Christian Life/Personal Holiness: April 2004 Archives

Spiritual Dwarfism

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

The analogy is evident. To belong to the human race, it is enough to be a child, but that is not sufficient to be a fully developed man. Further, by virtue of a necessary law, a child must grow under pain not of remaining a child but of becoming a deformed dwarf. Likewise it suffices to have a very low degree of charity in order to avoid the transgression of the precept of love, but that does not suffice for the perfect fulfillment of this first precept, which is superior to all the others and to all the counsels. Moreover, if the beginner does not grow in charity, he will not remain a beginner, but will become an abnormal creature and, as it were, a dwarf from the spiritual point of view. For example, he has faith and piety which are, so to speak, embryonic, coupled with highly developed literary, scientific, or progessinal culture. . . . For lack of development, the divine seed which is in the soul runs the risk of dying, as we learn in the parable of the sower.

Two thoughts occurred to me while reading this. The first was, "Of course. One doesn't remain a child forever, time marches one. If one doesn't grow it becomes abnormal." I thought of the hero (was it Oskar?) of The Tin Drum who refuses to grow after the age of three. A deliberate dwarf as it were. I thought too of the grotesque in The Passion of the Christ, the small, aged, hairy, dwarfish baby--the sluggishly selfish soul withholding himself from growth, deliberately remaining small in charity.

My second thought, as always upon reading something of this sort was the uncomfortable realization that Garrigou-Lagrange had held up a mirror and I was reflected perfectly in it. It was as though he looked out his window while writing those words and happened upon my image. Again, the Holy Spirit speaks and convicts when we are prepared to listen. This is a hard thing to listen to, and yet to not hear it would be to remain in the deplorable state I already occupy. A word to the wise is sufficient.

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Ascent of Mount Carmel XI


The Ascent of Mount Carmel XI--Book II, Chapters 13-15

Read pages 189- 199 in The Ascent of Mount Carmel.

Chapter 13

(1) Why is it very important to know the proper time to leave discursive meditation?

(2) What is the first sign that one is ready to leave discursive mediation?

(3) What is the second sign?

(4) What is the third sign?

(5) Note the caution St. John of the Cross makes about the occurrence of these signs.

(6) Why is one or two of the signs insufficient evidence of the time to leave discursive prayer?

(7) What does John counsel about the third sign--the loving knowledge of God?

Chapter 14

(1-2) What are the two reasons for requiring spiritual persons to give up sensory meditation when the three signs are present?

(3) Why does the desire of others for them to meditate cause displeasure in those who are ready to move on?

(4) What is "the rind of the fruit" that St. John of the Cross refers to in this passage?

(6) List the two faculties St. John talks about at the end of this passage. Keep them in mind as you read the next section. He will make frequent reference to them.

(7) What is the difference between the use of the two faculties like?

(8-9) Compare the purity of knowledge in section 8 with the passage about the ray of light in section 9. What is John trying to tell us in these two passages?

(10-11) What do the purity and simplicity of knowledge cause in the intellect and soul? What is the result? Are persons working with this knowledge actually idle?

(12) Why is forgetfulness less frequent than might otherwise be the case?

Chapter 15

(1) What does St. John of the Cross say about discursive meditation among proficients? What can one expect until one becomes proficient in contemplation?

(2) How can meditation help at this point in time?

(3) Why should one abandon the attempt at discursive meditation when one enters into a state of contemplation?

(4) Why is the light never infused while one still has hold of tangible images and ideas?

(5) What should one do when one cannot meditate? Why?

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via Garrigou-Lagrange:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

This is why Abbot Moses says: "Fasts, vigils, meditation on Holy Scripture, nudity, and the privation of external goods are not perfections, but instruments or means of perfection. It is not in them that perfection consists, but by them that one obtains it.

Sometimes I know I am inclined to substitute the means for the end. That is, prayer becomes an end in itself because it is a time of quiet with or without God. Prayer is an important means of communication which should result in the end of loving God more. Or so I interpret this passage.

Human life seems filled with this kind of substitution. How many people substitute excessive alcohol, eating, spending, movies, sex, or anything else for the real and true End that will fill all of that vast and empty interior space. We are incapable of keeping ends and means straight; what is more, we often substitute poor means for good ones. I know that I need to be thinking a lot more about the End and the means that I suppose employ to try to get there. These means are often my own works and they can advance me only so far down that path. It is time to trust a great deal more in Divine Providence and to listen for the "still, small voice," that tells us very clearly what we ought to be doing, if we only give it the time.

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It is my contention that it is possible for a lay person to live a contemplative life.

What does this strange blending look like? What form does it take and what does it entail for the soul so disposed.

I think we could all agree that it would be possible for most souls to achieve at least the lower degree of contemplation. Not all do it, but it seems that such contemplation is the highest rung on the ladder of what we can obtain "through our own efforts aided by sustaining grace."

Perhaps we should spend a moment thinking about what the contemplative life requires from the person. As I tried to suggest in Martha and Mary: A Speculation, I think much of our understanding of the contemplative life is colored by a misunderstanding of the story of Martha and Mary. I think many of us read this story to mean that the active life is necessarily opposed to the contemplative life. As I said in the cited post, I do not think that is the message we are supposed to garner from the story. However, that understanding presents several problems that must be addressed.

To start with, unless we are extraordinary, as is the case of St. Thérèse and the Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, very few of us are born contemplative. That is, we all enter life in the mode of active life. If it were true that the active life was in some way a substantive barrier to the contemplative life, then it would be impossible to achieve it. St. Thomas Aquinas suggests that the active life may be at once a hindrance to some aspects of the contemplative life and not a hindrance. I won't go into his arguments because frankly I don't think I understand them thoroughly. But suffice to say that while an active life might present a hindrance, it does not constitute a barrier to the contemplative life.

A second problem that is commonly noted is that somehow a contemplative life requires us to withdraw from all the responsibilities of our present state. Once again, I believe this proceeds from a misunderstanding of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at the Lord's feet musing, and Martha works. Mary has withdrawn from the responsibility of social engagement and hospitality and has entered into close communion with the Lord.

Well, I think we can readily see the error of this view. Mary is, in fact, actively offering what hospitality really requires--presence. Hospitality isn't merely about food and shelter, although those are important constitutive parts of hospitality, but it is about being present to the person to home hospitality offers in a fundamental, grounded way. You are there to listen, to hear, to console, to advise, to do what is necessary so that the person feels at home. It was this form of hospitality that Mary offered to Jesus. Do we really think that she wasn't already feeling bad that she wasn't helping Martha? Could she really sit there and ignore entirely the hubbub surrounding her as preparations were made for dinner? When Martha accused Mary before the Lord, would we say that Mary's heart did not drop, recognizing the truth of what Martha was saying? Isn't that perhaps part of the reason for the gentle rebuke that the Lord delivers to Martha? More, after the Lord continued His journey, are we to suppose that Mary sat around the house all day mooning about how nice it was to talk to Him.

I don't think that is what we are to take away from the story. Now, perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I believe we are to see Mary as someone who knows when to work and when to be still. She has a base-level understanding of what it means to be hospitable. She has the urge to serve, but curtails her own desire to hear what it is the Lord wishes her to hear. Martha, on the other hand, extremely well-intentioned, hasn't quite caught on to the idea that there is a time for bustle and activity and a time for quiet reflection and spending time with your guests. More, Martha hasn't quite learned what it means to serve with joy and love and to love the opportunity to serve selflessly. She could have prepared the dinner AND still have been present to the Lord, she simply didn't know how; nor did she fully understand the importance of doing so.

Many of us are in a "Martha" state of life. Sometimes I can't quite see how to integrate my activity and my prayer-- my service to others and my spending time with the Lord. I know that by serving others I AM spending time with God, but because He is not necessarily foremost in my mind in the time of service, it doesn't really "count." I think, to some extent we all suffer from the same mindset.

(Unfortunately, time has come to move on to other matters. This evening I have a great deal of work to make up for so this will be continued later.)

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When I have used the term in the past, I must admit to having in mind infused contemplation. Perhaps later I will get to my reasoning for that. However, I must admit that not everyone makes it there, nor is everyone likely to--not everyone is called to endure the trials that would result in infused contemplation. That said, I must also say, that we are all, nonetheless invited to it, and we will all eventually participate in it (assuming that we make it to Heaven.)

By contemplation, I mean wordless prayer that raises the soul to God to gaze upon the beloved and to simply be present to the One who loves us. I believe that everyone could and should strive to obtain acquired contemplation, sometimes called "resting in the Lord," in which our intellectual labors have been brought to perfection and now the spirit labors on.

I also must side with Garrigou-Lagrange who said (I think and I paraphrase), "Surely God would not call souls to this high state of prayer only to turn them away from the table." Implying that infused contemplation while a gift given at God's discretion, is not one that is arbitrarily withheld. Most souls that make it to the stage of acquired contemplation are ready for infused contemplation; however, they still may not make it. This they fail to do for any number of reasons, most of them related to their own imperfection and ignorance of how to proceed. But I also not that it is entirely plausible that there could be such a grave defect in a soul that God must proceed exceedingly slowly so as not to harm it. He may indeed need to proceed so slowly that the person would die a natural death of old age before achieving infused contemplation. This in no way condemns the frail soul--it is simply a reality of spiritual life.

To conclude--when I use the word contemplation, I am more often than not speaking of infused contemplation, in which we actively rest from the labors of the intellect and bestow a long, loving gaze upon the Most High, the Father who loves us and calls to us.

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Four Questions Part 4


RC Asked:

Is the idea of a "vocational call" related to the concept of 'charism'?

Would you like to talk about the universal call to holiness as something more fundamental?

This actually needs very little response. A vocational call, when responded to precurs for the respondant the charisms of that call. (Or so I think--it is probably a good deal more complicated.)

And I just second the notion that the universal call to holiness is above all of this. However, I think the universal call to holiness carries within it a certain obligation to exert ourselves in the realm of prayer; perhaps to the point of obtaining acquired contemplation. Again, all is gift, it isn't as though we achieve these things through ourselves. Everything we receive, we receive as pure gift, even though the work we do is meritorious.

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Psalm Prayer


I have prayed this some two-hundred times (or thereabouts) since I began recitation of the Liturgy of hours and this morning it spoke to me:

Psalm Prayer for the Third Psalm of Morning Prayer, Thursday Week III

God, you are the source of all holines. Though no one can see yu and live, you give life most generously and in an even greater way restore it. Sanctify your priests through your life-giving Word, and consecrate your people in his blood until our eyes see your face.

What broke through my early-morning haze was that last phrase "and consecrate your people in his blood until our eyes see your face." There is something about the notion of "our eyes" seeing "your face" that engages the imagination and stirs sluggish hope to rouse Charity to ardor. That is the goal, ultimately. In Heaven we shall see His Holy face and we shall rejoice in it knowing that we are in His presence for all eternity, that we will not fall like the angels, because we've already been given our chance at that in this lifetime. We shall know God, talk to Him face to face. Think of that. In Isaiah we see that not even the great Seraphim do so; we are destined through the grace and the salvific gift of Christ on the Cross to see God face to face and to call Him Father. What joy, what utter joy. Words fail.

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I initially thought I would answer this question first because the answer seemed so strightforward and simple; but thinking about it caused me to pause. The more I know of vocations the less clear any answer about them seems to be.

For example, one might think that the vocation of St. Thérèse was that of a Carmelite Nun. But late in life she is quoted as saying, "My vocation is love, love at the heart of the church." She spent much of her vocational life searching for her vocation.

So, the real answer to this question is that in my limited understanding, the contemplative life is an aspect of a wider vocation--that of religious, or married. I don't know if it exists by itself as a vocation, but it seems that every contemplative I'm aware of had a larger view of their vocation, that contemplation was part of what they did and were, but not the entirety.

So, this unsatisfactory response is as close as I can come to a definitive answer. Sorry, but this requires one with far greater knowledge and understanding of the meaning of vocation than I have to answer it. I can only answer from one side and say that it certainly can be part of a vocation. As to whether it constitutes a vocation in and of itself, I will trust wiser minds and those with more extensive knowledge to inform all of us.

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from the Online Catholic Encyclopedia, 1914

from the article on Contemplation

St. Alphonsus Liguori, echoing his predecessors, defines it thus: "At the end of a certain time ordinary meditation produces what is called acquired contemplation, which consists in seeing at a simple glance the truths which could previously be discovered only through prolonged discourse" (Homo apostolicus, Appendix I, No. 7).

Higher contemplation

To distinguish it from acquired contemplation mystical union is called intuitive, passive, extraordinary, or higher contemplation. St. Teresa designates it simply as contemplation, without any qualification. Mystical graces may be divided into two groups, according to the nature of the object contemplated. The states of the first group are characterized by the fact that it is God, and God only, who manifests Himself; these are called mystical union. In the second group the manifestation is of a created object, as, for example, when one beholds the humanity of Christ or an angel or a future event, etc. These are visions (of created things) and revelations. To these belong miraculous bodily phenomena which are sometimes observed in ecstatics.

Here we have the beginnings of the distinction between acquired contemplation and infused contemplation. You can see that the matter of definitions is not nearly so clear-cut, neat and precise as it might be. However, all of these senses of contemplation are necessary to understand what might be meant by the statement that "everyone is called to contemplation."

To be completely honest, it is my personal belief that a great many more people might achieve both infused contemplation and even mystical Union and spiritual marriage were they inclined to accept the invitation and graces offered toward these ends. Obviously, I cannot know this; however, St. John of the Cross seems also to think it true because many times he addresses those who are "stuck" in a level of prayer and who do not advance because of lack of knowledge about how to effect this advance. But I get ahead of myself. This must all be dealt with in turn, and first we need to complete the definitions. However, this evening or tomorrow I may do a combined treatement of the thrid and fourth questions. The nature of these questions lends itself to such a combined consideration.

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Now we approach formal definitions that come closer to the heart of what we are talking about.

I start with the least formal of these, but one that gives a very good intuitive feel for what it is about. This is Tom of Disputations paraphrase of Fr. William McNamara. Comtemplation is "a long, lingering, loving look at the real."

An excellent start, if a little nebulous.

Here is a portion of Evelyn Underhill's magistgerial discussion. We have here not so much a definition but a delineation of what contemplation is NOT.

from Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness
Evelyn Underhill

Here, the most important work has been done in France; and especially by the Abbé Bremond, whose “Prière et Poésie” and “Introduction a la Philosophie de la Prière”—based on a vast acquaintance with mystical literature—mark, I believe, the beginning of a new understanding of the character of contemplation. The Thomist philosophy of Maritain, and the psychological researches of Maréchal, tend to support this developing view of the mystical experience, even in its elementary forms, as an activity of the transcendental self; genuinely supernatural, yet not necessarily involving any abnormal manifestations, and linked by the ascending “degrees of prayer” with the subject’s “ordinary” religious life. This disentangling of the substance of mysticism from the psycho-physical accidents of trance, ecstasy, vision and other abnormal phenomena which often accompany it, and its vindication as something which gives the self a genuine knowledge of transcendental Reality—with its accompanying demonstration of the soberness and sanity of the greatest contemplative saints—is the last of the beneficent changes which have transformed our study of the mystics.

Later in the same work we find this:

This act of perfect concentration, 49 the passionate focussing of the self upon one point, when it is applied “with a naked intent” to real and transcendental things, constitutes in the technical language of mysticism the state of recollection: 64 a condition which is peculiarly characteristic of the mystical consciousness, and is the necessary prelude of pure contemplation, that state in which the mystic enters into communion with Reality.

(Emphasis added to accentuate what I thnk Underhill's "definition" of contemplation entails.) In the following paragraphs, quoted at length here for future reference, Underhill has some interesting points to make regarding the contemplative and the goal of contemplation.

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I think the best way for me to approach this question is to give some quotes from others that begin to describe at least subjectively what contemplation is and cap it with a formal definition. Then I will try to say what I mean when I use the word--a combination of subjective experience and formal definition.

Once again, Neil's quotations below provide and nice beginning to our discussion. Coming from Protestant writers, they show that the experience of contemplation is not confined to vowed religious or even to Catholics alone; not that anyone implied they were. But sometimes I think that these forms of prayer are seen as so abstruse as to transcend any ordinary individual's ability. Well, of course they do, because they come from God; however, I do believe God invites everyone into at least some aspects of this form of prayer.

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Before I have even started, I discover four questions or clarifications necessary--an ample demonstration of the drawbacks of the blog for something of this nature. Neverhteless, the questions asked are both intriguing and important. Because I have time to answer only one, and because Neil's comment in the post below goes a long way toward answering it (even though the quotes are about contemplation, they also seem to speak of Union) --I will start with Rob's question about "What do I mean when I say Union with God."

This is an incredibly complex and difficult question. I may only get to start to answer it. If so, I'll start with the succinct version of the most persuasive definition I know: when we reach Divine Union, we "become God by participation."

Now let me extend the explanation by a quote of some length from St. John of the Cross who explains far better what is meant by this. Please forgive the rather difficult E. Allison Peers translation (the only one presently available on the web) and pay particular attention to paragraph six. I reproduce the entire chapter in the extended entry to avoid long scrolling for those who are just looking for an overview.

(I know the text is long, but it is worth your attention. If too much, just focus on paragraph six.)

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Yesterday I wrote

A contemplative is one whose prayer life is centered around or focused toward contemplation of God, ultimately with the goal of Union with God.

This is an inaccurate representation of my thought. If contemplation is undertaken with some sort of ulterior motive no matter how good, i.e. Union with God, it strikes me rather as the Pharises's prayer which is its own reward and does not result in the righteousness of the sinner. No, the true "goal" of contemplation is spending time with the Lord. The ultimate result of perfect contemplation for those called to it would be Union with God. But to set one's eyes on Union with God as the goal is somehow overlooking the great good that comes of spending time with the Lord. Contemplation is, in fact, its own end. What it may result in is God's gift and graciousness, but not something that can somehow be earned or wresteled away from God no matter how great the effort.

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I'd like to start my discussion of contemplation by explaining, if not precisely defining what I mean by "a contemplative" or "contemplative life" because it may be quite different than other understandings of the same formulations used by others. By the rule of my order all Carmelites are called to a contemplative life. The Carmelite vocation is a contemplative vocation for all of the members of its family. This may seem unusual because you may think of a contemplative as a vowed religious--and these are certainly contained within the Carmelite family. But the family also embraces those who are not vowed. And even those not vowed are called to the contemplative vocation. A contemplative is one whose prayer life is centered around or focused toward contemplation of God , ultimately with the goal of Union with God. Now this may be expressed differently, and perhaps the Union with God part of this vocation is unique to Carmelites. (Although I tend to think not. It would seem to me that while the terminology might be different, it would not be out of order to think that St. Catherine of Siena--a Third Order Dominican--and thus technically not a vowed religious--achieved this state even if it were expressed in other terminology.) Thus a contemplative is any person who is drawn to contemplate God and who acts upon that impulse, which issues from God Himself.

Now, it is my belief that we are all called to be contemplatives according to the definition I have just offered. But even that needs explanation. What I mean when I say "called to be contemplatives" is that God issues the invitation as a blanket invitation to everyone. Everyone is invited to the party. Amongst all those invitees are groups that God has not only invited, but in a very special way, He has urged them to come to the party. These include the vowed religious contemplatives and the lay contemplatives of orders that have such. These are special invitations or vocations. Not everyone has a contemplative vocation. However, everyone does have an invitation from God to come closer, to spend some time in the throne-room, to--as St. Thérèse so marvelously put it--spend some time on Papa's knee. I think that everyone who answers this call, through grace and the Holy Spirit, can achieve the state of Union with God. For example, I think several Protestant Mystics--George Fox and William Law, among them, achieved the state we might refer to as Union with God. I could be incorrect, but their writings suggest an intimate knowledge of the things of God that comes from one who has achieved such union. Thus I would say, all are called or invited to contemplation, some few are specially urged toward it, but the graces are there for all. We know that we needn't belong to a special order or special way of prayer to achieve contemplation or union because it seems from St. Paul's writing that he was in this state. At the time of St. Paul there were no religious orders as such (at least in infant Christianity.)

So, I hope I have established that (1) there is a universal call to contemplation; (2) there is a separate, clearly definied vocational call to a contemplative life. Anyone who answers (1) could, through grace and the Holy Spirit, lead a contemplative life and achieve union with God, even though they do not belong to any particular order.

Let's stop here for the moment and see if there are any strong objections to or any questions about what I have stated thus far. I shouldn't think that there would be because all of this is pretty straight forward; however, I think it useful to let you know what I have in mind when I use language in a certain way. Because I tend more to metaphorical language, it would be easy to interpret "all are called to contemplation" to be the equivalent of "all are called to a lay relgious vocation." I hope that I have clarified precisely what I do mean by that statement.

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Contemplation Again

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Tom of Disputations says:

It might be helpful to distinguish between "living in the presence of God," where one's heart is lifted toward God even as one goes about daily life, and "ascending to God," where the soul is more or less captivated by God Himself and any awareness of daily life dims or fades away entirely.

Ascending to God is an attenuated awareness of reality? We call that psychosis, not contemplation. And yet this seems so popular a misconception of what contemplation truly is. Do we really think that the contemplative Saint has some sort of etiolated, breathless, and ethereal relationship with the world? Is the contemplative Saint a wan and otherworldly figure floating through this life just waiting for the gates of heaven to open, unaware, unseeing, unfeeling, a ghost-like wraith? That's not a saint, that's just weird.

If anything, because the contemplative saint has the right ordering of priorities and duties, and the saint that has experienced Union with God becomes God by participation (whatever that means) it would seem that they would see reality as more real. They would love things as God loves them (it would seem.) Their relationship with reality would be stronger, not weaker. They would be able to say as St. Teresa did in advising her nuns, "If you think you are having visions, perhaps you ought to eat more." They would dance in the courtyard and play tambourine. They would sit under the stars of an Andalusian night and see the splendid handiwork of God and love Him all the more for it.

Contemplation is not about breaking away from reality and creation, it is about embracing it in its right and proper order. It is about loving things with the love due them and not with disordered affection. The true contemplative lives constantly in the presence and perhaps even in the heart of God, but he is no less a human being here on Earth. Think of St. Francis among the animals, the canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. This expresses the fullness of the contemplative life. We mustn't think of it as some sort of attenuation of presence in the world. It is a reification of God's love for the world. He gives us the contemplatives so that we can see what reality is all about. They are our examples of how truly to look at the world.

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We all know the story of Martha and Mary--how Mary chose "the better part." But why is that so? Didn't the Lord applaud the woman who has anointing his feet? Didn't He tell us that "whatsoever we do for one of these the least of His little ones, that we do unto Him?" Why should Mary have the better part.

Here is what I think the tale is about. Many make it out to be about the difference between the active life and the contemplative life, making the common mistake that contemplation=utter inaction. What I think this is about is where the heart is. Mary is completely lost in Jesus's words, utterly abandoned to Him, listening carefully and simply loving Him.

Martha on the other hand is completely wrapped up in herself, in societal expectaions, in how much she has to do to put on a "good show" for the Lord and how little help she is getting from that lazy-butt sister who's just lolling about listening where she oughtn't to be rather than helping in the kitchen.

If Martha had partaken of the "better part" she need not necessarily have sat at Jesus' feet. If she were truly lost in Jesus, she could just as easily have set a table for fifty and roasted a lamb without so much as thinking about asking for help. She would have been so wrapped up in the wonderful privilege of service, it would not have occurred to her to give the job to someone else. After all, this is what the Lord appointed for her to do, and do it she would with all her heart.

The contemplative life is not an inactive life. Nearly every contemplative I am aware of served an active life of service to a community. Some did solid, substantive physical labor, others swept floors in a convent, made soup, tended to the sick in their communities. A cloistered life is not a life of utter inaction. There are still abundant corporal and spiritual works of mercy to be performed.

Where do we get the notion that a contemplative spends all day lolling about in some sort of opium-dream of divinity? Why do we consistently ignore the fact that great contemplatives like St. Teresa of Avila (who erected 32 "Foundations" or convents in her lifetime), St. Catherine of Siena (who traveled to Avignon to persuade the Pope in Exile to return to his rightful see in Rome), Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Katherine Drexel (who built, bought, and/or establish hospitals and schools for underprivileged persons of color and Native Americans) all spent tremendously active lives. They did not sit around waiting for visions. They didn't carefully walk through darkened corridors so as not to disturb the Divine influence that was showering down upon them.

And this only makes sense. If we read our Bibles carefully (or even not-so-carefully) we hear James telling us that faith without works is dead. How can a contemplative not have faith? Surely then there must be works. Yes the works are often in the form of prayers, but they are also often in the forms of work that we couldn't even begin to think of doing.

Being contemplative perfects union with God. All the works that come from a contemplative in this state are more substantive works because they have their origin at a level above personal desire or volition; they spring from utter abandoment and willingness to do God's appointed work for them.

So I read Martha and Mary to be not about sitting and listening or working, but to be about how we go about either listening or doing our work. If in the course of our work all we think about is how much work it is and how unappreciated it is, and how we ought to have someone helping us, and dadgummit that's the last time I'm going to do something for this groups of ingrates, we are obviously not setting our hearts on the goal of pleasing God. We are being Marthas, complaining to God about how unappreciated and unhelped we are.

But if we set about even the most minor or menial task--vacuuming the floors, picking up dirty clothes (that we've told that spouse/those kids about ten thousand times) without a single hitch in the hymn we're singing, in perfect happiness at doing what needs done in order to life out God's will for us, then we are at once active and contemplative. We are living the life of Mary in the midst of our activity. THAT is what the contemplative life is about. It isn't about setting aside thirty hours to do nothing but stare at the wall of our bedroom or about becoming holy while our children go without meals.

The complete Christian life is never an either/or it is always some form of both/and. The great saints knew this and they told us through their written works and through their lives. We have two mirrors by which to see them--too often we only look at one.

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Saying Nada in Dominican


Elsewhere Tom and I have been carrying on an extended dialogue about whether everyone is called to the contemplative life, and IF that is true, is it possible for persons with vocations that require a great deal of preoccupation with everyday matters to fulfill the call.

I quote here from a lesser known work of St. Thomas Aquinas:

from The Ways of God: for meditation and prayer
St. Thomas Aquinas

And last and above all, let us take tender care of God Himself, doing everywhere and always that which He most desires us to do and that for which He has particularly predestined us.

We must, therefore, as much as possible, flee all that disturbs us, for grace cannot dwell in an agitated soul. But to keep inner peace we need ardent devotion to God and love "as strong as death," because these have in us an effect like death, so that, seeing the evil deeds of our neighbor, we do not see them; hearing words that could harm us or that are said against us, we do not hear them; and so our heart is not occupied with these things.

We must, in imitation of David, be like the blind, the deaf, and the dumb, and like men without feeling. "But I as a deaf man heard not, and as a dumb man not opening his mouth."

Let us, then, give ourselves up faithfully and with fervor to the things of God. . .

(much later)

We also should take every care to conduct each of our activities as well as we can, doing them by the virtue of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with all the desire of the Church Triumphant and Militant, and in the name of our Creator, as though our entire salvation and the praise of God and the welfare of all creation depended upon a single act that we do, as if we should never again do a like act, or never again do another act at all afterward.

For each time that an extraneous thought, a turning of the soul toward something else, intoduces itself into our actions, the spirit relaxes in its present work.

Tell me that the middle two paragraphs don't prefigure St. John of the Cross's discussions of "nights of the soul!" It is quite clear that St. Thomas enunciated and described the doctrine, at least in outline. I don't know his work well enough to know if this is expanded upon elsewhere. But here, he very clearly describes what "nada" means. Do not care for the things of the world, but for God Himself alone, and demonstrate that care by living out His will in the particular vocation to which you were called from before time.

Union with God proceeds from three main streams. The most important of these is Charity because it is the source and the strength of the other two. The other are humility and obedience. We cannot achieve union with God as married persons by abandoning our spouses and children and living on a mountain top--this is grave sin and disobedience, and kind of spiritual pride and avarice. Instead, the only path for sanctity is the path that God has laid out for us within our vocation. We must serve and love our families. Now, we know that God makes possible to everyone the closest possible approach. So it follows that union with God is possible within the vocation of marriage. That the living out of abandonment will necessarily present a different face than that of living out a religious vocation goes without saying. But because God calls us to perfection from within our lives and vocations, perfection must perforce be possible from that place. It is the responsibility and the privilege of each of us to attain perfection. Jesus commanded it, it is possible through grace and the merits given us for our works within our vocation.

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For those "head of the household" types some strong words from Richard Baxter:


by Richard Baxter

He that will expect duty or comfort from his wife, must be faithful in doing the duty of a husband. The failing of yourselves in your own duty, may cause the failing of another to you, or at least in some other way as much afflict you, and will be bitterer to you in the end, than if a hundred failed their duty to you. A good husband will either make a good wife, or easily and profitably endure a bad one. I shall therefore give you directions for your own part of duty, as that which your happiness is most concerned in.

Direct. I. The husband must undertake the principal part of the government of the whole family, even of the wife herself. And therefore, I. He must labor to be fit and able for that government which he undertakes. This ability consists, 1. In holiness and spiritual wisdom, that he may be acquainted with the end to which he is to conduct them, and the rule by which he is to guide them, and the principal works which they are to do. An ungodly, irreligious man is both a stranger and an enemy to the chief part of family government. 2. His ability consists in a due acquaintance with the works of his calling, and the labors in which his servants are to be employed. For he that is utterly unacquainted with their business, will be very unfit to govern them in it: unless he commit that part of their government to his wife, or a steward that is acquainted with it. 3. And he must be acquainted both with the common temper and infirmities of mankind, that he may know how much is to be borne with, and also with the particular temper, and faults, and virtues of those whom he is to govern. 4. And he must have prudence, to direct himself in all his carriage to them; and justice, to deal with everyone as they deserve; and love, to do them all the good he can, for soul and body. II. And being thus able, he must make it his daily work, and especially be sure to govern himself well, that his example may be part of his government of others.

Direct. II. The husband must so unite authority and love, that neither of them be omitted or concealed, but both be exercised and maintained. Love must not be exercised so imprudently as to destroy the exercise of authority; and authority must not be exercised over a wife so magisterially and imperiously, as to destroy the exercise of love. As your love must be a governing love, so your commands must all be loving commands. Lose not your authority; for that will but disable you from doing the office of a husband to your wife, or of a master to your servants. Yet must it be maintained by no means inconsistent with conjugal love; and therefore not by fierceness or cruelty, by threats or stripes (unless by distraction or loss of reason, the cease to be capable of the carriage otherwise due to a wife). There are many cases of equality in which authority is not to be exercised; but there is no case of inequality or unworthiness so great, in which conjugal love is not to be exercised; and therefore nothing must exclude it.

Direct. III. It is the duty of husbands to preserve the authority of their wives, over the children and servants of the family. For they are joint governors with them over all the inferiors. And the infirmities of women are apt many times to expose them to contempt: so that servants and children will be apt to slight them, and disobey them, if the husband interpose not to preserve their honor and authority. Yet this must be done with cautions as these: 1. Justify not any error, vice, or weakness of your wives. They may be concealed or excused as far as may be, but never owned or defended. 2. Urge not obedience to any unlawful of theirs. No one hath authority to contradict the law of God, or disoblige any form of his government. You will but diminish your own authority with persons of any understanding, if you justify any thing that is against God's authority. But if the thing commanded be lawful, though it may have some inconveniences, you must rebuke the disobedience of inferiors, and not suffer them to slight the commands of your wives, nor to set their own reason and wills against them, and say, We will not do it. How can they help you in government, if you suffer them to be disobeyed?

I don't know how much of this I agree with, but I do profoundly agree that if a man is to be the head of the household he must earn the respect due that head and not demand it without having demonstrated that he is worthy of it. Too many houses are led by bullying, brutish, unkind men who view wives and children as little more than objects and obstacles. Either trophies or burdens. I know that isn't true among St. Blog's men, but too much of this strain still comes through from the culture. What I like about Baxter's writing is that he doesn't posit up-front that respect is due a tyrant and a bully. He says in a straightforward way, men should lead the household both in domestic matters and in spiritual matters.

If one is of this opinion (and I don't know where I stand) I consider it essential to remember not just the "privileges of power" but the duties and responsibilities of a loving husband and father. If we are to take upon ourselves the leadership of family it should be with an undersanding of what family is and what that leadership entails.

For those interested, the complete excerpt may be found here.

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Father Lagrange's book is one of those in which the footnotes occasionally exceed the length of the text above. And in a passage regarding how to find union with God, we find this remarkable excerpt from a letter:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange O.P.

[here quoting an anonymous Novice mistress]

". . . In my opinion, many souls remain at the door of the true life because they lack instruction and are deluded in believing that meditation alone is a sure state. Ordinarily when one enters our monasteries with the required dispositions. . . and when one strives seriously to acquire the virtues, the soul is, in a very short time, subjected by God to aridity and powerlessness, the prelude of the passive purifications. It is almost impossible to make those who have been trained according to the method of reasoned meditation believe that this state is good, and that it is made to lead them to the divine union. They do not understand the teaching of St. John of the Cross: 'To apply oneself at this time to the comprehension and consideration of particular objects, were they ever so spiritual, would be to place an obstacle int he way of the general, subtle, and simple light of the spirit.; it would be to overcloud one's spirit. . . .'

"Those who cling to meditation are still waiting after thirty years and more of religious life for someone to lift them up and show them what they are still seeking. They lead a colorless and dull spiritual life. In the contemplative life the secret of happiness is in knowng how to live this life under the eye of God.. . .

Every soul that is even slightly contemplative, instinctively seeks to rid itself of everything personal and places no value on it. . . ."

I have three reasons for quoting this passage. The first is to show that spiritual direction is almost essential at some point along the way. Perhaps one can struggle through much of the experience by oneself, but eventually there comes a time when one requires help to man the rudder and keep the ship on course.

The second is to note that the contemplative life seems to come very rapidly (to the cloistered) who have the proper disposition and desire. I think this extends to the lay life, but perhaps requires more time given that one has other repsonsibilities and vocations to attend to. Persons who are married and who have children have a primary responsibility to their spouses and children. This is their primary vocation and one better "achieves perfection" through obedience to the necessity of one's calling than through all the straining at the bit with concomittant neglect of one's spouse and child. Obedience and humility seem to be virtues very highly prized by God, possibly because they foster a greater life of charity. Thus, in the married state, one sacrifices to some extent, what one would rather do (direct ascent to God) to what one is required (and in my case, at least, priveleged and overjoyed) to do. So those attending to families should feel no remorse at this temporary delay. The prayer of responsibly iiving out one's vocation will ultimately further union when the time comes.

The third reason for quoting the passage is in the last sentence. It seems natural and right that the contemplative soul, the soul seeking constant communion and communication with God, would naturally move toward shedding the obstacles that stand in the way of that Union. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange goes through a great deal of effort to show that this has been the teaching from St. Paul on; that St. John of the Cross is perhaps a more precise articulator of the mechanisms and the meanings of some of the stages of prayer, but that the doctrine springs from the wells of Sacred Scripture itself, and thus, ultimately the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I find this interesting to reflect upon because it verifies my own observations regarding this. And it seems to be true of every Christian tradition.

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

We shall demonstrate that this doctrine of St. John of the Cross, [concerning the unitive way as uniate and the perfection of Christian Charity, hence the destination of all Christians] while clarifying that of the great doctors who preceded him, remains perfectly conformable to their teaching, and that it is contained in the evangelical beatitudes. These propose to us Christian perfection in all its grandeur, and are certainly not inferior in elevation to what the author of The Spiritual Canticle has written. . . .

Is a special vocation necessary to reach the mystical life? In principle no. "The grace of the virtues and of the gifts" suffices in itself by its normal development to dispose us to the mystical life, and mystical contemplation is necessary for the full perfection of Christian life. But in fact, for lack of certain condo\itions which at times are independent of our will, even generous souls would attain contemplation only after a longer space of time than the ordinary span of life; just as some minds, which are capable of a superior intellectual development, never reach it for lack of certain conditions.

Now, it remains to be seen if Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange actually accomplishes what he sets out to do; however, his evidences thus far have been persuasive, if not conclusive.

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Who'd have thought that the person who penned these immortal lyrics:

Because the Night
Patty Smith

Take me now baby here as I am
Hold me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hands
Take my hand come undercover
They can't hurt you now,
Can't hurt you now, can't hurt you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to us

started her work because of the man who penned this:

from "Le Bateau Ivre"
Arthur Rimbaud

Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles,
Je ne me sentais plus tiré par les haleurs :
Des Peaux-Rouges criards les avaient pris pour cibles
Les ayant cloués nus aux poteaux de couleurs.

J'étais insoucieux de tous les équipages,
Porteur de blés flamands et de cotons anglais.
Quand avec mes haleurs ont fini ces tapages
Les Fleuves m'ont laissé descendre où je voulais.

Dans les clapotements furieux des marées,
Moi, l'autre hiver, plus sourd que les cerveaux d'enfants,
Je courus ! Et les Péninsules démarrées
N'ont pas subi tohu-bohus plus triomphants.

La tempête a béni mes éveils maritimes.
Plus léger qu'un bouchon j'ai dansé sur les flots
Qu'on appelle rouleurs éternels de victimes,
Dix nuits, sans regretter l'oeil niais des falots !

Plus douce qu'aux enfants la chair des pommes sûres,
L'eau verte pénétra ma coque de sapin
Et des taches de vins bleus et des vomissures
Me lava, dispersant gouvernail et grappin.

"The Drunken Boat" [Le Bateau ivre] (1871)

As I was floating down impassive Rivers,
I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers:
gaudy Redskins had taken them for targets,
nailing them naked to coloured stakes.

I cared nothing for all my crews,
carrying Flemish wheat or English cotton.
When, along with my haulers, those uproars stopped,
the Rivers let me sail downstream where I pleased.

Into the ferocious tide-rips, last winter,
more absorbed than the minds of children, I ran!
And the unmoored Peninsulas never
endured more triumphant clamourings.

The storm made bliss of my sea-borne awakenings.
Lighter than a cork, I danced on the waves
which men call the eternal rollers of victims,
for ten nights, without once missing the foolish eye of the harbor lights!

Sweeter than the flesh of sour apples to children,
the green water penetrated my pinewood hull
and washed me clean of the bluish wine-stains
and the splashes of vomit, carrying away both rudder and anchor.

And what would either the poet laureate of the punks or the premier French poet claimed by the GLB have to teach us about Jesus?

I wouldn't think they would have much to say. However, as I was listening to an interview this morning on NPR, Ms. Smith had something very thought-provoking to say. She said that she started writing her poetry and doing her work because she wanted to do for others what Arthur Rimbaud and Bob Dylan had done for her. She consciously set about providing for others a role-model. Not for everyone mind, but for a small portion of the population.

It occurred to me, what if every Christian thought that way? What if each of us set about deliberately becoming for others what Jesus is to us? In other words, what might happen if we were to live out our baptismal promises and our Easter gift? We could serve as Jesus served us. We could bring people to knowledge of God. (Mind you all of this through grace, but nevertheless with us as active and willing partiipants.)

Wouldn't that transform the world? Rather than bickering and dickering and criticizing and complaining, what if we set about doing something to change the way things were? What if we helped only one person a day? What if we were of service only to a single person in our whole lives? Still, we would have done part of what we are here to do. Our first vocation is to love God most of all. But after that, we are called to bring others to this same love.

So, what if we were to be like Patty Smith and delibereately set about changing the world through imitating our role model. What might happen if we were to behave as though we had internalized the reality of His resurrection? It is precisely the answer to this question that causes nearly every totalatarian regime to crack down on Christianity. If we were to live our belief rather than just talking it to death, we would change the world in a revolutionary way. A revolution of God's love, not of blood and violence.

Now, that is not to say that we would ever change human nature or solve all of te problems that face us. However, we'd be a lot closer than we are now.

So perhaps we should give just a little thought to letting Jesus be not only our guide but our model. And perhaps we should consider each day how we can reflect just a little bit more of Him and a little bit less of ourselves.

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On Prayer--From Thomas Watson


from Renovation of the Heart
Ballas Willard

The first fruit of love is the musing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. "When I awake, I am still with thee" (Ps. 139:18). The thoughts are as travellers in the mind. David's thought kept heaven-road, "I am still with Thee." God is the treasure and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are the fled aloft? Do we contmplate Christ and glory? Oh, how far are they from being lovers of Gof, who scarcely ever think of God! (Ps. 10:4). A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts. He never thinks of God unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.

For more of Thomas Watson, visit this site. You'll be pleased to note that Rev. Watson is yet another of the Puritan divines. Like many, mystical in his approach to prayer and God.

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Rejecting the Extraordinary


from The Science of the Cross
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

The darkness that leads to God is, as we already know, faith. It is the only means that leads to union because it sets God before our eyes as he is: as infinite, as triune. Faith resembles God in that both blind the intellect and appear to it as darkness. "The greater one's faith the closer is one's union with God." Its darkness is indicated in sacred Scripture by the image of the cloud, in which God concealed himself in the Old Testament revelations: to Moses on the mount, in Solomon's temple. The light of truth is concealed in this darkness. It will "at once appear when faith reaches its end. . . by the ending of this mortal life."

Temporarily, though, we are totally dependent on faith. What it gives us -- contemplation-- is a dark and general knowledge; it stands in contrast not only to natural cognition but also to the various ways in which the intellect receives distinct and particular supernatural knowledge: visions, revelations, locutions, and spiritual feelings. The bodily eyes may be shown images and person from the other world: angels or saints, or unusual shining lights. One can hear extraordinary words, smell the sweetest fragrances, savor exquisite tastes, or feel extreme delight through the sense of touch. A person should refuse to attend to this, without seeking to examine whether it is good or bad. To be sure these things may come from God but there is no certainty about that. "God's self-communication is more appropriately given to the spirit than to the senses, and the soul finds greater security and make greater progress for through what is received by the sense, as a rule, great danger of deception exists. For the senses then believe they can arbitrate and judge spiritual matters, whereas they are as ignorant of them as a beast of burden is of rational matters."

Two points here: first, the image of the cloud occurs throughout all of mystical literature. One of the great early classics of English Spirituality is called The Cloud of Unknowing. This is a common inheritance.

Second: while God communicates to the soul all that the soul needs, because we are integrated creatures there is some fall-out perceived by the senses. That is, one may have visions or other extraordinary manifestations of what God is doing within. The best practice and soundest policy is to ignore the extraordinary without considering for a moment whether it is a sign of good or bad. Let go of it, let it slip by. The only important thing is continual focus on and ardent love of God. All of these things are extraneous, potential distractions; indeed, they are potential derailers of all the good that has come thus far. If one follows the senses and pays attention to these things as they occur, one strays once again from the giver and ends up pursuing the gift. The gift, as magnificent as it may be, is always less than the giver. The gift is merely a means to an end (or sometimes even less--a sign of the means), the Giver Himself is the end.

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from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy, O.Carm

You must desire to live in God's Presence

Many people remain strangers to God because they love unwisely the pleasures of the flesh and the world. They would love God, but they want the inordinate love of cretures, too. Having known the pleasures of this life, they find it almost impossible to give them up. They fear, and how foolishly, that nothing can take the place of human loves, money, sports, and carnal pleasures. But, if they were to set out to love God, to live in His presence, they would find their love of creatures gradually diminishing. To one who sees God, all created things are small. having loved a greater good, it is easy to forget the lesser: "If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing."

In this exercise, as in all progress in prayer, it is most important to persevere. We must have the desire to want to live in the presence of God. We must pray for this desire. We must not be satisfied only to be in the state of grace. We must continually bestir ourselves to realize that is is possible to come to deep love of God.

This is detachment from "the other side" as it were. It is the way to properly look at the process of detachment. I do not seek to leave the things of the world behind as a sort of arbitrary exercise in self-control. I love God first, most, always, and everything else falls away. It isn't as though I do not live in the world, but rather that my primary preoccupation is with God alone, the things of the world fall into perspective and are not nearly so important.

This is the way to view detachment. Increasing love of God causes the love of creatures to fade in importance. I love the giver and all of His gifts assume their proper dignity as created things, but they no longer control me or have sway over me.

Thus, the exercise of detachment isn't one to be performed for its own sake, but rather it is the natural outcome of a growing love of what is truly important. We all know the truth of this. In ordinary life as a hobby or occupation consumes more time, other things, formally quite prepossessing, fade into the background. How much more true when our central preoccupation is love of the Creator of all.

Detachment is the abstract ideal arrived at not by seeking to be detached, but by seeking God first, most, and always. I don't have to work at detachment; I must work at loving God through His grace. This leads quite naturally to separation from things of lesser importance. I will have found "the pearl of great price" and everything I have is too little to pay for it.

Father Kilian will go on to offer us five ways of detecting and loving God in our ordinary lives. These are all ways of communicating with God and, in a sense we are probably not used to, praying to Him.

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A Question for the Day

| | Comments (9)

And I am asking for insight and opinions:

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

There is a third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our own cross: with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering. . .

Do we co-redeem with Christ? Is this truly church teaching? I don't ask because it sounds bad, but because it sounds big and odd. I accept it as the truth and I struggle to understand how what I do contributes to the redemption of anyone. I could lead someone to Christ, but Christ is the redeemer. Am I co-redeemer in that capacity or in something more? This whole statement puzzles and excites me. To be a co-redeemer is such an opportunity and a challenge. At the same time I must truly understand what it means if I am to undertake and do it properly.

Any thoughts on this matter? Any insights? I'd appreciate anything anyone has to add to this--theological, spiritual, or just casual. Thanks.

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Disputations has a nicely timed meditation on the Cross and Stigmata to which I add three notes, one my own and two from my reading.

Of greatest importance in assuming the burdens of our daily crosses is that we seek to conform to them and we do not seek to make them conformable to us. A cross that is comfortable and suits my image of myself isn't really so much a cross that trains in holiness as it is a display piece.

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

[Quoting J. Aldewicz] Veronica responded to Christ's love with reparation; a reaparation especially admirable because it came from a helpless woman who did not fear the ire of the enemies of Christ. . . Will the image of Christ's face be imprinted on my soul s on the veil of Veronica?

from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

[Quoting St. Josemaria Escriva] It is not too late; nor is everything lost. . . even though to you it may seems so -- even though a thousand doom-laden voices keep saying so. Even though you are beseiged by the furious faces of mocking and jeering onlookers. You have come at a good time to take up the Cross: the Redemption is taking place now! And Jesus needs many more Simons like the man from Cyrene!

You might also spend some time with this during the week.

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Loving the God Who Loves Us


from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healy, O.Carm

Love arises from awareness of God's presence

It would be a mistake to think that recollection of God and belief in His presence are sufficient to make us His friend. For it is possible to think of God and hate Him. It is possible to study about God, learn all about His divine nature, believe all the divine truths, yet never raise our hearts to love Him. Our relationship with God would be like that of people who live in the same apartment house and remain total strangers. They know each other, talk about each other, but never speak to each other.

Therefore, if the practice of living in God's presence is to unite us to Him in love, it must do more than teach us to think of Him. It must teach us to be attracted to Him, to love and speak intimately with Him, as a child with his father. In other words, it must include acts of the will, affections, by which we long for God and speak to Him in short, affectionate prayers.

The exercise of the presence of God leads us to intimate love of God, and indirectly leads us away from sin and worldliness. The more we grow in this practice the less power the pleasures of the world have over us.

. . . Carried on by enthusiasm like that of Christ with His face set toward Jerusalem and Calvary, outstripping His Apostles on the road, [Cf. Mark 10:32] the soul that has learned to live in God's presence looks continually toward God, unperturbed by the allurements of the passing pleasures of life.

Father Kilian speaks of Brother Lawrence's practice of the presence of God. As yet he has not given clear guidelines about how to do this on a regular basis, but he has laid out the principles by which we should WANT to do this.

God loves us. We cannot hear that enough, nor can we possibly make it real enough in our lives and in the lives of those around us. It is too important a reality to dismiss easily. Every passage of the Bible, every word, breathes out His love to us. The voices of the Saints remind us endlessly that God loves us. But we often feel too unlovable for anyone to pay special attention to us. We feel too small, too immersed in sin, too dirty. But what father or mother ceases to love an infant because she or he has a dirty diaper? So too our Father loves us despite how we may feel about ourselves.

Another important part of what Fr. Kilian is doing here is his approach to detachment. He doesn't even mention the word, but he tells us that by setting our eyes on God and making love of Him our goal, we will very naturally leave behind the things of the world. This isn't an innovation nor a new teaching. St. John of the Cross would agree whole-heartedly. This, in fact, is what almost all Carmelite teaching boils down to. Love God with the focused intensity of a laser beam and all other things fall into place.

If we love God first, most, and always, we will be driven by that love out into the world to demonstrate and carry it to our brothers and sisters. In fact, St. Teresa Benedicta citing St. John of the Cross describes it in this way:

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

The divine light, then, already dwells in the soul by nature. But only when for God's sake she divests herself of all that is not God--that is what is called love!--will the soul be illumined by and transformed in God. "God will so communicate his supernatural being to the soul that she will appear to be God himself and will possess what God himself possesses." So great a union is caused "that all the things of both God and the soul become one in participant transformation, and the soul appears to be God more than a soul. Indeed, she is God by participation. Yet, truly, her being (even though transformed) is naturally as distinct from God's as it was before."

What does this mean? First, let's properly understand the passage and then examine its implications. The best way to understand what St. John of the Cross said in the quoted passage is to remember his famous metaphor of the light and the pane of glass. When the pane of glass is dirty (the soul in the state of sin and attachment) one readily notices the glass and hardly notices the light at all. As the pane of glass is cleaned more and more thoroughly, more and more of the light shines through until, when the glass is perfectly clean, one no longer sees the glass but only perceives the light that illuminates it. Nevertheless, the glass never becomes light even though it "participates" in light by allowing it through.

If the soul "becomes God by participation" and everything we believe of God is indeed true, then the person to whom this happens cannot help but do things in the world that help to make God more present. Feeding the hungry, tending the sick, preaching to those who do not know God, etc. God's first impulse is ever to reach out to all of His creation in compassionate, serving love. When we participate in God, we become His hands, His feet, His voice to those who may not know Him.

Thus loving the God who loves us demands that the love be expressed. A love that remains entirely interior was never much of a love to start with. If our spouse says he or she loves us, but never lifts a finger to show it, we might, quite rightly, begin to doubt after a while the truth of that expression. So love expresses itself in everyday compassionate concern for the needs of those loved. By loving the God who loves us, we cannot help but love and care for His creation, starting with humankind and continuing with the entire wonder of creation.

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from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou Lagrange, O.P.

Not without difficulty does one succeed in completely conquering selfishness, sensuality, laziness, impatience, envy, unjust judgment, impulses of nature, natural haste, self-love, foolish pretensions, and also self-seeking in piety, the immoderate desire for sensible consolations, intellectual and spiritual pride; in a word, all that is opposed to the spirit of faith and confidence in God; that one may succeed in loving God perfectly with all one's heart, soul, stength, and mind, and one's neighbor (enemies are included under this title) as oneself; in short, to remain firm and patient and to persevere in charity, whatever may happen, when the expression of the Apostle is verified, that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)

The only problem with the good father's work is the tendency to repeat himself in precisely the same words, three, four, five, or more times in the course of the study. It becomes somewhat more easy to pick out unique passages such as this one. Such a passage offers much food for thought and prayer and much fuel for transformation of life.

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Although I suppose, in fact, it should not have:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

He [St. Thomas Aquinas] tells us in substance [footnote here referring to Ia, q82, 2.3] that although one faculty may by itse very nature be superior to another, as sight is to hearing, it is possible that an act of the second may be superior to an act of the first, as the hearing of a sublime and very rare symphony is of a higher order than the sight of an ordinary color. Thus, although the intellect by its very nature (simpliciter) may be superior to the will which it directs, because it has a simpler, more absolute, more universal object, yet in certain circumstances (secundum quid) and with relation to God, the intellect in this life reamins inferior to the will; in other words, here on earth the love of God is more perfect than the knowledge of God; while it is better to know inferior things than to love them. A profound observantion on which one cannot meditate too much.

I don't know why it surprised me. As I said, I suppose it shouldn't have; however, when reading Thomists I get all twisted around and nothing seems to be sitting at the right angle any more. But all the great saints have said it. Nevertheless it is critical to note as well that one cannot love well what one does not know well. You might start in love, and love would seek to cultivate more extensive knowledge. But love, to some degree depends on knowledge and tends to grow with greater knowledge. So it isn't as though one can forego knowing God in favor of loving Him, one must do both.

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I won't need nearly as many words to answer this one. The answer is definitively "No!" While John's teaching may or may not be universal, there is more to being a Carmelite than following John's teaching. If all it took to belong to an order was to follow the teaching of one saint or another, I would have to belong to Franciscans, Salesians, Jesuits, Dominicans, and all the other orders. But obviously an Order is more than the teaching of the saints within the Order (which belongs to the Universal Church) it is the rule of the Order, the tradition of the Order, and probably any number of intangibles that I am overlooking.

Insisting that St. John's teaching is for everyone is in no wise different than insisting that St. Dominic's teaching is for everyone. Because one is theology and the other Mystical Theology does not make them of different character and therefore more or less universal.

More simply put, if it is the truth, it is the truth--always and everywhere for Carmelite or for unordered (notice I didn't say disordered) Catholic.

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As it is probably more profitable for a Dominican to address a Dominican's concerns; and, as those concerns pertain to us all, it seems wise to take a look at what Garrigou-Lagrange has to say about the mystical life in general and ultimately about St. John of the Cross. Throughout the bolded emphases are mine.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

We shall note two important consequence of this doctrine.

1) Since sanctifying grace is the beginning of eternal life and since every just soul enjoys habitual union with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in it, the mystical union, or the actual, intimate, and almost continual union with God, such as is found here on earth in holy souls appears as the culminating point on earth of the development of the grace of the virtues and of the gifts and as the normal, even though rather infrequent, prelude to the life of heaven. This mystical union belongs, in fact to the order of sanctifying grace; it proceeds essentially from "the grace of the virtues and of the gifts" and not from graces gratis datae, which are transitory and in a sense exterior (as miracles and prophecy) and which may accompany it. The mystical life is Christian life, which has, so to speak, become conscious of itself. It does not give us the absolute certainty that we are in the state of grace, a certitude which, according to the Council of Trent, would presuppose a special revelation, but as St. Paul says: "The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God." He makes us know this, observes St. Thomas, "by the filial love which He produces in us."

2) As the life of grace is essentially ordained to that of glory, the normal, although in fact quite rare, summit of its development should be a very perfect disposition to receive the light of glory immediately after death without passing through purgatory; for it is only through our own fault that we will be detained in that place of expiation, where the soul can no longer merit. Now this very perfect disposition to immediate glorification can be nothing other than an intense charity coupled with the ardent desire of the beatific vision, such as we find them particularly in the transforming union, after the painful passive purifications which have delivered the soul from its blemishes. Since nothing unclean can enter heaven, in principle a soul must undergo these passive purifications at least in a measure before death while meriting and progressing, or after death without meriting or progressing.

These consequences to which we will return, disclose the grandeur of the Christian perfection which can be realized on earth, and they contain the loftiest and most practical teaching. (p. 127-129)

Now, it would seem if we were not all called to perfection, this doctrine would be lofty, but certainly not practical. Nor, it would seem would the "normal, though quite rare summit" would be the direct ascent into Heaven. By normal, one would postulate that this is the way things are supposed to occur. If so, then it would seem that Christians are called to operate in such a way as this would be the normal and less that quite rare result of a Christian life.

Lagrange will go on in the work.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

As regards the word "call" or "vocation," we will attempt to distinguish in this work the different meanings it may have according as it concerns a general and remote call of all just souls to mystical contemplation or, on the contrary, an individual and proximate call. (p. 46)

One final note:

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

Therefore it seems certain that the mystical life, characterized by the predominance of the gifts of the holy Ghost is required for the full perfection of the Christian life. Is this likewise true of mystical contemplation, properly so called?. . . As we have already stated, the gifts of contemplation may as yet intervene in these souls only in a diffuse manner; the mystical life is still imperfect in them. It may be accompanied by a great generosity, which merits the name of perfection without, however, being the full perfection of the Christian life. (p. 367)

The saint [Teresa of Jesus] says in chapter 21 [of The Way of Perfection]: "I maintain that this is the chief point; in fact, the everything depends on their having a great and a most resolute determination never to halt until they reach their journey's end, happen what may, whatever the consequence are, cost what it will, let who will blame them. . . whether the Earth itself goes to pieces beneath their feet." The general call of souls to mystical life could not be more clearly affirmed. (p. 371)

Now, none of this establishes that all souls are called to one order; however, they are all called to the same end--attain it however they may. But it seems that St. Thomas Aquinas and a great many others bear out the words of St. John of the Cross regarding the steps necessary to attaining Christian Perfection and that the attainment of Christian Perfection is a necessary part of the beatific vision and that we are all called to this in our lives here on Earth; however, very few of us answer that call.

Now I am at an end of saying whether or not what St. John of the Cross teaches is for everyone. I believe that it is so. That the path marked up to the summit of Mount Carmel is the path that everyone will eventually tread even if they follow other means to do so and even if such treading is actually being dragged after death up the slopes through the good works and prayers for those left behind. The Ascent of Mount Carmel seems to be a necessary and universal part of Christian life (according to the teaching of the Saints). The only question is whether or not St. John's way is the only way. And my answer there is that I do not know. I assume that it is not, and yet I cannot know because I have read of no other means of ascent, which is negative evidence. It means only that I have not yet encountered anything that suggests another substantially different way.

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Praying Constantly


Tom expresses some legitimate concern that from the Dominican point of view it may seem as if Carmelites get too wrapped up in the extraordinary experiential aspects of prayer.

I can see how that might occur. I can also say that there is as little to be done about the concern as there is about the equally legitimate concern that arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas on "quickening" are frequently used by supporters of abortion both within and outside of the Church. Some Carmelites may well be caught up in the problem sited; however, St. John of the Cross, and the other sainted Carmelites were not among them.

John's seeming obsession about the experiential aspects of prayer stems from the fact that he was writing many of his works as spiritual guidebooks. He was identifying for many the roadsigns along the path of prayer that indicated the times to stand pat and the times to move on. Naturally his focus would be on the experiential aspects of the prayer life.

However, these guidebooks stemmed from his true statements about the spiritual life, his poetry. And his poetry is a series of lovesongs of the soul for God. These are not about extraordinary prayer (although John uses them as launching pads for his teaching), they are about simple acts of love and living in the abiding presence of the beloved.

Thus much of his work stems from poetry. The language is likely to be overblown, fanciful, or metaphorical. Tom particularly questioned my use of the expression "experiencing heaven on Earth," which will obviously mean different things to different people, depending on their image of heaven. He asks whether this is the goal of everyone or even the proper goal of a Carmelite. And it is a legitimate question. I answer it by saying that the way i see "experiencing Heaven on Earth" might be described in the simpler phrase of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection--"the practice of the presence of God." For me, the experience of heaven on Earth is to abide in the presence of God all the time. As St. Paul tells us, "to pray constantly." Not to pray in an overt prayer that sounds like a prayer, but to pray in the way Mother Teresa did--in acts of service to the poor, to the oppressed, to the voiceless, and in acts of actual prayer, such as the Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration, and the Rosay, and in acts of showering and even sleeping. To make prayer so much an ordinary part of every day that no action can really be separated from it. I have not achieved this goal--but to my mind this is what all the talk about extraordinary states and manifestations is about. It is about knowing that the God who loves me intensely is with me every step of the way and it is about living as though I really believe that. It is about life becoming prayer, not about prayer (in any one form or another) becoming life.

This still probably doesn't alleviate the misunderstandings that are possible, but for that I would suggest consulting Garrigou-Lagrange and allowing a Dominican to explain the Carmelites to another Domincan. Therese--thanks so much for the book, I never knew how handy it would be.

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Half-Way or All the Way

| | Comments (3)

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

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My chief problem with Tom's critique of what I write about St. John of the Cross is not the critique itself, but "penumbras and emanations" to use judicial language.

There seems to be a very strong suggestion that not everyone is called to be a Saint. And here, if this is truly representative of his thought, he and I must disagree. Everyone is called to be a Saint. Very, very few of us choose to answer the call. And perhaps not all of the Saints are called to the honors of the Altar--that is, to be exemplars for others.

Tom says, "not all of us are called to perfection in contemplation in this life.
Just to keep things complicated: Note I wrote that we aren't all called to perfection in contemplation. I do believe we are all called to some level of contemplation, because contemplation is for everyone. " This in itself is innocuous. But when coupled with the following response, it suggests other meanings.

Of course the goal is perfection in intimacy with the Lord. But not everyone's goal is perfection in this life. Mary chose the better part, but that doesn't mean Martha's part was unnecessary. Nor does it mean that Martha was never able to listen to Jesus.

If we are not all called to perfection, why then did Jesus say, "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." It would seem that the highest perfection, the most important point on which to obtain perfection is not in how you raise your garden nor even necessarily in how you serve the poor (to the best of my knowledge a great many saints never directly served any poor), but in how you love God. It would seem to me that, in fact, this is the perfection to which Jesus is calling us and which MUST be possible because Jesus is calling us to it. That perfection in intimacy is not possible without a perfection in the prayer life, which implies entry into higher forms of prayer and communication with God. I readily admit St. John's way may not be universal--but that actually is a debate for another time.

I take exception to the suggestion that many of us can choose to go only half-way and that's enough--that perfection is not a calling for all in this life. We are not all Marys, but I believe that suggests a false dichotomy--we must be either Mary or Martha, when in fact we must combine the better aspects of both. We cannot be so Mary that we never lift a finger to help those in need, but neither can we be so Martha that we don't ever hear God.

I truly believe every single person is called to perfection of love of God in life AND in prayer. I also believe that not achieving that perfection is in no way damaging to our salvation, so I would acquiesce that perfection is not a prerequisite for Heaven, but, it sure wouldn't hurt.

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For thus says the Lord,
the creator of the heavens,
who is God,
the designer and maker of the earth
who established it,
not creating it to be a waste,
but designing it to be lived in. (Isaiah 45: 18)

For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. (Isaiah 45: 18-19)

I thought a pause in our headlong rush through St. Teresa Benedicta and St. John of the Cross was called for. A momentary pause, or to quote the poet:

A Moment's Halt--a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste--
And Lo!--the phantom Caravan has reach'd
The Nothing it set out from--Oh, make haste!

The purpose of the pause is to clarify what St. John of the Cross teaches and what he does not. This was inspired by an e-mail exchange with a friend in which the friend brought up some points I thought he might have inferred from reading these posts. It turns out rather that he got them from a mission given by Opus Dei priests in his community. Here is his summary of impressions:

For example, the priest last night kept talking about finding ways to make ourselves more uncomfortable, to constantly deny ourselves even basic needs, such as a glass of water when we're thirsty (the priest even make a crack about people who constantly carry around what he called "baby bottles", to ensure that they're never without water), in order to please God. This is why I made the comment I did about fasting until my prayers are answered: if we're called upon to actively cause ourselves pain, then there can be no end to it until we die. Escriva sounds to me like a modern day flagellant. The priest even mentioned that he would try not to see the beautiful, which you counseled against, by averting his eyes when riding through a countryside.

[here follows an excerpt of my reply]
I find the view you describe repugnant, Jansenistic, and very nearly manichean. It suggests a hatred of physicality that is unhealthy. . .I'd like to talk about what St. Teresa Benedicta and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were NOT talking about, and what you describe is precisely it. I think if you view it in the way St. John of the Cross does you find a much more faithful way of approaching creation. We do need to mortify the senses by choosing the less appealing rather than the more appealing, but we needn't shut our eyes to the glory through which God speaks to us. That strikes me as just short of sinful--a denial of the [essential] goodness in creation.

As much as I respect the works of Josemaria Escriva and other followers of the Opus Dei prefecture, I've always been a bit cautious regarding their personal approaches to the world. If this priest represents mainline Opus Dei teaching, then indeed caution is called for. I rather hope he expresses extremes of the view. The reason for this is that it strikes me that such suggestions and actions come very close to blasphemy.

The Lord made the world and made it good. He made it to be a world to be lived in. And throughout all creation is the imprint of the Maker. His signature can be found everywhere in nature--in running streams, in sweet grapes, in the scent of orange blossoms or the sea, in the touch of spring-warm breeze, in sunsets, in the sound of the wind in the trees, etc. The Franciscans were well aware that the glories of the Creator were signs of Him and means of access.

To go out of one's way to deny oneself basic needs, to make oneself miserable in the world redounds to whose glory? It is one thing to undertake basic mortifications (the fast prescribed by the church, or such small fasts as we are called to make in the world) but to deliberately shut your eyes so that you cannot see the glories of creations. While this is a severe mortification, if also approaches Manicheeism. It seems to suggest that there is something wrong with participation in the world. And what I quotes from Isaiah above indicates clearly what the Lord thinks about the world--He made it to be lived in, not fled from. We are not called to make ourselves miserable or full of pain. The world will do enough of that for us, and when it happens, we are called to joyfully accept it. However, why go looking for trouble--living presents enough pain and suffering as it is?

No, it strikes me as foolish not to acknowledge what is around you. I don't think the good Lord calls us to make ourselves hurt every day as some sort of memorial to him. In fact, elsewhere in Isaiah don't we hear about the kind of fast the Lord wants?

5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.

(Isaiah 58:5-8, KJV--sorry Bible Gateway doesn't offer Douay Rheims)

There, the Lord speaks through His own prophet saying we should feed the hungry. Well, why should we do that if the Lord wants us all to suffer for Him? Wouldn't it be far wiser to leave them to be hungry because they are already suffering? So too with the yoke of oppression--why throw it off? Just let those who are under oppression throw it off. In fact, if we take the doctrine above to an extreme, we could say that it is our duty to oppress so that there can be greater suffering for all.

Nonsense. This seems, as I said, at best suspect, and at worst something that should be suppressed. I have no interest in administering "the discipline." I have no desire to return to the glory days of mortifications unto sickness.

Nor do the Carmelite Saints. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross do not teach this and roundly teach against it. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said that if we suffer and can find some alleviation from it, then it is right to do so; but if the suffering is irremediable, we should accept it gladly and unite it for the betterment of all to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross.

Carmelite teaching is not that the things of the world are bad, but, in fact that they are so good we tend to want them too much. We need to mortify the senses. And by that I believe St. John to mean that we must not seek out sensation, not that we are to blind and deafen ourselves, but that we are to accept the things of the world without taking delight in them. That is to say, we don't seek to linger in the sensation, but we let them pass on by and we continue our pursuit of the path of God. We don't deliberately not look, but we also don't seek to look. This is a world apart from deliberately not looking at God's glorious creation. It may seem subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world.

To be fair to Opus Dei, I've never seen any hint in the writings that we are called to make ourselves miserable. St. Josemaria is said to have administered the discipline frequently, but I don't know if that is the rumor of detractors or what it really means. Nor does it mean we are necessarily to follow his example. Saints can be unhinged and still be Saints--St. Dymphna comes to mind, as do certain actions of St. Rose of Lima (quicklime on the face and broken glass to mar her beauty and prevent vanity). And I do believe that the deliberate infliction of inordinate pain is a sign of illness, not of health in mind and body. A fast, a small mortification, fine; but to daily seek to live a life of misery and pain--that is a definition of mental illness and you can find it clearly delineated in the diagnostic manual.

We need to remember St. Teresa of Avila danced with her nuns at recreation and played tambourine. St. John of the Cross is said to have dearly loved the scenic vistas of Medina del Campo and the Spanish Countryside. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was a master pianist, awarded a number of awards at her school. St. Thérèse's sister was an accomplished photographer. John Henry Newman an accomplished poet. These are all joys and creations of the world, and so long as we do not make them the end-all be-all of existence, participation in them and delight in them is a good thing. We learn again about God.

So, lest there were any apprehension about what one is called to in the Carmelite way, I thought I would make this clear distinction. It is one thing to "see without seeing" it is another to deny yourself water because you can suffer more. As Christine said elsewhere, the call to suffering is a gift of the Lord that not all receive and I don't think it should be considered a universal salutary practice. The acceptance of such suffering as comes (and cannot be avoided) with equanimity and with joy, on the other hand, is a practice that leads to wholeness.

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From In Conversation with God


We should read our Lord's Passion constantly, said St. John Chrysostom; what great benefit we will gain by doing so. Even if you are as hard as stone, when you contemplate that He was sarcastically adorned, then ridiculed, beaten and subjected to the final agonies, you will be moved to cast all pride from your soul.. . .

One day while he was visiting St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas asked him where he had acquired such good doctrine. . . It is said that St. Bonaventure showed him a crucifix which was blackened from all the kisses he had given it, and explained This is the book that tells me what I should write; the little I know I have learned from it.

How much have I learned from this book? How much does it show? Do I have a crucifix that has been so much as smudged, much less blackened, by the attentions shown it? Do we even pay attention any more in the presence of the Crucified? There is a tendency to take for granted what we see too often. Perhaps we should be more attentive, in our homes and at church. If this is the book that taught St. Bonaventure, how much might we also learn from it? Perhaps the greater part of wisdom is the humility to be taught by what we no longer pay attention to.

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About this Archive

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

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