Christian Life/Personal Holiness: October 2004 Archives

On St. Thomas Aquinas

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Left in the comment box at Disputations, and reposted here to remind me of what I said when I get fed up (again) with scholastic reasoning and St. Thomas Aquinas fans:

Even though I am very sympathetic to your viewpoint [--that much of this reasoning seems to get in the way of actual Christian conduct--I oversimplify, but that was the jist] at times even I can find the merit of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I don't find him much help for the daily encounters at the time of the encounter; however, his articulations of the truths of the faith help to inform how I react to things once I've been able to internalize them.

That is to say, that much of this theorizing and thinking is just that. But some small portion of it can trickle down and change us dramatically. I've experienced this again and again through Tom's presentation of Aquinas's thought.

That said, I find much of it to be straining at gnats. I suspect many do. Aquinas does not add to what has been revealed by Jesus Christ; however, he does provide the reasoning and the informed understanding of it.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Who cares? Object, Intent, Circumstance--what does it mean? Well, I suppose it means the difference between pursuing Jean Valjean for 20 years over the theft of a loaf of bread for his starving family and Mother Teresa caring for the poor in Calcutta. The reasoning may not appeal to all--but the reasoning can inform the heart.

Nevertheless, it does, at times, seem tortuous.

And unproductive. You ask--"How can this lead to love?" And I answer, I don't really know, I don't understand it. And yet the history of the Saints and of St. Thomas Aquinas himself shows definitively that not only can it, in fact, it often does. This seems to go hand in glove with the first post of the day from the letter to the Philippians--"whatsoever is true. . . think about these things." When we start in thinking and in knowing, we can grow in loving. When we start in loving, we can learn thinking and knowing. The two comprise an ever-expanding cycle of knowledge and love IF we allow them to do so. Thus for every Thomas Aquinas there is a Thérèse of Lisieux. The two end up at the same place but arrive by different routes. Nevertheless both routes involve the cycle of knowledge and love. We cannot avoid them. True knowledge leads to love, overwhelming love leads to the desire for knowledge. Hence the need for the knowledge, not merely of St. Thomas Aquinas, but of all the Saints who have thought and loved through all of time.

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From my favorite epistle of the Bible:

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8

I start with an aside: that pretty much lets politics out. And then continue to the main point--our lives are worthy of the gift we have been given when they most thoroughly reflect the manner of thought suggested above. Finally, we make life better for those around us when we concentrate on these things in the people we meet rather than on the darkness, as too often seems our wont.

Think how much more pleasant a day at work would be if you spent it thinking about how many virtues you can find and foster in those around you rather than how awful people can be. We have a choice about how we think about each other and the world that God has created. We can regard everything as implacable enemy of the soul--a constant dreary battle. Or we can regard everything as a flawed but certain indicator of the existence and presence of the loving God.

When we think of these things we perform as kind of Christian "Namaste." When we look at all these worthwhile virtues, we say to a person, "I see and salute the Godhead within you." The source of all beauty, all goodness, all wonderful things is God. Everything that is good derives its goodness from God's ultimate goodness. To see goodness is to see the presence of God and in some sense, to see goodness is to draw it out of a person.

And so, because it is so beautiful, so apt, and so apropos, I leave you once again with Paul's words:

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

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The Importunate Widow


Why is it that Jesus tells us to be persistent in prayer? God knows what we need. Why do we even need to ask for it? If God is a Just Judge, why should we go begging?

Persistence in prayer effects no change in God or in God's will for us, or at least so it seems. If predestination is true, the path is marked out in its multi-fractal brownian way--the currents of prayer will not stir these particles out of the way.

What persistent prayer DOES change is us. As we pray, we start by praying selfishly or semi-selfishly. Persistence in prayer teaches us to talk to God and more importantly to listen to Him as He speaks in ordinary life. God is not changed by prayer, but by persisting in prayer, what we once thought a just cause is progressively revealed to us as what it really is and we can begin to pray God's will, not my own.

Persistence in prayer is a requirement for holiness because only in this persistence are we altered enough to know God and do God's will on Earth.

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Twelve Tribes of Voters

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From Don Jim a link to an interesting analysis of religious voters. Do you fit in a tribe?

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This morning I was listening through the pledge-week stuff to NPRs report on the Afghan elections. This cause a thought bubble I thought I would share. The mention of the election brought to mind one of those things that I still am angry at--the destruction of the Buddhas by the Taliban. But then I thought, if I truly believed the Koran and the Koran was explicit about making no graven images, would I be serving God if I allowed what offended Him to continue to exist? That is, if the Buddhas offended God, should I allow the glory of men to detract from the Word of God. This, in turn, caused me to think about how one understands scripture. That is there are many ways to read a passage concerning graven images. Does it mean images to worship? Does it mean any image of a living thing? etc. etc. This got me to private interpretation of scripture and the fact that it is always, always flawed because the person doing the interpreting is flawed and is not God nor even close to God-like in his understanding of the fullness of the Word. This thought led finally to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of order, not Chaos.

For some reason this suggested to me that the Church that would be founded by Jesus Christ acting for the most Holy Trinity would be a church that would have the minimum chances of this occurrence. God had observed the Israelite people and already had had enough of human factionalism. (And even without observation He would know what humans were capable of.) With Jesus He sent into the world his One Son to establish His One Church. The Church He would establish would be such that questions of interpretation and understanding scripture would have some reasonable resolution short of individual interpretation. Thus the One Church would have a single head in whom would ultimately reside the responsibility (no matter how much he was aided by others) for interpreting and understanding Scripture.

The Catholic Church is this church. As I have said elsewhere on the web, it is, at least, the only Church that has a clearly defined doctrine articulated by a central body. When one speaks out with one's individual interpretation it must be weighed against this central body. In other words, there is a body of teaching and understanding to dissent from--but that is how the view must be taken, as dissent from the learning passed down. You can disguise this any number of ways, by appeal to any number of loopholes, but it remains essentially and firmly dissent from a core defined doctrine.

The fact that there is a revealed understanding from which every view not in accord is, in fact, dissent, is further evidence that the Church established through Peter is the One Church. All other Churches receive the validity they have through this principle establishment. No matter what Her errors and problems, present and past, She is the body of Authority established so that we do not all descend into the abyss of private interpretation and its concomitant--infinite division. 22,000 denominations of Protestantism can't all be correct and it is precisely their differences that show the truth of a body that has stood without change in Doctrine for two thousand years.

Amazing what an election in an until recently god-forsaken place will do to one, isn't it? Who'd have thought that an understanding of God's revealed Church would stem from a news story about accusations of election disparities? But it goes once again to say that when we are listen and docile or pliable, God will speak when, where, and through whatever means are handy.

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Languages for Work

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Sitting here sipping my redbush tea and reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith when I happen across this:

They taught us Funagalo, which is the language used for giving orders underground. It is a strange language. The Zulus laugh when they hear it, because there are so many Zulu words in it but it is not Zulu. It is a language which is good for telling people what to do. There are many words for push, take, shove, carry, load, and no words for love, or happiness, or the sounds which birds make in the morning.

I thought about this with the Wittgensteinian and Orwellian view that words shape reality and the reality shaped by this language. And then, dragonfly-like, having hovered for a moment over that concept, it occurred to me--what if Wittgenstein was even a little bit right? What if Orwell had enough understanding of human psychology to have identified a major factor in our lives?

Hover with me for a moment, glance at the reflection this thought makes, the ripples of our wings in the water. If this is so, even only slightly so, does it not reemphasize the need to speak aloud the words of the Psalms in prayers? Does it not argue that singing psalms and hymns and hearing the words God speaks to us through these inspired works creates a reality more conducive to giving ourselves to God? Isn't this the most important thing--shaping reality (by grace) to receive grace? Perhaps we should not have so many words "for push, take, shove, carry, load." Perhaps, just maybe, we should have more words for love and joy and God and worship and presence and union and, "the sound birds make in the morning."

Do you pray aloud? Do you hear and live in the world the words of the psalms make? Do you voice your reflections in the course of the Rosary, making them substantial and real.

Yes, I suppose it is unusual for a Carmelite to encourage vocal prayer. But St. Teresa of Avila would tell us that one "Our Father' prayed perfectly is worth any number of hours of struggling mental prayer. If one prays with one's heart what one's word speaks, one is already entering the realm of contemplative prayer. There's no trick--our attention merely needs to be on Him. Our words must be real and make the world a different place for us to live. A place that encapsulates everything God would have us be and do.

Enough of the ripples. Let your mind enter those things that are worthy and they will speak--even light entertainment can bring you closer to God if you allow it. I never fail to be amazed that the places God can find and surprise me. He seeks us everywhere.

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About this Archive

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

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

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