Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2004 Archives

from Romans 14:

1: As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions.
2: One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables.
3: Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him.
4: Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

Now, this would seem the perfect opportunity to jump back on my soapbox of a few days ago and talk about judging, particularly with verses later in the letter; but, I promise you, that is NOT the point of this entry--at least not in essence. While it will be about judging, I will not contend as I did the other day.

One of the problems we often face in Catholicism is strong difference of opinion on matters where there is liberty. For example, I have yet to see a liturgical dance in North America that I thought anything less than abhorrent and distracting. However, except for provisions in liturgical documents that I do not claim to know or understand, I see nothing wrong in theory with liturgical dance. I recall at the canonization of Juan Diego half of St. Blogs went apoplectic over the fact that the Holy Father allowed liturgical dance as part of the celebration. I had no opinion on the matter whatsoever, assuming that the Holy Father knew what he was doing and why. So here is a place where we can disagree amicably over our preferences and interpret the documents to come to a correct understanding of Church teaching on the matter.

On the discipline of an unmarried Priesthood--I am largely indifferent to the matter. I know of married Catholic Priests (usually converts whose faculties have been recognized, restored, or whatever the term one uses for this procedure).They have made perfectly fine priests. Just as with deacons, the wives must consent to this and understand the nature of the obligation--but many wives live similarly stressed lives for different or lesser rewards. I understand that it is a long and valued tradition of the church and that there are certain advantages. But if the Pope were to declare tomorrow that married men would be eligible for the priesthood, I wouldn't bat an eyelash. And in fact, I would be praying hard to hear what the Lord had to say to me in the matter. As that is not the present discipline, I choose not to worry about it.

The issue of female priests has been settled for me. I do not fully understand all the arguments for the fact that it may not be so settled as I think--they are subtle and turn on points of canon law and other issues I do not understand, and frankly don't much care about. But, at the same time, I don't look down upon those who think there should be female priests. I think they may be incorrect, but often they have their hearts in the right place--so it seems to me.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important to pick our battles very carefully. We should not be judging one another on doubtful issues. For example, everyone knows by now that I make a very close approach to pacifism, if I am not actually a pacifist. A verse a bit later in the chapter addresses this directly.

22: The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves.
23: But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

In other words, even if I acknowledge the teaching of the Church on just war, were I to participate in any action of a war, I would be condemned by my own conscience if not by the Church. Thus, conscience may add to what the Church teaches, but it is never free to take from it. That is, the conscience must be conformable to the teaching of the church, not vice versa.

I have spent much time thinking about how one should respond to "Catholics for Kerry" and other such enterprises. My conclusion is that outright error should be corrected, healthy debate should be pursued to determine the truth of the matter of what the Church teaches, but that no Catholic has the right, duty, or responsibility to accuse another of being less than Catholic for his or her stand on this issue. I personally find some amazing flaws in the reasoning used to support Mr. Kerry's candidacy, some of which may be culpable, but most of which are simply bad reasoning, or reasoning based on false premises. I will not question Bishops who refuse to extend communion to Mr. Kerry--this is an extremely important part of the teaching mission of the Church. By refusing communion they say not that they are ousting Mr. Kerry, but that he has chosen to remove himself from our communion. So too with others of different communions who are not allowed to partake of our Eucharist. They may not have chosen this individually, but it has been chosen for them historically.

The meaning of Romans for me is that I need to think very carefully about how I look at others' positions on issues. For example, a "Catholic for Choice" may be a very good Catholic in all other dimensions, but has a woefully warped and misinformed conscience on this one matter. Too often, we are ready to deep-six such people as beyond the reach of redemption. This passage from Romans is a slap in the face to those who would do so. "How dare you judge between servant and master." The person is in error, but they have the ability to be moved to the correct view and should never be treated as "sub-Catholic." Neither should their authentically anti-Catholic teaching be allowed to stand unassailed. Our duty is to welcome the misinformed and to correct all his or her error. That may be one of the hardest things in the world.

And strangely, it is so much more difficult with matters that are significantly less serious. Think about how riled some people become when someone dares to suggest that there might be a married priesthood and it might help resolve the vocation crisis. (I'm exceedingly dubious that it would have had any effect whatsoever on the scandals of recent years.) There are good reasons for opposing a married priesthood and those cases may be made. But there is nothing in Catholic Doctrine that requires an unmarried priesthood. So too with a great many issues. If we simply allow people the freedom they have been given under God to make these choices in dubious matters and come together in a more certain unity on the issues that really count--for example abortion and euthanasia (about which there can be no doubt as the Church teaching is abundantly clear and straightforward). Or more importantly in the truth of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, buried, descended to Hell, resurrected, and Ascended to heaven as our Lord, Savior, and the center of our lives. These are the issues that matter. We must correct all error along the way, but the error we correct should be real error and not merely difference of opinion.

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The Psalms of Revenge

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Contra T.S.O.'s sly probe into my psyche I am not succumbing to ecumenicalism (actually I probably succumbed years ago) but rather to a penchant for reading books about spirituality based on the Bible written by persons named Wilfrid. And so, the next offering in this Wilfridfest (or is it the first--I know it isn't the first by this Wilfrid--oh well, give it a rest.)

from Nourished by the Word: Reading the Bible Contemplatively
Wilfrid Stinissen, O.Carm

When we let the "I" of the Psalms be widened to a universal "I," to the "I" of all human beings, we'll be less shocked over the psalms of revenge. When we learn to put ourselves in the situation of others, and also in the situation of those who are tortured and humiliated in their human worth, and when we talk to God on their behalf, it is not so strange that we protest vehemently. There is in every person a sound feeling for justice, an insight about the need to punish evil ones who have destroyed order in order that order be restored. The teachings about purgatory and hell are the Christian confirmation of this inherent insight, and show that the protest against injustice and opppression exists within God himself.

If I prayed for revenge for the violence and injustice to which I personally have been exposed, my prayer perhaps would not be entirely blameless. Jesus teaches us that we should not hit back when someone hits us. But he has not forbidden us to defend fellow human beings who have experienced violence; on the contrary, he wants us to be prepared to give our life for theirs. Since the "I" in the Pslams is not only mine personally but humanity's both my prayer and my prayer for retribution are acts of love: I protest against the evil to which my brother or sister have been subjected and desire that justice will be done. . . .

The universal range of the Psalms makes it also an ecumenical prayer book. No person can remain unmoved by it. In fact, it is used in all Christian denominations, and Christendom had it in common with Israel. Nothing points so plainly and so concretely to our Old Testament roots and our ties with our elder brothers and sisters from Israel than just this, that we pray to God with the same words. All Christians form, together with the Jews, one great choir whose common song in and of itself is, whether one is aware of it or not, a prayer for unity.

I can't comment on the accuracy of this passage, but it certainly "feels" right with respect to the tenor of these difficult psalms. Perhaps a new approach in praying them.

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"He who sets hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom. . ."

This line stuck with me all through the afternoon. I heard it in Mass and I kept hearing it. And I realized that one of my great accomplishments in life has been to do contour plowing on perfectly flat surfaces. When I look back over my Christian life it is a history of setting hand to plow and looking back. Don't know if I'm waiting for an audience, encouraging others ito join me in the thrilling life of plowing the fields, or just thinking--"It's awful hot out here, and back at the clubhouse I could have a tall iced-tea with mint, or lemonade--you know there's really no need to subject yourself to all this fuss and sun. After all there's others to do the work, and they're far better at it."

Each person probably has different excuses--"I am not worthy." "I am afraid." "I'm bored." "I don't want a menial job." You name it, there are probably a billion reason not to set hand to plow and really only one to start--it is our call in life as Christians. In order to be Christians, in order to serve God, we must do so without reservations.

I think Jesus was well aware that there were likely to be many false starts and many abortive attempts. And so He warned us--don't try this at home with Professional supervision. That is to say, we'll get no where on our own and He knew that. So, with all good will, we need to try once again, and let prayer pull the plow with our eyes firmly set on Him. This done, all other things will fall into their rightful place.

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From one of the mailing lists I am blessed to participate in.

from "The Art of Dying Well"
St. Robert Bellarmine

To live well, thus to die well, one has to pray well. "Ask and it shall be
given to you. Everyone who asks receive," on condition that one prays well.
"You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss."

Those who pray well for the gift of living well certainly will receive it,
and those who ask well to die well will without doubt receive it. Let us
learn to pray well that we may live well and die well.

We must pray with faith: "Let us ask Him with faith." This faith should not
be understood that we believe with certitude that God will do what we ask.
This would be false faith and we shall receive nothing at all. Faith is
believing that God is able, knows and ready to do what we ask, if it is
fitting for Him to give and expedient for us to receive what we ask for.

Thus Christ asked the blind man: "Do you believe that I can do this to
you?" David prayed with faith when he said: "Who knows whether the Lord may
not give him to me." And God did not give him. Certainly Paul prayed with
faith when he said: "Remove the thorn from my flesh." And he did not get

We must pray with hope and trust. Though through faith we should not hold
with certitude that God will grant us what we ask for, through hope and
trust we cling to the certitude that God might just really grant us what we
ask for; "Let us draw near the throne of His grace." Trust is born of
perfect faith: "Whoever says to this mountain, arise...and does not waver
in his heart, but believes that whatever he says will be done, it shall be
done for him."

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I read the comments of those who defend judgment, and I realize that perhaps I did not include enough of what was said to continue the point--or perhaps we overlook these statements out of convenience.

Here it is then:

Matthew 7:1-5 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,'
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."

It seems to me that before I might say anything about the sin of another, I should mind my own sin. That is to say, my own is enough and more than enough to keep me occupied, what am I doing worrying about the sins or lack thereof of others.

It strikes me that those who defend the duty and necessity of judging the sin of others must address this great admonition. How can we begin to judge the state of others when there is so much remaining in our own lives that is so sinful.

I think one of the reasons Jesus calls us to tend to the beam in our own eye is that when one turns ones head with a beam protruding from one's eye, one is likely to smack one's brother upside the head with that beam to the detriment of both parties.

When one undergoes the process of purification, one is given a new perspective on all of these things--perhaps a discernment that is supernatural. One is also given the gifts and the grace to handle the sin of others in ways that do not demean and denigrate.

By this I mean to say that I know that I am not in the position to begin judging others as regards to sin. I cannot make that judgment for others, but I would suggest that the need to make these judgments might suggest something about our suitability for doing so.

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I don't normally reprint things like this; however, this one touched me on a great many levels. Samuel recently had his first piano recital at which he played "Twinkle, Twinkle little Star." At his first dance recital, we witnessed a little girl who in the midst of all the dancing succumbed to stage fright and was utterly unable to move on the stage. (Whereas Samuel himself started off in what I consider to be one of the most terrifying situations possible for the very young. He started the routine for his group utterly alone onstage for about twenty seconds. And he had to end it by telling the little girls in the back row what to do. (Everyone was EXTREMELY amused.) So I also hope this touches you all.

Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano, a mother took the boy to a Paderewski concert. After they were seated, the mother spotted an old friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her.

Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door marked "NO ADMITTANCE."

When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother
returned to her seat and discovered that the child was missing. Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." At that moment, the great piano maestro made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing." Then leaning over, Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child, and he added a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the great maestro played. Only the classic "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

Perhaps that's the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is
hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren't always gracefully flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be beautiful.

Next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't quit. Keep playing." May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces. Remember, God doesn't seem to call the equipped; rather, He equips the 'called.' Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the things you acquire.

So touch someone, and pass this little message along. May God bless You and be with you always. ...and may each of you who reads this story more clearly see the "hand of Master" weaving each of His chosen hues into the tapestry of your lives.

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The man who slanders his neighbor in secret
I will bring to silence.
The man of proud looks and haughty heart
I will never endure.
(Psalm 101-from Morning Prayer)

This may be one of the most difficult passages in the entire gospel. As thinking, rational beings, we are built to judge, discern, test, and plumb the depths. Part of the burden of rationality is the necessity of judgment. If this is so, why would Jesus tell us not to use part of our in-born faculty.

I think Jesus has no intention of telling us never to judge anything. Rather, we are never to judge anyone. How does this work in practice? Let me tell you how I try to instruct Samuel in words what this means, and what I am doing in actions to actually try to live it. When Samuel comes home from school and reports on a classmate whom we shall call Tamar, he often says something like, "Tamar was bad today." My response to him is that God created Tamar. Nothing God creates is bad. (I know, there's a loophole there, but I'm talking to a six-year old.) He usually responds "But she made the teacher cry." Or some other report of Tamar's misbehavior. Always I respond, "Then Tamar did some bad things, but that does not make her a bad person." Usually I'll go on to say something about Tamar's family life that tends to precipitate these kinds of problems in a classroom, "Tamar is a very unhappy girl and she chooses to do bad things because they help her feel better when she gets attention. What do you think we should do about that." After the usual panoply of answers which includes, "Call Spiderman," "Mail her to her grandmother so she won't bother the class any more," and others, he usually comes around to, "Maybe we could pray for her and Jesus will make her be better." Theologically perhaps a little totalitarian, but basically on target. So we pray for Tamar.

So what has this to do with operations in the real world? Every person carries within them (or is, depending upon how you view these things) an image of Christ which is indelible no matter how much muck is heaped upon it. No person is intrinsically evil; although I will readily grant that there are some who are so seduced by evil that finding the image of Christ is nearly impossible. However, we start with this premise. From it, we must derive that all persons are capable of redemption. These two together suggest that when we must judge, we should direct our judgment not at the person, "You moron!" (Or worse things as we are driving to work), but at the action. This is incredibly important for me as we are raising a young, impressionable child. I am not allowed to give vent to these judgments (Praise God!), because no matter what my words say, my actions tell Samuel the direction he will take in life. If I spend all of my time judging others in this way, he will do so as well. So, what I do instead (because I still must give vent to my frustration) is that I say, "That person made a very bad choice." Samuel will often ask why and I will explain that in turning left out of the right hand lane across four lanes of traffic endangers not only the person in the car but all of the people who are coming at him. When Samuel himself does not meet my expectations, I say that I am disappointed in how he has chosen to conduct himself. If he says, "I was bad," I always correct that to say, "You did something that was wrong. YOU are not bad, no person is bad."

I know this may seem like an overemphasis on a very minor point, but this minor point is what gives nearly every Christian fits. We spend much of our time using labels that are generally pejoratives. In St. Blogs the term "liberal" in most circles is used as synonymous with mindless, blathering idiot. Jesus informs us that when we pass that judgment we look in a mirror. Before I use ANY label, I would be wise to consider what I am saying precisely. What exactly about liberal ideology is the problem that I want to address, rather than slandering a whole swath of people who hold a great diversity and variety of opinions? A label is a shorthand judgment, either in the negative or in the positive. Many in St. Blogs regard being "conservative" or "Republican" as a patently good thing. I find much in both ideologies as they are currently espoused that is repugnant to the sensibilities of one who holds to the truth of the Catholic faith. So too with "liberal" and "democrat." Now, some of these are labels we give ourselves, for various reasons, and so, in a sense, judge ourselves prior to anyone needing to speak to us. To say that I am a republican will say to someone who holds the opposite ideology, "moron, mental midget, oppressor of the poor." None of these are necessarily true, although they might all be. But why tempt others into judgment?

Eschewing labels is one of the first steps toward abandoning judgment. Further, we can refuse to say anything whatsoever about a person other than the revealed truth that he or she is the image of God and the child of God by adoption, and in general a fallen sinner. We can refuse to identify "moments of sin," instead commenting upon the objective immorality of a given act. I believe Jesus would have no problem with us identifying actions, thoughts, and words as wrong. However, to so identify a person reflects more upon us than upon the person.

People always point out to me that Jesus himself called the Pharisees "whitewashed sepulchers," "hypocrites," etc. To which, I would simply respond, "He who is without sin, may cast all the stones." We stand in no such position, and we are not permitted to follow His lead. We are constrained by the laws He articulated. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," is an inviolable spiritual law. It is like one of the laws of physics. It is a fundamental psychological and spiritual truth: what we tend to judge in others is what we see and hate in ourselves. The judgment may not be unto perdition, and it may not come from God, it may be the pronouncement of our own consciences upon ourselves.

So I encourage everyone to abandon the path of judgment, no matter how difficult it may be. Be aware of idle words for which you will be called to account, and allow your words to and about others to be only words of encouragement, love, and hope. This is one way for us to begin to live the Christian Life, Light, and Hope. Light and Hope can only come from a source that gives them freely, not from one whose gift depends upon meeting certain conditions. In other words, by abandoning our need to judge people we become more Christlike, not less so. In loving without condition, question, or cavil, we serve Him who is the Servant and Master of all.

Judge not, lest ye be judged. To use an old slogan: "It's not just a good idea, it's the law."

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Oswald Chambers

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One of the great treasures of the Church that is often lacking in the circles of protestantism that have wandered far from liturgy is the richness of liturgical prayer. And honestly, sometimes it is hard to think of things to say and pray about on my own, so I rely heavily upon Liturgy of the Hours to open up the floodgates of prayer, both petition and meditation.

However, the Protestant churches have given rise to numerous devotiionals that are nearly always better than their Catholic counterparts. My thought is that lacking liturgical prayer, God raises up for them certain people who offer the food for meditation and prayer that Catholics have as a natural part of the faith. Catholics, not needing this, aren't particularly good at supplementing the richness of the treasury of faith.

So with Oswald Chambers, about whom I know little, but from whom I have gained much refreshment and much food for thought.

If you would like daily access to the devotional, you can bookmark this site.

I found yesterday's mediation following on the writing of St. Cyprian below most thought-provoking. Perhaps it is meant for me alone, but the question of unity among Christians and what I particularly am doing to foster, nurture, and encourage it has been on my mind for the past couple of days (since an interesting ecumenical discussion of the Eucharist over at Disputations). Particularly, I must consider the delicate issue of how to foster unity without conceding error or becoming indifferent to the profound divisions amongst us. Nevertheless, it is crucial to enter into respectful dialogue and to share the riches of the Catholic Faith, while participating in the varied richness of Protestantism.

from My Utmost for His HIghest
Oswald Chambers

Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, "Don’t." The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical. This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.

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Meditation and Its End

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from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm

Rumination on the words of God in the medieval sense, translating them into concrete action, is the final goal of meditation. The author warns that meditation of the Word without its observance will not save a man. "It is not enough to read the Scriptures and commandments of the Lord; the fruit of (resultant) action must be manifested." A mechanical type of meditation that may even commend to memory the whole of the Bible, does not justify a man. Authentic prayer must be animated by operative charity; mediation with no concrete results to show for it is worth nothing.

What might be the fruits of meditation--the concrete results that are so essential to its foundation? I do not think we need to consider this in terms necessarily of "action" as we might consider it, but in terms of "actions" as St. Thérèse might do so. A smile at someone you don't particularly care for, a helping hand where it might be easier not to lend assistance, a kind word, or a private word of warning where something is not going as it should. All of these things can be the fruit that should come from meditation. If meditation is more than memorization and an exercise of the imaginative faculties, it will always result in the desire, perhaps even the need, to do good for others.

You cannot dig very deeply into the word of God before it starts digging into you. It removes years of built up protections and exposes the heart for renewal. And a heart renewed is a heart rejoicing in the freedom to love in substantial ways. All prayer is about loving the Lord and entering into conversation with Him. One sign of the substantial effects of prayer is that one begins to engage in conversation with Christ in other people--people who show no signs whatsoever of knowing Christ reveal Him to those who are immersed in His word.

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My Wants and Needs

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You may be aware that I write a scriptural meditation that is posted elsewhere Thursday of each week. As I was composing this week's meditation, a thought occurred to me. The Gospel Reading for Thursday had a particularly provocative lilne, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." It followed in thought--He knows what I need better than I do myself.

I am confused between my wants and my needs. I want to be in union with God's will. Is that presently a need? It seems desirable in this world to be so, and it will ultimately be necessary to enjoy the beatific vision. But do I need that, or is that merely a desire on my part? Do I need the food I eat, or do I merely want it? I'm not speaking about sustaining life, but about eating as Americans tend to eat here and now--enough and more.

I do not know what I need, except ultimately I need God. I think that is called a remote need or perhaps a final need, if I understand the terminology. But what are the proximate needs or means to that end? I don't know.

And this not knowing is in come way culpable. I have not looked hard enough, nor have I spent enough time discerning what it is I need. I do not know the interior landscape so well as I thought I did, and perhaps I need some time wandering this howling waste to make out the contours--what gives life to desires, what calls me home to God. I do not know.

But what I do know about the matter is a great consolation. My Father knows what I need and if I humble myself before Him (and perhaps even if I don't) He will provide it. However, if I do humble myself before Him, I will begin to recognize what I need, embrace it, and live the life of joy that comes from true service and true alignment with God's will. So long as I continue in my prideful way, I will fail to see anything and continue not to be able to separate my needs from my wants--and this way is purgatory here and hereafter. Directionless, waffling, pushed by every minor breeze. And as a son of the Living God, I do not need to accept that fate. Instead I can claim my inheritance by relying upon His grace.

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Father Redemptus Valabek raises some interesting points about the Liturgy of the Hours, about which I have some questions.

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm.

[quoting from St. Gregory the Great]

"When the sound of psalmody is guided by the heart's direction, the way for the Almighty to enter man's heart is being prepared, so that He is able to pour into the attentive mind either the mysteries of prophecy or the grace of compunction. Thus it is written: 'The sacrifice of praise will honor me, to him who walks on the right path, I shall show the salvation of God' (Ps 49:23). What 'salvation' means in Latin, 'Jesus' means in Hebrew. Therefore in the sacrifice of praise there is the path of revelation in Jesus because, since compunciton is roused by means of pslamody, the path to our heart is laid out for us, by which we are able to reach Jesus. He says this about his own Father. 'I too will love him and will manifest myself to him' (jn 14:21). And so it is written: 'Sing to God, make music to his name, build a road for the Rider of clouds; his name is Lord' (Ps 67:5). He who rides the clouds is He who by his resurrection trod death underfoot. When we sing we strew a path so that he may come into our hearts and inflame us with the grace of his love."

The interiorization of pslamody is an obligation for the follower of Jesus and follows on the prophetic dimension of his charism.

Lay aside for the moment the unclear antecedent in Fr. Valabek's gloss on the passage from St. Gregory, is the essence of what he has to say true?

Now, I assume the prophetic dimension of his charism, refers to Jesus' charism and not to the follower of Jesus. Does this necessitate the "interiorization of the psalmody?" And what precisely might be meant by "interiorization of the psalmody."

Perhaps Fr. Valabek wishes to suggest that is is a peculiarly Carmelite obligation to interiorize the psalmody. However, the passage says unambiguously, "for the follower of Jesus." This seems to suggest an obligation that transcends that of Carmelites.

Another question must be asked. Is Father Redemptus making this claim, or does his gloss suggest that St. Gregory makes this claim on the attention of Christians? I read in St. Gregory suggestions of the efficacy of this pursuit of prayer, but not overtones of its obligation for all.

Finally, in medieval times (and I may have my history of the rosary confused) the rosary arose in part as a substiture for the psalmody for "those who lacked letters." 150 Hail Mary's stood in place of the 150 psalms. If this interiorization of psalmody is really an obligation, is its spirit captured in the praying of the Rosary?

Just thought I'd ask in case others had some thoughts on the matter. I don't know quite what to think at the moment, because while I do pray the hours, I must wonder whether the psalmody is "interiorized."

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The following is an excerpt from De Institutione Monachorum a text that attempted to trace the lineage of the Carmelite family to monks living on Mount Carmel from the time of the Prophet Elijah.

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valebek O. Carm

"There is a two-fold end. One end we are able to attain by our own efforts by the practice of virtue and with the aid of divine grace. It consists in offering God a holy heart free from all actual stain of sin. This end is reached when one is perfect and in Carith, that is, hidden in that charity about which the Wise man wrote: 'Charity covers a multitude of sins' (Prov 10:12). And because the Lord wished that Elias reach this end he told him: 'Hide in the torrent of Carith.' The other end of this life is bestowed on us as a pure gift of God. It consists in tasting somewhat in our hearts and experiencing in our minds, not only after death, but already in this life, the power of God's presence and the pleasantness of heavenly glory. This is to drink of the torrent of God's delights, and this is what was promised Elias by God with the words: "'There you will drink of the torrent.'

I quote this because, while it is from a classic of Carmelite spirituality, the words of this particular passage are universal. They don't speak so much as a method or a way of getting to the two ends as to what the ends are in themselves.

Simply spoken the author here says that there are two endplaces in prayer. We get to the one through our efforts aided by grace. But to the other we are summoned by the word of the King of Heaven. There is no way to merit this or to earn it through our works. It is grace freely given and not necessarily reserved for the few, though in actuality few actually attain it.

But I think the comparison here is useful. God's love is a torrent. Within its raging powerful stream, nothing that we have set up against Him can stand. Nothing of human construction could possibly endure the torrent of His love. To be exposed to it unprepared would be to be ripped apart.

This is one of the reasons careful preparation is so necessary. This is one of the reasons why all of the great saints seem to recommend some way of stripping oneself of all of the fragile human constructs of self. If, ultimately, we are to place ourselves in the way of God's love, it had better be in a streamlined way, with as little obstruction as possible. Even when we approach in this simplified way, the transition is tremendously difficult and painful to our human senses.

St. John of the Cross recommends detachment from all things as prepatory to this state. Others may recommend other ways of approach, although they all seem to amount to the same thing--become simple and single-hearted. We have powerful but simple means of accomplishing this task--Prayer, the sacraments, and surrendering our wills to His own.

A torrent will wash away and purify everything that cannot stand in His presence. It will prepare a person for living God's will in a way that will save souls, not only the soul of the person involved, but the souls of all those who can be touched in any way by the person. This is our great end--to participate actiively in the salvation of souls and to live in the torrent of God's love. These ends are intimately linked. We cannot live in the torrent of His love if we do not love those who are around us--and what is the point of love if it is not the desire to see each soul live eternal life in God?

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I initially started reading this book because a very kind correspondent gave it to me. (Yes, she has much to answer for.) Seeing Garrigou-Lagrange on the cover, I figured I get through about half-a-dozen pages, consider it a valiant attempt and let it slide. Surprisingly in the course of that vacation alone, I got through something on the order of one-hundred pages.

Then it went into haitus, as heavy books are wont to do on my booklist. Interest revived when a Dominican who runs one of the better and more frequented blogs out there, but who shall otherwise remain nameless, suggested that the teachings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross might not be applicable to all in one sense or another. I took up Garrigou-Lagrange because he was a Dominican writing about St. John of the Cross and making the point that the teaching was for all (in a sense). Not necessarily a noble reason, but God uses all of our idiotic motivations to accomplish His meaningful work. I have already resolved upon an answer to our good Dominican's reservations, and when we are joined in the Beatific vision, we shall share our understandings better in this regard.

But once again, I laid Fr. G-L's book aside. It is too heavy-going to long sustain a reading of it (at least for me.) I need the time to assimilate the ideas and try to see what they say and in what direction they point me. Consistently they point in the direction of my own reluctance to engage God on his own terms. More readily expressed as the fact that while I desire to submit, I avoid submission. I cannot bring myself to the proper regard of God and Christ in my life. I am a weak and useless thing, too readily distracted, too easily drawn away from what should be the center of my life. But I don't feel particularly bad about that. In fact, I rejoice in my recognition of the fact. So long as I think I'm handling it fairly well, I know that I am really not living in reality. That I can recognize this weakness is a source of great joy. Another source of joy is that I'm not the only one in this boat. Many great and lowly people share the same dilemma. The one noted below said it far more succinctly and beautifully than this rambling note:

Holy Sonnet XIV
John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

"Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend," more simply said--I should know better than to do as I do. However, reason, also flawed by the fall, "is captived, and proves untrue." By myself I am nothing, only through God can I be rescued.

This is one of the things that Fr. G-L has pointed out to me time and again. He serves as God's present providence for me. I share what he writes, not necessarily because you would profit from it directly, but because I have profited from it greatly, and perhaps by seeing how, other works may also do the same for you. In some ways it is proving a lesson book on surrender and on submission. I am learning through this magnificent teacher what it really means to be a contemplative and how one reaches out for that end and goal.

The passage that leapt off the page into my head last night was another reminder of what we are called to as Christians.

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

What the interior soul should desire above all else is the ever deeper reign of God in it, continual growth in charity. This is should long for because the precept of love is without limit and obliges us, if not to be saints, at least to tend to sanctity, each one acccording to his condition, and because Christ said to all: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is the goal which St. Teresa has shown us. The greatest tribute that can be given her is that she has marvelously praised the glory of God by making us see, in her wriings and in her life, God's great love for the humble, and all that He wishes to do for "souls determined to follow our Lord and to journey on, in spite of the cost even to the fountain of living water. . . . This is the royal road which leads to heaven."

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But Morning Prayer has hit me time and again this morning.

Bless your persecutors; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same attitude toward all. Put away ambitious thoughts and assoicate with those who are lowly.

Treat all people the same; and treat them all well--as well as you treat yourself. When they rejoice, share in the rejoicing and do not lag behind brooding over how fortune has passed you by in favor of this less worthy one. When they weep, weep with them and and do not consider how this may have resulted from their own choices and actions. Weep because there will be a time, and there have been times, when you have been in the same place. And at the time it was not a blessing to have anyone tell you how you called this upon yourself.

And most of all, do not think of yourself. If you spend your time in the joys and sorrows of others, you will have no time to plot out things for yourself. You will have time for serving God alone. Become selfless. Or better yet, become God's self for others. Your life will be more blessed and abundant. You will find yourself in a world transformed and no different at all. The scales will fall away and you will see the Light as light and the darkness as darkness. All of this simply from loving with a human heart and with the help of grace.

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Psalm 92


12   The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13   Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14   They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
15   To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

These verses of Psalm 92 put me in mind of something T.S. O'Rama wrote the other day about certain psalms he could not pray with any real confidence. (I paraphrase). But this is one that gave me pause to think. How could I ever count myself among the righteous? I can count myself among the "justified," I trust I am in the ranks of those for whom Jesus's salvific act is not without effect--but righteous. That's certainly stretching a point.

I am a sinner, and not by any stretch of the imagination righteous nor entitled by right to those things promised here. I am as lost as anyone who can hear His voice and still choose not to respond.

And yet. . . and yet, I believe that what is promised here for the righteous is given even to those who are not righteous, but to those who attempt to live in His life, who call upon His grace and are "righteous" therefore by referring to the "right" sources for all wisdom and right-thinking.

Alone I have no righteousness, nor any claim to such, but through Him and through His great love, I have claim to all that is promised here and all that is promised beyond. Only through Him do I have claim to anything at all, because of myself I am nothing but a mass of contradictory impulses. He gives life meaning and goal; without Him all that is lost is truly lost and can never be found. Through Him all things are made new and what was not righteous becomes redeemed and a source of hope for all.

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Another excerpt from a current read:

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

We often hear and read about "the Christian way of life." For some people, this is a vague and intangible expression. In reality, it means precisely what we have just described--namely, a life of common interest with God; a life in which this love of God dominates all our thoughts, words, and actions. The greater the love, the more Christian the life. Whatever we eat, drink, say, write, or do, it should come from our soul living in conscious union and silent converation with God. It is this union with God that colors our whole life and makes it Christian.

When enough of us are conscious of this union and guided by it in our thoughts and actions, there will be change in our country's philosophy. When men and women, conscious of their calling, actually live in union of love with God in their daily lives, our politics, our literature, and our entertainment will become really Christian.

The world will become Christian when men become Christian.

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Praying in Community

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Is there any joy as great as the joy in praying in a community of believers?

During the weekend as we gathered as leaders of the Lay Carmelite Family, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the Liturgy of the Hours read, chanted and sung by a community of believers. I was blessed by the great love of the people gathered to worship the Lord, and I was edified by being among those whose vocation was similar to my own.

There is something about celebrating community prayer that strengthens those who are wavering and reinforces key points of understanding. It leads more readily to meditation and reflection on what is being prayed, and the Liturgy as a communal celebration deepens and broadens the prayer itself.

Every day I pray the prayer in isolation. Some days it is a penance. Some days it is a joy. Some days it is simply a duty, others it is a mysterious privilege. The prayer does not change, it is always an avenue of grace for those praying. But our perceptions of it change. Praying in community helps us regain the joyous sense of privilege and honor. We are allowed and encouraged to address He who created the entire universe. Such a gift is almost incomprehensible. And it is but a small part of the treasure trove that is life in the Church.

Praise God for all that he gives and allows us. Praise His Holy name in high places and in low. Praise Him for the privilege of service and love that He grants us. Praise Him for His love and abiding concern for each one of us.

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About this Archive

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

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