Christian Life/Personal Holiness: March 2004 Archives

Terry at Summa Mamas made mention of In Conversation with God--a work I had known about but had not paid much attention to thinking that it was another of those questionable works of half-baked piety and rancid new theology. (This is the "word" referred to in the header.) But her recommendation provoked me into looking more closely with the ultimate result that I bought the volume for Lent and Easter. There I found this piece of advice this morning:

from In Conversation with God--Volume II
Francis Fernandez

We Christians must seek the remedy and the antidote--just as the Israelites bitten by the serpents in the wilderness did--in the only place that it is to be found: in Jesus Christ and in his saving doctrine. We must not cease from contemplating him raised above the earth on the Cross if we truly want to reach the Promised Land that comes as the end of this short journey. That is all this life really is. And as we do not want to reach our destination alone, we will strive to get many others to look at Jesus, in whom is Holy Humanity, contmplate him in the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, in the Way of the Cross, in the scenes that the Gospels narrate for us, or in the Tabernacle. Only if we have great piety will we be strong against the harassment of a world which seems to want to separate itself more and more form God, dragging with it anyone who is not on firm and sure ground.

Later: Mr. White's note in the comment box reminds me that I did not make explicit my clear endorsement of this wonderful series. I've only used it a couple of days, but it has added immeasurably to my devotional life. Highly recommended. (Scepter is a publishing house for Opus Dei works. I have been greatly blessed by the works of St. JoseMaria Escriva, even if I have some reservations about some reported penitential practices.)

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On Reading Spiritual Books

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Some books pose a real danger to one's complacency. For each person these books will be different, but they all threaten in the same way--they force one to think about God and how one is living life with respect to Him. This is not something I do readily. Often I go out of my way NOT to think about God because it will get in the way of what I really want to do. It's a whole lot easier to get along if God doesn't keep nosing in.

However, the spiritual life is not that way. In fact the spiritual life is enough to make one think that Freud actually got something correct in his hypotheses about the functioning of the personality. We have all experienced St. Paul's, " For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (KJV, Romans 7:19) This suggests that there is an internal battle raging constantly between our fallen nature and the nature God wants us to take on. Spiritual reading, properly done, spurs yet another encounter in the battle. This is why many avoid it.

Of recent date one book that has had the full strength of convicting force is St. Teresa Benedicta's work on St. John of the Cross--The Science of the Cross. Perhaps because the work is about poetry, perhaps because it is about St. John of the Cross, perhaps because it is written by St. Teresa Benedicta, but certainly because the Holy Spirit is using some connection between the work and my personality, nearly every line of the book speaks to me. Were I underlining it, the entire text would be underlined and annotated. It is one of those works I wish were readily available in electronic format so I could copy out sections and write all of my thoughts on it. It is a work that calls me to really think about Christ and God. It forces me out of comfort and complacency and into the challenging arena of spiritual warfare.

There are many books like this. Through time some have been tested and found excellent by many sources. The Imitation of Christ is chief among these. While there may be passages that do not speak to you at this very moment, there will be others that direct your attention to things you'd really rather nor look at. I am reminded of the scene of Judas's death in The Passion of the Christ. Just prior to it we are offered a brilliant image of the nature of sin in the form of a maggot-ridden, fly-blown corpse so distorted it is difficult to say what kind of animal it is. We very naturally don't want to look at such things. Nevertheless it is necessary and salutary work. If we are harnassed or shackled to such a thing, surely we would want to be aware of it. And we live in a world of people harnessed just so.

Another work that has helped many has been Fray Luis of Granada's A Sinner's Guide. So too with Scupoli's Spiritual Battle. These are all works that convict. But even those that do not address sin straight on, can still convict. St. Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary Jean-Pierre de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence, St. Thérèse of Lisieux Story of a Soul, in fact all the great works of the saints are designed with one purpose. They are designed for the sole purpose of any great Christian writer: to get you to open your eyes and walk toward God and to get you to see, if only momentarily how far you are from where God would have you be. And then to prompt you to move toward Him. This is true of the works of Flannery O'Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene (at his best), and Walker Percy. When you read this fiction, you should stand convicted.

All reading should be spiritual reading and all spiritual reading should be directed toward the transformation of life. Yes, I know there is a place for eutrepalia, and yes, there is a place for leisure. Nevertheless, we would do far better for ourselves were we not to coddle and nurture these notions. Time spent with what does not lead to God is time wasted. Surely eutrepalia is as possible and even as likely in great works that lead to God as in the collected opera of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton. Indeed, I think these latter works, and others as well, serve more to insulate us from God than to bring us to Him.

Whatever it is we do it should be directed toward God's glory. This includes even those little choices such as what to read and what to watch on television. When we surrender to God it must be all the way. It isn't just part of us that goes to heaven, but the entire person. So spiritual reading, as uncomfortable as it may be, should occupy a major portion of our reading time. We should seek our joy and consolations in the presence of the Lord. And where there is great beauty, there also is the Lord. Reading any worthy work with the idea of learning more about God will likely result in learning more about God. Thus, much of our reading can become spiritual reading (assuming of course that the work is worthy to begin with.)

It's obvious I've strayed from my initial point, but these notes should help a bit. Perhaps in the future I'll share some of my favorite works of spirituality. It seems that there is a great hunger in St. Blog's for advice concerning these matters. Or perhaps not. Even if no one else should ever cast an eye over these ruminations to myself they are fruitful as a reminder of the path I should be following. I pray they may also help those who are really seeking after God's will in all that they do.

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Missed Opportunities

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Lent is drawing to a close and I am overwhelmed with the sense that I have not taken full advantage of the spiritual riches of the season. As with every year, though I anticipate Easter, I almost wish the season could linger a week or two or three. The disciplines instilled, the expected focus, the deliberate positioning of oneself in the way of grace all strike me as critically important, and six weeks is hardly enough to make something of them.

However, this season, the Lord has spoken to me very clearly through my friends in the blogosphere and through the works of His saints that He has had me stumble over. He has given me St. Katharine Drexel and her wonderul fiestiness. He has given me also Romano Guardini and his careful reminders about prayer and the mass. He has given me St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and her magnum opus--The Science of the Cross. He has given me the blessing of one man's devotion in a moving icon (twice) and He has asked me to reflect upon it. In addition he has showered upon me untold and unexpected riches in the world--responsibilities and opportunities.

Now, I look at this last week and I ask God to sustain me in the vocation to which He has called me. I look forward to Holy Thursday with it's memorial of the installation of the Eucharist. I look forward particularly to Good Friday with its somber reminder of What was done and Who was harmed to make good my sins. I look forward to the joyous season of Easter, and ask God that in its great joy, I do not forget the lessons of Lent, but I sustain them in my heart and in my practice.

Lent is not yet over. I always anticipate too much. But I am half-fearful and half joyful at its drawing to an end. I pray that the disciplines of the season are something I can take away with me and can make a permanent part of my life.

I pray also for all of you that this Lent has been a blessing and that the experiences of it alter your lives so that your paths are more ordered to God's will and to serving Him unstintingly in every facet of your lives.

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No matter how one may regard the movie, something of this nature is magnificent and wonderful beyond words. I don't know Mr. Gibson's involvement in the interprise, but simply by allowing images from his work of art to be used Mr. Gibson demonstrates the fullness of heart that gave rise to the film. For him, it is obvious, there is a passionate interest in the saving of souls. First he blesses us with a film that is a moving, iconic experience for a great many. And then he blesses us by properly allowing that work of art to be used to assist many lost souls on the way to salvation. What a tremendous, powerful witness and what an example of evangelism.

A colleague at work brought a couple of the pamphlets distributed by this group in for me to see. They are well done and as moving in some ways as the film, constantly coming back to the theme of our redemption and of Christ's great love for us. They are of a different Christian tradition than our own, but they are doing the work of winning souls to Christ. It is my prayer that by posting this message a visitor who drops in looking for whatever odd thing may have led them here discovers the wonders of Christ's love through this outreach. If I only serve to point the way to others who can help bring one soul to Jesus, I have fulfilled a great purpose in God's plan.

Truly, Mr. Gibson seems to try to live out the fullness of St. Teresa Benedicta's imperative to artists--not just to portray, but to live out the Passion itself. His passionate love should be an example to all of us. This truly calls from the depths of the heart a true thanksgiving to God for the gift He has bestowed upon us both in the film and in the witness of the filmmaker.

(P.S. Take a look at the quotes from Church leaders to get a sense of the breadth of this campaign. )

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The Science of the Cross

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St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross made such a splash yesterday and the enthusiastic plaudits were such that I couldn't disappoint by not bringing more. First a definition: "St Paul who already had a well-developed science of the cross, a theology of the cross derived from inner experience (p. 20) And now this passage:

from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

The saving power: this is the power that awakens to life those to whom divine life had died thorugh sin. This saving power had entered the Word from the cross and through this word passes over into all who receive it, who open themselves to it, without demanding miraculous signs or human wisdom's reasons. In them it becomes the life-giving and life-forming power that we have named the science of the cross.

Paul brought it to fulfillment in himself "Through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

It could prepare one to recive life, but of itself it could not give life. Christ took the yoke of the Law upon himself in that he fulfilled it perfectly and died for and through the Law. Just so did he free from the Law those who wished to receive life from him. But they can receive it only if they relinquish their own life. For those who are baptised in Christ are baptized in his death. They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life. This life will be ours in its fullness only on the day of glory. (p. 21)

There are two points in this that really spoke to me:

(1) In those days when all turned into night about him but light filled his soul, the zealot for the Law realized that the Law was but the tutor on the way to Christ.

The law is the sign that points to the great redeemer, not redemption itself. I know this from all that is taught and yet to hear this revelation from one who would know--a Jewish convert to Catholicism--completely transforms an intellectual truth into a heart-truth. St. Teresa Benedicta lived this transformation and more. She learned the truth of the law, abandoned it, and then learned the fullness of the law in Jesus Christ. She died as a martyr for her people (in her own words), taking them with her in a mystical way in the reality of her own death and rising. She reified the truth of Christ's sacrifice on the cross in her own life and death. And as with all martyrs she is among the best imitators of Christ.

(2) They are submerged in his life in order to become members of his body and as such to suffer and to die with him but also to arise with him to eternal, divine life.

This may be more significant for those of us who had adult, full emersion baptisms. In the Baptist Church, once you accept Christ, you are baptised in a pool of water--not by having water sprinkled or poured on you, but by being completely emersed in the water three times--"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." This is quite a different experience from that of most Catholics (many of whom cannot remember their baptism) and even most adult converts. I've seen many who have had water poured over them, but have yet to witness a full emersion Catholic baptism. That's an aside, but important. In full emersion you are truly submerged, and brought forth again fully symbolizing the death and resurrection into which we are being baptised.

In St. Teresa Benedicta's terms we are submerged into the body of Christ which is the living Church and the body of the resurrection. We die to self to become part of what is greater than we are. In dying we are resurrected as more than self, as a member of the body of Christ.

But I like the sense of submerged for another reason. It suggests the fullness of the truth that Christ is not only completely surrounding us, but within us. When one is completely submerged, eventually the fluid one is submerged in enters the body. Submergence in Christ once again suggests the truth of becoming a new person, of losing the old, false identity and assuming one's god-given place in the body of Christ. In addition, submergence contains within it hints of subordination, of right ordering, and of proper relation between the creation and the Creator. In all, a very satisfying fleshing out of Paul's magnificent, life-giving teaching.

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Sophia Press publishes some very interesting reprints of books from the past. Much of the time I am annoyed by their tendency to abridge, edit, or alter any such text. However, the work is often worth reading. So is the case with the book quoted below:

from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy OCD

It is quite possible to come to a profound love of God, but it will not be something that comes to us like a flash of lightning. Ordinarily, it will grow with time. For it is a love of friendship--wishing good to another. It grows in proportion as love for self decreases. Self-love decreases only after a difficult battle, but it is a battle that each and every one of us must fight. We have no alternative, for Christ has said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul." Since God does not command the impossible we can fall out of love with ourselves and in love with God. It is never too late to start.

Fr. Kilian's book seems to be a gloss on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection's Practice of the Presence of God with some hints about how to do it. The back cover blurb promises "simple practical ways to think of God continuously, to converse with Him intimately, and to please Him at all times." I'll let you know.

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from The Merchant of Venus
William Shakespeare

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.
It is engender’d in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy’s knell;
I’ll begin it – Ding, dong, bell.

Ding, dong, bell.

I stumbled onto this blog this morning, and I was painfully reminded of a moment in the past that I have thought, at last, to share to help those who are discerning a vocation.

Shortly after I became Catholic, or it could have been in the course of planning to become Catholic the timeline is a bit fuzzy, I conceived the idea of becoming a Trappist Monk. I was inspired by Thomas Merton's work and by a poet friend who had recently become a Franciscan.

This desire for silence and retirement grew and grew within me. At the time I neither understood vocation nor did I have anyone to help me in the discernment process. There were a great many pressures in my life and contemplative silence was very appealing.

Ultimately, as noted by the fact that I have a wife and a child, I decided not to pursue this daydream. And every once in a while I wonder whether I took the right path. That is not to say that I am in the least unhappy in my present life. But sometimes things are seen in just the right slant of light and I have a sharp, sudden, poignant pain--a powerful reminder of what I gave up to pursue my present path. Once again, I reiterate, this is a good life, a life God has graced and blessed, but one cannot help but wonder.

What ultimately decided me in my path? Remember I was either becoming Catholic or just new to the faith. I had no one to help me decide. I was young and feeling pressure from every side. When I thought about retiring to a monastery, there was peace and calm and perfect happiness. Eventually I convinced myself that I had invented this monastery to give myself peace and calm--that no monastery would really be any such thing. This was the equivalent of imagining Caribbean blue water and waves on the shore. It was a momentary calming thing. I decided that the monastery did not represent fleeing into the arms of God, but fleeing away from the world. These are two very different motives for entering a monastery. One is noble and correct, the other perhaps less so. But now, in looking back, I wonder whether the less noble motive wasn't a stronger motivator. That is, still being formed, perhaps God spoke to me in a way that I could understand. His hand may have been extended offering peace in which I would eventually grow to love him.

Those are past regrets. They occasionally re-emerge to remind me of what is now no longer possible. This is my "road less travelled." And practically the only one I ever wonder about. I don't know if my decision at the time was right. However, what I can say definitively is that God honored that decision--He didn't make the rest of my life a living Hell for not hearing His call (if that is what it was). He continued to guide me and be with me and lead me to my present place---a very different place from the monastery.

This is not to say that one should take lightly any of these decisions, but that one should not walk the path alone. Look for a good guide, a good spiritual director who will help you discern vocation. Particularly is you are young and considering vocation, don't think you can or should do it all yourself. Find someone to help you discern the path

People who are Catholic from birth may have an easier time with this than I did, I don't know. But whoever you are, however you are raised, find help and defining your calling. It never hurts to test the spirits and to see which way you are being led. And know that whatever you choose, God will be with you. It isn't one strike and you're out. In fact, it may not even be a strike at all. Outside of sin and defiance, I have come to believe that God's plan and purpose for your life is infinitely adjustable; He only asks that when making the decision you consult Him. Often we sweat bullets over which is the "right path" to take, and sometimes I think there are a great many "right paths." So long as God is first in our lives, He can use all of our decisions to His greater glory. So always pray and discern and listen. Then, if you don't feel or hear any strong persuasion one way or the other, make your choice and wait to see God's working in your life.

Oh, and as to the epigraph. I am not in the monastery. But the call to interior silence is every bit as great as it was. And the call comes now not from the outside, from my thoughts and my stress, but from the inside, from a heart longing to love and to please God. May the heart longing to please God always be your guide into His paths.

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from The Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis

Peter did not fall into the deep pit of despair as did the unfortunate Judas, but he trusted in your continuing abundant mercy, which he had often experienced. Thus shedding sorrowful tears, he hastened to do penance, the saving rememdy for sin, and found the gate leading to infinite mercy wide open to him.

And Judas did not seek out this remedy. Surely Judas's crime was by far the greater, and yet the same gate of mercy swung wide for him. He was one of those Jesus trusted with the precious gift of His message, so surely he was assured a place among them even after his dastardly act. But Judas's public repudiation put him squarely in the eye of the world. He judged himself by the eyes looking in upon him (much as those unfortunates in Sartre's world of Huis Clos) and despaired because he could not rejoin the company. He so thoroughly believed the lies of the world that he condemned himself.

And yet it is my prayer that the love of Jesus redeemed him nevertheless. Jesus knew to the core the weakness of this vessel, and Judas fulfilled His every expectation. I pray that Judas had the grace of final repentance and has his seat among the twelve. (Though Dante would tell me otherwise.)

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with St. Katharine Drexel. I'm reading only the briefest of books and now I'm dying to read the writing of the saint herself. There is so much noble, wonderful, magnificent, strong, frail, in the work that she did. There is such inherent courage. God truly formed her in a way that would make it possible for her to stand up to Southerners who did not want a school for blacks near them. Can you imagine standing up to an imperious Philadelphia Matriarch? What wonders God performs with His broken people.

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Challenging Stories

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The empiricist in me always finds stories like this enormously interesting and very challenging. They help me to grow through trust.

from Meet Katharine Drexel
Mary van Balen Holt

Mother M. Mercedes once told an interesting story of their arrival for the ceremony. She said Mother Katharine had been delayed and had taken a later train to Richmond than intended. It pulled in under a dark night sky.

Mother Katharine was willing to remain at the station and wait for morning Mass and a chance to buy breakfast before traveling on to Rock Castle. but the station closed after their train arrived. Forced to stand outside, trying to decide what to do, they were met by an older black gentleman with a horse-drawn carriage. He told them they were expected to spend the night at the Franciscan convent of St. Joseph in town.

Surprised, but appreciative, the two sisters climbed into his carriage. Once at the convent, he carried their bags to the door and left. They rang many times before rousing anyone.

As it turned out, no one had been expecting them, nor had the Franciscans sent the older gentleman to meet the travelers at the station. Mother Katharine commented that he must have been St. Joseph, who did not want them out alone so late at night.

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"Understand then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant to the thousandth generation toward those who love Him and keep His commandments." (Deuteronomy 8-9)

"What we have here is a failure to communicate." Cool Hand Luke

Another flare-up of the perennial DaVinci Code virus elsewhere in St. Blogs provoked the thoughts that follow. I have noted a strong tendency to rush toward the apologetic books when this particular virus raises its ugly head. And that is well and good to help people combat the misinformation.

But it led me to the question--why should this be necessary? If someone accused your mother of being a slut would you run for the dictionary, to show that by definition she is not? Or would you simply let love take the lead. This is not to fault those who wish to address and correct the errors that are introduced here. It is to fault whatever mechanism gives rise to so weak a love of Jesus that some are inclined to take seriously any calumny uttered against Him.

It seems to me that much of our apologetics stays in our heads and never percolates down to the heart where it can foster true and lasting love. The only true defense against such idiocy is Jesus Himself. If we truly love Him, then nothing said against Him can convince us of anything other than the truth. The purpose of apologetics is to convince, but after conviction, something must help the truth bloom into love.

Where do we fail as Catholics to foster the love that should be the strongest line of defense against this horror? Obviously, those of us in St. Blogs seem to have no real problem with this; however, it appears that a great many outside the community have a faith that falters when assaulted with clever half-truths and glamorous lies. As I said before, if someone calls your mother a slut, the heart rushes in to battle what we know to be a lie. Where is the heart rushing in to battle the lies uttered against Jesus? What is wrong with our system that we should be so weak?

Yesterday I quoted a passage that said, "The family is the first 'sacrament.'" The more I read of the life of St. Katharine Drexel or St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I realize that their early advantage in life that led to lives of heroic sanctity was a devoted, loving family that focused attention on God as loving Father. The heart of love is fostered in the home. Children learn to love Jesus if they see that there is an obvious, passionate love of Jesus in the hearts of their parents.

All of us know that children will learn more from what we do than from what we say. We cannot instruct a child on the dangers of smoking while puffing on a cigar. We can't tell them the dangers of alcohol consumption while we blithely imbibe. They learn more from example than from speech. We can spend all day every day talking about Jesus and teaching the facts of Church History, Christology, Theology, and any number of other disciplines; however, if our children never witness us turning to God with our problems, if we do not take the time to sit down and pray with our children, they will not know Love. And "if I speak with tongues of angels and have not love, I am as a clanging cymbal," my words are meaningless. If I teach the most vaunted truths, and talk all the time of mystical theology, but I never once retire to pray, I have taught nothing worthwhile. Some of the information may stick in the head, but the heart is unmoved.

This, I think, is the position of most people whose faith is assaulted by such nonsense as The DaVinci Code. They may well know the facts they were taught in CCD, through sermons, or at home. However, the head has never transferred the facts to the heart where they feed love. And this often comes about because there is no strong devotion in the home. Parents do not instruct their children to pray first about any problem before trying to act upon it. They do not teach their children to rush into the Arms of Love. If we are armed merely with the technical facts of hypostatic union and transubstantiation, we will be like deer in the headlights when someone approaches with another intellectual construct--say consubstantiation or "the Church suppressed the fact that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus." Complete balderdash, utter nonsense, and completely believable to one whose heart is not fortified by love of Christ and of His Earthly body, the Church.

Our intellects can be persuaded of any number of idiotic and patently untrue theories. This is what the "fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" is all about. Knowledge is based on a series of facts chained together in arrays that make some sort of reasonable intellectual construct. But these constructs are subject to attack on any number of grounds. The principles that form them may prove untrue or unstable, the configuration of facts can be changed to create a new, equally likely construct.

Intellect must be fortified by love. Knowledge must be strengthened by prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and most importantly self-giving. And all of these are fostered not by the institutions we erect to teach and lead, but in the home, in the heart of the family. So, save your children this heartache and pain now, while you may, teach them to pray because Love of God is born in talking and listening to Him, not merely in the facts about Him.

When we hear of those challenged by the DaVinci code or by any number of other heresies, let us rush to their aid armed with facts. Let us show them the untruth of what they see. But let's start our assault with a prayer, either together, or before we ever meet with the one who needs help. Let us surround the intellectual battle with an unpierceable mantle of profound love and self-giving to Jesus the Lord. And when the facts have been arrayed, let us stand ready to lead the one attacked into prayer and into love of Jesus Christ. If we love Him, we cannot believe the preposterous things said of Him and of His church on Earth. Start the battle with prayer, continue the battle under the cloud of the Almighty (just as He shielded the Israelites) and end the battle with prayer. Our final goal should be to move the heart as much or more than we move the mind.

Love then is our strongest defense. Absolute abandonment to God protects us, mind and body, heart and soul from all the nonsense uttered by the greatest intellects on Earth. The proper response to an atheistic neo-Freudian is not a refutation of Freudian theory, but "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . ." The proper response to The DaVinci Code is a presentation of facts followed by , "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

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Truth in Prayer

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

No hard-and-fast rules can be laid down for this; we shall discuss it more fully later. But whatever routine one may adopt, one should carry it out honestly and conscientiously. In matters of prayer we are only too apt to deceive ourselves because, generally speaking, man does not enjoy praying. He easily experiences boredom, embarrassment, unwillingness, or even hostility. Everything else appears to him more attractive and more important. He persuades himself that he has not got the time, that there are other more urgent things to do; but no sooner has he given up prayer than he applies himself to the most trivial tasks. We should stop lying to God. Better to say openly, "I do not wish to pray," than to make such excuses. Better not to resort to specious justifications such as, for instance, tiredness, but to declare, "I do not feel like praying." This may sound less decorous, but at least it is the truth which leaves the way open, whereas self-deception does not.

A word to the wise is enough. Y'all know who you are, so just stop it. :-) And, of course, I'm a big one to be talking. But it is nice to have someone point out to you a few home truths.

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On the Desertion of Christ

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from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
Thomas á Kempis

May Saint Peter's fall and the apostles' flight serve me as a warning against sin rather than be obstacle in my path. Let their return to repentence instill in me the great hope that I too may seek mercy after my own failings; for there is no one so holy that does not sometimes fall into venial sin. If it should happen that I am deserted by friends and acquaintances or am looked upon, by those whom I love, as a stranger and as one who is worthless, then grant me, as a special remedy, to recall your complete desertion and abandonment, that I may readily forego all human consolation, and in some small measure be conformed to you as you undergo your trials.

Gentle Jesus, forgive me for having so often offended you, for so easily turning to vanities, and for not setting my heart on that which I have proposed to do. How often I look back on the amount of time I spent on so many things, all far from important, while I paid no attention to your Passion. You have preceded me along the narrow road, and with eyes dry I pass by as if your sorrows have no effect on me. Remember my foolish heart and instill in it a loving remembrance of your Passion.

It is entirely too easy to forget what Christ has done for us, even as we remember it. We are too easily distracted by the pretty baubles of God's good world, and too easily drawn away by our own trials.

We abandon Jesus for any reason or for no reason at all. We leave at the slightest provocation. We become wrapped up in ourselves and our trials and we forget Him, though we have promised to stay close to Him. We hunker down for Lent and spend perhaps an extra few minutes a week during which we cast Him a passing thought. Is this how we treat "My Life and my All?"

Unfortunately we do so. But, so then did the disciples when he needed someone most of all. Thomas encourages us to take a lesson and hope from this and to allow our wayward selves to tap into God's grace, as did the apostles. Yes, we will stray away, but let us always return to the straight and narrow path trodden out first by Christ and then by His legion of Saints throughout the ages. Let us give ourselves unreservedly to His Glory that it permeate the entire world. Let us make Love live in the hearts and minds of all who surround us through His grace. Let us rely upon grace and carry His light into the world.

Though we stumble and fall, He is there to pick us up as we were not in His dolorous way.

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Suffering for Christ

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I don't know about you, but this is an aspect of Saints' lives that always bewildered me. God made life beautiful, wonderful, and glorious. Why would we want to go through it suffering for His sake? Wouldn't it be better to glory in it for His sake? To appreciate the good, and treasure it for all that it is, the gift God saw fit to bestow upon us? Yes, I know that we will return home to the Father, and we should look forward to that wonderful day, but should we discourteously dismiss the wonderful gifts that He has given us so that we can suffer more? Is that the way we treat the gifts of our human parents? Box them up and ship them off so that we can do without?

Last night in my reading, I stumbled across this reminder, which I recall from reading St. Thérèse, but needed to hear again.

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcroft

It is well worth quoting this remarkable letter [249] in full, if only because of the superb advice it contains. But it also reveals so beautifully Elizabeth's spiritual outlook. It is full of common sense, taking full account of our human weakness and yet at the same time piointng to the heights of holiness. It is completely without self-pity; far from asking "why me?" her utter assurance that she and others are totally loved by God enables her to see purpose and meaning in suffering. But there is no hint of suffering for suffering's sake. Her conversation with Mother Germaine shows the same commonsense approach; if it cannot be avoided, and we have a duty to look after ourselves, then we must use it for his glory. The whole letter is permeated with Scripture, which she mediatated upon and lived. Above all, this was no theory, but only wat she experienced for herself.

As the Buddha pointed out (incorrectly) "All life is suffering." Well, ALL life is not suffering, but even the very best earthly life comes with its share of sorrow, disappointment, and pain. When these cannot be avoided, as Blessed Elizabeth and a great many other Saints teach, they should be embraced and offered up to God. What a great common-sense approach to things.

We will suffer. That is a given. There isn't a single human being who has ever lived that has not suffered. However, we suffer even more when we try to avoid the reality of suffering and spend our time complaining about it and trying to find extraordinary means of fleeing it (drugs, alcohol-abuse, etc.). If there will be suffering, then it seems better to accept this as part of what has come from God to us--a kind of bitter-sweet gift, and offer it back to Him as a share in His own suffering from us.

So when we read about suffering in the Saints, keep this in mind. Most were probably not masochists, but recognized the wonders and the beauties of life. But they also recognized that suffering is the human lot. If it is to happen to us anyway (even after we have taken pains to avoid it) than the best we can do is to offer it back to Jesus after we have cherished it. Rhonda Chervin has a book that examines this called A Kiss from the Cross. One important point to remember is that we needn't go out of our way to make ourselves suffer--this I suppose would be a sin against God's goodness. We have enough suffering in life that we needn't make more for ourselves or for others.

God loves us. Suffering is a fact of our mortal bodies and a consequence of the fall. By accepting that lot and offering it back in some sense we help to redress the upset in balance that resulted from the fall.

And small acts of mortification, small deprivations of God's goods also help us to acknowledge that God is more important to us that these lovely baubles that surround us. Giving up what is good and right for a time, as we do in Lent, we experience some part of that "suffering." If we are "using" it wisely, we are allowing it to change our hearts and our lives so that they are more closely aligned with God's Heart and His vision for our lives.

Suffering is not purposeless, it reminds us of the transcience of the present world, and it acts like a cattle prod to keep our feet moving on the path toward holiness.

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Sorry, I'm on a Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity kick, and if you would get the book from ICS and read it, you'd see why. In the meantime, let me tell you the immediate cause of my enthusiasm:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcraft

"Pray that I might have his passion for God and for souls," asked Elizabeth, "for a Carmelite must be an apostle." The Carmelite prays and strives for the closest possible union with God, not simply for her own holiness and salvation; she is aware that the more she is living in Christ, the more powerful she is in her prayer for others. Just as evil can pollute and corrupt, even more so goodness and holiness can transform.

Oh, how powerful over souls is the apostle who remains always at the Spring of living waters; then he can overflow without his soul ever becoming empty, since he lives in communion with the Infinite!. . .Let us be wholly His, Monsieur l'Abbé, let us be flooded with His divine essence, that He may be the Life of our life, the Soul of our soul, and we may consciously remain night and day under His divine action. (L 124)
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Y'all just must spend some time with her. See this quote:

from He Is My Heaven
Jennifer Moorcroft

May Christ bring us into those depths, those abysses where one lives only by Him. Would you like to be united to your little sister in order to become wholly loving, wholly listening, wholly adoring?

To love, to love all the time, to live by love, that is, to be surrendered. (L125)

It really is only one step, but the really hard part is the preliminaries where God prepares you for the step. Our prayer is to Love God and to be Love for God here in the world. As St. Teresa of Avila can be paraphrased, "In the end it is not how much we know, it is how much we love that we shall be judged by." And by "how much," I take St. Teresa to mean both in quantitative (how often it is expressed) and qualitative (the actions by which it is expressed) mode. Some express their love in song and prayer and silence, others express it through strong refutation of error, counsel, and preaching, still others through hospitality. There is no end to the expression of love of God, and it is absolutely necessary for each of us to pursue through grace that end of loving in the particular way that God desires for us. For if we choose to love as we choose, then we do not really love at all.

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One Necessary Prayer


Okay, don't be too hasty in reading that title and jumping to a conclusion. I didn't say "the only" nor do I mean to imply that this is necesarily the very best; however, I do think it is much more necessary than many people seem to think. My nomination for one important prayer that everyone should say hundreds, if not thousands of times a day: "Thy will Lord, not mine."

Why? Well consider this:

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Now look at the checklist:
not jealous
not pompous
not self-seeking
not quick-tempered
not brooding over injurices,
not rejoicing in wrongdoing
rejoicing in truth
bears all things
believes all things
hopes all things
endures all things
never fails.

Well our prayer pretty much fits the bill-in every particular. In order to pray it and mean it, the attitudes exemplified in this paean to love must be present. And even if we pray it, not really meaning it, but hoping that it may become the truth, then we plant the seed through our prayer, and through grace it will blossom.

To live the Christian live, we need to live God's real life in us. To do this we need to be obedient to His perfect will. And finally to do this, we must Love Him. So constant reminder and pleading for God's will is an inducement to a true love of God. True love of God is the only way to live life. Constant communion and communication with Him is the only desirable goal. To be constantly in His presence is to taste Heaven on Earth.

So one necessary prayer to encourage the humility and patience necessary for growth in the Lord: "Thy will Lord, not mine."

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from He Is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity
Jennifer Moorcroft

Let us live with God as with a friend, let us make our faith a living faith in order to be in communion with Him through everything, for that is what makes saints. We possess our Heaven within us, since He who satisfies the hunger of the glorified in the light of vision gives Himself to us in faith and mystery, it is the Same One! It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul. The day I unsterstood that everything became clear to me.

For Elizabeth, this was not just a lovely spiritual idea, once she understood it, she lived it with unrelenting persistance, as she said herself, it was how saints were made. It was a way that was typical for her, since there was no dividing line between her spiritual life and her everyday life. In her letter to Guite [stevenote: Elizabeth's sister] Elizabeth went on to reassure her family, who were worried by the thought of the hard Lenten observance in Carmel: "Lent isn't tiring me; I don't even notice it, and then I have a good little Mother who watches over me with a quite maternal heart" (L 109).

And so we have a synthesis of Carmelite teaching. Live with God as with a friend in constant conversation, listening more than speaking; and make your faith a living faith. Perhaps this might be said to BE faith alive. That is when people look at your life they see the fire burning there, the faith that is the love of God shining forth. This should show forth not from what you say, nor even necessarily from what you do, but in how you go about it.

I think of it as the spiritual equivalent for Faith of what Audrey Hepburn was for sophistication, class, and beauty. She didn't need to preach classiness or sophistication--it was simply who she was. And reports have it that part of that may have been because of her faith. But when people look at us, as we conduct ourselves even virtually, they should see the constant striving to make real the presence of God within and among us. They should see living faith. And this only becomes possible when the most important thing in the world is a passionate, all-consuming love of God and desire for His will alone.

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The Passion Redux

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It appears I was somewhat wrong about the movie. While it had no immediate effect or resonance, I found that at Mass today, it seemed to have imparted to me some greater sense of Christ's humanity. Somehow the events of the Movie made Jesus more of a person to me--it reified His humanity in ways that have not been possible for me before. So at Mass, I was doubly joyful in the Love of the Great God and the Love of the Great, Good Man. I can't explain it, but God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Thank you Jesus.

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First, I wanted everyone to know that the group today invoked our Lady of La Leche and Good Parturition on behalf of all those who are pregnant and who desire to be. Most particularly I was thinking of JCecil3, Ashli, Davey's Mom, and others of St. Blogs. Rest assured, you are prayed for and cared for.

Second, to Tom of Disputations. You have the heart-felt thanks of an entire Carmelite community. After a brief description of our little interchange (in a larger discussion of Carmelite Spirituality) every person there ferevently thanked God for all the Dominicans and then fervently thanked God for not calling us there. I assured them that the Dominicans very likely felt the same. And so to all my brothers and sisters in lay religious orders, I do thank God for you every day, for the diversity and wonder of His love.

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More Reflections on the Passion


from On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists
"On the shameful arrest and leading away of the Lord Jesus"
Thomas á Kempis

Lord Jesus Christ, Hope of the saints and Tower of strength in every tribulation, I bless and thank you for undergoing so violent an arrest by hateful enemies, for the arrogant laying of sacrilegious hangs on you by those sent to arrest you, and for the brutal looks and menacing shouts of those carrying arms against you. I bless and thank you for your harsh and cruel binding, for your rough and ruthless detention, for your painful pummeling, and for your being so abruptly dragged away. Amid all this tumult, while you were being rushed to your death by mean-spirited and worthless villains, your dear disciples, who had deserted you, looked upon you from a distance with great sorrow.

(book available from Ignatius press)

I was particularly affected by the last line, for I am among those disciples who look upon Him from a distance with great sorrow. I set myself at a distance through my own faults, choices, and sinfulness. And yet, the look that crosses that great distance from the eyes of the Savior himself is not one of condemnation, not one that says, "See what you did to me." Rather it is a look of love that says, "See what I can do for you. Come with me."

And so in Lent we journey with Him. But afterwards, too seldom do we bring to mind the great love that redeems us. Too infrequently do we pause to consider what God has wrought in so marvelous and completely loving a savior. At a word the entire realm of heaven could have rushed down to crush the oppressors. But God stayed His hand, accepting in His human body the pains and suffering we inflict on ourselves and each other in our sinfulness.

Praise the look of love that does not condemn, but speaks new life, "See what I can do for you."

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"Remember Thou Art Dust"

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The memento mori, the reminder of our own mortality, the whisper in the ear of the Roman Conquerer during a Triumphal Procession--"Remember thou art mortal," is a long, useful reminder of our limited span, the fact that everyone "struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more."

But we must also remember our ultimate value. If we are dust, we are gold dust, or more-infinitely precious to God. So precious that He who was One for whom we are not worthy to untie sandals came and served and died and rose.

"Remember thou art dust. . ." and remember too that you are "The apple of My [God's] eye. Remember the balance between the two. You are not worthy to be loved, but Love Himself raises you to worthiness. God loves us and so makes us worthy of love. In fact, God loved us to death and to new life.

Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return--only this ragged body. Remember thou art dust and by the power of His Gracious Love and through his all pervading Grace to Glory thou shalt return.

Praise God for His endless love that both reminds us of our end and our worth without Him, and raises us to be worthy of Him. God loves us so much.

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On Lectio and Openness

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A great many people "spend time in the word" every day. But much of the time they spend there seems to be spent fending off any meaning of the word that might have an impact on their lives. People fear the demands of the gospel. They often fear the cost of discipleship.

In the first few chapters of The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis warns us of this tendency.

Here for example is an excerpt from Chapter 2:

from The Imitation of Christ Thomas á Kempis

EVERY man naturally desires knowledge; but what good is knowledge without fear of God? Indeed a humble rustic who serves God is better than a proud intellectual who neglects his soul to study the course of the stars. He who knows himself well becomes mean in his own eyes and is not happy when praised by men.

If I knew all things in the world and had not charity, what would it profit me before God Who will judge me by my deeds?

Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise.

Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God.

The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you. If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance. Why prefer yourself to anyone else when many are more learned, more cultured than you?

Many who approach the Bible study it. Study is good and necessary. But if the end result of study is merely that one knows more, it is futile. Study must end in loving more. Study must end in opening oneself to the Word and making oneself vulnerable and useful to God.

This goes for all spiritual reading. If we read only to have read, or if we read in order to understand God, and we do not allow the reading to affect how we live, we have read in vain. There is no purpose in reading merely for more information. We have enough information. People who were illiterate throughout the history of Christianity, those who had no learning whatsoever, had sufficient information. Where we are deficient, universally, is in our willingness to serve the Word, to live the Word as it has been spoken to our hearts.

So, during Lent, spend time in God's word and pray that God enlighten not merely the understanding, but the entire intellect and the will and the heart, that what we read there really changes our lives in fundamental ways. Pray that this season opens us up to the working of the Holy Spirit so that the journey begun here does not end in Easter, but in Eternity, starting here on Earth and moving through all time.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from March 2004.

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