. However, our actions rounded with prayer become whole and real. They become an expression of God in godless places.
from The Hidden Life, "Before the Face of God"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Carmelites can repay God's love by their everyday lives in no other way than by carrying out their daily duties faithfully in every respect all the little sacrifices that a regimen structured day after day in all its details demands of an active spirit; all the self- control that living in close proximity with different kinds of people continually requires and that is achieved with a loving smile; letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love. Finally, crowning this is the personal sacrifice that the Lord may impose on the individual soul. This is the "little way," a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms which are daily placed before the Almighty perhaps a silent, life-long martyrdom that no one suspects and that is at the same time a source of deep peace and hearty joyousness and a fountain of grace that bubbles over everything we do not know where it goes, and the people whom it reaches do not know from where it comes.
What more need be said?
from The Hidden Life
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
But we have the Savior not only in the form of reports of witnesses to his life. He is present to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. The hours of adoration before the Highest Good and the listening for the voice of the eucharistic God are simultaneously "meditation on the Law of the Lord" and "watching in prayer." But the highest level is reached "when the Law is deep within our hearts" (Ps 40:8), when we are so united with the triune God whose temple we are, that his Spirit rules all we do or do not do. Then it does not mean we are forsaking the Lord when we do the work that obedience requires of us. Work is unavoidable as long as we are subject to nature's laws and to the necessities of life. And, following the word and example of the apostle Paul, our holy Rule commands us to earn our bread by the work of our hands. But for us this work is always merely a means and must never be an end in itself. To stand before the face of God continues to be the real content of our lives.
How then do we pray always? We do so when we have invited God to be with us always, when we have reached a level of unity with Him, when we have surrendered everything to Him.
Praying always is something like a marriage of long duration where it is sufficient to be present together. You needn't jabber each other's ears off with protestations of your love and devotion. Your presence together speaks volumes that no words can speak.
However, that comfortable marriage comes only after years of work and of saying the things that must be said and of doing the things that must be done. One does not achieve unity by ignoring one another--nor by simple toleration. There is always a growth in love fostered by the blessings of the Holy Trinity present at the heart of the sacrament of matrimony.
So too, the union with God doesn't just happen. You must take what pains you can to express your love to God, and perhaps more importantly, (and much more difficult), you must allow God to love you. In this grace alone works to open you up to the love of God--an active, invigorating, growing love. You cannot perceive it by trying to do so.
The only way to receive this love is to be obedient to God's commandments and rely upon His Grace, present powerfully in the sacraments, but also present in "the sacrament of the present moment." We live only in the present, and it is only in the present that we can experience God. God's love is eternal, but its expression is in time, in each moment of each day. Every breath is a gift, everything that comes to us in a moment is a love-letter. We need to refocus our vision to find God in the gift of the moment, and open our wills to accept that grace.
Only in this way is it possible to grow in love. His grace opens us up to His grace. The best we can manage is to not get in the way. And so, when we are in a hurry and stuck in the world's largest parking lot, regard that as a moment from the Lord, the gift of the present moment and thank Him for it. No matter what happens, resolve, with His help, to accept it and to converse with Him about it. In this way, you grow toward that union that requires no conversation to complete it because it is a continual conversation in itself. Like those grown old together in marriage, words become unnecessary because there is a communion and communication of being. Much more so then with our Beloved Father, Spouse, and Comforter. All Earthly marriage is a reflection of the true Divine marriage of God to the individual Soul. All that is good in marriage is expressed in this Union and because God is simple in Good, the Divine Union, unlike the human state, can have no shadow of evil in it. It is pure, holy, and good--the transcendant and encompassing marriage. Moreover, it is a gift, waiting for anyone who is willing to open it. God invites us to come and partake,
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let him that heareth say, "Come." And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the Water of Life freely. (Rev 22: 17).
And more, the message is repeated and repeated throughout the Bible and probably most profoundly accented in the Song of Songs.
I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up nor awake my love, until he please." (Song 8:2-4)
Of enormous interest is that this image suggests at once marital union and the embrace of a father supporting the head of the smallest infant. The other day T.S. O'Rama was commenting on the need for us to become little children. And I would say amen to that--very little children indeed. For little children are simple, they accept what comes to them and, in their way are thankful for it. So too we must learn to be thankful for what comes to us from God who holds us tenderly as a Father holds an only child that he has waited years and years to see. His embrace at once protects, strengthens, and comforts us. He is at once Father and Mother to us combining the very best of both human roles to be truly our All in All.
I haven't even begun to, and I won't make any pretensions of the sort. I have read much about it, but from experience have no inkling. Although I may have started understanding in a more profound way. All these fine thoughts and sentiments must be crucified and go the way of all flesh until what I desire is entirely and only what God desires for me. Even desiring Him is of my own making and so that desire must be transformed into His desire for me. That is, presently my longing is MY longing. In that dark night, MY longing for Him will be transformed into Jesus's longing on the cross. There will no longer be an I but it will be God within me speaking back to God. I will truly become His servant because I will have become His house. He will dwell in me in a substantial way for all to see. Assuming of course I will to stay the course.
But I ask, and not rhetorically, what other course is there? Where else is there to go? You, Lord, have the words of eternal life--only in you may I be transformed in such a way as to enter eternal life.
All of these are intellectual recognitions. So with the grace of God I must start up again that slippery slope of Mount Carmel, relying entirely on grace, and more on the pull of love that wishes me up that slope. I cannot detach from things around me by my own will. Even the notion of detachment, of leaving behind, of moving upward becomes in its own way an attachment. So I must look at the Father with the intensity of love that I have for the son He gave me and receive that love back. I must dwell in His love and take the elevator to the Father--the elevator of His loving embrace. Because I know for certain that He desires all of His children to ask and to be invited into the circle of His arms. They are open for us all, and His great heart aches and bleeds so long as there is a single one of us outside that loving embrace.
Look at your children and realize the intensity of what is there in your heart and turn that gaze to your Father, loving Him beyond the limits you thought possible. Ask and it shall be answered, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened. Or better yet, the Father awaits the return of the prodigal, watching with careful eye for any sign of his return. And as we make the slightest turn, He bounds out from his palace from the greatness of His throneroom to embrace us and bring us home.
And so I hope I see a sign of turning, and I pray this heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh for Him to do with as He wills. I start by wanting to give all to the Father all the intensity of who am I and what I am capable of doing and feeling, I will to be His. And next, I wait and fast and pray. I thank God for the season almost upon us. Perhaps this awakening or partial awakening is a small indication of what He wants for me this Lent. Please pray for me.
that God loves me despite my essentially unlovable nature.
Even the best inclined of us has difficulty being around a cocky, self-assured, self-centered young buck who thinks the world is His oyster and whatever he wants is the pearl at the center.
Yes, that paragraph describes me in relation to the God who loves me. Nevertheless, like the loving Father He is, He reaches out to me. He reaches out to me in my sinfulness and in the utter horror that I am. I think about St. Francis kissing the leper, and I see God's gentle metaphor sent to us. Only leprosy is nearly purity compared to the state I often wallow in.
Nevertheless, God loves me. He gives me each day the light of that day. He gives me each moment what is needed to move forward. He gives me my food, my drink, my joy. And always, I fall short in returning to Him these great goods. There is nothing I can do to repay this love but try to love as greatly in return and try to send others into the torrents of His love. As I am swept along, I can reach out and offer my hand to those who cling to the shore, prefering the safer shallows to that divine cataract. And paradoxically our only salvation is in our abandonment to that raging river. The intensity of His love cannot be stilled. It is at once fire and water. In the words of the KJV:
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
(Song of Songs 8:6-7).
Such is God's love. And my strongest desire is to follow His wish--to set Him as THE SEAL upon my heart and THE SEAL upon my arm. For only in utter abandonment to Him may I ever hope to see freedom and light.
Holy Sonnet 14
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
I repeat this poem often because its message can never be heard loudly enough nor clearly enough. Our only hope is in His Love and His only desire is for our love--complete, whole, and freely given.
from My Only Friend is Darkness Barbara Dent
God is busy forming the Son in us in all his completeness, though tailored to our individuality, and we cannot expect his passion and death will be omitted. How can we know what secret attractions, desires, attachmentts are binding us there in the hidden fastnesses of our hearts? We do not know, so we cannot ask to be delivered from them in any specific way of our own choice, but must leave the Spirit to work it out for us.
In short, we are not captains of our own ships or masters of our own fates. We don't even know ourselves well enough to clean house, how can we hope to know God without His help? Day by day He comes to us, almost in supplication. Here is the Father of the prodigal son humbly tapping at the door to our heart and asking for permission to come in. Here is the Lord of the Universe who could, if He so desired take away everything, deprive us of our last breath, and do other things more terrible and wonderful than we can contemplate, asking us to acknowledge our love for Him.
And we do love Him. Passionately. However, there are a few things in the way. For example, we like to read more than we like to pray. We like to run and jog more than we like to pray. We like to eat more than we like to pray. Let's face it, for some of us, we'd rather clean the commode than face our loving Father in prayer.
Nevertheless, to the last day of our lives, to the last second of the last day, He knocks. He humbly begs entry, and he tries the door to see if we at least left it unlocked.
Make an effort to clear a path. Move the debris out of the way so at least the door can swing open a little. Ask for light to see and courage and strength to do what becomes necessary in the light. Turn the key, ask God to come in. Though we are too weak to move this mound of stuff ourselves, surely if we desire it, He can and will move it. He wants us so desperately. To Him we are each an only child--the singular love of His life. He lavishes upon us every possible gift to make this clear. Now pray for a clear eye to see His hand in all that we are and all that is around us. Pray for clear vision to see Him in each day and thank Him for His presence.
Most of us have not yet approached the dark night, though we like to talk of it as though it was near. We know that the dark night means His love. We dread it even as we desire it. We do not think we can stand it, and we are right, because it is only through His strength that we can begin to undergo the purifications that will bring us to Him in this Life, in serenity, joy, peace, and love.
So, while we long for that dark night that means a closer union with God, let us prepare the way, if only feebly by muttering when he knocks, "Come in. Come in and be master of this house. Come in and make it clean, well-ordered, your own abode. Come in and love me, finally I am ready. Come in."
Lift your mind to God today in several moments that you do not ordinarily do so. As you're doing the worst task of the day, thank and praise Him. As you are enjoying the extraordinary beauty of the full moon in the morning, thank and praise Him. As you are shivering and contemplating spring, thank and praise Him. As you are starting the car, thank and praise Him.
A short and simple prayer will do--"I love you Lord, my strength."
Or a longer more traditional one, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Or one of your own derived from the scripture.
Or one of your own derived from your heart.
Let your heart and mind reach out and touch Him, if only for a moment, a reminder that He is right there next to you, above you and below you, in front of you and behind you--within you.
Praise the Lord and thank Him in the traffic snarl you hate, in the broken appliances, dirty diapers, and tasks of ordinary life.
You'd be surprised at how much better your day goes when you go through it with your closest most intimate friend, ally, and comforter.
I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death. (Phillippians 3:8-9a, 10)
And in this is nearly all the doctrine of the great Carmelite mystics. "I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus," that is, nothing in the world is as worthy of our attention as Jesus Christ--thus every moment spent outside of Jesus Christ is a loss--even if it is a participation in very good things.
"For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and consider them so much rubbish. . ." Because of His preeminent place in the universe everything else is tarnished and weary. Paul at one time was a wealthy citizen of Jerusalem, well known, apparently well connected. But when he became a Christian he lost all of this. And the loss was as nothing--as a mere casting off of outer soiled rags. In fact, other translations have much stronger words than merely rubbish. But Paul is not proposing here some sort of dualism. Everything is brought into focus by the central point of attention--Christ Jesus.
". . .that I may gain Christ and be found in him to know him and the power of his resurrection . . ." There is purpose here in casting off outer things. We do not rid ourselves of them because they are evil. We rid ourselves of them because they are less worthy of our attention. They are distraction on the path to unity with God. Through casting off these lesser goods we make more room for Jesus Christ--we are "found in him" or claim our true identity as a child of God. This is our ultimate and most important identity. In finding Him, we come to know the power of His resurrection--that is the redemptive, saving power of Grace. But more importantly, we come to know it in a way that cannot be merely intellectual. This is heart-knowledge. We know Jesus Christ intimately as indwelling and ever present with us. We commune with Him and we share every aspect of our life with Him.
". . .and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death." And a bit of speculation here--perhaps Paul is obliquely referring to a "dark night." Paul certainly shared Christ's sufferings on a material plane, but if all of this is as dross and as rubbish then it would hardly matter if he knew the constant presence of Christ. The only suffering that would matter is that feeling of abandonment, that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani." That is the true suffering. Feeling abandoned at the shallow surface of emotion, but knowing in the depths of the heart God is there with us and He suffers again in our suffering. One metaphor often used for the dark night is that of the surgeon performing an operation to remove all that withholds us from communion with God. But this is the Divine surgeon, all that we feel, He feels. He felt it at that moment on the Cross and He feels it throughout eternity. And yet, nevertheless, the step is necessary if we are to have health and to be restored to life in Him. We suffer it either in this realm or in the world to come as we undergo purgation that will ultimately allow us to enter into the heavenly abode.
Perhaps one of the more disturbing threads of conversation I heard at the Carmelite Congress was one dealing with canonization. After an excellent presentation focused on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, one person asked whether his cause had been advanced. The reply came that , no, not enough was really known of him for this to be a viable cause. A little later the same question arose. And yet a third time the presenter was asked about canonization.
The matter of canonization is not about getting as many of "your Saints" in heaven as possible. The teaching of Brother Lawrence is no less efficacious for him not being raised to the honors of the altar. What he has to say about living your life is no less meaningful because the Church has not canonized him. And yet there is this nearly obsessive bent many people have with making and recognizing Saints.
There are innumberable saints the Church has not recognized. Most of the saints whom we implore to intercede for us have no names on Church calendars. They are our ancestors, our departed loved ones, our friends, and a huge nameless mass that raises our concerns to God each day. We may ask a certain intercessor to advance our cause to the Most High, but for each one we ask, thousands more implore--all those who have given their heaven over to us in prayer. I imagine sometimes that all of my forbears who entered heaven raise their voices as one when there is a need. Our needs are known and the Saints and the saints intercede for us constantly at God's table. The clamor of our most minor need raises a noise of joy so great that we would be unable to bear it if we could hear it. The chorus of imploring, rejoicing, honoring, praising voices raised constantly in our behalf is part of the great joy of heaven.
So, let's not be troubled by who is and who is not recognized as a great saint worthy of veneration. By all means, let us pray for those to whom we have a special attachment--in my case Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse. But let us all recognize that there is a great deal to be gained from the works that lesser saints have left us and from the prayers of all the saints in heaven. Think of it this way--just as we pray for all the poor souls in purgatory, raising our voices to God in their favor, so the saints in heaven, while praying also for the poor souls in purgatory, also pray for us still on Earth that we might avoid prolonged time in purgation and make our way speedily to the embrace of the Father.
It is right and good to ask God for all the things we truly need. It is perhaps less good to ask for the things we want, but so long as those things are the goods of the spiritual realm, it is still right and proper. It is of questionable worth to ask for things we do not need but merely want with no real notion of what we would do with them once we had them. But even this is worthwhile because it exposes us to our own depths. These are mere vocal prayers. And yet we are enjoined to ask for what we need each day and to turn to the Lord to supply those needs. From this prayer, properly said, a more exteneded conversation with the Lord can occur.
St. Teresa defined mental prayer,
Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us (Life 8, 5).
Mental prayer is an intimate sharing between friends. Such a sharing is not really possible if we are keeping things back. If we have a person with whom we want to be friends, we find that the roadblocks to friendship can be many. But the greatest of these are things about ourselves that we do not want known. The more we keep back the harder it is to share with a friend because we always fear revealing something that would damage the relationship.
However, God knows all. There is nothing we could possibly keep back even if we wanted to. The important point is that while God knows all, He wants us to share it. Often there is great power and tremendous release in simply saying what we know to be true. That is in acknowledging our weaknesses, we open the door to further intimacy. Thus the practice of confession is both about getting our sins out in the open and opening the door to greater intimacy.
Back to the original point--praying for what we want. When we do this, however frivilous the thing we want, we are at least being honest and opening the conversation. Now, if we become obsessed with what we want and continue like a small child to insist upon it in ever detail. conversation may not continue. If however, we are really ready to talk and listen and we say what it is we want, then even those material desires become the ground for intimate conversation and ultimately for conversion. So long as we are not flippant and we are really speaking our heart's desire, we open the gate for the Lord to enter.
Mental prayer is that extended conversation that comes from well-said vocal prayer. If we pray with sincerity and with earnestness, allowing God to peer into us, we start the conversation. Once it has begun, it can continue throughout the day or throughout a lifetime.
Mr. Bogner has just finished St. Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castles and so I took it upon myself to rudely go over to his place and push him about a little. It's what I do best.
There is absolutely no point at all in reading great spiritual books if you think the point is to have read them. That is not the point at all. Everyone in the world could read The Interior Castles and it wouldn't make a bit of difference if their only purpose was to have invested a bit of time in a good bit of spiritual reading. Now there is the possibility that reading a good spiritual book is something akin to prayer and getting at God obliquely, but more often than not it is very precisely a way of avoiding deep prayer and yet feeling good about what we are doing.
The rule in my community is that there is no point in reading simply to say you have read. If what you read does not change your life (particularly if it is a great work of spirituality) it was slightly less a waste of time than reading Agatha Christie, slightly more profitable. But ultimately your time would have been better spent cleaning the bathroom really well (or doing something else that truly reflects your vocation as parent, spouse, etc.).
The point of any great spiritual reading is to change your life. If you get through a great work of guidance and spirituality and are not asking yourself "How do I get there?" for some time afterward, you have missed the point. Great spiritual reading should be done in much the same way lectio is done. Read a little bit. Figure out what is being said literally, and then pray over what you have read to figure out how it applies to the here and now. Then ask God for the grace to implement whatever practical application you have derived from the reading. Reading any great spiritual work in such a way could take months, or perhaps even years. And that is perfectly all right, what else were you going to do with the time? Some do better with continuous rereading, rather than a single slow reading. But whatever you do, the great treasures of spirituality are not to be taken as any other book.
The same is true of the great works of theology. Although there are probably portions of the Summa that are of lesser relevance to the world today, the vast majority of this compendium is not so much to be studied for its own sake. Rather, the real treasure in the Summa are its insights into the nature of God, which, when properly prayed over tend to lead one to long for God and to seek ways to be closer to Him.
So those who are being called to read a book--do so. And as Harold Bloom likes to say, "Let the book read you as well." That is, open yourself to the insights and to the disciplines that are being fostered and ask God continually for the grace to implement them in your life. Put yourself under the microscope and examine in detail where you are failing and ask God to heal those broken places. Look carefully and see your strengths and thank God for them humbly because they are not your own, but gift--given to be properly used for the Glory of God.
Spiritual reading is unlike any other sort of reading. You are not reading for information so much as you are reading for formation--formation of a right spirit and a mind directed to God. This does not happen with the usual way we tend to read things. Let the great works percolate in, let the books fill you with their wisdom, let the Holy Spirit speak. Then unite will to faith and ask for the grace to perservere in the practice of the presence of God as you have learned from the great spiritual masters.