Christian Life/Personal Holiness: May 2004 Archives

Recent Considerations

| | Comments (4)

As you can tell from my recent posts, there is a great battle going on in my sphere. The battle is self-against-self. I would say self-against-God, but as I consciously want what God has for me, it really is about the part of myself that fights against His way.

I think part of the problem I have is fear. I'm afraid that ultimately it is likely to be boring, sterile, or unpleasant. Can I serve God AND go to the seashore and look for shark teeth? Can I properly serve God AND read Aunt Dimity's Death. I know about eutrepalia, but I wonder how much of what I do can be done legitimately, with eutrepalia as justification, and how much is simply what I want to do.

In other words, I suspect the battle I fight is very much like that of everyone out there. "The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." St. Paul said, "I do the things I would not do and I don't do the things I would do." This is part and parcel of human nature.

What Father Reginald does for me is that he provides me with the rational basis for the battle. This is the truth, it resonates to the very core and it rings true, like a silver bell. It's truth is undeniable. When I read him I am convicted by the words and know that what he describes is what I want (or what part of me wants). At the same time, the large gaps in time between readings represent both a refractory period and an avoidance mechanism. "Don't let this get too close or you'll have to do something about it."

All of this as an elaborate way of explaining much of what you read here and requesting your prayers as I struggle to recognize what God asks of me and to fulfill it. I struggle against flesh and against fear. I fear what I do not know, and I fear what I may know incorrectly. All of the Saints saw the service of God as the source of most profound joy. When I'm really there, will Aunt Dimity's Death loom as nearly so important? I think not. However, part of me, the part trained as writer, and part desiring to be an artist, rails at this thought. How can you just give up all those lovely things?

I honestly don't know. What I do know is that of myself, I can do nothing but sin and only through grace will anything of importance or merit be accomplished. Please pray for me in the battle, as I will do for each of you. Thanks.

Bookmark and Share

Once again from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. I suppose that by the time I finish reading this book, those of you who are patient with me will almost have it read it yourselves.

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

Very genergous souls ought normally to suffer their purgatory on earth while meriting, rather than after death without meriting. If we go to purgatory after death, it will be our own fault, it will be because we have neglected graces that were granted us or offered us during life. Purgatory after death, frequent though it may be, is not according to the order arranged by God for the full development of the supernatural life, since immediately after death it is radical to the order established by Him that the soul should possess God by the beatific vision. Hence the precise reason why the soul suffers so great in purgatory is because it does not see God.

Purgatory is not God's intended or normative way. It is there through His great mercy to give those who are uninterested or not sufficiently interested in pursuing Him in this life the opportunity to eventually experience Him in the next. If we make it to purgatory, we shall, in His good time, experience the beatific vision. But the reality is that no one needs to experience purgatory. It exists because of the hardness of the human heart and head. It is not there because God thinks it's a particularly good idea. It is there because it is a training ground for detaching from ourselves so that we can live the charitable life of heaven. How could I possibly live a charitable life or lead a charitable existence in the afterlife if all I can think about is myself and my concerns? People who imagine heaven as endless conversations with the great minds of the past or as a vast library of great works of literature are sorely mistaken. Outside of the vision of God, there is no heaven. That is the reality that either this life or purgatory prepares me for. So, I thank Father Reginald for confirming a deep intuition I had regarding the various "dark nights" but which I had not seen spelled out elsewhere. What I learn to give up in this life, I need not learn to part from in the next. If I cannot do away with my own purgatory, I can certainly make great inroads and decrease its duration both by act of will (strengthened by baptismal grace) and by properly disposing myself to the actual works of grace.

Bookmark and Share

Just when you thought it was safe another burst of reading Garrigou-Lagrange gives us this tender morsel to chew upon:

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

On the contrary, in the supernatural life whatever belongs to the normal way of sanctity and in the majority of cases is absolutely or morally necessary to attain it, is essentially ordinary. In other words, whatever in the supernatural life is accomplished in accordance with even the superior laws of full development, is ordinary in itself, though these laws are infintely more elevated than those of our nature. . . .

Likewise here on earth, the summit in the normal development of the life of grace, no matter how elevated, should not be called essentially estraordinary (per se) altlhough it may be rare or extraordinary in fact, like the perfect generosity it supposes. The summit is called sanctity, even lofty sanctity, which implies heroic virtues. . . .

It follows, then, that whatever in the majority of cases is either absolutely or morally necessary to attain this summit is not essentially extraordinry. On the contrary, these things belong to and make up the plenitude of the normal order willed by God. In studying this point, we must take care not to confound what is eminently useful for reaching sanctity in the majority of cases with what is observed in the majority of pious souls, with what is common among them; for many of these are still far from the goal. Consequently, without admitting that the mystical prayers are essentially extraordiary, we can distinguish them from the common forms of prayer, because the former suppose in fact an eminent or superior grace.

The passive purifications of the senses and of the spirit (a mystical state) and infused contemplation, even in its highest degree, which is realized in the transforming union, are, as St. Joh of the Cross teaches, generally necessary to the perfect purification and sanctification of the soul. Therefore they should not be called essentially extraordinary, although in fact they may be quite rare because of the common mediocrity of souls.

"Because of the common mediocrity of souls." What an indictment. As I read it, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says that, in essence, a person does not achieve Union because they don't really want to. I do not approach God more closely because I have other, more important things to do with my time. My soul languishes in mediocrity, not because I haven't received the calling, but because I've decided to let the answering machine pick up and I'll get around to it when I have more time.

I hate that! I hate to admit it! I deny it! I rail at it! I despise it! And more than anything else I know it is true. I do not approach God more closely, not because He holds me at arm's length, but because I have chosen not to do so. Oh yes, I make excuses and I can think of ten-thousand and more reasons why I need to prepare myself and do other things first. But they are all a fabrication. They are designed specifically to keep me from finding my way to where God wants me to be, and, in fact, I have no one to blame but myself. How humbling to realize that you are one of the "mediocre souls." And by this, I don't think Garrigou-Lagrange means to say that some souls are greater and some smaller (although that may be true as well). But rather, I thnk he implies that there are those who care about the state of their soul more than they care about their finances, their wardrobe, their car, or what have you. And then there are those like me, who find something else more important to care about for a while.

O Lord, what a mess.

Fr. Reginald, pray for me. Your words have awakened me to a fever-pitch state and now I cast about, caught in the net, knowing that I am the only cause of my failure. Pray to obtain for me the graces and virtues necessary--the docility, the humility, the charity, the patience, and the strength of will--to ascend to God as far as will can take me. And then pray for me that I might remain open to God's action and ascend to where He is calling me.

Oh Father, obtain for me these graces through the hand of our most Holy Mother, and even if not, thank you so much for your obedience and your determination to serve God's people. In so doing, you have served me best of all. Thank you. Lord Jesus Christ, if there is anything lacking in this good man's stores, by virtue of the good he has done for me in turning me back to you, please make it up for him and make it overflow with riches. Thank you Lord for such good servants, may I become one as well.


Bookmark and Share

Poetry of St. Robert Southwell


I dye alive
Robert Southwell  (?1561–1595)

O LIFE! what letts thee from a quicke decease?
  O death! what drawes thee from a present praye?
My feast is done, my soule would be at ease,
  My grace is saide; O death! come take awaye.
I live, but such a life as ever dyes;       
  I dye, but such a death as never endes;
My death to end my dying life denyes,
  And life my living death no whitt amends.
Thus still I dye, yet still I do revive;
  My living death by dying life is fedd;       
Grace more then nature kepes my hart alive,
  Whose idle hopes and vayne desires are deade.
Not where I breath, but where I love, I live;
  Not where I love, but where I am, I die;
The life I wish, must future glory give,        
  The deaths I feele in present daungers lye.

I do well to remind myself that I live in a privileged era and a privileged place. No matter that the media are unrelentingly hostile toward my belief, no matter that prejudice still is rampant in some places. I nevertheless can live a life of relative comfort and freedom compared to those who came before. The poetry of this great martyr for the faith ever puts me in mind of how very good I have it despite facing some difficulties. I am thankful before God for what He has granted, and despite all that is less than it should be, I rejoice in my relative freedom to work for Him. As He said with His own lips, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return."

Lord Jesus Christ, grant that I may return even a small part of the many blessings and graces that have come to me from God the Father through the hands of your Blessed Mother. Let the Holy Spirit guide me in all that I do, and awaken my deadened senses to better heed His promptings. Let me work for the good of your church, for the salvation of your people, and for my own good ever heedful of your divine mercy and love.


Bookmark and Share

And some, perhaps, would say that is all to the good. I tend to think otherwise. We would do well to hear that a life of holiness is NOT a natural concomittant of the human estate. Rather it is achieved only through rough toil and hard grace.

from Sermons on Black Letter Days or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
John Mason Neale



ONE of Satan's most favourite temptations, (no doubt because he has found it one of the most useful,) is this, that it is a very easy thing to be saved. "What is the use," he asks us, "of taking so much pains? Other people lead easy lives, and please themselves, and are thought good fathers, and good neighbours, and good Christians, and they will do very well; and why need you try to be better than they? All will come right at last, and your prayers and your efforts to keep GOD'S law so very strictly are quite needless. Do as the world does, and do not pretend to be more religious than your neighbours."

We know that this is a temptation, and we ought not to be deceived by it. We know that to live a good life is a trade, like every other trade; that, if we do not take the utmost pains, we shall never learn it at all; and that, with all the pains we can take, we shall find it a difficult matter enough to succeed; "The righteous shall scarcely be saved." It will, as the common saying is, be a very near thing. "We want all the helps we can have; we must take all that we can get, and thank GOD that we can get so many.

Now, in looking round me to see what help to lead good lives you might have which as yet you have not, I see one which, with GOD'S grace, we will try. And this evening I will explain to you what it is, and how we may use it.

You know that, ever since I first came amongst you, we have always observed those days which we commonly call Saints' Days; that is, those Festivals of Saints for which an Epistle and Gospel are appointed. And they are those of the twelve Apostles, of S. John the Baptist, of the Conversion of S. Paul, of the Holy Innocents, of S. Barnabas, and of S. Stephen, besides the glorious festival of All Saints. Before GOD, perhaps for our own sins, suffered wicked men to take away from us the power of celebrating the Holy Communion, we always, as some of you well remember, celebrated it on those days. And, even now, we go oftener into chapel; and in the evening, as you know, I speak to you of the lesson that we should learn from the Festival which we are then keeping.

But now, if you look in the Calendar at the beginning of the Prayer Book, you will find a great many other days marked with the name of some Saint. Take January, for example. On the 8th you find the name of S. Lucian; on the 13th, of S. Hilary; on the 18th, of S. Prisca; on the 20th, of S. Fabian; on the 21st, of S. Agnes; on the 22nd, of S. Vincent. There are six days, then, which the Church sets before us, as the means of helping us in our way to heaven; and which, therefore, I wish that you should understand something about. I do not like that you should only look on them as names which you cannot understand,--as long, difficult words, with which you have nothing to do. I wish that, when you see the altar vested in red, to signify that it is the day of some Martyr who shed his blood for the Name of CHRIST: or, when you see it in white, to set forth to you that we are keeping the feast of some one of those Virgins whom Holy Scripture teaches us to call the brides of the Spotless Lamb; then that you should know something about that Martyr or that Virgin. It is impossible to love those of whom we know nothing. We may believe, indeed, that they were true and faithful servants of CHRIST, and so far we may admire them, and desire to follow their example; but love them we cannot, unless we know something about them on which our love can fix.

Now, therefore, I intend, by GOD'S grace, beginning from this time, as each of these days comes round, to tell you why we keep it, and who it is that we are then called upon to think about. If we were travelling to some place where we were to live all the rest of our lives, should we not wish to know what sort of people we were going among? Should we not be very glad to find any one who could tell us about them? Should we not beg him to let us know what he could, as to their names, and their ways of going on, and what they liked and disliked? We should say, "They are to be my companions by-and-by, and I should like to become acquainted with them as far as I can, before I really go to see them."

So it is with us. We are journeying to the land which the LORD hath promised to them that love Him.

Much of the work is available here

Bookmark and Share

More from St. Paul

| | Comments (2)

Just one more gleaning from this noonday repast. I rejoice in the word God has set forth for us and I particularly love this "epistle of joy" even when there is something like the passage that follows. We need both instruction and caution.

Philippians 3: 18-19

18   (For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even with weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ.
19   Their end is destruction, their God is their belly, and their glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Remember these for whom we must pray especially--those caught up in the net of lies that constitutes life in our society. They do not know the truth and could not find the truth if we were to guide them right to it and push them into its embrace. The illusions of this world are too deep, too dark, too entangling. As Jesus said of one exorcism--"This kind comes out only with much prayer and fasting."

Bookmark and Share

Who put their money where their hearts are. In Venice I saw at least one billboard advertising their assistance for women with Crisis pregnancies. A billboard with the cutest, most adorable, most wonderful baby and the words "Because life begins at conception."

I don't know where Our Lady of Lourdes is located--somewhere in the Tampa-St. Petersburg/Sarasota/Venice area. But they deserve kudos for their remarkable work. If anyone from that parish reads this, please know that your efforts are in my prayers and you have my deepest thanks for the good work that you do.

Bookmark and Share

It is interesting to me how there is sometimes a Zeitgeist that pervades portions of blogdom. Yesterday I elided this passage from the quote from Father Healey because I felt it needed further discussion by itself. At the same time Tom, at Disputations is talking about a topic that touches on this peripherally.

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

Now we can understand why it is so helpful to meditate on the life of Jesus and why St. Teresa of Avila could suggest this method to her nuns: "The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred humanity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys, and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of Him. It has no need to think out set prayers but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs."

Another quotation from St. Teresa:

If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that is we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

and this quote from an interesting Oratorian Essay on St. Teresa:

St Teresa insists that assimilating the truths of our faith through meditation, especially on the sacred humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, should always be part of our life of prayer. When they become a part of ourselves, they will make us grow in love of God and love of neighbour. Only then are we able to offer a 'real assent' to the faith as opposed to a mere 'notional assent', as John Henry Cardinal Newman put it so well. Even in the Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle, a state which is close to the highest degree of the spiritual life, we must never abandon the humanity of Christ, especially his passion and death which won the price of salvation for us: 'the last thing we should do is to withdraw of set purpose from the greatest help and blessing, which is the most sacred Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.' Christ is our guide and without him we would be lost even if we had made much spiritual progress: 'For the Lord Himself says that He is the Way; the Lord also says that He is light and that no one can come to the Father save by Him; and he that seeth Me seeth my Father.'

What does all this mean? To be honest, I am uncertain, but it speaks to me and to a certain error I am prone to. I acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I pray to Him as God incarnate, but I often overlook the fact of His humanity. That is, while I believe that he was fully human and fully God, I behave more as though He were only fully God. While I acknowledge what the theologians say about His humanity and His divinity, I am too often caught up in the Divinity and pay little attention to the humanity. Understand that I am talking about the real conduct of my devotional life. Yes, I acknowledge the nativity, and often when I think about it, I think about it as "God Incarnate." The focus of the nativity for me is not the "sacred humanity" of Jesus, but His divinity. So too with much of His life. If anything, I may be prone to the error opposite that noted by Tom, in which love of the humanity is equated with love of God Himself. I asked about this error because it boggles my mind.

So, for me, and perhaps for many, the necessary corrective isn't to move from the humanity to the divinity, but not to forget the humanity in the course of devotion. Now, very honestly, I'm not quite certain what this means or what the implications are. When I meditate upon passages of sacred Scripture, I think I encounter Jesus in His sacred humanity, but much has to do I suppose with attitude of heart. I must admit that I don't necessarily regard Jesus as the kind of friend St. Teresa notes above. I love Him as Lord and Savior, I am only just beginning to know Him as friend and confidant (as it were.) I think I am so much in awe of Him that it would be similar to being invited to dine and converse with Queen Elizabeth, only a million times more difficult in every way. I guess there is enough of the protestant left in me that I tremble in awe at the Divinity. I wonder at people who so casually regard and partake of the Eucharist, of those jaunty genuflectors who never make it even halfway to the floor but give a kind of bob. Would it not cause scandal and sheer chaos, I would throw myself down before the tabernacle and the altar. For this reason I have long loved the profound bow practiced by the Byzantine rite.

All that said, my "problem" in devotional life is to really get down to Jesus as friend and conversationalist. I do reach that point, I have experienced it, but I am not in the continual intimate communion that St. Teresa implies is possible if one has the proper grasp of both the sacred humanity and the divinity of Jesus.

All of that said, I also trust Him to correct what errors I have in my devotional and religious life as He sees fit. I trust Him to draw me closer through such interchanges and readings and practice of what I learn. I trust Him because I know that He wants what is best for me, and the long, hard trek to His sacred humanity has a purpose that I may not be able to divine at the moment (or ever), but I trust it to be purposeful and the path for my life.

Bookmark and Share

Union with God

| | Comments (4)

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

Since Jesus is one with God the Father, union with Jesus --even in this world--is the purpose of our life. He is the One whom we must love most deeply, so that we may reach the perfection nature and find true happiness. To love Jesus of Nazareth with an intimate, personal love is to love God with an intimate, personal love, for Jesus is God.

Therefore, if we have Jesus in His sacred humanity ever before our eyes, if we look upon Him with love and try to live a life of personal friendship with Him, pleasing Him in all things, we will have already attained to some degree, an intimate love of God. . . .

If we are just a beginner, we might find it advantageous to perform our daily work in the presence of Christ, imagining Him to be nearby, using some holy card or painting for our image of Him.

If we have learned to pray and live a virtuous life, this simple imaginary presence will not satisfy us. We will want to read and reread the Gospels, make a study of Christ, and then try to walk in His footsteps--even to the Cross. Only the continual study of Christ can make us consicious of His presence.

I am too often away from Jesus--off in the airy land of speculative theology or ruminations about spiritual things. It is better always to come back to the concrete center of existence. Through the Gospels, I am given light for life. I am shown the exemplary model of how to conduct myself. And when I read and pray these same Gospels, part of what they say becomes a part of me.

Yesterday's Gospel reading for mass reminded me, "If you have my commandments and practice them, then you love me." So I ask myself, where can I find this commandments? Surely in the Bible--in perfection in the gospels, but throughout all revealed truth.

And then I ask the harder question--do I keep them, do I practice them? I don't think I am alone when I say truthfully that I do not practice them nearly so well as I would wish. I want to love Jesus and He has told me how. But I'm not sure I want to love Him so much that I can give up my favorite obsession of the hour. Jesus is important, but my house, my car, my petiole collection, my _________ (fill in the blank), is presently more time consuming and more important.

So I simply pray,


I do want to love you. I want to love you more than anything else. But I do not. I fail at every turn to show my love by the practice of love--your commandments. Lord turn my heart toward you. Step by step draw me closer and let me do as you would have me do for your people and for myself. Let your commandments be at the very center of my life so that when I wake I breath and do them, and when I sleep, I live them nevertheless. Banish the idols I have placed in your way, and give me the strength never to miss them.

O sweet Jesus, make me yours entirely--body and soul, heart and mind, to every fiber to every inch. Help me, O Lord to be your loyal and loving servant and by my actions to make you real to the world around me.

Father guide my steps, strengthen within me the abode of the Holy Spirit that I may better imitate and become your Son to this world in darkness.

Through the same Christ, Our Lord, who lives in love and eternity with the Father who begot Him and the Holy Spirit, born of love.


Bookmark and Share

In times before, contemplative life and active life were often seen as nearly antagonistic. If one were contemplative, it would seem, one could not also be active. Now, there was a certain truth to this if one were of a contemplative order that was cloistered. There isn't a lot of action possible in the world behind the walls of a convent or monastery. While there is some truth to this, nevertheless, the contemplative was active within the narrow world of the convent, fulfilling the duties that life called them to. However, the world has, since the time of Christ, been infused with active contemplatives. St. Catherine of Siena springs to mind, but the Apostles were also prime examples, as well as many of the early Christians. Katherine Drexel and Dorothy Day come to mind in the modern world, as well as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

How, then, can we make sense of this blend of life. As long as one is in the world, one has a certain obligation to serve others. Within the cloister there is a limited circle to whom we owe the allegiance and service of charity through corporal works of mercy. This limitation leaves the cloistered person open for constant prayer for all in the world. The presence of cloisters is another infusion of grace in the world--centers of prayer for the redemption and sanctification of the world.

But if one is not confined to a cloister the urging and longing of contemplation, it would seem to me, translates into service to the greatest number of people possible. That is, a truly contemplative life in the world necessitates service of some sort. James tells us "Faith without works is dead." This is as true of a contemplative as it is of any other person. James goes on to tell us that it is insufficient to wish our Brother a good day or even God's peace if we can see that he is naked and hungry. Prayer has its place, an exalted place, a place of overwhelming importance; however, if prayer does not leave my heart open to service, if it does not change me substantially to be a loyal citizen of the kingdom of God, then it is possible that it is not prayer at all, but merely "nice thoughts."

Prayer is a work of transformation. As we pray we communicate and as we communicate, if we are truly listening, we are necessarily transformed. Contemplative prayer is communication par excellance. St. John of the Cross refers to infused contemplation as "divinity by participation."

So what is the link between contemplation and action. I believe a true contemplative in the world will be spurred on to some sort of action by his prayer. That is loving Christ requires keeping His commandments. I cannot keep His commandment to love another in abstract isolation. Yes, I pray for my brothers and sisters, but I must also be present to share their burdens and joys. Contemplation prepares us to do the work that God has appointed us to. If we keep house, contemplation prepares us to do this work without expectation of reward or kind word, merely for the intense love we have for Jesus. If we are communicators, contemplation gives us something worthwhile to communicate.

Contemplation gives each person "the mind of God." It informs actions, thoughts, and prayers. It prepares me to face the world and to find God in the person of Jesus Christ. When I talk of the life of being a contemplative, I am not exempting myself or anyone else from the hard work that is necessarily part of this life. I think of the desert fathers, who retired to their isolated cells, but who also taught and lived by "If you do not work you do not eat."

So, when I talk of contemplation, my focus is necessarily on the prayer side of that life. My expectation is that if contemplation is actually occurring in a person, that prayer will spill out into public view through the actions, writings, or public statements of the person. Contemplation done in the world feeds a violent urge toward active love. This is one of those things I think is meant when Jesus speaks about "From the beginning the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by storm." This violent love cannot be restrained. "Many waters cannot drown it." And so it must come out, or being held within, it must, like a flame without oxygen snuff itself out. A contemplative serves the world through prayer, but a contemplative in the world also serves through the work of his hands or his mind.

Bookmark and Share

I have read several times in the past week items that convince me more and more of the fundamental need for every Christian to engage in the contemplative life.

At Pax Nortona Joel says I feel the same about abortion: we should concentrate on bettering the world for the children to come so that women who do face the awful choice might be moved to choose single motherhood as a viable option.

In comments at Disputations, Rob says:

Yes! Changing the hearts of prospective practitioners of any immoral behavior is, in the long run, the only fix that rescues both the prospective sinner and that sinner's potential victims. This should be the goal.

At one point I made a comment somewhere about eliminating the perceived necessity of abortion and the retort was "Abortion is unnecessary." That is a statement that is easy to make when one lives in a suburban middle-class neighborhood and has the luxury to spend much time blogging and commenting on world affairs. But I fear it is not the view of most of the young women who are driven to this extreme.

Before legislation will work, the society must be so fundamentally changed as to make the legislation essentially useless anyway. There need to be options for young women who find themselves in this "Sophie's Choice" in which the apparent choice is between "my continued existence on a subsistence level" and "the existence below subsistence I would have with this child." I know it is not the reality, but fear is rarely rational.

But this post is only peripherally about abortion. I bring up the comments above by Joel and Rob to acknowledge a fundamental agreement with the mindset. My solution, as always, is prayer--contemplative prayer.

Why contemplative prayer? How is it a solution? Our society is prone to a deadly invasive species of selfishness. Like fire ants, this selfishness builds edifices strong and large. If you stir it up, through legislation or most other means, as with a fire-ant nest, they immediately abandon the present burrow and set up one even stronger.

The only way to fight fire ants is by stealth. You don't disturb the mound, you quietly poison it. The culture of death is that fire-ant mound, it needs to be quietly poisoned. To do this, each Christian needs to show the alternative. I need to show the joy of the Christian life. Too often Christians are seen as angry, agitated, nearly irrational, in their approach to other people.

Each Christian needs to approach society with deep love, and love that goes beyond anything any person is capable of by himself. Only the instilling of the divine that comes through the intimacy that springs from conversation with God can effect this deep love. Vocal prayers, are a beginning, but not enough. Mediation is great, but insufficient. The only thing that can stand in the way of the juggernaut that threatens to undermine us all is contemplation and perhaps Union with the Divine. I think of St. John of the Cross' description of contemplation as "divinity by participation." Each Christian needs to truly become the hands, feet, eyes, lips, the person of Christ to a world in turmoil. It isn't possible to do this without God. To stand as Christ one must stand with and in Christ. He must be the one who speaks when one speaks to the world.

And I need to be prepared to sacrifice my feeling of comfort and "being at home" in the world. In this post Tom of Disputations is saddened by the number of Christians who seem to accept a life without joy He says, "They draw from the Resurrection not so much the Good News of salvation as an indictment of reprobation." And this is often true. While it is necessary to correct, it is rarely effective to make an indictment. Guilt is only rarely an antidote; more often it is a source of alienation. Jesus did not spend an hour lecturing the woman caught in adultery. Instead, he asked those who would condemn her whether they had any standing to do so. It is far too easy to think that I do.

Contemplation helps to cure this sense of superiority. In contemplation, the person praying encounters God as God and comes to Saint Catherine of Siena's conclusion as stated in the dialogues, "I AM who am, you are she who is not." If I acknowledge and live in this state, then I can have no standing for casting stones. Rather, first I rescue through Christ's redeeming love, and then I guide to the source of that love. Contemplation gives a true mirror of self which helps in all of these goals.

You ask me, "What is the solution to the problem of abortion?" And my answer is "Love Incarnate. Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and who calls us to life."
How do I best know Him? Through talking to Him, through intimate conversation and through abandonment of self.

If we are to change society, we must start by allowing God to change us. We must approach society not as Visigoths but as Michelangelos. We must bring not the promise of destruction, but the light of God's love. I cannot do this if I myself do not know that light.

Bookmark and Share

One Secret to a Happy Life


from In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

The virtue of gratitude forms a real bond among men and reveals fairly clearly the interior quality of the person. As popular wisdom puts it: breeding and thankfulness go together. Human relationships suffer in the absence of this virtue. . . .

Whoever is thankful to God is thankful to those around him. He is more prompt to appreciate and be thanful for any small favours. The proud person who is always absorbed with ihis own things cannot be thankful; he feels that everything is his due.

To quote Father O'Holohan, a very holy, very wise, wonderful Jesuit priest who served out community for a long time, "You cannot be grateful and unhappy." I believe him. The grateful heart is a happy heart. How can we be at once thankful and unhappy? I suppose it is possible, but I cannot imagine the two states coexisting in the same person.

Gratitude has as its concomittant happiness, and perhaps even joy. I truly believe that if we could cultivate the habit of gratitude and live a life truly grateful for what we have and what God grants us day after day, we would be a people more full of the joy of the Christian life. We would be naturally buoyed up. We could do worse than to pray for an overabundance of gratitude. Gratitude feeds charity and self-giving. The grateful person is always seeking a way to repay the good that has been done him. We would, in short, bear strong witness to why it is worthwhile to be a Christian. Presently, that witness is far too uncommon--our internal squabbles are aired along with the battle reports from Iraq. We spend too much time in judging and not enough in thanking.

Or perhaps not. But I know that when I am truly grateful, I am at my happiest.

Bookmark and Share

Intimacy with Christ


Some of what has appeared here over the last several weeks has been pretty heavy going. I do intend to continue my series about contemplation as an essential part of the life of the lay Catholic and how ordinary people can lead contemplative lives. But I thought a more gentle and measured introduction might be in order.

from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of Christ
Fr. Kilian Healey, O.Carm.

Since Jesus in one with God the Father, union with Jesus--even in this world--is the purpose of our life. He is the One whom we must love most deeply, so that we may reach the perfection of nature and find true happiness. To love Jesus of Nazareth with an intimate, personal love is to love God with an intimate, personal love, for Jesus is God.

Therefore, if we have Jesus in His sacred humanity ever before our eyes, if we look upon Him with love and try to live a life of personal friendship with Him, pleasing Him in all things, we will have already attained, to some degree, an intimate love of God.

Now we can understand why it is so helpful to meditate on the life of Jesus and why St. Teresa of Avila could suggest this method to her nuns: "The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred humaity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys, and yet never allow its joys to make it forgetful of HIm. It has no need to think out set prayers, but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs."

I suppose this could start as a form of meditation, deliberately placing yourself before Jesus Christ in His humanity and talking to Him as one would talk to a friend. The practice of this meditation would eventually have transforming effects upon the soul itself. It would become a habit, to take the title of Flannery O'Connor's book of Letters, "a habit of being." But in this habit is a kernel, a core of reality that exists nowhere else. Because my identity is in Christ alone, so it is in Christ alone that I am really who I am--in whom I have my being. So it is only in and through Him that I can attain a "habit of being." Outside of Jesus I have the tendency to falsify who I am, to present the "company face" to the world at large; I wear one of several masks that depend upon the role I may be playing at the time. Obviously this is not always true, but it is true often enough that I should seek to base my identity and my life (if it is to be authentic) upon who I am in Jesus Christ. The only way I can do this is to spend time talking to Him and discovering who He says I am. It's interesting that Jesus asked Peter "Who do you say I am?" Once again, He gave us the model for what we should do. When I go before Him in prayer one of the things I should seek to discover is who Jesus says I am. Then, with His grace and love, I should seek to live out that reality. If more of us really sought our identities in Christ and lived them out, the transformation in society would be apocalyptic and wonderful. But it is both scary and difficult to look in that mirror. So we need a companion, once again the reason to stand or sit with Christ in prayer and talk. He is our companion, the One who can help us be.

Bookmark and Share

The Furrow--182
St. Josemaria Escriva

What compassion you feel for them! ... You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time ... Why are they so blind, and why can't they perceive what you — a miserable creature — have seen? Why don't they go for the best?

Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them — also one by one — that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.

This second paragraph is the key and it is a key to the entire mission of Opus Dei. You can find a divine way without going out into the desert and living there for months on end. You can find a divine way right where you live now. God is present here and now and all around us. When we were a people of darkness and walking without light, we had good reason for not seeing how to move toward God even as we went about our daily tasks. But through the merciful intercession and sacrifice of our Gracious Lord, the light of God's light flares out through all the world. We are a people who walk in that light and it is our duty and our great joy to be able to show the world how to be holy even as we tend to the workaday world.

I feel called to reach out to all of those who do not know Christ's love as the intimate interior experience that it should be and to show them the way (even if I preach better than I practice). I know the truth and the truth is light, life, and joy. And it is my great privilege as a Christian to point out the way to those who do not know it. If God truly is the source of my happiness and the font of joy, isn't it incumbent upon me by the strict rule of Charity that I share the source of my joy? For heaven rejoices over ever lost sheep that straggles back to the fold and in some sense we are all shepherds serving the one Good Shepherd. It is His voice the sheep hear even if it is spoken from my mouth.

I will rejoice always in my service to the Lord and I will take my joy from his own hand as a life-giving stream and as the strength to do the work of the day. For it is in the accomplishment of all of that work with joy and excellence that the glory of the Lord shines out--for without Him I can do nothing. (The flip side of "For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.")

Bookmark and Share

Joyful Hope

| | Comments (1)

One of the things I love about In Conversation with God is that it seems to have so much ebullient hope and so fervent an exhortation to those souls (mine among them) wasting away in sloth. Take the following example:

from In Conversation with God Fourth Week of Easter--Monday
Francis Fernandez

We could each ask ourselves: have I a true desire to be a saint? The answer would most assuredly be in the affirmative: yes. But our reply should not be as to a theoretical question, because for some holiness is unattainable, something to do with ascetical theology--but not a real goal for them, a living reality We want to make it happen with the help of God's grace.

So longs my soul for thee, O God We must start by making the desire for holiness flourish in our own soul, telling Our Lord: 'I want to be a saint'; or at least 'When I experinece my softness and weakness, I want to be a saint'. . . .

Consider then how vehement our desire for holiness has to be! In Holy Scripture the prophet Daniel is called vir desideriorum, a man of desires. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all were worthy of such a title! The first thing that souls must do if they embark on the path of holiness is really to want to be saints whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labour, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road.. . . .

Therefore, we shoujld examine our conscience to see if our desires of holiness are sincere and effective. . . This examination could reveal the reason for so much weakness and apathy in interior struggle. You tell me , yes, you want to. Very good: but do you want as a miser longs for gold, as a mother loves her child, as a worldling craves for honours, or as a wretched sensualist seeks his pleasure?

No? Then, you don't want to.

I love this passage because of its entire tone--the hopeful answer 'Yes', when to all senses and sensitivities the very present, evident answer in the world today is "Absolutely not, I want what's mine by right." And those who side with hope are right. Whether we recognize it or not each of us has a longing, a yearning to become a saint, to spend every moment with God, and at the same time to serve Him by bringing Him to those who do not know Him. This desire manifests itself in many ways. Pick the thing that fills the empty spaces inside: power, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, food, shopping, cleaning house. You name it and just about anything can and has been used as a substitute for God. When I don't want to face the reality of the call to holiness and sanctity, I have the marvelous opportunity to retreat into the depths of gourmandizing or other sensual pleasures. This is the lure of the good things of the world. Used rightly, they lead most directly to God; used wrongly. they anesthetize the soul and give "sweet oblivion." It is too easy to end up worshipping the creature and not the creator.

But we all do long for holiness, just as God longs for us to draw near. He goes through the most amazing convoluted gyrations to seek us out; but Love knows no boundaries and constantly seeks the good of the beloved. All of my reading in recent days points to God and says, "Look at Him. This is the goal, this is the end, this is what gives life meaning." Outside of God everything, even all the good things are meaningless, empty, ashes and dust. With God at the center, all that is good and beautiful takes on the right proportion and perspective.

Bookmark and Share

I have assaulted you too much of late with Garrigou-Lagrange. And I cannot promise that I shall not do so in the future. So much of what he has to say is so interesting and relevant to the central interests of this blog. However, today we will not start with him, but with another, who has some helpful advice.

from Awarkening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian J. Healey, O. Carm.

We often read of visions, apparitions, and revelations in which God spoke to the saints. St. Paul on the road to Damascus is a classic example. And we read in the life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that, while she was engaged in prayer, Jesus often spoke to her of the devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Such conversations with God are not rare in the lives of the canonized. But must we in our conversation with God await the appearance of Jesus, or some heavenly voice or extraordinary apparition, some heavenily manifestatiion from God? Absolutely not. It is true that God does single out some chosen souls to whom He speaks directly and who actually experience the divine power working in them, but these are very few; it is not the way that God ordinarily uses. We should not even desire that God speak to us in this extraordinary manner. We should not expect it. Visions and revelations are not necessary for us to grow in deep love for God. We may fall deeply in love with Him and practice faithfully the presence of God, yet never receive any extraordinary manifestations from Him. These are special gifts, and God gives them to whom He wills, and when He wills.

I note this merely to make the point once again that even the most extraordinary prayer life may be entirely bereft of visions. Conversely, it is entirely probable that one who is barely out of the starting gate in prayer may get all manner of visions and locutions that are legitimate and real. Why God should do this is certainly beyond my ability to tell; but His will is His will. We should not judge the sanctity of a person by the frequency of their visions or by the presence of even a single such vision. It says nothing whatsoever of the person. God graces whom He will at the time He chooses for His own purposes. These purposes are always to bring His own closer to His heart.

Bookmark and Share

What do you suppose this means?

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

From all this, we see that a meritorious act which is too weak is an imperfection disposing to venial sin, as the latter disposes to mortal sin.

The proficient who is satisfied to act like a beginner ceases to make progress and becomes a retarded soul. People do not give sufficent thought to the fact that the number of these souls is considerable. Many indeed think of developing their intellect, of expanding their knowledge, their exterior activity or that of the group to which they belong (in which there may be not a little selfishness), and yet scarcely think of growing in supernatural chairty, which ought to have first place in us, and ought to inspire and vivify our entire llfe. . . . And many retarded souls end by becoming lukewarm, cowardly, and careless, especially when their natural bent is toward skepticism and raillery. In the end they may become hardened and, as a result, it is often more difficult to bring them back to a fervent life than to bring about the conversion of a great sinner.

I hear in this echoes of, and a deeper intuition and understanding of, Jesus' "letter" to the Laodiceans in the book of revelation. "You are neither hot nor cold, I spit you out of my mouth."

I think in the beginning of prayer life, there is a kind of natural progression. We move forward in the excitement of discovering something new. We've entered unknown territory. I also believe that what is written above is far less a danger for those inclined to pray without considering too much the theology of prayer, than for those inclined to investigate all the nuances and thus not pray as they ought. (I consider myself chief among the guilty here.) Jesus wants enthusiasm. He can work with either love or hate, but there is very little that moves mere indifference. What a dreadful state to be in!

I truly believe that constant reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Confession, will help to keep these tendencies at bay. I think fervent recitation of vocal prayers help to lift the soul to God.

But Garrigou-Lagrange implies that at the time he wrote this there were a great many proficients who were content to be mere beginners. We must not fail god in prayer. Later Garrigoou-Lagrange quote St. Bernard, "Not to advance in the way of salvation is to fall back." And St. Francis de Sales, " If you follow Christ, you will always run, for He never stopped, but continued the course of His love and obedience 'unto death, even to the death of the cross.'"

This has really gotten me thinking and has moved me toward a better examen. Have I taken advantages of the opportunities God has given me in the day to love and praise Him? Do I love and praise Him in words only, or do I fulfill the duties of my station and vocation in life with the idea that it is for Him that I do all this. Am I truly Mary, even in my working day, or do I spend my day being Martha, complaining that no one will help me? Where did I miss an opportunity to love God more in spirit and in action? How can I be more aware of these opportunities, indeed, how can I become constantly aware of them?

God loves me so much that each day He gives me a million little things I can do to show my love. I am not nearly aware enough of these opportunities. And these are some of the ways in which I can practice meritorious charity that is strong enough for my place in prayer (wherever that might be). What is most interesting is that they almost never require of me anything extraordinary.

Anyway, I guess I'm trying to take the implied advice. Garrigou-Lagrange concludes the arguments of this chapter with the remarkable passage below.

And to think that contemplative souls have suffered so greatly because they willed to doubt God's munificence on behalf of the baptized soul! Rightly their hearts protested against the doubts raised by their souls. In what gentle harmony everything is bound up and united in God's truth! How calm must the soul of a St. Augustine or a St. Thomas have been, living habitually in the peace-giving contemplation of the being and unity of God! What love burst forth also from the seet knowledge of the supreme precept and of the grace offered to fulfil it ever more fully! . . .

The great poetry of the psalms has been revealed to us in order to be understood. To understand it well, however, and to make it vibrate in the depths of the soul, should we not have received infused contemplation which reaise the mind and th eheart even to the fountain of living water and the light of life?

Bookmark and Share

I offer the following words from a footnote in the book. I find it interesting. At this point, I do not know if Garrigou-Lagrange agrees, and it is, after all merely the best advice and speculation of good theologians, not Church Doctrine.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

In virtue of the principle set forth in this article, it can be explained why Thomistic theologians (such as Phillip of the Blessed Trinity, Vallgornera, and Anthony of the Holy Ghost) maintain not only that all may laudably desire infused contemplation and the union of fruition, but that all should desire it.

I quote this because it surprised me. I think I had hoped it was true. The evidence of theologians does not make it true, but it is more substantial evidence than I had to offer anyone. But if true, I guess I'm just a little surprised.

Perhaps I shouldn't be. Perhaps it is fine to desire it and to acknowledge that even if many desire it, human nature is such that a great many probably will not do what is required to attain it. Nevertheless, if it is laudable to desire it, one would presume that it is not a sin against humility (which many people I have spoken to suggest that it might be.)

More from Garrigou-Lagrange in a few minutes.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

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

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: April 2004 is the previous archive.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2004 is the next archive.

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

My Blogroll